Monday, December 27, 2010

Airport Parenting

The stormy weather last week left thousands of passengers stranded. Delays due to the icy conditions in Moscow have even caused riots at the airport. These days with delays, cancellations, extra fees and security checks the word airport rarely congers soothing thoughts especially when kids are throw into the mix. However, while I waited for my flight out of Grand Forks, ND which was delayed for an hour and half due to engine failure(!), I did see overhear some very unexpected words from an extremely well composed parent.

Sitting behind me in the airport lobby was an antsy young boy, maybe 7 or 8 years old and his mom. To calm the boy down she said in the most calming voice, "how you respond to situations like this really speaks to your character." Wow, really??? To a 7-year-old? Does he know what the word character means?

At first I couldn't believe what I had heard but what took place next was even more shocking. The boy stopped fidgeting immediately and never spoke another word. Whatever that woman did she need to go file a patent, write a book and have a TV show about it.

Later on I did see the family holding their passports so we know they weren't just utilizing local country principles... If that boy didn't get the message it sure did leave a memorable impression on me.

Personality can be inherited, morales can be taught, opinions can be swayed, moods can be influenced but character is built over time. Apparently it's never too early to start or too late to catch up. Building a character and leaving a legacy all sound like things of the past. Just how often do we individuals think about that nowadays? What about our corporations?

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Christmas Morning

The town is completely covered by ice and snow. It's really quiet beautiful. Following my weekend tradition, I put on another episode of the Deadliest Catch and cleaned up my kitchen. I'll be flying to Indiana this afternoon to spend sometime with my parents next week. There's plenty of food for the kitties and Kim is going to come check on them next week. I brought out their kitty tree and toys. I'm miss these little guys but it'll be nice to see my folks and have a break from work and this place...

Merry Christmas everyone!

Friday, December 24, 2010

Tires Comes to Those Who Wait (or has a Chevy)

In case anyone's wondering, I did eventually get the two new front tires installed on my bug. The guys at the first local shop I stopped in didn't look very motivated and told me they're booked until next year. I was appreciative to have gotten an appointment at Firestone. The guys there were very professional and told me it should only take a half hour of so. I didn't care how long it took as long as they get the tires on. I've only been waiting for a whole month!

Still, when I took my car there during my lunch break I waited as if one of my cats was being operated on and not sure if he's going to come out alive. Every time someone walked through the shop doors I would nervously look over to expect them to tell me they can't work on the bug or some piece of tool was missing. No one ever came for me and I waited for a good hour and half. Finally, one of the guys said, "we're just doing the balancing now. It should be ready soon." I didn't allow my relieve to set in until I actually saw the tires on the car.

I look forward to getting a new car next summer but I have a feeling it's not going to be a Ford or a Chevy.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

A Tire a Day, Accidents are Just a Slip Away!

Only here can I get experiences like this. For a month I have been planning and waiting for a set of two new front tires. Even though the original set barely has over 25K miles on it, the fact I've never rotated them made the tires unfit to plow through the snow. When the right size tires were finally came in stock yesterday I was relieved to get them just in time for the big snowstorm. Well, little did I know I was counting the tires before they were put on!

I've never knew how difficult it is to work on a VW until I moved to this town. First I couldn't find anyone to change the oil, then the mechanics couldn't figure out how to check the air filters and now no luck on getting the old tires off! The guys called me into the shop and asked for the "tool kit" that came with the car. Since I've never seen such tool kit before the only logical place to look for it would be around the spare tires. In my attempt to weight down the back wheels I have the tiny trunk stuffed with 60 pounds of kitty litter and a ten pound turkey (it was on sale during Thanksgiving and I couldn't turn down a turkey for $5). The shop guys had no interest to take my stuff out of the trunk so they told me to come back the next day to see their "tire expert." In the meantime I had applied for a Walmart credit card and had to spend $100 on the same day to qualify for promotions. I ended up walking out with ONE tire on my front seat. As I slowly crawled my way home through blizzard conditions I was frustrated but couldn't help but to laugh at the absurdity of the whole thing.

So here I am again at Walmart, after work, thinking I can finally have two new front tires! Well, damn it, not so fast again! I pull right up to the drive through and the guys didn't really care to see me again. One of the ones from the day before asked if I had found the tool kit. My blood pressure instantly raised through the roof. "You were suppose to have looked around the spare tire for the tool kit. Did you look for it?" I snapped back. Then he said, "You have lots of stuff in your trunk." This is just crazy because if you've ever seen the inside of a trunk on a bug you would know it's not possible to stuff much in there. "Could you have just moved the things out of the trunk?" I asked impatiently. "No, we can't remove any personal belongs from the vehicle." Man, that totally pushed me over the edge. "Could you at least have told me that yesterday? I could have just walked over and took the stuff out myself!"

Just as I shook my head in disbelief, the "tire expert" said, "we can't work on your car anyways because our hydraulic system is down. It's been down since yesterday." Oh, WTF!!! Then guy went on trying to explain to me the mechanics of the thing. I allowed him get his words out but I was not in the mood to listen. Clearly I was getting very upset so being the smarter guy in the dumb bunch he did what any sales associates would do, call a manager.

A few minutes later, a small group had assembled in the auto department: managers, shop guys and a couple strangers. I explained the frustration I incurred by coming to Walmart FIVE times in ONE month for TWO tires and still can't seem get anything done! The hydraulic system isn't going to get fixed until late January and I can't wait any longer. The guy from the day before was called in to verify my complain. "What did you tell her yesterday?" asked the manager. "I told her to come back today because we didn't have the tool kit." "Why didn't you tell her about our system being down?" "I don't know." I think it didn't take too long before the managers figured out what I was dealing with...indifference and poor service. As a gesture to salvage customer relations the manager offered me a discount on the second tire to cover extra expenses I will have to pay to get them installed elsewhere in town. It wasn't much but still better than nothing.

So one month and five visits later, I now have two brand new tires sitting inside of my car doing me absolutely no good! I just can't believe this is happening. With extremely limited options around town, it's not like I can just pack up and go to another shop down the street! This IS the inconvenient truth! Employment here comes at a price!!! Tomorrow is another day; another day to try to get two new tires put on the bug!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Cold And Norwegian

This is my second weekend of watching the Deadliest Catch marathon on Netflix. By now the show for me has transformed from a mere distraction to get through the boring weekend to an obsession! For the short time I had basic cable at the corporate apartment I occasionally watched the show when it was on but never thought that I'd actually turn into an avid fan! Captain Sig is actually a very likable character, not in a warm and fuzzy kind of way but more like a rational and stern parent who you eventually comes to love and respect. Season 3 is by far the best one I've watched so far. The ending episode when the captain gave the young greenhorn the the NW jacket off his back was so moving I teared up like a 13-year-old girl watching the Titanic. Now with the Kindle in hand there's nothing stopping me for the "one-click" impulse purchase of the Captain Sig's bestseller: North by Northwestern! Now I'm tempted to buy souvenirs on their website. The "Norwegian Way" appeals would be perfect for this town! Maybe that's why I enjoy the show: cold and Norwegian, just like here! This is just sickening.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Too Distracted to Read

You can always tell a person by the kind of books he has. I've always loved to see my shelves full of books I've collected since high school. Many of them can be traced back to the little used book store on Monroe Ave. The move wore me down and with majority of the my bookshelves destroyed I finally gave in and got a Kindle.

When it arrived on Thursday night I was so frustrated that I couldn't get the wifi to work I almost sent it straight back. After hearing and reading all the glorious reviews I was initially disappointed by the user interface. The menu options are limited and commands are not intuitive. After fidgeting with it for a couple of days I'm finally warming up to the little thing. Kind like people, you've got to accept it for what it is: a simple reading device with a very readable screen. If you're looking for more bells and whistles go straight for an ipad.

Unfortunately it didn't take me long to be completely addicted to word games on my new Kindle! I've got the Shuffle Row, Scrabbles and Every Word downloaded and I spend a good portion of my day trying to beat my own scores on the "Shuffle Row." The game shows seven letters one at a time in a row and the player must try make up the longest word to score points before the first letter expires and the new letters come up. The game lasts about 10-15 minutes and my competitive side finds it totally addictive. It's so bad that I even took it to the gym with me today and played a game of scrabbles on the treadmill. It took me a mile to complete the game. Maybe with enough practice I can run and play scrabble at the same time and get 1.5 miles in a game? Or maybe I can speed up my game to three quarter of a mile's time? Is it wrong to have a kindle and not read books on it???

The river has been frozen for quite sometime now. The ice fishing village is up and snowmobiles are everywhere. On the way back from the gym I snapped a picture from the riverbank.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Frozen Shut

Winter is well on its way now. With day time temperature dipping to 15 below and -31 windchill factor I have no reason to go outside other than getting the minimum essentials from the grocery store. I feel pretty good having stocked up on frozen tofu and all sorts of sauces I got from Minneapolis. The temperature is so harsh now that my even my door and windows are frozen from the inside! Thankfully heat is included in the rent here otherwise I'd have a real difficult time to pay to stay warm all winter.

The kitties are in hibernation mode now, barely moving and constantly snuggled up to stay warm. They are very cute. I try to get them some daily exercise with the laser light.

The entire weekend was spent watching the Deadliest Catch marathon. Season 1 and 2 done, now onto season 3. Alaskan crab business is hard and dangerous work. According to the show salt ocean water freezes 27 1/2*F and the sea fogs up at 14*F and the coldest windchill called out on the show in the middle of January on the Baring Sea was -25*F. The crab cages and the entire boat can be covered under a thick sheet of ice from the ocean spray. It's hard to watch fishermen perish in the ocean yet there's something strangely satisfying and calming to watch people working in extremely cold conditions. It reminds me that at least I'm staying toasty and dry inside.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Open House

The Elf said "the best way to spread Christmas Cheer, is singing loud for all to hear."
Since this place is already cold like North Pole why not go all the way out for Christmas? Decorated Christmas trees are going up everywhere in the building. Today the company had a grand open house that was advertised in all local news media to welcome everyone in the surrounding community to visit. This special annual event took place in the company auditorium accompanied by the music and cookies. Even though my Christmas carol repertory prior to this month has been pretty much limited to Jingle Bells and We Wish You A Merry Christmas, there was nothing stopping me from getting paid regular work hours to rehearse for and perform at the all day long open house.

I wouldn't call myself a good singer but I have participated in the chorus in both high school and college. Eastman also had an annual holiday sing in the main lobby, which I found to be very enjoyable (and we were only singing about peace on earth). Today's performance was easily the most unique and complex one I've ever experienced.
First of all, we sang five 30-minute sets from 10am to 3pm (starting on each hour and the last one at 2:30). I've never spent so much time praising the Lord in my whole life. Most other religious songs I've had to sing before were typically in Latin so they didn't sound so absurd. And besides, having studied it for three years in high school I really enjoy Latin. I think if I do this once a year I can almost qualify myself as a good Christian.
In additional to the chorus there were also four soloists with ear pieces! We had a professional sound system. REALLY? Are you serious? Shouldn't people be doing moonwalk with that kind of equipment?
Instead of repeating one set of songs five times we did FIVE DIFFERENT sets. All the songs were selected from a company-approved Christmas song book (for copyright reasons, but NOT to be politically correct). And since this town has the highest Norwegian population per capital outside of Norway we had to add a Norwegian song as well! Wow, I am totally beefing up my Christmas song repertory!
To make things more complicated, only selected verses were sung for each song and sometimes the chorus alternates with the soloists. None of this is would be out of the norm if it was under any other circumstances and if we had more time to rehearse. We sang according to an excel spreadsheet detailing the song, the page#, the verses, who sings what, etc. Frankly, no part of today's event would be considered "normal" if we were anywhere else!

To keep all the singers on their toes we had to alternate between half hour of singing and half hour of working. Not sure if this makes a lot of sense considering it takes some people ten minutes just to walk back to their desk. It was kind nice at first but towards the end I was actually exhausted. During my first semester at Eastman I saw a girl faint at a rehearsal and dropped straight down to the floor. Ever since then I was always paranoid about falling off the stands. This afternoon was the worst. I became fidgety towards the end and started to move my legs around to make sure my knees are not locked for me to fall on my face. I was really relieved when it was all over.

The decoration in the large auditorium was really quite impressive with three huge Christmas trees, a handful of smaller trees, a big fake glowing fireplace, a life-size creepy fake Santa, a wall of Christmas stockings for the contest and fancy holiday centerpieces with candles on every table. All the ceiling lights were dimmed leaving only the candles and spot lights on the walls. For a moment I really felt as if I was singing about witchcraft at Hogwarts School in Harry Potter. It was just like that one scene when the chorus sang at the beginning of the school year!

Life is all about experiences. Today was definitely a special one that you won't find anywhere else.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

1/8 Way There

It's been three months since I wore high heels (and twenty more to go!). In a building where my office is a quarter mile from my boss's and I'm always running late it's probably for the best that I always have flats on now. The only difficulty was that I had to buy all new pants to fit my new 3-inch shorter figure. No more skirts in the office but with 20 below wind chill I've got no desire to expose any part of my skin. The cold becomes really painfully when the temperature dips below zero. When the wind picks up it's impossible to be outside. Even though the move was a total disaster and I'm still sorting through the boxes I am glad to be settled into my own place with the kitties.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Winter Frost

View from my windows:

Looks delicious. Feels like 20 below.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Thursday, November 25, 2010


First meal in the new apartment. As stressful as moving was (and still is), I managed to put together a Thanksgiving meal. Traditional American meals are probably not my forte but I was just relieved to be able to get settled in the new place. The whole meal came together much easier than I had thought. A 10-pound turkey, roasted butternut squash soup, bacon green beans, mashed potatoes and Parmesan garlic puff pastry. I had planned to also make an apple butter pumpkin pie but later decided to save it for the next day.

I'm so happy that the kitties are here and are settling into their new home in Minnesota. They look very cozy together snuggled up in their new bed.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Just Drive

The weather drastically worsened over the last couple of days. First round of snow blew through town on Tuesday and now the winter weather advisory and blizzard warning is in full affect in the Red River Valley.

A few of my coworkers are aware of my plan to pick up Rob and the cats from the airport in Grand Forks, ND tonight. One in particular grew more and more concerned as the day got closer(a little too concerned if you ask me). In the last two days I've been asked if I had changed my plan to delay the trip. Although I was starting to get a bit worried about the drive I had no plans to delay the trip. After all, if Rob and the cats can make it all the way to Grand Forks, I'm not going to leave them out in the cold 60 miles away.

When the same lady poked her head into my office first thing in the morning asking if I'm still driving today I finally lost it. "YES!" I snapped back at her with my heart pounding up to my throat. Damn it, I thought to myself, what the F*** do you think I'm going to do? Just give up because it's winter??? I know I've got a small car but this is not the first time I've seen or driven on snow! Just leave me the F*** alone! And that she couldn't do! For the rest of the day she attempted to talk me out of driving every time she passed by my office! By noon I was completely determined to drive to the airport regardless of what the weather condition is going to be like. If I don't drive I would let the weather (and her) win!

There's an urban myth on how nice small town people are: friendly and down to earth. Well, that might be true in some places but the people here drive like maniacs in the winter. I'm more worried about being run over by some F1 pickup than to have my wheels locked up and skid on ice. This morning when I was making a left turn at an intersection, there was a Suburban in front of me and a FX35 behind me and both were fishtailing like their two back wheels are on skates. Winter driving is not just what you drive but how you drive as well. I've got 60lbs of cat litter (and a turkey)in the trunk and drive slower than every other person in town.

I watched the weather online nonstop all day and paid close attention to any flight delay/cancellations. By 6pm everyone boarded on the plane and I logged out of work. The flight won't get in until 10:45 but I left early to stop by some stores to get things for the apartment and a last minute grocery trip. The local stores can be pretty limited. I couldn't find any pumpkin or fresh green beans! Really? It's Thanksgiving and there are no fresh green beens in town?!

The drive to Grand Forks turned out to be not bad at all. The snow left up early in the evening and the road going out of town was clean. I had more than enough time to stock up on groceries and get supplies from Menards. I fill up the tank and got to the airport a bit early. There was no cellphone lot or covered garage and I didn't feel like stepping out in the cold so I drove around a few times and parked to the side of the rental lot. There were a couple of other cars waiting for the same flight but they for some reason decided to continue to drive around. The flight was delayed. I sat in my car and watched the same three cars drove around the lot over and over again like the winter version of the Indy 500. Finally, a phone call came through at midnight and by 2am we were finally home. A long day but I'm glad everyone made it here alright.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Plugged In

To most people block heater is a foreign concept but here in northwestern MN it's a winter necessity. The temperature is finally dipping below zero. This morning I noticed the neighbor is plugged in.

Friday, November 19, 2010

The Meltdown

At 20 degrees Fahrenheit the only thing that is melting down is my sanity. I've been looking forward to getting my stuff delivered from Bloomington, MN. for two months now. What was suppose to be a happy moving day turned out to be completely frustrating and overwhelming.

Moving is always dreadful but having done it so many times I've got it down to a science: that is moving on my own.

Hiring a professional moving company was overwhelming from the beginning to the end and the end is yet to come with so many claims that need to be filed. Half of the furnitures are damaged or scratched. My leaning bookshelves are no longer leaning in one piece and one of them came in such small pieces as if it was dropped off a twenty-story building. The L shape office desk was pretty much destroyed and there's a big hole on the leather part of the sectional. The small apartment was so jammed up when the movers left I couldn't even walk around. The original estimate included unpacking but with rooms stacked complete full from ceiling to floor it was impossible for anyone to unpack and put things on the nearest flat surface. There is no empty flat surface!

I had planned to go back to the office after the moving thinking the whole thing would only take a couple of hours since there are no stairs and with a big open parking lot there was a straight shoot between the truck and the apartment. Instead, when we were finally down recording on the "visible" damages at 3pm I was in no mood to work. When the moves left I sat down and cried for 20 minutes. I've never been so overwhelmed with a move before.

Then I drove straight to the only Mexican restaurant in town other than Taco John's and had a shockingly good meal. The waitress was very friendly and addressed me as senorita. The temperature is now dropping into the single digit at night. I was cold even in the restaurant with my winter coat on and a tummy full of food. In order to warm up my hands and feet I decided to go take a walk at my gym just next to the restaurant. A couple of guys were working out in there with sleeveless basketball shirts and shorts while I walked on the treadmill in full winter gear and my rabbit fur Eskimo hat. It was quite the scene but who the f*** cares when it's cold as hell in this place! Fashion hasn't been a factor since I moved here and from now on it will seize to be part of my vocabulary. Staying warm and alive will have to be my only goals for this winter.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Hell is Freezing Over

Yes, hell is freezing over. Some how the car made through two winters in Rochester without a peep and for the first time the low temperature light went on this afternoon and made a series of terrible high pitch beeps. Another battle at the dental office today. I have yet to find a dentist that is remotely agreeable. A routine cleaning turned out to be anything but routine.
I believe in dental hygiene and practice good daily routine at home with brushing, flossing and waterpik. Medical services are fundamentally business services hiding behind a supposedly good cause that no one can easily say no to. When we go buy something we shop and compare. For most of the things we buy we have a clear expectation of the cost and the end product. Some how when it comes to health issues people become completely illogical on cost and service. Surely doctors are suppose to do what's best for patients but at end of the day what really matters are their bank accounts. Countless studies have proven over and over again that our society as a whole have a serious problem on over prescribing (and we wonder why our healthcare costs are so high). This happens in all area of medicine from childbirth methods to joint and hip replacements. The second myth is that people have misconception that higher cost doctor/facilities offer better service/care. Studies have disproved that and showed that in controlled studies patients actually gave better feedback for lower paid residents or government subsidized outreach programs because those medical professionals on average spent more time with the patients to listen and evaluate their illnesses. We have a long way to go in consumer education when it comes to medical care. Health can be such an emotional issue but it shouldn't be misguided. This is not to say that all healthcare professionals are corrupted by greed but nevertheless in a fee for service pay structure there is always an incentive to up sell. This is not to say that a fix salary base for doctors like the one in UK is the right way to go. It almost feel like there need to be a third party non biased evaluator to validate diagnostics and doctors can not financial benefit from prescriptions. Well, we all know how corrupted that system is.

Today I refused a deep cleaning from my new dentist. I feel fine with my teeth and I only wanted a regular cleaning that is covered by my health insurance. It was completely frustrating that I was told I had no control over neither my teeth nor my money. I hadn't eaten anything all day and by 2pm I was probably overly grumpy to begin with. I said, "Listen, if my teeth are clean in the first place I wouldn't F*** be here! I know if you put me down for a deep cleaning on this visit I will be automatically "enrolled" in this fee structure for the rest of my life! What kind of treatment is that? If they patient is never getting better what the f*** is the point on getting the same useless treatment each time?!? I can't imagine I'm clean my teeth less than any other average person on the street. Are you telling me now everyone is subjected to this expensive "deep cleaning" program?" Just as I was ready to walk out of the office the dentist changed his mind and said he'll make an exception and give me a regular cleaning this time but it won't be as clean! We spent a whole hour talking about it and exactly 5 minutes for a "regular cleaning." I've had a lot of terrible experiences with dentists charged for services they didn't perform and insurance unwilling to reimburse for treatments they see as unnecessary. No matter what the patients always loose. It doesn't help that I went to school for economics and the class on Health Economics by Charles Phelps was the most interesting and shocking!

Anyways, I'm still sore from the night of painting on Monday. I had to finish painting my living room tonight and wrap up the cleaning for the move on Friday. I'm happy to report that majority of the work is done (other than the terrible baseboard problem in the kitchen). I even got new electrical outlet covers. Maybe with some better lighting the place will actually be in tolerable condition.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Ahead of Schedule

The weekend came and went. Just about everyone's heard about the big snow storm in Minnesota (even my relatives in China!). I'm glad to report that as far as snow goes we're well behind schedule. So far no accumulation but the temperature is quite frigid. The high for the rest of the week will be in the 20s while the evenings are getting close to single digit. At least we're still on the positive side of the temperature scale.

What's ahead of schedule is my apartment-improvement project, also known as Operation Tolerable. I've been quite concerned about the location, condition and size of the apartment. Really the only good thing about the apartment is that I can have my furbabies here, legally. I would hate to have to hide them and worry about being evicted in the middle of the winter. I went paint shopping in Grand Forks on Saturday. There was some wet snow but fearing things would get worse on Sunday after everything freezes over I sucked it up and went. There was no weather heading west so I was lucky.

I had a pretty good idea on the colors I wanted. Something light and refreshing. Regardless how many rooms the apartment has (in this case way too many), I'll really be spending most of my time in two rooms: the living room and my bedroom. Light tan/green is in. Just about every home improvement show on HDTV has a green wall somewhere. I picked a very light sharp green called "bamboo" but it really looks more like the inside of a cucumber. For the bedroom I decided on "Bermuda Sand." It sure sounds nice but the color is more creamy than sand or beige. It looks like a cup of coffee with 5 too many creamers. Aren't food analogies great?

The plan was to pick up my keys today and start cleaning and painting the apartment to bring it to a more habitable condition. I've been looking forward to this all day (not sure if I was eager to get my own place or just want to dive into a home improvement project). When I showed up at the apartment at 5:30 I was completely irritated by what I saw: an apartment full of dormitory furniture, dirty office carpet, kitchen baseboards all torn apart. On top of all that there was a questionable looking young man wondering around the apartment claiming his moving stuff out but I didn't see him move a finger. Man, I was not in the mood to deal with all this. I had looked at this apartment a month ago and informed them that I didn't want any furniture inside. When the property manager finally showed up I think she probably have sensed my frustration from outside of the entrance way. The sentence that followed her apology was "you can have the keys today and you won't have to start paying rent until Dec. 1st. Does that make you happy?" "Yes, I really appreciate it," I said. As annoyed as I was, I wasn't going to take anything for granted and act ungrateful. It's a nice deal after all.

Of course, as soon as the property manager left the questionable furniture mover decided to call it a day as well! Even though both people promised to have everything moved out by tomorrow, I still felt the need to consolidate all the furniture into the living room. The pieces were stubbornly heavy! I couldn't even push a desk! Well, furniture sliders to the rescue! I got these discs when I moved here but never thought I'd actually use them. It was a struggle to get the pieces underneath the desks and obviously they don't work nearly as well as advertised. Still they got the job done. I cleaned the bathroom a little and then decided to crack open a can of paint and let the real fun begin! If there's anything I'm good at it's house painting! Something extremely appealing and rewarding about real measurable progress and a project with definitive beginning and end.

I decided to paint the bedroom first since it's quite small and I didn't want to stay for too long. With no ladder around I had perform some balance tricks on a shaky stool to reach the top trim. For the first time I did things the right way and actually took off all the outlet covers before I painted the walls. I'm a big girl now! But I still don't use blue tape. I like painting trims and edges. I see it as a challenge.

According to the plan, painting wasn't suppose to start until tomorrow which means I had no painting clothes on. Well, that's a minor problem. The only way to avoid clothing being painted on is to avoid clothing all together. So here I am with the heat turned all the way up and painting in my undies...of course, with the blinds closed...that is until I had to remove the blinds to paint around the windows! Pants had to be put back on temporarily until I painted the windows. With the room so tiny I only used up half gallon of paint by the time I was done. There was no way I would waste the leftover paint so I started painting the kitchen, which opens directly into the living room. The two colors will go well together. Next thing I know I was painting two additional walls in the hallway. By the time it was all said and done it was 11:40! Oh my god, I was expecting it to be like 8:30! I wish time went by this fast when I was at work! Now after a very long day I'm finally home. I'm tired; my back is sore and I've got paint all over my butt. Time to go to bed. More painting tomorrow (or maybe I should take a break, we'll see).

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Perfect Sunday

Even though this is the third time I've visited Minneapolis, I could barely tell you what it looks like. The first time was purely business. I had a nice view on the top floor of the hotel during breakfast and saw much of the city covered by greenery not unlike Rochester. The two most recent trips mainly took place in the evenings so it was hard to tell what my surroundings looked like. Since I had paid for a night of hotel stay there was no way I would leave the city in the morning without taking full advantage of the beautiful weather: sunny, clear and 60 degrees.
First I wanted to take a couple of pictures of the Basilica of Saint Mary on Hennepin Avenue, just around the corner from the dance studio. It is the first basilica established in the United States of America honored by Pope Pius XI in 1926 (according to Wiki). It looks almost exactly like a smaller version of the Saint Paul's Cathedral in London even down to the location and the cross streets in front of the structure. I guess that's what they call Beaux-Arts architecture.

Then I had to take a picture of the Four Seasons dance studio in daylight. A rare sight I must say.

Since I'm a total glut for "ethnic" food and require constant supply of tofu I decided to take a chance and drive by the Asian grocery store near Minnehaha ave., not knowing whether the store is open on Sunday morning. United Noodle is supposedly the "The largest oriental grocery in the Midwest." The parking lot was almost full when I turned into the small office park. A good sign. However, the real surprise was when I walked into the store: a line of people waiting for freshly made food at the serving counter! "SCORE!" I thought, whatever they are serving I'll be having two. One here, one to go. Upon a closer look there are eight different homemade dishes served cafeteria style: 1 meat + 2 vegetable sides + white/fried rice for $5.75! Wow, I've finally found something that topped the $6 meals at Wegmans!

The food looked good but they tasted even better! There were a handful of single Chinese guys, probably grad students, each sitting by themselves chaoing down the food. This must be the only opportunity for them to have a homemade meal. Kind sad if you ask me. In fact most younger generation Chinese students can't convince themselves to here after graduation. The culture is so different. Everyone is used to the crowdedness in China, the constant clamoring, rubbing shoulders with strangers on the streets, buses, subway, close friends and lots of relatives. This is like a social wasteland in comparison, dominated by social networks that exist only in cyberspace. When I first moved here 14 years ago I thought this place was a living cemetery with deserted streets. Even now I have very few people to talk to on a regular basis but now that I am used to solitude it's difficult to go back. Anyways, food is the topic for now so back to deliciousness. What's so special about lunch here is the fact that this is not something you can order in any restaurant. This is too Chinese to be served in a American Chinese restaurant and not fancy enough for any restaurants in China. Other than the extremely unhealthy piece of fatty pork everything else tastes exactly like how mom would make it. For a minute I seriously thought about buying 5 takeout orders for lunches everyday next week. At the end I decided to only get one takeout, a order of enormous fresh spring rolls and 6 packages of a variety of dried and fried tofu.

I've had my eyes on the outlet mall just outside of the city off 94 since my first drive down here. Today I finally get to go all the way! YAY! But before I could get anywhere I desperately needed to fill up my tank. How nice to have a GPS that could find gas stations...well, only if they were actually gas stations that are in operation!!! Does the city of Minneapolis have any against gas stations? I drove all over the place in and around the U of M looking for a gas station. The GPS took me to not one, not two, but THREE gas stations that were CLOSED! Finally one that's open. I was so relieved I couldn't care less what the price was.

It was so nice to be walking around Albertville Premium Outlet Mall! I had my most comfortable shoes on and no bras...yeah, I thought it would be more relaxing to drive without them but then I didn't realize how awkward things still looked under two layers! Obviously this is not the weekend for dieting so why not have a milkshake from TCBY?! Very berry milkshake! YAY! Trying on dresses from BCBG Max Azria after a big meal doesn't feel all that great but nevertheless I found a nice little casual vacation dress for a bargain. By 3pm I was once again driving at 72mph away from civilization...The drive wasn't bad at all and even though I'm pretty much alone all the time now I still enjoy driving alone with music on.

As much as I enjoyed the weekend in the big city I know I can't make this a habit with imminent winter weather advisor not far in the distance and too many expenses.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Tango Tango One More Time

2 months down, re-shi-re to go. Locals here take pride in their pragmatic lifestyle of we eat what we kill and call themselves "lifers." I on the other hand feel like a fish out of water. Just because I now live in the middle of nowhere doesn't mean I should put my life on hold. The work week flew by and Saturday rolled in full of sunshine. I was indecisive about driving to the Twin Cities up until I got onto the road. The drive went by like a breeze and by 7pm I had already checked into a budget hotel room. I didn't plan to get a room but when I saw just how cheap a room is outside of the city I figured why not. Better safe than sorry. I just need somewhere to catch a few hours of sleep before driving back.

First stop in the big cities is the newly opened Hmong Village at 1001 Johnson Parkway in St. Paul. I am a serious foodie. However, after two trips to the cities and no meals to write home about I needed to do something immediately reaffirm my love and commitment to tasty food. It also helped that I hadn't eaten anything all day and I was completely hungerfied. Hmong Village is an Asian marketplace inside of what seemed like a large flat office building. The hallways by the entrance looked more a community center. Once stepped into the main atrium I was greeted by large murals depicting sceneries from southeast Asia and rolls of stands with fresh greens and fragrant fresh herbs. Hello Thailand, I thought to myself.

The section beyond the market is a maze of small retail stalls with everything from books and DVDs to Thai ethnic clothing and beauty products. This is like a smaller Thai/Vietnamese/Laotian version of the Pacific Mall in Markham outside of Toronto. I'm definitely impressed to see this in the middle of the N. America continent. However, shopping was not the priority. I walked around frantically looking for the food stations and when I finally saw a guy walking by with a green apron I knew I was close. My nose guided me around the final turn and viola! A wall full of food stalls ready to serve up a variety of tasty local treats straight from the night markets of Thailand. By now I was exhausted, starving and thirsty. I walked up and down the hall three times, completely overwhelmed and can't decide on what to have for dinner. For the first time I felt sympathetic towards foreigners trying to order street food in Asia. Finally, I settled on one food stall and uttered one syllable: pho. Of course, the quail was calling for me so I had to get one of those as well.

The Phở really hit the spot. Hot flavorful broth, thin slices of beef, fatty chunks of roasted pork, beef balls and shrimp all came together with a splash of lime and mint leaves. One big bowl of goodness. Even though I'm not one for starchy food, thin rice noodle, being the main staple of southern China and hence Southeast Asia, is what I grew up with as a child. With so many Asian people being lactose-intolerant, rice noodles is often served for breakfast in Hunan like milk and cereal for Americans. It's sold in food stalls around every corner and ready to be served with a handful of add-ons in just a minute or two. I've out countless bowls but never recall seeing anyone actually make it at home. The fish sauce, lime and mints leaves add a different flavor to Phở but the essence transcended to a scene from my childhood.

The quail came with a long neck and for a second I thought I had ordered a rat. Thankfully rats don't come with wings. The Vietnamese ladies behind the food counters are a bit intimidating. The acoustic wasn't the best at the dinning hall and I had a real hard time understanding what people were saying. I couldn't even tell if they were speaking Chinese, Vietnamese or English. Jeeze, no matter what I wasn't going to leave without the crispy fatty pork!

Now with a full stomach and a box of high cholesterol inducing pork fat I was not ready to hit the dance floor. With a hour to spare before the milonga I decided to stop by Walmart to get some cash. However, the GPS couldn't find anything near me. For a second I thought maybe there is no Walmart allowed in the land of Super Targets. Luckily when the GPS guided me to the nearest Supert T there was a Walmart just across the street. With cash in hand the next was to get a quick pick-upper from Starbucks. The GPS showed one just down the street but I couldn't find it for the life of me. Finally, I ran into it inside of Target. Now I've got cash and caffeine the only thing left to do is to dance.
Back to Four Seasons Dance Studio in the heart of downtown Minneapolis near the basilica that reminds me of St. Paul cathedral in London. Dancing was good but nothing really topped last week's performance. Still I danced none stop until well past 1am and when it was time to walk to my car I could barely feel my feet.
Another enjoyable night in Minneapolis...Well, that is until I got back to my hotel room and stayed awake for an hour listening to someone jumping on the trampoline in the adjacent room! GRRR!

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Milonga Accomplished

650 miles round trip for a milonga and a splash of social life. There are three things I wanted to do before the winter is here. As of yesterday I had two under my belt: kayaking on lake Itasca and visiting Winnipeg. We missed our first blizzard by a slim margin last week. With winter quickly approaching I felt like I had to either tough up and drive to the milonga now or wait until the ice melts in the spring. I spent all of last weekend sitting on the couch and I'm not about to repeat that again. Saturday rolled around and I got as much asleep as I could and left with a full tank of gas at noon. The cities are about 5 and half hours away. I stopped in my favorite little Mexican restaurant in Pelican Rapids for lunch. In the middle of nowhere viking land, Pelican Rapids is like a little culture oasis with a Mexican restaurant and market. I got to Minneapolis just before the sunset. With a few hours to spare before the milonga I decided to take a stroll in the Mall of America.

I do kind of miss dancing every now and then but knowing just how terrible milongas are in the States I never felt much urge to go. This time I was more motivated by the total boredom of northwestern MN than the desire to dance. Besides, if the tango scene in Minneapolis is as bad as everywhere else I've been to I won't have to feel like I'm missing out on something when I'm wasting my weekend away on the couch.

However, despite my cynicism the milonga turned out to be shockingly good. The hall was setup perfectly, simple and elegant; cozy but not crowded. The milonga was well attended with good music and dancers with solid fundamentals. Being Halloween weekend a good number of the dancers were dressed up in customs. It took a little while for people to warm up to me but within an hour I was dancing nonstop.

I chatted up with a Chinese lady in between sets and danced twice with a well humored guy who dressed up as Jack Nicholson with sunglasses (or at least that's what I thought he dressed up as). Almost all the dances were enjoyable, which is extremely rare. No matter where I go there's usually a couple of bad apples, leaders who try to do more than they are capable of or manhandle women as if they are puppet dolls. Tango is not about fancy steps and for me no bad dances makes it a good night.

When a set of milonga came through the speakers I remembered the old dancers in Maipu. Milonga is what separate the men from the boys. No matter how great and proficient a dancer is nothing compares to the older generation who grew up to the rhythm of the milonga. The music was so ingrained in them that dancing became second nature. I've had the honor of dancing a milonga or two with them. It wasn't anything fancy but it felt like walking through Central Park with an old guide who grew up in the neighborhood and knew every crack on the ground and every plant in the garden. It's sad to think that they'll all be gone in just a few years.

I was surprised by well I danced especially for not have danced for so long. I held my balance as well as I've ever had and although I was completely exhausted by the end of the night my feet weren't hurting like I expected them to.

But to live up to my crazy/outrageous reputation I had to take the 6-hour drive home after the milonga ended at 1:30am. The drive back wasn't too bad in the beginning but a hour into it things got iffy. I had pulled over twice but couldn't fall asleep. I then sent a text to Rose wondering what she's up to. Rose called me back at 4am and talked me through most of the drive home. The road was completely foggy for three quarter of the way. It was so bad I could barely see a car length in front of me. I was terrified that something was going to jump in front of my car out of nowhere. The sky finally started to lighten up by 7am and I noticed everything around me was covered by a white sheet of ice in complete stillness and dense fog. It was surreal and beautiful. Unfortunately it wasn't something I could capture on camera. However, when I did pull over later on I noticed my two side mirrors where covered by a thick layer of hard ice. I've never seen anything like it! The temperature over night was around 25*F and my mirrors were probably capturing moisture through the thick fog.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

New in Town

Saturday: nothing to do nowhere to go and no one to talk to. After a whole day of NCIS marathon it was time to turn to Netflix. Renée Zellweger's New in Town is a movie I probably wouldn't consider watching hadn't I not moved here. But since the plot sounds rather familiar I decided to give it a go.

As a newcomer in Minnesota myself I find the movie to be pretty spot on. The landscape is exactly the same and we even have our own Land O Lake factory in town! The casts, with exception of the lead characters, all look pretty Minnesotan but the accent is a bit exaggerated. In another two months the locals will be out ice fishing just like the movie and the roads will be in constant whiteout condition due to windy snowdrift. If you ever watch the movie just remember New Ulm, MN is more than 300 miles SOUTH of here! The temperature is dipping into the 20s in the evenings already and the forecast is calling for snow later next week. God, I'm trying to be mentally prepared for the worst. As if it's typically not cold enough, the newspaper is predicting a colder-than-usual winter because of La Niña!!!

There's a thing the locals call "Minnesota Nice." Surely, people are nice and polite here but since I don't look Nordic I'm probably excluded from the nice treatment. Whenever people meet me they always like to ask when I immigrated here. A few weeks back when I was down in the 'Cities' for business meetings, a receptionist asked for my country of citizenship while holding my US passport. There are Jesus, praise the lord, abortion is a sin signs everywhere you drive to especially going west towards Fargo. Pretty much every radio station in Fargo is a Christian station. One nice person in town did offer to help me find a church to go to. Surely, other than minor details I love it here.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Small Town Hopping - "World's Largest" Tour

Having done absolutely nothing on Saturday I felt the need to take advantage of the good weather and put more miles on the bug. I did some research online and gathered 6 of the world's largest roadside statues all within 100 miles from each other. First stop Erskine, MN: the world's largest pike.

Second stop: Frazee, MN: the world's largest turkey.

Third stop: Vergas, MN: the world's largest loon.

Forth Stop: Pelican Rapids, MN: the world's largest pelican.

Fifth stop: Fergus Falls, MN: the world's largest otter. I had to stop twice to ask for directions. At least I wasn't asking for the big beaver.

Last stop: Rothsay, MN: the world's largest prairie chicken. It looks cute and tasty.

Saturday, October 16, 2010


Few days after I started my job I came across a work related article that mentioned "Rochesterians" so curiously I asked my coworker, what are people from Thief River Fall called? "Rednecks!" she responded. Well, it was better coming from her than me. Ever since that day she mentions it to pretty much everyone she introduces me to.

The rednecks here are a special breed. Even though this is the heartland of America, middle of the N. American continent, there is no dealt some distinct culture differences. Majority of the population in this region can trace their heritage back to Sweden, Norway and Germany. Everyone has a handful of Ole&Lena jokes ready to be delivered with authentic Scandinavian accent. Potato dumplings are common staple in most local eateries with homemade dishes. High carbs and butter diet with whatever people can hunt on the land. I have yet to try the dumplings but I have been collecting and trying all sorts of local goodies: Uff da jokes, Ole Lean joke books, a variety of expensive wild rice and all types of brats (including a very tasty blueberry fresh brat).

A coworker invited me to a bonfire last night. It's the first and only social event I've gotten invited to and people there told me I'm experiencing Northwestern MN at its best. The residence is a few miles outside of town down a long gravel road surrounded by woods. We arrived around 8pm just in to watch 5 freshly shot geese to be de-breasted on the truck bed. Since only the breasts were taken out the process looked pretty simple and clean. I just felt a bit wasteful to watch the rest of the geese to be thrown away. The meat was dark red like a slab of bloody red steak, probably as a result of well-used oxygen rich muscles.

For a good hour or so was completely puzzled as why everyone was hanging out in the kitchen and garage with a bonfire outside. I think the host family is very into snowmobiling. There were at least 3 big ones in the garage and a wall full of race plates and trophies. I know nothing about snowmobiling other than the fact they can be quite dangerous. Finally, we were told it's time to move to the fire. So off everyone goes with their beer. The fire was so huge one can barely get within 5 feet of it without being completed toasted. Then someone mentioned they throw in used motor oil in their bonfire as a way to get rid of it. Of course, that caught on with the fire-master who promptly brought out a plate of dark looking motor oil and pour right onto the huge red hot logs! The dense smoke that followed with burning motor oil smell was unbearable yet no one really thought that was out of the ordinary! Are you serious! For the rest of the night I was the only one with my back turned to the fire so my eyes won't get teared up constantly. Between that and my lack of drinking or talking probably really made me an odd ball in the group.

It quickly became apparent that a good time here constitute friends, alcohol, card games and dead animals. I overheard one of the people that an adjacent town will be hosting a fun evening next week: for $35 attendees can enjoy all you can drink alcohol and drawings for firearms! I don't think I'll be participating in that anytime soon. Instead, I'm pretty content staying in watching TV and making extraordinarily spicy meals, some of which takes me 4 glasses of milk to get through.

I didn't stay for very long. Although I didn't talk very much everyone was very nice and some of them were also a bit curious just as to why the hell I moved here. I can't say I'm a big fan of this kind of conversation or explaining how my family immigrated here. When I was leaving people told me if I get lost going back just drive towards the light. I thought, god, what do they think this is, the Luxor? But they were right, the town is tiny but it's still a ray of light in the middle of nowhere. I crawled into bed smelling like a fire log and slept until 10am.

Quick fact: There are more Norwegian descendants living in the United States than there are Norwegian people in Norway (6 mill. vs. 4,8 mill.)

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Itasca and Lost 40

With everything so close in town I barely drove 40 miles from Monday to Friday. Weekend is a good time to catch up on my miles and the perfect weather propelled me off the couch. I wanted to visit the Lost 40 but I had to fit as much into a trip as possible so I decided to start the day with kayaking on Lake Itasca, the headwater of Mississippi River.

Itasca State Park left a wonderful impression in my mind back when I visited in July. Although the land is as flat as an airport runway around here, the terrain changes just 30 miles south of here. Gentle rolling hills and occasional lakes and streams reminds me of upstate NY. Sometimes I imagine I'm still there.

I brought just the right change for a park pass at the unmanned entrance. It was already noon by the time I got in so I decided to stop by the visitor center first to relieve my morning coffee and grab a quick bite to eat. I ordered a cheese burger figuring it is be a cheap and safe meal but unexpectedly it was the worst burger I've ever had with span-like texture and a very strange taste like a terrible veggie burger. Yuck, I was hungry but I couldn't make myself to finish it. Next I went straight for the kayak rental. I wanted to do this on my first trip but I was on my way to Bemidji and Duluth so I didn't have time to linger. For $5.50/hour one can't afford not to take a little trip out on the water. I helped myself to a kayak, climbed in next to a small dock and dragged myself into the water. The kayak was very clumsy and despite my constant effort to challenge the 10mph limit on the lake I wasn't moving very fast. I made a big loop in an hour and figured it was time to go back in and head towards the Lost 40 before it's too late. It was a nice little workout and I could feel my abs tensing up.

On the way up Highway 71 I passed through the town of Blackduck, where there's also world's largest statue of yes, you've guessed it: Blackduck.

The Lost 40 is actually about 144 acres of forest reserve near the Big Fork State Park well known for old growth white and red pine up to 400 years old. Although more than half of the land was covered by trees like these when the white settlers first came to the state, nowadays less than 2% of the trees in Minnesota are considered old growth. This area only exist today because of a land survey error made back in 1882. It took some research online to find the directions and it took even longer to find the actual entrance to the park. For all I can tell the Lost 40 just might be as lost today as it was a hundred years ago. Other than two road side signs the Lost 40 isn't really much of a state park. A long gravel road leads curious visitors to the beginning of a circular trial through the woods. Although the individual trees were impressive I was underwhelmed and saddened by just how small the area really is. The air was fresh with a lovely tint of pine scent. If the forest was any bigger I would be a little worried about either getting attacked by a bear or a Sasquatch. If I stop for a few seconds I could hear rumbling in the dry foliage and calls from various birds. I'm no outdoors-woman so no hope of me identifying anything in the woods. However, one sound I was able to distinguish while trekking was the the sound of a shot gun firing not far away! Bird hunting season is in and deer season is just a month away. Although no hunting is technically allowed in this park there's no way to tell which direction people are shooting at. I've got nothing against hunting as long as whatever is hunted is being put to good use. The sun was fleeing to the west and with no orange anywhere on me I decided it was best to call it a day and run for cover in my bug car.

Thursday, October 7, 2010


It's been one month since I started my new job. I can find a few things to complain about but the paychecks sure make everything better. Not being able to wear heels and skirts is bothering me a bit considering they take up a good portion of my closet. Most companies have internet policies to limit or restrict employees from viewing certain websites at work. Recently I found out that my company goes a step further by providing managers with a weekly report of list of websites visited by each employees regardless what the are. This is a bit shocking to me in a couple different levels. Who's got so much time on their hands to run weekly reports for over 2,000 employees and which managers are sitting around reading them?! Sometimes when work is slow I like to check on flights and imagine going to exotic places. I guess those times are over!

The coworkers are courteous and somewhat chatty which fulfills all my social void. Evenings at home are quiet. I look forward to spend more time at the gym to develop buns of steel!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010


After a whole month of house shopping I finally gave up. I've seen just about every single house on the market in town. They are either terribly out of shape or way out of my budget. Besides, I can't even commit to buying a car did I really think I can put my name on a house??? The thought of home repair and maintenance just doesn't make me feel warm and fuzzy inside.

Finally I decided to put an end to this unsettledness today by putting a security deposit on the pet-friendly apartment behind the community college. People at work were appalled by my decision because of the undesirable location. I'm a pretty private person so as long as nobody bothers me there I really don't care what they do on their own. I upgraded to the four-bedroom for $100 more per month so I have enough room for all my stuff. I know it sounds like a lot of rooms but trust me they are all equally tiny! The whole apartment complex is designed like college dorms. My new home comes with a rectangular living room and open kitchen in the middle with two identical halves on each side made up of two bedrooms and a full bath (total four bedrooms and two full baths). Yes, I've got rooms out of the wazoo so come visit and stay for a while! On the plus side I'll have my own washer and dryer and my car will be parked literately 3 feet away from the door making it slightly more tolerable when it's 40 below! I should get the keys by mid next month and move in before Thanksgiving. As soon as I signed the lease I drove to the nearest gym and signed up for a membership. Progress is in the air. Things are moving towards the right direction. Now I just need to get the kitties here!

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Winnipeg, CA

Third time is the charm. Despite the two failed attempts to drive to Winnipeg things are finally lined up for this weekend. There's good weather and a free place to stay for Saturday night with a distant cousin who just came back from China. There are a couple of small towns along Rt. 59 between here and Winnipeg but I wouldn't be surprised if there are more cows than people in these little settlements.
As I drove through the town of Karlstad two things caught my attention:
1) the Nordic gift shop - very cute inside
2) the ultimate snow Hummer?
Winnipeg is the capital of Manitoba and is considered to be diverse and metropolitan for this part of the continent. My cousin Kyle has lived in this frozen tundra for 6 years now and has finally decided to move back to Shanghai at end of the year. I on the other hand have a pretty tough winter ahead of me. Kyle's friend suggested a boat ride around the Fork, where the Red and Assiniboine River converge near downtown Winnipeg. The afternoon was sunny but the wind made it a chilly boat ride.
The highlight of the trip was of course, Chinese food! YAY! The spicy tasty dishes definitely served as a temporary fix to my cravings. Before leaving the city today we made a quick stop at the mall where I picked up a pair of pants in a hurry and paid more than I ever would for pants. With only three pairs of pants for work I was getting a bit desperate to find something that fits me. I had brought skirts with me but I can't wear them at work because the rubber straps for ESD (electrostatic discharge) is incompatible with high heels. I have attempted to wear high heels with the straps and everyone got a good laugh out of it because it looks absolutely ridiculous. I'll have to post a couple of pictures for illustration.
Anyways, we had Korean BBQ for lunch and then I clinched onto the wheel for a windy ride home. With windy gust up to 35 mph I've never been so nervous driving on a day without snow.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Urban Life

For the first time since I left Rochester I had a glimpse of urban life during a brief business trip to Minneapolis where I actually had dinner last night in a real restaurant!

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

No Pets Please

No luck with houses so it's back to apartment hunting. Fortunately two units freed up at two different locations over last weekend. I looked at one of them yesterday after work. Three small bedrooms, two full baths, living room, open kitchen. Pros: all utilities are included in the rent and each apartment comes with its own washer and dryers. Cons: NO garage and it's located just behind the community college. The rent is on par with what I was used to in Rochester but it's considered very high for this community. The lack of parking garage is a big concern.

I've heard of people "plugging in" their cars in the winter time but it wasn't until recently did someone actually explain to me what that meant. Most people in town have block heaters and remote starters for the brutally cold winters here in NW Minnesota. The block heater is plugged into an electrical outlet in the evenings to keep the engine from freezing up in the winter. Occasional cold weather may not prevent a car from starting up normally but persistent 40 below days can really do a number on the engine oil causing poor circulation and vaporization of fuel in the engine. Since not all parking lots have electric outlets many people also program their remote starter to start the car in 4 hours intervals to prevent the engine from cooling down for too long. Having neither one of these two things I'll just have to wait and see how things are going to turn out with my car and really put the German engineering to test.

I was able to get away during my lunch break today to see the other available apartment just a quarter mile down the road from the back entrance of my work place. It's an ideal location with detached parking garages. The apartment is spacious, clean, well lit and cheaper than the other one I looked at. The property manager was friendly and gregarious. She had brought over an application for me in case I want to put down a security deposit. Everything was perfect and then I asked the dreaded question, "what's the pet policy here?" The nice lady firmly said, "no, we don't allow any pets here. I understand how some people really like their pets but I would never have animals living inside the house." And before she could finish her sentences she took the applications away from me. So I guess it's back to the little place without parking garage...

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Baudette, MN

I didn't get on the road as early as I had hoped but what's the hurry. The little settlements in this part of the country probably haven't changed for decades. The area immediately outside of the town is covered by flat farm land with rich top soil and very few trees.

The Amazons always comes to mind when people think about deforestation but the whole entire state of Minnesota, Wisconsin and other areas around Lake Superior have no old growth forest dating beyond the late 1800s. All hardwood, except the "Lost 40", was harvest by large timber corporations between 1890 and 1930. It's said that today less than 2 percent of the Minnesota's forested land is considered old growth. The so called "Lost 40" is pretty much the only forest area left untouched by loggers due to a land surveying error in 1882. The 144 acres of forest simply didn't exist on the map and is now home to a variety of old-growth tree species, including over 300-year-old white pine. Here's an interesting article on salvaging old timber from the bottom of Lake Superior. Well, enough talk about the "Lost 40" because that's another day's trip.

Today I'm heading to Baudette, MN, a small town northeast here on the Canadian border, also known as the Walleye capital of the world. Walleye was adopted by Minnesota as the state fish in 1965. I'm heading up to Baudette for a photo opt with Willie Walleye and get a brat and potato pancakes at the Oktoberfest.

The leaves are starting to turn in this region and peak fall colors are just another week or so away. The drive up was pleasant as long as I stayed in Indian reservations where there were very little land developed for mass farming. The only sizable town before reaching Baudette is Warroad, MN. By sizable I mean with population over 1000.

As I drove through the town on Route 11 I saw a very nice building that said something visitor center so I decided to pull over and investigate. The parking lot was completely empty but the door was open. "WM. S. Marvin Training and Visitor Center". The name didn't ring a bell until I walked in and saw "Marvin Windows and Door."

"So this is where it all started?" I asked the receptionist. She was extremely friendly and helpful and got me started on a self guided tour of the expansive visitor center. This is easily THE best visitor center I have ever seen for any company, Smith&Wesson or Bacardi. I walked around took some pictures and purchased a big yellow coffee mug as a souvenir.
We chatted a little about my recent move to the area and the day's plan to go to Baudette, 36 miles east of Warroad. She also told me that her sister in-law works at the same company as me and her last name is Lovely. I think the king penguin in that Happy Feet movie was also named Lovely. Everyone is related to each other around here. On my way out she ran to the office and offered me a bottle of water for the road. I was probably the only visitor she's had all day and I almost felt bad for leaving her there by herself in the huge atrium.

Warroad is on the edge of the Lake of the Woods, the sixth largest freshwater lake in the US after the Great Lakes (the Great Salt Lake in Utah is the 6th largest by size). With 65,000 miles of shoreline and 14,552 islands there's no wonder why it's a popular vacation spot for the locals. However, without a boat it's difficult to appreciate its beauty from the flat shoreline other than feelings evoked from the name "Lake of the Woods" and the adjacent area "Waters of the Dancing Sky."

Perhaps another little known fact is an area on the northern shore of Lake of the Woods, Northwest Angle, is the the only part of the US north of the 49th parallel other than Alaska, making it the northern most point in the 48 contiguous states. According to Wiki "Due to laws restricting fishing, some residents of the Northwest Angle suggested leaving the United States and joining Canada in 1997." I've never seen any bumper sticker that says "Free Northwest Angle"!

The sun had finally burned through the clouds by the time I reached Baudette. The lady back at the visitor center told me to stop by AmericInn for an area map but the hotel people said they had no such thing. Instead one of the they told me the Oktoberfest is just a mile down in "downtown" and I can't miss it from all the cars parked around the big tent. Well, I think I would have easily missed the whole town if I weren't paying attention! And by "all the cars" I think she meant maybe 20 of them. There was music in the tent and lots of "polkateers". I was shocked to find out the admission is $15 and includes nothing but a seat in the tent. Well. despite all the driving the only way I would give up $15 here is if there was a big spread of all-you-can eat German food buffet. I politely declined on the entrance fee and just got some food to go. Because I stopped in between lunch and dinner time the choices were limited. I got a brat and some sauerkraut for $2 and ate it on a bench down the street. The potato pancakes were still in the making and won't be ready for another half hour. I didn't drive all the way to an Oktoberfest without getting a potato pancake!

While waiting on the pancakes I walked around the "town" a bit, which consisted of one block of Main Street with a hardware store, a Wells Fargo bank, a hotel and two gift shops. I walked right up to the Canadian border but didn't dare to cross it. It was safe to get a couple pictures of Willie Walleye and Baudette Bay. Weighting in 2 tons and measuring 40 feet long, Willie Walleye is the world's largest walleye statue. A quick look at list of "World's Largest" reveals a huge cluster of big statues on this state. I see more day trips in my future.

The potato pancake was definitely worth waiting for. That along with the lady at the visitor center and the lovely scenery made up for all the driving. I took a different route home and luckily it was much more scenic than the one I had taken in the morning. Majority of the drive was lined with rich fall colors contrasted by the pale white birch tree barks. I had driving along Lower Red Lake during my first trip here back in July but it was pitch dark at the time and I couldn't even see anything. The Lake is big enough where one couldn't easily see the outer parameters. 388 miles later I was home again just as it got dark.

Once my cellphone signal picked up again I talked to my parents about my "second" full day in Minnesota. Originally I was going to tell them once I moved here but then I didn't want the news to hit abruptly so I ended up going through the whole process with them which took 3 weeks from my resignation letter to the final move. Mom is terrified of me driving so I had to tell her I flew here and got a rental car to save her some worries.


It's Friday and the walls are coming down at the office...literately. The boss thought it would be a good idea to knock down the wall between two offices and make a bigger office for potentially four people even though there's only three of us in the department so far. I had a hard time getting refocused after moving the office and finding another temporary spot to settle down for next week.

Stopped by the post office during my lunch break to check up on my mail. I've been here for a solid three weeks now but have only gotten a couple pieces of mail here and there. I know I'm missing some packages, bills and statements but they had nothing for me. I've also noticed that regular mail takes an extra week to get here! My final RG&E bill took over a week to go from Rochester to here with the proper address. Just another side effect of living in a rural community.

I ended leaving work an hour early to get my internet fixed by the cable people. The weather improved 100% since this morning. It was windy, cold, raining and miserable. By 4pm it was sunny and warm. The fall colors are really starting to shine in the sunlight. It was a beautiful scene. I felt like doing something or go somewhere but struggled to come up with anything. By the time the cable guys left I was too tired and lazy to do anything but to take a nap! I slept until 8 and now it's almost 3am. Better try to go back bed and get up early for my day trip!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Don't Judge a Pepper by Its Cover

The lesson of the day: don't judge a pepper by its cover. When I went to Walmart over the weekend there were no hot peppers of any kind. Although the bell peppers were plentiful they were not very fresh. I love spicy food and hot chili peppers are almost as important part of a meal as red meat. The smell of fresh peppers reminds me of the markets near my grandparents house in Hunan where I grew up.

Desperate to find something palatable for dinner I stopped by Hugos on the way home from work. I couldn't believe my eyes when I saw a big pile of fresh hot chili peppers sitting on the veggie shelf as if they've been waiting for me! They must have been home grown somewhere nearby. I can tell they are probably just under a week old from the firmness and the condition of the stems. These peppers are much bigger than average and more straight which usually means they are probably not as hot. Peppers that are spicy are typically long, skinny and twisted (no pun intended).

Boy was I wrong about these peppers! I sautéed them with thin sliced beef and mushrooms. It was easily one of the hottest meals I've ever made or had! My mouth was on fire as I teared up with running noise and ran for the fridge for a glass of cold milk. Frankly the peppers were just way too spicy to eat so I had to pick them out to finish my dinner. I ended up drinking four glasses of milk and spent the rest of the night in the bathroom. Not good.

On the positive side, the numbness in my mouth gave me a break for the terrible toothache I've been having for the last couple of days. I suspected that one of my upper wisdom tooth has finally grown out enough that now bitting and sinking into my lower jaw. The pain has gotten so intolerable I could barely chew or talk so I was left with no choice but to see the dentist. Skeptical of medical fraud I made a point to get recommendations from coworkers for a reputable dentist in town. Luckily I was able to get an appointment today from another cancellation. My benefits don't kick in at the new job until Nov. 1st so any expenses from the appointment will have to be 100% out of my pocket. I explained my situation to the dentists and told them I need the cheapest possible temporary solution for now and come back for the full treatment in Nov. Everyone there was surprising accommodating and I didn't even have to an x-ray! The problem was exactly the same as I had thought. The indentation on the lower jaw was so severe that I had an exactly imprint of my upper tooth! Ouch! The cheapest quick fix was simple to file down my wisdom tooth so that it doesn't pushes down as much! It only took a couple of minutes in the chair and $50 bucks out of my wallet. This is by far the cheapest, fastest and most painless dental appointment ever! Things are feeling a little better now but I have to wait for a couple of days for things to heal.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Another Week

I can't believe I'm already into week three of my job. In a few more days I would have had been here for a whole month! I'm practically a local...NOT! I guess time really flies when you're doing nothing!

I'm getting acclimated to the local culture here in northwestern MN. Having traveled quite a bit after college I'm used to accepting new cultures and adjust to new environments, basically make due with what's available. I brought one cooking pot with me and that's all I've got to wipe up some simple meals. The meatloaf I got last week from the store was just terrible like a combination of a solid block of ground meat and spam! I've tried some local bratwursts but I find them too salty. For the last two nights I've been having walleye for dinners. Walleye is the fish of the region which means it's pretty much the only fish sold at the stores around here. It tastes and looks more or less like cod but with a tiny bit more seafood flavor. Couple towns around here are known as the Walleye capitals of the world. I plan to visit soon and take a picture with the big walleye.

Although I'm still in the continental US there are times when I feel like I'm in a different planet. For one thing I'm pretty isolated off work hours. This is no different than when I'm on the road by myself especially in a foreign country where I don't speak the language. I don't mind the solitude but it's really putting a dent on my wallet with all the online shopping I've been doing! Internet and credit card is just a bad combination.

Before coming here I've never heard or seen a fish house. That'll likely to change this winter. Ice fishing is huge around here. That and hunting and snowmobiling. I saw my first hedge balls last week at the Super One grocery store with big sign in front that says "DO NOT EAT!" According to Wiki it's also referred to as "Osage-orange, Horse-apple, Bois D'Arc, or Bodark (Maclura pomifera)." Supposedly the locals use it to keep the spiders away...with the weather cooling down I doubt they are still around anyways. People refer to garage sales and rummage sales, one level ranch houses are known as Ramblers and roofs are always shingles.

People often have their own ways of referring to things and at times they can be difficult for a new person to get use to. For example some people at work condense the word "regulations" to "regs". It took me a while to figure out what they were talking about. What really drives me off the walls is individuals who refer to the Export Administration Regulations or E-A-R as "ears" like two ears on the sides of your head. This is just unheard of! I literally cringe every time I hear someone say that. Also it should be abbreviated as "EAR" not "EARs"!!! I actually went into the system today and took the "s" off "EARs" on some of the official documents...of course, I didn't tell anyone or they'll think I'm crazy. They probably think I'm crazy anyways. Calling "E-A-R" "ears" is like having an emergency responder refer to 9-1-1 as 9-11 (nine eleven). It's just not right! No emergency responder would ever say that and if you said that to a responder they'll probably cringe and correct you!

Sunday, September 19, 2010


Woke up with a splitting headache this morning. After failing to fall back to sleep for a couple of hours I finally rolled out of bed before noon. Keeping my expectations low for the day I had four things to get done: laundry, hair cut, dishes and grocery shopping.

The hair cut went better than expected. Although there was no line at the House of Hair the appointment seemed to have gone on forever. The hair dresser really took her time as if she's cutting each hair individually. It turned out that she works at the same company as I do during the day and had heard people talking about me in recent conversations. She told me the others said I was very "nice" and now that she has met me she can tell that I AM very nice. It's a everyone knows everyone kind of place and I am the talk of the town for this month. Well I'm both flattered and worried at the same time. One false move can really leave a bad impression on people I haven't even met yet. I wanted to make an appointment for a massage before I left but the masseuse only works from 10 to 3 M to F. What kind of schedule is that???

Fortunately by the time I left the salon the sky had cleared up and so did my headache. I went for a walk in the neighborhood and along the river. Autumn colors are make its way through the sleepy little town. I put the top down on my car probably for the last time this year. I thought, what a beautiful day!

Saturday, September 18, 2010


I've been getting into the habit of starting work before 8am every day. It's surprising how much motivation overtime brings. Usually it takes me longer to walk from the parking lot to the office than it is to drive from the apartment to work. The cold west wind is making that walk more and more unpleasant each day. The rabbit fur heavy duty Manchurian hat I ordered online came in the mail yesterday. I look forward to wearing it soon however ridiculous it may look. I've got no one to impress here other than keeping myself warm and make it through the winter.

It's Saturday but being accustomed to get up in the morning I couldn't get back to sleep after 8. Instead I got up and thought it could be a good day to make another attempt to drive to Winnipeg. First I need to get an oil change. And little did I know my day pretty much started and stopped there! GRRRR!

I rolled into the service stall at Oil Boyz just down the street about 500ft from my apartment at 8:30. I worked on my coffee and the local newspaper as the guys got to work on my car. Always full synthetic to save the number of trips I need to make to the shop. Half hour later one of the guys came up to the window and told me they don't have the right tools to take my car apart to do the oil change. I've heard about this before at other oil changes. For some reason VW has 6 unique screws holding a plate at the bottom of the car which doesn't seem to come off very easily. I was already overdue for an oil change and I didn't feel like make the trip to Winnipeg without one.

So instead I went to a real estate auction in town. It was so frigid this morning I wish I had wore gloves. The house is very cute indeed. The owner had lived there for 45 years and recently passed away. Tomorrow is her birthday. I was just there to observe. Technically I have an open offer out until Monday at 5pm so my hands are tied. The house has two bedrooms, one bath, eat in kitchen, half finished basement and a single car garage. It's got a lot of charm packed into a small space. It also needs all new carpet, paint, windows, bathroom remodeling and new kitchen appliances. But knowing how cheap I am if I moved in there I'd probably try to get through the winter without a refrigerator and just put everything in the garage. By the time I left the house was going for 57K which is still a pretty good deal considering it's 5 houses down from the river and in a very nice neighborhood.

I then came back home to call the cable company because my wireless router hasn't been working for the last two days. Despite countless attempts I couldn't get the router to rest to default setting so now it's stuck with the Ben&Jerry as the name with limited connectivity. GRRR! I spent an hour on the phone with the tech people trying to fix the problem remote but nothing worked. GRRRR! Instead they have to call me back on Monday to send someone over to check it out. Luckily I can latch onto another open network in the meantime.

So then oil change attempt #2 to Walmart. There was no line so I was optimistic to get it down relatively quickly. And being Walmart they probably have seen lots of cars including WV bugs. Well, the oil changes seemed to have taken forever. My heart just dropped when one of the guys told me they've never worked on a bug before. I watched on as he struggled to take my car apart to check my air filters. I had no intention to get new ones but luckily he wasn't even able to take them out so there's no way to change them even if I wanted to! Walmart had exactly the same problem as Oil Boyz. No one seem to have the right tool to take off these VW screws! So instead they told me they can do the oil change without taking things apart. How? I have no idea. By then I was getting really concerned that my car might fall apart as soon as I leave the store. The whole thing took almost 2 hours! I ended up getting fried chicken at Walmart for lunch and was thirsty for the rest of the day. By the time they were finally done with my car I was thoroughly frustrated.

While looking through the papers I saw an advertisement for animal adoption at the Humane society. There was a picture of a orange tabby with "deformed"" ears. I thought the cat looked like an American Curl, which is a breed characterized by curly ears. Not have seen one in person before I decided to pay him a visit. The people there where very nice and the cats were plentiful. Although seemed a little crowded, the animals seem like they were being well taken care off. There were a dozen dogs for adoption as well. They had a large fenced field to run in. Most of them were labs or collies, all big dogs. The kitties were so cute! Maybe once I get settled with my kitties here I can adopt the orange cat with the funny ears. There was also a black one with too many toes! I want to take them all home. I miss my Teddy and Ernie. :(

By early afternoon the temperature warmed up to the 50s. With fall foliage in town I decided to go for a river walk. Even though I have already seen every house on the market in my price range I still drove around town like a made person looking for any house I might have missed somehow. Nothing turned up.

Determined to get another productive thing in before the sun goes down I stopped by the House of Hair. Not sure if it's somewhere I would go in Rochester. I walked in half hour before their closing time but they told me it was too late to start a hair cut. Hum, really, why don't they just have their closing time set a half hour early then! I was a bit annoyed. On the way home I stopped by a second hand store and picked up the ugliest jacket ever with every shade of puking green. I had to get something to make the stop worthwhile and the jacket probably had the best quality out of everything there. It's heavy and ornate. For $12 I would wear it.