American Groceries, Ambiguous Genders, and Other First-Day-In-America Observations

Other Minneapolis Road Trip Posts: 

Mall of America: What the Log Chute is Really Like,
an Inspiring Aerial View of America
Mall of America, Sea Life Aquarium: The Awed Perspective of One Canadian


On the first morning of our Minneapolis road trip, we awoke in the Airbnb, glad for the good mattress. Mark and I nestled on the couch and sipped coffee while the kids set up their rooms, stocking the trays next to their bunk beds to overflowing with apparent essentials like candy and books and toys.

With border crossing rules the way they are, we hadn’t been able to bring much food across. Fruit and vegetables, meat and dairy were all either not allowed to be brought across the border, or were questionable depending on their ingredient, so we decided to buy most of what we needed once we’d arrived, which left our cupboards bare of breakfast food that morning. 

But first, coffee. Priorities, you know?

Mall of America: What the Log Chute is Really Like, and an Inspiring Aerial View of America

On the second day of our road  trip to Minneapolis, we returned to Mall of America for a day of rides. We walked through Nickelodeon Universe before deciding where to start. We’d stopped at the railing of the Log Chute ride and watched a log full of people jet down a steep hill and into a pool of water, sending a wall of water straight up on either side and ahead of them.

“I’m not going on that.” Abby said.

I laughed. “But look – they’re not even wiping their faces or hair or anything. I think it looks like they get wet, but they don’t actually.” I’d noticed a sign that warned riders may get soaked, but no one we’d seen ever left the bottom of that splash looking drenched.

“It pushes the water away from them, Abby.” Mark added.

“I’m not going on that.” Abby said.

‘You wouldn’t join the family on a Log Chute ride?” I leaned in and smiled sweetly.
She watched the next log plummet into the pool. The young girl in front ducked behind the front dash as water sprayed all around them. “I might go. … if I can choose where I sit.”

“Of course!” I said.

“I want to sit in the front.”


“But I don’t want to do this ride yet,” she said.

“Okay,” I said. She needed to ease into it. “How about the ferris wheel?”

She looked up at it and decided it was a safe enough start. We eased into the day of rides with the Ferris wheel, and soon were making our way through lines to others. Finally we made our way to the Log Chute ride. We waited in what seemed like a three-mile long line up that wove through a stony tunnel. At one point during the half hour wait, two young children, maybe nine years old, wove their way through the crowded tunnel past everyone. “Excuse me,” one said. Instinctively, I moved over and let them pass. As I watched them walk past all the waiting people, I became frustrated with my politeness. Why did I let them by? Why was everyone else? Soon afterward, a voice behind me said, “excuse me”. Instinctively I moved over and watched another child move fluidly through the crowd toward the front of the line.

“That’s it.” I said to Mark. “I’m not letting another one through.”

“Oh relax,” Mark said.

“What do you mean relax? We have to wait in line. Why shouldn’t they?”

“They’re – “he shrugged, “Whatever. Let ‘em pass. It’s not a big deal.”

I didn’t understand how three people pushing to the front of a line could be fine, and my having an issue with it was making me feel rude and childish. I knew I would let more pass if they would come, but I  would not be happy about it.

Finally we arrived at the little river where a four-seater log floated up in front of us. The attendant motioned for us to climb in. “I want to sit second from the back,” Abby said, changing her mind suddenly.

“Sure thing. Sit where you like!” I smiled.

We all took our places, Mark ending up in the back, and I in the front. The log bobbed forward in the rushing water and into a dark tunnel. “Don’t you rock it!” I said to Mark and Ethan. The echo of water in the small tunnel drowned out whatever reply they made. The small tunnel opened up to reveal a larger room inside the stony mountain, and the log chugged up a track to another tunnel near the ceiling.

As we rose up on the track, we passed a landing where a living room scene was set up. We rose up and up, coming eye level to a rocking chair on which was perched a mechanical cat. Its eyes blinked and head turned toward us as we rose past. Its rough grey fur looked like it had been recently recovered from a dusty attic where it had been stored beneath something heavy, and plunked on this chair without being fluffed or combed through.

“Oh look,” I said, wondering why I was pointing it out. “The cat is moving.”

Two clicks of the track later, opposite the cat, was a dining room scene. Two millworkers in red plaid shirts mechanically tended to breakfast. One bent over the stove, cooking something and waving a kitchen utensil at us. His eyes opened too wide, almost lidless, and his mouth opened and closed mechanically without coordinating to any words. The man seated at the table held a fork in front of his mouth with a bit of food on it. His eyes spread wide and lidless too, watching us as we passed, and his mouth chattered like a pair of wind-up dentures. These men also looked frazzled, like they’d just been unearthed from under furniture in an attic and placed here without so much as a dusting. From somewhere in the cave ceiling, a speaker blared unidentifiable words, I assume were supposed to appear belong to the chattering mouths. We bobbed on past the mangy cat and chattering men and came to the outside of the mountain among evergreens.

“Well that was unnecessarily creepy.” I said.

“Yeah! Did you see the explosives?” Ethan asked over the sound of rushing water.

“No, I didn’t. I only saw the cat and the kitchen.”

Just then, the path in front of us disappeared, the horizon becoming all the rides of Nickelodeon Universe. Beneath us, the watery chute dropped away into a pool. “Here we go!” I said, and leaned back against Ethan. The log tipped over the edge and fell into the watery slide. We dropped down the mountain side and glided into the deep pool at its bottom. Swoosh! Water folded away as the log settled into the pool. The waves splashed against the cave’s outer wall and made their way back to us, submerging the front of the log and folding over the edge and into my lap. I gasped loudly as cool water washed my denim thighs.

“Did you get wet?” Abby called out from the back.

“I sure did!” I laughed. I guess just the people who sat in front got wet on these rides after al.

“Did you?” Mark laughed loud, making my heart happy.

“I’m soaked!” Ethan said, “It got the bottom of my pants!”

The log was sucked into another tunnel, up another track, and past another vignette with a wide-eyed miner and a dusty box of dynamite, and then we came to the end. The pinnacle. The very peak of the weird mountain. Like a scene from The Fugitive, we perched on the edge of the tunnel, teetering atop a waterfall that seemed to fall far away and felt like a ninety degree drop. The log teetered there for a moment, allowing us to fully take in the terror  before plunging us into it.

“Oh no!” Ethan said behind me.

“I know!” I said, leaning back. My heart tightened into a fist.

The log finally lost its balance and dipped down into the waterfall. We sped toward the pool at the bottom and I wondered if I’d been wrong. Maybe Abby was right, and everyone was getting soaked after all. The blunt front end of the log plowed into the pool of water at the bottom, building a wall of water all around us. I flinched, preparing to be drenched from head to toe, but this time, the water did not enter the log at all.

When it was our turn, we climbed out. Mark and Abby were dry, but Ethan’s pant legs were wet at the bottom, and my thighs were soaked. “It’ll dry,” Mark said casually, as we began walking to the next ride. I looked down at my legs and thought it looked a lot like I had just wet myself.  

Fly Over America

“Let’s go to the Fly Over America ride!” Abby suggested. 

I was perfectly pleased to let my pants dry in a dark room where no one could wonder about them. 

“Sure! Let’s do it!”

We walked up to a desk where the clerks’ uniforms and the red and navy signs had a slight airport feel. I thought so, at least. “Welcome to Fly Over America.” She said. We got our tickets and she pointed us up the ramp. “Enjoy your flight.” Yes, to someone like me who’d never set foot in an airport in her life, this seemed airport-like indeed.

We filed into a large room with about twenty other people, each of us standing on painted circles in a matrix of rows and columns separated by velvet ropes and metal poles. We stood to watch a short safety video by a stewardess. “You’ll notice there are a couple of Canadians in the video,” she said “that’s because we’re featuring a Fly Over Canada film too, this month.”

The “Canadians” in the film were stereotypical of course; the RCMP officer in full formal dress you’d only see in parades, and a hockey player who grinned wide and toothless. I shook my head and smiled, feeling amused and offended and guilty all at once. I wondered if this was how British people feel when they’re made fun of for their big ears and bad teeth.

We were led up a flight of stairs and onto a balcony that overlooked a large screen not unlike IMAX. 
We took our places in the chairs that looked a bit like amusement park seats or electric chairs. Why did the chairs have tall handles on them? Were they going to do loop-de-loops? How mobile were these chairs exactly? I hoped I wouldn’t throw up.  

I smiled at Abby, who sat next to me. “This is going to be fun!” I said. She looked worried. “If you want to, you can use these handles. It’ll be fine.” 

We buckled in and the attendants disappeared from the platform into the side doors. Then the lights went out and we were alone in our chairs in complete darkness. An electronic sound came from all around us and the balcony railing in front of us unfolded, opening toward the screen. Our row of chairs pushed forward toward the screen, suspending us in midair, until the screen was all we could see all around us.

A puff of air and mist wafted across our faces and in front of us an image of clouds appeared. We were in an aircraft, sailing through the clouds, feeling the wind in our hair and the moisture of the clouds. As the view changed, so did our position. The aircraft tilted downward, gliding smoothly down. As the clouds parted, a panorama of mountains opened in front of us. I drew a breath. 

We glided like eagles over the tree-covered mountain. Millions of vibrant red and orange leaves seemed to wave in the autumn sun. My chest swelled with awe. How could such beauty exist? And how could God allow me – sinful, rotten me – to see it? We floated past the tree tops and crested a peak to discover a lake hidden just on the other side. We glided down slow and low, maybe thirty feet above the water, and soared across it like a bird riding the wind. But there was no wind. The water stretched far ahead and lay still like black glass. This was how the Word described the floor of the throne room. I drew another breath and held it, lips parted. These glimpses of heaven made me swell such amazement I thought I would explode. Tears filled my eyes.

Ahead, was a red canoe with a lone paddler. We were headed right for it. As if we were playing a game of Chicken, we kept our course until the very last minute, until we were so close we could see the person dipping their oar in the water. We could see their small amount of camping cargo. The ball cap he wore wearing. Then we pulled up, feeling the heavy drag of gravity and the rush of air in our face. The paddler became small below us and we tilted up toward the panorama of sky and mountain as it opened up before us again. God could see the paddler like that, I thought, from up close, or from far above. God also knew his thoughts. His dreams and fears. God knew everything about that paddler’s past, present, and future. I was amazed by this, perplexed by the logistics, confounded by what would motivate such intimacy, and awed by the compassion of such an able God. I knew again, as we soared above hills and fields, that God was completely beyond understanding and was completely good. Tears streamed down my cheeks now.

We flew over cities and mountains, soaring past extreme athletes. Rafters on bubbling rapids. Extreme bikers peddling vertically down a treacherous mountain bike path. We even flew through the mist of American stunt planes. Finally we soared above the clouds, rising up, up like a slow rocket, into the black starry sky. Below us, the distant lights and clouds of the USA. Beyond us, a sliver of orange where the sun disappeared behind the planet as seen from space. Another of God’s views that caught my breath like a rock in my throat.

“That was awesome!” Ethan said once the lights came on.

“I really liked that!” Abby said as we headed back down the stairs.

"Me too," I said, wishing I could better encapsulate the experience.

I found myself wishing something I'd never wished before; to be a pilot.
Maybe we'd get to fly in heaven.
I hoped so. 

Mall of America, Sea Life Aquarium: The Awed Perspective of One Canadian

After getting a family caricature done at a booth in  Nickelodeon Universe (that story to come), we made our way to the Sea Life Aquarium, an aquatic zoo beneath the mall’s lower level. 

We rounded the entryway corner to a dark blue room with a large shallow pool where stingrays flapped their flowing fins (wings?) and glided smoothly through the clear water. It was interesting for about a minute. How soon we can become bored, even with amazing things...

We quickly moved on, following winding paths through dark rooms and tunnels that showed watery windows of razor fish and a tank where apparently a squid lived, but where we couldn’t find it. No one could. It didn’t help that the tank was contoured, distorting the appearance of whatever was inside, I thought. I discovered that anemones, those inside-out mushroom looking things with red streamers that wiggle in the water, were not just plants but apparently living creatures. I wasn’t sure I believed it, but the staff had said so. 

Just as I was beginning to question whether the admission had been worth it, we rounded a corner to a deep dark room filled with floor to ceiling tubes. The water-filled tubes pulsed gently with colored lights, showcasing the living creatures inside. Jellyfish glowed inside each tube, changing colors with the lights. It felt as though we had walked onto a spaceship or the set of some science fiction movie where people were kept alive in glass tubes.
I was so mesmerized I didn't think to take a photo!
This stock photo from Pexels is strikingly similar though.

My daughter Abby and I walked up to a tube and stood in front of it and watched a tiny jellyfish half the size of a ping pong ball.

“You will be mine,” I said, “I will call you squishy.” I pressed a finger against the glass near the little fish. “My squishy.”

Abby giggled and echoed the Finding Nemo movie quote, pressing her finger against the glass too. “My squishy.” Then she left to look at the other tubes of fish with her dad and brother.

I stood transfixed, not moving my eyes from a larger jellyfish that now wafted in front of me. Its translucent body throbbed inexplicably, pulsing its way to who knows where. It had no eyes, so how could it know where it was headed? Anyway, there was nothing in the tank but jellyfish and water, so what did it matter where it went? There was no stone or reef or cave or even strand of grass to set as a destination. Did it eat? Or see? Or think? What was the point of such a creature? Why, God, did you make such a thing? 

The jellyfish, turning yellow now with the lights, and apparently unperturbed by such thoughts, pulsed peacefully, dragging its wiggly long strands beneath it. The tiniest threads lined its mushroom top (head?) like tassels, and would straighten with the upward thrust of the pulse, then in the downward part of the pulse that expanded the mushroom top as it gathered water under it, the tassels would curl with the movement of water. Then the thing would pulse upward again and the tassels would straighten. 

I stared, mesmerized, watching each movement of every transparent part. The fish became purple in the change of lights, and I drew a breath. Whether I was struck by its beauty or frightened by its strangeness, I didn’t know. I only knew I was moved and couldn’t stop watching. My chest swelled with awe and I found myself wondering again how God could possibly create so much detail, knowing its every thread, and yet invite us to look at such intimate creation. I’d been invited to behold a secret. One that had been carefully crafted and then hidden in the ocean for hundreds or thousands of years. The limitless of his imagination and creativity, and the invitation to witness it stunned me. My eyes moistened and I swallowed at the knot that had formed in my throat.

The jellyfish turned on its side, pointing its top to me. The top of the mushroom had four white circular outlines that were thicker than all the other white veins that ran all through its body. All the other jellyfish swam with their tops up, but this one pulsed on its side right there against the glass, pointing its circles at me. Was it looking at me?

My husband, Mark, arrived at my side. “So?” he asked.

“I can’t stop staring.” I said without moving my eyes, “I’m mesmerized. Hey. Is this thing looking at me?”

He chuckled. “I don’t know. Maybe.” After a beat, “Ready to go soon?”

My chest swelled again. I didn’t know how long I’d been standing there. All I knew was that I wanted to stand there longer. “Yeah, I guess we can go. The kids are done, right?”



Can you see the crocodile?
We left the jellyfish room behind, which made me ache a little, and made our way up, down, and around other pathways past poisonous dart frogs and a small crocodile that stood in the water near the glass so we could see its whole body. All of its body was underwater except for its eyes which peeked just above the surface. We could bend and see its whole body beneath the surface, perched on the rocky lake bottom, with his arms out like he was balancing, trying to keep from falling. He kept that pose, holding it like he’d been glued that way.

The path led through an underwater tunnel where sharks and tortoises swam beside and above us. The saw-nose fish wriggled right in front of us, its three foot long chainsaw of a nose just inches away from us.

Sharks swam above us revealing their silly looking underbellies. Their mangled rows of crooked teeth looked fierce enough, but their underbellies looked like white playdoh happy faces that had been made by a toddler and flattened with a baking pan. What was God thinking there? They made me laugh, anyway.

We exited through the gift shop, as all good touristy places seemed to do, and the children darted from shelf to shelf looking for a memento. I wandered aimlessly, glancing at gadgets while I waited for them to finish. Until I remembered the jellyfish and how they’d moved me. My chest brimmed with feelings even at the thought. I needed a jellyfish memento. Yes I did. I scanned the shelves for something. Key chains, no. Stuffy, no. Sparkly necklace, no. They were all of other apparently more interesting creatures anyway. Not too many jellyfish to be seen.

Then I saw it – a jellyfish encased in an oblong glass, frozen in mid-swirl and captured with bubbles. It might have been a paperweight, but to me it was a sculpture. As I stood at the glass case, eyeing the jellyfish from behind the locked glass door, my chest swelled again. What was wrong with me? Why was I getting all emotional over jellyfish paperweights?

I wanted it so badly, which frightened me. I’d never been one to become too attached to things. Things can be taken away, and had been, so I’d learned not to need them. This sudden attachment to a jellyfish paperweight alarmed me slightly. Still, I decided I’d get it.  It would be a tasteful reminder of the awe jellyfish had inspired, and of the God who makes amazing things. 

The moment I decided it, I filled with a strange, yet somewhat familiar feeling of guilt-edged glee.
“Mark,” I said as he approached, “I’d like to get this.” We didn’t generally ask permission of each other for such things. Our policy was, you want it, you buy it. It wasn’t a smart policy necessarily, but it was how we rolled.

“Then do it,” he smiled, “You don’t have to check with me.”

“I know… I just…”

I felt ten years old, conflicted about how to spend my allowance. My chest welled up with such strong feelings I thought I might cry. Who ever heard of someone crying over a jellyfish paperweight souvenir? Suddenly I was a little girl standing in front of a sticker rack at Henry Armstrong’s, a stationary and office supply store in our local mall. I held a one dollar bill in my hand, the whole week’s allowance, and wrestled with how to spend it. Every week I’d dash straight to the candy store with that dollar and spend every bit of it on gummy candies, powdered candies, and candies that sizzled on my tongue. That day, I would break the mold, deciding to buy stickers instead. Seventy-nine cents. It would take up my whole allowance. There wouldn’t even be enough for one five cent candy after tax. I stood there rolling the weighty decision over and over in my mind, feeling anticipation and dread swirl together.

I stared at the jellyfish sculpture, perplexed by feeling that same swirl of emotions. I swallowed, holding back moisture from my eyes. “I don’t know. I - I want it. So… yeah. I’ll get it.”  

“Good,” Mark said. Unaware of my turmoil, he sauntered away to check on the kids.

I hailed a clerk who tenderly wrapped the sculpture in bubble wrap. I smiled warmly as we left the store, feeling satisfied that I’d found a special piece of Minnesota – of heaven, really - to take home with me. 
Initially, I had thought the caricature would be my memento of this place. It was, too. 

Until a jellyfish looked me in the eye and changed my mind.

Have you ever been to Minneapolis?
What's one of your favorite memories? 


How Her Marriage Was Transformed by the Power of Unconditional Love

The word love is thrown around flippantly yet it’s the most powerful force that exists. But not just any kind of love – unconditional love. 

It can change your life if you’ll believe it like Christy did.

Christy was miserable in her marriage and wanted relief from the pain.

The following is an interview with Christy and how she prayed the strangest prayer, got an unexpected answer and changed the course of her life....

Cucumber Memories - Excerpt from a Cancer Journey

I lay the two freshly picked cucumbers by the sink, dusting off some of the garden soil that powders their bumpy skins. They’ll make for a crisp snack of slices later.

Returning to the table, I sip coffee and consider the day’s tasks. As I mindlessly raise my hands to my face to massage my morning face awake, it happens. I’m brought back in time by a smell – what is it? I inhale again. It’s an old, familiar smell; the scent of cucumbers and soil. I close my eyes and am transported decades into the past, standing in our old childhood playshed near the garden.

I can smell the musty floorboards and unfinished chipboard walls.

Spotty memories bubble up....