Monday, October 14, 2013

State Park #6: Nerstrand Big Woods

What kind of crazy double name is Nerstrand Big Woods? Turns out there's a lot of history in that name. The town of Nerstrand was settled in the 1850s in southern Minnesota near a large area of forest. See where this is going? The "big woods" represents the contiguous forest of trees typical of southern Minnesota prior to those devilish European settlers. Settlers used the forest to plant woodlots for a more sustainable wood source.

"In the spring, the park is a wildflower garden where hepatica, bloodroot, Dutchman's breeches, and the dwarf trout lily bloom. The autumn brings a burst of red, orange, and gold in the maple-basswood forest, one of the last extensive stands of the "Big Woods." When winter comes, ski or snowmobile the trails through picturesque woods."

John and I took an afternoon drive to the state park to view some colorful leaves. First we had to get me an updated state parks pass. A mere $25 gets me into all parks for a year--what a deal!

It was a lovely fall day for a brisk walk around the park. The trails are super easy and even bring you by a waterfall. The trees in Minneapolis have started their transformation from green to orange, red, and yellow. The aspens were in full swing but I bet another week would've added more color.

One more state park visited! Only 62 to go!


Friday, September 27, 2013

How to turn 30

I was dreading my 30 birthday. I don't know why; it's never been a big deal for me. But the months leading up to my Virgo birth date, brought on shortness of breath, headaches, and a few tears.  I wasn't necessarily scared to turn 30 but hated to do it without my clan of friends from Colorado. I decided to not fear this ominous and irreversible event, but take it on with as much excitement as possible.

My birthday week--yes WEEK--was one to remember; however, I could never have made so many happy memories by myself. The bright red cherry on my birthday sundae was conspired by my wonderful boyfriend. He helped fly one of my best friends out from Colorado to share in the 30-something festivities. I can't begin to describe how much it meant to see a supportive face that has been there for me for years. I love my new Minnesotan friends. I also desperately needed some Colorado love. Dreams come true!

Bday Minus 5 Days

Germaine, John, and I enjoyed the rarely-heard-now Minnesota Orchestra at the Harriet Bandshell. The sunny, breezy day was perfect for listening to classical music in the open air with thousands of other people. Germaine packed a lovely picnic basket and let the sounds roll over us.

Bday Minus 2 Days

I was still getting over a severe head cold but couldn't resist joining my friend Rachel for dinner. Her, Ben, John, and I went to Merlin's Rest for a pub meal, draught beer, and challenging trivia. This is where John and I met one year ago tomorrow. A very special trivia night that was our beginning.

Bday Minus 1 Day

My birthday isn't the only celebration this week. John and I have now been together for one year. We had a lovely evening at the Minneapolis Institute of Art's Third Thursdays. The theme was LOL with special interactive exhibits, a band, and beer. Then we went to the restaurant of our first date: Tum Rup Thai. I've been looking forward to going back here for a year. It's so good!


John woke me on Friday with a small token to get my birthday started; a shiny necklace and earrings. Then I strolled into work with a smile and chocolate zucchini brownies. I actually always liked going to work or school on my birthday. It gets all involved (whether they like it or not). My bosses were out for my bday and it was pretty relaxed. I met co-workers for lunch at Red Robin 'cause I got a free meal for the occasion. John was also scheduled to meet us there. But he wasn't alone. My friend Hannah from Colorado followed him into the restaurant .WHAT?!?! He helped fly my friend in for the weekend. I almost screamed with glee! The rest of the lunch was a blur and I couldn't stop smiling.

I ditched work for the rest of the day and hung out with Hannah. Since she is my very 50s vintage friend, I knew it would be a weekend of exploring vintage stores and thrift shops. We stopped by a few after we got settled at my apartment.

Brewery tour to celebrate! We met some other friends in Northeast and made our hoppy way to three breweries: Dangerous Man, Indeed, and 612 Brew. By far, Indeed had the best beer and atmosphere. For some reason, you don't get free drinks after your 20s for your birthday. I know this now. Great beer, great friends, awesome birthday!

Bday plus 1 day

Hannah, John, and I picked up Germaine after eating delicious breakfast at Bad Waitress. Off we went to the Hastings area to the Carpenter Nature Center to meet Sarah and Ashely. The morning was perfect for an easy hike around the St. Croix River then apple picking at the nearby orchard, Fischer's. Fabulous start to the first day of fall!

More vintage shopping... Indian rental and relaxing at my apartment.

Bday plus 2 days

Brunch at Modern Times and more vintage shopping. Our big tourist activity was visiting the state capitol, which surprisingly non of my other friends/family were interested in seeing. I wish we had had more time but it was fun to peek in. That got us hungry for Ethiopian food. The breezy evening and full moon motivated us to stroll along the stone arch bridge.

Bday plus 3 days

Saddest day. I had to drop off Hannah at the airport today, but first we enjoyed a frou frou donut at Glam Donuts and homeless people at the Central library. Sigh. I'll miss you my sassy friend!

Bday plus 4 days

To end the week of 30 something fun, I met friends at Acme Comedy Club. They give you and 5 friends free tickets to a show Tues-Thurs. I think laughing hysterically was the appropriate beginning to my 30s.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

The Great Minnesota Get Together

It might seem like I made up the clever title of this blog, but it was the great marketers of the Minnesota State Fair aka The Great Minnesota Get Together.

John and I visited the annual convergence in the midst of a heat wave. The temps here have been in the 90s all week with humidity at 50-60%. That's dang hot. Apparently not hot enough to keep us away from fried foods and loud music.

The fair is much bigger than the Colorado fair (sorry, friends) and more interesting than the Texas fair (sorry, family). Over 100,000 visitor peruse booths and entertainment every day during the 12 day celebration of everything Minnesotan.
Fun fact: Over 450 types of food are sold at 300 booths. 

With a fair app downloaded on my phone, we hopped on the bus after work ready to explore. I took the obligatory first-fair-experience pic at the gate and then we headed straight for the fried food. My choice: a Pronto Pup. As a non-native midwesterner, I didn't know what the hell a Pronto Pup was until a few weeks ago. I visited the Dakota County Fair with some co-workers. We were checking on the recycling containers but, of course, we had to get a snack. A Pronto Pup, so I'm told, is similar to a corndog but instead of a cornmeal outer layer it's made of half cornmeal and half flour. Before serving, the vendor brushes ketchup or mustard all over it and hands it over. It's delightful!

Next up: a whole building dedicated to environmental stuff called The Eco Experience! Inside were displays for public transit, wind and solar energy, science research for new materials, green building info, and recycling. I could have spent the rest of the evening here if John wasn't getting hungry.

We walked around the fair for the next three hours and saw crafts in the Creative Activities Building; plants in the Ag Building; semi-wildlife in the Division of Natural Resources building; and education booths in the Education Building. We also saw Hanson--that's right, HANSON--at one of the free stages. Mmm ok. In between all this fun I had a peanut butter and chocolate shake and John had a pail o' fries.We also saw public radio in action with Mark Wheat blastin' some tunes.

To get back to our entrance, we took the Sky Ride across the park. It's a great way to see the sites and also Depeche Mode who happened to be playing at the Grandstand. To complete our fair adventure, I had a last snack of deep fried Reese's Peanut Butter Cups and John slurped down an over-sized root beer.

Our fair experience was complete!

Cute stitchery at the Creative Activities Bldg

Bicycle exhibit

Some recycling 

John, Speaker in the Hizzouse

Oh My! 

Recycle your cans!
Beautiful '40s building 

Cool display about plants' roots

Art made from seeds. Yep

We blitzed the Republican booth

Deep fried Reese's. So good

Sunday, August 25, 2013

I'd Rather Be Tubing

I got an intense urge to go on the river late last week. Maybe it was the forecast of 95 degrees all weekend. For once, I didn't have too much to do Saturday or Sunday, so I convinced John and Rachel to float down a river. The closest tubing operation is Apple River, but I read reviews and heard from friends that it's more like Girls Gone Wild: drinking, nudity and littering. The latter is what really disgusted me. Instead, we headed an hour south to Welch Mill near Hastings, Minnesota. The employees were all very friendly and efficient.

For a mere $10 each, you get an innertube and a shuttle ride up river. Anyone who's floated the Arkansas River in Pueblo (or anywhere) knows the most annoying part of tubing is vehicle logistics. Pueblo really needs to start a shuttle operation!

We passed up the short trip of 40 minutes and opted for the longer 3.5 hour trip. In hindsight we should've chosen the 40 minutes trip and gone a few times. Over 3 hours is just too long to bake in the sun. Although each bus carried 50 people every 20 minutes, the river was never overwhelmingly crowded. Tubing was a perfect way to spend a 90+ degree day!

John is super excited!

Rachel braces for the cold water

Friday, August 23, 2013

New Kids on the Bocce

I totally stole that title from the name of a bocce league team in Minneapolis. I played my first bocce game tonight! 

I met some friends at The Nomad in Minneapolis to have a beer and throw some balls. I had never even heard of bocce (pronounced botch-ee) until I moved here. You basically throw four heavy balls across a sand pit towards a smaller ball and aim to get them closer than your opponent's balls. 

I have to say I did pretty well for my first time. The refreshing Purple Haze brew from Abitas might have helped, too. It's fun and a way better way to drink a beer than sitting on a lame barstool. 

Rachel tossin' some balls

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Berry Pickin' in Minnesota

Andrea's prize
I gotta tell ya: I had heard a rumor you could pick your own produce at farms, but I thought this was limited to Consumers Supported Agriculture (CSAs) or people with connections. Apparently I have a connection! Well a friend with experience, anyway.

Andrea, my crafting/baking/awesome New Yorker friend, regularly goes to pick produce from area farms. She picked strawberries earlier this summer (can't believe I missed that!). I was lucky enough to be invited to gather blueberries with her last weekend.

Bauer Berry Farms is an adorable family farm in Champlain, MN--about 40 minute north of Minneapolis. (It would have been a shorter trip if we didn't get detoured 3 times.) From their website:
"The Bauer Berry Farm has operated as a family farm since 1977. Throughout the years we have attempted to reduce our impact on the environment. We have planted wind shelter belts and rye cover crops to minimize soil erosion. A grass buffer zone around our wetland reduces run-off. We have introduced the use of many organic plant and soil amendments to our crops. We monitor our fields and apply pesticides only when absolutely necessary."

Berry picking wasn't as hard as I expected. We rolled in with our containers--me, a large salad bowl and lid; Andrea, an empty beer bucket and Rubbermaid bin--and were directed to a row of bushes we could start to assault. Each family or friends had a line of about 100 feet that you could pick. The bushes are about 3 feet high so sometimes squatting or bending over can become exhausting, especially for the berries that like to hide. After an hour we were satisfied with our haul. We got our buckets weighed so we could pay. I picked 5.3 lbs of blueberries for a grand total of $17! Find other Minnesota options for pick-your-own here.

Now to the fun part: using all those berries. Here are the usual options:
  1. Freeze 'em. Put berries on a baking sheet or plate in one layer and place in the freezer. Once they're frozen, put them in a freezer bag. Individually freezing them takes out the mushy factor. 
  2. Bake 'em. Make pancakes, muffins, breads, pie, and other delicious items while they're fresh. You can use your frozen berries later, of course, too. 
  3. Liquefy 'em. With a little sugar, water, and heat, you too could have delectible berry syrup. It lasts up to three months in the fridge
  4. Can 'em. Besides making syrup, blueberries can be made into jams and jellies and sealed up nicely in canning jars. 
  5. Dry 'em. Fancy people have food dehydrators to dry fruits and veggies. You can also use your oven; it just takes longer and is probably not as energy efficient. 

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

To-do #4: Art in Powderhorn, Yo!

[To-do List #4: Buy some goodies at the Powderhorn Art Fair--DONE!]

PAF 2013 design based on a flag by Maggie Dobbin
The first weekend in August is apparently art fair weekend. Three different festival were buzzing around Minneapolis: Uptown Art Fair, by far the biggest and most crowded; Loring Park; and, Powderhorn Art Fair.

I live right across the street from Powderhorn Park so I had no excuse to skip out on visual stimulation. The 2013 fair marks the 22nd year for local, regional, and U.S. artists to sell their wares. Over 180 booths wrapped around the picturesque lake to showcase pottery, jewelry, fiber art, stained glass, paintings, and woodwork.

I wish had enough money to buy some bigger artwork or jewelry, but I could only afford a few smaller items. Several friends and family have birthdays in August and the fair provided the perfect opportunity to buy some unique gifts. Some of my favorite artists were:

Lakestone Jewelry morphs found rocks from Lake Superior into beautiful jewelry. 
I bought a simple pendent necklace

Little Pieces of Art creates intriguing mixed media collages
Emily Gray Koehler's paintings explore nature with vibrant colors.
I enjoyed her trees so much that I bought a little piece as a gift.

Puzzle Mist carves intricate, unique wood puzzles. A mere dozen pieces can be put together literally 100 different ways. And very affordable!

Powderhorn Park Neighborhood Association and the Minneapolis Parks and Rec Board puts on the event each year and, I must say, it ran very smoothly. To get as many people to all three fairs as possible, Metro Transit ran a free bus route in between each fair all day. That's amazing!

John and I volunteered for the morning shift on Sunday. We worked at the information table and sold t-shirts and tried to answer questions. Fair attendees were all around happy-go-lucky (except for the 2 assholes we had to deal with). This was the first year the event tried to go waste-free, but I have a feeling it didn't go so well. I'll just have to volunteer next year to help out with that!

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

People Do This!?

People decorate their cars here! Well not everyone, only the cool people and you can see them all at the annual Art Car Parade. I've been looking forward to see all the art-on-wheels roll by all at the same time. The "parade" is more of a thrown-together take-over of a street that hugs Lake Calhoun for cars and bikes decked out.

John and I were also enjoying the last of Aquatennial on Saturday. We missed all the other events during the 10-day celebration of Minneapolis mostly because....I forgot it was happening. But we did catch the free admission day at the Bakken Museum. (Side note: this museum is awesome! I recommend adults and kids going for hands on learning/fun about electricity.) We relaxed on Lake Calhoun before the parade starting by getting some grub at Bread n' Pickle and laying around on a blanket in the grass. Sigh....good times. 

The parade was cool for the mere 20 minutes it lasted. We saw about 15 cars with themed paintings and adornments including one wiht dominoes glued all over it, a VW Bug decorated in fairies, and a car-turned-Yellow-Submarine. Noticeably missing were the vehicles seen around town decorated all year: the van covered in astro turf, the car with seashells, etc. Enjoyable on a summer's eve but nothing I'd get turbo-excited about. I am excited about decorating my car for next year!!!!

Things To Do List

19. Check out the Aquatennial (July 12-20) Kinda done
21. Gawk at the Art Car Parade (July 20) DONE!

The Cars 

Yellow Submarine with Beatles music blaring 

This guy makes bikes that also transport your dog!

A turtle car--not E.T. as I had originally thought

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Canoe the High Seas...or How to Save Your Relationship

Rachel, me and John
John and I wanted to get out this fine weekend (and apparently everyone else in Minneapolis did,
too). Let's go canoeing! My co-worker had urged us to borrow her canoe anytime this summer so it wouldn't sit idle. After hunting down her flotation device, we were ready to go a-canoeing. We flopped into the water in a silver apparatus ready to own that Lake of the Isles. Boy, were we unprepared.

First of all, kayaking skills do not transfer easily to canoe. I know that now. We ran into my friends as they were headed to shore and they gave us some tips. Apparently, the person in back steers (me) while the person in front is the muscle (John). We set forth with this knowledge and this knowledge only. I tried to use my rafting "skills" to call out paddle strokes to John, but that didn't work as well as I thought.

We somehow got to the the Cedar Ave. canal, a beautiful canal with a stone arch entrance that leads to another lake. Normally, we would ooh and awe at the white water lilies and canopy of trees. This trip down the canal was filled, instead, with the noises of John and I snapping at each other "paddle this way!"; splashing water at each other with paddles; and the slow bang of our canoe running into sides of canal/trees/kayakers. Then, finally, silence of me not talking out of frustration and humiliation. Just breathe....

Once out of mass hysteria in the canal (20 minutes), we actually were doing a better job. We started too big, I think. We got to the shore in more or less a straight line without hating each other. John put up with my frustrated grunts-followed-by-silence. Afterward, he even said "Your impatience won't drive me away". That filled my heart with joy since anyone who knows me knows that my impatience can be bountiful.

We promised we would try it again with someone who knew what they were doing....but maybe not anytime soon.

18. Canoe or Kayak or Both DONE!

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

State Park #5: Savannah Portage

I almost didn't count this little gem for my State Park Countydown, because of only being able to spend a mere 30 minutes roaming around this wilderness--but not for lack of trying! John and I went "up north" for the 4th of July weekend to spend time at his family friends' house. On our drive back from McGregor, we planned to hike at the nearest park,Savannah Portage State Park.

The highlight of Savannah Portage is walking the Continental Divide. Now, a girl from Colorado knows about Continental Divides; you can't avoid it--it's a mountain range! But in Minnesota the divide is slightly more subtle. From the state park site:
"Walk the Savanna Portage Trail, a historic trail traveled by fur traders, Dakota and Ojibwe Indians, and explorers more than 200 years ago. Savanna Portage State Park has 15,818 acres of rolling hills, lakes, and bogs. The Continental Divide marks the great division of water: water to the west flows into the Mississippi River; water to the east runs into Lake Superior." 

About to freak from
the flies on my legs
My plan to see bog wildflowers and walk along a great division of water did not go so swimmingly. We arrived in the early afternoon knowing it would be a bit hotter. The heat was not the problem. As soon as we rolled across the park line, we were attacked by a swarm of insects. We thought we'd take a shot at hiking anyway in case they might buzz off. They. did. not. We made it about 8 minutes along the ingrown trail before we couldn't stand it anymore. We jumped back into the car tried a different area.

Maybe the lake would be better. Although the calm, reflective water was charming, the bugs were not.  I did spot some wildflowers but the horseflies were too much. We walked for about 10 minutes around the edge of the lake before cutting our visit short.


John swatting at flies
Imagine hundreds of these guys


Thursday, July 11, 2013

Visitors of All Sorts, Part Deux

We last left off with my mom somehow hobbling along after me trying to wear her out with too much to see and do. She's a trooper!

Day 4: Holy Father- & Mother-in-law
Cathedral of St. Paul

Where do you take a Catholic visiting the Twin Cities? To church of course! More specifically, St. Paul's Cathedral. We went to mass on Sunday morn to the European-style cathedral.
Fun fact: The cathedral started to be built in 1904 by the main architect from the 1904 World's Fair and was based on cathedrals in Paris and PĂ©rigueux. 
 After mass, we met John and his parents at Day by Day Cafe, a quaint diner. John said the staff are recovering addicts although I can't find any reference to that online. Wonderful food and very friendly service!

The next part of the day John would have nothing to do with. Mom and I wanted to go to the aquarium which happens to be John's worst nightmare. (Something about the glass might break and the fish that are angry for being in captivity will eat him... or something.) Since mom had never ridden public transit before (I know!), we took the Minneapolis lightrail to the Mall of America to visit the SeaLife Aquarium. At first, I was not impressed: scant life to look at; tanks not fully labeled. But once I hit the 300 ft. long ocean tunnel, I was hooked. Sharks, giant fish, and turtles were all around you; enveloping you. I also appreciated the descriptive label every 10 feet or so. They called out if the species was threatened, vulnerable or not at risk.

Day 5: Bon Voyage! 

Mom, John, and I met up at Harriet Island in St. Paul to take a cruise down the Ole Mississippi. Padelford Riverboats is one of many companies that offer hour tours up and down the Mississippi and St. Croix Rivers. We chose Padelford because of its Monday Madness sale--$8 per person! The evening was absolutely gorgeous with just the right amount of breeze wafting through the open-air top deck. Although we couldn't hear the historical announcements over the intercom due to ambient noise and people talking, we had a relaxing and very Twin Cities evening; a perfect end to a trip with my mom.