Monday, September 29, 2008

A Penny Saved...

It seems like everywhere you turn these days people are talking about money. From $700 billion bailout plans, to plunging stock values, to escalating price of a gallon of milk, there is simply no escaping it. Travelers have their own set of money issues to think about. Saving up, setting a budget and comparing prices are common steps we take when planning for a trip. Hitting the road can get expensive, and many of the big costs are things we have little control over or things that happen unexpectedly. Nevertheless, there are some ways in which those who wander can reign in the money exodus, or at least slow it down.

For example, think critically before you buy something for yourself. When I'm on the road, I feel like going on a shopping spree. Every little trinket, household decoration, and article of clothing looks like a great way to remember my trip. By trying to limit my purchases to items I truly cannot buy back home (i.e., not buying clothes at The Gap in Paris), I've saved a little money and greatly increased the sentimental value of my souvenirs. Speaking of souvenirs, you might be tempted to buy one for every single person in your address book. Don't. Your next door neighbor twice removed doesn't need another Eiffel Tower key chain. Buy special gifts for special people and you'll save both money and time. Eating out at lunch instead of dinner is also a great way to watch the wallet without sacrificing the fun. Restaurants often have less expensive options for lunch. Watch out for "Tourist Passes," which can be found in numerous big city destinations. For one lump sum they offer you access to multiple museums, exhibits, and monuments. They can be helpful in some cases, but make sure you will get your money's worth before you buy. Same thing goes for those tourist buses that drive you around to all the must-sees. They can be costly, and if you're in a city like Paris that is fantastic on foot, totally not worth the price. Lastly, go local. Wine is inexpensive in France, while beer is inexpensive in Belgium. Find your country's staple activity, food, or drink and you'll not only get a taste of the native lifestyle, but you'll also have a few euros/dollars/pounds/yen left over for tomorrow.

Money - how to get it an what to do with it - is often one of the biggest sources of stress in our day-to-day lives. Being on the road can increase the stress, as sudden expenses, poor exchange rates and a slow or stopped income stream all conspire against our feelings of financial security. Thankfully, you do have some control over what happens to your bank account. Better yet, many of the tricks you can use to save money don't demand that you give up having fun for the sake of some spare change. On the contrary, saving on certain things and spending wisely on others can actually increase your enjoyment away from home...and lessen your financial stress when you return.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

The Little Team That Could

UPDATE: Since the original publishing of this post, the Chicago White Sox did indeed beat the Detroit Tigers, thereby throwing themselves into a sudden death game with the Twins for the Division Championship. The game is set for tomorrow! Stay tuned...

I almost didn't do this post. This is a post about baseball, and since I already did a post about baseball in August, I thought it might be overkill. But then I realized that I've done over 100 posts about France, which made two posts about baseball seem entirely within the realm of reason. What has so compelled me to once again start a discussion about a sport that few people around the world even understand? Well, for starters, I've caught September baseball fever. This is the time of year when a season of 150+ games comes down to the last couple of match-ups. What's more, my hometown team is right in the thick of things, hoping to win the pennant and survive to see the playoffs. It could all be decided today.

Being a Minnesota Twins fan isn't fun simply because you live in Minnesota, it's fun because of the nature of this team. The Twins play in a relatively small market (we're not New York, LA, or Chicago), have a relatively small payroll, and in general are not considered a big, important team in Major League Baseball. We're the team people forget about, as was so cleverly spoofed in this ESPN commercial. To give you an example, at $62,182,767, the Twins' 2008 payroll ranks 24th out of 30 teams. The New York Yankees take the top spot with $209,081,579 dedicated to paying players. But what they lack in money or name recognition, they more than make up for in skill. Despite not being able to pay mega salaries, the Twins have won the division championship in four out of the last six years. In 2006, we took the Most Valuable Player, Cy Young (pitching), and batting average awards. The World Series hasn't been won since 1991, but we've stayed in contention of late and the team continues to bring out big crowds to its home games. Our players don't seem full of arrogance like some of those other guys; they play as a team and appreciate the fans. I mean, how can you not fall in love with the underdog? Our team is just plain fun to watch.

In 2010, the Twins will finally set foot in their brand new stadium, which is currently under construction in downtown Minneapolis. Citizens usually aren't keen on using taxpayer money to fund ballparks, myself included. But somehow, I don't mind the sales tax increase for this one. Our tough little team deserves it. Why? Because I can honestly say that the Twins bring something special to this community. These guys have heart. Going to a game is a family-friendly event, and when September baseball rolls around, the entire city is abuzz with the excitement. Everyone's on pins and needles today, hoping that the Chicago White Sox lose and allow us to clinch yet another division title. If they don't, we'll have a sudden-death match against them later this week. But considering how much we enjoy the game, and watching our Twins show their stuff, would that really be so bad?

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Setting the Record Straight

The French do not hate Americans. There, I said it. Now can we finally, once and for all, stop saying that they do? Earlier this week, while sitting in my soul-crushing cubicle on the 19th floor of a Minneapolis high-rise, I heard my neighbor to the left tell her neighbor to the left that she was sick of having to be fake nice to people on the phone. "I wish I could be like the French. They might not be nice all the time, but when they are, you know it's genuine." There are many levels on which I do not agree with this statement, or the woman's dislike of the niceties I so appreciate in Minnesota culture, but what really got my goat was her friend's response: "Yeah, the French don't really like us, do they?" Excuse me?

First of all, how does, "I like French people because they're genuine," have anything to do with French sentiment towards Americans? Nothing! But for some reason, an alarming number of Americans have developed the amazing ability to turn any statement about the French (Many of them live in Paris! Their president married an international pop star!) into something about them (They hate me!). Narcissistic, much? And just what do these people mean by "The French," anyways? Are they referring to cultured Parisians? Uncultured Parisians? Wine producers in Burgundy? Wine producers in Alsace? The wealthy and fabulous of St. Tropez? The Basques? The Bretons? The Bourgeoisie? Or are they taking the unbelievable diversity of a country whose history stretches back into prehistoric times, whose people are incredibly varied in terms of their backgrounds, beliefs and lifestyles, and cramming it into one, narrow definition? I swear, if it wasn't for the soul-crushing effect mentioned earlier, I would have jumped across the cube walls and tackled the lady.

Ok, now maybe I'm not being fair. I don't know this woman very well. Maybe she's an expert on French society. Maybe she's traveled to France multiple times - lived there, even! - and has numerous French contacts both here and abroad. Maybe she knows what she's talking about. And don't we all make sweeping statements from time to time? Sometimes they're even necessary to categorize and compartmentalize our complex world. I get it. But, frankly, I'm willing to bet the farm that she's never set foot inside modern-day Gaul. I'm willing to bet she can count the number of actual French people she's met on one hand. I just don't understand how this horrible lie gets spread, and why it seems as though the only people who spew it are the ones who have no idea what they are talking about. I heard it on television so it must be true!

Here's the truth as I see it: I've lived in France on three separate occasions. I have friends who are French both here and abroad. I have worked in France, studied in France and traveled around France. I have never, ever felt that French people hated me because I was an American or hated Americans because they were Americans. Are there jerk French people who say stupid things about the United States and are ignorant and act like they know all about us even though they've never even been over to see us? Of course. But these isolated incidents don't necessitate a sweeping statement such as "The French hate us." As is true with most anywhere you travel, people are people. Some will be friendly, some will be jerks, but honestly, most will like you. Or at least be willing to exchange niceties.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

A Little Competition Between Friends

When Jon Stewart and The Daily Show were in town earlier this month for the Republican National Convention, he gave a speech that captured more Minnesotans' attention than all of the convention keynote speakers combined. His now locally infamous "St. Paul is so much better than Minneapolis" comment sure got people talking. But if he thinks he's singlehandedly ended this area's greatest debate, he'd better think again. Minneapolis and St. Paul might be geographically located right next to each other, and they might carry the joint moniker, "The Twin Cities," but according to the people who live here, these two metropolis's couldn't be more different.

What exactly are the differences between Minneapolis and St. Paul, you might ask? Well, for starters, with approximately 377,000 inhabitants, Minneapolis is the larger of the two by nearly 100,000 Minnesotans. St. Paul strikes back by claiming the prestigious title of state capitol. Minneapolis is mostly situated on the west bank of the Mississippi River, while St. Paul occupies the area to the east. In addition, these supposed twins give off two very different vibes. Minneapolis feels urban, trendy and youthful, while St. Paul has more established and distinguished airs. An outcropping of new boutique hotels such as Chambers and Hotel Ivy, as well as funky, see-and-be-seen restaurants such as Chino Latino add to Minneapolis' allure. In contrast, St. Paul plays home to old classics such as The St. Paul Hotel and W.A. Frost & Company; old classics that never go out of style. Finally, these two neighbors even have competing newspapers: The Star Tribune for Minneapolis and the St. Paul Pioneer Press for, you guessed it, St. Paul.

Of course, the friendly competition that exists between the citizens of our two fair cities is just that: friendly. Truth be told, St. Paulites enjoy heading to Minneapolis for funky night on the town, and Minneapolitans have been known to venture across the river to experience a little high-society entertainment. We think both of our cities are pretty cool, but we're more than ready to defend our favorite. When there are two major cities in such close proximity and with such different personalities, it's impossible not to take sides. Despite what some people might think, Jon Stewart didn't end the "who's better" debate. If anything, he just added fuel to the fire.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Fitting In While Sticking Out

A fellow traveler recently asked me a very interesting question, which went something like this: "Do you try to be French when you are in France, or do you keep your American habits?" "Of course I keep my American habits," I replied, "I'm an American!" Despite my convincing response, it's actually a bit more complicated than that. Adapting to the local culture is an enjoyable and even necessary aspect of living in a foreign country. Can you imagine spending time in Paris without trying smelly cheeses, riding the metro, or buying your food at an outdoor market? Neither can I. In fact, those where just some of the things (along with speaking French and wrangling with fonctionnaires) that I did to fit in. But what if you don't want to lose your own culture or identity along the way? How do you find a balance between having an in-depth and meaningful travel experience and staying true to who you really are?

Experiencing a foreign culture first-hand is just plain fun. There is so much to learn/taste/try/do that even everyday tasks become big adventures. Stay in the culture long enough, and the new will become the familiar. Getting mistaken for a local is one of the biggest thrills a traveler can have. Unfortunately, this "when in Rome" mentality can sometimes lead to guilt over pursuing habits or activities that stem not from our host culture, but from our own. Should an Irishman never go to and Irish pub abroad? Well, maybe if he only has one day in his selected destination, but if you're on the road for a week or more, why not? Truly familiar things can stave off homesickness, and can even be a great way to meet your fellow countrymen who can often prove to be fantastic resources for traveling information. Did I enjoy buying and wearing the must-have clothing items in Paris in an effort to blend in and try something new? Absolutely! But there were also days when I wanted nothing but my jeans, a hoodie and a pair of comfortable shoes, even if those choices did make me stick out. Look! There's an American! But hey, considering it was rainy, windy and cold most days in Paris, my get-up was actually a very practical choice.

Unless it's exactly what they want to do, travelers shouldn't feel pressured to "go native" all of the time. Yes, doing like the Romans do can immensely add to your overseas experience, and respecting local social norms is an important part of being a responsible traveler. But I think you can respect and appreciate a foreign culture even while you keep some of your hometown habits. Besides, foreigners are interesting. Exhibiting your own local activities and characteristics can be great conversation starters with locals. The Frenchmen and women I met weren't interested in talking to me because I looked and acted exactly like them. They were interested because I was different. Difference, just like adaptation, can be an asset. So get out there, try, do, experience! Just don't forget to be yourself, too.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Spreading the Love

For all the friends, family and regular readers who haven't gotten a chance to check out the article I recently wrote for Matador, here's the link :

Happy Reading!

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

A Chance Encounter

Many travelers will tell you that meeting new and interesting people is one of the best things about what they do. Whether it's at a local bar, hotel, museum or park bench, human encounters can often make or break our experiences. Sometimes these new friends are friends for one day only. You share a couple of beers, talk about life, and then go your separate ways. Others will stay with you for a lifetime. They might become your new travel buddy or a long-distance friend. Then there are the ones who belong in a class all their own. They're the life-shapers. The ones who are are just what you need just when you need it. Their presence is generally fleeting, but it can leave a lasting impression.

I ran into such a person yesterday. She and I have known each other for years, but we've never regularly kept in touch. Nevertheless, we somehow manage to run into each other every once in a while in the most random places. This time, it was the downtown Minneapolis YWCA. We saw each other, stopped in our tracks in disbelief, gave each other a big hug, and started a 10-minute catch-up conversation. When we got around to discussing my life, I explained to her that I was in a transition period and not sure where I was going next. "I recently came out of one of those periods in my life," she said. "I know it's tough, horrible even. But when it's gone you'll want it back. Enjoy it. Use the time to discover yourself." Turns out she had used her in-between time to discover yoga, and was now a part-time yoga instructor at the Y. The conversation wrapped up, we hugged again, and parted with a "see you in two years!"

When I stepped onto my treadmill after having listened to her advice, it hit me. She had said exactly what I had been needing to hear. I needed someone who empathized with my situation; someone who didn't just say "it's going to be ok." Someone who acknowledged my frustrations, and then said something new about them. In ten short minutes she had managed to pull me out of my sorry-for-myself slump and into a new appreciation for my situation. She gave me permission to enjoy this time, to discover myself and maybe even discover new interests. As quickly as she had come back into my life she left it again, but her brief reappearance was exactly what I needed when I needed it. Yesterday, she was my life-shaper. I look forward to one day, when we inevitably meet again, thanking her in person.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Nature in the City

If you've been with me since my Paris days, you've probably seen a few posts about escaping the city without actually leaving the city. There was one about tucked-away Parisian courtyards, the oh-so-French habit of picnicking in the park, and Paris' summertime spectacle, Paris Plages. After all, even hardcore city folk sometimes needs a restful respite from the noise and chaos they love so much. I loved finding quiet spots in the middle of Paris; places where the city seemed to disappear if only for a moment. I live in Minneapolis now, but that desire for a little less hustle and bustle hasn't gone away. While this city and its surrounding areas are chock-full of peaceful getaways, one site stands out from the bunch: Minnehaha Falls Park. Its isolated location and sheer beauty arguably make it the best quiet hideout that Minneapolis has to offer.

As the name suggests, Minnehaha Falls Park boasts a waterfall as its main attraction. In fact, the name "Minnehaha" means "falling water" in the Dakota Indian language, a tribe for which the falls are an historically important site (side note: you might notice that a lot of things in Minnesota start with "Minne," which means "water" in the Dakota language. We have a lot of water here. "Minnesota" is generally translated as "sky-tinted water"). The area above the falls is a well-manicured park filled with paths, benches, picnic tables, and a snack bar. But my favorite part is below the falls. Climb down the narrow, steep steps and you literally enter another world. Other than a few walking paths and a stone bridge for crossing the creek, this area is left in its natural state. The roar of the falls is impressive, particularly in the spring when the snow melts and the rains become heavy. In the winter the falls will freeze, creating a beautiful cascading ice sculpture. Follow the creek away from the falls and you're surrounded by bluffs, trees, and a babbling flow of water. There is no way to tell that you are still in Minnesota's largest city. The city has disappeared.

Minnehaha Falls Parks is a great place for a quiet stroll, a family outing, or a first date. I've been there multiple times and the falls never cease to amaze me. Because of our abundance of lakes, rivers, trees, and open spaces, there are a lot of outdoor sights to see right here in the city. That's the difference between getting away from it all in Paris and in Minneapolis: Paris' hidden away spots are generally somewhat man-made. The well-maintained Luxembourg Gardens, the courtyards between buildings, and the little cafes down narrow streets. Sure, they have the Bois de Boulogne, but half of that place is off-limits to decent society. In Minneapolis, you can more easily get away from it all in a natural setting. I love cities, but I love escaping them as well. Whether it's a waterfall, a royal park, a river bank or a courtyard, I'm just glad it exists.

Back in Business

The big announcement came today. Little more than a year after it came down, the I-35W bridge that runs in and out of downtown Minneapolis is going back up. When it suddenly collapsed into the Mississippi River on August 1, 2007, killing 13 people, wounding over 100 and cutting off one of the most important freeway routes in the Twin Cities, Minnesotans went to work rescuing survivors, mourning the victims, and cleaning up the mess. Thousands of them also rerouted their commutes. After today's revelation, we now know they'll be able to re-reroute them this coming Thursday.

Unless you live or used to live in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area, it's difficult to understand the important role that this particular bridge played in the local traffic flow. It used to be the main route that connected Minneapolis to areas north of the city. It also had exits that lead to the campus of the University of Minnesota, a 40,000+ students institution. It offered a quick way to get to the Metrodrome, the Minneapolis stadium that plays home to the Twins, Vikings and Gophers. What's more, it was an important link in the I-35 freeway which runs from the top of Minnesota to the Texas border with Mexico, connecting our country from top to bottom. For 13 months, that particular connection has been missing.

In all the excitement over the rapidity of the reconstruction or the prospect at getting the regular commute back, it's easy to forget that this site is a painful one for many Minnesotans. Losing a loved one, being seriously injured, or even surviving without a scratch but with the memory of plunging along with your car into the Mississippi River when you thought you were on your way home is a life-changing experience. In order to remember the victims, a memorial will be built near the site of the collapse. It will be located in Gold Medal Park where a gathering site developed after the accident. Because construction was taking place on the bridge the day that it fell, fewer lanes than normal were open. This played a role in what many consider the miraculously small death toll of 13. Nevertheless, no one should have to die because of underfunded or faulty infrastructure. I hope that the memorial park will ensure that we never forget the mistakes of the past that led to their deaths. And I hope the new I-35W bridge is here to stay.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Five Days to Go

Don't you love weekends? There's no alarm to wake up to, no place in particular you have to be, and you are totally free to pack as much fun into 48 hours as you possibly can. Yes, there are also errands to run, bills to pay, and the house to clean, but for some reason even these daily tasks can seem exciting when they're done on a Saturday or Sunday. And of course, the weekend is always preceded by the absolute feeling of promise that can only be had on a Friday night. For a while, I had lost the joy of Saturday and Sunday. Taking a break from traveling has brought it back into my life, and I'm loving every minute of it.

When you travel, days of the week can become irrelevant. The traditional five-days-on, two-days-off routine just doesn't exist on the road. In fact, it's not unusual for travelers to completely lose track of normal time-keeping measures such as weekdays and weekends. Of course, this lack of day awareness can sometimes lead to trouble. For example, if you live in Paris and you forget it's Sunday and walk to your favorite fromagerie with visions of brie in your head, you'll only be disappointed when you see that they're closed...and even more so when you realize that so is every other cheese shop for miles. But for the most part, the no weekend lifestyle is good, especially if you previously spent years on the other schedule. Nevertheless, for nearly one month now I have been relishing my weekends.

The only problem with rediscovering the fabulousness that is the weekend, is that it also forces you to rediscover the concept of Monday. Mondays are the anti-weekend. The alarm sounds, most of us will have to go to work or school, and fun (unless you love your job, in which case, right on!) gets relegated to after 5pm. But there's hope. Every action has a reaction, and those of us who dread Mondays must always bear in mind that, if we make it through the day, the next weekend is just around the corner. Have you made your plans yet?

Thursday, September 11, 2008


Seven years ago today I was a college junior spending a semester abroad on the sunny French Riviera. The day had started like most days that fall: breakfast in the cafeteria followed by three hours of language class and a trip into downtown Cannes for some light afternoon shopping. It ended like none other: learning that my country had been attacked. Everyone has their own September 11, 2001 story; a story about where they were and what they were doing when they got the news. For me, the day has an international twist. Far from home, I had the chance to experience the outpouring of sympathy, support and friendship that came from all corners of the globe.

There was my British friend who so gently broke the news when I returned to campus one of the last to know. My Norwegian roommate who cried with me in our dorm room, both of us asking the question, "why?" There were the Europeans, South Americans, Canadians and Asians who stood with us in silence to remember the victims in the small, crowded campus chapel. That weekend, a few of us kept our plans for a trip to Italy, where we saw the flag on top of the Leaning Tower of Pisa flying at half-staff. On the train ride there, an older French couple asked me if we were Americans. Madame patted my hand and said "we're with you." A few years later, some Americans would disparage the French for not supporting the war in Iraq, but I knew that those two kind hearts on that Italy-bound train were worth more than any amount of bombs, guns or tanks.

I didn't return to the US until late December of that year, so I never witnessed the widespread flying of American flags, or felt the effects of the grounding of airplanes or saw the non-stop news coverage that would follow the attacks. But I'm thankful that I got a unique view of that September's events. I saw how it affected not only my fellow citizens, but the citizens of the world as well, and I will never forget the men and women who shared my sadness. It was at once the most tragic and touching travel experience of my life.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

The Homebound Traveler

Traveling has a lot of perks. You get to meet new people, try new things, see new places, and discover foreign languages and cultures. Everyday can feel like an adventure. But even regular travelers sometimes find themselves at home; far away from the open road/sky/sea and all the excitement that goes along with it. Are these people supposed to just forget about having experiences like those that occur while traveling? Should they resign themselves to same-old-same-old and been there, done that? I think not! If you like to travel, but are currently unable to get away, or want to travel, but can't seem to find the time or money to do so, never fear. There are plenty of ways to live like a traveler right here in your own backyard.

People who are traveling often visit historical sites or museums, so do a little research and locate places of note in your city. Maybe there's a famous work of art, fort, bridge or building that played a major role in history nearby. Go there! People who are traveling also like to try new foods. Scope out your neighborhood's best ethnic restaurants and order something that you've never eaten before. Many travelers enjoy meeting people from around the world. You could do the same without even needing a passport by simply joining a cultural organization or attending a cultural festival. Feeling adventurous? Take the car and drive to somewhere nearby that you've never seen before. You just might be surprised at what you can find 100, 50, or even 20 miles from your doorstep.

Returning from a trip can be so bittersweet. You're happy about getting to sleep in your own bed again, but you soon find yourself longing for the fun and adventure you had while away. Thankfully, many of the things you enjoy about traveling can also be experienced at home. You just have to know where to look. And while these activities might not carry the same romance or "getting away from it all" feeling that they do when you're in another part of the world, they just might be able to partially satisfy your insatiable travel bug.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Is It Happy Hour Yet?

I am of the belief that humans were not meant to spend 40 hours a week, 52 weeks a year, in a small, windowless cubicle doing repetitive tasks. This type of environment kills creativity and in general lessens our will to live. Nevertheless, millions of people all over the world currently find themselves in this energy-sapping situation. Myself included. Stuck in a period of limbo where I'm neither here nor there has led me to take up temporary work. Spending Monday through Friday at a desk doing the same things over and over again is my own personal hell, and yet I can't help but wonder if some of the men and women I work with actually enjoy this type of employment. Are some people content, or maybe even thrilled, to do a job that I find unbearably stifling? My heart says "no," but my head says "well...maybe."

I started thinking that there are beings among us who love repetitive office-drone jobs while trying to think on the bright side of my current situation. First, there are the predictable hours. Most of my co-workers are strictly on the 9 to 5 schedule. They come in, do their work for eight hours, then leave. Nights and weekends are always free, and they don't have to think about the job when they're away from the office. Secondly, repetitive tasks could be comforting to those who don't like surprises or uncertainty, and they might enjoy decorating the cube as well as feeling of belonging to a team of cube-dwellers. To make things even better, the company offers all kinds of little perks to keep you happy on the job. Everything from awesome break rooms, to free bagels on Friday mornings to casual-dress summers make you feel good. Hey! This isn't so bad!

Except that it kind of is. I realize that some people might like this line of work, but I'm just not one of them. I like change, variety and excitement. Little perks like free coffee and tea are not enough to get me to love doing the same tasks over and over and over again. I don't want to "personalize" my cube, and I'm ok with taking my work home (within reason) if it's something I truly love. Which reminds me of another look-on-the-bright-side feature of my current state of employment: it's only temporary.

Sunday, September 7, 2008


For most of Planet Earth's human population, the word "football" conjures up thoughts of kicking a ball around on a field. For those of us in the US, the word means something entirely different. Our version of football - or football américain, as the French call it - involves things such as quarterbacks, goal posts, and first downs. There are different point values for different actions, the players wear helmets, and using your hands isn't against the rules, it's necessary for the game. I am a huge fan of American football and an even bigger fan of my hometown team, The Minnesota Vikings. For the past two years I've spent football season in Washington, DC, where the only hope of seeing a Vikings game on local television was if they would play one of the local teams. For two years I've been starved for Minnesota football action. This fall, I'm making up for lost time, and with the season opener being played against our biggest rivals and during the much-coveted Monday night time slot, things are looking up.

I pretty much love everything about American football. I love the Sunday morning pre-game shows, I love the halftime updates and I love the Monday morning quarterbacking. I love the breakaway runs, I love the trick plays and I love the hail marys. I love the snacks you eat during the game and, of course, I love the Super Bowl.

Unfortunately, I also love the Vikings. Our team has been in existence since 1961 and yet has never won the Super Bowl. We're the team that all the other teams break records against. In 1999 we scored more points in a single season than any other team in NFL history (we have since been out-scored by the New England Patriots), and still managed to lose the NFC championship game because our field goal kicker decided that the only field goal he would miss the entire year would be the one that would have been the game winner. So we'll probably lose tonight, but what I lack in optimism I make up for in dedication. I'm not a fair-weather fan. Go ahead, lose! I'm just happy I finally get to watch the game.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

In Your Own Words

Travelers like to document their experiences. They put stickers on their suitcases, they take photos of famous monuments, and they save things like restaurant cards, matchbooks and ticket stubs. Many of them also keep journals, which are a great way to track all of the emotions, strange happenings and chance encounters that occur while traveling. Now, I've never been big on regrets; what's done is done and even if it turned out badly you can still learn and grow from the event. But I have to say that I'm starting to regret not having kept a journal during my time in Paris. Without a written account to refresh my memory, I worry that all those emotions, strange happenings and chance encounters will slowly, sadly slip away from me.

Now, I know what you're thinking: "But you did keep a journal, you have your blog!" I thought that too at one time. In fact, my blog is the reason why I didn't keep a journal. I thought a written journal in addition to a blog would be repetitive. Wouldn't I already have a record of everything online? Why would I need to write it down again on a piece of paper? And my reasoning would have been correct...if I had created a different kind of blog. Parisian Spring is, by design, relatively unpersonal. It's also low on details about daily activities. I wanted to blog that would discuss cultural differences, traveling issues, and sightseeing in France. Details such as the names of people I met and what I ate for breakfast on the morning of May 23 were left out. That kind of information isn't very interesting to others, but it is to me, and I wish I had kept a record of it.

I have a small collection of journals from other travel adventures and they are among my most prized possessions. Every once in a while I take them off the shelf and sift through to reminisce about times spent on the road. I like being reminded of what I was thinking, feeling and enjoying during those unique periods in my life. If you're planning a trip, whether it be for one year or one week, consider taking along a pen and some paper. Journaling is a great way to start or end your day. It helps you organize your thoughts, and the end result is a fantastic self-made souvenir. I don't at all regret the style I chose for my blog. It works for me, and I've enjoyed everything about working on it. But I do regret not taking along a traditional paper journal. The next time I prepare for a trip, a smart, spiral-bound book with plenty of blank pages will be the first thing I buy.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Better Safe Than Sorry

A blogger's best friend is her computer. She uses it everyday, takes it everywhere; it's her connection to the blogosphere and it helps her pursue her passion for sending random, hopefully thoughtful musings out into cyberspace. Which is why when her computer almost dies, so does the blogger. No, my computer hasn't died...yet. But I did have an uncomfortably close brush with the unthinkable this week and now I'm on a mission to ensure that you never have to live through the terror that is a near hard drive meltdown.

Looking back, the warning signs that something was amiss actually appeared quite some time ago. My computer suddenly became very slow. Slow to start up, slow to shut down, and occasionally even slow to open programs. DVDs started freezing up. By the time I moved to Minneapolis my patience with my laptop was wearing thin. Then, disaster struck. Turning on the computer resulted in nothing but a sad, little flashing cursur in the upper left-hand corner. I tried to reboot. Strange noises started emanating from the speakers. Panic swept over me. Had I just lost all my writings, all the photos I'd taken during my travels, and my means managing nearly everything in my 21st century life? Finally it booted, but then I put my USB flash drive in and everything froze. I needed help.

A frantic trip to Best Buy garnered surprising news. Yes, the computer's hard drive might be on its last legs, but it would work for now. The real problem lay in the USB flash drive, which had completely crashed. Even the Geek Squad couldn't revive it. Thankfully, I did a lot of double saving, so I didn't lose too much data. In fact, the death of the flash drive turned out to be a blessing in disguise. Losing the little guy gave me a taste of what an entire hard drive crash would feel like, and I knew that the horrible, gut-wrenching realization that information is gone forever would be so much worse if it was an entire computer's worth of data. The crisis spurred me to do something I should have been doing for years: back up my work. I bought an $80 external hard drive and promptly loaded it up with all 10 gigs of my electronic life. If you can't live without your computer but are not backing up, what are you waiting for? Protect your data by investing in an external hard drive. Remember, your computer is your friend. If anything every happened to it you'd never forgive yourself.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Standing Out in a Crowd

Out-of-towners are almost always easy to spot. No matter what city you're in, the locals blend in and the visitors stick out. In Washington, DC, they're the people who stand on the left side of the metro escalators; in Paris, they're the people who smile. As for the Twin Cities, we don't get too many tourists up in these parts, but this week is a huge exception. Thousands of political hacks, television personalities and bloggers have flooded in for the Republican National Convention. And yes, they stick out like sore thumbs.

How can you tell an out-of-towner from a native Minnesotan? For starters, there's the clothing. Businesswomen in downtown Minneapolis can generally be seen sporting the latest fashion from hometown retailer Target. Considering that half the businesswomen in downtown Minneapolis work at Target headquarters, this isn't surprising. RNC women, on the other hand, are all about big hair, big pearls, and designer dresses. As for the shoes, let's just say that they're more Prada and we're more Payless. And the men? The three piece power suits are a dead giveaway. As are the loud, booming voices and boistrous behavior. Minnesotans tend to be a bit more on the reserved side. Lastly, anyone who steps out of one of the seemingly countless Lincoln Towncars is clearly not from around here. I got used to seeing chauffered rides in DC, but in the Twin Cities? Maybe if your last name is Dayton.

When you don't live in a tourist destination and you suddendly find yourself surrounded by 40,000 tourists it can feel like you're being invaded. Everywhere you turn, there they are. Renting out our restaurants for private events, shuttling around town in cars with deeply tinted windows, and style one-upping us in their fancy clothes. But of course, we'll let them. We'll give a collective sigh of relief when they leave, but we'll politely tolerate them while they're here. Minnesota Nice, and all.