17 August 2007

Australia Here I Come

Hey everyone. The porch will be empty for the next few weeks. We are headed off to Australia. We will spend time in Melbourne and Sydney as well as five days on Lizard Island on the Great Barrier Reef. Sigh.
We managed to snag first class seats using frequent flyer awards (ah, the joy of planning vacation 331 days in advance). I can't wait to sack out in my lie-flat seat on the 14-hour Pacific crossing.
So, a perfect time for all of you to catch up on previous posts. If you scroll through the archives there is a little something for every one.
For my birthday the other Mr. MyPorch had 12 of Sue's world famous Whoopie Pies air shipped from Monhegan Island, Maine. As I note in this post from last year, Sue makes the best Whoopie Pies on the planet.

12 August 2007

40 by 40: The 38th Birthday Update

I turn 38 this week which means that I only have 2 years to finish my 40 by 40 list. It isn't that big of a list so it seems like that is more than enough time to get it all done. But some of the goals are more difficult than others. In fact, most of what I have completed so far you could probably consider to be the proverbial low hanging fruit.

So, without further ado here is the update:

3. Go to my 20 year high school reunion (completed 7/28/07)
You can read about this one on an earlier post.

4. Pass the TAP Exam (completed 8/10/07)
Not only did I pass the Travel Agent Proficiency Exam, I got 98% on it. Yes, that's right, I am going into the highly lucrative field of travel planning.

I must say that this decision hasn't been made lightly. In addition to walking away from the golden handcuffs at my current job, I am setting aside two graduate degrees that I still haven't finished paying for. I don't regret going into debt for either of those degrees, they both have provided me with training and experiences that will be useful no matter what I end up doing. Plus, I loved all of the time I spent in college and grad school. I loved my four years at the University of Minnesota. Although I had real mixed feelings about my time at the University of Hawaii, it gave me the opportunity to spend two years living in a sometimes frustrating but ultimately wonderful paradise. And my two years at Cornell University were two of the best years of my life. I loved studying urban planning, I loved my classmates, I loved the campus, I loved living in a small town, and I loved being a four-hour drive from Manhattan.

Now my most recent academic credential, knocking Cornell out of the top spot, will be the Penn Foster Career School. My online travel school alma mater in Scranton, Pennsylvania.

6. Write a blog tribute to the Womenfolk (completed 6/9/07)
Not only did I manage to write this blog tribute, but as a result I've had the chance to talk to three of the four remaining Womenfolk. It was wonderful to be able to talk to each of them and satisfy 20 years worth of curiosity.

16. Get a letter published in the New York Times (completed 7/18/07)
Not an easy thing to do, but my strategy of being quick, concise, and on point seems to have worked.

19. Release 25 books into the wild through BookCrossing (ABANDONED 7/29/07)
If I could figure out how to do a strikethrough on this blog I would cross this one out. I thought I would love this particular challenge. The idea is that you tag books you have read with a Bookcrossing label, register them online, and then leave them somewhere for someone to find in hopes that they will pick them up, see the tag, go online to note where they found it and what they thought about the book and then release it back into "the wild" for someone else to find.

I loved the idea of people connecting through books, but the process of leaving them out in the wild gave me more stress than joy. Maybe because you don't really get to connect with people this way, and maybe because the kinds of books I read aren't going to find a broad audience, or maybe it is because I am sure that most if not all of the books I have left out in the wild were probably thrown away. In any case, I didn't find anything edifying about the process and it was stressing me out. So I am abandoning this one which means at least $10 for charity when I hit 40.

20. Make pudding from scratch (completed 7/7/7)
Brown sugar pudding with a tangy whip cream. Delicious and pretty easy to do.

For the full list click here.

03 August 2007

Minnesota Part III: Minneapolis in a Day

When I was in Minnesota last weekend, the 35W Bridge was still standing. I even drove across it last Friday. On Sunday when I took the picture above, if I had pointed my camera in the opposite direction I would have been able to take a picture of it. What a difference a moment can make in the visual, functional, and emotional life of a city and its inhabitants. It is kind of hard to write the final installment of my Minnesota Series without mentioning this terrible event. There are those times when events become defining moments. No doubt the collapse of the bridge will be a defining moment for many Minnesotans. L’Etoile du Nord will still shine, but many Minnesotans will begin to frame memories as having happened “before” or “after”. The following blog post describes the last Sunday before, my last day in Minnesota before…

I began my final morning in Minnesota by having breakfast with two high school friends. Although a little bleary eyed, we had a great time dissecting everything that happened the previous night at our 20-year reunion. After breakfast we all checked out of the hotel and I had about five hours to kill before I needed to be at the airport. Luckily for me there are many pleasant ways to spend a beautiful summer day in Minneapolis. My biggest problem was trying to limit myself.

Not having been in Minneapolis for about three years, I had some new architecture to check up on. I took a quick swing through the warehouse district which has been developing for years but is now starting to really feel like a full-time neighborhood. One of the new anchors on the east end of the district is the new Guthrie Theater building. Perched right on the Mississippi River and designed by Jean Nouvel, the deep blue building nicely complements its 19th century industrial neighbors on both sides of the river. After the failed festival shopping centers of the 1980s along the north side of the river (Riverplace and St. Anthony Main) it is nice to see this kind of draw down on the river. I think the new Guthrie serves a similar function (and has some of the same design edge) as Herzog & de Meuron’s Tate Modern in London. In addition to the bike and walking paths that run in front of the theater along the river, there is a brand new park right next door that strikes the right balance of greenspace and hardscape. At the center of Gold Medal Park (after the flour brand of the same name) is a giant grassy mound that has a spiral path edged in steel that winds up to the top where one gets a view of the neighborhood and the river. The park is already a pleasant place to be, I can only imagine how nice it will be when the trees mature.

Although I would have liked to have taken a more extensive tour downtown to see what was new, I didn’t really have the time. But I did manage to take a drive by the new Pelli-designed Minneapolis Public Library. From what I could see it is a great building. Since I had another destination in mind I skipped a visit the Walker Art Center. Having seen the new Herzog & de Meuron addition three years ago I decided not to make a repeat visit. This decision also meant I missed out on the best free date in town, the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden and the best ice cream in the entire Midwest at Sebastian Joe's. Having happily gorged myself at Dairy Queen earlier in the weekend, I didn’t feel too deprived—although DQ and Sebastian Joes have nothing in common other than being purveyors of cool, creamy, sweet treats.

My main destination was the Minneapolis Institute of Arts. Living in DC and having access to the National Gallery of Art, the Hirshhorn, the Corcoran, the Phillips, the Kreeger, and a host of other art venues, I have a lot of options for viewing fine art. Even against that background I still find the MIA to be one of the most satisfying art museums in the country. Not only does it have a fine collection, but the museum space itself is a pleasure. I was particularly interested to see A Mirror of Nature: Nordic Landscape Painting, 1840-1910. It was fascinating to see these works that would otherwise not be seen in North America or, in many cases, even in Europe outside of Scandinavia. There were some real gems including the Munch painting that heads up my 8/1 posting below. It was also great to see some of my old favorites in the permanent collection that I have seen off and on for the last 30 years.

It was reluctantly that I headed off to MSP to get my flight back to Washington. But even that experience was pleasant. Once you get through security MSP has a lot to offer in the way of food and shopping (Yes, I went to the Dairy Queen again). I was one of the lucky ones whose Northwest Flight did not get cancelled.

After this quick, recent trip to Minnesota, it was awfully strange to see it suddenly the center of media attention. Minnesota is a prosperous state. Minneapolis is a prosperous city. And Minnesotans do the right thing. We understand—or at least used to—the benefits of responsibility and of delayed gratification (all those Lutherans and Catholics). Our industries have been historically and notably philanthropic and our outlook is relentlessly pragmatic. So why on earth did that bridge fall into the river? What priorities have so captured the hearts and minds of the state that something like that can happen? Which tax cuts could have fixed that bridge?

01 August 2007

Minnesota Part II: The Reunion

High School was not a fun time for me. Not because I didn’t like school, I love to learn and I love to be social. But the constant threat of ridicule kept me from having much fun while I slogged my way through Elk River Senior High. Being gay in high school in semi-suburban Minnesota in 1987 made me a bit of a target for some of my less enlightened classmates.

So why, you may ask, did I go to my 20-year high school reunion this past Saturday? Well, I have never seen myself as a victim—not even back in high school—so those experiences have not haunted me in the intervening years. What residual anger I may have felt has been blunted by time and distance. Plus curiosity and the chance to see friends that I don’t get to see often made it too tempting to pass up.

Not surprisingly it turned out to be a mixed bag. Spending time with my old friends was the best part. We had a lot of fun and laughed a lot. Plus hanging out with a bunch of people my age made me less obsessive about time’s inevitable march to my 40th birthday. It was also fun seeing people who I hadn’t spoken to (or even thought about) in 20 years. It wasn’t like Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion (also Class of 1987). There were no big surprises and no big show downs. Most of my former classmates were friendly and happy.

I was amazed by a few people who just couldn’t let go of the past. Even after 20 years they still couldn’t quite bring themselves to be friendly to anyone who wasn’t part of their clique. For the most part I managed to deal with their attitude by pandering to their over inflated sense of self-importance. I took a perverse pleasure in praising them just to see them struggle to be nice to me.

Equally amazing was how much the guys had let themselves go and how overweight most of the men have become. I wanted to take the microphone away from the emcee and give a lecture on heart health since many of them looked like they weren’t going to be alive for the next reunion. A few of the women had put on some pounds, but nothing like the men and they looked like they were at least taking care of themselves. It seems like the men of my class want to prove the statistics about obesity in America.

Perhaps the nadir of the evening was when Mr. Blehyl, one of our former teachers, was introduced as the special guest and invited to say a few words. Not only was he a homophobic bully of a teacher back in 1987, but in his remarks at the reunion he recognized many of the students with minds as small as his own. Just like high school, he favored those students who just happen to be the homophobic bullies who had made my daily life in school hell. I guess some things will never change.

Overall I had a good time. I am definitely going to keep in better touch with my friends, but I am not sure that I have much interest in checking out the next reunion. Then again curiosity might get the better of me. Ask me in ten years.

Coming soon Minnesota Part III: Minneapolis in a Day. The image above is Moonlight by Edvard Munch (1895)…more on that in the next installment.