Monthly Archives: August 2007

MN State Fair part 1: Mr. Amy Grant

I am going to go approximately backwards in my state fair round up for no other reason than the fact that the grandstand show stole my heart. Vince Gill introduced himself as “Mr. Amy Grant” and proceeded to give one heck of a headlining show, backed by a band of about 15 pieces, alternating between serious rocking and country ballads with some bluegrass thrown in for good measure. Vince was in fine form, and–just as I remembered from the last time I saw him–absolutely hilarious in his conversational moments between songs. I literally had tears coming down my face after his introduction of “Cowboy up” which I will not try to repeat here (clearly one of those “had to be there” stories); I do, however, highly recommend the song as one of the most fun, raunchy, driving-beat, you-know-what-to-do songs as I have heard in years.
Amy G. herself was formally on the bill as well, since this was advertised as the “friends and family tour” and it also included Vince’s grown daughter singing back-up vocals for him. But nothing about the concert was more touching than watching VG dote on AG. When he first introduced her, he said something to the effect of, “and now I’d like to bring up onto the stage the greatest human being I know, Ms. Amy Grant”. He kept referring to her as his beautiful bride, even though they’ve been married for 7 or 8 years already. This all can be expressed with words reasonably well, but what I can’t possibly get across by typing is the way those two looked at each other.

It can’t be just me, right? Every girl wants to be publicly and lavishly adored, right? And to adore back just as much… that’s the other thing that was so great about watching those two. The adoration and affection clearly went in both directions. They clearly and simply just really like each other, are happy, love each other, seem to have a great time together. There was a lot of criticism when these two ended up together, after their original marriages ended in divorce. (It was hard on her especially because of the Christian thing–don’t even get me started.) The fact that they had worked together on a duet years before the marriage only fueled rumours, and to her credit Amy said as much on stage, that looking back she probably fell just a little bit in love with Vince when they did “House of Love”.

Lest I continue down this mushy path, let me just add a little comment on the pure bluegrass sounds of the Del McCoury band, who were also on the bill. We noted at the time that the band was much younger than Del himself, and it turns out there is a good explanation for this: the banjo player and mandolin player are both Del’s kids!

I just bought the Ryan Adams-like 4-disc set of Vince Gill’s newest music and am happily listening to it back in England. I’m currently listening to “Faint of Heart” (although it was much better in person with Amy on the girl part than with Diana Krall who is not my favorite!) Summary and conclusions: at a full three hours long and packed with an almost amazing variety of well-played music, it was worth much more than every penny spent on the grandstand tickets.

Update: from listening to the CD set (well, iTunes of course! No actual CDs here…) every bit as sexy as “Cowboy up” is my new fave “The Rhythm of the Pourin’ Rain”… he did it at the concert but it was only in hearing it again that I listened to it more closely.  What can I say… I clearly have a country girl in me 🙂

Non-Bridge Photo


This is my third attempt to post a photo of the non-existing 35W bridge in Minneapolis. Fortunately it appears to have worked, so I can get back to my actual comments on the subject! I seem to be suffering from the usual “WordPress somehow updated their software and I had to update my browser to comply” conundrum.

So, the bridge. Let’s get to it. I’ve been hearing that this (around the stone arch bridge area) was the best place to see what was going on, and I have to beg to differ. The strangest thing about this photograph is how hard you have to look at it to see that anything is wrong. If you don’t know what the “before” scene looked like, you might just think the one remaining section of bridge carnage (concrete deck on a steep angle, with green-painted steel trusses beneath) was intentional. I will have to continue to search my archives for a good before photo; thus far the ones I have found were on black and white film. Lovely photos, but a bit hard to see the difference. The truth is, from this vantage point it’s kinda strange that there were two bridges there, such different designs, right next to each other.  It wasn’t very aesthetically pleasing and thus not my favorite vantage for photographing the Mighty Miss.

The sad truth is that the real vantage point for viewing would be the 10th street bridge, the one still standing there, which is not open and not likely to be open soon. On the good side, that bridge only ever had a pedestrian walkway on the opposite side from this mess, and apparently they have halted the opening to put in a safe pedestrian walkway on the side closest to the old 35W bridge. On the bad side, I have a bit of a problem with the fact that this has already been closed for so long… the original disaster was 1 August and I encourage you to consider the difficulties of getting around Minneapolis with TWO bridges spanning the Mississippi completely out of commission.

Where does the time go?

The amazing thing about being “home” is how fast the time goes and how little time is already left on this trip.  I had 6 full days in town plus travel/partial days on the two Thursdays, and it’s already day 3/6.  I have been catching the highlights: massive trip to Target, looking for all the stuff that’s easy to find here and hard to find in the UK (Cortizone cream? Jonny Lang CD?)  A bit of window shopping and wishing at boutiques on 50th and France, including my favorite modern-vintage fusion shop ever, Anthropologie.   I actually have not gotten “out” that much; I’ve not yet even managed to take photographs of the bridge.  I certainly have not been blogging much.  The time is just flying by and I’ve been with people for almost all of it, not just alone bumming around town.  I guess that is the biggest thing about being “home”: this is where my friends are and it’s so good to catch up with them that it makes other amusements seem less amusing.

I’ve mostly been hanging around people and in homes, not in the local scene.  To a first approximation, I could be anywhere and it’s not very Minnesota-specific except for the people that are here.  I spent the better part of the last few days hanging out at the houses of my friends, amusing myself with the animals and children of my friends.  This admittedly makes my one bedroom English flat seem remarkably empty in two ways: (1) it provides no opportunities for home upgrades of the painting-and-building-and-furnishing sort, and (2) it also seems remarkably devoid of small furry or hairy mammals.

More to come I’m sure, the big state fair trip is Wednesday and in the meantime, here’s an amusing piece on the distinctive odor of the fair.

Home and on autopilot

Continuing the travel adventure story, I picked up my rental car at the airport and started driving for the first time in almost a year.  What a feeling!  I left the airport the way I normally would, and immediately… set out for my old neighborhood.  Turned off the crosstown onto 55/Hiawatha heading north towards Minneapolis.  Totally an automatic response, not thinking at all.  Because of course I don’t live in my old neighborhood, and I’m staying with a friend of mine by the Lakes.   I needed to stay on the crosstown past Hiawatha and exit at Cedar — not 55.  On going a few blocks I realized this, but took the opportunity as a good excuse for a change in plans (“someone” was telling me something about my priorities, surely!) and headed straight to my grandmother’s house.

My very cool nonagenarian grandmother lives in the house she and my grandfather built just post-WWII, when they had a whole houseful of little baby boomers running around.  She now lives there with one of her grown daughters, who marvellously keeps an eye on her and thus allows her the best old age scenario of all — being in your own home with your own familiar things around.  They didn’t know I was coming until I called from the car, but quickly set an extra place at the table so I could have a simple dinner with them.  And there we have it, after only 2 hours in the city of Minneapolis, the hours of travel (20 minutes walk to the station, 2 hours on the train to Gatwick, 3 hours at the airport, 9 hours on the plane, an hour on the ground in Minneapolis before I was good to go) were worth it.  And I’d do it all over again.

Getting to Grandma’s house from the airport was reasonably easy, since my old neighborhood (where I was subconsciously headed) was only about 2 miles from her own neighborhood (and no that’s not a coincidence, I love northeast Minneapolis with a passion).  But it did not take long in Minneapolis to start to realize the impact that the missing section of 35W is having on traffic and transport.  On the way to Grandma’s I saw all of the signs marking 35W detours and saw the barricades up on the road itself.  The return trip was even more exciting because the normal route would have been a straight shot down 35W and across the no-longer-existing bridge.  I had to think about how to get back to the Lakes (in S. Minneapolis) from my Grandma’s house (NE Mpls) without getting on 35W at Johnson street.  And I messed it up big time.  I did drive on University past the site of the Bridge and had a preliminary look; I will go back this weekend and take some photos and post them here.  But I also ended up in Saint Paul before I figured out how to recover and get back to where 35W south picks up on the other side of the absent bridge.  Oops.  I slept long and hard last night and look forward to more Minneapolis adventures in coming days.

Sleeping on airplanes

I continue to maintain, in my advanced globe-trotting state since moving countries, that anyone who says that they cannot sleep on airplanes is simply not tired enough. Here, as a service to you, is a series of tips and tricks gleaned from my latest trip.

  1. Procrastinate travel-related planning until the night before the trip, including all packing, laundry, and anything even remotely organizational
  2. Sleep as little as possible the last few nights before you go. Stay up all night before you actually leave. If you have to sleep, make sure it’s no more than 2 hours (I did the 2 hour nap pre-Singapore but for this trip I stayed up all night).
  3. Pick a senseless fight with one of the more important people in your life. That way you have hours of emotional stuff to work through, fueling the staying up (point 2) and allowing for further procrastination (point 1)
  4. Realize an hour before you need to leave the house that you will have to actually pack. Rush around and throw things into bags more or less randomly. Don’t give in to lists. Recognize that you can survive anywhere with a passport, laptop/cell phone, and credit card.
  5. Make trip to the airport as inconvenient and time consuming as possible. Involve multiple steps of trains, subways, and other public transport. If you have planned well, as I did, it will be raining and there will be no taxis to get to the train station and you will have to walk in the rain. This adds to the goodness of the trip.
  6. Be sure to get put into the queue for extra security checks, either during the main security phase or at the gate. Volunteer if necessary, although if the trip is going to plan you won’t have to. Get felt up by an airline attendant and have your bags hand-searched.
  7. Eat the heavy airline food, definitely take a pasta option if it’s offered. And yes, by all means, take the wine when offered.
  8. Have embarassing but familiar music ready on your iPod. In my case, that means songs of the “Monster Ballads” sort — ballads by hair metal bands of the late 80s and early 90s. I know every word, every chord.
  9. Relax neck muscles. Most important thing I think, and the least tongue-in-cheek point of this list.  In the uncomfortable coach airline seats, bunch up either the stupid little pillow or blanket they give you so your heavy head can actually rest without any support from active neck muscles. Off you get, to the land of nod.

I slept about 4 solid hours on the plane, arrived in Minneapolis without too much incident, although the customs-baggage-rental car stuff took way too long. Much more to come from Minnesota, it sure feels nice to be “home”.

Off to category home–subcategory original

I’m taking a break from packing for my UK to US flight.  It’s 5 am on departure day.  I have to trek across town to the airport for my long day flying “home” to the original home, not the current home.  And off to the Minnesota State Fair!

The last post about breakfast was incomplete, and I did not realize it at first.   The obvious thing that was missing was coffee!  And my other favorite and much  missed coffee additive,  Land O’Lakes Fat Free Half and Half.   There is absolutely no English equivalent that I can find, so here I just put whole milk in my coffee but it’s not as good.

I also hit a very strange moment in packing when I realized that I couldn’t find one of my electrical adaptors… the one to convert my native UK plugs to US ones.  I have a few UK items that will need this, most importantly a digital camera.  I sadly still have two cell phones, one for use in each country, and quite cunningly they are the same brand so I can just bring the US adaptor with.  So I have this odd mishmash of items here with US plugs that I’m removing UK adaptors for the trip, and vice versa.  What a strange feeling.

I also had to grab my little ziploc baggie of American money, the cashcard for my US bank account, etc.  To a first approximation I am actually well and truly running a duplicate life in my homes, subcategories “original” and “current”.  More from the other side of the pond.

Breakfast of champions!

I’m still suffering a bit of residual reticence over having to haul myself and my luggage down to Gatwick in less than 48 hours for a long-haul flight to the land of my birth.  Don’t know the reference?  I had to look it up it was so fuzzy in my head, but it’s from the first lines of a patriotic-sing-along-song from a fifth grade or so school pageant:

This is my country!

This is my country! Land of my birth!
This is my country! Grandest on earth!
I pledge thee my allegiance, America, the bold,
For this is my country to have and to hold.

It’s all so much more amusing now that I moved to the country where the tune of “My country, ’tis of thee” is just a second rate song sung to the tune of “God Save the Queen.”  (Did you know that the same tune is used for the Royal Anthem of Norway?  Nope, neither did I.  Thanks Wikipedia!  Strangely reminding me of the vast number of songs that use the tune for Pachelbel’s cannon in D…)

I digress!  How shocking!

I was recently reminded of another good reason to go back to the states.   Old Home cottage cheese.  Part of my standard breakfast when in Minnesota, unavailable to me when I lived on the east coast, and certainly not available here.  Yes, it has to be Old Home, in the blue container, small curd.  Why?  I don’t know.  Because it’s been made the same way since 1925?  Because it was selected “Best cottage cheese in the nation”?  Whatever the reason,  it’s the ONLY cottage cheese that I like.  And I love it and can eat a large tub of it in one sitting, every day, for breakfast with toast made from Brownberry “Health nut” bread.  My mouth is watering just thinking about it.

The bread here is not nearly as good as the Brownberry stuff, at least not the sliced sort.  I get tired of having to get out my monster knife to slice bread when I’m out of it in the morning, and I admittedly still do not have a toaster that runs on UK power.  And here they do all sorts of unmentionable things to cottage cheese, like mixing in prawns.  The English are obsessed with prawns and they like to put them in places that I would never put them, like in a sandwich or in cottage cheese.  Yes, in stir-fry Asian food, but not everywhere else.  Please.  So there we have it, my wish for a breakfast in Minneapolis.  Now if only my suitcase would pack itself…

Cold and damp–it’s August in England

It’s cold here in the UK, and feels strangely unlike August. And even stranger, I was hear in August last year and had the same problem. I remember going into M&S for the first time ever because I needed some cheap and warm clothes.

The highs are in the low 60s and it’s been drizzling all day; I actually closed the windows and used the electric heater last night. I’ve had both a long-sleeved t-shirt and a sweatshirt on all day. It’s so wrong! Of course, the weather has matched my mood lately, which has also been grey and wet. What I need is a week on a beach close to here, and with no email or responsibilities. What I have coming up is a dreaded long-haul flight to get “home,” a place with many good qualities (Target!) but also plenty of potential for drama and heartache, especially given the inevitable conflict between the work I’m behind in and the people I want to see. This job is killing me, the pressure never stops and the tasks just keep lining up one behind the other. I don’t know where the summer has gone or what to do to try to get things back on track. It now occurs to me that with a  large project deadline on 31st Dec., I truly will be skipping Christmas entirely.

Back to the topic of weather, something the English are much more comfortable with than silly things like emotions and struggles (see Kate Fox’s book for an analysis of the English fascination with the weather). The irony is that April was gorgeous, sunny, and warm, especially Easter week, and now I really am feeling like I’d like that April weather back. Sort of a twist on the classic expat poem, Robert Browning’s Home thoughts from abroad, with the much-quote and oft-parodied line, “Oh to be in England now that April’s there.” I just checked the weather forecast for Minneapolis and they appear to be also having 60s and drizzle today, which is just wrong for the state fair (which starts Thursday!). Fortunately by the 28th the magical says Minneapolis will be in the 80s and with a chance of thunderstorms, which sounds much more appropriate for the fair. Now if only the tornado sirens go off while I’m home, it will be a great summer weather trip.

Joys and sorrows of looking young

In Britain, the drinking age is 18.  (You can buy cigarettes at 16, which never fails to shock me.)  I am more than eighteen months past my 30th birthday, have two graduate degrees and the associated grey hairs and wrinkles starting to form.   And yet, the clerks in my local supermarket are surprisingly interested in my age and whether I am above 18 when I try to purchase something in the “adult beverage” category.   Everyone tells me that this is an advantage and that I will be thankful for it someday.  But quite surprisingly, that day still has not come.  I’m quite annoyed when I get ‘carded’ either in the US or here in the UK, since I have a decade of experience beyond the legal drinking age.  My height does not help: I’m “vertically challenged” in addition to having a youthful visage.  But sometimes I like a glass of vino blanc in the evening and I find this whole thing really irritating.  Age does not equal maturity and height does not equal age.

August is England’s Silly Season

I walked past a shop on my way to work the other morning and there was a sign on the door saying it was closed from August 3-19 for “holidays”.   I knew that people here in the UK took their holidays seriously, but that was taking it to a new level! I truly had no idea how deserted this country was going to be at this time of year.  My upcoming planned trip to the US (clocking in at 9 days when you include travel time) starts to look very foolish indeed.

Apparently it’s only going to get better for the average UK worker: the BBC has this report on how the UK has to increase its vacation allowance to exclude bank holidays.  At 20 days of proper vacation per year (count that, it’s 4 weeks!) plus the bank holidays the UK looks nuts to an American.    The current UK practice of 8 bank holidays plus 12 days vacation puts their “before” picture as better than at many American companies.

Yet the UK still remains at the bottom of the “league table” for European vacation time. The Danes clock in at 39.5 days per year (that’s 8 weeks!) and France and Germany are mid-pack with vacation time in the mid thirties of days.   When I was in Germany a few weeks ago I actually asked one of the Germans there how they do it.  She told me that the vacation was actually required in her company, there was no option of not taking a full six weeks off each and every year.  They have sufficient redundancy in the company to cover peoples’ job functions and allow them the time off for these remarkable vacations.

Sadly, my job is not like that, there is not much redundancy.  I do recognize that some of my suffering is self-inflicted but I’m not sure how to stop right now.  Even though I’m in the UK where people don’t seem to work weekends and people do seem to take 3 week holidays without blinking, I still feel pressure at this time to keep up with my American peers who take no vacation ever and work more or less 24-7.  I keep saying that it would be very difficult for me to take an extended vacation, especially one sans laptop, although I really am hoping to train myself into the idea of a proper UK-style holiday in the future.  Now I know… August is the time to do it.  This place is currently deserted!