Right Outside Your Door: Exploring Your “Backyard”

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Loring Park, a short stroll from my apartment, on a lovely spring day.

On one of those warm afternoons we had some weeks ago, I was not scheduled for work and felt the burning need to get out of my apartment and explore the outside world. I still feel so grateful, so amazed, to be living in the midst of so much awesome stuff, things I can experience in walking distance from my place, I sometimes find it difficult to believe, I’d spent so much time the last few years daydreaming about it; now I’m here, in the thick of it.

Of course, sometimes, it can feel like, in the humdrum daily grind of work or school, you just want to come home and unwind, ignoring the outside world and just mindlessly surf the net or play video games. After all, all those parks and museums and stuff will be there tomorrow, right? Weeks can pass before I again reflect upon how much stuff there is right at my fingertips, and I again want to get out there and explore. It’s amazing how much exists, hidden in plain site, that you discover just around the corner.

As reported by Andy Studevant at MinnPost, today is Obscura Day, organized by the website Atlas Obscura, “dedicated to highlighting the most interesting places in the world.” I’d never heard of this site before, but it seems like something to dig into. There will be a couple of events showcasing a couple of the Twin Cities most revered weird sites, Minneapolis’ House of Balls and the Wabasha Street Caves in St. Paul. The Wabasha Street Caves are certainly interesting, and in spite of hearing the name for years, I’ve never had the pleasure of exploring the House of Balls, so I may check that out later today. Obscura Day reminds me of how much adventure exists all around us in our local communities as well as the wider world, just out of sight, and are just waiting for you to experience them.

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Spoonbridge and Cherry…. so shiny!

While, during my ramble the other week, I didn’t check out anything truly “obscure,” even rediscovering things taken for granted for a long time can be a refreshing treat, as well as visiting a new locale. Strolling through Loring Park, for instance, watching albino squirrels frolic and wood ducks paddle about, it struck me how much wildlife were there right in the heart of downtown. Scaling the pedestrian bridge above busy Highway 94 and crossing over into the Walker Sculpture Garden, home of that landmark of Minneapolis, Claes Oldenburg’s and Coosje Van Bruggen’s masterpiece of absurd whimsy, the Spoonbridge and Cherry. I mean, what better emblem for this weird and quirky place than a huge piece of silverware holding a monstrous piece of fruit? Well, that’s my take, anyway. It’s funny that, back around 2006 when I was still living out in the ‘burbs, I kind of adopted the name “Spoonbridge” as my online persona, and now, a scary amount of time later, I’ve actually come to live so close to the famous sculpture, and yet it took me a month or two to actually visit it again. Grass was sprouting, tourists were taking pictures of each other under the oversized kitchenware and the Minneapolis skyline in front of the blue skies.

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Enjoying a flight. Check out that citrus peel infused tap!

Continuing through the nostalgic and beloved sculpture garden, I walked over to a new place I’d just found out about, Sisyphus Brewing, one of the metro’s newer breweries, which have been popping up all over the place in the last few months. It still kind of amuses me that I can be so close to a craft brewery I could just walk right over there and grab some beer anytime I want (if I didn’t need to worry about funds, of course). Sisyphus was a fun little space in an historic building just outside of the Dunwoody College of Technology, and it had a small group of folk trying some beer on this lovely weekday afternoon. Ordering up a flight of the breweries’ offerings, I sampled the offerings. They had some good stuff. While I would not call myself a true connoisseur, I’m trying to step up my tasting abilities for beer, as well as tea (oddly similar in their procedures, you know). I’m kind of one for the hops, so Sisyphus’ OPA2, an oatmeal pale ale, was right up my ally, but I know a lot of my friends prefer the richer, more gentle, taste of stouts, so I picked up one of the breweries’ signature “growlettes” of delicious, chocolaty stout to share at the next get together.

Yes, it is easy to become accustomed to all of the things in your own city, but sometimes I think it is fun to take a little time to reacquaint myself with things; especially since the city is changing all the time and it is fun what pops up when you weren’t paying attention; seems another brewery is in the works just down the street from my place, Lakes and Legends Brewing Company, which promises to open “late summer 2015.” Keep an eye out!

Sisyphus Brewing, Wednesday/Thursday: 3pm-10pm, Friday/Saturday: Noon – 1am, 712 Ontario Avenue W. #100

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Sisyphus Brewing building

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A Visit to Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden

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Ferns and mossy logs hidden in the Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden

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Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden entrance

While it has been a tad rainy the last few weeks or so (though we definitely need it), there has been some sunny periods to enjoy the burgeoning spring foliage and flora of the Twin Cities. I’ve been biking, kayaking, and walking around from job to job lately, but it is always fun to visit some of those hidden gems nestled in the heart of the city, places where you can still experience nature in the middle of the metro (though that is definitely something Minneapolis and St. Paul both have in abundance). The tie between Minneapolis and St. Paul for first place for best urban parks by the Trust for Public Lands has been circulated around the local news in recent days, and I find that one of our most awesome attributes.

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IMG_1164As a kid, I was very interested in nature and environmental sciences, and while I opted to head into the social sciences and humanities to avoid doing math, I still love learning about the natural world. This is a great place to enjoy some nature without even having to head up north. At the rustic little visitor’s shelter, programs are offered frequently as well. One of my favorite topics as a nature loving kid were edible wild plants and how to cook them, so the recent course on using the invasive weed species, garlic mustard, in recipes, looked especially interesting, I’ll have to keep my eye out and see if they offer more!

Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden, Theodore Wirth Parkway and Glenwood Avenue, 7:30 to one hour before sunset, free!

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Cocktails in the Castle: party down at the American Swedish Institute

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Turnblad Mansion, in Spring

Been spending quite a bit of time at the American Swedish Institute lately; doing some research for some historical writing I’ve been working on, attending some lectures, and, last Friday, attending the Institute’s latest “cocktails in the castle” event, which proved an awesome time, as always. As I think I wrote last December, the ASI is one of my favorite “hidden gem” museums in the city, though the last few years it has definitely been raising its profile, after completing its recent expansions and I have found myself attending more and more.

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Attendees line up to enter ASI, Cocktails in the Castle

Reflecting Minneapolis’ historical and influential Scandinavian presence (coming from a partly Norwegian background, myself), the ASI is a good place to experience some of the style of the Nordic countries. The Turnblad Mansion, built by Swedish newspaper magnate Swan Turnblad, it is quite an impressive house and great for hosting parties (the Halloween bash they had a few years ago was my favorite). Always an atmospheric locale, its classical grandeur an interesting contrast with the modern Scandinavian elegance of the new building.

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Lofty Idealism

The theme this month was “Dynamite Night,” to coincide with the current exhibition “Nobel Creations,” in honor of Alfred Nobel, inventor of dynamite and the originator of the Nobel Peace Prize, one of the most prestigious Swedish exports. As people lined up, bonfires were lit and little bundles of dynamite decorated the tree, giving the place a festive (if a little explosive) ambiance. There was plenty going on at the institute to keep everyone busy at whatever interests them, whether eating s’mores or making little wearable LED jewelry. My particular favorite was the literature inspired projects at the Laureate Lounge, and Lofty Idealism, an art project where participants wrote their ideas for a perfect world on tags, which were hung in the branches of the birch trees on the mansion grounds. The cocktails themselves were quite delicious as well, especially the refreshing cucumber concoction

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The Literature Gown, Turnblad Mansion library

Inside the mansion exhibits themselves presented plenty of interesting facts about the Nobel Peace Prize, and included awesome looking dresses, floral arrangements and music inspired by the prize categories; Peace, Physics, Economics, Chemistry, Medicine, and Literature.

A fashion show, Couture at the Castle presented by designers TIM+THOM, was a pretty stylish showing and a fun way to see some really cool designs, as well as some grooming and fashion tips, though I, unfortunately, did not a get a makeover myself! Finally, as the night fell, revelers gathered on the grounds with sparklers, s’mores, and drinks to watch fire dancers and a rocket looking thing flared out great jets of flame on cue, warming up the onlookers and lighting up the night. A great night for a ritzy museum party. The next one, according to the ASI, will be in September, so keep an eye out!

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Crowd with sparklers, Cocktails in the Castle: Dynamite Night

Last Call for Book Deals

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Mivera at Minneapolis Central Library’s cookbook collection, the TX600s to 800s, on the 2nd Floor!

A few weeks ago, for National Library Week, clues were hidden at various library branches of the Hennepin County Library to find Minerva, the bronze statue housed at Minneapolis Central Library; here she is with some of the exhaustive cookbook collections at Minneapolis Central, which you should definitely check out. That’s not the only reason to make a stop soon at Minneapolis Central, the metro’s flagship public library building.

I think I might have spoken before about how much I love library book sales, maybe. At some point. Helping to support the mission of the library system, while getting great deals on hidden treasures, of course I love it. Even as I now work “inside the system,” as it were, I still can’t get enough (so much so that I’m running out of space). One of my favorites has always been the permanent Friends book store housed in Minneapolis Central . They always have some very interesting stuff, and I love stopping by to see what they’ve got- I have always had good luck there, and the prices are great. So it came as a sad surprise recently to learn that the Friends of the Hennepin County Library Bookstore at Minneapolis Central will be closing permanently at the end of the month, after having been a fixture of the library since it’s opening a decade ago. For the next few weeks, until May 30th, the bookstore will be having a closeout sale, selling off all sorts of goodies, books, audiobooks, CDs, magazines, and vinyl records for two dollars a bag! It seems more stuff is being added (or uncovered), but there is quite the frenzy going on. So, for some pretty good deals on all sorts of stuff, they will be open again tomorrow. Found some unusual comics there yesterday. Best get there while you still can! The end of an era, I guess. There will still be a permanent book store selling used books at the Ridgedale Library. They’ve had some pretty good stuff, too.

 

MN Rise Up

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Crowd leaves Gold Medal Park, April 29, 2015

For the most part, my blog has stuck to noncontroversial, nonconfrontrational topics, keeping to a “look at all this awesome stuff!” focus, dealing in self-congratulatory platitudes of how great things are around here. Partly as a misguided attempt not to “offend” anyone, partly because I do not want to talk about things I know little about, I keep mainly to feel good types of topics, like stuff to buy and places to hang out, even as Minnesota is not always so nice for everyone.

Inequality continues to be a major problem in our metro, even as we continue to gain accolades for the most “literate,” the most “bike friendly” city, et cetera. With all of this good stuff, why can we not share our prosperity a little more. Black Americans continue to suffer lower economic opportunities while at the same time being subject to disproportionate violence from the police, leading to great injustices, most recently in Baltimore with the murder of Freddie Gray but many others before, including in the Twin Cities.

So, last week, I walked down the Gold Medal Park to lend my presence, and my voice, to the rally against racism and police violence, MN Rise Up and Shut it Down, joining around two thousand people of all backgrounds and races to rally support for Baltimore and to demand response to institutional racism in police departments and the end of vague “spitting” and “lurking” laws used against people of color. This is definitely a part of the experience of living in the Twin Cities, Minnesota has always had strong activist traditions and people passionate about trying to make change in the community. Hosted by the tireless and committed organizers of Black Lives Matter, this was a breathtaking and affecting thing to witness.

News helicopters buzzed overhead as the crowd of people from all races, backgrounds, and ages strolled down Washington Avenue after leaving the grassy hill of Gold Medal Park, prompting people in nearby apartments to watch and wave. Things went smoothly, with the Minneapolis police appearing to aid in the proceedings, observing. It was pretty awe inspiring listening to the cries and cheers of the crowd letting its values be known. As was expressed to the crowd, we were all normal Minnesotans, letting our voices be heard, putting our support behind the protests in Baltimore and elsewhere in the country. It was exhilarating being there, being in the midst of the crowd chanting the chants of “no justice, no peace,” among others, especially as a person unused to expressing themselves in public.

I struggled with writing this entry, not wanting to simply trumpet my “progressiveness,” as a way to assuage my white guilt and show how “good” I am compared to all those other racists, when the reality is I am as much ingrained into racist thinking and white privilege as any other white person. I am lazy, I am complacent. I can’t really consider myself a revolutionary or an activist, since I do not devote much of my time into rallying for change, so I thought it important to take some time out of a Wednesday to walk with the activists of Black Lives Matter.

One of my major political “values,” I’d come into since childhood has been a devotion to pacifism and nonviolence, though, as I got older, it became clear that “nonviolence” was not simply avoiding conflict, and avoiding physically hurting people. The very system we live in, and often do not question, is oftentimes violent, at least in that it harms people. As was expressed by the activists at black lives matter, white silence is itself violence. Of course, it’s easy for me to step into this rally and then go back to my daily life; not so for so many people of color in our white supremacist nation.

Personally, I recall one time a few years ago when a group of friends and I had just finished eating at a local sushi restaurant and piled into my sister’s old Honda SUV to head to the next place. She had just pulled onto the street when, out of nowhere, a squad car blared its lights and forced into the parking lot of a nearby convenience store, after which several officers leaped out, holding guns. Sidearms drawn, they surrounded the car, shouting for us to all keep our hands in sight and pulled out one of my friends from the back seat. We were all just shocked and had no real change to react. Turned out my friend in the back seat was the spitting image of some suspect. Lucky for us, he was too tall to be the guy they were looking for, and we were set on our way. Pretty scary. Could things have been different had any of us been black? This makes you think about it.

This, of course, is a minor incident that offers barely a taste of what people of color experience daily, but it was eye opening. It definitely was an honor to walk with this movement and will do so again. I’m interested in expanding my participation and this was a good start.

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Black Lives Matter rally walks down Washington Avenue, April 29, 2015

Photos courtesy of Akulas Psyhos,