State Fair 2017

As you all know, I adore the Minnesota State Fair. This year I was able to attend three times: opening day on my own and twice with Young Adult.  Some new things this year: a thorough exploration of the West End area, Macaroni & Cheese Curds, llamas and alpacas in the very back of the horse barn.  And the traditionals as well: Hawaiian Shave ice, bunny whispering, butter heads.  After three years of lusting after them, YA and I caved this year and purchased a big set of Thin Bins, collapsible containers with color-coded lids. We also went home with some t-shirts, assorted bags and cookies.

Even though it is essentially the same parade day after day, it is one of my favorite parts of the fair. I love seeing the different marching bands, the dairy princesses and the art cars.

On reflection though, one of my favorite things about the Fair is the people watching – and the unbelievable “variety” there is in the folks of Minnesota (and Iowa/Wisconsin/Dakota visitors). Lots of different family types, from extended families in matching shirts to young families with their jam-packed strollers.  An amazing array of clothing and shoes – why would you wear bright white tennies to the fair?  Or high-heeled shoes?  Lots of shoppers (YA and I included) getting fancy scissors, wine pouches, shark teeth – this list could go on and on.

So now the fair is finished for another year and I’m already looking forward to next year. If my feet and my pocket book can handle it, maybe I’ll go four times!

Where is your favorite people-watching locale?

Waiting For The Smoke To Clear

The header photo was taken September 12, mid afternoon,  in New Town, ND. The site is the Four Bears bridge over the Missouri River, and the haze is smoke from Montana and Canadian forest fires.  It has been a long, smokey summer.  I believe that the smoke made it all the way to the Twin Cities, too. Tonight the visibility here is predicted to be about 2 miles, which is quite reduced from normal. I can’t imagine how awful it must be for people living in western Montana. All we can do is wait,  and hope for precipitation.

A friend of mine from the Flathead Reservation in Montana says that the only thing that will put out the fires is snow. I am happy to report that snow is predicted in the higher elevations out there tonight. It rained here today and it didn’t dissipate the smoke at all. All we can do is wait it out.

This has been a summer of waiting on the weather-waiting for rain that never came, waiting for it to cool down (it was 98° here yesterday) and now waiting for the smoke to go away.  It is a lesson in human insignificance and the power of nature.

What are you waiting for?

What I Did On My Summer Vacation

For the first time in several years I took a vacation that lasted more than three days. I renewed my passport and flew to a country I had never been to before, in a part of the world I had never been to either: Leon, Nicaragua. While still technically in the Northern Hemisphere, it sure felt far South to this Minnesota girl. It was hot. Humid and hot. And wonderful. Would I go back again if given a chance? You bet. I missed the entire Atlantic side of the country. And Leon, the city and state where I spent the bulk of my time, is worth a second trip. There are places I want to revisit and explore more of, history to be absorbed (more on that in another post), and more tasty little mamon chinos that need to be eaten.

There is one part of the trip I do not need to repeat. It was great to have done it once, but once was enough: climbing the volcano.

Nicaragua is divided by a mountain range, which includes a string of active volcanoes. One of the volcanoes has its natural steam harnessed for energy. And one you can climb. If you’re foolish enough. And you have a guide. We had a guide. And I didn’t look at how I had to get down once I was up. So up I went.

Did I mention the guide moved like a bi-pedal Nicaraguan mountain goat?

Cerra Negro (“black hill”) erupted last in the 1990s. It spewed ash and pumice for miles – a bit like Mount St. Helens in Washington. Driving through the countryside to get to the park it was easy to think that the farmland was covered in rich, black dirt – until you realized that wasn’t dirt, that was pumice left behind by Cerra Negro. No humans died when it erupted, but plants and farm animals did. Hundreds of people had to evacuate because the surrounding area wasn’t livable. The fauna is coming back, but Cerra Negro itself remains a big black hill with virtually no trees or vegetation of any sort. The locals advise that you start climbing early – that lack of vegetation means you are clambering up a pile of black rocks in full sun. As you get closer to the top you start to get a nice breeze, but that becomes a steady wind that can blow your hat off (and threaten smaller people with toppling over). Did I mention there isn’t a true path? You just have to keep following the route of your native mountain goat guide over the rocks…Good thing he was willing to take breaks on the way up.

As you climb, and once you are at the top, the views are spectacular. It’s lush green in most every direction. The crater of the volcano has its own rust-colored beauty, but it’s not as photogenic as the next hill over. It’s good to stand at the top and recognize you just climbed a volcano. It makes a person feel accomplished. If you are my daughter, this makes you want to do cartwheels and handstands. If you are me, you fret that your child will go tumbling down the steep side of the volcano as she does handstands and cartwheels.

Then you need to go back down. Down is a different route. Down is down through pebble-y pumice that is a bit like deep sand (except it’s far more likely to scrape you). Down is steep, steep like a ski jump that you don’t see part of until you’re on it. Down means leaning back because if you stay upright or lean forward you will fall headfirst down 2400 feet of pumice covered volcano. The guide advised leaning back and going down at a trot. That worked well for Daughter who has no fear of heights (and actually enjoys them). I was less speedy, less graceful, and far more willing after a near panic attack to forgo dignity – scooting and crab-walking down, allowing all fours and my backside to hug the mountainside.

A fair amount of Cerra Negro arrived at the bottom with me in my pockets and shoes (I found yet more in those shoes weeks later back in Minnesota while walking around at the state fair). Up took just over an hour and a half, down took Darling Daughter about 10 minutes and me, um, more than 10 minutes. But I went up, and now I was down, And I can say I climbed a volcano on my summer vacation.

When have you done something even though you were scared?

Tomato Land

It’s all your fault that I have too many tomatoes. Six years ago I read Tomatoland by Barry Estabrook, based on somebody’s recommendation on the trail.  That made me want to grow my own tomatoes in the worst way.  That led me to straw bales which had led me to today; tomatoes are taking over my kitchen!

This past weekend I tried to make a dent. First I made salsa for the freezer (2 jars):

  • 4 cups diced, fresh tomatoes (Roma) – I didn’t peel them because I used an immersion blender after the salsa cooked down
  • 1 medium green pepper, chopped
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 4 chopped loco peppers – didn’t seed them so I could keep the heat
  • 1/2 cup tomato paste
  • 1/4 cup vinegar
  • 1 Tbs. sugar
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 2 tsp. garlic powder
  • 1/2-1 Tbs. cayenne pepper
  • 4 Tbs. chopped cilantro

That didn’t make a big enough dent so then I made Tomato Veggie soup in the slow cooker:

  • 3 cups diced tomatoes – again left the skins on
  • 2 cup water
  • 1 ½ cupsw green beans, cut into bit-sizes
  • 1 cup diced potato
  • 1 cup diced turnit
  • 1 cup chopped cabbage
  • 4 Tbs. cooked onion (sautéed w/ the garlic)
  • 4 cloves of garlic, minced
  • ½ green pepper, diced
  • 2 bouillon cubes (I used vegetarian cubes)
  • Salt & pepper to taste

Everything into the slow cooker, on low for about 8 hours.

Then today I came home and found another batch of ripe tomatoes on my vines. Help!

What do you like to do with excess garden produce?

Its Own Magazine

Turns out the Mississippi River has its own magazine. I have finally finished reading my latest issue of Big River, which covers news of the Mississippi River from Minneapolis, MN, down to Muscatine, Iowa. Its byline is “Covering the heart of the Driftless Area for 24 years,” although there is usually some news about the Twin Cities. (The Driftless area includes Hastings and Red Wing, as well as La Crosse and Prairie du Chien in Wisconsin, Dubuque and the Quad Cities in Iowa, Galena in Illinois.) It is published six times a year here in Winona.

I devour this magazine. First I read all the Big River News segments, which give updates on everything from the Gulf of Mexico’s Dead Zone to a new plastic pollution problem:  tiny plastic particles from people’s microfiber jackets. Besides environmental issues, these paragraphs cover items like a new bike rental system in Clinton, IA, and an expansion of the National Eagle Center in Wabasha. My favorite tells of a new happy hour in St. Paul – the Kellogg Park Craft Beer Overlook: 3 to 6 p.m., Tuesdays through Fridays till mid-October. This September-October issue also has a special sidebar detailing and picturing which ditch weeds to NOT PICK because some part of them is poisonous (poison hemlock, giant hogweed, wild parsnip, and cow parsnip).

Feature articles range from “A Tale of Two Neighborhoods”, about North Mpls. and Northeast Mpls, to a short two-pager on kestrels. For the exploring traveler, an article details sights and places between La Crosse, WI to Winona, MN. Restaurant and book reviews are regular features, as are lots of glossy ads – I don’t mind because they are for things and places that interest me.

I just checked, and Big River is available at Minneapolis’ Central Library, but only for “in-house” use. I’ll bring some back copies next time I get to BBC (Blevins Book Club – see top left of this “page”, under Blogroll).

What river, anywhere in the world, would you like to explore?

Cause and Effect

I have been greatly interested recently by pronouncements by certain individuals in the press attributing our recent weather disasters to homosexuality, gay marriage, Mitt Romney, Obama, and/or loose morals in New Orleans.  The capacity of the human mind to find causal relationships between totally unrelated things or concepts is fascinating.

According to Wikipedia  “In statistics, a spurious correlation[1][2] is a mathematical relationship in which two or more events or variables are not causally related to each other, yet it may be wrongly inferred that they are, due to either coincidence or the presence of a certain third, unseen factor (referred to as a “common response variable”, “confounding factor”, or “lurking variable“).”

There is a web site devoted to such correlations ( where you can choose the variables to see how they may be statistically related.  I always knew that there was a strong, positive correlation between the price of Jamaican rum and the average salary of Methodist ministers. Did you know, however, that there is a strong positive correlation between:

The divorce rate in Maine and per capita consumption of margarine

The age of Miss America and number of murders by steam, hot vapours, and hot objects.

Per capita cheese consumption and the number of people who died by being tangled in their bed sheets.

Total revenue generated by arcades and the number of computer science doctorates awarded in the US.

What alarms me is that some people will believe anything and will try to find relationships between things that can’t possibly be related, just to support their beliefs or prejudices.  I, personally, try to remain rational and sceptical. I think I will go now and eat some bread crusts. I am trying to make my hair curly.

Come up with your own spurious correlations.

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