Minneapolis Reading Time: Jazz Music at the St. Paul Public Library

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Rice Park’s statue of F. Scott Fitzgerald on a snowy spring day not unlike today. You know, Fitzgerald hated snow!

[Cross post with my Reading Rainstorm blog segment, Land of 10,000 Pages]

I attended a very interesting little event at the St. Paul Public Library a few weeks ago and have just gotten around to writing about it! Music of the Jazz Age was a relaxing, casual Sunday afternoon event held at the ornate Magazine Room on the third floor of the George Latimer Central Library. This was one of the first events by a new literary group in the Twin Cities, Fitzgerald in St. Paul, a nonprofit dedicated to celebrating the achievements of classic American author F. Scott Fitzgerald in his hometown of St. Paul.

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George Latimer Central Library, St. Paul

This is particularly interesting to me as I prepare to move in with my sweetheart into Fitzgerald’s very own neighborhood in St. Paul! Yes, I’m crossing the river and moving into the other Twin City! As was mentioned by the librarian in the introduction to the Music of the Jazz Age program, we were walking in the footsteps of Fitzgerald in at the George Latimer Central Library, and in my own daily life too! Of note, the Magazine Room also houses the F. Scott Fitzgerald Reading Alcove. It was a superb space to listen to some of the music of his time. Fitzgerald and his wife Zelda Fitzgerald themselves coined the term “the Jazz Age,” to refer to the era they lived in, and some very talented musicians were invited to perform some examples of the jazz that inspired the moniker.

Vocalist Connie Evingson, accompanied by Dan Chouinard on piano and Chris Bates on bass, performed some elegant renditions of some popular pieces from the 1920s, including some mentioned in a few of Fitzgerald’s stories. Three O’Clock in the Morning, one of the songs sung by Evingson, was mentioned in The Great Gatsby, for instance. A few excerpts from Fitzgerald’s works were read and one felt almost as though one had gone back in time, to when you were actually allowed to smoke in the library! Although Lindsay and I were among a handful of people under age 50 in the audience, I would recommend people of all ages keeping an eye on Fitzgerald in St. Paul, which will be offering a monthly series the first Sunday of every month at FitzFirst@Four. The next one, at Common Good Books, discusses Fitzgerald’s story The Rich Boy on April 3rd at 4 pm. Similar stories appear in one of the books I mentioned in my entry My Twin Cities Reading List, The St. Paul Stories of F. Scott Fitzgerald.

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153518Next, I think I’ll be reading this book, A Guide to F. Scott Fitzgerald’s St. Paul.l Perhaps, as I walk in the footsteps of the great writer, I’ll share more of my discoveries!

 

 

 

 

 

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Du Nord Craft Spirits

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Exterior of Du Nord Craft Spirits

Saturday before last, Lindsay and I met some friends for a tour of another new, local distillery, Du Nord Craft Spirits. With Lindsay and I both enjoying gin lately, it has been very fun to visit these places in the community that are working to make local spirits. Located in the Longfellow neighborhood of Minneapolis right off of Hiawatha in an unassuming warehouse, Du Nord has a cozy cocktail room serving its own spirits and offering games and comfy seats.

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Some of the local corn used in the L’etoile vodka (photo courtesy of Lindsay Cameron)

Founded a little more than a year ago, Du Nord currently offers three products, Fitzgerald gin, L’etoile vodka, and Apple Du Nord liqueur, all milled, mashed, and distilled on the premises from locally sourced materials. As we saw from the informative, energetic tour of the distillery, the people involved take it very seriously and are often improving their process. Watching the passion and expertise at Du Nord and seeing how they prepare their libations was quite educational. Apparently, for instance, many “craft distilleries”  don’t distill their own products, but rather import aged whiskey from other states and just bottle on premises (or hire out the bottling too), which can be identified by brand new distilleries selling several years aged products. Du Nord, in contrast, crafts all of the products on site. The gin, vodka, and apple liqueurs each celebrated aspects of Minnesota agriculture and history, and we were given delicious samples of each.   

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Some pretty tasty cocktails!

Du Nord is one of currently more than a dozen craft distilleries in Minnesota, a number that will multiply quickly in coming years and our tour guide at Du Nord was very passionate about educating consumers to be good connoisseurs of craft spirits. Again, due to archaic and puritanical Minnesota blue laws, we could purchase only a small bottle of their products and they were unable to serve liquors from any other local distillers.

 

The cocktails they did serve, though, were amazing, in particular the Mpls Mule, a vodka drink with delicious freshly squeezed ginger and the Bees Knees, a gin drink with rich, sweet local honey. Both were among the best I’ve had! In addition, we enjoyed an entertaining game of shuffleboard (first time playing) and some of the board games as well. Definitely a nice way to spend a winter afternoon!     

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Comfortable interior of cocktail room, with view towards the distillery (photo courtesy of Lindsay Cameron)

 

 

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The party prepares to enter…

My old friend Dave married his sweetheart Rachel on Saturday, hosting their wildly successful  wedding (including a beer drinking ceremony) at the Science Museum of Minnesota. What great environs for a wedding party! The tastefully nerdy event, complete with a dinosaur theme and Star Wars music made the museum an awesome venue for the happy day.

As the best man, it was up to me to prepare something fun for the bachelor party in February. After hearing hushed tales of the challenge and excitement by other local delvers into secrets, the groomsmen and I planned the perfect outing for the guy who tormented us through many hilariously entertaining sessions of the Tomb of Horrors back in the day. We donned our Hawaiian shirts, a nod to Dave’s trademark convention uniform, and secretly charted a go at our local room escape adventure, EscapeMSP. A “real life room escape game,” EscapeMSP is among the first places offering this fun new puzzle in the Twin Cities. Within an hour, you and your team must escape the diabolical plot set up for you by solving tough puzzles and searching for clues. This makes it a great place for groups of people with a flair for the dramatic and a desire to experience some hands on adventure.

After a celebratory round of beers at St. Paul’s wonderful Flat Earth Brewery, which Dave favored even before moving to St. Paul four years ago, we drove out into the uncharted suburbs just west of Minneapolis. After a final swig of Tomatin whisky to aid our courage and wit, we found our way to a nondescript office park, where the challenge awaited us. Behind the unassuming door of an everyday office suite, we discovered a large room furnished with a massive boardroom table, from which we signed our waivers and received our mission. EscapeMSP offers several different mission themes (including one they added within the last month) – we chose the James Bomb room. Dropped into the roles of M15 agents tasked with deactivating a bomb, we joined a few other adventure seekers and entered an adjacent room to see if we had what it took to beat the puzzle. As soon as the handcuffs came out, I think we knew things had gotten serious…

It was quite the struggle! In the end, we came so close to defusing the bomb, failing to discover only one vital clue! Next time, next time! Finishing off the evening with several more stops for food, drink, and merriment, in the end, the stag night was quite a success and I think we’ll be accompanying Dave on another go at escaping the room in the not too distant future!

 

 

 

Madison Bound

 

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Stained glass, Winona County Historical Museum

Over the next few days, I will be tackling a small backlog of adventures I missed writing about back in February. The first adventure is a fun road trip for those times when you might require a change of scenery from the Twin Cities. Over Valentine’s Day weekend, Lindsay and I crossed state borders for a little trip to Madison, Wisconsin, a fun college town that makes a nice weekend getaway from the Twin Cities. Here are a few highlights and recommendations from the trip!

Taking the scenic route down the Mississippi from St. Paul, we stopped for lunch in the sleepy but interesting college river town of Winona, Minnesota. This is the town where my grandparents lived, so I spent a lot of time here growing up, but it had been awhile since I visited so it was fun to stop again, see how things changed, and introduce Lindsay to another weird Minnesota town.

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Riverboat exhibit, Winona Historical Museum (Courtesy of Lindsay Cameron)

We had a delicious lunch at the Blue Heron Coffeehouse, one of my favorite restaurants in the state. In addition to the yummy food and friendly, laid back artsy vibe, they share a space with a used and new bookstore, The Book Shelf, which always has good finds. We then explored the recently renovated Winona County Historical Society Museum, which I’ve found to be one of the best local historical museums in Wisconsin, displaying a variety of interesting artifacts from one of the oldest cities in the state. After climbing into a reproduction steamboat and marveling at some preserved storefronts, we then took the opportunity to explore some art in the collection of Winona’s ambitious and newest museum, the Minnesota Marine Art Museum. It may seem like an unusual location for the collection, but Winona does have a historic port supplying lumber and flour for shipment down the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico and beyond. The Marine Art Museum explores the “historic human relationship with water,” an apt mission for a museum set on the banks of the Mississippi River. Featuring contemporary photography as well as work spanning the artistic movements from the seventeenth to the twentieth centuries, including such luminaries as Monet and Picasso, it is one of Minnesota’s hidden gem museums.

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Capitol District Madison being transformed into a skiing track.

Crossing the border into Wisconsin, we were in Madison by early evening, where we had a date to catch comedian and actor David Cross perform at the Orpheum Theater, located on State Street, the epicenter for entertainment in Madison. The humor of Cross, of Arrested Development fame among others things, was a great way to kick off the trip, especially when he upset the more religious portion of the audience.img_20160213_133136

Madison, the capital city of Wisconsin and home of the University of Wisconsin, is always an entertaining place to visit. Situated on an isthmus between Lake Monona and Lake Mendota, with the Capital building sitting on top of a hill, it is a compact, walkable city that seems to pack a lot into a relatively small area. We were in town during the last big cold snap in the Upper Midwest, and it came just in time for the Madison Winter Festival, though a lack of snowfall required the city to haul in a layer of snow to surround the Wisconsin State Capitol building for racing cross country skiers. With folksy fiddle music playing on the loudspeakers and a few quirky little snow sculptures, downtown Madison became a wintery wonderland.  

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Spending the weekend exploring the isthmus area over the weekend was a fun and relaxing way to brave the cold and enjoy each others’ company. Particularly with the Winter Festival going on, parking was difficult downtown, but most things are in easy walking distance of each other. At the center of Capitol Square is, of course, the Wisconsin State Capitol building, a pretty impressive edifice of state government. They offer a free and quite informative tour throughout the building, visiting the executive, legislative, and judicial branches where we marveled at the ornate interiors and fossils embedded in the stone walls. It was pretty interesting to be standing right there behind the leather upholstered chairs where the Wisconsin state legislatures make laws (rather poorly, under current administration, eh?). The tour was full of the usual list of notable “bests” that Wisconsin’s capitol building can boast (taller than the US Capitol Building, largest granite dome in the world, etc.) Some of which seem a little questionable, perhaps, but now I am looking forward to touring the Minnesota State Capitol building, to see what we can boast!

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Wisconsin State Capitol building interior (Photo courtesy of Lindsay Cameron)

In addition to the Wisconsin State Capitol, we also visited the Wisconsin History Museum and its entertainingly goofy exhibit on Wisconsinites in Hollywood. The Madison Museum of Contemporary Art is also a good place to check out, which hosted several fascinating collections, including a surreal and energetic collection of 1970s prints by Wisconsin artist Warrington Colescott inspired by Thomas Mann’s Death in Venice. That’s one for the reading list! The exhibit goes on until April, so if you’re in town, stop in!

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Sculpture Garden roof of Madison Contemporary Museum of Art, enjoying the snow

Strolling along State Street, we stopped in a variety of charming boutiques and shops, either just browsing or in full shopping mode. Of course, the bookstores were where we found the most to peruse. Browzers Bookshop is a maze of used books, with plenty of weird things to look at and you’ll probably get quite the deal there too! At the venerable independent feminist bookstore A Room of One’s Own, one can browse a very wide selection of new and used books. This was a very nice bookstore to spend some time hanging out and picking out a new book or two (or, hell, more).

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Some of Wisconsin’s fine beers, at the Old Fashioned

 

Of course, nothing says Wisconsin like enjoying an alcoholic beverage and we certainly had our fair share, so leaving the car behind was a wise choice. The charming, quirky, and rowdy bars of State Street and the Capital Square serve up some tasty Wisconsin beers and delicious cocktails. The Old Fashioned, a bar and restaurant specializing in Wisconsin’s food and drink specialties is a good place to start. Offering more than a hundred Wisconsin beers and a half dozen versions of the Old Fashioned, along with cheese curds, cheese plates, and many other tasty treats, it is a good place to go to be overwhelmed by choices. Just arrive early, the place is packed to gridlock by 6 on weekends. Breakfast, though, is a more relaxing time to visit. We had a perfectly decadent Wisconsin breakfast: A rich cheese plate, giant (and affordable) apple fritter, a breakfast old fashioned, and a pint of Tyrena Brewing’s Devil Made Me Do It Coffee Imperial Oatmeal Potter.  

Paul’s Club, on State Street, is another good place to stop in for a drink. Where else can you go to a bar that has a full side tree inside of it, along with a good beer and cocktail list?The Great Dane Pub is a pretty cool place to stop by in the Capital Square area as well, a brewpub that offers a nice rotating selection of brews, including the Stone of Scone scotch ale. Also come for the shuffle boards (Wisconsinites are super serious about this game).

If you find yourself famished while shopping on State Street, a nice place to stop by for very filling Laotian and Thai cuisine is at Vientiane Palace Restaurant, which has a lot of delicious food for reasonable prices, including some very tasty pad thai noodles. My eggplant dish was also very tasty. Graze is a romantic and atmospheric choice for dinner. A new restaurant specializing in farm to table cuisine, we had a very lovely meal here and I would recommend it for a fancy evening out, with nice views of the Wisconsin State Capitol and very good food. Again, the cheese plate is highly recommended, as is the oyster plate.

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Some of the collection of the National Mustard Museum (photo courtesy of Lindsay Cameron)

On the way out of town, we stopped by one of Wisconsin’s many “quirky” attractions. Where else, for instance, could you visit a museum devoted entirely to a condiment? Located just outside of Madison in Middleton, Wisconsin, the National Mustard Museum is worth a stop for anyone with even a little appreciation for mustard. An exhaustive selection of gourmet mustard varities from across the world upstairs, and a tongue in cheek celebration of the history and art of mustard downstairs, it is a cool and funny place to stop to sample some tasty sauces. After picking up some mustard for upcoming gatherings, we left Madison for St. Paul. A quick stop in Osseo, Wisconsin, for some top notch pies at the Norske Nook  Restaurant and Bakery rounded out or trip (and our bellies). All in all, it was a great weekend sampler of a winter town in Wisconsin, and I am looking forward to returning.  

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Did you know Tony Shahloub was from Green Bay? Display at the Wisconsin History Museum (photo courtesy of Lindsay Cameron)

 

 

Art Shanty Projects, 2016

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Big White Bear bike on White Bear Lake (photo courtesy of Lindsay Cameron)

Last Sunday, Lindsay, my sister, and I were fortunate to experience the last day of the Art Shanty Project 2016 at White Bear Lake, returning to one of the first adventures I recorded here on MSP Adventure Time in 2014. Back in January, on one of the coldest days of the winter we attended the celebration of the 10th anniversary of the art shanties at SooVac, which really pumped us to experience this wonderful Minnesotan celebration of art, winter, and our lakes. Viewing the photos and ephemera of past Art Shanties, innovative and expressive interactive shacks on the ice that we attended in the past, we painted some flags to display on this year’s frozen lake.

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Matoska Tonka Shanty (photo courtesy of Lindsay Cameron)

Once February was on us, though, busy schedules and warm temperatures made it seem as though we would not be able to make it as White Bear Lake became unstable. It was with great excitement when we heard that, for the last weekend, the projects were moved to the frozen beach and we could check it all out! Celebrating the strong community of artists, craftspeople, and general creativity of Minnesota along with our love of winter and our

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Lindsay displays her heart-fish at the Catch Your Limit Shanty

tradition of putting little houses out on frozen lakes, I was so happy to introduce it to my lovely Californian for the first time.  

 

Arriving as a light snow fell down from the late February skies, we were overwhelmed by the vibrant, active colony of art shanties set up on the beach this year. We first stopped in at the Catch Your Limit shanty, which seemed an appropriate place to start! Exploring the tradition of ice fishing with memoir comics and art fish, we got to experience a little of the classic, 1960s Minnesota experience. Lee wrote a comic and Lindsay made a cute, heart scaled fish. After pausing inside the Aurora Shanty to view the solar powered light show inside the darkened shack, calling to mind the shifting night displays of the Aurora Borealis.

 

img_20160228_115408The occult cat themed teeter totter, the Ouijatotter Shanty allowed us to predict the future and answer pressing questions in the most fun, childlike way imaginable! Lindsay was relieved to learn that her cat would in fact survive his upcoming surgery, which partially true, as the surgery was deemed unnecessary the following day. Speaking of childlike, we then worked off some energy in the Dance Shanty, with its manic “forever young” vibe, Lee, Lindsay and I explored our inner children and displayed our great dance moves! Not many other places can I feel so free to just dance.

Lured away from the dancing by the barking of a giant bike-operated seal, the kindly man driving the cute and endearing sea creature gave us a ride over the colony to the Matoska Tonka hut. Inside, we explored the Dakota heritage of the region, learning the pronunciation of the Dakota words for local towns. Matoska Tonka, for instance, means “big white bear.”

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view from Seal bike!

All that dancing made us a bit hungry and parched, so we next stopped in a couple of what became our favorite shanties of the year; the Botanical ShanTea and the Chef Shanty. Lindsay and I were talking about foraging wild food earlier in the week and Lee and I have always been great devotees of tea, so this was quite an enjoyable stop for all three of us. The pair of wild, herbal tisanes harvested from local weeds the curators of the ShanTea offered us were very unique; each representing a season; we had spring stinging nettle (an almost buttery, light flavor) and the chamomile like flavor of the autumnal goldenrods. Little hot cups of refreshing herbal beverages made for a great stop in the cozy and cutely decorated shanty. Next, we stopped in the Chef Shanty to experience some delicious home crafted snacks expertly prepared and described by local chefs from the Third Bird. Pickled eggs, beets,and cauliflower were served up along with a flight of vinegar shrubs, old fashioned fruit drinks made with a hint of vinegar (all the rage these days), which could be mixed with “gin, gin, or gin.” The recipes are shared on one of the chef’s blog, Eat on the Loose, so check it out!

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Awaiting some stinging nettle tea (photo courtesy of Lindsay Cameron)

Finally, we again expressed our creativity in the AstroLounge, learning about our astrological signs and posting wishes under our appropriate zodiac. It seemed that several participants’ greatest wish was only that the world of Pokemon could be real. If only. In the PeaceTrain Shanty, we created our own works of art to take home thanks to the printmaking supplies and stamps created by the artists. A lovely way to finish up the day.

 

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Displaying some works of art from the PeaceTrain (photo courtesy of Lindsay Cameron)

While, due to the shift from the ice to the shore, we could not experience all that the Art Shanty Projects had to offer this year (several were unfortunately locked up due to their land locked status), it was still a great experience. I am hoping that the shanties return to the lake next winter and we can spend more time walking on water.

 

 

Crashed Ice St. Paul, 2016


It was a busy weekend with a lot of fun things going on, so readers can look forward to some new entries this week. 

To start us off, on Saturday Lindsay and I witnessed the craziness of Red Bull Crashed Ice, the yearly extreme sports extravaganza held under the shadow of St. Paul Cathedral. Consisting of the ice cross downhill world championships, after events in Quebec, Germany, and Finland, the icy track sprang up at the base of the cathedral and twisted down the hill towards downtown. Pretty impressive! 

While Lindsay has seen previous years, this was my first time witnessing this wild ride. While neither of us are fans of sports or sporting events, the manic nature of the sport of ice cross made it quite a spectacle. On an unseasonably spring-like late February evening, we strolled down Selby towards the cathedral as the various bars and restaurants prepared for the festivities. Local craft beers and snacks were on offer to passerbys along the street; we had some Russian style tea and Russian grog, a cinnamon-infused pear rum drink from Moscow on the Hill. Nothing like walking down the street towards a huge crowd bearing an alcoholic beverage disguised as a hot drink! (Well, it was hot).

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We arrived early to get a good spot and the Cathedral Hill neighborhood was already packed, with food trucks offering doughnuts, and plenty of free beef jerky (plus unethical sasquatch abuse) and Red Bull for sale. As the sun sank below the cathedral, the announcers crowed that we were currently standing in the best crowd in the entire world! Debatable, but the crowd was  pretty enthusustic! There was a bit of a US versus Canada vibe going on, due to the hosts, one American and one Canadian, and the fight for dominance between local St. Paulite Cameron Naasz and Canadian Scott Croxxall for the men’s title.

Plenty of Canadian flags were on display in the crowd in the slow lead up to the actual beginning of the competitions. Following from the results of the previous day’s time trials, 16 women and 64 men would compete in the years finals on the 27th. Hailing from backgrounds as diverse as hockey, speed skating, and figure skating (are there any other sports involving ice skating?), the groups were raring to tackle the track and the audience was eager to watch them try. Groups of four skaters representing a dozen or so countries launched themselves down the track, careening down the icy slopes hills, jumps, and curves and often falling over (to which the crowd would respond with gasps of awed reverence). Quite breathtaking, really. As befitting a sports event, there was plenty of drinking, screaming, and yelling in the audience and strained interviews from the athletes, but no one seemed to be taking it too seriously. This may have been the reason behind the rather unfortunate choice in musical interludes for the women’s segment, which Lindsay noted with disgust to be The Beastie Boy’s 1986 song “Girls.” Upon the return of the men, the music switched over to Metallica. Yep! 

Having seen enough crashes on ice and wintery skating action, we fought our way back through the crowd to escape, pausing to have some delicious honey hot chocolate from Mademoiselle Miel, which really helped to warm us up as the night got a little chilly. Sipping the rich, smooth, warm chocolate, we regarded the fervent shouting of some local street preachers, present to inform the crowds of people eager to watch the icy competition that they were going to hell. Another sign of spring, perhaps? In any case, it was an experience and it might be fun to see it again next year! In the end, the local hero, Cameron Naasz, prevailed, this time.