To Our Newest Guest


I should probably just have a disclaimer in the guest room of whatever person is staying with us. I love having them (most of them), don’t get me wrong. But in addition to making you the expert on everything de Minnesota, allowing you to be generous and kind, and allowing you to show off everything you’re proud of, it really shines a brutal beam on those things you’d just as soon not share. Or things you just never thought of as weird until you had to explain them to someone else.

I’d put something like this.

  • In general Americans don’t iron. Go ahead and do it if you want. Knock yourself out, but it sure ain’t part of the standard American host-mom laundry package.
  • There are lots of clothes here that can’t be washed. Serious. That great new warm jacket you got. The puffy one? Can’t wash it. Dry clean it if you really want to, but it can’t be washed.

This one was hard sell to the guy living here from Colombia. I’m not sure he even believes me now. The funny thing was that the hardest part of the story to get him to believe was that there were feathers inside the jacket. You should have seen his face while he tried to figure out the joke. He just kept holding the jacket out and saying, “FEATHERS? INside the jacket?”, like I was an insane person.

  • As far as laundry, because of a shortage of fresh water due to glaciation, we are very conservative with water. Only the homeowner can run the washing machine, and only then when there is a full load. A full load is almost always enough to cover the bottom of the machine.
  • We don’t dance in this part of the country. We want to. We’d love to, but we can’t. We’ve never been taught to dance. This is especially true for white people. We’ve had our ethnic self esteem battered by the Latinos and the Black Americans, who say we’ve got no rhythm. Now we’re afraid to dance unless we’ve been drinking. This leaves the society with only drunk white dancers, giving further credibility to the theory that white people can’t dance. We leave it to the professionals and the minority groups.
  • At the Morgan home, our laundry system is very sophisticated, involving phases of the moon and critical mass of clean socks, underwear and jeans and towels. Everything else flows from those items. Laundry is done at least once a week, usually 5 times or so. But the system can’t be imparted easily to a newcomer. Just leave your dirty clothes in the basket, they will reappear clean, dry and wrinkly.
  • Don’t touch someone else’s car radio. It isn’t done. I don’t know about your country, but here it is the law that only the driver may touch the radio. Unless the driver is a teenager, and the mom is in the passenger seat. Then mom is in charge.
  • We rarely sit around the table to eat dinner. This isn’t because we don’t find that valuable, it’s because we can’t always find the table. Please feel free to eat at the kitchen counter with the rest of us.
  • We don’t watch TV most days. At all. Occasionally we watch a show on PBS or put in a movie. As unfair as it may seem, this means you won’t watch TV most days. The problem is that in this house, if you turn on the TV, we all become immobilized until the power goes out or the phone or doorbell rings. This is not typical American behavior, just Morgan behavior at this house.
  • I’m truly embarrassed at the state of my garage. It is not typical American. It’s an issue. In Colombia I’m sure people don’t have issues. But here they are attached to your birth certificate.
  • Some phrases you almost certainly didn’t know, probably didn’t care about, but will have mastered by the time you leave here are as follows:
  1. “Did you flush and wash?”
  2. “Did you really?”
  3. “Go back and flush”
  4. “Did you wash with soap?”
  5. “Go back and wash with soap”
  6. “Hey, get back in here and flush!”
  7. “Do you have socks on?”
  8. “Do you know where my keys are?”
  9. “Lights out.”
  10. “Kitties don’t belong on the counter.”
  11. “Did you brush your teeth?”
  12. “You did not. Go back and brush your teeth.”
  13. “Did you use toothpaste?”
  14. “Did you brush your tongue?”
  15. “Did you really?.”
  16. “Go back and do it.”
  17. “Kitties don’t belong in the garage.”
  18. “You have to un-ball your socks before I wash them.”
  19. “Get off the computer and go outside.”
  20. “Can you chew with your mouth closed, please?”
  21. “Can you catch that phone?”
  22. “kitties don’t belong in the toilet.”
  23. “If you don’t like it, you can have a peanut butter sandwich.”
  • Typical American dinners range from pancakes to tacos to pizza to baked chicken and noodles. We try to eat vegetables with every meal. The evening meal is served anywhere from about 6pm to about 9pm. If you miss it, see number 23 above.
  • We make noises here. Especially the men and kids. They do things in meetings and say, “Excuse me.” and expect the meeting to continue. And it does! Things that would only occur as a prelude to a medical emergency in your country. It can be uncomfortable to be around, but honey, you should see what they do when they’re alone. Get down on your knees and thank god they’re on good behavior when you’re around.
  • We obey traffic laws. Even when there’s no one around, we stop at the stop signs. We’re not quite as obedient as the Germans, but way more than the South Americans.

More of Jolly Old England

As can be seen from the pictures in my last blog post, travel makes me weary. It really does. Look at me in front of platform 9 and3/4, and then look at me in front of Tottenham Court Rd. The first picture is me on the first full day of travel in England. The second is me on day15. It’s probably hard for the untrained eye to see, but the second picture is just slightly less flattering.

This is for a multitude of reasons including, but not limited to, not having a private bathroom for 2 weeks, getting my period right on schedule, but totally unexpectedly (I can’t think of everything), sharing a room with a morning person who watches TV to fall asleep and to wake up, using travel shampoo and conditioner, missing my family, neighborhood and kitty-people, constant threat of immediate death due to the fact that I always looked the WRONG way when crossing the street and almost walked into traffic… It wore me out.

I traveled in style with my dad. He is what they call a seasoned traveler. And aside from when the flight attendant in business class took his champagne glass before he could take the last swallow, he’s a pretty good natured and reassuring guy to travel with. Ive never been to Europe before, so it could be that my reactions are the height of naivete. But take them for what they are worth, which is probably just a few minutes of your time.

Here are some things that impressed me and that I might share more about in future posts:

But before I wander off down those tangents, I must go and research what is the bloody difference between England/English, Britain/British, and the UK and United Kindominian. Roit back, then? Curious?

Got all that? Good. Let me say right now that I don’t have it all down and I’m sure to screw it up. So set me straight if it makes you feel better. But I’m unlikely to remember it until I’ve spent WAY more time in England.

Oh Yeah. Twenty Years.

I’m glad I went to my 20 year reunion. I think I was the first person to leave, But then again, I was one of the first to arrive.

Other than a previously bitchy girl totally bonding with me because I asked her how she was (and meant it), everyone was more or less as I left them 5 years ago. Some were balder, many were heavier. And I’ll just admit it up front that some of the fat-ass-ability made me smile to myself. Mea culpa

I have to agree with my friend, Dave, who frequently haunts my blog, that I wished I could just watch from above and not be seen or have to interact with people. Although when a grade-school mate came up to me, I was pretty tickled. I saw him and remembered him fondly, but for some reason I was paralyzed and couldn’t go over and give him a hug. I think it was that he always passed muster with the trendy kids, and was surrounded by them at the time. Isn’t that so goofy?

I’m still intimidated by the fact that I didn’t quite fit in in high school. Even though it has become aparent to me that firstly, highschool standards don’t really exist outside highschool. I easily associate and enjoy the company of people who wouldn’t have given me the time of day back then. Secondly, many of those people who had expensive haircuts and Girbaud jeans were at their peak in 1987. I like to thinkI’m still on my way up. Lastly, I like myself better now. I may still have post traumatic clique syndrome, but I’ve befriended or battled many of my demons, and I don’t much care who knows about those I’m still struggling with.

But it got me thinking about people I knew back then. All the ex-boyfriends who no longer see fit to associate with me (and a few who do), the girlfriends who just fell off the face of the map, the people I pushed away while I figured myself out. So I started to look them up. Only one has gotten back to me, but I can’t wait to get together with her. It’s like a little treasure hunt to re-connect with people and find out what you still have in common.

Here I Go Again: England

Well, I’ve done it again. I’ve comitted myself to travel. What is wrong with me?

It should be a fabulous trip. I mean that. The activity is right up my alley (archeological dig with Earthwatch International). The climate is temperate (72 for a high and 50ish for lows), the language is one I speak fluently (English, albeit a British variety), the company couldn’t be better (my very own Dad). I even know one person in the nearest big town, Newcastle upon-Tyne.

The food promises to be familiar, yet strange. I have a feeling lots of the experience will be like that. What with BBC in the evenings, Good Neighbors, Fawlty Towers, The Full Monty and my own son’s penchant for appearing British… it will probably seem like being in a movie. I’ll let you know once I’m there.

I have lots to do before I leave on Tuesday night (7pm). This trip has been in the works for months. Actually, it was another trip that was in the works. We were going to go to Peru. The Peruvian crew tried twice to get their act together and twice had to cancel. Both times it was cancelled just a week before we were supposed to leave. The English trip already had the permits together and was actually less expensive than the Peruvian one.

We can drink the water (so I’m told) in England. Bathroom facilities seem to be available (not so much in the Peruvian trip). No Scorpions or Black Widow Spiders (affirmative on both counts in Peru). We get to fly out overnight, business class. Seems like an upgrade, doesn’t it? Yeah, well.

Here are the drawbacks: Since they speak English, how am I going to impress my dad? Speaking Spanish was my only real qualification for the last trip. And it was the only thing I would be better at than my dad. Dang.

Plus, in Peru, I would stick out. Period. No amount of dressing like the locals would help me blend in. So my trip clothes were mostly light, layerable and disposable. No worries about fashion sense or looking like a clod. I would have always been excused as a Gringa. But in England? Well, I’m sure I’ll stick out. But it might be because I look like a crazy person. Dressing just close enough to normal that I don’t look like a foreigner, but far enough away that I don’t blend in at all.

I seem to recal the in Europe people wear much quieter colors than we do here. I think I’ll be OK, because I usually dress in more neutral colors. But what if only lunatics wear ankle socks? What if the layered look is a subtle signal to people that you’re a prostitute? Oh my god, what if people in the UK iron their clothes? What if zippered pockets is a shibboleth for the lesbian underground?

Also, in London, where we’ll spend the night and one dayI think, hmmm. Let me explain something here– I can’t memorize or study my schedule for reasons which are unclear to me, but have to do with my general mental health. And as an aside to the aside– in many instance I pass for a perfectly normal person. I’m serious. Lots of people don’t understand the precariousness of my mental health. But this is between us, right?

About the schedule. I can’t memorize it, cant study it, can’t ponder it much. My dad explained it to me in quite a detailed way. He was excited about the trains running right on time, and some hotel being right upstairs at the train station. I took notes, and I will refer to them if I need them. But picturing the actual journey in any detail makes my stomach hurt. So I don’t do it.

But in London there are drawbacks. Things like red double-deckered busses, or red shiny phone booths, things which are iconic to London. Like those one fuzzy-hatted guys who don’t smile. Like Big Ben and the Queen. Those things have two aspects about them which make me very nervous. First, at this moment they are mere figments of my mind. Things I have seen pictures of, heard about; but might not, in fact exist. Are you with me? There is something about me being in that place, with those things, that seems very wrong. Partially because I know for sure I exist. And putting me in a picture of London seems quite wrong.

More seriously and concretely, I am terrified of dying on foreign soil. I don’t know why, it is inexplicable, but I am afraid of dying on a trip. I’m pretty sure (and please bear with me here) that if I get on the tube, or in a red phone booth or a double-decker bus, that I’ll die in a tragic accident or terrorist attack. I don’t watch TV news, don’t generally read the paper or news magazines. So it isn’t news overload.
Maybe if I heard about some other people’s irrational fears I wouldn’t be so frozen. And I don’t mean someone’s uncle Edgar who’s afraid of his own toes. I mean people who pass for normal until you run into their particular phobia. I like to think of mine as pretty normal phobias. They are:

Anything with more than 4 legs, the more legs, the worse the phobic reaction, except for a few exceptions.

Crowds of people. I hate crowds. Even in my own house, crowds make me nervous, but crowds in public places make me very certain I am going to die.

Public spaces such as the Mall of America. I am very afraid of dying in a place like the Mall. It has something to do with dying in a stupid place, and being associated with it for my eternity. I think it’s a coping mechanism. If I hear of some building collapse at a discotec, I immediately tell myself why those poor people are not like me. Well, first of all, I don’t go to the disco…

And I know if I die at the mall, some person like me will be saying, “I hate the mall, I hardly ever go there. Poor bastards, shouldn’t have gone to the mall.” But I will be dead and unable to defend myself by saying, “But I had to meet my relatives there. It’s not my kind of place.” The short answer to that phobia is to say not to distance myself from the victims of tragedy. But in doing that, my heart breaks wide open. That’s why I stopped reading the paper.

Flying. Flying is not right, it’s not cool, it’s terrifying. That ‘s my most paralyzing phobia. I get stomach aches about a week before I fly. The exit to the airport makes me feel sick, even if I’m just picking someone up or dropping them off. From the time I get on the plane until I get off the plane I am certain I am going to die.

And if dying weren’t bad enough, I am going to fall a very long way or burn alive before I die. It kind of goes hand in hand with my last phobia.

Heights. I know of people who are afraid of heights because they think they’re going to jump. Can’t understand it. I am afraid of falling. Whether I jump or am pushed or slip or my plane malfunctions, doesn’t matter. Falling is very bad. And don’t even start with the whole, “falling is easy, it’s landing that sucks.” Because I disagree. The falling makes it way worse.

So the next three weeks will almost certainly involve me worrying and fretting. It’s fun to watch. I’ll share. I’m happy to take advice. But I’ve found that taking drugs is more effective. So I fly in a drugged state. I am told by my husband that the drug is Ativan, but it tends to give people amnesia, so I’m not all that sure.


Yes ladies and gentleman, today I went out into the wild world to garner material, and also to do some errands that were overdue. Here are the highlights:


I went to the Monument Store. You know the one (yup). I was helped by the same very knowledgable, matter of fat fact woman. She is still quite helpful and quite enormous. I still wondered where she finds shirts that fit her.


I ordered up a grave marker for my mom. You may be wondering, “But lisa, didn’t your mom die in 2005?” And you would be right. She did die in October of 2005. Need I remind you that, first of all, it was late in 2005. Secondly (a nod to my mom who hated me to say ‘second of all’) I left this task to one of my sisters who shall remain nameless but whose name rhymes with Erin,and who was unable to complete it. Thirdly, I’m just barely getting by managing my own life, so get off my case. Lastly, I was busy managing her estate and her unimaginably complex and weird survivors.

But when my grandpa called inquiring if we needed help with paying for a marker because he had been to the plot and there was no marker, well, things got more urgent and done adequately was better than stunningly un-done. Nothing like a little shame to light a fire under my butt.

It’s going to have my mom’s name (her born name, maiden name), Susan Elizabeth Dunn, her birth year and the year of her death. It will have a celtic tree of life inscribed into it on the front face, and the names of all 4 kids and 11 grandkids on the back.


I’m seeking advice on a couple of things, because the final text is changeable for the next week or so:

First, is the maiden name thing OK? She never changed her name back from her second husband’s name, and never took her third husband’s name, so it seems weird to put either of those. Am I breaking any big taboo by reverting to her maiden name?

Second, we planned to put “Mom and Grandma to” …. And all the names, but she was Daughter, Sister, Wife, Friend, Mom and Grandma, so is it too busy to put all those things? I went with just mom and grandma because that was typical, but the other things were just as important. Any opinions from those who know us or those who don’t? This is where comments would be really appropriate.

So there is the Monumental Errand. Done mostly.

Next, I had to try to find a sunscreen that won’t give me zits. Another part of aging that sneaked up on me is the fact that my face doesn’t tan any more. It splotches. As if someone smacked me with a henna teabag on the forehead. So I’ve taken to wearing a hat with a wide brim almost everywhere. And I’m no longer young enough to make it a statement. I’m just another middle aged woman in a hat. I might even qualify as officially eccentric.

The guy who cut my hair said shell out the dough and go to the department store cosmetics counter (something I am loathe to do) and ask for a good sunscreen that won’t give you zits. He was right, of course, because at Herbergers they will take back your sunscreen if you don’t like it, unlike Walgreens. I got some stuff, and I’ll get back to you about if it is zitless, but let me tell you about the woman who helped me. My God! The real world is interesting.

Young woman, in her late 20s, lots of make-up. Dressed all in black, capri leggings and fishnets stockings, over high heels, with a black lab-coat thing over it all. This is all pretty standard. But when Iasked her about a good sunscreen that won’t give me zits on my face, she looked at me and started to talk about what might work for my skin type. Every time I looked up, she was looking at my neck, which I took to be some sort of make-up counter trick she had been taught about calculating skin type. It made me a little worried about how my neck looked, but that was fleeting.

She had me follow behind her wobbly heeled-fishneted self to a different counter, and then she leaned over the counter and said, “Do you think it ‘s the titanium zinc oxide that is making your skin react?” I’ve forgotten the actual substance she said, because this time when I looked at her, I realized with a very disturbed sensation that she was (get this) Still Looking At My Neck! Or maybe it was my shoulder, but it was never, in fact, my face.

For the rest of my distracted description of what I wanted in a sunscreen (sun blockage and no zits), I kept trying to catch her eye. She never waivered from looking at my neckish-shoulder area. She smiled and furrowed her brow at all the right places in the conversation. Her posture was attentive. She just never looked me in the eye. Never.


In case you don’t know. When you talk to people there is a standard polite way to make eye-contact. Babies know it. Children know it. Make-up counter women are almost always good at it. No one has to tell you to make better eye-contact, for the most part. Too much, and it makes people nervous and intimidated, too little they get nervous and suspicious. Although I recently read that men love lots of eye contact from women.

We’ll set aside Native American cultures and the Orient for the sake of this discussion. No let’s not. Even in those cultures, you either look down, averting your gaze, or you make fleeting eye contact. There is no culture in the world where the right thing is to look at the other person’s neck. None. Shoulders? No. Chest? Only in the bar scene.

And let me tell you, there are only three possibilities here. Either I had something horrible on my neck (believe me, I checked), she had some sort of brain disorder, or she was doing a college research project on how people react when you stare at their neck. I bought my 30 dollar sunscreen, which was tinted, even though I said I wanted un-tinted, and got the hell out of there. She came over, cocked her head and smiled at my neck and said, “do you wear lipgloss?” offering me a free sample. I didn’t look at the color,didn’t blink, “Yes. Yes I do. Thanks.” Damn it was disturbing.

I do feel a little tricked, because now I have tinted sunscreen with an SPF of 15, when I wanted a clear one with an spf of 30, but what the hell. I’m not sure I’m willing to go back. When I asked if I could return the stuff she was suggesting, she said, “Oh yeah, I’m the manager of this counter, just ask for me.” Brutal.

My New Career

Thanks to my “always thinkin” brother in law Trevor, I have found my calling. My sister forwarded me an email from him that linked to a website that has changed my life. I have decided to use this site as inspiration for some of my own writings. I am going to write about some eating adventures I will have. This is something I have enjoyed doing (eating and drinking strange and disgusting things) for a long time, it just never occurred to me to write about it.

Steve hasn’t actually written about any good ‘donteatits’ for a good while. Maybe he’s burned out. I plan to contact him and ask for his blessing. I would appreciate any letters of recommendation from people who have been around when I tried things that were truly ish.

I am looking for a partner in this venture. Someone with guts and nerves of steel and who is willing to try new things, even if, especially if they’re icky. Someone who might want to write about the experience afterwords. Steve lit the torch, now it’s my turn to take it and carry it for as long as I can stand. I’m all over it. Who’s in with me?

I would like to present my resume and qualifications for the position of the new don’t eat it guy. They are as follows:

  • I ate Cuy ( it up.
  • I tried all flavors of the Jones Turkey Dinner flavored pops, including gravy and brussel sprout.
  • Andy’s stepmom, Daniela always brings back salty licorice candies from hell, oops I mean from Amsterdam. One of my favorite pastimes (and I am not kidding. This is so fun) has been to get someone I love and each of us take turns trying from the sampler packs. There is nothing funnier to me than someone I love spitting black salty drool into the trash. Unless it’s the wounded look some get after mistakenly swallowing.
  • I ate squirrel jerky once, no twice.
  • I drank army worm wine (which tastes a lot like really bad grape wine, without the grapes).
  • I have eaten on more than one occasion, a dish called anticuchos, which is Peruvian. It is essentially marinated, skewered, grilled beef heart, eaten with a cilantro parsley sauce. Beef heart is pretty much like beef leg or beef rump. It tastes like moo. But the heart is much chewier and denser. Something like chicken gizzards, which I used to eat all the time, by the way.
  • My favorite part of the Turkey is the neck. I don’t know if this qualifies, but lots of people seem to get gaggy when I bring it up.

If I come up with new memories of things crude and scary, I will share them with you.

Biology Class 2

In lab we were working with amylase, which is an enzyme that digests starch. Breaks it down. It’s one of the key components in saliva. There was a bottle of it on the table for the lab activity this particular day. If I allowed myself to think about it long enough, it would have bothered me that there was a small bottle of spit-stuff on the table. But I blocked it.
I try to be really grown-up about lab. Not get grossed out or squeamish about stuff. LaShandra and I were the only two people to prick our fingers for the blood-type exercise. We felt very mature and strong, unfettered by the societal constraints of giggly,gaggy girlhood. So what’s the big deal about the bottle of spit?

It’s all cool, because if you put amylase in with your starch solution in one beaker, and just starch solution in the other beaker, then you put iodine in each one… Well, iodine turns dark blue or black in the presence of starch. So guess which beaker turned black? The one without the amylase!

So that’s all going just as planned when the professor says, “Hey just for fun, let’s do this exercise with real saliva. We’ll need two people from each lab group to provide saliva samples. I tended towards being grossed out by the idea of providing a sample of spit. It just seems, I don’t know…gross. Totally unladylike, ungentlemanlike and icky.

But one look at Ebony makes it clear that she is not going to be involved in this. “Eewwwuh, we’re supposed to spit in a beaker?I’m not doing that. No way.” Aniso’s very busy writing something. But LaShandra is already gearing up. So my superiority kicks in. I’m not going to be a big baby like Ebony.

That right there? That’s my inner voice. I feel confident saying at this point that my inner voice is either mean or retarded, possibly both. Because it always seems to be winning arguments against my outer self, who we know and love. But my outer voice seems to be weak in addition to being wise. Because in situations like this, my inner voice prevails.

To understand the humiliation in this story, you have to understand the kind of power-guilt-superiority trips my inner voice plays. And you have to understand that my outer voice really seems tongue-tied and pathetic in comparison.

Inner voice,” Come on! It’s spit. It’s not poop or boogers, it’s so low on the gross-o-meter that it hardly registers. And everyone is having to do it. What? You think your spit is any different than anyone else’s? don’t be an idiot. Spit is Spit. You think you won’t be able to perform at spitting? Babies can spit. This is science, not social hour. Suck it up, Sally. Be a man.”

My outer voice is whimpering, simpering and blithering, “But, but, but…What if I’m no good at spitting? What if my spit is sick and nasty?” And my inner mediator is reasonably saying, “No good at spitting? Abnormally nasty spit? You can do better than that, can’t you?”

Inner voice,”Come on. How old are you? You spit in the freaking beaker. At least one person at every table is doing it. They’re busy spitting in their own beakers, so they’re not going to be watching you. And spitting isn’t exactly a challenging task. Spit Dammit!”

I grab my own beaker. As I do I notice that LaShandra is really going at it. This woman can spit. “Issh eashhy. Jusht rub your tongue on your shaliva glands and swoosh.” And by god, she is having no trouble. As I start to ssshtimulate my shaliva glandsh, someone asks how much saliva we need. “Probably 6 ccs should be good.”

Let me stop here and tell you that 6 ccs is about the amount of liquid in a gallon jug. Which turns out to be about a thousand times more spit than I have in my mouth in a given day. I sat trying to work on my glands, and trying to work up something to spit out. What I come up with is a think white bubbly smear down one side of my beaker. I have no spit.

The more I try, the less spit I have. Not having spit right when I need it, turns out to be very stressful and embarrassing. Ebony looks over, “Eeewwwuh. Why is your spit so thick?Nasty. Why can’t you spit? Do you want me to go get you some gum or something?”

Oh my god, my spit is grosser than most people’s spit! I knew it! My grossness is grosser than the grossness of Ebony! Now I really can’t spit.

And LaShandra is sitting next to me trying to keep her pucker up, but her veritable dairy farm production of spit compared to my saliva Sahara is making her smile.Aniso watched wide-eyed. “I sink you need to go get Lisa some gum.”

In the end, Ebony got me gum (sugar-free so as not to hork up the experiment). But gum didn’t get me spit. I came up with a pathetic and disgusting froth of bubbles and I tried to scale the experiment down. How it turned out doesn’t matter. There’s a bigger lesson here. I just can’t figure out what it is.