Most Popular Posts of 2015

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A hazy, noirish night in downtown Minneapolis.

Well, winter has finally come to Minnesota, and just in time for the New Year. I’m pretty happy about that, myself!

Wow, it is sure weird that the year is almost over, though! I feel I had a pretty good year here in the Twin Cities and did some really fun stuff I shared with people on MSP-Adventure Time. I thought a bit of retrospective would be in order, so today I will be sharing what turned out to be the most popular posts here on MSP Adventure Time for 2015. I’ll list the top 6 most visited posts, to recognize the coming year of 2016! It seems that they all come from back in the summer, so as the snow starts to pile down on us and the temperatures plummet, take a look back at times when you could ride your bike in Minneapolis with no pants!

#1: House of Balls and the Walker: Imbuing the Everyday with the Bizarre

This one came as a bit of a surprise to me, but for some reason, this entry from way back in May really took off in mid November, rocketing it to the top! I had a fun time checking out these awesome art events as the beginning of summer showed up, though I’m not sure why my exploration of the superb House of Balls and the Walker’s last cool modernist exhibit before their current cool modernist exhibit became so popular this fall.

#2: First Ever Northeast Night Market

It’s easy to see while this one was popular! While I only managed to go once this year, the first ever Northeast Night Market this summer was a blast! I was not the only one who thought so, judging by the ginormous lines that popped up at Bauhaus Brew Labs soon after it opened, making it very difficult to get in if you didn’t arrive a half hour early. This prompted the organizers to issue tickets in the future. I’m hoping it appears again next year!

#3: Freedom From Pants 2015

This has become a Minneapolis tradition, and I had a lot of fun during my first time participating in this hedonistic celebration of cycling, summer, and other fun things! Judging by the stats, the photos here have been particularly popular, for some reason.  

#4: The Floating Library 2015

This might have been my favorite event I went to all year! Kayaking out onto a summer lake, mooring to a cool library raft, and browsing all manner of innovative, interesting zines, books, craft books, and other artistic literary forms, how could summer get better? Maybe I can have something to contribute for 2016? Consider it a goal!

#5: Japanese Lantern Lighting Festival 2015

The second year I’ve recorded my visit to the annual Obon Festival held at Como Park in August, I have now actually been to Japan as well, so I’ll look forward to getting another taste next summer.

#6: Autoptic Festival

A free festival celebrating independent cartoonists, artists, zinesters, and other practitioners of “sequential art,” this energetic program attracted some of the top comic artists and writers from across the country; Gabrielle Bell, Jillian Tamaki, Charles Burns, among others! I can’t wait to see who is on the roster for next year, and maybe I’ll be able to put aside the two full days for it!  

 

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We Have a State Photo?

The colored version, the kind that hung in my grandparent’s dining room, painted over by Eric Enstrom’s daughter Rhoda Nyberg

So, MNopedia, that great resource for Minnesota history online, has just posted my second article, and only today it was reposted by MinnPost as well, so I’m pretty well chuffed! This was an interesting (that well worn Minnesota term) topic for me to research. Watching the response the article online so far has been interesting too, so I’m posting a little bit of a personal reflection behind my research, stuff a tad too subjective for a peer reviewed article.

I first wrote on Grace, Minnesota’s official state photograph, for a class in Mythology in American History, and much mythology surrounds this “painting” after the ninety or so years it has existed. A quick and informative look at how myths operate in modern American culture can be seen in this episode of PBS’ Idea Channel. As a total agnostic coming from a Lutheran background, I had a distinct mixture of feelings as I delved into the history behind Grace. As I researched, I discovered that the story behind it, while ostensibly simple, was filled with rumors, hearsay, and myths. Like many, I associated the picture with relatives, in my case, my grandparents. Like many, it seems, I had taken the image to be an oil painting, rather than the skilled photograph it is. What does it say about us that this is Minnesota’s official photographic representation of who we are as a state?

It was, for years, a fixture at my grandparents place. The picture hung in a place of prominence on the dining room wall of their tiny, musty house in Winona, Minnesota. As the bluffs loomed over the Mississippi, the dingy old picture to us loomed over our grandparent’s lives. Like the squeaky guest beds and lefse for breakfast, the painting was emblematic of our visits to them; their favorite picture exemplified everything we understood about my grandparents. It was an extension of their personalities and a favorite topic of conversation for Grandma. Grandpa had less to say about it, but, then, he had less to say about everything. Still, it had to have meant something to him, as he had the final say in everything around the house. He had no doubt hung the painting there himself soon after moving into the old house. It remained in the same place for decades, beginning sometime in the sixties, it is certain, until my grandfather passed away in 2005. My Grandmother took it with her to her new apartment, where it again took prominence in the decor, hung above the dining table. It remains there today, slightly faded, a little the worse for the wear with scattered water damage from some unremembered spill but still a centerpiece in the room. Where did it come from?

The year was 1918. The United States of America had finally entered the Great War, what would only later, after yet another war, be called World War I. Even in the middle of the isolated northern forest the events occurring in the killing fields of Europe were striking close to home. In the village of Bovey, Minnesota, a mining town in the heart of the Iron Range far to the north of Winona, a Swedish born photographer name Eric Enstrom attempted to capture a picture for the time and end up creating an image of the Minnesota experience. Charles Wilden, an elderly, homeless man peddling shoe scrapers stopped by one day trying to sell his wares. Something about the weathered, bearded Swede trying to sell him orthopedic devices inspired the small town photographer, and he asked Wilden to sit for him with a few props. The resulting photo, which Enstrom later called “Grace,” captured the sentiments of the region. Something about it seemed to speak to the Midwestern soul. At least, this is the story as told be Enstrom himself, as other reports list the photo as not having been taken until 1920, two years after the end of the Great War. Still, the connection worked.

Enstrom, and his daughter, Rhoda Nyberg, painted over the original photograph to give it the classic look of an oil painting, which only increased its popularity. By 1926, Wilden had sold his image to Enstrom for the grand total of five dollars. Enstrom, in turn, sold the photograph to Augsburg Publishing House, the largest Lutheran publisher in the world, who printed hundreds of thousands of copies over the years. The photo is now in the public domain, but Augsburg, among other printers, continue to sell it. The eventual fate of the homeless Wilden remains, in this story, unknown.

During my childhood, I associated the picture with my grandparents alone, having little reason to think it existed outside of their lives. However, I began to see the same picture elsewhere; an old Lutheran church in Iowa, a small town restaurant in Wisconsin, the bookstore of a small religious college in Minnesota. Describing it to friends and acquaintances throughout Minnesota, it seemed that many people could recall that the same picture hung in the homes of many of their own parents and grandparents as well. What was it about this picture that seemed to appeal to several generations of Midwesterner?

It all came to a head in 2002, when the Minnesota State Legislature, under Governor Jesse Ventura himself, established Grace as the state’s official photograph. Like our state drink (milk) and our state muffin (blueberry), we would now have a state photo to represent us, and it was a photo of an old white man praying. I was surprised to find very little controversy regarding the choice, in spite of the overt Christian religious nature of the photograph, and a legislator said it was a simply a picture of an “elderly person showing his feelings.” I must admit, I am not entirely comfortable with the message this sends. It is obvious, after looking through the many comments in the social media accounts of the article, that for many Minnesotans, it remains an important part of their lives, a meaning that goes beyond the societal into the personal; they see their own families and their own history in this image. For many, including myself, the guy in the picture represents nothing less than their own relatives. Some, in fact, had the childhood impression that he actually was related to them or to someone close to them, a grandfather or a family friends’ uncle. 

Like all photographs, this one was setup to convey a specific feeling  The “Grace” picture was carefully crafted by Eric Enstrom to put forward a very specific type of feeling; a spirit of religious faith, thankfulness, and humbleness that many European immigrants to Minnesota wanted to present of themselves. Enstrom said “this man did not have much in the way of earthly goods, but he has more than most people because he has a thankful heart.” The rumors that surround Wilden himself, though, paint a different picture; that of a shiftless alcoholic, a womanizing petty criminal known for breaking up families from Moorhead to St. Paul. Perhaps an older version of the man with whom my great grandmother was supposed to have run away. Not exactly what you would call a “holy” man, but in fact homeless man who signed his very image away for the paltry sum of five bucks. Interesting how such a conflicted figure, a man known for such cruelty, living his life in poverty with substance abuse issues, has become so many people’s vision of Minnesotan faith. Now, he’s everyone’s grandpa.    

Honestly, I cannot say I ever liked the picture. While I wouldn’t have been able to express this during childhood, it always struck me as being rather depressing. On the other hand, it fascinated me, and it had an almost Medieval effect upon my mood. That old guy just sitting there alone at his table, eating what was no doubt stale bread and gruel, it was certainly lonely. Even in my church going days, such fervent prayer as evoked by this man was alien to me. What does it say about the culture of the state that this is now our official photograph, the official representative of our place and its people? We’re white, obviously, but also old. We’re devout and Protestant (I wonder if the picture has the same impact among Catholics that it does among Lutherans). We’re not fancy. In other words, humble. Even the few possessions we own, we give thanks for, because it could always get worse, you know.

Local RPG Flavor Promotion: Fantasy Renaissance Adventure Modules from Cut to the Chase Games

The last couple days have been wet, moody previews of what is to come in the next couple months as we transition into the long winter season here in Minnesota. Perfect times to grab some hot tea or coffee, a good book, and get comfortable indoors.

Perhaps that’s why the Twin Cities are such a hot bed of nerdy pursuits, as well. I keep meaning to write about some of the history of board games, RPGs, and other weird geek stuff in the area, which go back decades. I can definitely cop to enjoying quite a bit of time in the dead of winter or the dog days of summer, passing the time with a game of D&D in a cozy library or cool basement. When things weren’t happening outside, you could always go on adventures inside. Of course, my memories of the pen and paper role playing games don’t go as far as many people. Is there something about the weather in the Upper Midwest that lends itself to this? I’ll definitely devote more time to this on a later post.

So, in the meantime, feel free to check out what my friend, Weird Dave, who appeared in the last entry, is working on with his company Cut to the Chase Games. He just launched his Fantasy Renaissance Adventure module series for 5th edition on Kickstarter, the latest iteration of D&D, and a variety of other fantasy rpg systems. These adventure scenarios for “low-level” characters (great for beginners) are geared to recapture that nostalgic, cozy feeling, though with a nice, modern kick in my opinion; much fun was had during the playtesting, fun that really did recapture those feelings of exploration and adventure back in the day. I think at least three gnomes died in the course of the first scenario, and one or two humans, but in the end victory was ours!

Yep, promotion, promotion. Judging by the number of “likes” I get, this is a-okay on WordPress! Maybe even toss a few gold pieces his way too. Get it before it appears in the local game shops! Of course, I had been hesitant to join Kickstarter, as it could prove just too much a temptation to dig into- I’m now considering signing on to back three other projects!

Beer, Bikes, and Trains

The upcoming Rails and Ales event looks pretty fun, but I’ve been thinking of planning my own public transportation/bicycle pub crawl as well, perhaps for my birthday (which is coming up way too fast, maybe). While planning logistics, I noticed this very helpful article by Brian Martucci on MinnPost the other day, Pedals and Pints. Definitely interesting reading. Also, I might get some hands on experience for planning for biking and drinking at the NE Brewer’s Block Party, organized Sociable Cider Werks, this Sunday. Another Sunday bike ride into Northeast? Of course! Once I get things put together, I’ll report on how my particular bike/light rail pub crawl adventure works out!

Mountain Goats in Minneapolis

I’m going over to First Avenue this evening to catch probably my favorite band right now, The Mountain Goats. Originally slated for the Cedar Cultural Center, there was so much interest in the show, it was relocated to First Ave. While the Cedar seems a lot more intimate of a performance space, I’m definitely excited to see John Darnielle at the city’s most venerated music venue. Darnielle writes some of the most effecting, heart rending songs I’ve listened to so far, each song telling a complex and deep story. Their new album, Beat the Champ, deals with the seedy, raw world of professional wrestling. For those, like myself, who are less than educated about the complexities of the wrestling world, Chaz Kangas at the City Pages wrote a very interesting and informative annotated guide to the album, including some local connections in the song Luna. Glad to have this to mull over before the show.

The last time I saw John Darnielle was at Wits a couple years ago, with John Hodgman  so I’ve really been looking forward to it, and I’d highly recommend seeing The Mountain Goats any chance you get.

MNopedia Article

Wow, it’s been almost a month since I last posted! I had a better track record on writing about my Twin Cities adventures when I didn’t even live in the Twin Cities! It is not that have not been doing a lot of awesome stuff lately, it’s just, well, I’ve been doing a lot of awesome stuff lately and have been a bit overwhelmed about writing about it. Yeah, yeah, I know, excuses, excuses! I think you can look forward to several new updates in the next few days, though.

In the meantime, while living in greater Minnesota, I was able to do some fun research for a very interesting, not well known topic of Minnesota history, Julia Sears and the “Sears Rebellion” of the Mankato State Teachers College, 1873 for the people at MNopedia, the Minnesota Historical Society’s online encyclopedia of Minnesota. Recently, they published my work in the encyclopedia, and It’s pretty amazing to be included in such august company! Check it out! Just today, the article was reposted by MinnPost, an awesome online newspaper, so I’m feeling kind of beside myself. Thanks for sharing my work!

Look forward to more adventure coming shortly…

Farmer’s Market Recommendations courtesy of the Wake

Take a look at this article on Minneapolis’ hidden gem Farmers Market in the University of Minnesota’s student magazine, the Wake. Definitely puts me into a autumnal mood to see all of the fruits of the harvest available locally, and started getting me hungry as well. I have written in the past about the Mill City Farmer’s Market and the market at Midtown Global Market, but I have not been to the others. As may be evident in the course of my blog, the changing of the seasons, and the different seasonal produce that mark this change is one of my favorite aspects of living in Minnesota! Those beet sliders look delicious, and I need to grab some pumpkins for Halloween baked goods for the students at work, and for some pumpkin wine I’m thinking of starting up. I just started on some hard cider yesterday, so I’m feeling industrious! Thanks for the recommendations!

Intriguing Cities in Minnesota?

Over the last few weeks, Thought Catalog, the website “dedicated to stories and ideas” known for such cutting edge online literature as Tao Lin, Megan Boyle, and Marie Calloway, as well as some of the most appalling attempts at “satire” outside of a eighth grade libertarians English class (in addition to the requisite nostalgia and quarter life crisis based lists and essays) has been posting some really entertaining Minnesota based articles. These are in support of a new ebook, Bright Lights, Twin Cities published by local Twin Cities writers working with the creative writing blog, The Tangential. I find this project very inspirational as the local eccentricities and environment of the Twin Cities is a major wellspring from which my writing springs as well, and I put the ebook on my immediate reading list. After all, that is pretty much what I was attempting with this blog, trying to experience some of most adventurous things in this metropolis! Well, a little, anyway. As a follower of Thought Catalog, both for the interest pieces and to eye roll at some of the dumber ones, I noted with some pleasure the first I read, Becky Lang’s essay “Warning! You’re Not Minnesotan Until You’ve Put These 50 Things in Your Mouth!” (I am currently at only 18, but there’s nothing better than some great food recommendations!) I was soon happy to note that the list “The Ten Most Intriguing Cities in Greater Minnesota” by Jay Gabler has begun to spread throughout my Facebook and Twitter feeds as well.

Guess I have a confession to make here! I am actually living at the moment in a college town a little more than an hour and a half away from “the Cities,” and one that did not appear in the list of the ten most intriguing cities. Perhaps a fair observation. Seems like every weekend, I make it back to Minneapolis-St Paul, though, whether to visit friends, family, or just to take advantage of one or more of the awesome things that go on. Maybe I should try to strengthen my ties with my current town, but its not like its that far away and there is just so much stuff going on that can’t seem to help myself. Perhaps I should be attempting more adventure in my own environment as well as the environment of my youth? There are things to explore there as well…

Still, I really appreciated this list, also by Jay Gabler. Food for thought, food for thought.