Xtravapaloooooza™ Great Lakes Road Trip Highlights

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Sunrise over Lake Superior

To celebrate and distract my thoughts from my upcoming 50th birthday, I have been going on some adventures in what I am calling the “Yay I’m Almost 50 North American World Tour Xtravapaloooooza!™.” One thing that surprised me returning from my road trip was my lack of excitement to share my stories beyond my family; I had an awesome time so I am not sure why I was so quiet. But before my old brain starts to forget, it is time to get documenting.

My first adventure was a road trip around The Great Lakes with my 13-year-old niece; each day was completely different from the next and it is hard to pick a favorite activity. Some highlights:

Day 1 – I relaxed with a pre-trip pedicure then collected my niece and promptly got a speeding ticket. Discovered the niece likes my homemade kale chips.
Lowlight: Speeding ticket.
Bonding: Speeding ticket.

Day 2 – I got up early and renewed my expired car registration at the DMV then headed north for lunch at Gordy’s Hi Hat in Cloquet. The wind was so strong near the shore in Duluth the birds could barely get off the ground. Split Rock Lighthouse gave us our first chance at accidental learning. Gooseberry Falls was flowing like mad. My niece tried and even liked the Walleye at the lodge right on Lake Superior with the crazy loud tiny frogs. We repacked bags in more practical manner.
Highlight: The view and sounds of Superior from our room at Cove Point Lodge in Beaver Bay, MN; we had a comfortable patio for relaxing or could walk out right to the rocky shore and it was a fab way to begin our trip.
Bonding: Sharing the joy of singing “little old lady got mutilated late last night” from “Werewolves of London” by Warren Zevon.

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Xtravapaloooooza!™ Round One: Great Lakes Road Trip

I began my “Yay I’m Almost 50 North American World Tour Xtravapaloooooza!™” with a road trip around the Great Lakes accompanied by my 13-year-old niece and occasionally the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man. It was not the longest road trip I have taken but it was the most time I have spent in a tiny car with another human and I am happy to say we both survived the experience and enjoyed it.

Our adventure began with me being super courteous to the dedicated police officer who rightfully pulled me over for failing to slow down while driving through his speed trap, err 4-block town, I otherwise always slow down for when passing through. Yep, 10-minutes into the trip I was handing my license and outdated insurance card to a cop and swearing like a muther in my head while my niece was smirking and imagining her epic adventure was going to involve a night in jail.

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Exploring Alexandria Minnesota

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Ole puts the “big” in this central park.

For as long as I have lived in Minnesota, I have explored very little of the state beyond the Twin Cities and Duluth. It is my hope to rectify this situation. A City Pages ad for Ole Oppe Fest in Alexandria piqued my curiosity, it sounded like a perfect blend of small town charm and cheese and was a mere 2 hour drive away so I headed out.

As I was driving, I decided to swing into the Apple store to see what solutions they had for listening to music from my iPhone in my car. That led to a stop at Radio Shack of all places for an adapter. That led to a stop at another Radio Shack that had the adapter in stock. That led to the realization I had left my fitbit at home and a debate if I should return to retrieve it or carry on.

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First Avenue Revisited

Last week I made my triumphant return to my favorite live music venue, First Avenue, for a rockin’ Blitzen Trapper and Drive-By Truckers concert; I am not sure how long it had been since I had graced those black walls with my presence which means it had been way too long. While no one specifically said so, I could feel the staff, even the building itself, welcoming me as I entered.

These guys.
These guys.


I spent the very first night I began living in Minneapolis, oh so many years ago, at First Avenue watching The Mighty Lemon Drops. I had just transported my last batch of belongings and a barfing cat from my hometown, took a second to toss on a passably cool t-shirt, added a fresh coating of hair spray and headed downtown.

Walking in the building I felt transported to musical heaven; I stopped for a moment to take it all in but had to get moving quickly as I was blocking the entering crowd. It was not exactly as presented in that Prince movie and Prince was no where to be found but, as I stood on the balcony overlooking the stage and crowd below, I knew I had made the right choice moving to Minneapolis.

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My Friday Afternoon With Matisse

Every time I travel to a new city, I make a point of visiting one or more of its museums, so it is somewhat strange how little time I have spent at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts (MIA) when it is within walking distance of where I live. After seeing repeated ads for the Matisse exhibit, and having heard of the artist, I thought it was a perfect opportunity to spend a little quality time at the fabulous local museum.

I am always struck by the architecture of museums and often remember it more vividly than the paintings within. Be it columns, staircases, marble floors, grand entrances or long ornate hallways, each element combines to create a spectacular setting and a tone of noteworthiness. The MIA is no exception to creating a beautiful backdrop to appreciate art, although my favorite entrance is currently under siege of an ice wall worthy of guarding by the Night’s Watch from The Game of Thrones.

So much ice, should be melted by June.
So much ice, should be melted by June.
The practical entrance.
The practical entrance.

As I always do when given the opportunity, I bought the audio tour to help enhance my experience with actual knowledge and stuff beyond just looking at the prettiness; I found the audio for this exhibit to be well done and worth the added cost. The headsets add a layer of isolation making me feel as though I am all alone enjoying the art.

There is something about visiting a museum that makes me feel small. When I think about how long ago a piece was created or how prolific an artist was I am in awe and wonder about their exceptional life and the sacrifices they had to make to create such beauty. With Matisse, he was considered a modern master by the time he was my age and was able to reinvent himself and his art as he continued his career; if I am a modern master of anything it is TV viewing which is much less impressive.

View of downtown Minneapolis from the inside of the MIA.
View of downtown Minneapolis from the inside of the MIA.
Looking toward the practical exit.
Looking toward the practical exit.

My ability to appreciate art is incredibly primitive; I react on a gut level as to what strikes my fancy but could not articulate any logical reason why one piece appeals to me over another. I listen to the audio, I read the posted description and while I understand that these words are English, when put together to describe the art I practically hear the swoshing sound as they fly over my head. I learned to accept this about myself ages ago and I am sure it is part of my charm.

On this visit I found myself drawn to some lithographs and a painting called “Girl Reading, Vase of Flowers” which I liked for the colors as well as how the girl was sitting as she read.

Normally, I am drawn to sculptures and it takes all of my self-control to not pet them. I liked Matisse’s sculptures but not as much as the other pieces. I did think it was cool that he used sculpting as a way to inspire his painting.

My favorite painting from this visit.
My favorite painting from this visit.

Most of the people milling about the art appeared appreciative and eager to take it all in. There was one couple that seemed to be in my way no matter which direction I turned but, as I was not in any hurry, I was not bothered. I was struck by a lost girl who was casually looking for her people as a museum staff member followed closely behind trying to extract any clue as to their identity. The young girl, maybe 7 or 8, seemed so nonchalant by the occurrence I assumed this was not a first and considering I saw her wondering about on her own later I also assume it will not be her last.

I enjoyed the exhibit and it was a lovely way to spend an afternoon. I must make a point to get back to the MIA soon and enjoy the permanent collection.

I learned that Matisse often painted the same pieces like this gray vase.
I learned that Matisse often painted the same pieces like this gray vase.
I learned that Matisse often painted the same pieces like this gray vase.
I learned that Matisse often painted the same pieces like this gray vase.
If you do not want me to touch, you should make the signs easier for old lady eyeballs to read.
If you do not want me to touch, you should make the signs easier for old lady eyeballs to read.

Spontaneous Minnesota Landscape Arboretum Adventure

Yesterday I spontaneously decided to head to the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum hoping some of the great outdoors and a farmers market would shake my boredom and distract my brain.

I had a vague notion of where the Arboretum is located based on the one time I stumbled upon it wanting to visit the birthplace of the best apple ever, the Honeycrisp. It seemed far enough away to justify some snacks so I convinced myself that a Jamba Juice with a protein boost was an acceptable treat and would not violate Operation Suck Less in 2014; I even included a tiny bit of banana for extra nutrition hoping all the berries would mask the nastiness.

Visitor center with a tree made from potted plants that I would manage to kill in 24 hours.
Visitor center with a tree made from potted plants that I would manage to kill in 24 hours.

I glanced at the directions and headed for Hwy 5 dodging the massive potholes to the best of my ability. I see much roadwork headed our way this spring.

I should probably know the speed limit of these highways but my eyeballs seem to refuse to acknowledge any speed limit sign as if there is a conspiracy within my body knowing that I really do have a need for speed. Since I do not have a need for a speeding ticket, I just drove a tiny bit slower than the lead car; I cannot wait until I can drop the top! Note to self: plan a road trip.

The Arboretum is closer than I expected so I didn’t even get to finish my beverage, which was fine since the banana was giving me gross banana burps and I wanted to barf. There is a certain joy being alone in the car and being able to burp as loud as you want, even if they are gross banana burps.

I love when I can drive someplace on instinct and little instruction so I was feeling pretty proud when I found it so easily. To be fair, I think anyone could find it with little instruction but I am going to feel proud anyway.

The admission is a bit pricey at $12 but I told myself it is for the trees and you do get a voucher for a second visit within 30 days. I was surprised at the crowd, but I guess many other people were looking to shake the boredom.

Not yet anyway.
Not yet anyway.

The main visitor center was hosting the Mill City Farmers market and I wandered around aimlessly looking for anything that might appeal to my still flip-floppy stomach.

I am not sure why I thought I would find vegetables since there is still snow everywhere but when you put together the words “farmer” and “market” my mind thinks veggies. Instead, I tried some barbecued bison and wild rice meatballs from a mom and her cute helper child who slimed up the toothpicks before she stuck them in the balls. They were okay but my regular cow ones are better and do not come with random kid slime.

Since the market did not seem to hold much interest, I headed out to wander the trails. Even covered in snow, the grounds are beautiful and trees, I assume maple, are set to gather maple syrup.

I wandered around, letting my thoughts drift and enjoying the snow for what I wished would be the last time. At this point I realized spontaneous walking adventures in the freezing cold are less awesome when you go straight from the gym and are still wearing yoga pants so I headed back to the car.

Leaving the Arboretum requires turning on to a rather busy highway, which always makes me tense trying to find the perfect opening; this body has been in a couple car accidents and would like to never experience that again. I mistakenly let a few prime opportunities go but, as the line behind me began to get longer, I got more gutsy and I finally gunned it hoping that white truck coming at me would slow down long enough to let me hit whatever the speed limit is on the highway. Luckily, it did.


It was a nice afternoon adventure and while it took me the rest of the night to thaw my butt, I am glad I made the trek. I will have to head back again when the snow is just a distant memory.








"Forest Transformation in memory of those who perished on September, 11, 2001"
“Forest Transformation in memory of those who perished on September, 11, 2001”

Wine Bistro? Brilliant!

Last night I had a lovely night with an old friend at JJ’s Coffee + Wine Bistro in Uptown and discovered the most brilliant concept: A coffee house by day that converts to a wine bar at night. A casual bar where you can sit around tapping on your various electronic devices, sip wine, eat some tasty snacks and look at Lake Calhoun and the Uptown crowd. It is a good thing I do not live closer or I might just become a regular which would put a big wrinkle in my Suck Less In 2014™ campaign.

Passive-Aggressives And The Food And Wine Experience

Yesterday I went to the 20th anniversary of the Minnesota Monthly Food & Wine Experience held at the Metropolitan and Legend’s clubs of Target Field. I loved the location choice and it was a surprisingly perfect fit for such an event with easy parking, beautiful views and vendors spread out enough to not feel obnoxiously crowded yet still maintaining the room energy.

The event boasts nearly 200 vendors sampling various wines, beers, and tasty morsels but of course the best part is the people watching.

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