Category "Minnesota"

Category "Texas"

August 9, 2005

The Texas Minnesota Thang

This morning's Star Tribune featured an article "Grinding Axes with Texas," which began with the lead, "It really chaps our hide the way the Lone Star State takes things we'd rather claim as our own."

As a holder of dual citizenship (having lived in Texas for 25 years and in Minnesota for 19 years and counting), I have a few comments to make.

I was recently introducing myself to my new next-door neighbor and found myself talking about Texas and Minnesota - and he asked what kind of connection there was between the states, because he had observed some kind of affinity between the two.

Well, the first connection is geographic. Texas and Minnesota are the "bumpers" on Interstate-35 before you cross international boundaries into Mexico or Canada, respectively. So the connection's pretty simple. Just hop on I-35 and head either north or south, and you'll wind up in one or the other. I-35 stretches from Duluth to Laredo, passing through the Twin Cities, Dallas, and Austin along the way.

The Twin Cities and Austin (TX) also have affinities. Both are centers of high tech and lots of white collar business, both are state capitals, and each is home to one of the U.S.'s largest state universities. The rankings of UT Austin and U of M Twin Cities tend to be very close. One may be a point or two ahead of the other on one dimension, but then the direction is reversed on another dimension. (But only UT Austin has a library that is built in the shape of the state of Texas.)

I think the 2 states also share a certain type of pragmatism that comes from dealing with harsh climates, although Minnesota has the "pleasure" of dealing with BOTH extremes, as this summer's continuing heat / humidity wave is continuing to teach us. As a consequence, people in both states dress casually in accordance with the weather -- or at least they tolerate people who do. People are adaptable.

However, my extended stays in both states have shown me that there are significant differences as well.

One of them has to do with a general approach to life. Minnesotans analyze and whine -- well illustrated by this morning's article. Here's the first sentence: "Texas, you've got our dander up!" (See?)

Texans just grab and run. They could care less whether Minnesota thinks it has 10,000 lakes. If they want to claim 10,000 or 20,000 -- well brother, they will.

There'a also a real difference in attitudes about the use of power in government and in universities. Minnesota touts its populist, participatory approach to life. Which is true in many ways. But sometimes it seems that the participation and consultation go on forever and either a) no one makes a decision, or b) someone steps in and grabs power and makes a decision in spite of all the consultation. In Texas, there's no pretense of consultation or government-by-the-people. Those in power just decide. Now I realize that I am edging into political territory here that others may care to analyze in much more depth. And maybe I'll add more in a subsequent post. But I couldn't let the occasion of this article pass without SOME comment about the two states that I alternatively love and hate. As with most things in life, wouldn't it be great if we could take the best things about each state and roll them into one? But what would we call it?

Posted by hgroteva at 7:55 AM | Minnesota | Texas

Category "Life"

Category "Texas"

Category "Travel"

December 17, 2005

Road Trip ... or The First Day of the Rest of a Life

I'm writing this from Liberty, Missouri. I'm helping Mark move to Austin, and we made it almost half way before the snow and trucks made us think it was time to turn in for the night. It's been a good day, although getting everything prepared for departure was plenty challenging. The poor cats sensed that something VERY big was afoot. Shadown climbed into the suspended ceiling above Mark's bedroom and broke one of the ceiling tiles. Sadie was staying very close to my shoulder. I purposely didn't pack my suitcase until this morning, because the emergence of suitcases from the closet throws them all into a tizzie. Since Susan has a few days remaining at home, they'll get used to our departure one person at a time. And then Ian will be there to spoil them, so hey, they're doing just fine.

Mark clearly sees this as a transition - the possibilities are very exciting. What kind of job? What to study in school? Where to live? Whom to meet, and where to meet them? There's something very liberating about leaving one's childhood home, high school friends, and customer service job for a new world ahead. What will the long-term future hold? Who knows, but it's wonderful to speculate. Austin will be an exciting, yet vaguely familiar springboard for exploring new opportunities. It's a joy to be along for this part of the ride.

Posted by hgroteva at 8:29 PM | Life | Texas | Travel

Category "Minnesota"

Category "Texas"

Category "Travel"

December 19, 2005


At 5:05 pm yesterday, we crossed the border from Oklahoma into Texas. It's so strange how each state on the way down had its own climatological feel:
Minnesota - didn't notice; was too eager to get on the road (sorry, MN)
Iowa - sunny and bright, stingingly cold
Missouri - nasty snow and cold - snow came at us horizontally, lending to feeling of disorientation
Kansas - snow had largely stopped, but car and windshield took on 3 tons of slush - grit, sand, salt - and all the gas stations we stopped at had run out of windshield washer fluid
Oklahoma - still pretty cold, but skies clearing; nice to see the sun again
Texas - warmer (40s), clear big skies

There were plenty of noticeable cultural differences as well. The latest rage -- putting a custom painted mural on the tailgate of your pickup truck - one beauty had a herd of wild mustangs chasing across the tailgate; another featured the Virgin of Guadalupe. People here in Austin are just friendlier. They just are. I notice it every time I come back here, and it always takes me by surprise. At the grocery store, I asked someone in the bakery section where their gluten free breads were, and she personally escorted me over to the place, then we talked about various alternatives, which ones we liked, etc. It was a delightful conversation. Granted it was the Whole Foods world headquarters (a truly amazing store), but everyone, from the people behind the counters to those checking out, had kind words and smiles to offer. It is a noticeable difference. Maybe a little of that personal warmth would help Minnesota winters seem less grim. Garrison, where are you?

It's about 45 degrees at the moment; Christmas should be 65 and sunny. Fine by me.

Posted by hgroteva at 9:49 AM | Minnesota | Texas | Travel

Category "Society"

Category "Texas"

December 27, 2005

81 and Sunny

It hit a record high of 81 here in Austin yesterday. 83 is forecast for today, and then a "cold front" blows through, bringing the highs down into the 70s. Sigh! We head home tomorrow, back to the cold (although Mpls seems to be experiencing a "warm spell" in the past week - it's all relative, isn't it?)

Today's American Statesman included an editorial that fits with some of my recent posts on homelessness, health care, and social justice issues. Read the full editorial here. The article discussed a major effort being undertaken by Austin clergy to address social and economic disparities. It drew a useful distinction between charity and justice. "Charity is private, individual acts. Justice is public, collective actions. Charity responds to immediate need. Justice responds to long-term need. Charity provides direct services such as food, shelter and clothing. Justice promotes social change in institutions. Both charity and justice are needed." It quoted Dom Helder Camara, the late Catholic bishop of Recife, Brazil, who said: "If I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a Communist."

This makes me think about the new Family Policy interdisciplinary doctoral minor at the university as well as some of the emerging efforts of the university's Children, Youth, and Family Consortium. I'm optimistic that some of the insights that grow from these efforts will ultimately be used to further social justice. And it seems quite fitting that one of the "themes of distinction" of the newly re-configured college that will combine the Department of Family Social Science, School of Social Work, General College, and College of Education and Human Development is "social justice and diversity." Let's make it real.

Posted by hgroteva at 10:06 AM | Society | Texas

Category "Texas"

Category "Travel"

December 28, 2005

Farewell to Austin

We're returning to the frozen north in a few short hours - Mark and I went to Zilker Park tonight (after taking Drake for a run and swim at Town Lake, playing ball with Reid in the back yard, and eating barbeque at the County Line) to see the famous Zilker Park Christmas tree - it was worth the trip. Enjoy, everyone - and wishes for peace in the new year.



Posted by hgroteva at 12:23 AM | Texas | Travel

Category "Texas"

January 5, 2006

Holy Guacamole - Hook 'em Horns!


Now, you know I'm not a big football fan - too many other things to do. BUT, last night's Rose Bowl game, in which my alma mater UT beat USC by 41-38, was riveting. It was extra fun to watch, because I'm in Sacramento working with colleagues Ruth and Susan, and we watched (and screamed ourselves hoarse) together. Vince Young (UT number 10) was incredible, both in running and passing. It was an evening of orange pride.

We visited Whole Foods before the game and stocked up on the essentials (guacamole, tostadas, etc.) and then just let it roll. After the game when we tried to call family in Austin, the message came back, "All circuits are busy." - YES!! Congratulations to the Longhorns and to UT. The last time we won the national championship was 1970, my senior year in college there. The UT tower (above) is all orange for a few nights, with the big #1 emblazoned down all four sides. Sorry I'm not there to see it in person.

Posted by hgroteva at 9:48 AM | Texas

Category "Texas"

January 8, 2006

Hook 'em Horns - Revisited

Still enjoying the afterglow from UT's victory over USC in the Rose Bowl. Here are Ruth, Susan A-L, and I cheering the team on. Looking forward to getting an official commemorative T-shirt and photo of the tower bathed in orange with the big #1. (see Jan. 5 entry below)

Ruth Susan Hal Hook em - b.jpg

Posted by hgroteva at 10:35 AM | Texas

Category "Life"

Category "Texas"

May 17, 2006

God's Waiting Room

I have been spending several days with my father in his retirement community. He’s been in need of some new medical interventions and I wanted to be here in person to get him situated. He lives in a retirement community in a large metro area in Texas. The complex offers a very wide range of services for folks whose needs vary tremendously.

There are different levels of care. He is in the independent living section – where people live in apartments, duplexes, or luxury homes. Many of these folks are quite active – driving; playing golf; being active in their churches; shopping; spending time with their children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, etc. There is also an assisted living section for folks who need more attention or supervision. Residents there live in a different building and eat with folks from their own unit rather than friends they made in the independent living area. There is also a health unit (aka nursing home care) and a separate building for Alzheimer’s patients. The latter two are rarely talked about.

Dinner is taken in a community dining hall, and there is always time for socializing beforehand. Some residents maintain a rather droll sense of humor about their situation. While waiting in line for food one evening, a woman turned to me and asked, “Do you know what we call this place? … … God’s Waiting Room?. Hmmm… what do you say to that??

Teaching lifespan development has given me new perspective on this age group. The textbook I used divided late adulthood into 3 groups: the “young-old? (ages 55-70), the “old-old? (ages 70-85), and the “oldest-old? (ages 85+). Of course, any such age groupings are arbitrary and approximate, but there are some interesting points of comparison to the living situations at my father’s community. (BTW, my father would not be pleased to be told he is now in the “oldest old? category, and I have no intention of sharing that news with him!)

The majority of people who move here are in the young-old group. They have recently retired and sold their family homes, and they’re looking for relief from the demands of home ownership and upkeep while still being able to enjoy recreational and social activities. You have to pass a physical in order to get into the independent living section. (My mother, whose health was poor for many years before she died, was terribly afraid her health would prevent them from getting in -- thankfully, she was over the threshold and they got in.) Many in this group are married when they enter, but experience the death of a spouse along the way. Then the health problems begin to intrude, and so we see the canes, the walkers, the electric scooters, and other adaptive devices come out. Folks in this generation (the Great Depression and WWII-shaped “Great Generation?) are fiercely independent and proud. The thought of having to move into assisted living is anathema. This topic came up at dinner a few nights ago, when one woman commented – “Joan (not her real name) is deathly afraid she’ll have a fall and they will throw her into assisted living.? (The implication is that once you’re “thrown in,? you’ll never come out.) My sense is that the decision to go into assisted living is rarely voluntary.

A few ironies:
**Although most residents have special dietary needs of one type or another, many of the foods served on the steam table are highly processed and high in sodium – not good for folks who need to watch salt intake.
**The administration building has recently been remodeled and has wonderful facilities – including an exercise room with fitness equipment, a computer lab, and a wood shop. But I’ve never seen anyone using these facilities. They look great in the brochures, however. (In all fairness, however, I haven’t been up there at many different times of day.)
**The folks in assisted living eat separately from those in the independent living units – and so the relationships they have fostered over dinner in their community over the course of several years may be abruptly terminated… or at least made more difficult to maintain. I could go on…

Despite these ironies, many of which are now becoming more clear to me, this has been a place where my dad has made new friends and has experienced a safe living environment free of the demands of home maintenance. I cannot envision myself, or most folks in my age cohort and demographic, living in a place like this. (Maybe it’s just that I don’t like to dress up for Sunday dinner!) I can’t really envision what kind of living situation I’d like to be in when I’m “old old.? But the bookending experiences of welcoming a new granddaughter into the world and spending a week in God’s Waiting Room have given me pause.

Posted by hgroteva at 6:18 AM | Life | Texas

Category "Life"

Category "Texas"

Category "Travel"

May 28, 2006


I needed a new word today, so here it is ... short for Austin serendipities. I'll be using it a lot.

As I mentioned back in December when I wrote about the obituary of my esteemed anthropology professor from UT undergraduate days, it seems that return visits to Austin always connect me in some interesting and unexpected ways with my past lives here. I guess that shouldn't be such a surprise. I've been connected with Austin since I was about 14. I attended several years of summer band camp at UT while in high school; did my undergraduate work at UT (1966-1970) during one of the most memorable 4 years of American Cultural History (I know, that's boomer-centric, but hey - it's my blog!); taught there for 13 years; and have visited at least once a year since 1970, since my wife's family and now both of our kids, spouse, and grandkids live here.

So it shouldn't surprise me that my stock of memories attached to any place is deepest and fondest for Austin. But on with the story.

In this morning's American Statesman, I encountered an essay in the Insight section written by Howard Miller, history professor at UT. (Howard and I were fellow tenors in a choir here in the 1980s.) I loved his wit and insight back then, and was pleased to see it continues to be every bit as sharp in today's piece, entitled "The newest, hottest commodity? Jesus." You can read the full piece by clicking here.

He was reflecting on having just taught a spring semester course on Jesus in American culture. I 'm sure it would have been fascinating, thought-provoking, and mind-bending, seasoned with humor and irony. The op-ed piece talks a lot about the strange relation between Jesus and consumption, including, of course, reference to this weekend's film-du-jour, The Da Vinci Code. (No, I haven't seen it yet, but I probably will some hot summer afternoon.)

Miller ends with the following:
"Pity poor Jesus. When he walked the Earth, an affronted Jesus rose in righteous indignation and cleansed the market. In contemporary America, where few of his disciples adopt their master's prophetic stance with respect to the marketplace, Jesus, alas, has become the captive."

I encourage you to read his entire piece. Thanks, Howard!

Posted by hgroteva at 10:08 AM | Life | Texas | Travel

Category "Art"

Category "Texas"

Category "Travel"

June 1, 2006

Meeting the Blanton

We enjoyed the opportunity to visit the new Blanton Museum of Art on the UT Austin campus yesterday. The Museum opened just about a month ago. We had the good fortune to visit on a Thursday, when they're open til 8 and the admission is free all day.

It's a beautiful building, spacious and full of light. Here are views of the skylights and the courtyard.

Blanton skylights1-b.jpg

Blanton courtyard-b.jpg

The main floor has their special, current exhibits; the second floor has their European galleries, The modern and contemporary galleries, and an e-lounge. The e-lounge is high tech and enticing. It's a round space with a number of computer terminals and electronic resources.

The collection is interesting and nicely curated. The audio guides for the exhibition feature not only the voices of the curators, but also various Austin personalities who might have insightful things to say about specific works - a different touch.

I wouldn't call the collection comprehensive. I suspect that it has grown over the years through the acquisition of private collections. So there's interesting depth in some narrow areas, but not a full range of art.

My favorite space was a room set up with an exhibit called "The Invisible Jump" by Daniel Joglar (2006). It's a room full of items suspended from the ceiling by invisible lines. You can walk among the items, blow on them and see them move, and take different perspectives on the "floating" objects - it's kind of like walking in the solar system.

Invisible Jump 1-b.jpg

It was fun to watch the playful mood that the exhibit put people in - adults at least as much as kids. (me too!)

Invisible Jump w HG 1-b.jpg

We followed our tour with a nostalgic walk across campus. So many memories -- along the main mall, I could recall that I had a calculus class in Benedict Hall, experimental psychology in Mezes, German in Batts, abnormal psychology in Batts Auditorium (with 500 other students), English in Parlin (where we studied "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" as poetry - a great class!, etc. etc. We passed the Academic Center (the "AC"), where we spent much of our courtship - studying together almost every night for 3 years. And of course, we walked across the main mall, which always reminds both of us of the Whitman shootings in August, 1966, just one month before we started college. We each knew people who were shot that day. It always gives me a bit of a shiver to cross that mall. But now that 40 years have passed since that day, this event has taken its place as one of the many, complex stories and locations that makes UT what it is today.

Posted by hgroteva at 11:03 PM | Art | Texas | Travel

Category "Choral Music"

Category "Texas"

February 14, 2007

Conspirare - A Group to be Watching

Thanks to Paul for introducing me to a wonderful new chorus - Conspirare - based in Austin, but a national / professional group. For Christmas, he and Carolyn gave me a recording of "Requiem" - a 2-CD set that begins with the Howells Requiem (one of my all-time favorites) and includes the Frank Martin Mass (another favorite) plus some new pieces that I really love --- especially Three Songs of Faith by Eric Whitacre and We Remember Them, by my friend Don Grantham. (Don directed a choir I sang in when we lived in Austin -- small world.) The CD was nominated for 2 Grammy Awards - congratulations!

I dragged out my trusty Cassell's Latin Dictionary (from 8th grade - what a packrat), and found that conspirare means "to breathe together." They're doing a lot more than breathing together. They are creating incredible sounds that echo in my mind for hours and days on end.

Here is a recent story about the group, and here is another.

Apropos Valentines Day (today), Paul also mentioned a recent PBS special called "The Mystery of Love" that used Conspirare as the focus of a section on "Community." Betty Sue Flowers (Prof. and Director of the LBJ Library) was one of the commentators in the story. Here and here are relevant stories.

I eagerly await their next CD!

Posted by hgroteva at 8:54 PM | Choral Music | Texas

Category "Life"

Category "Texas"

June 3, 2007

Ten Things I'm Enjoying about Austin

in no particular order...

**Reading my favorite novel about emotionally tortured musicians (An Equal Music, by Vikram Seth)
**Hearing live music when I got off the plane at the airport
**Reading Maurice Sendak’s “Pierre? over and over and over and over to Reid
**Seeing Meredith’s big smiles and triumphs as she navigates her new world, walking
**Being chatted up by Nathan, the checker-dude at the Market
**Being truly away from e-mail, guilt-free
**The 40th anniversary of Sgt. Pepper – it seems appropriate that this would happen while I’m in Austin. The album came out just as I finished my freshman year in college, 40 years ago.
**Chicken molé enchiladas at Curra’s
**Finding new CDs by Conspirare and Chanticleer
**Blue Bell Homemade Vanilla on top of Central Market chocolate crispies

and many more.....

Posted by hgroteva at 9:12 AM | Life | Texas

Category "Life"

Category "Texas"

December 26, 2007

Betrayed by Blue Bell

Blue Bell.jpg

One of the (not too) guilty pleasures of visiting Austin is Blue Bell Ice Cream. It's really the best, IMHO. My very favorite is to mix Homemade Vanilla and Dutch Chocolate together in the same bowl. Yum!

To my dismay, I learned on Christmas Eve that Dutch Chocolate contains wheat flour. As a person with gluten intolerance on a gluten-free diet, I check labels religiously. However, It never occurred to me that chocolate ice cream would offend. Chocolate chip cookie dough - yes, of course; but not plain chocolate. So I'll have to suffer with just plain Homemade Vanilla. I can hear the violins warming up in the background...

On the Blue Bell website, I noticed the new Chocolate Covered Cherries flavor (above). Hmmm .. that would go with Homemade Vanilla! I'll be checking the ingredient list as soon as I can make it to the grocery store.

Happy new year everyone!

Posted by hgroteva at 8:43 AM | Life | Texas

Category "Family"

Category "Life"

Category "Minnesota"

Category "Texas"

December 30, 2007

From Technicolor to Grey

After spending 10 days in the land of warmth, vivid colors, Blue Bell Homemade Vanilla, and chicken molé enchiladas, it's back to cold and grey. The sun has not peeked out since I've been back home, and there are no immediate prospects on the horizon. And there's a huge icicle hanging on the power lines to the house; I hope it doesn't all come crashing down -- c'mon sun, do your thing!

The trip was enjoyable and much needed. It involved a lot of good food, a lot of "hanging out," a few good movies ("Atonement" - highly recommended .... and "Once" -- I got the DVD for Christmas). Reid and Meredith are at wonderful ages -- 3 1/2 and 1 1/2 - both in awe of the world in their own ways. Even though Halloween is long past, they enjoy dressing up in their costumes. Here are the bumblebee and the dragon.

M R in costume 1207.jpg

I'm counting on the colors in their costumes to add life to the bleak landscape outside.

Posted by hgroteva at 10:34 AM | Family | Life | Minnesota | Texas

Category "In Memory / In Honor"

Category "Life"

Category "Massachusetts"

Category "Texas"

June 23, 2008

Rebooting a Life

Today was one of those watershed days, full of symbolism and meaning. Today was the day we held the final memorial service for our Dad and buried him next to our Mom in Dallas, their home. The memorial service was at the community where he and our Mom lived from approx 1992 - 2000, and he continued on after her death until 2006. Quite a few people joined us this morning, including a woman who was his secretary for 18 years (her first job; she is now retired and said he was the best boss she ever had). Many people were grateful to have the opportunity to remember him and celebrate his life, since they were not able to come to New Hampshire for his funeral back in March. His best friend, who had been housebound since November, made the special effort to attend.

My sister and I took a drive around the parts of town we haunted as teenagers. Our old neighborhood is still looking good, but down the street from our childhood home is a whole row of tacky MacMansions. If you have enough money, you can have a Tuscan villa, or a half-timbered Tudor, or a replica of Mt. Vernon --- and they can all be on the same street! You get the idea. Our old elementary school looks just like it did in the late 1950s. The church we attended looks as cold as it always felt. But we had fun going down each street and reminiscing about who lived where. It was amazing how we dredged up some names neither of us had thought about for decades.

For me, there was also a sense of closure. It's unlikely that I will ever be in Dallas again. The Texas part of my heart was long ago given to Austin; and Austin and Dallas are totally different cultures, although only 200 miles apart.

But to me it also felt a piece of a larger "reboot" my life is undergoing. New job, new part of the country, new professional responsibilities, new house, now the "senior" member of the family. (I'm not too sure how keen I feel about that - I have lots of tread left on me.) But it all definitely feels new, providing opportunities for both continuity and change. Very exciting.

Posted by hgroteva at 8:53 PM | In Memory / In Honor | Life | Massachusetts | Texas

Category "Texas"

Category "Travel"

December 23, 2008

Me and Teo

During the Austin holidays, I've developed a ritual of working at Teo's coffee shop in the morning before everyone else wakes up. They have free wifi, which my mother-in-law no longer has. It's a good place to work -- just the right amount of activity, music in the background, a Christmas tree, and willingness to let me nurse a large latte for a few hours. I've had fun working on the syllabus for my spring semester seminar, The Psychology of Adoption.

Every year I test my own feelings about Austin as my HOME, and every year the verdict comes back the same: YES. I have lived in the following places, in this order: Utica, NY: Buffalo, NY; Dallas, TX; Austin, TX; Dallas, TX; Vallejo, CA (near San Francisco); Minneapolis, MN; Austin, TX; St. Paul, MN; Amherst, MA. Of all these places, Austin feels most like home. There's something about being a UT undergraduate in the 1960s that imprinted it in my soul in some compelling way. The other places hold good memories and varying feelings of connection, but Austin stands out.

The grandkids helped us decorate the small Christmas tree yesterday evening. Magic.

Happy holiday wishes to all!
--Inner Geek

Posted by hgroteva at 11:28 AM | Texas | Travel

Category "Family"

Category "Texas"

Category "Travel"

December 28, 2008

Holidays - Palling Around with the Grandkids

It's such fun to experience the holidays through the eyes of a 2 and 4 year old - it's really magical. We had lots of quality time together as well as many opportunities to get glimpses into who they are and might become. Take a look.

Meredith the Vet.jpg

Reid - Hook em.jpg

Meredith fire-fighter.jpg

Reid the Magician.jpg

Meredith as Dorothy.jpg

Reid and the Tiger 3.jpg

Posted by hgroteva at 1:48 PM | Family | Texas | Travel