I spent the last week in the Midwest for a combination of work and personal travel — I had the opportunity to present at a conference at the University of Minnesota and I jumped at the chance. My junior year in college, I did a combination of national and international student exchange programs, spending the fall at the University of Minnesota and the spring at the Bildungswissenschaftliche Hochschule Flensburg Universität. (Got all that?) They were both such great experiences, I came out of the year wishing I’d had some way to spend a full year at each school instead of only a semester.
Since Fall 1998, I have only been back to the Twin Cities once, for a couple of hours, while on the way to Sioux Falls. Needless to say, I was quite happy to get the chance to spend a bit more time there this week. A lot has changed since my days there — the juice bar where I worked part time, the Crazy Carrot, is no longer in business, and there is now a very convenient light rail, for example — but I was happy to feel easily at home again on campus.
The conference was held in a brand new university building that houses state-of-the-art classrooms, which happens to be located just a stone’s throw away from my old dorm and right next door to my favorite campus building, the Weisman Art Museum.
I do love me a big, shiny, ridiculous Frank Gehry building; I just can’t help myself. Before the conference got rolling, I had time to spend in the museum, which was such a treat.
Off campus, I also enjoyed that wonderful feeling of being in a “real city” — you know, the proximity to a variety of interesting restaurants, shopping, and things to do. My first night in town, I checked into my hotel feeling exhausted and starving, but it was a matter of just a short walk to a delicious Thai dinner. Not too shabby, Minneapolis.
Academic conferences can be both invigorating and exhausting at the same time. I met a lot of interesting people from all around the world, exchanged ideas, got great feedback on my presentation, and came home with a head full of thoughts about things I can do going forward. On the other hand, I had to talk to strangers all day every day the entire time. The only opportunity to recharge was the thirty minutes of waking solitude I managed at the end of each day before passing out in my giant hotel bed.
One great highlight, though, was the evening I got to spend with Alexa, whose blog I have been reading for years and years but whom I’d never met in person before. She picked a fabulous restaurant downtown and we got to sit and chat and eat delicious frites, spaetzle, and strudel. Alexa is just as smart and funny and kind in person as she is online, so it was easy to while away the evening while letting the stress and work of the conference fade away. I haven’t often had the chance to meet my online friends in person, but this summer I’ve gotten to do that twice – I highly recommend it.
The next morning, I was up at 3:15 to catch a 4:00 town car to the airport for a 6:00 flight. Oof. I was meeting my husband in Moline, IL on the way to his hometown in Iowa. This was the first time I’d been to Iowa in the summer (we usually go at Christmas), so it was my first time seeing the family farm when the corn was high and the ground wasn’t covered with snow. He picked me up and we made our way to his parents’ house in time for lunch, after which the 20-year high-school reunion festivities began. It was his reunion, not mine, of course. I am much, much younger than that. My 20-year nigh school reunion isn’t taking place until *mumble* next year *mumble*.
We connected with friends that night for dinner and games, and the official reunion was Saturday. Since CW was one of the event planners, we showed up early to help set up and were planning to stay late to help clean up, but our tiredness (well, my tiredness) eventually won out and we had to sneak out a bit early. The experience of being at someone else’s high school reunion where I knew almost no one and was sober as a judge all night was…well. Let’s agree to call it “a once-in-a-lifetime experience.” The time in Iowa was brief, but we managed to pack it with as much family and friend time as we could, so it was worth it.
After a very long 16 hours in the car, we got back home last night at 1:00 AM, making it the third night in a row I’d been up that late. Today I’m spending the day at home catching up on work emails, laundry, and some other household stuff. Classes start in a week and I am in no way ready. Tomorrow, back to work.