Monday, March 31, 2008

Fear of an Old Home

I had an interesting conversation the other day with someone who said she'd love to live in Minneapolis or Saint Paul, but feared the prospects of having to do repairs to an older home. I figured that in an area like ours, there would be lots of places to turn for learning how to tackle some common home improvement/repair issues. Here's what I found:

Both Saint Paul and Minneapolis have Community Education courses focused on Home Improvement. You can take classes in "sanding your own floors," "window restoration," "electrical wiring," "plaster and sheetrock repair," among many others.

Depending on where you live and the income you make, there are also city and non-profit programs to help offset the cost of some improvements (e.g. lead paint removal, energy updates, etc.) Both Minneapolis and St. Paul have "City Living Home Programs" that offer home repair loans and mortgage assistance. There's also a list of some different programs here and I'm familiar with the work that Sparc does in Hamline Midway, the North End and East Como.

If home improvement still scares you, the city of Minneapolis has the Home Ownership Works program where you can move into a home that the city has remodeled to bring up to code.

So don't fear the old house--there are lots of resources available to you!


Saturday, March 29, 2008

A Minneapolis Institution

Indulging an unnatural craving for a glazed donut, I headed over to the out-of-the-way (for me) but revered Mel-O-Glaze bakery on Minnehaha Parkway and 28th Avenue S. What's up with the spray-painted, fake Christmas trees out front? My donut was good, but I think since I went in the late afternoon, it was past its peak freshness. Regardless, I love that this bakery is all by itself on a street corner surrounded by homes, apartment buildings and the lovely Parkway.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Green Routes

The Minnesota-based non-profit, Renewing the Countryside, hosts Green Routes a great website that lets you find unique accommodations and attractions across the state. As the website says:
"Green Routes will help you discover small, unique businesses that are rooted in their communities; places to eat where the food is not only fresh from a family farm, but where you might bump into the farmers who grew it; places to have fun while helping to ensure that our natural and cultural resources will be around for many generations to come. Green Routes gives you a way to incorporate your values into your travels. It makes it easy to find fun and rich experiences and places."
So the next time that your plans include traveling around the Land of 10,000 Lakes, check out Green Routes for some unique destinations.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Graceful Losers

We're trying to be graceful in our epic defeat in the St. Paul Pioneer Press Peeps Diorama Contest, but my friend Denise and I feel totally robbed. I mean how can a diorama of the G.O.Peeps convention lose out to a bunch of peeps doing yoga? What's clever about that? Dear readers, go and judge for yourself. Here is the link to the winners. Here's the link to our entry. If you go to our entry you can give it your own vote and at least if you like it, we'll feel a little less w(p)eepy.

PS: Here's what we included along with our photo submission:

Explanation from creator:
We discovered after we built the diorama that taking pictures to fully capture the inside action of the GOPeep Convention and the outside scene with the Peeps Corps and the Protest Peeps, was going to be difficult. So for all of you judges struggling to read the signage, let us provide you with some assistance here: Protester Peep signs read: "No Justice. No Peeps." "Give Peeps a Chance" "Greenpeeps: Save the Whales" "Up with Peeple." and "Hey Hey Ho Ho the GOPeeps Have Got to Go." The Peeps Corps, includes representatives from CNN, KSTPeeps, the Colbert Report, and of course, the Pioneer Press. And, yes, those are secret service peeps watching the protest barricades.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Day Trippin'

During our glorious day of toddler-free gallivanting, my husband and I drove the Great River Road route from St. Paul to Wabasha, stopping in Red Wing and hiking in Frontenac State Park. We crossed the river at Wabasha and ate a wonderful lunch at the acclaimed Harbor View Cafe in Pepin, WI, where we learned that Lake Pepin makes up 22-miles of the Mississippi River. Off-season, we had little competition for seats! Although we had to speed through the rest of our drive, I found that of all the places we cruised, Stockholm, WI was by far and away the most charming. Not bad for a town of 97 people!

image: Stockholm, WI website.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

I Scream, You Scream...It's about that time

My husband likes to call me a "gold digger"--not for the usual reason of trolling guys that have loads of money--but for my annoying tendency to eat all of the yummy bits out of our flavored and chunky store-bought ice cream (incidentally, I do the same thing with trail mix.) So I think we'll all be happier when the weather is warm enough to justify an evening jaunt to the area's excellent ice cream parlors (are all ice cream shops parlors? What makes it a parlor?)

St. Paul parlors:
  • Izzy's @ 2034 Marshall Ave (when will I ever be there when they serve the famous salty caramel?)
  • Grand Ole Creamery @ 750 Grand Ave.
  • Conny's Creamy Cone @ 1197 Dale St N (if it is good enough for Garrison Keillor, it's good enough for me!)

Minneapolis parlors:
  • Sebastian Joe's @ 1007 W Franklin Ave
  • Pumphouse Creamery @ 4754 Chicago Ave
  • Crema Cafe @ 3403 Lyndale Ave S
Then again, why wait til' it's warm--don't Minnesotans hold some record for eating the most ice cream per capita off season?

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Day By Day Cafe

I've wanted to try out this place for a long time and we finally did today. It is adorable--pine paneling covering the walls of the back room; built in book cases filled with books and toys; lots of cozy booths and great windows. I bet that it's awesome in the summer when you can eat in the outdoor seating area. My food was good too and it is totally family friendly. We'll definitely be back!

Day by Day Cafe--West 7th Street @ Goodrich in St. Paul.

Monday, March 17, 2008

St. Paul Neighborhood History

If you are looking to learn more about the history of St. Paul's neighborhoods, check out the Ramsey County Historical Society's website. They've got neighborhood profiles of many of the city's neighborhoods.

St. Paul's former Central Park

In the mid 1880s, St. Paul's Central Park was constructed south of the State Capitol. Paths and an ornate fountain resided in the park and homes and apartment buildings ringed its borders. By 1929 the newspaper was calling for the removal of the "screen of ugliness" (the buildings) that were blocking the approach to the Capitol. Gradually the homes were removed, the last in 1970, and now as an ultimate screen of ugliness, the only structure on the site is a government parking ramp. Ahhhhh, progress.

image: postcard from 1922, Minnesota Historical Society.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Doing the Bluff

I think that Dayton's Bluff is one of the most interesting neighborhoods in St. Paul. It's made up of a couple of different parts: the Historic District, north of I-94 and east of East 7th Street; Swede Hollow, west and north of East 7th, and Mounds Park on the South side of 94. The houses are amazing--lots of Victorians, some crazy mansions, and more modest homes. The area is super hilly and Mounds Park and Swede Hollow Park are great places to explore.

If you want to get out and explore this neighborhood off of the beaten path, the Dayton's Bluff Community Council has created several different walking and driving tours. You can access them online here or pick up brochures at their office at 798 East 7th Street. Before you go you can read up on some neighborhood history too.

Since the season of the shirtless Minnesotan is upon us (see previous blogpost), this is a great time to get to know a lesser-known part of the city!

images: Dayton's Bluff Community Council

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Shirtless Minnesotans: A Phenomenon

Yesterday's 50 degree warm spell has prompted this post on a phenomenon I took notice of in the early 1990s while in high school. I'd forgotten about it until last spring when my husband and I were making trips to MN to look for a house. One such visit took place during an unseasonably mild April weekend. Maybe it was in the 60s, certainly not the 70s or 80s, and we witnessed several different men with their shirts off.

For those of you who have lived here for awhile you know the feeling when the air starts to warm up and 50 degrees feels like summer vacation? Well many residents seem to think that indeed, temperatures in the high 50s and into the 60s constitute a heat wave, and so the wearing of shorts and sandals and the removal of shirts, is an all too common phenom. I will admit, that as a youth, I definitely donned shorts in weather that would make a Floridian bundle up. But even though I drove with my window down yesterday, I can assure you that shorts and sandals have another 20 degrees to go!

image: Georgia Gould (BTW those aren't really shirtless Minnesotans, but try googling and see what you find!)

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

West Saint Paul: the Suburb

West St. Paul (not to be confused with St. Paul's westside), which is really south of downtown St. Paul (it's that cursed riparian geography!), gets a great tribute in this video produced by Carolyn Swiszcz & Wilson Webb for the Walker Art Center's "World's Away" exhibit. Thanks to Matt for sharing. Good laughs, good imagery, familiar story, and excellent music.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Progress on New Year's Resolution #1

Back in December, I posted my "5 Twin Cities New Year's Resolutions" on the blog. The first involved getting Calvin Trillin, the acclaimed essayist, novelist, and food writer, to visit the Twin Cities and chow down on some of our amazing ethnic food. For those of you unfamiliar with Trillin's genius, check out these articles. Whether he's trying to convince his daughter to move back to NYC from San Francisco because of the greater number of take-out places that deliver food or summing up the variety of local food specialties from around the country and world, he's always funny.

I decided that as a mere Trillin fan who is proud of this region's surprisingly diverse ethic foods, I was unlikely to have the necessary stature to a) track him down; and b) convince him to come (even if I did offer up the cushy Aerobed at our house and to pay for all of the meals.)

So when my favorite local food writer, Dara Moskowitz Grumdahl, moved over to Minnesota Monthly from the City Pages, last month, I decided to reach out. Surely the powerful triumvirate of Dara and her James Beard awards, Minnesota Monthly, and their sugar mama, Minnesota Public Radio would have more influence than I. Dara's response to my query (as posted in the comments section of her February 29th blog entry) was as follows:

Hi MK,
That's a great idea! I would love to hang out with Calvin Trillin and eat, that would be a highlight of my year. That said, I have no idea how that would be accomplished, but I'll definitely ask around. Even though I've been here for a whole month now I'm really still feeling my way around. Like, I think I've finally picked a parking garage. Progress!

In any event, thanks so much for stopping by and reading, I'm really thrilled about this new job, and I'm so happy you've come along.

So I'll let her keep settling in, writing her excellent and amusing reviews, then I'll nag again later.
Or if y'all think this is a good idea, maybe you can nag a little bit too.

Image of Calvin Trillin by Todd Pitt, USA Today.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Cool Churches: Volume 1

This state has some seriously cool religious architecture. Today's Cool Church is in the eastern reaches of St. Paul. I've never seen it up close, only as I'm returning from visiting my folks in Washington County, along I-94.

The present-day version of Grace Lutheran Church was constructed in 1959 along Old Hudson Road. As the Church history reads:
Designed by Ray Gauger and Associates, it was to be a unique structure, contemporary Gothic, like only two others in the world, the Paris UNESCO building and Saint John's Chapel in Collegeville, Minnesota. There would be no interior columns in the half-million dollar building. Symbolism of the Story of Salvation would be portrayed in the unique windows of colored glass, one-inch thick and chipped on the edges to refract light, set in special concrete. On Palm Sunday, April 15, 1962, worship was offered in the new sanctuary.
What I love is the combination of the modern aesthetic of smooth concrete that frames the sanctuary, inlaid with traditional stained glass. The steeple/bell tower is also a totally unexpected delight too--with its unique shape and slant.

And I wouldn't be me, if I didn't also point out that I love the font (see top picture.) I'm not usually a big serif fan either, but it totally works here!

images: from the Grace Lutheran Church website.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Drinking, Sidewalk Writing, and Spelling

I'm tying together two rather unrelated items in today's post, but since they both involve words, I feel OK about it. In my younger years, bar trivia was perhaps the best way to use your intellect while quaffing a beer or cocktail. Now it seems that the folks at the 331 Club in Minneapolis are going to host the Second Drunken Spelling Bee (which they are now billing as the "Grown Up Spelling Bee.") I actually followed the results of the first one back in early February and read with amusement the winner's chronicles on her blog. Spelling multi-syllabic words after requisite inter-round drinks is a serious feat--especially in this age of spellcheck. Even though I'm way too old and maternal for an event like this, I'm amused by the concept and expect that in America's most literate city, our winners could go national!

A less intoxicating event is going on here in St. Paul. Public Art Saint Paul and Saint Paul’s Department of Public Works are looking for residents to enter a sidewalk poetry contest – “Everyday Poems for City Sidewalk.” The project will permanently install short poems on city sidewalks. Up to 20 contest winners will receive $150 and citywide honor for their work. Submissions due by April 25. Information and guidelines are at:

So find your inner poet and be memorialized!

Image: Lauren Sanford.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

The Modest, the Mundane, and the Monumental

The current issue of MN Architecture, the magazine published by the Minnesota chapter of the American Institute of Architects, has a really good piece about when modesty should trump monumentalism in the design of public spaces and arts facilities. The author, Frank Martin, points to context as a guide. Context includes both the surroundings of the facility/building and its past, current, and future use. Martin also considers the value of authenticity and the charm of the ruinous in evaluating decisions.

I'm not sure that there is a cut and dried formula for determining when to apply the monumental. I love that Minneapolis has spent the money to make the Midtown Greenway bike/ped bridge over Hiawatha Avenue a monument. In my mind, this gesture elevates the status of non-motorized transportation and puts a new, unique landmark on the map.

I also appreciate the rise of "starchitecture" in Minneapolis (Nouvel's Guthrie, Pelli's Central Library) because I think that high quality modern design adds variety and intrigue to our skyline as well as leaving an imprint from our generation. Monumentality for the purpose of leaving landmarks strikes me as a redeeming goal--who doesn't love the ornate St. Paul Hotel, the Foshay Tower, and the Hennepin Avenue suspension bridge?

But we certainly don't need a city made up entirely of precious landmarks. Martin makes the case for modesty when he talks about places like the Soap Factory (whose name belies its use before becoming an art exhibition space). Its modest origins, its architectural authenticity (e.g. aging wood floors, lack of heat) make it a unique venue in its own right--without any touches of the monumental. As Martin says, "every city should have such rusticity and ruins--or at least places that aren't perfect..."

So if we want our cities to be rich with beauty, vitality, and functionality, applying a bit of the Golden Mean to our architectural styling seems appropriate. Thanks for the thoughtful article, Architecture MN!

Images: Martin Sabo Memorial Bridge by Richard Tsong-Taatarii for the Strib; The St. Paul Hotel by Twin Cities Daily Photo; and the Soap Factory by Paul Gill.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Have you got something to say about St. Paul?

Calling all St. Paulites and St. Paulophiles, the Saint Paul Almanac is seeking submissions for the 2009 edition. See guidelines here. Deadline is April 28, 2008.