The guy next door picked up a karaoke habit

We’ve lived at our current apartment for 14 months now and rarely hear a peep from our neighbors when we are inside. Sometimes the upstairs neighbor is moving furniture, but other than that, nada.

This week, at 9 p.m. nightly, we are getting ready for bed in order to get up early. I don’t think I’ve gone to bed that early since elementary school. And at 9 p.m. promptly, our neighbor through the bedroom wall starts up his karaoke machine. He never goes past 10 p.m. though, so he’s still within the noise courtesy curfew.

Becky here: Actually, the karaoke began on Sunday around 4pm. Joel went out to run a few errands, and I laid down for a bit of a nap. Awakening me, this strange music of one person singing. I thought, this can’t last long; I’ll just lay here. Then, the accompaniment began without any singing. Again, I thought how long could this last. But then, bam, the 2 were added together, and I couldn’t ignore it any more. It lasted for at least the 2 hours Joel was gone, but when he got back, the singing was gone. Joel thought I was exaggerating. But then, when he heard it, he told me that I was right.


So Becky and I have spent some time listening to some god awful off key music. I’m pretty sure that’s why I spontaneously broke out with some Bette Midler’s “Wind Beneath My Wings” while driving to work with Becky yesterday. Honestly, we can’t really tell for sure what he’s singing through the muffled wall.

Every now and then, we spot the neighbor in question. He’s a familiar type. Mid-20s, Asian heritage, super quiet, never makes eye contact or a nod. So, pretty close to me at that age with neighbors. I want to crack a joke when I see him. “Do you take requests?” “Coming off pitchy, dawg.” Or just break out in a round of Unchained Melody.

Becky again: What if we hummed when he walked by? Would that be so terrible?

But I know my 20 year old self would be absolutely MORTIFIED if other people heard me singing in my apartment and made a comment, no matter how well intentioned. I like to imagine this is his only outlet after a long day at a shit job (because all 20 year olds start in crap jobs these days). This is his release from a life of introversion and self doubt. Even trying to approach him in a friendly way would probably squash that, and I would loathe any subtraction of personal expression from the world.

Instead, we smile, make some jokes with each other, and read into the night until we fall asleep. To each their own, and let your freak flag fly!


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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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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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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!”

20160603_142325 20160603_142319

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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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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“Art” & “craft” Experiment or My Wife is Torturing Me This Summer

I don’t understand the appeal of craft fairs. I’m all about going to art exhibits. I enjoy other independent forms of creativity – fiction, films, performance, music, theater. But for some reason, craft fairs just irk the shit out of me.

But. I love my wife. And they make her happy. Especially if she has a bit of pocket money to buy stuff.

So this year, she’s decided, for the sake of our blog, that I should go through some public torture for the entertainment of others.

She’s a giving person that way.

Hold it right there, mister. We both agreed to this experiment. The experiment is, can someone begin to love craft fairs by attending as many as we possibly can. As of right now, we have 30 on our calendar between now and the end of October. I also extended the term craft fairs to include festivals, pop-ups, artist studio openings,expos, etc.

It’s not just about “craft fairs and Joel’s torture.” Instead, we are exploring the world of arts and crafts. What makes something “Art” with a capital A versus “arts and crafts?” It is a fun experiment and a time to ponder philosophical questions.

Besides calling these art and craft fairs “public torture” is snobbish, Mr. Hagen. 

On Saturday, April 16, we began the craft season in St. Paul with not one, but TWO fairs. Both with entry fees.

not sure what to think

Me, outside the depot. Feeling dubious about this whole operation.

Ready to get to craftin

Becky, outside the Depot, looking FAAABULOUS and enjoying every minute of this.

The day began at about 11 at the St. Paul Union Depot, where they held the Lowertown Pop “We Pop Up. You Pop In,” event with a couple dozen vendors. The nice thing about this one, as opposed to the fairs I’ve been dragged to in the past, was the ample space, the tables, and the presence of artisan foods.

Becky let me sit and write while she roamed. I did spend about 4 minutes walking around, and some booths were pretty nifty. I particularly liked the Bruno Press and their collection of greeting cards. Their slogan “Bruno Press is an old school letterpress printshop. Don’t let the potty mouth scare ya, we are good people.”

We loaded up on foods – chocolate from Groveland Confections, a honey ginger drink which is a crafted, historically delicious and versatile outdoorsman’s beverage made by the Superior Switchel, salsa from Double Take Salsa, and Cajun spice made by Minnesota Nice Spice. All in all, that’s my kind of craftin.



Of course I let him sit and write, there were several booths that caught my attention. I had my chakra read at an incredibly cheap price and then purchased a lovely bracelet for my meditation practice from From Your Mat. But I was mostly there for the honey. Beeline Honey comes from honey made at the Union Depot. It is home to five rooftop beehives. I read about the hives before this show, and knew I wanted to help support the endangered honeybees. Guess what everybody is getting for Christmas!!


Train depot – lots of room, pretty building.


Candles! Good for smelling.

I also purchased a few pretty homemade candles by HipNoses. They have an extremely long burning life and the smells are fantastic. I had a great time, and I was encouraged that Joel didn’t look as bad as I expected.

This is what a craft fair should be! Quick. Pleasant people. Lots of room to breathe.

Then, we went to the dark side. The American Craft Council at River Center.

Alright, I know that saying anything negative or going against the American Craft Council is like going against the mob. Joel doesn’t seem to understand that. What we saw at this year’s ACC Fair was the crème da la crème of the American Craft World; like the Oscars for film: it is an honor to be nominated as possible fill-ins if one of the artists doesn’t make it.

Every type of art has their own “Going to the Show,” “Making it big, “Getting the Call:” This “getting call” is the ACC for many artists because then they become “found” and their pieces turn from one-of-a kind-objects to mass produced items where they can make money being a craft artist.”

Someday I hope I get called up, we all do, in whatever field we are in. We have, at least, to tip a cap at these artstis because through hard work and dedication they made it to the majors.

A disclaimer for the remainder of the blog: The writer’s commentary does not reflect the views and the opinions of The Bacon and Ice Cream Blog.

bunker time

Concrete bunker

Becky stopped me at one point to make sure I wrote this down. “I cant’ stand people who are so egotistical and don’t notice the people around them and trash the stuff right in front of the artist. They say things like ‘I can do that’ or ‘Isn’t it just like Betty’s?'”

In no way do I condone that sort of snobbery. Look, not everything is my cup of tea, but that’s not the point of a craft fair. I admire people who put all their effort into mastering a way to express themselves and who take that out into the world and are able to sell it to others who appreciate what they do. It’s all subjective, and maybe that’s why crafts are so cool. You can do a thing, make a thing, and you can find other people who like that niche thing. It’s not mass-produced, so it doesn’t need to be mass-appreciated. It’s more personal than that. You meet the artist, you dig their stuff, you create a one on one relationship.

How to sell

This guy knows his audience – wooden Christian stuff, dogs and cats and penguins.

That being said, craft fairs can still be overwhelming. I present my notes, unedited.

A concrete bunker of a show with six aisles of stuff. Becky looks content and loves chatting with the artists and complimenting their stuff. The wooden pottery is impressive and beautiful, but I don’t understand fabrics so I glaze over them. After 1.5 aisles, I’m spent. It took an hour to do that much.

There’s a crowded quality to this fair. A feeling that if you pause to look at anything you will be in the way, and a simultaneous hatred of anyone else who stops to look at anything. When Becky stops, I don’t know where to go to be the most out of the way. Stopping to wait causes bottlenecks. Soon I miss Becky and wonder if she will ever return to me.

She does. Looking content and happy.

Most of the stuff here starts at $50, and I’ve seen some in the several thousand dollar range already. I don’t know what it’s like to have disposable income for pretty things that make you feel good to have at home.


not feeling the best

Me, beginning to feel the effects of being in the shit.

One artist shears sheep every year of their lives and makes a blanket out of the wool from each sheep. You get a picture of your sheep.

Whose crafts these are I think I know,
I’ll sit her and drink my frozen mango

All work and no play makes Joel a dull boy

is my

Did I do something to deserve this?


Why. why. why

Quoth the raven, “canvas floor.”


Becky came to get me after she went through a few more aisles. Even she had lost her steam against the growing crowd. She showed me a few things on the way, most impressive of which were the booths set up to teach about the various crafts, like this one.

fabric class

Fabric class


Pottery class

The only piece of art I still can’t live without was made by Jac from West Grove Design. She makes amazing jewelry designs of lakes. I’m still working out how to purchase Lake Itasca.

This first foray into fine crafts created cravings for carnage. I’m not sure how this experiment will continue, or more accurately how I will continue surviving in this experiment, but for now, I am.

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Ice Cream: What to do: Cheap Date Night Edition

movie still

One of the highlights of Fargo is the Fargo Theater, a renovated landmark that plays alternative movies and classics as well as hosted events. While there are lots of similar type places in the cities that do such things, we hadn’t really found a good correlation. Enter Heights Theater in Minneapolis.


For $8 a ticket, Becky and I spent a delightful evening watching a classic neither of us had seen before, “Paper Moon.”

The 90-year-old theater built in 1926, showcased movies, theater, and vaudeville in its early days. The theater is maintained by Tom Letness, whose love of cinema history is present in every seat, every note of the Mighty Wurlitzer Organ, every part of the lovely entryway, lights, walls and ceiling.

What’s so special about the type of organ? Here’s what you get


The organ currently has 16 sets of pipes (known as ranks) and also boasts a glockenspiel, xylophone, chimes, piano, and marimba, as well as an assortment of rhythm percussions and original theater pipe organ sound effects such as train whistle, bell, birds, and so forth. The section which currently plays is housed in the former dressing room on the right side of the auditorium. The organ’s voices include Tuba, Trumpet, Post horn (the loudest stop) strings clarinet, and a variety of other organ voices to fill out the ensemble.



And if you can forgive a paragraph of film nerd… Also, they can play digital and film prints. They kept their 35mm-70mm projectors in place and operational. They also do reel to reel and not from an automated platter system, like, old school film-going!

Paper Moon started after a brief introduction about the theater. And we were swept away quickly, like one minute in, by this delightful movie of a grifter and a young girl he picks up who may or may not be his daughter in the Great Depression. Real life father and daughter Ryan and Tatum O’Neal play the leads. It’s shot in black and white, which fits the setting well, and, as our wedding photographer said, “If you want to see a person’s soul, you use black and white.”

Tatum won an Oscar, at age 10, in 1974, for this movie. Here she is stealing a scene:



Also in the movie is a fantastic Madeline Kahn who nails a monologue so fucking hard she was also nominated for an Oscar. Here it is – she’s trying to convince Tatum, who doesn’t like her, to get in the car.



If that isn’t enough, there’s a super young Randy Quaid as a hick.

The movie was directed by the great Peter Bogdanovich, who also directed The Last Picture Show, Noises Off, and She’s Funny That Way. You may recognize him as the psychiatrist’s psychiatrist in The Sopranos.

So those are the bona fides. Story wise, it’s abut a little girl who just lost her mother getting sucked along into a journey with a man (possible father) and finding common ground while ripping people off. A bit like a precursor to Matchstick Men.

It’s also a beautiful look at the countryside and small Midwest towns with the type of idiosyncratic personalities you often find in them.

I’ll be heading back in June for a movie I’ve always wanted to see on the big screen, Lawrence of Arabia, which they are showing in 70MM film. I’ve seen the movie so many times on a TV, and can’t wait to feel the music through Dolby Surround Sound and burn those indescribably beautiful dessert landscapes onto my retinas.

Other classic movies coming soon include the original Cape Fear (35MM), City Lights (35MM), All About Eve (35MM), Singin’ in the Rain, Doctor Zhivago, The Wizard of Oz (35MM), The Shining (35MM), and 2001: A Space Odyssey (70MM).

If you are heading west after the movie, it’s totally worth stopping at Marina Grill and Deli for some amazing gyros.

I felt good about not having to push our car across the bridge after:

Pushing car

So yes, high recommendation on going to this theater for a fantastic night out this summer.

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