Up to Date – September 20

Okay guys, I intended to write individual and detailed blog posts for a whole bunch of really great experiences I had this summer. But I’m sick, which always leads me to make rash decisions. Luckily for me, when I’m sick and online, the repercussions are only the cyber kind. So, decision: I refuse to put in the up front time it would take to get myself current, so I’m going to give you a nice little digest of the rest of my summer. Then we’re all going to agree to feel satisfied with my life and times up to the present. All in favor?

Quick succession of posts:

A train: throwback fun!

May: I went to the Spiral Jetty for my first time ever. The water was candy pink. My legs got salt-encrusted. Thanks for playing photo shoot, Mike! We also saw a train.

Me at the Spiral Jetty, Great Salt Lake.

Such an adorable party animal!

July 15: I went to the birthday party of this really adorable baby. For the record, Arjun throws the best parties!

I made this.

 

July 21: I participated in a Relief Society Cupcake War activity. I’d been eating leftover aristocrat heads all week, so I donated my cupcakes to charity (i.e., Desiree).

July 27: Lauren and I had been apartment hunting our brains out. We took a break at Cupcake, and it was exactly like every other cupcake boutique, except that the porch was all construction rubble.

August sometime: I ate at Acadia Cafe. They have these cookies that are baked with rays of heavenly glory and delivered fresh on an hourly basis by angels from on high. So melted-chocolatey good.

August 10: My little brother Steven got a cell phone. We texted a lot, and he even took my call while he was air softing. That’s love.

August 13: I attended Shabbot at the Mount Zion Temple in St. Paul. It’s a reformed congregation, and the services there are a party! Judaism is all about celebrating that you even get to be alive, and that’s fun to do through hymns that you clap along to! Also, a little boy got to be Bar Mitzvah. His voice was changing even as he sang the Torah. And people threw candy at him to signify the sweetness of the occasion! In a church!

August 13: I ate at Spoon River, and it was sorta chintzy. It was my first experience with mock duck, and I liked it. I also had this crazy salted ice cream called Nicollet Avenue Pot Hole at Sebastian Joe’s which I’d suggest, but which Michael thought went overboard on the sodium. Hypertension!

Also sometime in August: I ate a lot of Vietnamese food in Frogtown (my neck of the woods in St. Paul), all of which was pretty good. I haven’t decided, but I might prefer mock duck to tofu. I’ll let you know.

August 14: I made some molasses bread that was not very good (Megan ate it and said nice things, anyway!), and I watched the movie Hitch for the first time, and it was very good. Laughs!

August 15: I ate at Birchwood Cafe (hipster paradise) and reunited with Marla, with whom I spent Thanksgiving in Scotland in 2004.

August 18: I attended another Talmud class as the Temple of Aaron. The main things I learned were that several favorite Old Testament books are literary fiction and historically impossible: Esther! I also learned that Jews believe the Sabbath is the holiest of holy days. So much so that you shouldn’t even ask for anything (except for health) in prayers on the Sabbath because the Lord is resting, too.

August 19: I ate at Mango Thai in St. Paul… I think I ate mock duck then, too. Both the food and the service were great! Super prompt. I also had some sweet sticky rice dessert; I want to say it was the coconut one, but I don’t want to lie to you.

August 20: I went to Shabbat at the Temple of Aaron. Larry, the ritual director who teaches my Talmud classes, asked me to read the prayer for country, which was especially sweet. It was one of the only prayers in English!

August 20: I saw Captain America. Pretty good! I agree with this review.

Lanterns at Como Park

August 21: I went to the Japanese Lantern Lighting Festival at the Como Park Conservatory! The botanical gardens were cool; people in anime costumes were cool; floating lanterns all about the lake in honor of the dead was cool. Win!

August 23: I saw HMS Pinafore at the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis. It wasn’t quite as good as the Sideshow Bob rendition, but I understood the plot this time! I enjoyed the view of the city from the Guthrie’s poorly named “endless bridge.”

August 25: I attended another Talmud class at Temple of Aaron. Larry was kind enough to tailor the lesson to my ignorant needs by focusing on the prayers of the Shabbat service. My favorite thing I learned was that one of the first things read in a Jewish service is Psalm 96:1: “O sing unto the Lord a new song: sing unto the Lord, all the earth.” This is seen as a command to daily say something new in thanks to the God. We ought to never take His bounty lightly nor forget the splendor of our very existence.

August 26: I attended a Bassordion concert at Corner Coffee in Minneapolis. Guys, if you ever get a chance to see them play, go! Well worth it. You’ll wish you’d brought your polka shoes.

August 29-September 3: I camped in the Boundary Waters. So super beautiful/relaxing/gruelling! Kayaking, canoeing, portaging, camping, relaxing. I was with an ideal group (Thanks Shanna, Mark, Eric, and Jason!). Because I have spent approximately the same amount of my waking hours watching movies as not, the experience was very LOTR-reminiscent, and we have a reunion planned in which we will watch all three extended movies in one intense 12-hour day. You can see the camping photos here.

September 5: I moved to Prospect Park! I live at the highest spot in the Twin Cities, and in the shadow of this fun Witch’s Hat Water Tower, which, unfortunately, is open only one day per year. See you there next Memorial Day weekend! Also, my room was two inches too narrow for my bed frame the way I wanted to arrange it. Fortuitously, Ranell needed a bed frame. I bartered it to her for her bike, and the trade benefited all parties. Capitalism! Later, I decided I wanted my desk to be 9 inches narrower. Mark brought over a power saw, and we made short work of it.

September 6: School started. I’m now a second year MPH student. Debt!

September 7-11: My beloved Emily came to visit clear from Salt Lake City! We did many enjoyable things together. Among which were

  • Lunch at the Wienery,
  • Finally, a heat resistant waist band. All my problems are solved!

    A visit to the Minnesota History Center specifically for the very underwhelming Underwear: A Brief History exhibit (You will not learn about Egyptian or medieval underwear, only about a few specific lines of undergarments made by the Munsingwear company of Minneapolis.).

  • We ate at Franklin Freeze in Minneapolis, which is almost exactly the same as Conny’s Creamy Cone in St. Paul. They have 24+ flavors of soft serve ice cream! I have tried three of them. They do it by taking plain soft serve, mixing it with a flavored syrup in a little shake-cup, and then pressing it through a funnel-like contraption into a cone. At first I couldn’t figure out how they fit 24 soft serve machines in that tiny place (like how fro yo places each use separate machines). These people are geniuses, and their product is delicious! Also, each ice cream cone size (small/medium/large) comes in an actually different sized cake cone! I didn’t know they made actual cones  in different sizes! But they do!
  • Dinner at Black Sheep Pizza in St. Paul. It’s a coal fired pizza place that I feel corrects everything that was wrong about Punch Pizza‘s thin crust.
  • A visit to Fort Snelling and its associated memorial chapel. We couldn’t go into the chapel on account of a wedding happening right then, but the exterior aesthetics implied an internal continuity of such.
  • A visit to the Mall of America and Paciugo Gelato.
  • Shabbot at the Temple of Aaron.
  • A rendition of Handel’s Alcina put on by Mixed Precipitation theater company at the Skidmore Community Garden in St. Paul. Guys! Go see these people perform. They are a perfect mix of delicious food samples, opera, comedy, and all around good times! These people were so incredibly talented. I wish I weren’t sick and had the temperament to write a full review of this play. Suffice it to say that Laura Hynes Smith, Jameson Jon Baxter, and Molly Pan were fabulous as the leads (respectively Alcina, Ruggiero, and Bradamante the warrior maid), and I still giggle when I think of Lauren Drasler’s part as Morgana and Walter Gies as an enchanted fountain/violinist.
  • Crowd all ablaze.

    We went to a September 11 memorial concert at the Basilica of St. Mary in Minneapolis. So many religions, so homogenized. But they trusted us all with candles!

September 14: I went to a class about the history of Rosh Hashanah at the Temple of Aaron. Initially, the big deal about Rosh Hashanah was that a loud blast would be made on a trump on that day. Now the big deal is that it’s 10 days before Yom Kippur, so it signifies a time to get introspective about how you want to start afresh.

September 16-18: I went to Nauvoo, Illinois for my first time ever. This place is like Epcot for Mormons. The Nauvoo Temple is the Disney Castle of all temples: super-bright-shiny-white on the outside and super bright colors on the inside. The historical sites were all informative and interesting, and the Trail of Hope was touching.

Carthage Jail, except it was raining like it does when sad things happen in movies.

My favorite thing about the visit was Carthage Jail. We got there two hours before it opened on Sunday, and an adorable missionary couple just happened to have shown up two hours early for their shift. They didn’t have keys, and it was raining. But, undaunted, they gave us a tour from the outside of the jail. Then someone showed up with keys and we got the regular treatment – movie and inside tour. I was touched by their devotion. I was also touched by the sacrifice Joseph and Hyrum made for their beliefs, and the kindness they showed others in their time of greatest duress. I only hope I can follow their example.

Advertisements

Basilica Day – August 14

Basilica Day celebrated of the 96th anniversary of the dedication of the Basilica of St. Mary as well as a celebration of the assumption of the Virgin Mary. A big day!

We hit the 7:30 AM mass, and apparently the priest was impressed by our devotion and apparel, as he asked if Joe and I would carry “the gifts.” Not knowing what that meant, we diffused the situation by saying we weren’t Catholic and sitting down. We later learned that presenting the gifts would have made us part of the procession that brings forward the emblems of the Eucharist, which I imagine is something an actual Catholic is supposed to do.

Anyway, the service was lovely. I loved the acoustics: everyone sounds good singing in a Basilica, especially after being drowned out by a microphoned cantor.

Next, we moved out of doors, where we were treated to Immaculate Confection (virginal pun!!!) ice cream provided by Sebastian Joe’s. We also navigated a grass-labyrinth which, surprisingly, was not a maze. You just wound all about to the center, and then followed the same path back out. It was a very inclusive activity.

Fool-proof grass labyrinth

Weekend o’ Fun: Duluth, Trampled by Turtles, Willie Nelson, Lake Superior – August 6 & 7

Ranell with a bag+mouthlul of hot tamales.

As with all road trips, the fun began before we’d even got out of town. Mike offered us some enormous hot tamales which were the hottest thing I’ve ever eaten and which only one man has has ever managed to eat more than two consecutively, and it burned a searing hot hole not just through his tongue, but straight out the bottom of his jaw. So we decided to have a feat of taste bud strength and each hold one in our mouth, without chewing, as long as we could. The winner would get a prize to the equivalent of ten dollars. Well, turns out if you don’t chew them, they’re not very hot at all. But they do make you talk hilariously, quite a bit like in this memorable scene from My Fair Lady.

About an hour and a half into our drive, we saw a sign for a place called Wacky Yakky’s Magical Soda Shop and Emporium of Treasures. Of course we took the next exit and went straight there. We were delighted to find that the place promised more than we’d dared hope. The signs on the exterior read as follows:

  • Wacky Yacky's

    Italian Charms

  • Wind Chimes
  • Sign Designs by L.M. Redlin
  • Body Jewelry
  • Cement Art
  • Water Fall MOtion Pictures
  • Knives
  • Crafts
  • Gifts
  • Metal Signs by Lazor
  • Chainsaw Carvings
  • Live Theater
  • DJ
  • Magician
  • Dance Teacher
  • Clown

Unfortunately, the place left a bit to be desired. It mainly had a lot of used VHS tapes and some locally made soy wickless candles (I felt a bit guilty after handling all their goods, so I bought some Oakmoss & Amber wickless candle wax, and it has actually been quite lovely).

We stopped off again in Moose Lake, which I was very excited about after having heard it repeatedly referenced in VeggieTales. Lunch at the Lazy Moose and a really delicious piece of lemon crisp pie. Recommended!

Blue Bear (the short-lived band and candy) at one of Canal Park's many high end candy boutiques

Lazy Moose Grille & Coffee House, Moose Lake, MN

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Once we got to Duluth, we checked out the shops at Canal Park, ate some high end chocolates, looked at books, and talked to a very nice lady about local fiddle festivals.

We also drove over the famous Duluth Aerial Lift Bridge. In 1871, a canal was built that turned a residential peninsula into an island. Since it was on the other side of a canal where boats needed to cross often, it would be really inconvenient to put a bridge there. So they held a contest to figure out a solution.

Duluth's Famous Aerial Bridge

John Alexander Low Waddell came up with the winning Aerial Lift solution, but the War Department decided to do what they always do: change the rules of the game and do whatever they wanted anyway! America! So, people used ferries for a long time, until everybody realized this was inefficient and inconvenient. So, about 40 years later, they decided to do what Waddell had suggested originally and built this lift bridge that can move up and down to get out of boats’ ways.

Willie times onboard the Nelsonmobile

Then we went to Goodwill to buy rain jackets because it had been raining vengefully all day. The woman at Goodwill was convinced we were going to get on Willie Nelson’s bus and be on the news. She was SO excited for us. Some other people told us if we’d give Willie a rose he’d give us his bandana. I did a lot of Googling but couldn’t substantiate this rumor.

 

We ate dinner at Fitgers Brewery and Grille. Root beer from a tap! While I appreciate the novelty, it was less flavorful than I prefer. Also, as an FYI, the service was really quite slow, so, if you go there, make sure you have plenty of time or ask for your check as soon as your food comes (that’s what we did). Also, I had a veggie pub burger which I would eat it again. ALSO, and most significantly, the brewery is in the very building is where a 17-year old Bob Dylan stood just three feet from Buddy Holly in concert. Cool!

Then to the concert. Amazing. Trampled by Turtles gave an awesome show for their home town. Beautiful Lake Superior was the backdrop. Willie played almost nonstop for two hours. Good stories; he’s the kind of guy I’d like to go on vacation with. Vacation to Duluth. We did not get on the bus, unfortunately. And he did not give us a bandana. I am also proud to say that my folk-square dancing made a few people’s home videos. At one point, a couple were running through the crowd and stopped to dance, Julia-style, as they passed me. Win!

From above Gooseberry Falls

Next day, we saw Gooseberry Falls, which were lovely but very crowd-packed. The “hike” to them was paved and more of a stroll, but the view from there was lovely. I realized afterward that I think I would have been blown away by the falls if I’d hiked seven miles to get to them. Utah is all about making you work for your scenery. If a person in a wheelchair can access it, it’s probably not worth seeing.

Then we went to Lake Superior. Everyone said it would be too cold to swim, but I doffed my duds and ran straighway into the water, undaunted. Everyone else eventually joined in, and we had a wonderful time. Also, the rumors are true: looking out at Lake Superior was like looking out at the ocean. Not the tropical kind, but what I imagine the British Columbia coast is like. Trees and rocks and water. The maritime effect evinced itself even more in that I kept marveling that I didn’t have a salty taste in my mouth. Lake Superior!

To close, enjoy these videos of Willie Nelson:

 

and Trampled by Turtles:

Niagara Cave and Harmony – July 30

Statue in honor of pigs whose untimely deaths brought about the discovery of Niagara Cave.

Approximately 2.5 hours southeast of the Twin Cities lies a very deep cavern that was discovered (this is true) as a result of the Roaring ’20s when rich Amish swells would go there to toss money and pigs down the sink hole. (Pigs were a big sign of wealth back then!). Then when times got hard during the depression, they came back and excavated the hole to find their money and to see if there was anything left of the pig meat, and they found these super cool caves. But after the electric light took off, the Amish got muscled out of the cave business when the fat cats at GE took the caves wickless (as in candle wicks), and so they had to move up the road and start selling baked goods and old-timey home decore.

A chapel for people who wish to keep their marriage on the "down low." (insert sympathy chuckle)

Now that you know the history, here’s a bit about the experience. So, this is also true. People get married inside this cave! Which I find very disrespectful since it’s also a dinosaur grave-yard. Also, there is a really big waterfall in this place, and you’re not supposed to touch the walls – lest you ruin the experience for everyone (Even though there are scientist footprints up one of the walls where some scientific swell decided to go exploring and knock loose prehistoric dirt right in plain sight. Pff. Typical scientist.) – but the walls are very narrow, so I accidentally touched the walls a lot of times. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the presence of mind to “accidentally” touch any fossils.

All that's left of a dinosaur.

Additionally, we were warned that it was going to be really cold in the caves, and we should bring sweatshirts, which frightened some of our group to purchase Niagara Cave hoodies, only to find that it was everyone’s favorite temperature (room temperature) down there, and covering up wasn’t really necessary. Scammed!

Then we drove into Harmony where we got some really great lunch and pie at The Village Square of Harmony. I had a cup of the soup of the day, which was something really cheesie, as I recall. AND which came with the best bread sticks I can, at the moment of writing this, remember eating  at any other time in my entire life. They had this amazing soft but firm thing going on on the outside and fluffy but moist thing going on the inside. And normally I don’t like the idea of buttery breadsticks but in this case I was passionately for it. Wow. So so good.

 Also, they had a zillion flavors of pie. I got the sour cream and raisin pie which was exactly like raisin cookie dough on a pie crust (but without an overdose of raisins) – in a really good way. It was insanely dense, though, so I didn’t finish it, since I needed to save room for tastes of everyone else’s pie. All of which were good.

Then we looked at some Amish-made, old-timey home decore and various antiques at a store called Hometown Variety  and some other touristy boutiques I can’t see close-up enough on Google Maps to get the names of. We also drove around Amish country and stopped in at some shops. I bought some food made by an Amish family, which – the rumors are true – was delicious. Rhubarb jam, granola, and a really incredibly good doughnut. I hope you don’t mind that I’m not putting up pictures of any of these purchases, as photographing them is considered offensive.

Pizza Luce (July 29) vs. Punch Pizza (August 20)

I’d heard loads of hype about Pizza Luce and Punch Pizza, particularly the latter. So I was excited to give them both a try. Here’s my review of each:

Pizza Luce is formal by pizza standards. The wait staff are super attentive and friendly. The menu is easy to navigate, which I only mention because I appreciated the vegetarian section. Anyway, we went with the baked potato pizza. Delicious! The crust on these things are my idea of perfection: thin (but substantial) in the middle with a veritable bread stick of an exterior crust.

Also, potatoes and pizza should happen more frequently. So many healthy carbohydrates in one place. No tomato sauce, in this case, which I initially was sad when I realized. But once I took a bite I realized it was so much better this way (that really probably would have been weird, in retrospect). And the leftovers were still in a perfect state the next day. Luce pizzas are durable!

Punch Pizza is informal. You order at the register, the pizza isn’t done quite at McDonald’s speed, but… definitely at Apollo Burger speed… (Err, I don’t know what the corollary in Minnesota. But, you know, a slightly up-scale burger chain.), and then you pick up your order at the counter. Everyone told me that these pizzas were like the kind they make in Italy. Thin crust, thin application of cheese, delicious toppings. All of this true was true, but with a few clarifications. The toppings did come in many delicious varieties, and they make it very easy for you to order custom combinations: I was very  happy with my choice of egg plant, mushroom, and onion.

 They departed from the Italian stuff, though, in that  (good) Italian pizzarias’ crusts aren’t charred on the outside and verging on soggy on the inside. I do love a good thin crust pizza, but these were serious flaws in my mind. Flaws that I would still be willing to eat on a regular basis, but still. Also, as you might imagine from my crust description, while the leftovers were definitely worth eating, they had depreciated quite a bit from the previous day’s production.

In conclusion, I’d say they’re both definitely worth eating. Punch Pizza is speedier and more convenient. And if you’re a sucker for char broiled pizza, you’ll love it. Pizza Luce, though, would be my pick if you’ve got an hour to sit down for some delicious food. Oh, and if you’re ever in the mood to eat at home, Punch Pizza has carry-out, and Pizza Luce delivers (Another critical win!).