We are currently experiencing a new season in Minnesota. I call it Not-Winter. It isn’t late enough or warm enough to be spring, and yet the grass is showing; the temps have come up; the sounds of dripping water can be heard near and far; hope is in the air!
You must understand that winters in Minnesota are generally brutal. BRUTAL. Even this year, it started snowing in early November. Usually, at this point in the season, we are buried under at least a foot of snowpack and any ventures outdoors require hats and gloves and scarves and as little exposed skin as possible. Not this year! I haven’t worn a hat in at least a week and gloves even longer.
Now, I am not deceived. I know it isn’t really over. I know my beautiful, hopeful, spring-indicating dirt will be covered again by snow, but this extended break has made this winter so much more bearable.
It’s Not-Winter! And it might be my favorite Minnesota season ever!
I’ve met another set of transplants. They moved here from Tennessee. More from-the-south friends! I’ve had several of those…they don’t last very long here on the tundra. 🙂 We got to talking about phraseology. (Is that a word? I may have just made that up.) I should’ve been a linguist because one of my favorite things about any new place or person is their dialect, accent, and colloquial vocabulary. A phrase that came up was, “Bless his/her heart.” In the south, if you say that about someone, it is not a blessing at all. It isn’t even anything nice. It’s an offhanded way to say, “That idiot. I can’t believe what she/he did/said, etc.”
Which brought us to an altruistic Minnesotism, “Well, that’s…interesting.” Another gem. My friends from Tennessee have already experienced this one. When a Minnesotan says, “Well, that’s…interesting,” they don’t mean it’s interesting at all. They may mean, “Holy crap, what is she wearing???” or, “Oh my gosh. Can you believe he said that?” or, “I would never in a million years act that way.” But interesting? No, not so much.
Do you know what we say out east if you are wearing something we don’t prefer? We might say, “Ummm, WHAT are you WEARING?” or if someone says something we don’t understand you might hear us ask, “What the hell are you talking about????” Or if someone has a weird idea we may exclaim, “Well, that’s bizarre!”
Rude? Sometimes. Honest? Always. Why not be honest? And although I am getting used to it, the tendency towards passive-aggressiveness here in my not-so-new-anymore state still troubles me. Niceness to a fault or, as one of Chris’s (my Hubs) not-from-here professors at the University of Minnesota once said, “a pathological need to be nice,” still strikes me as worse than a tendency towards being too blunt at times. Blunt can always be followed by an apology, but I stand a greater chance of helping you be a better you by being honest with my opinions than by never telling you anything more than, “Well, that’s…interesting.” 🙂
As I got off the bus and saw it there, my breath caught in my throat for a moment. I have been near it before, but today was MY day. Today I was getting to be a part of it. We walked towards the stadium and crossed the street, the kind-yet-stoic crossing guard waving us on, whistle in mouth, donning his fluorescent yellow vest. Stepping onto the sidewalk I looked left to see the championship banners hung proudly against the honey-colored bricks…1965, 1969, 1970…We turned to our right and walked along the sidewalk, my son being drawn in by the megastore with offerings of every kind and color for this, HIS team. And there, around the corner was this beautiful wall, so simple in its design, yet magical in its effect-a building-sized wall of metal tags that each dangle from a frame. When the wind is silent, they mean little…but then the breeze…and your eye is captivated by this beautiful effect of mist rolling across the stadium, or of an undisturbed surface of a lake being rippled.
The energy hit us at once as we turned that corner-the excitement, the feeling of all being there for one reason, all robed in varying shades of red and white and blue, with the same TC logo, to support this team. We found our gate and entered, immediately heading for the souvenir stand to buy the coveted foam finger. I stood there staring at the wall of mist, entranced by its effect and then allowed my eye to wander left towards this tall light tower, with TC traveling up and down in various patterns and effects. I breathed in deeply and thought, I have never been high, but I am sure this is close to what it must feel like.
Foam finger purchased, we climbed the stairs to our level and found the section where our seats were located. The height dizzying at first, but easily adjusted to. The beautiful Kentucky bluegrass was mowed perfectly into a checker pattern with alternating shades of dark and light green, the diamond neatly raked and sprayed, it was nearly game time. As we waited we were approached by several workers in their bright yellow shirts offering various baseball game favorites, using that voice, you know the one-that circa 1915 New York City newspaper boy voice. “Kettle cawn-getch ya kettle cawn he-ah!”
Three years ago I went to my first Twins game. I came home and wrote these thoughts and never published them in my blog. It was so long ago now that I don’t remember why. I suppose life got in the way, as is so often the case. I do remember this day with significance. It was the beginning of my transformation, my acceptance of living here on the tundra, NOT resignation, but acceptance and determination to be happy here in Minnesota, despite the difficulties.
Baseball. I grew up in a household of mild sport fan-dom. I think my parents were Mets fans. We never really talked about it, but I remember Mets paraphernalia around my home. I always enjoyed watching baseball, but my real love started as a young adult when I discovered those magical Yankees 🙂 I became close friends with another woman who had been a lifelong fan and she taught me all I needed to know about the Yanks. I watched every game I could, got to know all the players, their stories, their mannerisms.
Whatever. I hear your shouts and eyerolls. No matter. They were my team. I’ve gotten over justifying to people why I loved them. I loved them for all the reasons anyone else loves a local team. But more than anything, I loved the sport. The sounds of the game, the announcers, the sheer simplicity of the rules. Then I moved here and with all the nonsense of having to buy a special cable channel to watch my Yankees, well, I lost touch with my beloved baseball.
I lived four years without baseball. I was swallowed up here on the tundra, by a lack of friends, a hate for the weather, a non-understanding of the culture, and a resentment that the Twins were now my local team. I lost sight of many of the things that made me who I am, including my baseball love. Until finally, in that life-giving Spring of 2011 (which I have referenced before) when I decided to stop being miserable, where I found beautiful friendships, started to explore this great city, and emerged from my life doldrums, I decided to give the Twins a chance so I could enjoy baseball again. I did it for my love of the game.
I respected the Twins. They had history and tradition behind them. They weren’t a new, commercially-made team with a lame-ass uniform (think late-nineties Arizona Diamondbacks). They had good stories, some locally-made heroes, some successes. I felt that I could support them without completely turning my back on my Yanks.
The Yanks will always be my first love. They got my passion, my fire, as any first love. But the Twins, well, I’m growing older with them, sharing them with my kids. They let me teach my kids all there is to love about baseball, and since they don’t win as frequently as OTHER teams 😉 the kids will know that love for the game isn’t always about winning. It’s about the crack of the bat and the second of collectively-held breath waiting to see if it goes out of the park. It’s about catching a pop-up and getting on the jumbotron (which happened to us at our first Twins game back in my magical spring). It’s about cheering en masse for your team and hoping for some ninth-inning miracle. It’s about the chance to be free of the day’s worries and feel pure joy for a few hours every now and again because you are reminded that you are part of something bigger than yourself.
I took another step toward assimilating to Minnesota life today. I went to a hosta sale at someone’s home. For those of you not from Minnesota, or not in tune with the gardening vibe here, hostas are like a religion. Everyone grows hostas, or knows someone who grows them, or their grandma grew them when they were a kid. I have actually become quite fond of these plants. They are fairly diverse and come in shades of green, blue-green, yellow, or a combination of these colors. They grow so well here that everyday gardeners can grow them with much success and they spread prolifically allowing people to dig up sprouts and sell them without any worries about them not growing back. I have heard of these sales before but had never gone to one until today.
When I walked up to the hosta sale house a very nice woman, friend of the gardener, started talking to me about hostas and whether or not I grow them. She showed me some different varieties. Then I struck up a conversation with the gardener herself, the curator of the sale. She started talking to me about my favorite varieties, then asked if I wanted a tour of her garden so she could show me what some of the varieties look like mature. As I was following behind her I had this funny sensation. I was imagining who she must think I am. Here I am talking to her about hostas like I have always grown them, like I grew up around here and grew up growing them alongside my mom and grandma. In her mind, I may be very much Minnesotan, my accent has changed a bit and I can talk Minnesotan with the best of them, and I tend to talk that way when around the locals. It’s catchy! To her I may very well have been just another Minnesota girl, albeit dark-haired, but a Minnesota girl none-the-less.
I found myself imagining what that would be like. To have grown up here, to have generations of my family living within a short drive. To have known lakes, not oceans, and non-foldable pizza. It’s not that I regret where I am from. Not at all. But some days I think it might be nice to be like many folks here. To know the coziness of having your family around, to live in a state that you can’t imagine leaving or that you know you will eventually return to. To believe that the weather here isn’t so bad and that winter is something you like and even long for. That life, that one that I think must sometimes be perceived by others who don’t know my story, yes, sometimes I think that would have been a very nice life.
Sometimes I wish I could live that perception even for a day, to see what that contented feeling is like. It’s tiring to always wish that your mom was still here, that your family didn’t live in four regions of the country. I think it would be nice to know that your siblings and your aunts (pronounced onts 🙂 ) and uncles and cousins are all fairly near-by and living a relatively similar existence. I know that life is about choices and contentedness is a choice too. But for me, for someone not from here, it is a choice that takes a lot of work. Some days I get tired of working at it.There are some days I wish I wasn’t shocked at where I have wound up. I wish that living in Minnesota was just normal and satisfying and good enough. It’s tiring to always wonder if the grass is greener in some other place. Some days it might be nice to just be convinced that it isn’t. But that isn’t my story. I am who I am. And most days that is ok 🙂
I’m a mover. A shaker. An Energizer Bunny. I don’t sit still. I get bored if I am not doing. I invest in people. I pour my life into situations. I try to make the most of moments. This is how I live. This is how I choose to live. I like life this way.
When I was a kid, I was deathly afraid of tunnels. We lived in New Jersey and every time we’d go to the city (THE City, you know, New York, the Center of the Universe) we would have to go through the Lincoln Tunnel. I hated the Lincoln Tunnel. It’s looooooong and underwater and people drive really crazy. So, when we would enter the tunnel I’d get off the seat of our station wagon (there were no car seats and we didn’t wear seatbelts in the backseat) and assume the fetal position on the floor of the car. I would hide there until we were through the tunnel. I also hated bridges, heights, and airplanes. Oh! How I hated airplanes! As a young child I flew places. We went to North Carolina to visit my grandma and Puerto Rico to visit family, but once I was in middle and high school my family didn’t have a lot of money, so flying places wasn’t really an issue.
Then I entered college and as a college freshman my friends wanted to go to Florida for spring break. Oh dear. I reeeeally wanted to go, but that meant getting my butt on a plane. I contemplated it for a little bit and then decided to just go for it. I realized that if I never got on a plane, if I let my fear rule me, there would be many, many places I could never go. This was the first act of my, “If you don’t just do it, you won’t do it,” philosophy.
When I had small children, they were crazy, as small children tend to be. I lived in a constant state of chaos. It was like I had my own three-ring circus traveling around with me at all times. My husband was in grad school and I was usually on my own with the kids. But, I’d get them dressed, pack the luggage of supplies (ok, it was just a diaper bag with a few different sizes of diapers, kid snacks, bottles, cups, changes of clothes in three sizes…but it felt like luggage) and we’d go. I’d haul them to the beach in our wagon with their buckets and towels and shovels, I’d take them to parks for lunch, we’d visit friends near and far and even go shopping. I often had friends ask me “how” I did it. And my answer was always the same, “If you don’t just do it, you won’t do it”. There isn’t anything special about me. I am not equipped in ways that other people aren’t, but life is full of choices and I choose to live this way.
Since moving to Minnesota and experiencing my Great Awakening last year, when I was reminded that life is worth living even if it is set in Minnesota, I have continued to live this way. I had a friend say to me a few weeks back, after I had posted pics of some outing on which I brought my family, “You make it look like it is actually fun to live in this state.” Well, it isn’t that it is one particular state over another, and I am sure there are places that are way more fun. Ok, I KNOW there are places that are way more fun, but it isn’t about where you live, it’s about how you live.
Four and a half years ago Chris and I made a wrong turn, (and truly friends, you have no idea of the magnitude of the truth behind that statement.) That wrong turn has landed us here, in the middle of the country, in a culture so foreign we sometimes feel like we left our native land. Never in a million years would I have pointed at a map and set my sights on living in Minnewhere?, as I have affectionately come to call it, but here I am. And life here could be a really mundane, vanilla, plain-pizza kind of existence. And, as I am sure you have gathered by now, I am no vanilla-loving girl. I am a Peanut-Butter-Overload, Ooey-Gooey-Oreo kind of lady. I like pepperoni and peppers on my pizza, please. So, I choose to make the most of this place. I squeeze the life out of it and plan to see all that Minnesota has to offer me. I get out and I go and I see and I do.
But really, it is so much bigger than going out and having fun and doing things. I apply this motto to my life on a much broader, philosophical scale. If I don’t just do it, I won’t do it. THIS is why I am going to grad school, THIS is why I have my sights set on a destination, THIS is why I am not content to just sit still and ride the waves. Truly, even sitting still, life moves you forward. Eventually you get somewhere, it just may not be where you want to go.
Of course, it is much easier to it still. An object at rest tends to stay at rest. It is much easier to stay home and do nothing. It is much easier to ride the waves and see where your life winds up. It might be somewhere great, or not. I can make all the plans in the world, but if I don’t actually get up and do something and act on those plans I may never get there. So, I choose to be an actor in my life, to make life fun and interesting and to map my steps and act on them because I have realized you have to shit or get off the pot. If you don’t just do it, you won’t do it.
It’s a funny thing, to move halfway across the country when you have children. When we made the decision to pull up our roots and haul it west and north, we forever altered not only our own lives but the lives of these four people with whose care we have been charged. So far, they seem pretty happy with the choice we made. But it always strikes me how differently they are growing up.
We left behind a lot in New Jersey. We left people who loved them and who would hug them and play with them. We left our familiar geography and the ability to drive them past the places we had always known and the opportunity to share memories attached to special locations in our histories. We left the beach and the whole beach culture.
I always thought my children would grow up riding cruiser bikes with those distinctly shaped handle bars and fun beachy colors, not mountain bikes or hybrids. That they would spend their Friday nights at diners and at the boardwalk. I figured the smell of the ocean, the distinct saltiness to the air would evoke feelings of home for them and that the sound of the waves would bring the ever-present peace that it brings to me. But that was not to be. We are 1,500 miles from the ocean, from sea level, from cruiser-bike culture.
My oldest daughter, Maddy, has the most Jersey left in her. At 8 years old she was pretty well-trained in Jersey-girldom. She is really the only one who has any sort of accent left (except for a few distinct words, like “orange” which we all say “ahr-ange”) and she has the most vivid memories of the boardwalk and the beach. But the others, not so much. They, fer shewer, are growing up Minnesotan.
This has become very apparent in recent weeks. First, I went to my youngest daughter Hannah’s classroom to read a story for her half birthday. While I was there the teacher asked her some getting-to-know-you type questions. She asked, “If you could snap your fingers and go anywhere in the world, where would it be?” Hannah didn’t say Disney World or the beach or some European country. Oh no. My girl said, “Duluth!!” WHHAAAATTTT??? Good grief. Now, I like Duluth and all but that never in a million years would have been my answer. It’s funny because one of the first things I noticed when we moved here was that people may say they want to go on a vacation but what they really mean is that they want to go to “the cabin” “up North”. This cultural norm was illustrated particularly well by a billboard we saw last year when we went up north. It read, “If you’re lucky enough to be up North, you’re lucky enough.” Truly, people love to go up North and apparently so does my daughter.
The next week it was time to build their Imagination Fair projects. The Imagination Fair is done in the style of a Science fair where all the kids can make a project, but it can be any sort of project or artwork that they want to create. Then the projects get displayed for a day and families are invited to come and see them. My son decided he wanted to make a “Cupbot”, a robot made from leftover paper cups from my husband’s work. But Hannah, well, she decided all on her own that she wanted to make a cabin out of paper towel and toilet paper tubes. She then added to the idea that her cabin would actually be on “the lake” and it would be a houseboat.
Ok. When I was a kid, I am pretty sure I never ever saw a cabin, except in books and I certainly didn’t think to build them, unless I was using Lincoln Logs. The whole concept of a lake was pretty much reserved for those big ones, you know, the Great Ones. We didn’t go to lakes to spend our summer days, we went to the ocean. I looked at my beautiful little girl the night we built her houseboat cabin and I realized how different her growing up experience is from mine and how happy she is anyway.
So, it is true that they might never need a cruiser bike, they may never learn to surf or boogie board, and they probably won’t love seafood or the smell of salt air. They are without that crew of people who had known them since they were babies, but their lives here are so full anyway. They will grow up thinking going to the lake is a great way to spend summer, that a vacation doesn’t mean you have to board a plane, and that there are plenty of things to see and do when you go to the woods and sleep in a cabin. Although the boardwalk will be out of reach, the State Fair will be their outlet for carnival rides and funnel cake. They will grow up knowing that Minneapolis air is nice, clean everyday air even if it isn’t ocean air and they will learn that the sound of the ocean can be easily imagined if you get to spend a night up North camping on the shores of Lake Superior. They may grow up thinking Mary, marry, and merry are all pronounced the same and that the sweet, bubbly substance in a can is called pop, but as hard as it is to admit sometimes, growing up Minnesotan is actually a pretty good thing. Yes, I think for sure, for now, they are lucky enough.
It was unusually warm today in the Twin Cities. I think it hit almost 40 degrees. That is REALLY warm for January. There have been winters here where the temperature didn’t hit 40 til April and the kids and I would celebrate by throwing off our coats, dragging out the lawn chairs and bicycles, and hanging on the driveway all afternoon. A week ago I was posting pictures on facebook about the frost that formed on my scarf in the minus 25 degree wind chills. This week I made that same walk, from my car to my office (about eight city blocks) without any jacket and only wearing a button down shirt. These are crazy times.
Today after work on my way back to the car it was a little cooler so I did put my jacket back on. Half way through the walk I noticed something. I was quite relaxed and strolling. I never stroll these days. I thought about it. Winter makes me hurry. I hurry from the house to the car, from the car to the office, from the office to the car, all the while frantically muttering, “I’m so cold. I’m soooo COLD!”. It is as though I am always running from the weather; from the biting wind that first brings a sting to your ears that is nearly unbearable and then numbness to your extremities that takes many minutes, once inside, from which to recover. Yes, I run from winter.
This winter I made a list of all the things I wanted to do or to try, a bucket list of sorts. Unfortunately, the milder conditions and lack of snow have thwarted my efforts a bit (so strange to write that), but I know it will get cold again and the brutal wind from the North will come to find us. So, I am adding to my bucket list to stop running and to stroll more. This may require better clothing choices, as my one friend would inform me. But I hope to do so, so I won’t have to feel like I am rushing all the time. I left a life of hurry behind when I moved to the Midwest. I’d like to not live that way again just because of the weather. No, I plan to look Old Man Winter right in the eyes and tell him, “I WON’T RUN ANYMORE!!” Then, I’ll take his hand, and stroll with him (or at least walk a little more slowly), and see what there is to see.