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A new project. And as far as projects go, this one is a doozy

The day of reckoning has arrived, and I couldn’t be happier.

My Beloved and I signed the paperwork to buy a 119-year-old Methodist church this afternoon. It’s official. We’re crazy. Or crazy like foxes.

We thought this day might never come, to be honest with you. Our offer on the church was accepted nine weeks ago, but closing was delayed twice.

And yet, things work out together for good to those who love God. And a couple who buys a church surely must love God, I think.

You’re wondering about the back story here. You’re trying to figure out how (and why) we decided to buy a church. Maybe you’re worried I’m about the pass a collection plate.

If you want to know more, you’ll have to subscribe to my new blog at Church Sweet Home. I’d love it if you would (and don’t worry–no collections). My first post is already up; check it out right here.

If you’re perfectly happy hearing Minnesota Wonderer (or Minnesota Transplant, or whatever she’s calling herself) write about travel and the Twins and other assorted life happenings, not to worry. I’ll still post here occasionally about subjects of interest. But I’m devoting myself to writing every day over at Church Sweet Home. So if you can’t get enough of my Midwestern perspective and wry sense of humor, check it out.

Farewell to thee, ye house of little interest and yard with big dividends

As one ages, one learns the importance of paying attention to the passage of time. Saluting it. Savoring it. Actually touching the grains of sand as they slip through one’s fingers.

So as we prepare to move out of the house we’ve lived in for nine years, I’m trying to be conscious about the things I’m going to miss around here.

Honestly, I’m a little bit “good riddance” to the whole cardboard box scene. It was fine when we had a teenage boy in the house who required easy access to a decent education system and a basement in which to entertain his giggly friends, but otherwise, our house pretty much lives up to the description you’d find on its insurance application: A single-family structure with very little character built in a nondescript small town with low crime.

But still. It’s our home. It’s the first major purchase my Beloved and I made together (the first decision was his: “I’m moving to Illinois.” And mine: “I’m going with you.” But that barely qualifies as a decision we made together. The home, now that we decided on together). We did our best to make it charming, and I will sorrowfully miss the built-in bookcases and crown moulding my father installed in my office, but in the end, it’s still just a big house in the suburbs.

Interestingly, the things I will miss most around here are outside. In the yard. The yard I spent exceedingly little time in. Yes, that one. But the truth is, I did appreciate it. When I drove into the driveway. And from inside the house through the big windows. The yard has the aesthetics that are missing from the house itself.

The yard is the thing that sold us the house. I loved that the beautifully landscaped front yard had curb appeal. And my Beloved loved that our back yard faced a protected wetland (some people might call it a swamp, but we liked to refer to it as a water feature).

The landscaping in the front includes a number of ornamental grasses. I just love them, they are so lovely. And this time of year, the plumes on top look ethereal. Here’s the vista that greeted me on a recent morning when I ventured out of the house for a run.



The fenced-in back yard which my miniature schnauzer enjoyed patrolling includes two mature trees — a big beautiful oak tree and a stunning hickory tree — both well over 50 feet tall.

That hickory tree is most beautiful in the fall. Two years ago, I took a picture of the tree every day from Sept. 5 through Oct. 17 for an awesome blog post, but a couple of days ago (before the rain), I stood in the back yard and gazed at the tree’s majesty.


I will also miss the chive plant in our garden, the phoenix-esque rhubarb plant we were thrilled to find rose from the dead and the prodigious mulberry tree growing just outside our back fence (note that all these plants are ones that I neither planted nor was required to tend to — this is how it goes for someone who eschews gardening but appreciates the harvest).

As autumn turns into winter, when all things die, I’m absorbing this last gasp of beauty on the property we call ours. For now.


The first step towards getting somewhere is deciding you’re not going to stay where you are


Minnesota Transplant is bustin’ a move.

With a few swings of a rubber mallet, the house went on the market today.

Oh, wait. There was quite a bit more involved than just erecting the “for sale” sign.

Like going through every room, closet and drawer to clear clutter and once again put the emphasis on the house again instead of our stuff.

Since we no longer need four bedrooms, we’re downsizing. A lot. And that meant not just packing things up (though I did a lot of that), it meant getting rid of stuff.

I said hello to Marie Kondo’s decluttering method of sparking joy and goodbye to seven carloads of stuff which I joyfully carted to Goodwill and uncounted bags of garbage. I no longer needed seven boxes of books, 18 belts, and more dog toys than the weight of my dog (and you should have seen the paper files I brought to the industrial shredder — oh my!). It feels good to be lighter.

But that sort of life-changing magic takes time. Lots of time. Which is why you haven’t heard much from Minnesota Transplant in that past six weeks.

But I have done a little writing, and if you’re interested in seeing how a real estate agent would describe the house I called a home for the past nine years, check out the website I created to inspire some interest: www.318whiteoak.com. (Oh, any hey, if you know anyone looking to put down roots in northern Illinois, please pass this link along!).

Eventually, the house will sell and Minnesota Transplant will transplant herself again. But my roots might not be so deep. Stay tuned.

Travel Tuesday: A little piece of paradise called Omiš, Croatia

I’ve been half way around the world and back since my last blog post.

And I’m a different person.

Oh, not actually a different person. I’m still a 5-foot-10, fitness-obsessed, God-fearing native Minnesotan whose current address is Illinois.

But I’m different.

“In a strange place, you become more fully evident,” writes author Andrew Solomon in Far and Away: Reporting from the Brink of Change. Solomon describes, as summarized by editor Pilar Guzman in a recent issue of Condé Nast Traveler, “how immersing yourself in a foreign environment heightens an awareness of your own otherness — not just as a stranger in a strange land, but who you really are at home too.”

That, in a sentence, is the plot summary of this blog, Minnesota Transplant. I was born in Minnesota and grew up there. I will always be a Minnesotan, even when I live in another state and visit another country. But living in another state and visiting another country informs my sense of self. Every day, every journey, I learn who I am and who I am not.

This is the gift of traveling — learning not only about another place, a different culture, other people, but also about ourselves. Sometimes we learn how great we are. But often we learn how small.

Seeing as it’s Travel Tuesday here at Minnesota Transplant, let me tell you all about my trip. Or at least a part of it. I’ll save some bits and pieces for another Tuesday (or two or three).

In June, my Beloved, my stepchildren and I enjoyed an epic, once-in-a-lifetime type of trip to Europe. We visited Dubrovnik and spent some time in Barcelona, but we lived in Omiš (that caron above the s (the little v symbol) renders Omiš pronounced as oh-mish, not oh-miss).

It’s a little town of about 15,000 in Croatia on the Adriatic Sea.

Croatia? You look confused. Who goes to Croatia?

Croatia, a mostly coastal country once a part of Yugoslavia and embroiled in the Bosnian War in the 1990s, was never on my bucket list either, but as is the case with many things in life, it’s who you know that gets you were you go. My Beloved knows a guy whose parents grew up there, and the guy owns property there he willing opens up to special people. We, apparently, are special.

Never turn down an offer for a free place to stay, especially when that place is on a beach.

A “beach” to a native Minnesotan is a different thing than it is to anyone who lives near an ocean. A beach in Minnesota is sandy if you’re lucky. If the water is not muddy, it’s probably green and hopefully free of weeds and leaches. And to be honest, the sand is often just a stretch of land between the road and a good place to fish.

A beach in Croatia looks like this:

better beach

There is this impossibly clear, frequently calm aquamarine water against a backdrop of craggy mountains.

Get yourself up the mountain, and you are stunned by vistas like this:

mountain view

Wikipedia describes the Omiš Riviera as a place that “stretches for 12 miles along a coast of exceptional beauty, with many perfect pebble, sandy beaches, bays, steep cliffs and a crystal clear sea.” Yes. Yes. And yes.


Walking around downtown Omis.

What we did right — and it was only by the wisdom of the guy my Beloved knows — was to stay in Omiš, a small, tourist-friendly town with several public beaches, lots of interesting places to eat and affordable accommodations (even for travelers who don’t know a guy) where visitors can walk almost everywhere. We didn’t stay in a hotel, we lived in a condo. In June (before the busy season of July-August) Omiš felt like an undiscovered jewel we had all to ourselves.

coffee and pastry

Coffee and my favorite, spinach pastry.

We’d wake up in the morning (the sun officially rises at 5:13 a.m. in Omiš in June but it’s light long before then) and enjoy a coffee from the coffee shop and a pastry from the bakery. Yes, it was two stops, but only steps apart. The pastries were impeccably fresh but enormous; the coffee was fresh, too, but never big enough (I live in suburbia, remember, where Starbucks sizes its coffee as tall, grande and venti, which means, literally, 20, as in ounces).

Nearly everyone speaks English, they drive on the same side of the road as Americans (we rented a car) and the exchange rate was favorable. An expensive coffee was the equivalent of $1.10, so there was no guilt in ordering a second (or third) cup.

Omiš sits at the mouth of the Centina River, so when one tires of looking at the sea (no one tires of this, but the sake of transition, go with me on this), one can take a boat ride up the river and be treated to a gorge not all that dissimilar from the Wisconsin Dells. For us, Omiš was an excellent home base to do a few day trips — to Split, Trogir, Makarska and Dubrovnik. I’ll share more about some of these places in future Travel Tuesday missives.

fish for two

Fish dinner for two. Who gets the eyes?

Since Croatia is on the ocean and only miles away from Italy, the food is comfortingly familiar (think seafood, pasta and wine) and exhilaratingly exotic (think whole fish, the most divine bolognese sauce and house-made apéritifs, a spritely spirit one drinks before dinner to stimulate the appetite). The ice cream in Europe in general, but definitely in Croatia, is creamy beyond measure and available everywhere. I indulged in ice cream at least once a day.

ice cream

Mmm, ice cream.


After visiting such a relaxing and magical place, I am changed. I’ve been to a lot of cosmopolitan places — London, Toyko, Sydney — but the coast of Croatia is, by far, the most breath-taking. I am awed by the natural beauty of the place, and I was seduced by the concept of living and working in such a ruggedly magnificent locale. I am more aware than ever that I grew up in a land-locked state on the plains of America.

Which leads to this conclusion: After my amazing travels last month, I am still the same. I love a good rut. I know, better than ever, that the best adventures for me are ones that are comfortable and familiar. I’m not one to sleep on the floor, eat fish for breakfast or, God forbid, pee in a trench. What I loved about Croatia was that even though I was a foreigner who didn’t speak the language and struggled to count her change, I could feel at home there.

Whatever happened to rickrack?

My parents, who were likely attempting to clear space in one closet or another, gave me my baby blanket not long ago.

I’m about to turn 49. And the idea of using my own baby blanket to swaddle my offspring is moot — that bus has left the station. No babies here.

It’s sort of funny how we hold on to things. Like baby blankets. Long after the baby and all her siblings and even her nephews are grown up. But we all do hang on to things. The baby blanket is not just some quilted fabric. It’s the blanket. That comforted me. When I was still sucking my thumb.

But who throws away a handmade baby blanket? No one, that’s who, not even a woman who never procreated and is just fine with that decision. Do not even speak such heresy.

baby blanket

My baby blanket is a snapshot of an era. You’ll never find a baby blanket like mine in the hands of a baby today:

  1. Note the gender-neutral yellow gingham. I was born before doctors could definitively predict a baby’s gender in utero. When I was born, Mom and Dad had no idea if their baby was going to be a Monica or a Monty (OK, I was never going to be a Monty either, but you catch my drift). Nowadays, couples have gender-reveal cake parties where they announce their baby’s blueness or pinkness long before the baby’s genitalia can be diapered. Yellow is so yesterday.
  2. Check out that rickrack. Remember rickrack? That wavy-gravy brown trim on the clown’s attire? This is how Wikipedia describes rickrack: “Rickrack’s popularity peaked in the 1970s and is associated with the Little House on the Prairie and the pioneer sentiment brought about by the 1976 American bicentennial.” So my baby blanket in 1966 was actually ahead of trends. When I was 16, I worked in a Ben Franklin store that carried a vast array of fabric, thread and other notions. Like display after display of rickrack. Rickrack. Rickrack. RICKRACK. If you say rickrack too much, it ceases to have meaning. It also, I daresay, takes up less display space in the local sewing shop.
  3. About that clown. In the 60s, clowns were sweet and fun. Kind of like cotton candy. But in 1978, serial killer John Wayne Gacy — aka the Killer Clown — was arrested, and in 1986, Stephen King wrote It. Clowns entered the cultural consciousness as scary monsters. Only a depraved parent with a twisted sense of humor would decorate the nursery with images of clowns nowadays .

I have vague, pleasurable recollections of my baby blanket. I apparently fingered the clown’s shoes until I wore them away, so the blanket must have been something special to the little me without fully formed memories. So I will store it away somewhere in my own generally overstuffed closets. After all, it might make a nice lap blanket someday when I’m playing bridge, and the nursing home is kind of drafty.

Hung up on hangers

It’s the little things.

In conversation with a professional organizer I know, she mentioned she uses Costco Non-Slip Hangers whenever she organizes a closet. She argued with conviction that a closet wasn’t organized until all the hangers are the same. Well, I thought, a professional organizer ought to know good hangers when she sees them, right? So I invested in a box, and changed out some of the old hangers in my closet.

Oh. My. Gosh.

Costco’s Non-Slip Hangers are amazeballs! They’re strong, thin and covered in a black felt-like substance that truly is non-slip. And they’re only $9.99 for a box of 35! After I used up the first box, I went back to Costco and got three more boxes, which is still less than I’d pay for a nice pair of pants.

You’ve got to see these for yourself.

Closet Before 2

Clothes closet before.

Clothes Closet After

Clothes Closet After

I am now addicted to my closet. Every time I’m upstairs for any reason, I walk into my closet, flip on the light and bask in the order of it.


(By the way, I recycled my old wire hangers at the dry cleaners. Check with your local cleaner to see if they accept hangers — giving those hangers a new life is better than filling a landfill!)

Does this work of art make my front door look like a lush?

Oh, my god, has it been three years already?!

Yes, it’s been three years since we painted the dining room (and the living room and the kitchen).


Time flies when you’re … um … not painting every wall on the main floor of your house.

In any case, when I showed off the before-and-after pictures of the dining room following that transformation, I left out the north wall, which has looked pretty much like this for three years:

entry way before

A little naked. It’s an expanse deserving of something dramatic, so my Beloved and I have looked for that Something Dramatic for a while now (I still can’t believe it’s been three years of dithering–I could have had a Mona Lisa commissioned, painted and paid for in that time). For a while, we were looking for something gnarly (as in literally gnarled) or possibly a unique piece of driftwood.

No dice.

This week, my Beloved painted the front door. What possessed him to do this, I don’t know, but I can attest it was not me who put it on his Honey Do list. It used to be a sort of tired pine green. Now it’s a lovely shade of Pinot Noir.

He apparently also got tired of waiting for the perfect Something Dramatic to show up unbidden at our front door so he went trolling on the internet to find something to adorn the spot above the church bench. He found Something Dramatic, and it arrived at our front door today:

entry way after

I think it’s cool. If you stare at it long enough, it feels like you’re traveling through the galaxy in hyperdrive.

Hey, wine has an other worldly lure. Maybe we should have gone with Pinot Noir three years ago.

Close-up view from the edge of the universe.

Close-up view from the edge of the universe.



Off to the supermarket we went to provision ourselves in our new home sweet home. I picked up extra virgin olive oil and yellow mustard and eggs and hamburger. My Beloved stocked up on beer. And fresh flowers.

“Fresh flowers … are like a bundle of sunshine, a gift from nature that glows with good cheer.”

~ Martha Stewart

Home, sweet home

Life begins at the end of your comfort zone, as noted by author Neale Donald Walsch, but to there’s something to be valued in one’s comfort zone, too. Let her sleep. For when she wakes, she will move mountains.

Top 10 things to do when you’re home alone

I am savoring a few rare hours of solitary seclusion.

My Beloved and my Adored stepson are on an overnight business trip, leaving me home alone with the dog. This is rare because my Beloved works from home, as do I; we often dine on every meal together for weeks at a time and we usually travel together, even on business trips.

But not today. I have the whole house to myself. I purposely didn’t schedule any client visits. And here’s what I’m gonna do:

  1. Turn off every single, solitary room fan. I hate fans. I hate how fans make my eyes dry and my skin clammy. I’d rather sweat. My Beloved, for all his wonderful traits, drives me nuts by flipping on the fan no matter what time of year; he’d prefer the highest setting in all circumstances. But not today. Today, the air will be as still as a coffin.
  2. Leave the radio on, tuned to 89.5, the local National Public Radio station. What do you wanna bet the radio requires less electricity than the fan?
  3. Wear no bra and the baggiest, ugliest sweat pants I own. Why wear anything at all? Well, with the fans off, my thighs might stick together so I’m not subscribing to the strip-and-go-naked lifestyle.
  4. Spend ridiculous amounts of time in my office surfing the internet and writing whatever I want — a blog post, a book outline, a chapter in my next book. Ha! Human interaction?! I laugh at you!
  5. Eat supper whenever I get hungry, even if it’s 4 o’clock. Or 8 o’clock. Or both.
  6. Cook whatever I want to eat with no regard for the consequences to those around me. One word: Garlic.
  7. Read the newspaper — or a blog, or a magazine, or a book — while I eat. My Adored stepson (quite maturely, I might add) forbids iPads at the dinner table. I agree with this rule, but he also forbids my iPad at breakfast. Well, I am my father’s daughter, and I prefer reading my e-newspaper over my eggs or oatmeal.
  8. Watch the Oprah channel. I will use the “record” button frequently and ignore “recording conflicts.” Any shows with “DIY,” “house” or “food” take precedence over shows with “car,” “fast” or “pawn” in the title.
  9. Arrange the pillows on the couch. Once. Our couch gets a real workout, and the decorative pillows on it are constantly thrown out-of-the-way on the floor. But for the time being, the pillows will sit prettily where they’re supposed to be — and that’s not on the floor.
  10. Pee with the door open! Rebels unite! One of the marriage rules I abide by (some of these rules work better than others, but I’m stickin’ with this one): Never let your spouse see you on the commode (and make him close the door so you don’t have to see that either). It preserves the tiniest shred of mystery between two people who know each other better than anyone else in the world.

I can’t wait ’til your return, Sweetheart. (But don’t hurry on my account.)

Care to add to this list? What do you do when you’re home alone?