Obligatory Super Blood Moon Eclipse Post

 

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Blood Moon on Lake Minnetonka, September 27, 2015

It’s been a few days since I’ve gotten back from my trip to Japan, and I’m still processing it all. Starting to recover from the jetlag, getting back into the daily grind of everyday life, remembering how it is to be at home.

It was an awesome trip, and I’ll post more about it shortly, but I’m glad to be back in time for my favorite season in Minnesota. This weekend, I spent some time at my parents’ in my home town, the western suburb of Mound, which was a great place to observe the big astronomical event of the month, the Super Blood Moon Eclipse. We won’t have another of those until 2033, and Minnesota was among the westernmost regions able to see the full eclipse, so it was definitely worth taking some time to watch. A perfect night for astronomy, I went kayaking on Lake Minnetonka with my sister, under the light of the abnormally large and glowing orb in the sky, it’s light reflected in the rippling waters of the lake. The lake was quiet as we watched the moon go dark behind the shadow of the Earth itself, a breath taking sight. It was also nice that it was happening at ten pm, rather than 2 or 3 in the morning (of course, I’m still feeling most awake at those times).

A memorable way, for sure, of coming back to Minnesota. After two flights lasting upwards of fifteen hours, getting out on the lake made a great way to stretch a bit and get some physical activity. As the waters lapped against the sides of our kayaks and we bobbed along with the wind, we watched the moon rise and then begin its dramatic disappearance before returning to shore. It’s great to be back!

 

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Favorite Tea Places in the Twin Cities

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La Societe du The

I am a tea drinker. Perhaps in some minor, passive rebellion against my coffee drinking parents, I’ve really taken to tea as my beverage of choice. It may be that I drink too much of it. It may not have as much caffeine as coffee, but it does have enough, and it may be an issue for me if I don’t get my infusion in the morning. I’m not picky about the types; I enjoy green, black, oolong, all of them, provided they’re properly prepared, of course. See my entry on the TeaSource. Okay, okay, maybe I’m a bit of a snob, but it seems that a lot of people have been coming to tea themselves lately. In the past, I’ve often found American tea choices lacking; Christopher Hitchens may have been a bit of a blowhard, but his thoughts on American tea, traditionally, at Slate is spot on. As we slowly evolve ourselves into a society more aware and knowledgeable about the proper way to have tea, however, I’ve been finding more and more spots to enjoy some around the Twin Cities. Here are a few of my favorites places to stock up on some loose leaf teas. Especially as we’re starting to get into that cold season, I’ll definitely need to supplement my supplies to keep a warm mug constantly at the ready.

Of course, I’ve mentioned the TeaSource, which has been my go to standby for years now, so I’ll leave it at that for now. They’ve got locations in St. Paul, St. Anthony, and Eden Prairie. Each are recommended.

La Société du Thé on Lyndale in Minneapolis is another good place to browse tea selections, and the proprietor is extremely knowledgeable. With a cozy and elegant location, it is a wonderful place to sip some tea, in both European and Asian styles. I’ve gotten some great teas here, too.

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Northern Lights Tea Company

Hidden away in the Skyways of Downtown Minneapolis, I recently discovered Northern Lights Tea Company, which is a nice place to grab some tea before work, either a hot cup of it or some loose leaf varieties. I found a few interesting teas I hadn’t seen anywhere else here.

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Mrs. Kelly’s Tea

Mrs. Kelley’s Teas have been a long standing purveyor of tea in the Twin Cities, often present at the farmers markets. I believe it was Mrs. Kelley that introduced me to good loose leaf tea They seem to specialize in tisanes, herbal teas. On occasion, they have open houses in their cool warehouse in Northeast Minneapolis.

For traditional English style teas, including afternoon teas, cream teas, and all of those elegant little feasts involving piping hot pots of tea and tall racks of little sandwiches and desserts, I think the best is Lady Elegant’s Tea Room in the St. Anthony Park neighborhood of St. Paul, off of Como. It’s been a little while since I’ve been there, but that would be a great place to make a reservation for a birthday. Not the cheapest, but worth it!

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Chatime!

For a different style of tea, it’s worth checking out Chatime in Dinkytown, a Minnesota location of a Taiwanese chain specializing in boba tea, always refreshing on hot days like we’ve been having recently. There’s also one in the Mall of America, if you feel like subjecting yourself to that (if you have to, might as well have a treat while you’re there).

A few restaurants have great tea choices, too. Some of my recommendations are Namaste Cafe on Hennepin Avenue for its chai. Normally, I prefer to keep milk or dairy substitutes far away from my teas, but here, the blends are delicious. It’s also great that you can choose soy milk instead of diary!

Wally’s in Dinkytown has some great tea, as well, black tea infused with fresh sage, mint, or other herbs. Definitely goes down well with some falafel. The house blend at the Kyber Pass restaurant in St. Paul is also a favorite, a black tea with cardamon.

Of course, we can’t forget to mention St. Paul’s Russian Tea House on University Avenue, as I discussed last year, here. Their tea is piping hot, slightly sweet due to an infusion of saffron, and super cheap!

Happy sipping!

A brewing adventure…

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My kitchen table, holding, going from top left to bottom left, Chai-Spice Mead, Summer Melon Wine, Farmers Market Gruit, and Brown Bear Braggot.

So, I decided to invite readers to an adventure in my own apartment for the first time. Some days, with the heat we’ve been having lately, anyway, its just best to stay inside and laze around near the air conditioner. That doesn’t mean we can’t engage in an adventurous activity indoors, of course! This will become even more of a thing as we start heading into those frigid winter months, as well!

With the last decade’s craze for microbreweries, craft beers, and home brewing, I became compelled to try my own hand at a little brewing in own little kitchen. We have yet to see how everything will turn out, of course, but I’m hopeful we’ll have a product that’s at least interesting… (whether in the genuine, or the Minnesota, sense of the word). Fortunately, we have access to a lot of local craft brewing supply stores with helpful staff ready to assist you in whatever shenanigans you might want to go off on. I obtained aid and supplies from a couple of local shops, Northern Brewing, with a couple of compact locations in South Minneapolis on Lyndale, and in St. Paul on Grand Avenue. I also visited the vast warehouse like Midwest Supplies in St. Louis Park on Excelsior Boulevard. In each case, the stores were helpful and I quickly found what I needed.  

Last fall, I attempted a cider, and it turned out pretty well, if I do say so myself. Very boozy and dry, made with fresh, unpasteurized juice from an orchard in Door County, Wisconsin (we’ll probably have a separate blog about that touristy peninsula in the future). This time around, I wanted to try out a few new things.

This summer, I’ve been busy with a variety of experiments; a chai-spice mead made with local Minnesota honey and TeaSource Darjeeling, a summer melon wine made with a local musk melon from the Minneapolis Farmers Market. I’ve moved them on to age in their carboys for six months or so, so we’ll check in on those next spring. I’ve also got a few beers in the works, a “farmers market gruit,” which is an ancient style of beer using herbs rather than hops for bittering. I added local rosemary, thyme, and oregano to the malt. In addition, I’m trying a “braggot” as well, which is another old style of beer described as a cross between a beer and a mead; I used some light hops along with the same local honey I used in the mead. I’ve left the beers to ferment while I’m on vacation, after which I’ll let them age in the carboys a few more weeks- hopefully they’ll be ready by Halloween! I got the recipes for these brews from a couple of very useful and easy to use brewing books by Emma Christensen, True Brews and Brew Better Beer. I’d recommend either of them for other beginners to brewing. We’ll see how this early attempts turn out!       

A great book to look at for beer brewing, detailing everything you need to know for a variety of different beer types, including gluten free beer!

An awesome resource for beginning brewers, detailing all manner of beverages, from non-alcoholic sodas and kombuchas to meads, wines, sakes, etc!

To Japan!

 

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Rainy morning at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport- goodbye Twin Cities!

As I mentioned in my last entry on the Como Park Obon Festival, I’m really excited to have scheduled an adventure outside of the Twin Cities for the next few weeks.

So, this morning I’m boarding a flight from Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport to Denver, and from there disembarking on the long voyage across the Pacific to Narita Airport to explore Japan for the next few weeks. My sister and I will start in Tokyo, journey north to Hokkaido, and then explore the northern tip of Honshu, Tohoku. Other than this, we have no real plans and will just see what we see! Of course, I’ll be reporting in upon my return.

This will be the first time I’ve left the continent since 2007, so I’m very excited, and I also can’t believe this long awaited trip is here already. Because of this, I won’t be as active on the MSP-Adventure Time blog this month, but I’ll have a few entries prepped to tide things over for the time being. In the meantime, we’ll be posting pictures from the trip on our new Instagram account, AdventureSibs, if you’re so inclined. It’s completely empty so far, but things will start appearing tomorrow, no doubt!

Now, as we wait to board our flight, we’re enjoying some pretty good scones from the airport incarnation of a favorite Minneapolis spot for breakfast, French Meadow! It’ll be the last taste of home for now.

Perhaps, when we get back, if we’re not too tired of ramen yet, we’ll attend the upcoming Ramen Attack Block Party at the Mill City Museum. Looks fun!

Writing Your City: The Loft Literary Center

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Loft Literary Center, interior space

 

When the idea came to me to start up MSP-Adventure time back in late December of 2013, I was pondering ways to brush up my writing skills and give myself some sort of concrete project to latch onto. Like many who come to fancy themselves “writers” without anything much tangible to show for it, I searched for some way to kick start my writing process and quite giving into procrastination all the time.

In the course my academic career, I’ve gotten plenty of writing done; generally in a frantic state, without much proofreading or editing in the last five or six hours before the course paper was due. And I actually liked this! I enjoyed the research, the panic fueled episodes late in the semester of hammering on a keyboard for a few hours until a tangible, physical product was created, printed out and presented to class. I actually prided myself on my ability to pound one out on short notice, one that would be pretty good. Not too bad, anyway. Nothing like a good, stark deadline to force you into panic mode.

There is so intriguing stuff out there in this region alone to focus on, to explore and learn more about, I felt that another collection of online essays (er, blog) detailing the secrets, wonders, and intricacies of Minnesota’s metropolitan outpost, this little outpost of civilization in the middle top of the United States, would be interesting.

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Open Books building, back in February

Of course, my historical background geared me to think of my writing in terms of non-fiction, and my own self-absorption geared me into writing memoir and travel writing, but I didn’t encounter the term “creative non-fiction” until taking a class at the Loft. Now, that’s the first genre I always name drop when people ask me what I write. I would like to dabble in more fiction, or even (god forbid) poetry, too, but, as with this blog, my focus remains in nonfiction.

Because of this, one of my all time favorite places in the entire Twin Cities is the Loft Literary Center. My sister, the Creative Writing major, introduced me to this fine institution about ten years ago after she volunteered there. Tucked away on the upper floors of an atmospheric old warehouse in the Mill District, the Open Book building, the Loft was one of the first institutions to breath life into this long neglected area of industrial ruins. In a city known for its literacy and love of writing, the Loft is the premier place for writers to hang out, learn from each other and practice their craft. It’s great to have this leading literary art center right here!  

I’ve taken numerous classes, workshops and seminars there, attended awesome readings and literary events, and other activities. While living outside of town, I took the Loft’s online classes, which were great, too, but the atmospheric location and camaraderie of actually heading into the writing classroom is my favorite. There is always something interesting coming up, for any writing interest or level. Non-fiction and fiction, poetry and prose, children’s and adult, science fiction or memoir, there are teachers from every background excited to share their knowledge and expertise. For me, I’ve found it very helpful, if only to have a period of continued writing pressure. Of course, the practice and experience writing in different styles and disciplines than I’m used to is nice too. Most recently, I took a fascinating and thought provoking class on Writing the Midwestern Character (I will be writing more on this in a later entry)!

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The Loft’s first location in Dinkytown, circa 1974

I have seen prominent authors discuss their writing practices and share some of their work, including Louise Erdrich, Pete Hautman, and Kelly Barnhill. Last fall, for instance, I listened to author Steve Almond discuss his latest book, Against Football, which was particularly interesting as the monstrous shell of the new stadium which has slowly grown like some sort of monolith towering over this part of town.

In addition, Open Book is home to a host of other artistic and literary organizations, including the Minnesota Center for Book Arts, another favorite, which houses exhibitions focusing on making books themselves into works of art. You can take classes on bookbinding, paper making, screen printing and lots of other cool stuff here, too! With both of these institutions together, it makes for some great projects; write some essays, then learn to bind them yourself in thematic paper style! The MCBA store is always fun to check out too, especially the large collection of zines from local artists available.

On a recent weekend, the Loft celebrated its fortieth anniversary and offered 40 different events to take advantage of all of
IMG_1658 the fun things the Loft and its members do. I was able to attend a few of them myself, my favorite being the first, a bike ride around Minneapolis to tour the previous homes of the Loft Literary Center. Founded in 1974 in Dinkytown, the Loft moved to its current location in 2000, but in between those, it settled in a variety of places. I had not been aware of this history, so it was fun and informative morning bike ride from the Mill District across the river to Dinkytown and Prospect Park, then back over the Mississippi to Franklin Avenue and the Powderhorn neighborhood. It was fun learning more about the Loft’s past and biking with a group of writers!

Among other events, my favorite event ended up really geared to my style and my blog; Inspired by Minneapolis, in which we strolled across the Stone Arch Bridge, writing on writing prompts, watching the city go by, and focusing on certain scenes and details of the urban landscape with little frames. This is a lot of what I am trying to capture in my writing, so it was a valuable and relaxing way to celebrate the Loft.

The Loft is currently offering its slate of autumn classes, so you should check them out and maybe sign up for a few. For those of us who are still paying off student loans as well, the discounted low income rates are very welcome as well. Also, a lot of the events hosted by the Loft are free of charge as well, so keep an eye out!

Loft Literary Center, 1011 Washington Avenue South, at Open Book

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A good, if windy, day for writing on the Stone Arch Bridge.