Category Archives: state fair

Running up the Eastern Seaboard

Let’s see, when last I wrote here I was blissfully in North Carolina, along the Outer Banks, having a beach holiday. And then along came Hurricane Earl. The first week of the holiday, Hurricane Danielle had been a threat. But that threat had diminished and aside from some rough surf leading to a few “no swimming” red flag days along the beaches, there was really nothing interesting there. But Earl decided to head straight for the Outer Banks and with a vengeance. I stayed at the same beach house this year as I had the last two years, but this year brought new owners since last summer, and with them, many improvements to what was already a great house. Internet access proved to be the most important one (a gas grill was also appreciated, as was a huge flat screen TV). I started obsessing over’s Hurricane Central site, checking it every few hours, as it became clear that this was NOT GOOD. On Wednesday morning of beach week 2, with the news looking bad, I decided to evacuate on Thursday morning. This was a mere 48 hours before I would have had to leave as per my planned end of two weeks beach holiday (check-out by 10 am Saturday morning), so not too disappointing really. My view was that by the time the hurricane was due to pass (Friday mid-day) I would have been done beach-ing anyways, and would have been packing up with no more fun to be had. So I spent Wednesday alternating between beach things and packing/cleaning things, and readied myself for the trip northwards and inland into Virginia leaving early Thursday morning.

This was the beach Wednesday, at which point you could see how the phrase “the calm before the storm” originated: there was absolutely NO sign of a hurricane barreling straight at us in this photo!

The self-imposed evacuation all went smoothly and by mid-day Thursday I was having lunch and a glass of wine safely away from OBX, at which point I checked for an update and found that they had called a mandatory evacuation that morning, three hours after my departure. I felt vindicated. My ruthless plan had resulted in my not being stuck in epic traffic once the evacuation was called, starting from three hours after I left the islands.

I now had an extra forty-eight hours before my planned departure for Minnesota and my near-annual visit to the State Fair. I did now have time for some very useful and much needed errands, including such painful things like dealing with an American Bank Account that was every bit as frustrating as the experiences I had with my British Bankers on first moving to the UK. Side-note-story: Basically, when I moved abroad I left small balances (~$100) in both checking and savings accounts in the US at two different banks (from the two parts of the country that I lived before moving abroad, since there were not banks in common in the two places at the time), and apparently one of them (Bank of America) was deducting regular fees for “account maintenance” even though the account was dormant (my other bank, Wells Fargo, has not done this) and kept doing so until the count was just over $30 in deficit, at which point they contacted me to threaten collection. I only received notice of this earlier this year, when my dad brought a pile of American mail over when he visited me, and frankly I don’t get much in the way of useful American mail at the folks’ house any more. So I had to clear the accounts and sort out the deficit balance, which it turns out was more than covered by the savings partition OF THE SAME ACCOUNT so I ended up with cash in hand but no longer have an existing account in case I ever move back to the US (which was why I left the account in the first place, thinking I might be back some day and it was silly to close them and then disappear). SIGH. Other expats be warned, be careful what the fine print on your bank accounts sayeth and do not expect the bank to do anything sensible!!! /endrant

Where was I? Oh yes, moving up the Eastern Seaboard with extra time on my hands. With the free Saturday (during which I should have been just leaving the beach, and after spending Friday with the Very Fun Bankers et al.) I got to go up to Baltimore to visit my newly-repatriated sister who is just settling in to her new job there. She has a fabulous new place not far off the waterfront in a funky-cool part of town with lots of little indy shops and restaurants and jazz bars and the like. I spent a great day with her walking around and taking in the sites, without having remembered to bring my camera up for the day so I shall have to return for photos at another time. But certainly a day of sister time in Baltimore was worth the pain of the hurricane, right?

Sunday I awoke and flew out to Minneapolis, Minnesota for the “family time” leg of my trip. Having dinner with my folks Sunday night was sort of odd, after having had lunch with my sister the previous day in Baltimore. But hey, it’s all part of the wonderful modern world. But I started to fade during dinner, perhaps as a result of having just done the North Carolina-Virginia-Maryland-Virginia-Minnesota dance over the course of only four days. I had a good night’s sleep and awoke early this morning full of excitement over today’s trip to the Minnesota State Fair, but that is truly a subject for another post.

At least one silver lining

I woke up this morning with my head in a fog–stuffy nose, runny nose, sneezing. Classic fall hay-fever has always been a problem for me, and the last few days have been quite taxing in this regard. I realized as I came to consciousness that this might be the one silver lining to my having to leave the US tonight and head back to my other life in England–in England I seem to be allergy-free. So when I think of all the things I have to give up tonight (showers, bathroom electrical outlets, dollars and quarters, Target, American cheese and cheez-its, and of course friends and family) at least I will also be leaving behind the hayfever.

That said, I am feeling pretty ornery about leaving. Part of the problem is not knowing when I’ll be back. See, before the summer started, I had my three summer 2008 US trips all arranged (two for work, this one for play). None of my next work trips take me to the US (Germany, Singapore) and I have compelling reasons to spend some time in other locations when I have time to play (a sister in China, friends in Japan, a friend in Russia and a special surprise coming up). Thus, I truly don’t know when I’ll be back “home” in the US, and it could be that until this time next year there is no obvious slot for a trip. I can plan now to visit the Minnesota State Fair again in August, and I guess if I put that on my calendar now it will be better than nothing. However, I can’t deny that it feels strange to have no more flights booked or dates set for some American down-time. I might just have to sneak in a long-weekend some time…

Regardless, I gave up on the hope of packing everything into my suitcase and have enlisted the aid of a small borrowed tote. I’m checked in for the return flight, have my boarding pass printed, am charging my iPod and cell phones (one each, US and UK) and have the day to soak up the last few bits of Americana before I leave (thanks to Zyrtec, of course!)

Outrunning the storm

So we did end up packing the vehicles and leaving the outer banks of NC before this storm called Hanna actually hit. It was not one of those storms that was going to be Andrew- or Katrina-like in its legacy, but since the house rentals in OBX are Saturday to Saturday, and we would have had to be out of the house by 10 this morning, we would have been trying to drive Northwest about the same time that Hanna herself was going NW and given how hard it’s been raining, I’m pretty glad we decided to pack it in yesterday morning. We had sun or clouds for the packing-driving-unpacking chores and now I’m inside warm and dry watching the storm rage outside. I have to start the other packing chores tomorrow since I fly back to the UK on Monday after my two weeks of happy American-ness. Let’s review:

Week 1, Minneapolis. State Fair, Jonny Lang, Summit beer. New glasses and haircut (things I never seem to have time to do when working full time). Target. Sister and Grandmother plus lots of other family. Friends and their kids and dogs. Not a minute to spare.

Week 1/2 border. Moving east for beach prep. Target. Groceries. Laundry.

Week 2, beach (OBX). Swim in ocean, walk on beach. Get more sun than modern women’s magazines would recommend. Stand resolutely behind the idea of a healthy tan and feel no guilt. Beach triathlon. Relaaaaaaaaaaaax. Cook. Eat. Yum.

Week 2/3 border. Prep for the trip ‘home’ to the UK. This is all speculative, now, and the things I hope to do in the next 48-ish hours. Hopefully get in one more good bout of outdoor exercise once Hanna leaves town. Hopefully get to Target one more time. Hopefully find that everything acquired on this trip will fit in my suitcase (doubtful, must arrange back-up plan!) Hopefully continue to relax just a bit more, since on my return to the UK the next three months will be positively brutal with work. This made my ability to relax at the beach so much more important, and I’m feeling pretty good about having really chilled out (or the opposite given the sun and temperatures) for beach week!

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.

American Invasion

There must not be very many people left in the U.S. right now because I swear they are all HERE in England at the moment. I cannot walk more than a few yards (or meters, Chris) without hearing American speech. It’s a bit stunning, too, as the young girls especially ALL seem to sound like Valley Girls. I swear, I never sounded like that even when I lived in the U.S. Gag me with a spoon!

Of course, I leave for the US again in just over 12 hours. This time it’s a conference in Maine. Last trip to the US this summer that does not include getting to Minnesota… the Minnesota trip is less than a month away. State Fair! Cheese curds! Jonny Lang! I’m dreaming about it already.

Trickery for a good cause

I managed to trick my beloved nonagenarian paternal grandmother into staying on the phone with me for nearly an hour tonight, which was a new record in my nearly two years abroad. Her post-depression era tendencies are to cut off conversations at 15 minutes or so because of what it must be costing; it was a very good night to keep her chatting and distracted for a much longer period of time. The money, of course, means nothing to me compared with the opportunity to chat with her. She is about the only person on whom I spend any long distance phone call money, since the rest of my world is dominated by email and chats (audio and/or video) on skype and other awesome new technologies. My father tried to intrigue her with video chatting once, but it was a bit strange for her, so I stick with the phone. But I will be on a high for the next 24 hours after having the opportunity to chat with her for so long, the time flew by and she must not have been paying too much attention. I feel slightly devious but not really guilty. And that’s a good thing. I can afford to chat with her as much as the time difference permits; since she is home in the day when I get home from working a late evening, it works beautifully. And I will be ‘home’ in Minnesota (for the State Fair!) in less than six weeks and I vow that in this visit I will not waste so much time gallivanting about town such that I barely get to see this most precious gem of a matriarch.

And I’m back…

Back in Old Blighty, that is, although I leave for a week in Germany on Sunday and will be back in the US in less than a month.  I had a really great trip to the US, although as usual, it was mostly work and only a tiny bit of play.  But there were several particularly fun things that I did do while “home” and I think on balance it’s these that made me feel so happy, and so reluctant to get back on the plane across the pond again.

1. Drive.  I had a rental car for a full week of my trip and I drove a lot.  The car was a Toyota Camry, which has grown amazingly large since I last remember seeing them.  It had cruise control, which made my highway excursions all the more fun.  My first car had cruise control and I have been a devotee ever since.  At the end of the day, I am forced to admit that no matter how politically incorrect, no matter how bad for the environment not to mention foreign policy, tooling along by myself in that little gas guzzler (not actually, I found I was getting 40+ miles per gallon) just made me flat out happy.

2. Exercise.  I actually got some exercise on this trip, something which has been totally missing from my life lately, aside from my 10-15 minute walk to work.  Let me note now that that walk has been insufficient at providing adequate exercise.  So on this trip, not only did I haul my butt up onto a treadmill about 4 or 5 times, but I also managed to borrow a bicycle and do a few 10 mile loops.  Now the trick is going to be figuring out how not to lose that progress and momentum, now that I am back in the UK.

3. Work.  I know, this is not supposed to be the “fun” part, but I do actually like what I do, and having quiet days not in my office to actually get some stuff done–it was really great.  Now that I’m back in England I have meetings each and every day for much of the time, so I will have to figure out ways to carve out quiet time again.

4. Eat.  Ah yes, American food.  What does that actually even mean?  I think the “you know you’re in America when you taste…” items that truly distinguished it from Britain are:

  • fajitas
  • Papa John’s pizza (thin crust, yum) and parmesan breadsticks
  • vegetables, especially green ones
  • super yummy fresh salads
  • bagels

I ate well, in fact, at times even ravenously after all the physical exertion. 

So that’s the wrap-up.   Germany coming up is a sort of odd trip, not my usual work thing but instead a CD recording and some concerts with my music group.  And the upcoming US trip in late July/early August will be NO fun and all work and pretty high pressure at that.  So this was it for a little respite before the late August trip to Minnesota for the State Fair, Jonny Lang concert, and family and friends catch-up.  It’s always good to be back “home” (when home is where your belongings are) but it’s also good to have been back “home” (when home is where your heart is).   

I’m a Minnesota girl afterall

So I took a keen interest in this past weekend’s 50th birthday of Prince, a fellow Minneapolitan who does NOT look 50. I look older than he does. Anyways, courtesy GraphJam:

What can I say, this is what it sounds like when doves cry. And in August I will be home to purify myself in the waters of Lake Minnetonka. And hit the state fair. Countdown is on….

Fireworks in November is just wrong

I love fireworks. Love them. But these Brits are so non-seasonal with the upcoming Bonfire night fireworks (5 Nov.). I got so confused in the grocery store last night when I walked in and saw the big displays of fireworks for sale. “That’s a summer thing, ” I thought to myself, completely forgetting it was almost bonfire night. Fireworks are for the 4th of July, the Minneapolis Aquatennial, the Taste of Minnesota, and the State Fair. It’s all over by labor day and not on the radar again until New Year’s eve and then not again until after Memorial Day. You can always tell when I’m homesick, can’t you? The Minnesota talk gets overwhelming. I leave for the US east coast for a conference in 22 days and will be in MN in 28 days. And counting. Must go to Target…