Thursday, January 31, 2008

U of M's very own design museum

Of course everyone knows about the Weisman---the gleaming, Frank Gehry art museum on the east river bank of the University of Minnesota campus. But did you know that the St. Paul campus houses the Goldstein Museum of Design? It's tucked into the second floor of McNeil Hall--one of the campus classroom buildings--and has permanent collections as well as temporary exhibitions. The newest exhibit, opening this Friday, showcases the work of Russel Wright whose work really encapsulates the mid-century modernism housewares aesthetic. Read Star Tribune coverage of the exhibit here.

Image: Manitoga and Decorative Arts Center of Ohio.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Public Involvement 2.0

I've always felt that the civic culture in the Twin Cities was robust. There are hundreds of non-profits, neighborhood groups, and other ways to get involved in the things that you care about. So it's also not surprising to me that our local governments would be looking for new ways to engage people. Governing Magazine's online version has an Idea Center and this week they're covering the City of Minneapolis' use of a wiki (an online document that anyone can edit and the city can review all of the comments) to update their 2008 Comprehensive Plan. This is a great way to get hear more voices since city meetings compete with everything else going on in peoples' lives.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Minneapolis Historic Landmarks and Districts

While I was looking for some information about an interesting block of rowhouses we saw just west of the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, I stumbled on the Minneapolis Heritage Preservation Commission website. If you like distinctive architecture, their historic landmarks and districts website is a great tool to plan a walking or driving tour. It lists all of the registered sites, plots them on a map, gives some short info about them, and includes current and historic photos. It rocks....even though I still haven't figured out the story with those rowhouses we saw.

Image: Despatch Laundry Building, 2611 1st Avenue South, courtesy of Minneapolis Heritage Preservation Commission.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Minneapolis' Own Maya Lin

Many of you may know this already, but if you don't let me share a little, tucked away urban secret. If you head to the Ameriprise building at 901 Third Avenue South in downtown Minneapolis you can check out a vintage Maya Lin (of Vietnam Veteran's Memorial fame) installation. It is called "the character of a hill, under glass" and is a winter garden in the lobby of this office building. It was built in 2000. The most defining feature is the wall of water that flows down the exterior windows into a pond--all of which freezes this time of year. It's always a treat to find an artistic treasure in an unexpected place.
Images: Stanford University.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Dreamland Arts

I thought I'd use today's post to introduce people to a wonderful little neighborhood performing arts theater here in Midway. dreamland arts, on Hamline Avenue, just south of Minnehaha, opened in 2006. In addition to its 40-seat theater, Dreamland also offers classes, workshops and performances in theater, music, puppetry, dance and more. What I really love is the commitment of the owners to bringing arts to the community and that their house is physically connected to the studio theater. So next time you're in the neighborhood and in the mood for supporting some local artists, checkout dreamland arts.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Why we dine: Installment 3

This is a bit of a continuation of Installment 1, which was about ambiance. So I ate at the Dinkytown Loring Pasta Bar yesterday, knowing full well that the food is mediocre at best, but I never fail to be dazzled by the space. It is one of the more magical (and I cringe as I type that word) dining experiences in the Twin Cities.

When I enter, I feel like I'm walking into a Gaudi-designed building in Barcelona.

In the dining hall, I feel surrounded by fireflies under a starry night.

Which is the opposite of how one feels in Chino Latino where you may be in Hell surrounded by orange, glowing cauldrons (don't get me wrong, I enjoy that space too, but it's the opposite vibe to me.)

Images: Top, 2 interior photos of Loring Pasta Bar, from the restaurant website.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Why City Image Matters

When you're in your mid thirties, you've come of age during the great period of Irony. You know this period....where it's cool to wear ugly shoes and drink bad beer not so much cause you like it, but because you are beyond trendy with your cool nonchalance and nod to the "old school." Another key characteristic of this period is mockery--of anything too cute, too schmarmy, or too whatever.

So it's no surprise that I, who came of age during Irony's peak, snickered at the new slogan for our cities -- "Minneapolis St Paul: More to Life." As far as slogan's go, this one isn't the catchiest or most memorable, but what's behind the slogan is actually quite important. I like to think of it as a long over-due public education campaign for the rest of the world. The people that still think of Minneapolis and St. Paul as part of an overly white, frozen, fly-over country with no redeeming value. I also think it should be a wake up call to those of us who live here and love it to stop being so self-deprecating about the state and start evangelizing about what's great here.

While its important for self-serving reasons (how many times have you traveled out of state, said where you lived and had someone say "oh, Minn-E-Soooota in their worst "Fargo" accents) to correct these misconceptions, it is even more important as cities compete globally for jobs and talent. If we want to attract talented workers and employers, people need to know that Minneapolis and St Paul are rich with amenities and diversity. As Mayor Rybak says, "You can live a sophisticated life in New York and enjoy a great outdoors experience in Bend, Ore., but you can do both in Minneapolis Saint Paul."

Since the unveiling of this campaign earlier this week, there have been some thoughtful editorials in the Star Tribune and Steve Berg's MinnPost is right on target.

Despite, or perhaps as a result of my coming of age with an over-abundance of irony, I've always bragged about this state. Maybe I thought it was edgy to love a place that most people ignore. Maybe I thought I'd expose people to the next great place and be ahead of the hipster curve. Or maybe, I had cast irony aside and was simply spreading the word that it doesn't get much better than a place where you can see Broadway calibre theatre, eat incredible ethnic food, buy the most amazing wardrobe at thrift stores, ride your bike to the places you want to go and actually swim in urban lakes.

So step up happy St. Paulites and Minneapolitans--spread the word about our great cities!

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Viva Union Depot!

Yesterday, I checked out the Union Depot lofts in downtown St. Paul. What an amazing concept--putting residential units inside of a train station! While I still don't fully understand the relationship of the lofts to the train station (were they old offices in the depot?) it is pretty incredible to enter the project by walking through the grand foyer (now home to Christo's restaurant). Nice train stations (even ones that aren't currently in operation), unlike any airport, still capture the romance and excitement of travel. The beautiful arched ceilings, the meticulous brick work, the way your footfalls echo from the floor into the cavernous space...this sure would make coming home an experience.

Union Depot has a bit of an uncertain future, depending on the alignment of the Central Corridor Light Rail project. For those that want to see the station serve as transportation hub, they are pushing for the LRT to terminate in the back of the station where there is a HUGE concourse that could serve as the link for rail-lines to other destinations. Yet for those who want to keep project costs down, the LRT would terminate in front of the station.

St. Paulites, which would you rather, our current Amtrak station out on Terminal Road or a beautiful and functioning Union Depot?

Take your pick!

Images: Iowa State Train Club, Phillip Crandon on Picaso, and Ramsey County Regional Rail Authority.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008 Guides

I know I'm probably late to the ballgame, but give me a break, I just moved back here 6 months ago. So I just discovered that has a bunch of these great guides (not all of them Twin Cities related), for things to do around town. Personal faves include:

Monday, January 21, 2008

Local Holiday Bliss

Today was a very rare treat for the adults in this household. For four blissful hours this afternoon, my husband and I cavorted around town, sans child. It's one thing to go out at night, but it's another to experience a holiday afternoon together in a way that you might have before the child arrived. So here's what two urban exploring geeks do when they have a free afternoon...

We began our "holiday" with lunch at the recently City Pages reviewed Mexican joint, Tacqueria Los Ocampo on Lake and Chicago. I could go back for dinner right now--it really was that good. Then we took surface streets, traveling through South Minneapolis neighborhoods, to get to the Museum of Russian Art on 55th and Stevens. What a gorgeous building--an old church, then a funeral home, now a stunning gallery. Interesting exhibits--Russian Impressionism and Ukrainian printmaking--both radically different artforms, but both suffering under Soviet censorship and dictates of what constituted art. We tried to check out Twin Cities Green in Uptown, but they were closed. So we took Franklin Avenue all the way back to Prospect Park (with me pointing out the places that we need to eat at next--Maria's Cafe, True Thai, and the Franklin Street Bakery) where we stopped in at Cupcake for a latte and the obvious cupcake. As always, delish.

Realizing that the clock was ticking on our allotted child care, we hurried to St. Anthony Park to pop into Micawber's Books. What a lovely place to while away time during a snowy afternoon. We indulged and bought Kevin Kling's new book "The Dog Says How" along with a ridiculously marked down copy of Alex Kotlowitz's "Never a City So Real: A Walk in Chicago." Kotlowitz's book is part of the Crown Journeys series--where they pair good writers with interesting places. And we had to pick up the latest issue of National Geographic since we needed to read the North Dakota article ourselves and see if all of the brouhaha was deserved. IMHO, NoDak should be happy for the publicity--I know that the adults in this household will now add touring the rural remnants of our western neighbors to our great Western road trip of the future.

Minnesota Modern Design Leaders

Minnesota--it's not just Target, Best Buy, Land O' Lakes, and General Mills. The state is also home to some excellent, cutting- edge design companies.

I'm going beyond the Twin Cities here because I think that Loll Designs based in Duluth is an awesome company. They recycle materials and turn them into durable, modern peices of outdoor furniture.

Then there's Flatpak and Wee-House--Twin Cities purveyors of pre-fab (and totally fab) modern homes. With Minneapolis-based Flatpak, you can choose how to mix and match different building components (like windows, doors, siding etc) to create the design of the house you want. Then you can choose different materials and interior finishings to finish it off.
With St. Paul based Wee Houses, there are several different pre-fab building styles to choose from and you can choose different materials and interior products.

On the indoor furnishing end, Room and Board is the big gun in the Minnesota modern furniture world, but Blu-dot is a close second.

How'd the state get to be so hip?

Images from top: Loll Designs, from
Flat Pak House, Minneapolis, MN, Cameron Wittig
Wee-House from Elizabeth Eden's Flickr site.
Blu-Dot rocking chair, from

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Like bikes? Love this website.

If you're into bikes (the human powered kind) and are looking for places to ride, people to ride with, and other bike miscellany, go no further than Minneapolis Bike Love. It's all here.

On the road in Northeast

My uncontrollable addiction to Season 4 of "The Wire" (the best show on TV) has stolen prime blogging time from me. So until Netflix hooks us up again, I am back on the blog wagon (I think I'm screwing up the metaphor, but y'all get what I'm saying).

I had a couple of interesting sitings today en route to friends in Northeast Minneapolis. Heading north on Stinson from Hennepin, we passed the Minneapolis Diagonal Bike Trail. Seemed like an odd spot for a road-separated bike/ped trail, but there it was, passing warehouses and parking lots. I look forward to riding it sometime.

At Lowry and Stinson, if you look to your east you'll see a fine example of a trailer park in the city--it's the Lowry Grove RV and Manufactured Home Community. You can both live and camp there. You definitely don't expect to find it where it is.

Image: Chris Gregerson

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Bus Tales

If you want a source of Twin Cities transit humor (yes, I realize that this may apply to just a small number of people), you should bookmark In the tradition of Overheard in Minneapolis, Bus Tales is made up of conversations overheard and actions witnessed on the Twin Cities transit system. Sadly, some of the entries may remind you of why the bus can be a freakshow on wheels sometimes, while other entries may make you think that surely someone has made the story up. Regardless, you're guaranteed a chuckle or two. Read MPR's coverage of the website and its creator, Rett Martin.

Wanna write? Move over NYC...

The Loft Literary Center, located on Washington Avenue as you approach downtown Minneapolis, is an aspiring writers dream. You can choose from any manner of classes (travel writing, poetry, memoir, essays, fiction, etc) and tuition is on a sliding scale. When you're suffering from lack of inspiration or have a home that is a less than desirable place to write, you can join the Loft and pay a nominal fee to use their "writer's studios." It seems so decadent yet so smart! The renovated brick buildings that house the Loft are themselves inspiring with their palpable sense of history and grand windows showcasing the city life outside.

The Loft is part of the larger Open Book organization--which in addition to hosting the Loft in the upstairs space, is also home to the Rosalux Gallery, Milkweed Editions publishing, the Minnesota Center for Book Arts, and the Coffee Gallery. What I've also recently learned is that Open Book, is:
"the first facility in the nation devoted to the literary arts...Open Book is a focal point for the flourishing creative writing, publishing, and printing arts activity in the Twin Cities, which is home to more such organizations than anywhere but New York City."
Basically, Open Book is a complete and relatively affordable package of inspiration--art, coffee, books, people, urbanity, a sense of place, and quiet spaces when you need them. So decadent, so smart!

Images: Top, from
Bottom: Interior shot of MN Center for the Book Arts, from the Hive Design Studio.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Wear your neighborhood pride on your sleeve, or your chest, or your head...

If you want to sport some neighborhood pride on your person, check out Neighborhoodies, a NY based company that lets you custom design apparel and other accessories with your neighborhood or really any other text that you see fit. I plan on sporting a classic MIDWAY hoodie in the near future.


Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Music for the Masses

Despite having lived in locales as diverse and cultured as Portland, OR; New York, NY; and Washington, DC--I think that I can honestly claim that none of their radio stations can even come close to comparing with 89.3 The Current. This is by far and away the best radio station out there. All alternative music, public radio (meaning no commercials), cool programming, and a daily playlist so you can figure out that song you loved but missed the title of...these are just some of the many things that make it great. I know this is a public radio station for me when the "thank you for donating gift" is the new Magnetic Fields CD. For those of you who don't live here, you can listen on-line and experience for yourself why this station rocks.

And parents, mark your calendars, on January 27th, the Current is sponsoring "Rock the Cradle" a day of free live music and other musical events at the Children's Theater/Minneapolis Institute of Arts.

And for the list lovers out there, here's the link to the Top 89 songs of 2007.

Monday, January 14, 2008

A short walk between cities

I bet Texans can't say "I walked from Dallas to Fort Worth this afternoon." But if you live here, you can say "I walked from St. Paul to Minneapolis in 5 minutes." It's an especially easy thing to do if you are at the western end of Marshall Avenue in St. Paul and you cross the Lake Street bridge, then BAM! you are in the Longfellow neighborhood of Minneapolis! I love that if you live in the Twin Cities you can get from one city to another with relative ease--and without countless suburbs separating the two. In some places the river divides the cities and in others places there's no real defining feature that tells you that you've crossed a border.

I was also reminded of how wonderful it is to live where the Mississippi River traverses. A national treasure flowing through our cities, its character changing as it winds itself past steep limestone cliffs, along built-up river banks, and through locks and dams built in another age. Walking along the river trails (which are on both the St. Paul and Minneapolis sides of the river), especially in the winter, is peaceful, bracing, and inspiring.

Images: map from Big Stick maps; Lake Street bridge aerial photo from

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Going Native

If you live in Ramsey or Hennepin counties and you want your yard to be in sync with your environmental values, you can get involved with their native restoration programs. As the Minnesota DNR points out, native plants can "provide natural beauty, cost-effective landscaping alternatives, environmental services, and habitat for wildlife." The Ramsey County Conservation District's NATURE program (Native plant Alternative Toward Urban Restoration & Environment) will provide free technical assistance for restoration projects and up to 50% of eligible materials cost (with a maximum of $1000.00). In Hennepin County, the Natural Resources Incentives for Critical Habitat (NRICH) also provides technical and financial assistance to property owners to carry out various greening activities.Other great local resources include:
  • Metro Blooms, a nonprofit educational and membership organization of gardeners and community volunteers who are dedicated to ecologically friendly gardening education and the celebration of home gardeners, landscapers, community gardeners and business gardeners in the metropolitan Twin Cities.
  • The Minnesota DNR's webpage on landscaping with native plants and directory of places to buy native plants.
As your thoughts turn to spring and planting, consider going native!

Images: Winners from Metroblooms "2006 Blooms Top Garden Awards."

Saturday, January 12, 2008

The Twin Cities Must Have Book

I was reminded this morning, as my friend leafed through my copy of the American Institute of Architects (AIA) Guide to the Twin Cities, that I needed to share with the world how excellent this book is.

The guide is written by architectural critic Larry Millett, who authored the lovely but depressing, Lost Twin Cities and Twin Cities Then and Now books that chronicle the demise of some of our wonderful architectural treasures and some of the heinousness erected in their place. Millett's familiarity of the turf is evident and I think that I read somewhere that he walked almost every street in the Twin Cities to write this book (which at 665 pages means some serious walking). The book is divided into neighborhoods, each with its own overview that gives you some historic context and a sense for what the place is like today. Then with maps and photos, Millett introduces you to scads of mostly historic and many unique buildings and places in Minneapolis and St. Paul. Millett's writing style is what seals the deal when it comes to this book's greatness. He's engaging, he's snarky, and he doesn't hold back when it comes to the ugly and the profane. For instance, here is his view on the Malcolm Moos Health Sciences tower on Washington Avenue on the U of M campus:
"The architectural equivalent of a Hummer, the idea apparently to show just how big and bad a building can be....With their crushing scale and ominously overhanging upper floors, they certainly convey a sense of the power of modern medicine, albeit in a thoroughly unpleasant way."
Millett also cracks me up when he talks about the streets in downtown Saint Paul.
"Over the years, streets have been widened, straightened, or even eliminated, and downtown St. Paul is a model of clarity compared to what it once was. Even so, navigation can still prove perplexing to visitors from such exotic locales as Minneapolis."
I could go on..this book is full of writing gems, but more importantly it's the best guide book, history book, map, and photo album for the Twin Cities.

Images: MHS Press and University of Minnesota Medical School.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Twin Cities Thrift

When I lived in NYC and DC, I used to love (in a way that deserved mockery) telling people, "Oh, you like this shirt? It's Armani. I got it at this amazing thrift store in Minneapolis for $1.99." I was a sanctimonious braggart, a scavenging zealot. Out of control in my need for the deal of the century (and I do think it was that Armani shirt, although I did buy a friend a Diane Von Furstenberg wrap dress at a Goodwill in Arlington, VA for $4!)

We upper-Midwesterners don't like to waste things. So we hoard them. Then we freak out in the spring time because we have too much stuff, so we don't throw it away, we give it away. That's what makes our collection of thrift and consignment stores, church rummage and neighborhood yard sales a total treasure trove. We've got the big guns like Goodwill (that even has the crazy Second Debut shop in St. Louis Park that is all designer) , Savers, Ragstock, Unique Thrift and Buffalo Exchange is going to be added to the mix. Then there are all of the smaller consignment shops and mom and pop thrift stores like Tatters, the Hope Chest for Breast Cancer, and the Project for Pride in Living shop.

So if you love a scavenger hunt, enjoying bragging to your friends about how cheap your vintage lamps were, and want to do something good for the environment by re-using someone else's stuff--the Twin Cities are the place to be.

Citysearch's list of Twin Cities thrift stores is here.
Ali Shops list of consignment/outlet shops is here.

Image: Goodwill Industries (location: Fairview and University, St. Paul.)

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Why we dine: Installment 2

In this household, since it doesn't seem like any international jet-setting is in our imminent future, we like to using dining as our passport to the larger world. And truly there is no better place to do it than on the St. Paul stretch of University Avenue. We fuel our desires to visit Vietnam by sampling freakish amounts of the home-style menu items at Saigon. We pretend that we can see the mountain ranges of Cambodia as we chow down on some "Cha Saiko Kroeung" (beef lemongrass, I think) from Kim Huoy Chor at University and Aldine. We visualize onion-shaped domes and drab Stalinesque apartment buildings as we stuff our faces with piroshki and borscht at the Russian Tea House. And we enjoy the nice, tingling feeling in our bellies after we've eaten a really spicy dish from Little Szechuan.

And people think that the Twin Cities are miracle whip/wonder bread homogeneity?!?! Well, have we got something to show them!

Image: City Pages.

2007 Best of the Twin Cities

Somehow I managed to miss the real-time issuance of the City Pages 2007 Best of the Twin Cities Guide. Well it's now memorialized on this website and will be consulted for some future excursions. While I might disagree with their choice for "the best use of taxpayer dollars", I am encouraged to try breakfast at Serlin's cafe on Payne Avenue on the east side of St. Paul.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

A little history with your walk

One of my missions in life is to get Minneapolis and St. Paul outfitted with top-notch neighborhood heritage trails. The DC Cultural Tourism office already has a great model that we could rip off. Heritage "trails" let you take a self-guided walking tour of a neighborhood where signs along the way alert you to areas of cultural and historic importance. These same signs also have a map of the route so that you don't even need a guidebook (although you could sell guidebooks for people to keep as a reference and/or souvenir).

There are lots of benefits to these kinds of trails. They bring people off of the beaten path to explore neighborhoods that they might not have visited. They get people walking. They educate. During the planning phase, they bring together neighbors who know the local history and who can help to tell the story of the neighborhood from an intensely local perspective. Once the trail is up, it's a nice source of community pride. And, they're kind of like an urban scavenger hunt for grown-ups who appreciate history.

Images: DC Cultural Tourism.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Congratulations Minneapolis-St. Paul!

One of my first blog posts -- on November 14th-- was about the competition for a spot on HGTV's "Change the World, Start at Home" program. Turns out the Twin Cities was 1 of 5 cities with the most votes securing its place on the show. These three projects will get a big boost from their participation in the program:
  • The restoration of the Nelson home in Dayton's Bluff.
  • Improving the Wilder Restoration Center and City Academy on St. Paul's Eastside.
  • Continuing work on St. Paul's Bruce Vento Nature Sanctuary.
Check out the project details here. If you are interested in volunteering for one of the projects, HGTV has a website with the details, here. You can also contact one of the local partners, Rebuilding Together--Twin Cities, about volunteering.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Cultivating the cold

Although I may not always follow the doctor's orders when it comes to getting out and about during the winter as opposed to hibernating, I truly appreciated Jay Wallijasper's column in the Star Tribune today. Wallijasper's prescription is for cities to create great public spaces, programmed with activities (i.e. ice rinks, public markets,) so that going outside is an irresistible option, regardless of freezing temperatures. He talks about places where streetways are colorfully lit, heat lamps adorn the sidewalks, and urban planners focus on designing with sunlight and wind reduction in mind. He quotes Jan Gehl, a planner from Copenhagen, who says:

"Climates differ all over the world," he says. "But people are the same. They will gather in public if you give them a good place to do it."

Love 'em or hate 'em, it's undeniable that the skyways have moved traditional street level activities like dining and shopping and barbers onto the second floor. Pedestrians, who really are the lifeblood of downtowns, are scurrying along in climate-controlled "habitrails" rather than filling sidewalks with vitality.

Gehl describes this phenomenon clearly.
"When you glass in the city, you eliminate the 'bad' days but also all the 'good' days. That is too much of a price to pay. You miss the fresh air, the street life. You may have 20 bad days a year when you want to stay indoors, but 200 good ones you miss. I say you make the city as good as possible for the good days, and that will carry it through on the bad days."
So let's embrace our hale and hardy natures, forgo the skyways, and celebrate the joy of living in a place that has all four seasons. Skate, shop, and stroll on those downtown wintry streets and tell the world, "We're Minnesotans, we live for this!"

To read more on successful winter cities, see Wallijasper's longer article in the Project for Public Spaces recent bulletin.

Image: Skating in front of Landmark Center, St. Paul, photo taken by Jim Gehrz

Saturday, January 5, 2008

A strange source of civic pride

When you stand on the edge of downtown St. Paul, on the top of the bluffs, facing the Westside, you might notice billowing, puffs of steam coming from an oddly attractive industrial building. The building proclaims itself with a big banner reading "Red Hot, Cool, & Green." The building is home to St. Paul District Energy, North America's largest hot water district heating system. So what does that mean? It means that many of the civic, office, and hotel, and convention facilities get their heating and cooling from hot water, most of which is heated by burning wood chips (and not by burning heavy polluting coal). St. Paul District Energy's website also points out that:

Air emissions have been significantly reduced; 150 smokestacks and 50 cooling towers on downtown buildings have been eliminated, as well as 300 chimneys on nearby homes.

Our closed-loop distribution system has eliminated the use of groundwater for heating and cooling, saving an important natural resource.

That's pretty cool for a downtown energy plant! I'm proud to say that it is part of my hometown!

Image: Market Street Energy.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Best in Show--Minnesota Style

Here's an example of why it is great to be a parent in the city. This morning we dropped my husband off at his office in downtown St. Paul and decided to check out the Land O' Lakes Kennel Club Dog Show just down the street at the convention center. My daughter loooooooooves dogs so this was the best 8 bucks I've ever spent on an event. Dogs in the hallways, dogs prancing around the judging rings, dogs getting groomed, it was a dog-loving toddler's delight. I like dogs too (and based on today have decided that our next dog will be from a Belgian Malinois or Belgian Tervuren rescue club), but I also delighted in the people watching. For all who have seen Christopher Guest's"Best in Show" there is nothing like a dog show to confirm his vision. Granted I didn't spy any Parker Posey characters frantically looking for the "busy bee," but there was far too much pep-talking going on between human and dog (overheard: "do you think you did well? do you think you did well?"), not to mention over-use of the word "bitch." Just cause its the right word for a female dog, doesn't mean you have to use it.

Anyway, parents who live in the city (and the surrounding suburbs too), if you don't know about these two great web-sites that have daily activity calendars and tons of ideas for places to go check them out here (Go City Kids is how I found out about the dog show).

Go City Kids
Playtime PlanIt

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Two Great Things that Go Great Together = Art + Parks

Back in the tepid fall, we took a little trip to the suburbs, Eagan to be exact, to visit the Caponi Art Park. The park is located on retired Macalester College arts professor and accomplished sculptor Anthony Caponi's property (along with his home and his studio.) There are wonderful sculptures tucked into the woods and along hillsides that turn a walk into a surprise scavenger hunt. In a 2006 interview with MPR, Professor Caponi sums up quite nicely what is so wonderful about this combination:
"I believe that's what's missing in most exhibits is the sense of discovery," Caponi says.
We haven't visited Western Sculpture Park the lesser-known sculpture garden of the Twin Cities. I've driven by it many times, amazed that it is there, and wonder how many other people never knew that it existed. It's just west of the State Capitol complex, off of Marion Avenue, in St. Paul. This link will take you to a handy guide to the park.


Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Why we dine: Installment 1

Sometimes I go to restaurants for reasons other than the food. Sometimes it's the ambiance. Sometimes it's convenience. But the other night when my husband and I went to Cafe Biaggio just east of the intersection of University and Raymond Avenues, it was for the unique location. The restaurant is in a former warehouse and the only eating establishment in its block of buildings. It's a white tablecloth kind of place that you don't expect to find so near to the Rock-Tenn paper recycling facility. This odd juxtaposition intrigued us and walking inside you find it kind of hard to believe that this restaurant is here. Our food was so-so, but checking out this place was worth the tab. Despite this being an uneventful occasion, it is emblematic of why cities delight--every day there's a chance to stumble on some unexpected place, have a random encounter, and witness diamonds in the rough.

Image: Citysearch.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Best Things about Como Park Zoo and Conservatory

So it's New Year's Day. The temperatures are hovering around zero. You've got an under-napped toddler who is bouncing off the walls. What do you do? Why, you go to the Como Park Zoo and the Marjorie McNeely Conservatory! Aside from the completely odor-free primate house (which is some kind of atmospheric feat that other zoos need to replicate!) the place is great because:
  • It is open 365 days/year.
  • It is free (there is a request for a $3/adult and $2/child donation, but you aren't turned away if you fail to donate.)
  • The newish Visitor Center and Conservatory architecture is gorgeous (don't miss the deco 1936 zoological building attached to the back side of the visitor's center--it's a gem!)
  • It's 85 degrees and humid in the Conservatory.
  • It inspired the children's book "Goodnight Gorilla" which this household has memorized.
  • If you are hardy enough, you can head to the adjacent Como Park and go cross-country skiing or snowshoeing and enjoy a little apres-ski beverage at the cafe there.
We are truly spoiled having such an amazing resource in our backyard.

Image: University of Minnesota Extension, Clay County.