“Socialicing”

Last weekend was delightfully busy. On Friday we went to SocialIce, the one time of year that Rochesterites get out and celebrate the coldness of winter by turning Peace Plaza into an ice sculpture gallery complete with alcoholic drinks. We met our friends from Chile there, Meni and Mario,  and we all agreed… it was too cold to be outside! The sculptures were lovely, the music was inspiring, but we spent as little time out there as possible.

Saturday was Meni’s birthday so I took her out for a girl’s afternoon at Diamond Nails, where we both got mani-pedis, enjoyed a massage chair, and relaxed. Here is Meni with her fantastic nails!

 

Then we headed to Stam for some tasty gelato. However, we had to cut our afternoon short and rush back so I could get some tax paperwork from my former landlord…

….or that’s what Meni thought. Really, that last bit was an elaborate set-up to get Meni to the clubhouse where her husband had prepared a surprise party. Meni was very surprised – because she has a summer birthday in Chile, no one is ever around. Success!! After eating, drinking, and shooting the breeze, we watched some of the very first events of the Olympics. I appreciated how they alternated snowboarding with pairs figure skating. “Something for the boys…something for the girls… coming up soon, something for the boys…”

On Sunday, Chris played handbells at the Festival of Music at church. He knocked the music out of the park using both handbells and the bell tree. Here is an action shot – doesn’t he look cute in a tux?!!!

Afterwards our friend Carolyn, my other soul mate (a flute playing cultural anthropologist!), had everyone in the performance over to dinner.

Of course any weekend so fun must be followed by a week of blah. But even last week had its moments. On Wednesday the 100+ nurses, patient care assistants, and unit coordinators in the float pool gathered for a Team Days. It was FANTASTIC. They fed us, they talked to us about stress relief and conflict management, and most importantly they gave us all the same night off. Many of team went out for drinks afterward and proved, once and for all, that float nurses are NOT antisocial or not community minded… they just never have the same night off!

I was the exception that proved the rule, as I was too busy attending a personal finance course… I have no excuse!

Friday’s Bible study at Side by Side was fantastic. It is such a blessing to have this group of women around me and I really appreciated what everyone had to say. I realized I have really been “leaning on my own strength” with some struggles lately and turning to other people to feel better instead of turning to God.

I worked all weekend and am looking forward to using this week off to catch up on school. First step though will be removing the incredible amount of snow we have acquired in the last 72 hours. Oh, Minnesota.

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White Culture and the Farm

In modern white middle-class America, it’s easy to forget we have roots. When I was growing up in Texas, I often envied my friends whose relatives were more recent immigrants. I love my family and my life, but in some ways I missed the cameraderie of being part of a cultural group.

I am equal parts English, German, Slovak, and Swedish, with a dash of Scottish and a pinch of “unknown” mixed in. I love being all American, but my mix of Caucasian backgrounds makes identifying with one culture difficult. My dad recalled with fondness some of the traditional Slovak foods he ate growing up, and we did eat sausage and saurkraut throughout my childhood, but I never felt a warm identification with a motherland besides the U.S. I attended a great family reunion but it was marked more by pleasant strangers, group pictures and hot dishes than any Swedish connection. I was never swept up in huge idiosyncratic gatherings like in My Big Fat Greek Wedding. I remember an Indian classmate talking about the phenomenon of Indian weddings and how transcendently awesome they were and feeling a teensy bit… jealous.

So growing up in the majority culture, in a culture that does not celebrate itself as a distinct culture, I naturally decided to study anthropology – the study of cultures –  in college. I enjoyed learning about different cultures and alternative ways of viewing the universe and approaching life. I enjoyed learning about the different cultures within my community.

When my husband and I decided to move to Minnesota, part of the attraction for me was being closer to family and to my Swedish immigrant roots. And while I have enjoyed being able to go to the farm at least twice a year, I haven’t really explored those roots except for meatballs at Ikea.

But last weekend, my family came out and we headed up to the farm for a real, honest-to-goodness cultural experience. Now my uncles would describe themselves as “rednecks” (and an exploration of “redneck” Minnesota deserves its own blog entry, if not article).  But what we found there wasn’t backwards or ridiculous, as some people choose to stereotype “redneck.”

It’s a 21st-century interpretation of our culture. The farming culture of Europe transplanted to the Americas and revised, rewritten and adapted to modern mores.

And it was fun and natural and cool. We headed back to the land. Exploring the woods. Walking through the mud. Surveying the fields ready to be planted, the trees that my uncle taps for syrup in good years. Riding around on ATV’s and snowmobiles. Shooting potato guns with deadly precision as a decapitated buck looks on from an old red tractor.

No, it wasn’t exactly a Swedish celebration with meatballs and lingonberries. Instead we were treasuring a mixture of heritages; we ate chicken enchiladas, guacamole and brownies, and drank beer and wine. We celebrated the end of winter, the first inklings of spring. Most of all, we enjoyed being with family. We renewed those intangible bonds that draw us closer together. Our culture.

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.

Out on the Town: Taphouse

We went out to dinner this evening with the “Youngish Adult” group from our church to the Taphouse. They have 40+ beers and some other good drinks. I was sitting between our friends who gave up alcohol for Lent and a friend who is pregnant, so I felt a leetle guilty. But not guilty enough to not order a delicious pear cider! (Chris tried a generic stout and a maple syrup stout – they both tasted like tar water to me!)

We also tried the Taphouse’s sparing selection of food. While they don’t have a kitchen, the “nibbles” we tried were tasty – a good spinach/artichoke dip, tasty oils to dip the excellent bread in, and a fascinating selection of cheeses. They had a pink and white cheese (port wine?), a parmesan, a cheddar, and most interestingly, a CHOCOLATE cheese.

One of our friends was quite distressed at the idea of chocolate cheese but it was quite good. Not as cream-cheesy as I would have thought, just a nice soft chocolate-flavored cheese. (Maybe you have to have some alcohol in you to find this normal). I didn’t think it weirder than Nutella or chocolate mousse.

I think the Taphouse is a great place to hang out. Nice ambience, reasonable decor, and a great variety of beers. About as spendy as you might expect. If you don’t expect a full food menu and are content with some light appetizers, you’ll be content!

5 Reasons Cross Country Skiing Is Great

1. Cross country skiing is a fantastic way to get outside in the cold snowy winter. Sure, it would be easy to curl up in the warmth of your house and play on the Internet. But it is much less depressing to go outside!!

This is a shadow image of me doing my favorite winter activity.

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2. Everyone gives you credit for getting great exercise! “Wow cross country skiing. That’s tough. It burns so many calories.” Etc. It’s awesome! For a short season you can bask in a reputation as an athlete.

What they don’t realize is…

3. Cross country skiing is good exercise that doesn’t feel like exercise! Its so cold that you don’t mind the sweat, and you’re working arms AND legs.

And you can admire pretty scenery like this idyllic frozen pond:

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4. I’m not one of those people who gets a rush out of exercise. Running? PUKE (that’s what I feel like doing when I run). I admire you hardcore people… Mom, Rachel, Mic… But I was not designed to run.

But cross country skiing makes me so happy! I think it must produce an unusual concentration of endorphins relative to the amount of apparent effort because I always feel so elated after a ski.

5. You see zany things while you’re skiing, like dogs with booties. Or these hardy Minnesota geese. Poor cold goose feet…

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So get out and ski while you still can!

Cultural Attitudes Towards Snow

I have lived in many places in my life – California, Texas, North Carolina, Colorado, and Minnesota. Even though they are all in the continental US, they are very different places, and one of the main differences is weather. And one of the main differences in the cultures of these places is attitudes towards weather.

I was much younger when we lived in California, but we lived down the San Joaquin Valley and didn’t get snow that I remember. The only times I saw snow were when we visited the mountains and on our frequent trips to Colorado.

Coloradoans value their snow, as well they should. It is the lifeblood the ski and tourism industry! However I would have to say it is a love-hate relationship as a good blizzard can paralyze travel through the mountains. No matter how many plows you have, you can’t keep those steep-sided passages clear. In addition there’s always the danger of avalanches. Many times as you drive through the mountains you can see sleek tree-bare corridors where avalanches are prone to going, a reminder of the deadliness of snow combined with altitude.

For Texans, at least those in the south of the state, snow is a novelty. People do travel hundreds of miles – to Colorado, in fact – in order to enjoy the snow. Down in Houston, we got a sprinkling perhaps once in five years. (More commonly we had ice storms, beautiful, destructive episodes that killed trees and prevented school). In Texas, we greeted snow with wonder and delight (and a bit of confusion). It was a gift, a transient visitor. I’m sure if it stayed for more than a day, we would have found it tiresome.

It was somewhat similar in the Piedmont of North Carolina. Snow is rare enough that they don’t have the infrastructure to deal with it but common enough that you have maybe one or two good snowfalls a winter, with the consequent driver craziness and cancellation of events. I fondly remember sledding on cafeteria trays at Davidson College after a particularly good snowfall. I think that only happened once unfortunately.

But in Minnesota… snow is a fact of life! The only question is how much, and whether it is enough to ski on. This has been a weird year in that regard; the ground was dry and bare in January and has been covered more or less continuously since. In fact we just had a good snowfall the last couple days. People whine about the snow, of course, having to shovel it and scrape it and get through it to work, but probably no more than people complain about the intolerable heat anywhere else.

Humans are remarkable adapters and in Minnesota people have adapted to more extreme winters than are seen in many other parts of the United States. But I don’t feel that Minnesotans complain as much as might be warranted… instead, they prize stoicism, endurance, and cold-weather tolerance. They are even proud of their  winters. 

I think that’s because Minnesotans are mentally and physically equipped for the winter. The whole apparatus has been designed to deal with the huge amounts of snow and the constant presence of cold. So long coats, snow shovels, four wheel drive vehicles, snow plows, skiing equipment… these are universal in the Gopher State.

Some people make the dubious claim that Eskimos a multitude of words for snow. Even though we Americans don’t have so many words, we do have a variety of attitudes and coping mechanisms for dealing with the “unpredictable white mess.”  Because that’s the heart of the matter; the unpredictability of Snow and the need to be prepared. So enjoy the clear sunny days but have your snow shovel ready!