We’re sitting on the back deck at ‘Nepean’, enjoying the company and the peace of the Lake. We’ve had a most relaxing couple of days: from the moment we touched down in Minneapolis, it’s been a chance to do what many visitors don’t get a chance to: discover small town America.

Even though we had barely three days with Ben, Claire and their kids, there have been interesting glimpses. The drive up the freeway, getting accustomed to the local approach to car-park design – take a large shopping centre, figure out the maximum cars that will visit it on the busiest day of the year, then multiply by four and find a cheap bit of worn-out farming land to plonk it in – to the strange ethnic divisions of the locals. Was it Stearns County where, due to the refusal of the German Catholics to intermarry with the Swedish Lutherans, or anyone else for that matter, that the major moral dilemma is, if you divorce your wife, is she still your second cousin?

We were inducted into the mysteries of Sauk’s Catholic’s: the Irish church and the German church, three blocks apart. We visited St Cloud and had a look at a mid-western town – flat. We shot through the uni and had a look at Steph’s – and soon Nick’s – fabulous prep school. We went grocery shopping and wondered at the quality and price of much of the produce. Perhaps not enough gourmet stuff for Claire, but we found everything we needed for the slap-up meal we prepared together on the Saturday night.

While we really went to Minnesota to spend time with family, it was an incredibly rich couple of days. We loved the home that Ben and Claire have created: in summer, it is idyllic, and in winter is must be a cozy refuge. The town is in many ways like an Australian country town – except for the green, which Ben kept saying was already faded from it’s Spring verdure. Ben and I rode eleven miles out and back on the bike trail that runs along the old rail line, Ben spotting wild-life as we went. We watched some of Nick’s baseball game. We took a trip round the lake, ostensibly in search of one of the local golden eagles, though we did see a trio of loons.

Sunday was one of those days that appear out of nowhere; we had decided to go to “monks’ mass” at the Abbey and arrived in good time to discover that it was the Feast of St Benedict – something that Ben had decided was an unimportant details. The abbey was full – downstairs anyway – and it was high mass. We got the schola’s chanting, wonderful hymns and responses with the organ, and a liturgy that included jubilee blessings and renewals for monk priests and brothers celebrating fifty, sixty and SEVENTY years of solemn vows, as well as the perpetual vows of two new monks. All this in the splendid atmosphere of the Abbey Church!

We saw Dick and Eileen Haeg, and Dick kindly explained the window on which he had worked to us. We had an all to brief look around and took photos. I left my iPhone at home so the images will have to wait until our return to Sydney.

Sunday afternoon saw Paula, Claire, Steph and I pursuing Mammon through the Albertville outlet centre (read town). I finally got the sunglasses I had first wanted two years ago at less than half the price.

The evening has been idyllic – Boomer has been entertaining us after a wonderful chicken dinner and we have talked and talked as we very seldom have chance to when Claire and Ben visit Australia. We speak of all the things that people like us think of – the state of the world, our children and their prospects, our hopes and dreams – against the peace of the trees and the lake.

Wednesday’s flight home seems much too soon.