Monthly Archives: August 2008

A perfect midwestern day

Today was my last full “day” home in Minneapolis, MN. Tomorrow I fly east for the second half of my ‘holiday’ from both work and UK life. So it had to be today, the perfect Midwestern afternoon, that would send me on my travels feeling good about the trip here (however difficult) and the time spent.

I met my sister for lunch, Korean food in a tiny deli of the sort that you need to be told to go to because otherwise you would never notice it, but when you get there it’s packed. We then headed to our beloved nonagenarian grandmother’s house, where we played two pretty serious games of Scrabble and then did some crafts. Yes, I’m serious. My Gran taught me to crochet when I was about 9, and lately I’ve discovered that you can crochet out of wire and add beads and it starts to resemble jewelry. So me, my sister, and my aunt spent part of our afternoon crocheting bracelets out of colored wire and interesting beads, while Grandma looked on and marveled at the things we were doing. After 5 or so hours hanging out with the family matriarch, I headed back to meet a good friend and her not-quite-3-year-old daughter. I had not seen them in a year (a crime!) we did the thing where you can order pizza over the internet and just hung out with the pizza and a bottle of inexpensive red.

It was nearly a perfect day. My only sad thoughts come with the fact that every time I’m in town I set aside what seems like lots of time to spend with my Grandmother, and every time I’m here I wish I had ten times as much time to just sit around and eat Velveeta grilled cheese sandwiches with her. Nothing is either more midwestern nor more home than a cheese sandwich at the kitchen table with Grandma. And this is why I come “home”.

The Walker, Puck and Target

Today was the day I got to go to the new Wolfgang Puck Restaurant in Minneapolis with my beautiful and talented sister. We arrived at the Walker Art Center slightly early for our reservation at 20*21 so had time to get our gallery tickets and wander a bit before lunch. Our lunch seats on the window overlooking the city were great, the food was amazing and the amusing East-meets-Midwest cocktails (Sake with Minnesota’s own Prairie Vodka served in a martini glass with cucumber shavings) added to the experience. We tried to get into the art, but I’d have to say after my awesome experience at Boston’s ICA a few weeks ago, I saw nothing in either the visiting or permanent collections that left me excited. The building itself was more interesting than the art contained within:

It is, however, slightly disconcerting to see that this parking garage:

is all that remains on the site of the former Guthrie Theater, site of many childhood field trips (as sis and I were discussing today):

Having dismissed the art INSIDE the Walker, we walked out into the Sculpture Gardens where there is plenty of dependable, high quality art of the sort I love the most:

not to mention the iconic symbol of Minneapolis:

Thus satisfied with art and food, we headed across the epic footbridge:

into Loring park, my old neighborhood from my first post-divorce apartment:

We decided it was such a nice day, we would keep walking into Downtown, and go in search of Target, water and coffee, not in that order. We found iced lattes at Caribou, bottled water and did indeed have a nice time at Target. I have to admit, though, I bought no Cheez-its since my dear friend with whom I have been staying had acquired some for me prior to my arrival!

The last amusing scene I wanted to share from Downtown Minneapolis is the pub I used to go to when I lived here, far before I had ever stepped foot on English soil. Seeing all the flags in the breeze today gave me a good chuckle and reminded me that although life can be tough, and sometimes can make you sad, enjoy the ride and have a good laugh at the expense of my own younger self, who had no idea what a real English pub was like until I moved to England.

This is home

(For the soundtrack to this post click here)

The song, Home from Sheryl Crow, was featured in one of my favorite movies, No Looking Back. The movie has several things going for it (not least the killer combination of Ed Burns and Jon Bon Jovi) but also touches me deeply in the storyline, which I feel has some level of analogy to my own life. And it’s one of the hardest things about being “Home” in Minnesota this week. Sure, there is the elation of the Fair and the fun of catching up with family and friends, but it’s not so simple as a happy joy-ride through a happy past. To me it is more of a re-visiting of the past, much of which is somewhat melancholy.

Home is where my marriage broke up, where my ex-husband still resides. Home is where I lived when my beloved grandparents died. Home is where I spent time when my career path was unclear and seemed to be going nowhere. Home is where I have struggled with the fact that my views about the world have changed, leaving me sometimes out of place in my own family. Home is where the broken heart is.

I get this feeling like people are not supposed to talk about these things. Like we are supposed to treat home as a sacred place where all happy memories and feelings lie. I find when I am home, I need to pull away from all of the memory lane activities, pull away from the fun and bustle and have some quiet time and space to nurse my wounds. I suspect this is a good thing but it’s also a hard thing. It’s for this reason that I am taking a separate week off next week to recover from “Home” over at the oceanside where I can walk quietly on the beach and think about life and the way it develops.

I’m sorry to be a bit melancholy today. Having travelled a long distance at a significant expense, it’s hard to find that the “rewards” of the trip are not exactly as expected. As much fun as home can be, I think I know why sometimes people leave their home town and don’t come back. I don’t live here any more, and sometimes I get this hint that I don’t belong here any more either. Who says you can’t go home? Maybe they were right. Or maybe it’s just not home anymore.

Our state fair is a great state fair

I’m here in Minnesota, where the weather is spectacular and home is where the heart is. I got in Saturday night after a long two-stage voyage, London to the east coast and then on to Minnesota. Yesterday was, of course, the reason (excuse) for coming, the Minnesota state fair with my family. It was such a nice day, a few other people decided to go to the fair as well:

We enjoyed the local culture:

Ate lots of healthy food:

We saw some really high-brow “only in the midwest” art:

As a good reminder of my plans to not have children, we saw a 135 lb. calf come into the world, where the vets had ropes tied around its legs as they tried to drag the calf out of the mother by force. The result was:

There were plenty of things that the English palate would find unusual:

Overall, the day was a great example of:


I cannot believe how fast the last two weeks have gone by!  I have simply had no spare time at all.  I have no understanding of this concept, really.  There are 24 hours in every day, I’m lucky to sleep 6-7 and normally there’s a spare hour or two in the day to surf and blog and unwind.  But the last two weeks have been wicked and I’ve been mystifyingly silent.   It’s not like I’ve run out of things to say about life as an American in the UK…

Part of the issue was a US visitor for much of the last two weeks–I say issue but actually it was SUCH fun that I don’t want that to sound like a bad thing!  I just got out a bit more than usual, had some fun meals and did the tourist thing with her a bit.  That’s the best part of having visitors, you get out and see more of your town than you would if you were just living here, working a job.

So now I’m a mere 10 hours from being picked up in a car for my trip to MINNESOTA and the STATE FAIR!!!!!!!!!! (Link is to Lileks and his Strib column on the subject–the fair opened yesterday and I’ll be there Sunday, all travels going well, touch wood!  Lileks correctly pointed out that during the fair, we Minnesotans do Americana the best!)  Having drowned in paperwork the last four days, having been scolded by my junior colleagues for working too hard, not sleeping enough nor eating enough, I am heading “on holiday” the way the English do.  I’ll be away a full two weeks, one in Minnesota and one at the beach on the ocean, and during both hopefully blogging more and writing boring emails less!

In the meantime, for a brilliant time-waster, check out the Guardian’s gallery of odd-but-fascinating olympic photos.

Tacos as foreign food

At my grocery store today, there was a big display of taco ingredients.  Shells, although not a geometry with which I was familiar–more like little trays of food.  Jars of jalapeno peppers and salsa.  The shells I found today are actually packaged with taco seasoning and salsa to help educate the Brits about what to do with Mexican food–add “mince” and “condiments”.  I love this, of course, because I know how good tacos can be and I miss them greatly.  If international foods continue to infiltrate the local consciousness, I see nothing but goodness for British cuisine.

Movies need popcorn

I was appalled by the suggestion this week that movie theatres in Britain were considering eliminating the most important part of the movie: the popcorn. I go to the movies only occasionally–the SATC show was one, Once was another–and I admit that I still seek out an American food flavor when I go. The Brits may have the whole melted butter thing as a no-show, but still, how could I go to a movie without the popcorn? This is my snack, my theatre indulgence. I don’t want to hear “salty or sweet” — which just shows that the Brits are missing the point. And the point is butter. Or butter-flavored oil. We want this. We will pay 10 bucks for the ticket, just give us the opportunity to buy actual popcorn with real fake butter….

Life is short, part 2

The Olympics got off to a bang with pomp, pageantry and fireworks, and then a Minnesota man was stabbed to death while visiting tourist sites in Beijing. In the face of supposedly “massive security”.  And it was not just any Minnesota man, but the CEO of a beloved Minnesota company, Bachmans Floral. I have to admit, I have been ambivalent about these Olympics, of course there are interesting stories, athletes with amazing abilities, but the thing itself seems to have gotten bigger than it should be. Montreal only finished paying off their Olympic debt in 2006, after holding the games in 1976. This year’s games were due to be a mess of protests over China’s human rights record. Now there is this black mark on the latest event. Isn’t it time to stop, to rethink the expense and to consider the many ways that this massive amount of money could be put to better global use?

Life is short

Occasionally one stumbles on a touching story in the internet-world.  Today I happened on the story of an upcoming  indie singer-songwriter, Katie Reider, who recently died at 30 after battling a rare  (inflammatory myofibroblastic) tumor that took over her face, making her unable to speak or sing and also losing her vision.  I love singer-songwriter music, and her story really touched me.  I’m over 30, my sister is 30, and I would hate for either of us to have left the earth by now, especially in Katie’s case leaving behind two young kids.  If you go to her benefit website you can read her story but also you can download a 9-song CD for $1–I’m listening to the CD right now and it is fantastic!

Yes I lectured at MIT in my pajamas, so?

I’ve returned from that upstart new Cambridge in Massachusetts where I spent the last few days of my trip floating around for meetings at such cool places as MIT and Harvard.  I was asked if I could give a seminar at MIT on short notice, so of course I agreed.  However, I woke up Wednesday morning and realized I was out of clothes appropriate for giving a seminar at MIT.

There is a bit of back-story here, of course.  In 2004, when I was about to leave for my first ever trip to Europe (England and Portugal, and yes it’s odd that I then moved here less than 2 years later in 2006…) I bought a new suitcase at Target (of course!) from the Eddie Bauer line (of course!).  It was a beauty, two separate compartments, plenty of room for 2 weeks worth of clothes.  This has been my only suitcase for all the years since; I have a rolling tote and a non-rolling tote, but until this latest trip I had no other suitcase.  However, I had started noticing that it was a bit big for certain applications.  It was slightly (less than 1 kg) over when we went on my music trip a few weeks ago, and I was lucky that Ryanair did not call me on it.  And that was really frustrating because it wasn’t even full!  When I went back to the US in June it was also not full (although of course the weight restrictions were more liberal) and so I had started thinking of acquiring a second, smaller, rolling suitcase.  Which I did, the day before I left for Boston.  It now became a point of pride that I had to pack everything I needed for this trip into the new case, which I figured would be no problem given that the conference was casual and summer clothes are just plain smaller.  Since I’d be going to three different cities on the east coast, and sharing the car to Maine with three others with luggage, this seemed like a great idea at the time…

It probably should have been okay.  The issue seems to be my ability to count how many days the trip was actually lasting.  I knew it was a full week at the conference, then 3 days in Cambridge, so ten days, right?  Uh, no, there were two extra days in there, it was actually 12 days.  Now I got lucky in one respect, as I always always pack extra underthings and socks, knowing full well that especially in summer showering more than once daily can be nice.  However, I appear to have not sufficiently over-packed to make a 10 day suitcase work for a 12 day trip WHEN so many of the days were “professional” and not planned too far in advance (like the MIT lecture, which came up with 48 hours notice such that there were already few clean things left that late in the trip).

So back to yesterday morning, picking up just as I’ve noticed that the majority of the t-shirts I had with me were in the “dirty” laundry bag.   I was sitting in my summer pajamas, plaid capri pants with a brown t-shirt, when I pulled out of the remaining “clean” clothes pile… my pajama top.  Also a brown t-shirt, but one that I would not wear out of the house.  For one thing, it’s a sleeveless muscle-shirt, not a real t-shirt.  In addition, it has some strange little mini-pockets that clearly do not hold anything but are whimsically placed.  In my jet-lagged haze at the beginning of the trip, I must have grabbed the wrong brown t-shirt (the one suitable for day-wear) and worn it to bed, not noticing that it was the wrong one.  Frantically I started digging through the rest of the clothes only to discover that this was it–the only item that I had left that was clean and could potentially be layered with something to form a suitable outfit for the MIT lecture was the silly pajama muscle shirt.   When life gives you lemons, dress in layers.  And play wild with the color combinations.  All week I had worn the light khaki pants with a light khaki cardigan when needed, and a white cardigan with white capris.  The white partially-buttoned  light cardigan over the top of the PJ shirt hid the sleeves and the pockets, but I really needed the khaki slacks and not the white capris.  So mix and match I did, the shoes were not ideal, but then again, what was ideal at this point.  After 12 days on the road and three cities, I was ready to come home!

Epilogue: The lecture was really fun, the questions were hard but good, and the one person to whom I confided about the pajama shirt claims he never would have guessed.  Of course, it was a “he” not a “she” and I’m not asking whether any “shes” saw me and thought I looked a bit odd for the circumstances.  I flew home over night last night and am now about to crash again, had a two hour nap this afternoon and then dragged myself into work to check for disasters.  A long day of meetings tomorrow and then it will be FRIDAY NIGHT and a FULL WEEKEND AT HOME hoorah.  I need it.  There is a hell of a lot of laundry to do! 🙂