the smell of my desperation has become a stench

Minnesota nice

Although I have flown in and out of the airport in Minneapolis a few times over the years, I haven’t ever visited Minnesota with a purpose. This recent trip to visit my old friends Chris and Carol would be my first true Midwestern experience aside from all those years Carol ruined my hearing with the way she pronounced concrete: “kyahhn-kreet.”

From time to time last winter she would send me pictures of her front yard or commute to work to assure me that she was still alive, that she and her family were surviving negative 40 degree temperatures and walloping snowstorms. No way I could endure that, no way, especially given that their summer has been unseasonably cool. Add to that the fact that they are in the middle of remodeling their house. So it’s cold and she has no floors and she can’t find anything and everyone around her has turned “don’t” and “you” into one word.

Basically it’s Hawaii with a little more flavor.

I grew up in the South, so while running errands with her to find last minute things for the drive to the lake in Wisconsin the very first thing I noticed is how cashiers smile and talk and commiserate. It’s not that people in Utah are mean or rude, quite the contrary. People here are raised to serve and help and show up with a green bean casserole when your fish dies. But when it comes to public displays of friendliness, people here are way more conservative. WHAT IF THIS PERSON THINKS I AM HITTING ON THEM OH NO I WILL HAVE TO TELL MY BISHOP.

I had lengthy conversations with the cashier at every store we visited, conversations about the origins of my children’s names, ancestry, vacations, pets, you name it. While checking out at Costco I mentioned to Carol that we forgot to get bug spray when suddenly the cashier gripped the counter.

“Where are you headed?” she asked with grave concern.

“The Northwoods of Wisconsin,” answered Carol.

“Forget everything you thought you knew about mosquitos,” the cashier said, and then her eyes got huge as she reached up to her hairline to find a recent bug bite. As she fiddled around the curls on the left side of her head she warned, “Don’t even think about Skin So Soft or anything other than DEET. The bugs are horrifying this year. They will pick you up and carry you off. TAKE MY WORD.”

The bug bite must have cleared up because she couldn’t locate it, but I thanked her for her advice. As we walked our cart toward the door I realized that this cashier, this stranger was just about to show me her mosquito bite. Not that doing so is akin to flashing me her boobs, but my god, how helpful! Instead of keeping it hidden like I would, instead of trying to camouflage it like I would, she was going to use it like a slide on a powerpoint presentation. BEHOLD: THIS IS AN EXAMPLE OF HOW BAD THE MOSQUITOS ARE THIS YEAR.

I wanted to run back and hug her and say, “Thank you for not being afraid that I might think you are hitting on me. I think I love you.”

Salt Lake does not have mosquitos like that, no. We also don’t have cockroaches or ticks or chiggers or fleas, and while it snows quite a bit in the winter the temperature does not ever reach negative 42 degrees Fahrenheit. But we also don’t have public friendliness. Minnesota Nice is its own tourist attraction.

  • Jeanie

    2014/07/21 at 4:46 pm

    Is that Leta baiting a hook? With a WORM?

  • Rachel Sea

    2014/07/21 at 4:50 pm

    Marlo looks very excited about her paper towel tube. I feel like there is a story there.

  • Nancy Sorensen Raffetto

    2014/07/21 at 4:54 pm

    Did you make it to Famous Dave’s? The original Famous Dave’s? Where they serve their
    All-American BBQ Feast® on a pristine garbage can lid?

  • allconsuming

    2014/07/21 at 5:14 pm


  • allconsuming

    2014/07/21 at 5:15 pm


  • allconsuming

    2014/07/21 at 5:16 pm


    (Can you tell I am so thrilled you got to have a proper break?)

  • Ali

    2014/07/21 at 5:23 pm

    We just moved from Boston to western TX. Boston is not, uh, the friendliest place so we spent half our roadtrip here commenting on the “weird, creepy” helpfulness of everyone*.

    *I’m a Georgia girl but have not lived in the south in over 15 years so I forgot that is normal not the “no eye contact, let the door slam in your face, bless your own sneeezes” north

  • Heather Armstrong

    2014/07/21 at 5:31 pm

    We did indeed! I grew up with Memphis BBQ so it was not the best like they claim, but it was damn good.

  • Alexsulliv

    2014/07/21 at 7:00 pm

    The family photo of you 3 is awesome, you look so happy and in the moment!

  • Karen Au

    2014/07/21 at 7:31 pm

    What is the paper towel roll story? And was that water as cold as it looks? I live in Hawaii so seeing the girls swim in that lake made me shiver.

  • Kate C.

    2014/07/21 at 8:04 pm

    I like living in the midwest – glad you had a nice vacation here and survived the mosquitos. This really is a terrible year for them. Also – I went to college with Famous Dave’s son. Very nice people (as you’d expect!)

  • Nancy

    2014/07/21 at 8:09 pm

    NOTHING beats Memphis BBQ. But it is either our BBQ or no BBQ at all…

  • Manisha

    2014/07/21 at 8:22 pm

    I live in Minneapolis and spend most weekends in north central Wisconsin. I’ve lived in many places including a nice little hill station near the Himalaya Mountains. I can honestly say that living in Minnesota/Wisconsin is the best! I choose to live here and would be heartbroken if I had to leave. I do come to Moab, Utah once a year and am always struck by the stark differences in the landscape. I’m so glad you came up north and I’m glad you had a great time!!!

  • Kylene

    2014/07/21 at 8:28 pm

    I miss growing up in that part of the world. Except for the winters. I do not miss the winters. The winters are why I now live in South Carolina. But looking at your photos in this post, I kept thinking, “Oh, that looks like home! That looks so wonderful.” Those thoughts were followed by, “I think my parents own a house in that town…..” Yup. Pretty sure they do. I sure hope you stopped at the Norske Nook for pie!

  • MamaRobot

    2014/07/21 at 8:31 pm

    I love Minnesota.

  • Sarah

    2014/07/21 at 9:36 pm

    I’ve lived in the SLC area for 4 years now after living 13 years in midwestern college towns. I’ve *almost* broken the habit of sometimes commenting on the weather, or how crowded the train is, or whatever on Trax. I can be sitting with 2 people facing me and another right next to me and it’s like I’m invisible or something. Where do they think they are, New York City?

  • Teal

    2014/07/21 at 10:02 pm

    I’m from Indiana, and proud of it. We have a long history of being friendly and approachable. We also have some awesome regional food! Tenderloins & green rivers. Mmm…

  • Meg

    2014/07/22 at 4:03 am

    The kids look great, so big, adults all good, but I am most relieved to see Basie is doing well. Did she bond with Marlo as much as Marlo (I’m sure) wanted her to?

  • Jenay Hoover

    2014/07/22 at 7:07 am

    Leta is all arms and legs in every picture, she is such a beauty!! You must spend a fortune keeping her clothed ha ha!! She is really growing!! And Marlo, what can I say about that girl other than the stories you tell about her come through the page all over her face. The concentration she is showing when her friend is putting the worm on the hook made me laugh out loud because you know what all she is thinking… and it’s all ornery! Your girls look so happy, and so do you! Congrats on such a wonderful family!!

  • Jessica

    2014/07/22 at 7:53 am

    I love this! Yes, we happen to be some pretty nice people here in Minnesota. I have lived here my whole life and just thought that is the way everyone is. I quickly learned that was not the case when I traveled out of state. Hope you enjoyed your stay….it is hot and humid here now!

  • sweetteaplease

    2014/07/22 at 8:15 am

    the picture with the platform and the sun set, that on is a framer for sure!

  • Emily

    2014/07/22 at 9:58 am

    Angler’s!!!! I know *exactly* where you were, and have many (many!) happy memories of weekends spent at a friend’s cottage very very near there. (Ok – and not so happy memories of the accompanying mosquitoes. ) And yes, having lived in Minneapolis, Minnesota Nice is definitely a thing…as is making sure to have bug spray in your car just in case you end up outside and hadn’t planned on it.

  • Sarah

    2014/07/22 at 11:14 am

    I was born and raised in MN. We are such helpful and nice people that we scare my Rhode Islander husband a little bit. He’s never quite sure what to make of all that niceness as it may be a trap.

  • Cheryl Gill

    2014/07/22 at 11:19 am

    Hayward, Wisconsin is one of my favorite places in the world!

  • julie

    2014/07/22 at 11:28 am

    Marlo’s face behind that fish is just priceless!

  • Marie McDowell

    2014/07/22 at 12:31 pm

    Oh, the picture of you and the girls………..breathtakingly beautiful and so full of joy. LOVE!

  • KristenfromMA

    2014/07/22 at 12:43 pm

    Heather, you’re not tanned, are you? Are you?! You look tanned in that picture! (You look great, except TANNED!)

  • Heather Armstrong

    2014/07/22 at 3:02 pm

    I wore sunscreen all week. I could walk around in a fireproof spacesuit and still get sun. It’s infuriating.

  • KathyB

    2014/07/23 at 7:28 am

    Beautiful vacation with lovely families. Hope the water has warmed some. Great pics. And the mosquitoes did not drain you all dry. Marlo the water puppy must have been in heaven with the lake to surround her.

  • Nik

    2014/07/23 at 2:19 pm

    We have a place on Grindstone! Please tell me you took those girls to Tremblay’s?

Heather B. Armstrong

Hi. I’m Heather B. Armstrong, and this used to be called mommy blogging. But then they started calling it Influencer Marketing: hashtag ad, hashtag sponsored, hashtag you know you want me to slap your product on my kid and exploit her for millions and millions of dollars. That’s how this shit works. Now? Well… sit back, buckle up, and enjoy the ride.

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