Try A Staycation

How often have we said, “We should take a week and just explore our own town.” Well, this summer we finally had a chance to do exactly that. Our friends from Europe came and stayed with us for a week. We were able to take a week off and explore the Twin Cities with them. We did a number of fun activities every day – but there is so much more that we never had a chance to do. Nevertheless, here’s an itinerary of the things we did do. Many of the activities were outside because we had perfect weather, but we had a list of indoor activities for rainy days too. These included museums, movies, theater or day trips to other nearby towns. Some of these ideas cost no money. Others had a small fee. Some were more expensive. Choose ideas that fit your budget. I hope you find it helpful or that it sparks other ideas of things you could do if you decide to staycation in your town.

Monday we took a bike ride around Lake Nokomis. We picnicked by the lake and then headed over to see Minnehaha Falls.

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Tuesday we headed to Lebanon Park. We went swimming and kayaking on Schulz Lake.

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Wednesday we took an informal tour of historic St. Paul including a Mississippi River walk, the James J. Hill House, the Cathedral, photo op of the Capitol followed by lunch at Café Latte on Grand Avenue. We did a quick walk around Mall of America later in the afternoon. That evening we enjoyed local produce, live music and a picnic dinner (food trucks!) at Eagan Market Fest.

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Thursday we followed Mark Twain down the Mississippi River on a paddleboat ride. Beautiful scenery and you may even see large hawks or eagles. A summer salad, grilled pears topped with feta cheese and honey along with wine on the deck made a great atmosphere for conversation late into the evening.

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Friday found us at the Minnesota Zoo. We enjoyed lunch there too after are walk around the exhibits. The evening found us at the City Center Park in Burnsville listening to more live music and enjoying the fountain plus a sunset view of the Twin Cities – all free.

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Saturday we got up early for a quick walk around scenic Blackhawk Lake. The afternoon was reserved for swimming and chopstick painting. Dinner was spring rolls and easy fried rice in Chinese takeout containers eaten with – of course – chopsticks.

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Sunday everyone made their own omelet-in-a-bag. Boil a pot of water. Everyone takes a sandwich sized zip lock bag marked with their name. Break 2 eggs into a bag. Add veggies of your choice (mushrooms, green onions, peppers, basil) and shredded cheese. Be sure the bag is sealed. Squish to combine the ingredients and drop into the pot of boiling water for 6-8 minutes. Remove the bag, open and roll out your omelet onto a plate. Add melon or other fruit, coffee and serve. Everyone can eat their own custom omelet at the same time.

Sunday afternoon it was time to take everyone to the airport. Their vacation continues but we had a great staycation while they were with us!

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What Mauritians Can Teach Us

Marceline has a large, but very old stone in her kitchen. It’s from her grandmother, who got it from her mother – so it has been passed down through many generations. With this stone and its accompanying stone roller she can quickly grind spices, grains, even make tomato sauce as you can see in the picture. What you can’t see is that this stone is right next to the microwave! It’s an interesting accommodation of old and new.

Mauritians know well the strategy of accommodation. With four main population groups – none more than 50% of the population – they have learned to accommodate each other in order to exist peacefully on their small island.

How do they do this you might ask? To begin with, many Mauritians speak most of the languages of each of these four ethnic groups (Hindi with Tamil, Creole, French and English). Our hosts spoke all four languages at home and we observed this was true of neighbors, teachers, store employees, bus drivers and others. To know the language of another is to have some understanding of their worldview and perspective. It takes effort to learn another’s language which says that they are important and worth understanding. But learning four languages? This is normal for many Mauritians and says something about the importance of being able to understand and engage with those from different cultural backgrounds.

Their governmental system also works to accommodate. When candidates are voted into office – if one minority group has no candidates who gain enough votes for office a designated number of “best losers” from that group are automatically given seats. In this way each group is assured of representation in their parliament. It was also interesting to watch on TV as legislators in the parliament spoke English if they wanted to be efficient and concise. They switched to French if they were making and emotional or impassioned plea, but then used Creole to be emphatic. Everyone understood.

Mauritius is geographically about the size of Hennepin County with about the same population – yet Mauritius provides free health care and education for all of its citizens – something we have yet to accomplish in the U.S. Mauritius insists on accommodating each and every citizen with the basic human rights of health care and education.

Even navigating narrow neighborhood streets, Mauritians rarely use their horns, except with a light tap on the horn to say “I’m right behind you.” Drivers allow other drivers the right of way. Accommodation.

Where we stayed, in the area of Rose Hill, we noticed something wonderful – within our immediate neighborhood we heard the large bells from St. Anne’s Church on the corner, the ringing of many small bells from the Hindu Temple on the next street and the call to prayer from the Mosque down the way. In Rose Hill, people of different cultural backgrounds share the same neighborhood, they don’t live in separate neighborhoods or enclaves. While they speak their own languages and maintain their own cultural and religious traditions, at the same time they also share a neighborhood together and know each other as neighbors and friends.

Relationships are not perfect. Racism and discrimination exist, but Mauritians have learned to embrace diversity in ways that the rest of the world has yet to learn.

Below is a picture of our friend Chris. He is a dedicated science teacher, an inventor, great cook and a musician. He and his family extended wonderful hospitality to us throughout our trip – welcoming visitors who were different and embracing diversity. Yet one more way accommodating.

Going forward, it is not enough to simply tolerate differences or to merely coexist. Our survival as a species and as a planet depends upon our ability to embrace and seek out diversity. Mauritians offer this critical skill to the world.

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How to Break Into a Cemetery

One of the places we wanted to visit was the Jewish Cemetery in Mauritius. Raj took us there – but it was later in the day. It was almost sunset – the beginning of a new day in Jewish tradition.

As we arrived we noticed the name of the cemetery – St. Martin’s Jewish Cemetery. But wait – “St. Martin’s” and “Jewish” Cemetery? It turns out that the adjacent village is actually named St. Martin!

Unfortunately the gate was already locked when we arrived. We had driven a long way and couldn’t come back another day. Not to worry – we decided to break in!

Yes, ahem, this is me (in white pants) after jumping the wall of the cemetery.

Between 1940 and 1945, the British Government held 1584 WWII Jewish refugees in Mauritius instead of letting them settle in Palestine. Many of them are buried in this cemetery.

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Eureka Plantation

In Mauritius we had an opportunity to spend a day with friend, journalist and editor Gilbert learning about the history of Mauritius. We visited both Aapravasi Ghat Memorial and Eureka Plantation.

Mauritius was originally uninhabited. Humans arrived when the Dutch established a small colony in 1638. Mauritius was later controlled by the French and then the British who created their wealth by trafficking slaves (and later indentured servants) to the island exploiting them for free labor on sugar plantations, much like in the United States. Many of the current citizens are descendants of these original slaves and indentured servants (another form of slavery) from India and countries in Africa.

Aapravasi Ghat Memorial is a national monument and memorial site for the travesty of slavery and indentured servitude and its impact on the historical and cultural identity of Mauritius.

Similarly, through its lavish decor, Eureka Plantation highlights the looting of human labor, violence and theft of resources necessary to maintain the opulent plantation house lifestyle. Of course this was no less true in the U.S. Twelve generations of slavery and genocide left its mark of vast poverty, inequality and systemic injustice on both nations.

You may also like White Privilege, Unfair By Design and What is White Privilege?

Grand Bassin Deities

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While visiting Mauritius, we spent an afternoon at Grand Bassin. This is a sacred space for Hindus including its beautiful Crater Lake. It is most recognized for its the bigger-than-life statues at the entrance to Grand Bassin, as you can see the picture above. It is a place that is sacred but also deeply spiritual. A peace and calm pervades the setting.

Raj and Mira were our escorts and our guides for our visit there. They are Hindu and explained for us that Hinduism isn’t merely a collection of beliefs, rather it is a value system and a lifestyle. The shrines and statues in Grand Bassin depict the many aspects of God. There are many images or faces of God in Hinduism.

This visit sparked my interest to delve more deeply into Hinduism and learn more. Each religious tradition has so much to teach us.

We enjoyed the natural beauty of the lake, the memorable shrines and statues, learning more about Hinduism from our friends – and of course the monkey!

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