No Place Like Home

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IMG_1235There were numerous times on my almost-three-week sojourn in Europe with my daughter and her club soccer team that I wished I could click my heels Dorothy-style, whisper, “There’s no place like home,” and find myself in the comfort and familiarity of my home town.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s a rare privilege to travel to Europe, whatever the reason. I got to visit places I had never been, such as Gothenburg, Sweden, a beautiful and orderly city that each summer hosts the Gothia Cup, a huge international youth soccer tournament. I was able to dip my toes in the Adriatic Sea and enjoy an Aperol spritz on the beach in Riccione, Italy. I enjoyed fish and chips and scones in England. And in all of these places, I was able to see my daughter’s team go up against teams from Italy, Sweden, Germany, and Manchester, England.

Yet traveling to a foreign country can be stressful. First of all, there’s the language barrier. In Rome and Sweden, most people spoke English. Many restaurants even print menus in English. But there were times when our inability to understand each other caused problems. For example, the personnel at one hotel in Italy spoke very little English, and they weren’t particularly helpful in addressing such issues as finding transportation or dealing with an invasion of ants in one of the guest rooms. On the other hand, we met a pair of lovely older Italian women running a little fast food stand on the beach who smilingly helped us with our flailing attempts to order the local specialty, piadene, a sort of Italian quesadilla.

Even in English-speaking countries, cultural differences can make travel less of a breeze. For instance, it’s hard to adjust to the currency in another country. The euro is pretty easy to manage because one euro is fairly close to a dollar. Likewise with the British pound, although at 1.3 dollars to a pound, things in England were a little pricier than they appeared. But in Sweden, the krona is .12 to a dollar, so prices would be in the hundreds of krona for a 10-20 dollar item. Managing all the various coins at point of purchase also made me feel like something of a clueless rube.

Food is also an adjustment in a foreign country. You’ll find that even simple dishes such as eggs or pasta are prepared in ways that are different from typical American fare. It was fun trying some traditional specialties in the countries we visited, such as the aforementioned piadene in Italy and real Swedish meatballs in Gothenburg at a charming out-of-the-way place called The Pig and the Whistle. But at times some of us craved good old American food, such as a cheeseburger or American-style cobb salad.

It’s good to visit other countries and learn about their customs and lifestyles. Italians, for example, never seem to be in a hurry. Our restaurant lunches and dinners would go on and on, and we practically had to beg for the bill so that we could move on. I think Americans could learn from this more unhurried approach to life, especially when it comes to enjoying the good things. In Sweden, I noticed scores of young men by themselves tending to babies and toddlers. Someone told me that this is due to the generous family leave policies in Sweden as well as the more equitable division of labor in Swedish marriages.

It’s even good to feel uncomfortable in a place that is not your home. Years ago, when my husband and I were in China to adopt our youngest child, we experienced what it was like to be in a minority. There were few Western faces anywhere we traveled. Once the babies were with us, complete strangers – usually older women – would come up to us and scold us in Chinese about how we were handling our new charges. The babies were too overdressed for the weather, for instance, according to our English-speaking guide. That experience was invaluable to us as we prepared to bring our Chinese daughter home to a land where she would be in the minority.

Travel broadens our horizons, takes us out of our complacency, and ultimately makes us appreciate our lives in our own homes. As our plane touched down at O’Hare International Airport, I reveled in the knowledge that I was home at last. There really is no place like home.

 

What a Way to Get Your Kicks!

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It’s a blisteringly hot week in Blaine, Minnesota, with temps expected to reach the high 90s. My sister, who has lived in the Minneapolis area for 43 years, told me that this week in July is known historically as being one of the hottest in the area every summer.So naturally, Schwan’s Food Company is hosting its annual USA Cup international youth soccer tournament this week.

Tuesday night, thousands of kids on teams from across the United States, as well as such far flung countries as Argentina, Sweden, and Japan, crowded the stadium to kick off the extravaganza of soccer and sweat.

Now I love my child, but I’ve got to be honest. There are dozens of places I’d rather be than sitting in the blazing hot sun and watching girls run around battling for a soccer ball. In between games, I’ve been going on Facebook and jealously noticing pictures of my friends on family vacations. But for reasons out of my control, my husband and daughter are obsessed with her soccer development. So traveling out of town to tournaments constitutes a vacation in our family.

Today the games were moved up earlier because the mercury is supposed to climb up to 97 degrees. We just beat a team from Iceland, a country with summer average temperatures in the mid-50s. I guess you could say we Midwesterners had a home field advantage, the opposite of the one that the Chicago Bears enjoy when they play Miami at Soldier Field in January.

Okay. I admit it. It was a lot of fun watching my daughter and her team, the Wizards, dominate the field today. Our daughter had some spectacular plays and looked a bit like a sleek thoroughbred filly sprinting down the field. And our defender had an amazing goal from midfield on a foul call. I enjoyed hooting and hollering along with the other Wizard families.

There are worse things than seeing 13- and 14-year-old girls be fierce, athletic, and competitive. They have a great camaraderie and are learning some important life lessons about teamwork, effort, and fair play.

I guess a family vacation revolving around soccer is not so bad. And lucky me. After the tournament is over, we will be staying on to watch our girl on the court in an AAU basketball tournament.

I predict we will have a ball.

Soccer Cleats and Slot Machines

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This past weekend, my daughter and her team participated in the Las Vegas Mayor’s Cup International Soccer Tournament. As a Las Vegas “virgin,” I approached the trip with some trepidation. Would Sin City be as decadent as I imagined?

Well, with a 13-year-old in tow, there’s a limit to the wildness one might experience in Vegas. Yet our visit confirmed to me that there’s a good reason for the saying, “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.”

Upon touchdown in Las Vegas, we saw gaily colored slot machines throughout the airport. And on the taxi ride to the Strip, my daughter pulled out some cards with pictures of bare-breasted women, asking, “What are these for?” Oh, my. Vegas was going to need a lot of explaining to this group of 12- and 13-year-olds.

As the weekend went on, there was seemingly no limit to the strange and inappropriate things we saw glimpses of. Our girls seemed to be the only children staying in a huge hotel on the Vegas Strip, and I’m sure a few people dialed child protective services behind our backs. Whether it was the scantily clad women dressed as plumed show girls or the man in the g-string being escorted away by police, our daughters certainly got an eyeful. And I haven’t seen so many people that inebriated since college!

Our first night, I had a lot of trouble sleeping. I kept waking up on the hour from 3 am on. Later, someone told me this is because the hotels pump oxygen into the building to keep people awake. Truth, or urban legend? I’ll never know. But I finally decided to get up at 5:45 am and go seek coffee. As I descended toward the lobby floor, I heard raucous laughter. To my shock, people were gambling, drinking, and shouting as they sat at the black jack tables and roulette wheels. I thought New York was the city that never sleeps.

The girls played some awesome soccer and enjoyed the camaraderie of a weekend together in a foreign land. They explored the Strip, stocked up on candy at Hershey’s Chocolate World, and monopolized the hot tub at the hotel pool. We parents went along for the ride, but one of the moms regretted that she hadn’t had the chance to play the slots in the hotel casino.

We capped off our experience by getting our boogie on at the Britney Spears show. I counted myself lucky that my daughter didn’t ask why Britney was walking a man on all fours on a leash.

We were a somewhat bedraggled but happy group as we headed home to our very suburban, reassuringly boring existence. But I think my daughter and her friends made some memories that will last a lifetime.

In fact, I’m betting on it.