Summer Fun 2018

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Northern Spark begins, June 2018- photo courtesy of Lindsay Cameron

It’s been a fun summer, but busy – but that’s another story. We didn’t get to go on as many fun adventures this year, but we did manage to attend a few favorites and a couple new ones, as well. As the Minnesota summer ends and the autumn, my favorite time of year, begins, I thought I’d review my summer in MSP.

We again attended the Pride Dabbler, which I always enjoy. As part of the exciting Twin Cities Pride Fest celebrations, it packs Loring Park with all manner of GLBT inspired beers and people excited to try them. Truly a worthy celebration of our state’s innovative brewing scene and strong GLBTQ+ community, it is the most fun and interesting of the beer dabblers, I feel. I always appreciate the chance to return to my old neighborhood for a bit as well. This year we enjoyed cool local all trans band 4thCurtis perform. Check out my account of my first visit here.  

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Pride Dabbler 2018- Photo Courtesy of Lindsay Cameron

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Stop on the Weird Nicollet tour, the – photo courtesy of Lindsay Cameron

After missing last year, we were excited to again experience The Northern Spark, among the Twin Cities most unique and always surprising art events of the year. This year, the spark took on downtown Minneapolis, at the Commons outside the ominous, looming form of US Bank Stadium (death bringer to birds, crowder of the train lines), and all down the newly renovated Nicollet Mall (finally!). While, unlike previous years, the festival did not stay out all night, the more compact location allowed participants to conveniently to experience more of the events and performances, though it also felt a bit more crowded than in prior years. My favorite was the super awesome Weird Nicollet Walking Tour, presented by a local urban geographer guiding us through some of the weird and lost history of Downtown Nicollet Avenue, from the largest gathering of tap dancers in world history, to the old skid row, to the first skyway.  I blogged about my experiences in 2014, 2015, and 2016 as well.

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Open Streets Hiawatha

We checked out a few of the Open Streets Minneapolis festivals we had not attended before; Hiawatha and Franklin. It was cool to go to two of them this year! These events are always fun, allowing pedestrians and non motorized vehicles to take to some prominent Minneapolis thoroughfares to experience the city and its neighborhoods in a much more immediate way, interacting with the community and environment up close.

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Open Streets- Lake and Hiawatha

Lake and Minnehaha was very cool, delving into the Longfellow neighborhood, and we began by enjoying a few drinks at the Longfellow Craft Beverage District. Right outside awesome local indie bookstore, Moon Palace, the local distilleries, cidery, and brewery Lawless, Du Nord, Urban Forage, and Arbeiter Brewing offered some delicious and refreshing libations.

After our enjoying our drinks (especially the cocktails from Lindsay’s favorite, Lawless), it was nice to wander down Hiawatha and check out some of the weird vintage and antique shops full of strange and bizarre items that have popped up along the avenue, ending with some interesting dumplings at Dumpling.

A few weeks later, we attended the Franklin festival, walking down Franklin in the heart of the Seward neighborhood and enjoying baked goods from Mon Petite Cheri, learning more about pedestrian concerns in Minneapolis, and enjoying the historical hidden gem of Milwaukee Avenue. Back in 2016, we explored the Lake Street Open Streets, and in 2015 I visited Central Avenue in Northeast.

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Open Streets Franklin

Finally, we returned to the Minnesota State Fair for it’s busiest day ever! In hindsight, maybe not the best choice. In spite of the oppressive heat, I had never seen crowds so huge, which crawled to a tangled mess whenever they tried to bypass the huge lines of people trying to grab one of this year’s touted new concessions food. Turned out the French Meadow’s “Earth Wings” were pretty good, but we were slightly disappointed by the smoked ice cream at Blue Moon Dine-In Theater. After riding, per tradition, the Old Mill (surprisingly not crowded) we went for some beers at the Minnesota Craft Brewers Guild, before trying out a couple of state fair exclusive specialty beers at O’Gara’s. Busing back home, we tried to cool off and unwind from the hoards we squeezed our way through. My visit in 2016 can be found here

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our cornucopia of State Fair goodies, 2018- photo courtesy of Lindsay Cameron

As the days and nights cool off, I’m looking forward to some autumnal adventures soon!

 

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2017 Highlight: Night in the Children’s Museum

This was a new experience!

Last September, Lindsay and I were playing our weeknight trivia down at Emmett’s Pub on Grand, one of Trivia Mafia’s many locales. We’ve kind of gotten a little obsessed with them over the last year, but that’s a topic for a future entry in MSP Adventure Time. That Tuesday, we happened to win third place and claimed our prize; two tickets to the first ever 21 and over night at the Minnesota Children’s Museum!

I have vague memories of visiting the Children’s Museum in St. Paul as a kid years ago, though by this time, I was more into the dinosaurs at the Science Museum of Minnesota or the dioramas at the Bell Museum than the early childhood hands on educational activities at the MCM, so I never really thought much of them over the years. As a childfree adult, there was no reason to, I guess.

22089416_10155723047559322_1693943889041471595_nHowever, the museum recently expanded and built up a lot of cool stuff, like cool interactive firetrucks and multi story climbing towers and ball launchers that would appeal to the grown ups as well. Perhaps by putting together this Adults@Play: 21+ Museum Takeover Event, they wanted to share these new amenities for play with a greater audience. What better way to get the word out about all this new stuff than to allow adults to tromp through the place without feeling self conscious? Maybe next time, they will bring their kids!

 

It was a very fun evening, in any case, and I really appreciated the chance to see the vibrant, cool space in downtown St. Paul, from it’s cozy outdoor play area to the rooftop, and just run around like I didn’t have anything to worry about, while enjoying some adult drinks, of course.

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Throughout the museum, there were cool things to look at, and it seemed the grown up, or maybe “Kidult” attendees were having a good time, thanks to such activities as a fun improv game from the Theater of Public Policy and arts and crafts brought to you by Can Can Wonderland (see previous entry). Lindsay and I definitely had a lot of fun with the latter, crafting our own really cool magnets we totally have on our refrigerator.

Keep an eye out, ‘cause they’re planning another one for this spring. Or you could take your kids any day and miss out on having as much fun yourself!

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Some cool magnets we made from vintage books and magazines!

2017 Highlight: Honeymoon to Alaska

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Margerie Glacier, Glacier Bay National Park

I’m wrapping up the last few highlights of 2017 in the next couple weeks, and then hopefully embarking on some new things for the new year.

Over the summer, Lindsay and I embarked on an adventure neither of us had ever attempted, one that would take us far from Minneapolis and St. Paul and onto the waves of the Pacific Ocean. For our honeymoon, we went on an Alaskan Cruise.

During our trip to Madison, we’d come up with a nerdy little challenge for ourselves, a goal to visit every state capitol building over the course of our travels through the United States, so we reasoned a cruise would be a great way to visit Juneau. Basically, we planned the whole trip around this, though seeing the glaciers while they’re still here had been a longtime goal of Lindsay’s.  

The cruise we opted for embarked from Seattle, and made four ports of call: Juneau, Skagway, and Ketchikan, Alaska, along with Victoria, British Columbia, and a day spent traversing the waters of Glacier Bay National Park. We would, in essence, be recreating a sea voyage to the Klondike Gold Rush.   

It was an experience.

I think I will leave out the name of the cruise ship we embarked on in order to avoid offering any indictment or endorsement of any certain company, especially given that we soon learned that perhaps cruising may not be our favored mode of vacation.

Don’t get us wrong, it was an awesome trip, sailing the rainy, foggy bays, channels, and inlets of the Southeastern Alaskan panhandle, enjoying the majestic landscapes of the wilderness and the quirky towns cut off by road from the mainland. These were all amazing. We saw humpback whales, orcas, sea otters, harbor seals, and, way off in the distance, grizzly bears. And of course, lots of salmon. The ship itself, though, felt a little confining.

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Fog on Glacier Bay

In all, it felt like a rather limiting way to travel, having no control over our arrival in port and being forced to curb our explorations to the hours ashore allotted to us. On the one hand, on some stops we had to cram everything we wanted to do into a few awkwardly timed hours, where others we had more than enough time to wander aimlessly. The guided excursions set aside at each port seemed overly expensive and restrictive, and for the most part, we explored on our own once we were able to escape the ship. Most of the trip seemed to consist of relaxing on board with a book, trying to fight off seasickness and the crowds, availing ourselves of our free drinks, though unlimited booze and the wind and waves did not always go well together.

We didn’t really feel like we fit in with the typical cruise crowd and it was hard to find a quiet place to hang out outside of our cabins, though we did find a few cozy spots hidden away at the top or bottom of the fourteen level ship. We may have been antisocial, but it turned out for the best.

Having not much to discuss with other passengers but, apparently, as one fellow passenger waiting in line attempted to engage with us, our assumed shared love of Trump. Incredulously, I could only deny this, prompting more attempts to engage in conversation. What a horrible way to make small talk! I can only assume the camo hatted gentleman in question was mocking us, but it was disturbing to say the least.

In spite of the feeling of being cooped up a bit too much, though, we had a lot of fun times. Here are some of our recommended stops during the trip.

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Enjoying a few beers at Cloudburst Brewing

 

Seattle was a great place to begin our excursion, especially as we got to hang out with my old friend Aaron, who moved there a couple years ago. One of my favorite places to visit, I had not been in town since 2014, so took full advantage of our time there. On Aaron’s suggestion, we had some great wood oven fired pizza and local beers at the Masonry, in the Queen Anne neighborhood north of downtown. We had a couple more great beers at Cloudburst Brewing and then walked down to Pike Place Market to enjoy cocktails at the Zig Zag Cafe, the popularizer of one of favorite cocktails, the Last Word.

 

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Leaving Seattle

The next morning, we boarded our ship and watched the Seattle skyline recede as we sailed up Puget Sound northwards.

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Checking out the Alaska State Capitol Building

Juneau was our first port of call, and we sailed into the harbor on a foggy, rainy day, not an unusual experience in a southeastern Alaskan summer. Juneau, the reason we went on this particular cruise route, definitely did not disappointment, even with the limited hours we got to explore it. We managed to squeeze a lot in here! Perched on a channel, the town huddles in between the water and the mountains, the quaint streets bustling with shops. Not unlike the other ports of call, the area close to the docks is dominated by jewelry shops, places to buy fudge, and other venues catering to cruise tourists. Of course, you can’t bring any food items back on board with you, so best eat them fast!

 

 

Only accessible via sea or air, Juneau is the most isolated state capital (aside from Honolulu), and it still seems to have kind of an off the beaten path feeling. We walked up the hill to tour the Alaska State Capitol building, a six story art deco building constructed as a federal office in the 1930s, before statehood. Very few people were around, so we wandered the legislative chambers on our own, examining the decorations.  

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View of Juneau from Mount Roberts

When we left the capitol building, it was less rainy out, so we took the touristy Mount Roberts Tramway, an aerial tram that conveys visitors up the side of Mount Roberts for great views and hiking, through lush rainforests and alpine tundra. Definitely one of the trips highlights. Upon returning to sea level, we enjoyed some lovely cocktails at Amalga Distillery.

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Arctic Brotherhood Hall in Skagway, Alaska

 

The next port was Skagway, a well preserved, 1890s boom town that served as the gateway to the Klondike Gold Rush in Canada’s Yukon Territory, where thousands hoped to strike it rich only to lose it all. Many historical buildings are preserved here, as much of the town is a national historic park. We arrived for the nicest weather of our trip, sunny skies and relatively balmy temperatures with only a few minutes of rain all day. We spent hours wandering from the Union, surviving brothel buildings, bars, general stores, and other places prospective miners would prepare for the crushing journey inland to the Klondike gold fields.  

 

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The Coast Range as viewed from the White Pass and Yukon Route

 

Here, we took our one excursion of the trip, a ride on the White Pass and Yukon Route narrow-gauge railroad up into the mountains into British Columbia, where prospective miners had to lug a full year of supplies to get through customs, leaving thousands of dead horses behind. It was a fun trek away from the ocean for a few hours. 

Back at sea, we took a leisurely voyage through the grandeur of Glacial Bay National Monument (described earlier in this essay), even more majestic cloaked in rain, mist, and foggy conditions, before rocking and bobbing into our next destination, Ketchikan.

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Ketchikan Creek, Ketchikan, Alaska

 

In the port of Ketchikan, a fishing town also isolated from the mainland, we braved pouring rain to explore the quirky, waterlogged streets and forest paths. We walked above the rushing torrent of Ketchikan Creek on the boardwalk of Creek Street, through the fringes of the Tongass National Forest to the Totem Heritage Center.  

 

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Lindsay returns to the Miniature Museum in Victoria, British Columbia

Our last stop was Victoria, British Columbia, where we wish we had more time. It did happen to be the first time Lindsay and I were out of the country together. We just had an evening there, making a whirlwind tour of the Royal British Columbia Museum, which had some really cool recreations of historic Victoria streets as well as an exhaustive collection of indigenous culture. Another highlight was the wonderfully kitschy Miniature World, the type of weird little place that I love to track down. Lindsay had wonderful memories from her visit as a child, so it was very cool to experience it with her as an adult for the first time. Packed full of tiny dioramas featuring scenes from history, fantasy, and the future (as depicted by mid 20th century toy sized models). This is a piece of Canadiana I was happy not to have missed, and it was nice it was open later in the evening for our visit. Boarding the  boat for the last time, we began heading back to the start of the trip.   

 

After we arrived back in Seattle, we were kind of glad to back on dry ground for awhile, and returned to the daily grind of our lives in Minnesota. Just forty seven state capitals left to go!

2017 Highlights: Can Can Wonderland

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Hitting the links at Can Can Wonderland: Photo courtesy of Lindsay Cameron

Just opened in 2017, Can Can Wonderland was one of the most fun, weird, and wild nights out I have gotten the chance to experience over the last year. Buried deep under an old can factory in the industrial zone in the Midway area of St. Paul, it is one of those new uses for decaying industrial infrastructure that is making the city so interesting.

After hearing about it early in the year, Lindsay and I were excited to finally make it there with a group of friends for my birthday last August, and it was definitely worth the wait. In this case, literally, as the place was so popular we had to wait several hours to get into the much anticipated artist-designed mini golf course the place is becoming most well known for.  From what I’ve heard from others, arriving the earlier the better is advisable to get checked in for minigolf, as we discovered as we were the very last group to make it through the links late one Thursday evening after getting signed up before seven.

On the other hand, there is plenty stuff to of keep you occupied while you’re waiting, including vintage arcade machines, a variety of tasty comfort food (I recommend the grilled cheese), and delicious, bizarre cocktails. The blue cheese infused gin “Sailing the Seas of Cheese,” for instance, was a refreshingly creamy mix served in the gaping maw of a shark shaped mug, complete with fake blood. Wow! And, it is was quite tasty as well. Of course, Lindsay ordered me a wonderful Happy Birthday cocktail as well, a delicious birthday cakey drink which was served with a sparkler and a party popper let off by the bartender.

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Receiving a birthday sparkler from the bartender at Can Can Wonderland: Photo courtesy of Lindsay Cameron

In addition, another new 2017 brewery, BlackStack Brewing, shares the same location, in on old warehouse upstairs from Can Can’s subterranean factory space, allowing you to sip a few pints of Punch Press Belgian ale or Spare Parts dark lager while waiting for your queue in the Can Can line. The comfy, low key brewery offers plenty of seating and board games, too.

As for the mini golf, it was well worth the wait. Now, I haven’t played much mini golf for a number of years, so I was a fair bit rusty when the time came to hit the course. To be honest, I ended up swinging wildly at the ball and didn’t get very far in terms of progress. Maybe the beer and the cocktails had something to do with that, but the elaborate and innovative backdrops certainly made even losing fun. In addition to the cool surroundings, the whimsical holes allow for any number of strategies for getting your ball through the obstacles- attempt a delicate maneuver to roll it right up the tongue of the Blue Toad, or try to knock it over the pond? Take the bridge or brave the tornado in the Natural Disaster? My favorite was trying not to get the ball lost under the couch in Gramma’s Living Room, packed full with kitschy bric a brac and vintage knick knacks. After all eighteen holes, I was pretty tired.

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Taking a rest on Gramma’s Couch at Can Can Wonderland: Photo courtesy of Lindsay Cameron

Thankfully, we were responsible and came via Lyft, though on a less hot, muggy day, Can Can Wonderland is a convenient fifteen minute walk from the Fairview Avenue Station on the Greenline. I’m looking forward to making another expedition here.

2017 Highlights: Capitol Restoration

 

 

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June 2017

Last summer, to much fanfare, the Minnesota State Capitol building completed its long standing renovations and reopened in a cool celebration.

Lindsay and I had spent quite a bit of time gathering with large groups of people to voice our discontent with the way things were going in 2017, assembling before the impressive marble dome encased with scaffolding and trying to show that the people of Minnesota do not support the policies being enacted in our national capital or our state, from misogyny, to environmental destruction, to the white supremacy endemic in our state and nation. As “the people’s house” the Minnesota State Capitol is a natural location for protests, demonstrations, and other examples of the people making their voices known, even if those inside on occasion don’t see fit to listen.   

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So, after four years, when the $310 million restoration of the iconic Minnesota landmark was completed, the state invited the public to a weekend celebration with a lot of fun events scheduled. In spite of the busy summer, we made it down on the first evening as the sun set on the city of St. Paul, walking across the capitol grounds and checking out the festivities. There would be music performances celebrating Minnesota artists, local craft breweries sharing their products, and fireworks, but I just wanted to get inside.

20729439_10155590866479322_4458450447497533408_nAs I had not visited the interior of the dome for ages, the opportunity to explore the ornate interior of the capitol building excited us, and we took advantage of one of the free tours of the government edifice. The docents led us throughout the maze-like, expansive building and we enjoyed awesome behind the scenes views of the state senate, house, and supreme court (including the justices’ retiring room, rarely viewable by the public, which Lindsay was pleased to note had the exact same phone as the one in her state worker cubicle).   

 

IMG_3783Along the way, we learned many interesting facts of the 1905 Cass Gilbert designed building, including the fact that the Minnesota State Capitol’s unsupported marble dome is the second largest in the world, after St. Peter’s in Rome. Pretty impressive.

It was nice also to see the state responding to the concerns of people and relocating some artwork with stereotypical, historically inaccurate, and hurtful depictions of indigenous Americans  inside the capitol and, both the guide and the literature discussed the reasons for this change. In the end, we climbed up the innumerable stairs to stand on top of the capitol building, where we could observe the gold Quadriga sculpture up close as well as the skyline of both St. Paul and Minneapolis. It was a majestic end to a cool exploration.

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2017 Highlights: At Home With the Monsters and Mythic Creatures: Dragons, Unicorns, and Mermaids

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The imposing doors leading to Guillermo del Toro’s traveling exhibit at the Minneapolis Institute of Art

Last spring, for those interested in the weird, monstrous, and bizarre, two Twin Cities museums definitely had us covered, drawing in special exhibits from each coast. After the cold winter, it was fun to have such escapist fare to check out.

At the Minneapolis Institute of Art, an exhibition put together by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art was featured, Guillermo del Toro: At Home With the Monsters. MIA was one of three lucky stops in North America for the fascinating, exhaustive exhibition of pieces collected by the idiosyncratic and innovative director, Guillermo del Toro. It was really kind of breathtaking.

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One morbid piece among many!

While I’m not a superfan, I have tended to be drawn into many of del Toro’s cinematic visions, working with horrific yet beautiful images, intricate and eerie, drawing deeply from mythology and literature. This is true especially of Pan’s Labyrinth (El laberinto del fauno). I was eager to check this exhibit out, and we were lucky enough to get in as part of one of MIA’s fun Third Thursday events, enjoying horror themed cocktails and the music of local band, Graveyard Club, before braving the ornate portals into the exhibition itself.

The collection was packed full of artifacts and works which both inspired Guillermo del Toro in his deep well of imagination, along with background information about the director, from his childhood in Guadalajara to the literary and artistic traditions he drew from. Divided into areas by theme, it seemed that at every turn, some new cool, disturbing, entrancing, or breathtaking discovery was to be found; eighteenth century models of diseased organs, vintage comics, props and full sized sculptures of some of del Toro’s more infamous creations.

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Encountering fandom’s racist uncle

A creepily life-like statue of H.P. Lovecraft, fittingly displayed among the monsters, startled many exhibit viewers with his intense gaze (if not his deeply disturbing personal views). Like del Toro, I too found myself drawn in by the author’s rich, eldritch writing but horrified by his philosophies, which I write about in more detail here. All in all, At Home with the Monsters was a richly rewarding and engaging exhibit, even for those new to the director (though those steeped in his creations were, of course, more engaged).

Across the river at the Science Museum of Minnesota, the special exhibit on Mythic Creatures: Dragons, Unicorns, and Mermaids was also an interesting, informative exploration into the science behind the mythology of such legendary creatures. Put together by the American Museum of Natural History in New York, this one was a bit more geared for children but still had some interesting tidbits and bits of new information for adult fans of strange creatures, too. Organized around the creatures of the water, the air, and the land, coupled with huge, impressive statues, the exhibit detailed the biological, historical, and literary origins of such mythological beings, hoaxes and folklore, pop culture and high culture. All in all, it was a fun exhibit and a fun accompaniment to “At Home with the Monsters.”

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It’s a kraken! At the Science Museum of Minnesota

Now that the cold times have returned, staying at home and traveling through movies, books, and other things is definitely a smart way to survive a Minnesota winter.