Tag Archives: Life

What I cast away in 2016

Americans, I think, tend to think about things — everything — in terms of gain. Bigger means better. More is good. The best houses are mansions. Personal income and the stock market should always go up. Value meals are valuable because they offer more calories for the buck. The Grand Canyon is worth seeing because it’s, well, grand.

I look at my accomplishments like this. A job worth doing is even better when I can multi-task. Any day is a better day when I can look back on a long list of things to do that got done. A year is always better when it was full.

But 2016 was not of year of making gains for me, it was a year of losing things. Mostly, I lost clutter, an untidy collection of people, places and things no one wants.

A big thing I lost was a court case. I wrote about this court case last January, when we were in the midst of trial. To summarize a seven-year ordeal as succinctly as I can, I was among four named plaintiffs suing on behalf of 400 fellow employees to recoup our retirement fund. I was hopeful a year ago that we would prevail, but we didn’t. The judge issued his ruling in September and I learned, much to my dismay, that losers have to pay the winners’ court fees. Yeah, first I lost my retirement, then I lost the court case and then I was on the hook to pay literally hundreds of thousands of dollars in court fees. That would explain why I never blogged about the judgment; I struggled to find a bright spot.

But after much back and forth, we were forgiven the court fees and legally put the whole drama to bed. So even though I lost the case, I gained peace of mind and the gift of putting all the stress and sorrow behind me.

My Beloved and I also observed the end of an era when my stepson (the younger of my two stepchildren) graduated from college and got a job. He’s still our child, but he’s no longer a child. He’s a self-supporting adult. What we lose in terms of a dependent, we gain in the form of a new approach to parenting. Less control, more equality.

I also helped my stepdaughter scrape a barnacle off the hull of her ship. Without getting into the details, I relished in the opportunity to live in the same house with her for a while, a chance I didn’t get when she was a teenager. Living together with anyone breeds familiarity and in this case, affection.

I effectively and definitively kicked my 40s to the curb in 2016. On Dec. 23, I officially became a member of the AARP crowd. Honestly, I hate aging and I’m not thrilled to be 50, but let’s just say, I discovered some elixirs to dull the effects. Thank you, modern pharmaceuticals.


An image of abundance, captured at an outdoor market in Barcelona, Spain. I didn’t need to buy pounds of dried fruits or nuts to appreciate their beauty.

Other losses in 2016: The Cubs ended a long drought of World Series wins. That was fun. The Dems lost the White House. No matter what you think of the result, a poli-sci major like me found the whole messy process fascinating. I gave up my post-a-day blogging habit, having written something on this blog only 81 times this year, the fewest since 2008 when I posted three times (I’m hoping to turn this bad habit around in 2017).  And I lost 17 glorious June days on a European vacation. In fact, I traveled 161 days in 2016, and the only thing I missed about home was the bills stacking up.

Most significantly and triumphantly, I lost an ugly pantry, some disgusting bathroom flooring and a literal ton of household ephemera. When we decided to list our house on the market (the house itself was the reason for the aforementioned bills), we knew we had to remodel the pantry (did you miss the before-and-after shots? Not to worry — click here) and replace the carpeting in the master bath. Yes, carpeting. Can’t believe I lived with it for nine years. My Beloved and I learned how to tile, and now I can see each individual stray strand of hair I leave behind after a shampoo. After sorting through every last closet and drawer in the house, we shredded 14 boxes of paperwork, filled the trash can innumerable times and dropped off 15 carloads (or at least trunks full) of stuff at Goodwill. I won’t miss a single one of those things, and I’ve learned how to curb my propensity to accumulate.

To fair, not all that I cast away had an upside. I also lost a few treasures.

Like my uncle, who succumbed to a brain tumor in September at age 65. I got one last visit with him in August that feels like a gift.

And my youth, which died quietly of an overdose in April in an elevator in Paisley Park. Of all the shocking celebrity deaths in 2016, Prince’s was personal for anyone who considers Minnesota home.

These sorts of losses serve as reminders that time is short and should be spent carefully, with people and in places we love. So here’s to 2017: May we all spend our time well.

The Island of Unfinished Craft Projects

One of the scenes in the 1964 “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer” features Rudolph paying a visit to the Island of Misfit Toys.

Such a poignant scene, that.

Eventually in that stop-motion animated Christmas special, Rudolph redeems the unloved misfits by finding the perfect children to love the train with square wheels, the water pistol that shoots jelly and Charlie-in-the-Box.

Too bad the Island of Unfinished Craft Projects can’t have a similarly happy ending.

While combing through closets and drawers preparing my house for sale, I kept running across trends to which I no longer subscribed.


Cross stitch, anyone? Sadly, my grasp exceeded my reach (“Kay,” by the way, is my sister’s name — apparently I was thinking emoji-esque thoughts about her decades ago). I also found this incomplete gem:


I haven’t owned a cat for more than 10 years.


This mess represents hundreds of dollars worth of beads, wire and tools to make jewelry. Talk about misfits, though. Half of these pendants don’t have holes through which to string a chain:


They’re pretty in their imperfect way. And like the cat cross-stitch, I found these unassembled earrings, lacking only their hooks and enough finishing work to hide the weaving thread. The instructions are long gone.


More recently, I started and couldn’t finish a wine cork wreath. I even have the glue sticks but, alas, not the stick-to-itiveness.


I tried in vain to unload these odd collections on a couple of Facebook marketplaces to which I belong (because they’re hardly worth the gas to drive across town let alone postage to mail across country). But either I didn’t price them correctly or other folks have dark corners in their homes filled with unfinished projects haunting them because I had only one nibble which fell into the same black hole where my creativity was lost.

Now I am faced with throwing them away, which pains my frugal Midwestern soul, or packing them up for a rainy (snowy?) day that may never come.

Head Elf: Now listen you: You’re an elf, and elves make toys. Now, get to work!

[whistle blows]

Head Elf: Ten minute break!

[Hermey smiles, but then the Head Elf confronts him]

Head Elf: Not for you! Finish the job, or you’re fired!




Golden hour


“Those small spaces of time, too soon gone, when everything seems to stand still, and existence is balanced on a perfect point, like the moment of change between the dark and the light, when both and neither surround you.”

~ Diana Gabaldon in Outlander

Every evening at sunset at Knights Key RV Resort in Marathon, Florida, residents gather on the beach to watch the sun slip beneath the horizon. Seagulls perch like motionless statues, watching the water for evidence of dinner, sometimes suddenly diving beneath the surface to fish.

It’s a magical time when people formally recognize the passing of another day. There’s beauty and sometimes a little wistfulness in this simple act.

The suspended time of house selling

Selling a house must be like a cop working a beat: Long stretches of boredom, punctuated by moments of sheer terror.

It’s Sunday afternoon, and you haven’t had a house showing in two weeks. You’ve gotten a little sloppy. You know how it goes: I can take out the garbage tomorrow. I’ll pick up my Sunday paper later. I’ll clean up the kitchen after my nap.

It’s Sunday afternoon, right? Perfect time for a nap. Just as you’re drifting off to la-la land, the phone rings. Huh, unfamiliar number. Who could this be?

You want to see the house? Right now? By now you mean … now? Sure, sure, we’d love for you to see the house. But could you give us 20 minutes?

You launch yourself off the couch and survey the disaster you’ve permitted to accumulate on every flat surface from the basement bar to the floor of the second-floor spare bedroom. Thank God for adrenaline. If ever there was a time for action, now is it.

The time between the day you put your house on the market and day you meet with the buyers in a cramped, windowless room at the mortgage company to sign the final papers is what Chicago Tribune columnist Mary Schmich might call “suspended time.” She was waxing poetic today about the time between the Cubs’ World Series win and election day, but my suspended time has me sitting in a mostly orderly house I no longer love waiting for the day I can make plans for the next place, which I hold in dreamy esteem.

There’s nothing left to pack (until we can pack every last pair of underwear, every single steak knife and the 15 kinds of pasta I simply couldn’t consume in my last weeks here). There’s no point in decorating anything (since I don’t want to spend even one more dollar on this place). I could clean, say, the refrigerator (except I hate cleaning — and what home shopper looks in the refrigerator?).

On the other hand, I can barely create holiday plans or make reservations or schedule a vacation because we don’t know when we’ll be able to dot the last I and cross the final T.

I am simply waiting.

Oh, sure, I’m filling my time with a lot of cooking, blogging, monitoring election coverage (blech!) and an occasional nap. But it’s difficult to classify any of it as productive or interesting. Necessary, yes, like treading water is necessary when you’re in over your head, but hardly newsworthy.

Suspended time. It’s like suspended animation. You’re alive but asleep. No one goes in. No one goes out. No deliveries. (Sorry, I lapsed into a line from 1989’s The ‘Burbs.)

Part of me Just. Wants. To. Move. On.

And part of me thinks I should take a nap while I can.

So my Beloved and I picked up the clutter in our house in 20 minutes flat. Actually, it was 24 minutes; I waved at the interested buyers as they exited their vehicle and I tore out the driveway with my barky dog in tow.

Twenty minutes later, my Beloved summoned me back.


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.

An ode to a threshold

The holiday weekend couldn’t come soon enough at Minnesota Transplant’s house this week. We spent most of Monday and Tuesday installing new flooring in the pantry aka back entryway aka laundry room, and then I spent most of the rest of the week adding coats of paint and polyurethane to the foot locker where we squirrel away our shoes in said pantry. Lots of sweaty, tedious effort.

I’m not quite ready to show off our handiwork, but I’m particularly grateful for the new threshold from the pantry to the kitchen about which I want to pine away for a minute or two.


The threshold (and my Beloved’s hand as he touches up the quarter round off camera).

Yeah, it’s essentially a two-inch wide piece of plastic hiding the ugly place where the kitchen tile meets the pantry tile. Gratitude. For a threshold. Made of plastic.

Skeptical? Let me explain.

That ugly strip was a bit of stapled linoleum for the past nine years. Since we moved in. I must have walked over it 10,000 times. It was an eyesore that familiarity made me blind to.

And now it’s a perfect detail whose beauty I appreciate that I will soon become blind to, too. But before that happens, I want to appreciate it:

  • It covers those ugly staples.
  • It’s the smooth and flat surface in the doorway, preventing me from tripping when I’m carrying groceries, or another load of laundry, or the recycling.
  • It required extra attention from my handy Beloved who figured out how to even the flooring so it could lie so functionally flat. I have no clue how to perform such carpentry magic.
  • It matches both the old kitchen tile and the new pantry flooring. It’s perfect.

It’s a small, small thing in that little room and an infinitely smaller thing in this big world, but it makes me smile.

Hope smiles from the threshold of the year to come,
whispering, “It will be happier.”

~ Alfred Lord Tennyson

Coping with bangxiety

Today is a bad hair day.

Yesterday I wore an ugly headband and today I’m wearing a hat even though it makes my head sweat in the near 90-degree temps.

Shaggy DA

The Shaggy D.A. on Day 48 with bangs.

It’s because I have bangxiety.


I forgot yesterday was Travel Tuesday and I was supposed to blog about the Yuma Territorial Prison.

My absent-mindedness is because I have bangxiety.

I can’t wait until tomorrow when I have a haircut scheduled.

My impatience is because I have bangxiety.

Thanks to Fab Over Forty, I learned a great new word (bangxiety!) and confirmed my recent decision to adopt forehead fringe. Kari Schultz over at Fab Over Forty blogs that bangs are not frumpy but fabulous for those of us nearing middle age.

Yes, for the first time in 25 years, I got bangs 48 days ago. They were awesome for the first six weeks. I looked decades younger, I’m positive. But now they’re driving me wild with bangxiety! This is always the problem with bangs, I remember ruefully. Time passes, hair grows. And I. Can’t. See!

Now I know why the Shaggy D.A. had a nose for mystery. He sure didn’t have the eyesight for it!