Friday, June 27, 2014

Preserve Minneapolis walking tour

I branched out to more walking tours!

After how much I enjoyed the Minnesota Historical Society's Summit Avenue tours, I wondered if other Twin Cities organizations offered similar excursions. Late last summer I discovered Preserve Minneapolis, a group dedicated to identifying and preserving the city's historic architecture. A big part of its mission also includes creating educational opportunities for the general public: A couple of months ago, I attended my first event with the organization: the regular Breakfast with a Preservationist event, held every other month at the Mill City Museum. (A Happy Hour with a Preservationist event is held in months that don't feature the breakfast discussion!)

In addition to these year-round events, Preserve Minneapolis also coordinates more than two dozen walking and biking tours around Minneapolis each summer. When I first read about the tours last summer, they were all sold out, so as soon as this year's schedule was available, I chose my first one: the "East Hennepin: Behind the Scenes" walking tour of Northeast Minneapolis.

An excerpt from the website's description of the tour:
"The bustling commercial district surrounding East Hennepin Avenue has hosted many names throughout the years, but everyone knows its unforgettable landmarks: Surdyk’s, Nye’s, Kramarczuk’s, Historic Main Street, and Our Lady of Lourdes Church. . . .  The last decade has brought dramatic change and the area around East Hennepin is now considered one of the trendiest and most exciting places in Minneapolis to eat, shop, and live. Fortunately, the area has managed to maintain its old-world flavor to this day. Join us for a “behind-the-scenes” history of the busy streets, unique businesses, and colorful people that have shaped this popular walking neighborhood."
The tour was set for a Sunday morning that happened to feature an ominous forecast. I drove over to Northeast in steady rain that turned into an on-and-off rain for the first part of our tour before the clouds cleared out by the conclusion. (Rain isn't a problem for the tours, but they are cancelled if there's lightning.) Lots of umbrellas in the early stages made for a spread-out group, especially since there were about 18 of us on the tour.

One of the tour's overarching themes was the neighborhood's layers: different cultural influences shaped by immigration waves, businesses and storefronts that ebb and flow and change. I was aware of the neighborhood's strong Eastern European heritage, but I didn't know that the neighborhood includes the city's oldest church, which was founded by French Canadian settlers and continues to connect to its deep French heritage.

That's Our Lady of Lourdes Church, its steps and doors with the fleur de lis symbol visible in this picture of our group (in the rain):

As we walked along the route, covering about 10 blocks, many of our stops included explanations of the layers of businesses and history that preceded a given space's current occupant. As promised in the tour description, the guides also talked to us about longstanding, well-known and well-loved Northeast institutions such as Surdyk's liquor store, Nye's Polonaise Room and Kramarczuk's Sausage Company. 

Across the street from modern condominiums, the interesting give and take between old and new continued: the tour ended in Chute Square at the Ard Godfrey House - per that website, the oldest surviving frame home in the Twin Cities. It's a space I've run by many times and always wondered about its history.

One of the tour's memorable highlights was our knowledgeable guides: two longtime Northeast residents that made the tour richer and stronger because of how much they love their neighborhood. The 75-minute tour was a great introduction to the area that also showed me how much more there is to learn about the neighborhood, its intricate history and its current era of development. It was only my first Preserve Minneapolis event - but if that was representative of the others, I'll be back for more.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Sewing a dress

In my 101 in 1,001 list#71 Sew a dress

This one's done!

When I started assembling my list of 101 goals in late 2011 (nearly three years ago now!), I included several sewing projects, and this has been a fun area of learning and growth for me in the past couple of years. I've made quilts and robes and have also gotten into embroidery more. But for some reason, sewing a dress seemed like a much bigger challenge.

Well, I guess I know why it seemed like a bigger challenge: it was, at least for awhile!

A few mishaps unfolded along the way. It all started simply enough: I bought a pattern (McCall's 6744) for a really simple dress that I guess you would call a faux-wrap style. It called for a knit fabric (the kind with a little stretch) and I didn't feel particularly confident about working with knits, so I wanted to start with cotton for this project. I found a pretty print - an ivory cotton fabric with a sort of lavender-gray chevron pattern - and brought it home.

Then I figured out that 1) I'd purchased the wrong size pattern and 2) the pretty chevron fabric was more sheer than I expected. I forged ahead and bought a swath of plain ivory cotton fabric with which I could line the dress later if needed, and then made the adjustments to modify the pattern to my estimated size (I learned along the way that each piece of the pattern is one inch wider or narrower as the size goes up or down). Then I really botched the fabric by making a freehand adjustment that resulted in sized-to-fit shoulders and a waist that wouldn't actually fit my ribcage. Oops! And the other complicating factor was that I was realizing just how tricky it would be to properly line up the chevron pattern in the finished product.

I was in over my head, but that whole process wasn't as arduous as it sounds - I messed it all up (and realized it) pretty quickly, so I still have big scraps of the chevon fabric that I can reuse later. Back to the fabric store I went, in search of a darker fabric with a smaller all-over print. I found a blue cotton fabric with a little (calico?) flower print that I figured would be much easier to manage.

Then I let it sit in my sewing basket for awhile, and all of a sudden this week, I wanted to try again. I started cutting out each piece of fabric for the pattern, a process that went much faster when I didn't have to worry about matching zigzags. I began assembling the bodice and threaded elastic through the shoulders to gather the fabric, and at that point, I cheered a little because I had gotten past the step that had thwarted me the first time. I sewed the skirt's pieces together and then had to pin the bodice and skirt together, which was a little trickier. Then I sewed that together with two seams about one-half inch apart and then threaded more elastic through that section for the waistband. (This step was not unlike what I remember from making pajama shorts in middle school.)

I think this all took about three hours from start to finish. Time was flying by as I got drawn into the project, and by the time I was nearly finished, it was late but I really wanted to complete the last couple of steps.

And here it is! This is my "I can't believe I did this!" face. I mostly like this picture because of the emphatic hand shadow.

And here's my new dress on the hanger:

Is it perfect? No. Absolutely not. Make no mistake: I learned so many lessons through trial and error, and I see things in this dress I'll do differently next time. But I liked being surprised by how proud I felt to finish the dress, be able to put it on, and realize I liked it enough to wear outside my home. I'm happy I put this goal on my list.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Lake Calhoun afternoon

Back on two wheels for the first longish bike ride in ages: to Lake Calhoun and back, via the greenway (also for the first time in ages), with a break at Tin Fish. I have a hunch my legs will be feeling those miles tomorrow, but this was a good start to the weekend.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

My favorite peony this season

The one that's peeking through a fence and craning its neck stem to see what's happening on the sidewalk:

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Now batting: the Peanuts crew

As a St. Paul runner, I've gotten accustomed to seeing Peanuts statues all over my running routes in the city in which Charles Schulz grew up. (I wrote about stumbling across one of my favorites back in March.) I love unique traditions like these that help tell a city's story, so I like these statues.

Yesterday I couldn't resist visiting 10 new Peanuts statues that arrived in St. Paul last month to celebrate the All-Star Game coming to Minnesota in July. (My household—Wish excluded—is very excited for this, and you'll likely be seeing more All-Star Game content from me in the coming weeks.) Major League Baseball has set up statues in past host cities with themes suited to each city (i.e. apples in New York City last year), and I have to guess that this year's theme was easy because 100 Peanuts statues are already installed around Minneapolis and St. Paul.

The plan was for the 10 new statues to stay in Rice Park for a couple of weeks before moving over to Minneapolis for the duration of the All-Star Game festivities. I heard about the statues when they were installed but didn't feel the urgency to visit them until this week, when the move was scheduled!

I ran over to Rice Park in downtown St. Paul and was delighted by what I saw—from "P. PATTY" on the back of Peppermint Patty's jersey to Snoopy's food dish to the Twins jerseys and All-Star Game-specific details.

It turns out that they moved over to Minneapolis later that day. My visit was just in time.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Garden update: Week 3

It's mid-June, and the community garden is officially in full swing. With the exception of herb plants, our plot isn't quite ready for any kind of harvest, but it looks like some gardeners are nearly ready to enjoy some kale and lettuce and Swiss chard.

Today marks three weeks exactly since I got everything planted, so it's time for an update! (I aspire to be more diligent about actual garden updates and not just garden pictures this year, because I do find myself looking back at last summer's post to see the timelines for the plants.)

Our community garden consists of two large circles. New this year: more structured versions of last year's fences. (They're cedar and smell great.)

Here's a view of our plot from above, a photo that I obtained by standing on a five-gallon bucket:

The key:

1) Grown from seed: purple beans and a few climbing bean plants (that will ideally climb up the fence)
2) A few more purple beans (not yet visible), planted last week
3) Hopefully some lettuce (also not yet visible, also started last week)
4) Onions
5) Rosemary
6) Tomato plant
7) Jalapeno pepper plant
8) Sage
9) Dill
10) Oregano
11) Tomato plant #2
12) The tiniest little basil plant, just out of the ground
13) Tomato plant #3
14) The second-tiniest basil plant, plus another round of 2-3 basil plants (once they pop out of the ground)
15) Tomato plant #4 (there's one cherry and one grape tomato plant among the four and of course I didn't mark which is which)
16) A new batch of purple beans, planted the same day as the green beans in location #2

Early highlights:

Three of the tomato plants I bought settled in well, especially one in particular that is growing wildly and has two flowers already:

The onions, part of a huge surplus batch (truly, dozens or maybe a hundred) that a neighbor dropped off for the gardeners:

The herbs are doing well, though the star so far is actually the lemon balm plant on our patio table back at home. That plant must have tripled in size since I potted it a few weeks back. Lemon balm is in the mint family, so I shouldn't be too surprised by its fast growth.

Anyway, sage at the garden, growing nicely:

I started basil from seed in between my tomato plants. It sprouted last week and is so tiny but without a doubt basil, and I felt excited that I didn't have to google images of tiny basil plant like I had to do last year with the green bean plants (to make sure they aren't weeds).

Also, those clover plants you see on the left side of the "view from above" photo (in between our plot and the next one to the left) are good for the soil - I think I'm getting the names and facts right here - but they were curving over one side of our plot and obscuring it. I noticed this on one visit last week and pushed it back a bit, freeing up about eight extra inches of gardening space on the plot's long edge!

Mixed success:

Purple beans: It feels wrong to put the beans in the "mixed success" category because they were the first seeds out of the ground. But even though they're growing well, they've been attacked by some creature that's making holes in the leaves. (You can kind of see the holes in the "view from above" photo.) The leaves aren't completely gobbled, so I'm crossing my fingers.

The dill plant was also part of a surplus donation, and it's not quite robust yet. One tomato plant is also in that category.

Less successful (or more accurately, not at all successful):

Lettuce and Swiss chard: Areas 2 and 3 on the map are still pretty quiet, and that's because I planted lettuce and Swiss chard that never sprouted. I think the problem is that I planted the seeds too deep. (The seed packet recommends just 1/8 of an inch under ground!)

Late last week, I tried again with more lettuce, in three even rows, so I'm hoping I'll see some progress soon. I used some of the space to plant another batch of purple beans, to stagger the plot's bean production.

To do:
  • Buy and plant a poblano pepper plant.
  • Try again with Swiss chard in the remaining free space.
  • Bring a stake over for the pepper plant sometime soon.
That's the three-week update! If you have a garden, what successes and challenges are you seeing? What herbs or vegetables am I overlooking that I could still get settled in the remaining space next to the tomatoes? (And of course, if you are cringing at a mistake I'm making, definitely drop me an email or comment! I welcome all advice and tips!)

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Sunday assortment

A few from the camera this week:

And of course, happy Father's Day to my wonderful dad - and to Josh's dad, too, and all the fathers out there!

Dad is out of town this weekend, but make no mistake, we will celebrate all together next weekend. I am so grateful for all that he does. Much love to you, Dad.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Another Nokomis visit

Yesterday: my second visit to Lake Nokomis in a week, this time for a leisurely walk with my pup.

Last summer I started taking Wish out for little adventures on Friday afternoons, and it was a fun treat for both of us that I wanted to revisit this year. Yesterday, we walked around the lake - just under three miles - and took a few water breaks and one longer pause in the shade. At one point during a break, I looked over at Wish and saw him dog-grinning, so I scooted next to him and took our picture:

Wish was loving all of the lake smells, which I got a kick out of watching, except when I had to drag him away from a fish that had washed onto shore. He also heard a fish flop in the water about 20 feet away from where we were standing and got a very funny confused look on his face.

I've written many times here about these peaceful lakes so close to the downtown skyline, but I don't think I will ever stop marveling at them.

Onward with the rest of the weekend!

Friday, June 13, 2014

Glowing lupines

Near Lake Nokomis, before Tuesday night's softball game:

Happy Friday to you!

Thursday, June 12, 2014

James J. Hill House tour

Earlier this year, I bought a Minnesota Historical Society membership. I've had wonderful experiences with the organization's museums (including the Mill City Museum and Minnesota History Center) as well as the Summit Avenue neighborhood tour and the F. Scott Fitzgerald-themed walking tour, and I'm excited to support its great work and learn more about history, locally and statewide.

Last week, I visited St. Paul's James J. Hill House for the first time!

James J. Hill was a railroad magnate who built the Great Northern Railway that connected St. Paul to Seattle in 1893. His mansion was finished in 1891, and he lived there with his wife and most of his 10 children. I'm learning more about houses (thanks to lots of HGTV) and one detail that floored me was that this home is not 5,000 square feet or 10,000 square feet, but 36,000 square feet. The tour guide—who also led the Fitzgerald tour I took!—did a delightful job of blending architectural details with stories about how the family used each space. The 75-minute tour surveyed all three floors plus the basement, though there are additional tours that take different angles (such as the Nooks and Crannies tour offered in the summers, which sounds great). Our group of six or seven also paused toward the end for a short video, played in the Hill boys' schoolroom, that provided some context about James J. Hill's work.

I didn't expect this, but knowing I could (and likely will) drop by sometime soon for another tour left me feeling more relaxed. Instead of trying to absorb every tidbit our tour guide told us, I'd think more about a story she had mentioned, imagine the house back in the 1890s, and notice more details that piqued my interest.

And, oh, the details were plentiful:

The end of the tour brought our group to one of the mansion's several porches. I have a soft spot in my heart for porches and I liked wrapping up the tour by visiting one of them.

If you can't already tell, I enjoyed the James J. Hill House tour greatly and highly recommend it. I loved learning some of the stories and history behind a Summit Avenue landmark I've passed by so many times.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

On the water

In Minnesota, there are a lot of lakes. (Nearly 12,000!) Because of my running routes, I spend my fair share of time near some of the Twin Cities' prettiest lakes. But there's something especially wonderful about being on a lake up north, especially during the first few weeks of spring and summer. Over the weekend, I spent time with my family near two of the state's lakes: a small lake adjacent to the campground as well as nearby Mille Lacs Lake, Minnesota's second largest lake.

A visit to the dock

On Saturday afternoon, a few of us took a stroll over to the smaller lake. The rainclouds had cleared out completely by the time we made our way over to the dock, and it was so peaceful in the warm sun that I think we all could have napped there. (I think my sister did, actually.)

In the evening

Later that night, my mom and sister and I circled back to the water. The water was more still and I loved the reflections.

In the morning

I don't often see lakes in the early morning light, so as soon as the sunlight woke me up on Sunday morning, I trotted back to the lake. I was so glad I did. The overnight low temperature had dipped down to 44 degrees, and there was steam coming off the water.

To the big lake

On Sunday morning, my dad took most of us over to Mille Lacs for a short boat ride (Josh and Wish stayed back). I haven't been on the big lake in many years, and it was a treat to be out on the lake with my dad, who fishes there often. There were only a few boaters nearby, though the boat launch picked up after we returned.

The weather (and water) was just cool enough to keep me from jumping into either lake, but I'm putting that goal in writing right now to make sure I do that sometime this season, too.