Two more craft fairs: Experiment Suspended


Becky here: While the last of our grand experiment of the Summer of 2016 ended in late July, I thought as we enter into indoor Holiday Craft Fair season we should cover the last two Joel and I were able to go to…

Our outings to craft fairs this summer took a small dive in quantity, not that I’m complaining. Going to catch up here with the last two we went to.


The Eagan Art Festival is a good festival if you don’t like crowds or way too many booths. One lemonade in hand and you can make it by each booth without much trouble. It was a hot day with hot wind. All in a park that is shaped like a Pokemon ball.


Becky and I guzzled water and lemonade, walking past art and craft booths without much stoppage. We got a single sun catcher that’s blue glass and mirror squares hanging from a fishing line. We’ll need to get more to make the effect better – though there’s not much sun to be had in a north facing apartment.


Look for the Fair necessities, the simple fair necessities…

Becky also got herself some henna on her arm, which was pretty cool.

hennainaction hennatattoo

Becky here: I think the below two pictures sum up the Eagan craft fair best. While Eagan described as an “art” festival, the majority of the tents were filled with ornaments like ones below. There was a focus on cultural crafts or folk crafting, an igniting of the “Wow, My Grandma used to make those” nostalgia. So, the majority of the attendees were seen with heads tipped to one side saying, “Ahhhh….” and allowing memories to flood back. The bottom picture expresses exactly how miserable Joel was at this one. It was HOT. REALLY, REALLY HOT. 

doilies JoelatEagan

Overall comments: Nice art fair that you can do in about an hour. But that it took us 40 minutes to drive there makes it not worth the drive.


Loring Park:

A month later, in July, we went to the Loring Park Art Festival, which is another large circle of a park, though this one has a lake in the middle. The Hennepin/Lyndale headache is even worse this summer with construction, which meant parking quite a ways away (not really far, but the construction made our walk three times as far). We met friends we hadn’t seen in a long time and slowly ambled around the park counter-clock style looking at booths.

MoreConstruction Construction lake tents nature

Saw these sprinklers, which reminded me a lot of  the save points in a video game.

Better save before the boss fight

Alway save before the boss fight 🙂

As the experiment continues, I find I’m having a difficult time remaining engaged with the art/crafts in front of me and not having them wash together with every other example of wooden chopping blocks, mixed media paintings and kitchy crafts that we’ve seen already this summer. Right now, the experiment is leading me toward not appreciating crafts or art. Instead, I’m losing an appreciation for what elevates something from a hobby to an art.


I’ll keep trying to remain present at our outings, but still, it’s so easy to quickly dismiss a booth with a glance. Maybe like I said earlier though, that’s the point. A particular booth should make a connection and call you to it – grab you by the guts in a way that it doesn’t for others.

We did return to a previous favorite – redshoes26 – where we got three more pieces for our wall to add to our first. We love these lil’ guys with their hand-made frames. Loved talking to the people behind the booth as well.


Loring Park was previously part of a trio of art festivals that included Uptown and Powderhorn Park. We were glad to have it separated, particularly with the road construction. Loring Park is easily doable without trying to do more – which we did one year using the free shuttle, and we still were only able to to make it to two of the three.

Becky Here: We had to suspend our experiment by quantity due to the development of an unexpected medical condition which forced us to spend most of the summer inside with air conditioning. As it worsened, we were forced to suspend our experiment for the Summer of 2016. We didn’t come to a conclusion or a philosophy about what is art and what is craft, if they intersect, exist separately, are different from that which is called “folk craft” and “folk art.” I think these questions as well as the many, many festivals and shows we were forced to miss, asks us to continue the experiment in the Summer of 2017. I truly thought we could attend enough to understand how something sold out of a tent is the same or different than the Vangogh we saw earlier in Chicago. So, this year is a learning year. This is the year my body failed us. But we have our feet wet; we understand our mission. And next year, we’ll try again. 

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Harbinger of change, harbinger of balance

October 1st has come and gone bringing a lease renewal signing in its wake. It’s been a year since we moved into the apartment we call home. The past few days have been a blur of re-evaluation of furniture placement and questions about closet organization and worst of all, doubts about certain areas in the house and whether they have ever been cleaned since we moved in. Last night I finally took the time to wipe down the wall in the kitchen that had drips from a now long forgotten splursh from Joel’s “advanced” cooking techniques in the kitchen.

October, this year, didn’t just bring a sickly, over-analyzed accounting of whether or not this place could be classified as a home and does it mean we are achieving the American Dream because we can hire a maid one to two times a year to clean up after our filthy selves. It also brought an illness to Joel. Joel is currently lying on the couch with an ear and throat infection. He’s terrible being sick because he refuses to just lay down and get better. This time, however, he’s out for the count.

Joel’s illnesses are so rare that I view them as a harbinger of some kind. It’s not like they occur at the same time every year, indicating perhaps an allergy to something. They don’t follow any pattern like normal people. We all have that we know we’re getting a cold when, such and such happens. For me, it’s a dry throat. Not Joel, the illness simply arrives, infests his body, uses his body like a parasite for 2-3 days then moves on, leaving a wake of destruction and unanswerable questions. The destruction left behind is whatever the harbinger was a sign of: sometimes car trouble, financial expenses and anxiety, a massive fight between us or others…

Balance art

This time I believe the harbinger is one of balance, that the universe is shifting and changing as Joel and I begin to face large changes in our life. I say that because 1) The car is in the shop for the second time in so many weeks, 2) we began our second job of judging debate 2 weeks ago, giving abundance in case of a time of financial famine, 3) We’ve had 3 major fights over the course of 2 weeks, and we made it through. So, I’m going to go with our need to learn balance as we begin changes in our lives.

My parents announced in August that my dad will retire as of January 1, 2017 and that they are moving from their location, too close to the Canadian Boarder for people to live, to Fargo, ND. At that time it was 5 months and some change for the family to make this adjustment. With Dad being a minister, he has never lived in housing that wasn’t church owned in his adult life. I was taught that “home” is wherever they are at the moment, so, with the exception of one church owned house that I grew too attached to, I became accustomed to visiting and searching for the light switches in the middle of the night.

This move is particularly harder than the others. Dad has been in the ministry for 39+ years, and for those that don’t understand what that means, he’s been a part of his congregations’ biggest life changes: births, deaths, marriages, graduations, divorces and emergencies of many kinds. He also served hospice for more years than I can remember ushering strangers into the afterlife. All of this has taken a toll on a very strong man, and I am proud of him for choosing retirement. However, he’s lost. In this situation, he is not the one who goes to find that lost sheep, but is one himself. He’s searching for his purpose in the next stage of his life. Since I am all too well acquainted with this search, I understand his pain.

But here we are in the wake of the harbinger of balance, and the universe is teaching us about growth and change and what defines “home.”

I think I’ll grab a cup of something pumpkin spice ignoring the crumbs on the shelf where the mugs are and sit next to the parasite that has become my husband and watch the leaves fall and begin my journey of balance.


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We’re on a boat

(republishing in honor of Franconia’s 20th anniversary)

It’s been a long summer full of jobs on top of jobs while also looking for more jobs. You could say we are pretty much focused on jobs. It’s a nonstop train of jobs on the brain that can make you insane and write off rhymes that are lame.

We’d cancelled our big June vacation and have been just staying home ever since in an effort to save money and batten down the financial hatches to weather out this storm. For Labor Day weekend, however, we decided that enough was enough. We’re gonna frickin’ have ONE vacation this summer. Even just a day away in a hotel, not applying to jobs, and just relaxing for 24 hours would help us more than we could express. Our trip began at 9 a.m. Sunday. We got back at 2 p.m. Monday.

We had bought a Groupon in June for a paddleboat ride on the St. Croix River in Taylors Falls, Minnesota. So that was our main goal, to enjoy a boat ride.


Becky on the boat


Joel on the boat

And we did. Becky had to nearly overdose on motion sickness pills to get through it, but we had a great time in our 90 minutes down and back on the river, where we saw fascinating rock formations, lots of canoeists and kayakers, rock climbers who were lounging on the cliff in weird poses as if they wanted to be photographed for a crappy fashion magazine, and for some unknown reason, a ton of canoeists parked on a small sandbar in the middle of the river.

People crowding on a sandbar for no reason

People crowding on a sandbar for no reason

We boated on, Minnesota on one side, Wisconsin on the other. On the Wisconsin side, we saw lots of orange warning signs posted near the water. I told Becky they said “Warning. Hill People.” She loved that. We get a sadistic pleasure out of making up jokes about Wisconsin for no reason.

Here’s an actual sign that was on the road upon entry into Wisconsin that shows how frickin’ creepy they can be:

Wisconsin sign

“We are expecting you” ? Are you tapping our phones?


Wash that away with a pretty outdoorsy shot.

The tour guide pointed out interesting bits and pieces of the river and surroundings.

Him: People say they can see George Washington in that rock. Maybe you need to drink a few before you can say that.

Me: You’ve had all summer to come up with better jokes.

We also spent some time in Interstate State Park at Taylors Falls, known for its many deep, round pits known as potholes, formed by the powerful sand and silt filled rivers underneath glaciers 10,000 years ago. The park is pretty much a death trap waiting to happen, with these deep pits and cliffs every 10 feet. So at any given time, you can hear five parents going on as such:

“Peter? Peter. Peter, get down. Peter, don’t go there. Peter, come here. Peter, stop leaning on that. Peter! Peter, You are going to be in so much trouble if you don’t get over here right now. Peter, quit running. Peter. Oh, fuck it, see if I care.”


I’m pretty sure this park and the stress it causes parents is why there are so many vineyards in the region.

We spent some of Sunday trying to find a vineyard or cidery that was open. But it must not be the season for it. Though the local chamber of commerce and wine tour sites list them, we spent about an hour driving around the countryside from one deserted location to another. Though we knew Minnesota’s weird ass laws prohibit buying alcohol on Sundays, we hoped maybe they had tasting rooms. But our handy GPS system kept leading us to random farmsteads and spots with no visible structures nearby. But we enjoyed the nice drive through the countryside. Hell, we haven’t seen actual corn in the fields all summer – a first for both of us.

We did stop at Eichten’s Bistro and Market for an AMAZING broiled walleye sandwich and cheese plate for two.  We left with more cheese and bison summer sausage. Highly recommend – go here if you can.

At that point, we were beat and went to the hotel to check in. The Holiday Inn Express was over the river in Wisconsin, but we tried not to hold that against it. (rimshot!) In fact, it was an amazing room with a lovely bed that immediately ensnared us into its web with a 3-hour nap. The room also had two TVs, a couch, a fridge, microwave and sink. All for $152 total. Not bad.

We tried watching TV, but when you don’t have cable, you tend to realize just how crappy most television is. We retreated to the DVD of Orphan Black we brought along (WATCH THIS SHOW BECAUSE IT’S AWESOME!!!)

The next day, we stopped for an hour at Franconia Sculpture Park just outside of town. It is 30 acres of huge outdoor sculptures that is free to visit, but seriously, be cool and donate if you go. Like most exhibits, there were some things I liked and some I didn’t. I’m reserving most of what I want to say about this for an art review, but for now, thanks to @karifur for the tip on this place.


To sum up, Taylors Falls can be done in a day for less than $200 for gas and food and activities. For kids, there’s a nearby waterslide park that looked pretty fun. It’s a cheap getaway for the financially strapped and worth every penny for the stress relief.

More pretty pictures:

how the heck is this tree standing.

how the heck is this tree standing.



see the face?

see the face?

Our vessel

Our vessel

Cool artwork

Cool artwork

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Garlic Festival!


Of all the events Becky has brought me to this summer, the Garlic Festival in Hutchinson, MN, was one I looked forward to and feared at the same time. When the flyers tell people that the kickoff to the event will be next to the garlic with lipstick, warning bells ring.

Hutchinson is only an hour’s drive west, so it wasn’t even the longest drive we’ve done for such events around the cities. And it gave us a chance to take in a relaxing drive through Minnesota countryside. The sumac is starting to turn red in spots, a sad reminder of the nearing end of summer (that and the proliferation of back to school ads).

The McLeod County Fairgrounds hosted the event (along with some races at the adjoining track at the same time).

The nice thing about the festival: Most of it is inside or in shady areas, a real bonus on a sunny day.


Becky and I cruised through the first building lined with various vendors, some of which were garlic related. Found the garlic with lipstick (see featured pic), and it surpassed even my wildest nightmares. Gertie, the sly minx, will haunt my nightmares for years to come.

I love garlic. I need to say that. I have 5 bulbs on my counter at home ready for any impromptu Italian or Chinese stirfry, which is often during the summer farmer’s market months. Becky has a good nose for when I’ve had garlic and can smell it on me even a day later. Garlic is my friend. So are green onions. And chives. One of these is found in about 90 percent of what I make.

But even I thought “that’s just too far” when I saw a whole roasted garlic bulb offered as a food choice at the ala carte dining tent.


Garlic wine? It’s something you think you should try, just to see. A morbid curiosity of the taste buds. After all, we add wine to sauces filled with garlic, right? No, you are wrong. Sure, garlic wine tastes ok as you sip it, even nicely sweet. But once you take your first breath, in or out, that wine is going to make you pay. Some things are not meant to exist, even if we can make them.

Screen Shot 2016-08-19 at 4.55.16 PM

You will wonder what you did to deserve this. Why your curiosity doesn’t deserve to have an honorable mention in the Darwin awards. I got Becky to try it, even fully knowing I said it was gross. She concurs with this assessment.

Next we entered the building wherein a 20-30 person deep line led us to get garlic ice cream.


“WTF Joel, You just got done trying garlic wine. Why the hell would you follow up that brilliant idea with ice cream?”


Yeah, I know. But when you drive an hour to get to a place, you need to at least try out the odd things. And in the end, the ice cream wasn’t that bad compared to the wine. You just had to spit out the chunks of garlic like watermelon seeds.

Becky and I then waited for the parade of oddities to pass us by, and we weren’t disappointed. Led by the St. Paul Police Bagpipers, who were awesome. You can watch all one minute of it here.


Time for food – and this is where the event shined. They managed to get some pretty top notch restaurants involved, including the Bachelor Farmer and Haute Dish. We had a fantastic marinated vegetable sandwich from The Bachelor Farmer; Heirloom Tomatoes with balsamic, garlic honey vinaigrette, basil, pepper and fancy salt; and a garlic sausage in Bakersfield fermented bun with garlic pickled mustard seed aioli from Red Table. All of it was amazing. And while we ate they had a demonstration on making a black bean and quinoa burger from the Birchwood Café.



The weird thing about that, and many cooking shows, is how often they say to only use fresh herbs. While good advice in many cases, out in the country, if you don’t grow it, you don’t get it fresh. Yes, rosemary is much better when I can trim a bit off our plant on the balcony, but sometimes it just isn’t an option. And spending 4 bucks for fresh herbs I’ll only use a little bit of and throw the rest away after a week is ridiculous. Quit pushing your fresh herbs on me, society!




Then it was time for the big event for us. Perusing the 100 varieties of locally grown garlic (guaranteed to not have garlic bloat). Problem is, I don’t know the difference between one type of garlic and another, and the descriptions were only vaguely helpful. I got four different types to bring home. After paying the guy, I asked:

“So you ever do a blind taste test to see if you can tell the difference?”

“Yeah, there are some distinct flavors in each one…”

“But can you tell if they are cooked in a dish?”

“Not really.”

Here are pics and descriptions of the particular garlic we bought from an informational sheet.


“Music is a large, beautiful and well-formed porcelain garlic but with more color than most porcelains. Its flavor is very rich and musky, strong and robust. It is warm but not overly hot.”


“Metechi – marbled purple stripe possibly originated in the Republic of Georgia. The plants are more upright and broader leaved than others and has large bulbil capsule and bulbils. The bulbs are nicely colored and very firm. Cloves are few, but large and fat, with blushed and lined skins that are thick. Long storing. Raw it tastes fiery but with a nice finish.”


“German Extra Hardy – Vigorous grower with long roots that enable it to overwinter without heaving out of the ground. Outside skin is ivory-white, but the clove skin is dark read. Strong raw flavor, high sugar content, one of the very best for roasting. Hardneck.”

“Armenian – Beautiful, symmetrical bulbs with about 6 large, easy-to-peel cloves per bulb with earthy, intense flavor when enjoyed raw. Baked, Armenian retains its rich, full-bodied garlic flavor.”

So, lots of varieties – helpful if you like chewing on raw garlic I guess, but for the rest of us commoners, not so much. Also – they had crafts made of garlic.

Onionsanta onionredhat

So after about 90 minutes to 2 hours, Becky and I made our way back to the car, waved at a ton of geese that seemed to be plotting right outside the fairgrounds, and headed home, the taste of garlic coating our mouths and filling our nostrils for hours to come.


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Time to speak

no need for a title

For quite a few months now Joel has been writing our blog with bits of me interspersed. Honestly, I haven’t been strong enough to write a blog. Writing a blog, for me, takes grit to ignore the inner voices that cause me to worry about what others will think. When I write, I write with nothing but honesty and pure emotion.  But, as I celebrate my 90th day at my new job, I realized I haven’t spoken about the job search or that I got a new job to some of my closest friends, let alone contributed to our blog, which was partly launched to talk ABOUT the difficulty of the job search.

To begin, I will attempt to show class in discussing my last job.  I could talk about the woes and horrific stories of the last job, but that would leave a bad taste in my mouth, and I choose not to relive the darkest of moments.  Let’s just say the job was very high stress and the people became corrosive and manipulative. Each day I allowed others to make me weaker as a person.  I knew I had to leave because the job was interfering with my ability to write, the one activity I love more than any other. But, sitting in a dehumanizing job had affected me so much that I haven’t been brave enough to write a blog, until now, so many months later. Even though our blog is about the job search and rejection and all that is wrapped up in that, I had to stay silent for my own protection.

I began looking for a job in December.  My job search was pretty laid back because I was looking for a perfect job and not a job that I could make perfect when I got there. I didn’t want to find myself in the same situation. Then, I had my 1-year evaluation at my old job in March. It was weird. 6 people reviewed me, and I received outstanding reviews from 5 people. But the lone wolf, my immediate boss, ripped my throat out while throwing me under the bus for mistakes he was responsible for. It forced me to step up the job search and find the job I have now in 6 weeks. The total job search took 4 months, much shorter than any I’ve ever had, but I was applying to 10 jobs a day in those last 6 weeks.

Having experience, education and a better work history, as well as the growing economy, made the search easier than previous times. It did not, however; make rejection any easier to take. Rejection, in combination with the dehumanizing job, made every day a struggle to get out of bed. I cried every day when I would wake up and in the car on the way to work those 6 weeks.

This job search was different in one major aspect. With the exception of my current job, every place I interviewed at gave me some busy work task to complete to show my competency. Don’t get me wrong, I’m fine with being tested, but I do have a problem when the material comes from their current website or current work situation, i.e. “Write copy for our upcoming brochure.”

I read somewhere you could charge the company by the hour for how long it takes to complete their tasks because your ideas and work become a part of their repertoire for upcoming marketing campaigns. More than once I’ve seen my “test” answers turn up on websites and advertisements.  I think the main issue is that job seekers are treated like crap sometimes, and we perform tasks that take hours of our free time because of our desperation.  I can see it from the employers’ point of view, double checking that you can do what you say you can do. That’s not my problem. It’s when they use my intellectual property and don’t give me the job.

I don’t have any advice for job seekers on this topic. I think that in the job search we allow ourselves to be put in volatile situations where we will jump through any hoop the possible employer lays out for us. I will be the first to admit I would have jumped through a hoop of fire to get away from my past employer. I still have to wonder; however, just because employers can get free labor from job candidates, should they?

Joel here, cause I’d like to be the interrupter in a blog. Turn the tables! So yeah, watching Becky work 16 hours on a marketing proposal for the client of a potential employer, a presentation they loved, only to have them say no and turn so cold so fast after being so nice was enough to make me never want to give to nonprofits again if that’s the type of person I’m donating to pay. Treat job applicants like dirt, I can’t believe you don’t do the same for the non-profit organizations you assist. It’s easy to say, “that’s the way the world works,” and play the game, but it’s a shitty game that anyone who has gone through it will tell you – so why not change it. They just passed a law in Massachusetts to ban employers from asking job applicants for their salary history, why not pass a law that also bans them from using current real-world scenarios as tests that also give them free labor?

Fortunately, the job I am currently at, never asked me to do such tasks. I’ve found it to be a good start to our relationship, begin at the beginning and leave the desperation behind. The job I have now isn’t perfect, but it has the potential to grow into a job made for me. When asked about my new job by family members and such, I never have anything to say because the first 90 days have been drama free and every day I learn something new. So, right here, right now, this job is just right.

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Our Chicago Weekend


Despite being only 100 bucks a plane ticket and Groupon hotel deals every week, Becky and I had yet to take a trip to Chicago. When my job took me to Chicago for the Business Marketers Association Conference June 1-3, we decided to stay a bit longer and have a nice weekend in a new city. Becky had enough miles to get tickets for only 11 bucks, so it was a bit of a no brainer.

Throughout the spring, we socked away money for the trip and payed ahead for things when we could so that we would be able to be budget conscious and still be able to relax and not worry about money the whole time.

We spent the three conference days at the Hilton Chicago, which is a stately building from 1927 right along the park in “the Loop.” The hotel was beautiful, though severely understaffed. Two notes – it took as long to get to the hotel from the airport as it did to fly to Chicago. It also took almost as long to check in at the Hilton. One guy became my hero when he signed up for Hilton rewards while waiting in line so he could move over to the fast line.

This artwork was in our room and I had to wonder, why is there a picture of a bear vomiting glitter on a wall?


Several days later, we solved that mystery:


The hotel is also seen in a ton of TV and movies, including the helipad for ER and the big conference scene at the end of The Fugitive: “You switched the samples!”

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Well done, Hilton!

Well done, Hilton!



You Switched the Samples!

You Switched the Samples!

I spent the days learning about business marketing and god knows what. Becky relaxed. At night, we met up and went to lovely eateries she had found. Tapas at Buleria one night, Italian at Volere the next. By Friday, my head full of marketing, especially the contradiction that comes up all the time at these conferences (be innovative, but prove your worth with ROI (Return on investment), but you can’t be innovative unless you can show ROI — basically, be innovative, but make sure that risk pays off because risky things always work).

Buleria for Tapas!

Buleria for Tapas!

Friday, our real Chicago adventure began, starting at Millennium park.

Obligatory Cloud Gate pics!

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Yes, that's a guy in a duck costume walking around in ungodly heat

Yes, that’s a guy in a duck costume walking around in ungodly heat

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We headed to our lodging for the weekend, a B&B in Boystown, a gay neighborhood in Chicago. It was a lovely neighborhood with helpful places nearby for food and other stuff. Our room was pretty small, but we made it work, any warmer and we may not have. The B&B people, however, were congenitally grumpy. Every interaction with them, even when I was trying to help out, I seemed to be doing something wrong, even when I was following the signage posted throughout the house, I was doing it wrong. Like when I left my plate in the sink as the sign said, the guy snipped at me to just put it in the dishwasher, which the sign said to NOT do.


Example conversation I had:

Me: Hey, are you the guy to talk to about cleaning?

Him: Why what’s wrong with your room?

Me: Oh, nothing, it’s great. Just wanted to say we don’t need any cleaning today…

Him: Then put up the do not disturb sign on the door!

Me: Sure. But, we will need a towel.

Him: Then don’t put up the do not disturb sign on the door!

Me: Ok, thanks!


After some take out barbecue, we went to Second City, a decades-long dream of mine. It’s an institution that started the careers of many of your favorite comedian actors. The show we saw Fool me Twice, Déjà vu – was astoundingly funny and witty. After the intermission, they re-did a lot of the same sketches, but this time through different points of view, different characters, extended endings and more – very meta. We’re keeping the program so five years from now we can see where they all are.



Saturday we headed to the Institute of Art Chicago. I was able to show Becky why Van Gogh is so much cooler than you realize when you see his stuff in person. I love the three-dimensionality he puts into the paintings –thick smears of paint rise off the canvas like a 3 dimensional relief map. It’s something that can’t be printed. I also got to make this vine:


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Saturday night I got takeout from the Dive Bar next door, that’s their name, not a description. While waiting for my order, I got a Blue Marlin, that comes like this.



Sunday we went to Wrigley Field to watch the Cubs and Diamondbacks play. We weren’t there for the team so much as the field, like a baseball mecca that demands pilgrimage. No elevators in this old park, so getting to our seats was a hell of a trek up a ton of ramps, and food stands in the upper decks are scarce. They even ran out of hot dogs, chicken and fries before the second inning. On top of that the weird seat numbering system meant our seats were together even though we were in different sections and there were 100 numbers between Becky’s seat and mine.

None of that mattered though. It was a gorgeous day for baseball. We had a lovely view of the park and surrounding buildings that have seats on their roofs to watch the game from outside the park. Found out they are called “Wrigley Rooftops.”

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We left the game early and took a nice relaxing trip down around the loop on the el for an hour before heading home.



I ordered a deep dish and fries. When it arrived, I opened it and it looked like an ordinary pizza. It turned out it was, but we were too hungry to care. Half an hour later the phone rings, it’s the B&B guy.

Him: The pizza guy is here.

Me: I already got my order 30 minutes ago.

Him: Well he’s here!

Me: Ok, I’ll be up.

So he gave me the right order and we were able to shove about a bite a piece into our already full gullets before calling it. We’ll have to have the full deep dish experience another day.

All in all, it was a nice trip. Not our best trip. I’d like to return to try again sometime, but not until after a long list of other destinations has been marked off. One thing Chicago has going for it, though, is cheap as hell airfare. Just be sure to pick a week that the hotels are not packed to the brim.

Oh, they also have Dunkin Donuts, a love of Becky’s from her Boston days that we don’t get to partake of in MN


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The Craft Quest Continues


It’s been a while since I first posted about this summer’s Craftsplosion™. I’m going to cram a few craft fairs together here instead of trying to write about each individually.

The most hipster of craft fairs we’ve been to took place at the Minnesota State Fairgrounds on Free Comic Book Day, which took some planning. I went to the comic book store early to grab my goodies, thank goodness. Our original plan was for me to hit the store nearby the fairgrounds, but when we drove by the line was around the building!


The craft fair itself was not nearly so packed. They had generous aisles so there was no constant bumping into people or having to elbow your way through the crowd, which was super nice. If I had to unfairly characterize this particular event, I’d say it was the most hipster of the fairs we’ve been to – not just the patrons, but the booths as well. Lots of kitsch – 8-bit cross stitch characters, cat calendars, Doctor Who shirts. And I’m a sucker for all of it. I got Becky a cross stitched picture of Tina from Bob’s Burgers for her desk at work. I got myself an insulated lunch bag for work with a Doctor Who reference. Becky got a cat calendar as a gift for a friend.




My new lunch box


Scarf for Becky


My gift to Becky for her work desk

There were also several regular craft booths that seemed out of place here. Pottery, candles, and more – people with good talents that don’t rely on pop culture references. All in all, a good mix.

We also caught up with an artist Becky’s been stalking for years since we saw her stuff at Art-A-Whirl. She does mini minimalist graphic designs of landmarks – mostly Minnesota. Becky’s been wanting to start a collection, and we did with her first piece – a pic of where we got married.

Becky here. I wouldn’t use the word “stalking,” Mr. Hagen.

Yes, you did. With the person. You said “I’ve been stalking you.”

Ok, so here’s the real story. Four years ago, on a hot, May day. Joel and I went to our first Art-A-Whirl. We were broke. Really really broke. And so I fell in love with all of the pictures that RedShoes26‘s Christy Johnson designs. At that time she was only doing Minnesota landmarks in frames as well as cards on Etsy. But we couldn’t afford it. So I signed up for her newsletter. I knew one day we would have enough money to be able to purchase our collection of these amazing minimalist designs. I looked forward to receiving her newsletter in my inbox as most people look forward to having emails that aren’t junk or directions. Her emails reminded me about how hard work and positivity can attract such amazing things into one’s life. She’s never been at a craft fair that we went to in the last four years because we went to so few. When I saw she would be there in the vendor list, I was excited because I knew we had the money to buy one, and I knew exactly which one we were going to buy – the Landmark. 

David Foster Wallace has a quote “You will become way less concerned with what other people think of you when you realize how seldom they do.” This quote has gotten me through a lot. Cause I am a ridiculous person. But on the other hand, Christy Johnson had no idea I was using her newsletters as inspiration to keep going. To keep working hard. To keep developing art. And so I told her, and she got a look on her face, as anyone would, after they’ve been stalked for four years. Yes, Stalked. Mr. Hagen, you are correct. But her little piece of art is an inspiration every time I look at it. It’s an inspiration that Joel and I can get through the tough times. And that we’ll be able to buy more pieces as the summer goes along.

Let it be known, Becky said I was right!


This is about the same size as the actual piece

Funny enough, we stopped at Baker’s Ribs on the way home, and saw a few more pieces of her work on the wall there!


The second craft fair was the Hopkins Mainstreet Day on May 21. This was the closest fair we’ve been to that compares with the feel of the typical street fair that Fargo puts on every year.


Booths lined the sidewalk on either side of the street, with food vendors, some crafts, but about half of it was regular businesses that were using the street fair as another way to get customers. A shingle company hung a shingle to sell shingles – that sort of thing. There were about two chiropractors per block giving free assessments (and I can guess how many assessments ended with “you should be seen”). It was nice to be able to say “we rent” to any booth that wanted us to look at a bathtub or landscaping example.


This was the fair to go to if you want bedazzled boots, kitchen aprons with beer patterns, or to see a dog in a tutu. Becky got a few items of jewelry, a present for her father, and we enjoyed our first street fair lemonade of the season, but beyond that, I don’t think Becky will be able to get me to come out for this one again.





So, score one for Craftstravaganza, and a loss for Hopkins.


On June 19, both of us under the weather, we drove over to the St. Paul Fairgrounds again to check out Cruise-N-Art Craft Fair, Part of the Minnesota Street Rod Association “Back to the 50’s” event. Their description: “Local and outstate Artists and Crafters offer a variety of their original,  beautiful, whimsical, classic, and must have items.”  We got up early on a Sunday morning. Called Becky’s dad for a happy father’s day call, then got in the car. 20 minutes later, we were circling the Fairgrounds. And kept on circling. We didn’t feel like parking a mile away from our destination. We tried all the side streets near the actual building we were going to (keep in mind this event takes over most of the fairgrounds). But to no avail. There was no parking to be found within a mile of the place. Both being sickly, we called it a loss and headed back home. Oh well.


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Debt Boulders


Four years and a month ago, I ended 8 months of unemployment after moving to the cities with Becky. During that 8 months, we also got married. To simply get through, we had to live lean, devour my life insurance policy, sell about everything we had that was worth anything, rely on help from Becky’s parents, use credit cards and more. It was pretty horrific. On top of that I had a house that wouldn’t sell and was close to foreclosure. I had about $30,000 in credit card debt piled up. I was getting about 12 phone calls a day.

Then I got a job, and I was able to connect with ACCC for a repayment plan on four of my five cards. Today, I just sent my last payment to finish those four cards, about $12,000 through monthly $260 payments. The fifth card gave me a better deal to just work directly with them. That card will be finished next May.

Here’s what I wrote four years ago:

I have a bankers box full of recent bills, paystubs, late payments, tax returns, house information. It’s about 10 pounds worth of documents I used to fill out the lawyers form for bankruptcy. It’s been sitting there, waiting for me to have enough money to move ahead with it. Then I sold the house and got hired. So all that was left was about 30k in credit card debt.

And with the new job, I have the ability to make things right. I was more than willing to do bankruptcy and take a dump on my credit rating. I don’t want to buy a house again for a long time, and used cars are the only option I’ve ever thought would be available to me. Renting if we ever decided to move would be difficult, but we are settled with no plans to move for another four years anyway. Moving sucks balls.

On Wednesday, I called ACCC, a nonprofit debt relief company to see if I could get on a debt management program. They set me up to start at 770 a month for nearly five years to get out of it, which was less than I imagined. If I were to continue paying the minimum payment on these cards, it would cost me 1000 a month and take 25 years and about 17000 more in interest. They asked me to call each of the five cards to close the accounts.

On Thursday, I called each card. The big one, the 20000 one, gave me an offer to pay off directly to them, 270 a month for 60 months. They would forgive the interest, so the total cost would be 16000, with 0 percent interest locked in for those 60 months. I called ACCC back and they were like, shit, yeah, take that deal. So now between the two, it will be 550 a month to fully pay off my debts. Half of that for 4 years, the other half for 5. And I’ll be out.

And after all that, I started putting the papers I’d pulled out of the box back in. All the credit bills, all the paperwork, the 10 pounds of paper that has felt like 2,000. And my body began to shake, and my face clenched in tearless sobs. And I can breathe.

So now this boulder of debt has been destroyed. While that feels great, it doesn’t mean it’s over. Student loans and other obligations began to suck up the extra $260 before it was even available. I’d put my student loans on hold for some months, but those are back on the budget. Becky keeps getting better paying jobs that help with all this. But as we transition into this new job where Becky gets paid once a month, we have some learning to do. The online budget calendar tool continues to be our lifeline – and I continue to tell people how awesome it is. Seeing it mostly in the black without shifting things around is more exciting to me than I can express. I check the calendar almost more than I do social media.

Some unexpected expenses and delays in reimbursement took us back to spitting distance of broke with no safety net again this month: the first time in about a year and a half. Things will get better as July rolls in, but it’s still a tough reminder of how often we lived through weeks with just $20 of cushion for emergencies. It’s a place I don’t want to be again anytime soon. Becky’s made huge sacrifices as well in order to keep the payments to the debt company going, and I can’t thank her enough for that. It takes a team, communication and vigilance to fight the monster. We aren’t always on the same page, and that has caused hiccups, but overall, we’ve fought well and will continue to fight.

Love ya, Becky.

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Minnesota Opera’s “The Shining” Stands Tall With Book and Film

going nuts

Photos by Ken Howard.

I’ve been a Kubrick fan for about ever. I even made my first website, a Geocities page, about his movies. I could spend a few thousand words on what I love about his movies, but let’s just skip to the part where I learned that the Minnesota Opera would be doing a brand new production based on the book, “The Shining.”

Hells yeah!

After a few years of going to opera at the Ordway, we’re starting to get a feel for the art form – what works better in Opera than elsewhere. Grandiosity is at the heart of the best productions we’ve seen. That fits so well with The Shining – a story that thrives on grandiosity. Even going with preconceived notions was not an issue, because the Minnesota Opera did a fantastic job of freshening up a story I’ve watched a couple dozen times (remember when we had so much free time and so many fewer ways to access entertainment as young humans that we could watch the same thing over and over? Do young people do that anymore?).

For those, like Becky, who never watched it before, here’s the basics. A father, mother and young son move into a remote Colorado hotel as caretakers for the winter. Isolation ensues. The boy has a vague mental power gift called The Shining. The haunted hotel doesn’t like that and proceeds to drive the father nuts enough to go after his family. I’ll leave it there, since the ending is different.

The Shining, movie, has one actual murder, which is pretty slim for a horror movie. And for that murder, they had to get a guy to come from Florida to show up and immediately get axed. But for the lack of death, there’s a ton of eerie and creepy. The score, the blood, chanting twins, bathroom gangrene lady, ghosts.

tossing time

I swear this kid gets tossed around like this throughout the production.       © 2016 Ken Howard for Minnesota Opera

The opera’s version is stunning and amps up the tension at just the right speed. The music begins in a relatively familiar place, sweet even, but throughout the course of the evening, keeps getting weirder and more unsettling. The actors, likewise, time their performances well with gradual unraveling.

My personal favorite aspect of this production was the setting. The hotel is truly a character here with exits and entrances. It LOOMS. Three-story-high stage pieces for the bedroom and kitchen slide in and out, towering and confining at the same time. The actors look powerless in comparison. Who would be able to resist this beast? Projection mapping is used throughout – first on a see-through screen to put the family in a bucolic setting straight out of a viewfinder. Then the projectors highlight rooms, change scenery, and overall add the extra bit of creepiness that makes the set perfect.

hotel set

The hotel set dwarfs the actors perfectly.

Projection mapping

Projection mapping used to best effect. © 2016 Ken Howard for Minnesota Opera

The stellar music is by Paul Moravec. The libretto was written by Mark Campbell, who wrote Silent Night several years ago for the Minnesota Opera. The core cast of Brian Mulligan, Kelly Kaduce and Alejandro Vega do remarkable jobs portraying the dissolving Torrance family. Alejandro gets tossed around like a sack of potatoes throughout the opera and keeps on being awesome. Arthur Woodley, as Dick Hallorann, is gut-stompingly phenomenal in his role, particularly his show ending number.


Arthur Woodley as Dick Hallorann, the chef, is unbelievably amazing in The Shining. © 2016 Ken Howard for Minnesota Opera

The opera certainly holds its own place against the movie and book. Each type of media excels at different things, and each one in this instance knows how to play to its strengths. There may not be blood elevators or a hedge maze, but by god the macabre party going ghosts in various outfits teamed with the insane music and crazy projections is enough to give you the sorts of willies that stick to your spine.

Crazy ghosts

Party time with the crazy ghosts. © 2016 Ken Howard for Minnesota Opera

Unfortunately, the opera is sold out. Hopefully they will reprise this one like they did for The Magic Flute. It’s certainly worth seeing again.

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St. Croix Art Tour: or, Joel’s Revenge

Stillwater from above

Before I start the second post of this experiment, there’s an important public information announcement for those living in the Twin Cities. When the zombie apocalypse comes, there is NO WAY you will ever get out of the city. EVERY major road is under construction because the MNDOT wants to create a world where you cannot use your backup to your backup routes to get anywhere. Our phone GPS even prevented us from taking an open road to spend 30 minutes driving one mile on 35W instead. My trust of Google Maps has been destroyed

So when the zombie apocalypse comes, don’t try to escape. Just lock the doors and bunker down for a spell. It will all be over soon.

On April 30, Becky decided we would embark on the St. Croix Valley Studio Tour. There were 9 galleries open to the public between 4 miles north of Stillwater to 10 miles south of Hudson Wisconsin. We were going to try to hit as many as possible.

Our first stop was the C. Schuld Studio in Stillwater. I was impressed by the paintings on display – lots of picturesque landscapes, but with a narrow field of view as if looking through a camera’s zoom lens. I was particularly taken with this painting of a beach. We bought some small prints to take with us.

small prints

Alright, Mr. Hagen, you are totally leaving the entire story out. We approached a giant, well-groomed house and 2 garages, I got nervous. It is such an odd way to enjoy art because, to defend the artist, they are inviting random strangers into their home, judging both the art and themselves. Plus the experience, as the stranger is that the artist have to watch you as you walk through their living room. I felt that we were being watched like we were going to take something. However, I think the artists were just bored and hopped up to answer questions. Plus, they are right there, with their puppy dog looks. In my head I say, “I’m sorry but I can’t drop 2000 bucks on your awesome stuff today.” The whole Open Studio thing made me so uncomfortable.

The next stop was Becky’s master stroke. The Saint Croix Vineyards. I did the regular wine tasting. Becky did the dessert wine tasting. Getting me relaxed for the rest of the day with some fantastic wines was just plain devious, Billings! (but thank you). Of particular note was the Orchard Reserve apple wine that uses three U of M developed apples to create a wonderful blend of heaven in a bottle.

wine time

Also there were goats out back.

From the winery, we headed to Spirit Works Pottery out in the country. This was the first time I’ve ever wanted to buy some pottery. It might have been the wine, but I was starting to understand the attraction of this art form – the physicality of it. You pick up a cup and it just feels right. The artist notes the spirituality of creating the pieces on her site.  I was really into these cups that resembled birch trees.

Listen to him. Who is this man?

Next up, Hudson, Wisconsin. We hit up Bricks for some fantastic Neapolitan style wood fired pizza.

wood fired pizza

The Seasons on St. Croix gallery next door held art works in clay, glass, jewelry, wood, sculpture and fabric. I particularly loved the blown glass art. The delicate and beautiful end results of an art form that can literally burn the shit out of you or cut you if you mess up – it’s an impressive calling.

Listen to him. Who is this man?

soap stuff

Becky got some soap.


While in Hudson, we made sure to pick up some Spotted Cow, only available in Wisconsin. Then we took our lives in our hands trying to get back on main street. Several angry glares and screams from Becky later, we were on our way out to Pixie Wood Studio. They had lots of lawn art made from reclaimed pieces like rebar, concrete and railroad ties. Becky LOVED these works, but without a yard, there wasn’t much we would be able to do with them.

Lawn art

All these artists had lovely homes. Becky was overwhelmed by how they had found their purposes and seemed to be doing well at it – no starving artists on this tour. I thought it was reassuring that you don’t have to be destitute to be an artist like so many seem to think. I love that they are able to follow their passion and make a good living.

Wrong! I didn’t have a problem with them being well off. Instead, I felt badly because, as we went through the Pop-Up, I asked each person if they were able to have this be their main job. Several of them said, “Someday.” with whimsical looks in their eyes. I was jealous that these people could have this be their full-time life, whereas, the Pop-Up and ACC artists made much more unique and better products in some cases and are still struggling. The unfairness of the universe is what made me uncomfortable in the open art crawls.

It was at this point that Becky said I won. I WON! She only had enough energy to do one more stop, even though I was enjoying the drive through the spring countryside, listening to frogs getting it on like crazy. I wasn’t about to convince her that we should do all of them. I don’t think it would have even been possible to hit them all unless we hadn’t stopped to eat and get wine. In any case, let it be so written here and forever henceforth that I OUTLASTED BECKY in this art experience. She’ll try to put up all sorts of caveats, like that this was an art crawl and not a craft fair, but don’t listen!

Our last stop was back in Minnesota, north of Stillwater at Abnet Farm. I really enjoyed the pottery on display, particularly the pieces with black glaze. Becky got a beautiful necklace from Jewelry by Phyllis.




We managed to get to six of the nine stops. Having space between the places was incredibly helpful for me to get some breathing time and not feel so trapped like I do at a craft fair. The nice weather also helped. But most importantly:


Yeah, so you won this round Hagen, but we have 28 more for me to win. 

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