Friday, August 26, 2011

State Fair

I went to the State Fair today.

I haven't been to the State Fair in four years, and I was really excited to go.  I love the Space Tower and its panoramic views, I love the DNR barn and the Fish Pond, and I love wandering through the Agriculture and Eco-Experience barns, looking at all the displays (this is how I know I'm old).

I left pretty early this morning and got there at around 8:30.  It was already packed, and traffic in that area was a nightmare, but it was worth it.  I got my Space Tower fix in right away.

The Midway, with Minneapolis in the background
I didn't have a lot of money, so I didn't plan on eating a whole lot.  Just cheese curds, an iced coffee, and a frozen key lime pie on a stick.  What I searched relentlessly for, however, was this.

Oh, I would never eat this abomination myself.  It looks like a corn dog from Hell.  Sweet, sugary, cinnamony hell.  It looks like the kind of thing your jerk college friends would pressure you to eat on a dare, and you'd do it, just to say you'd eaten butter on a stick, and then you'd spend the rest of the night crying on the toilet, harboring deep doubts about the goodness of God.  I ate a stick of butter once when I was six and puked it all over my grandma's guest bed an hour later, because I was six, and stupid.  At twenty-six, I like to think I know better now.  I just wanted a picture.

Alas, it was only at the Iowa State Fair, so I didn't get my picture.  I also realized why I don't live in Iowa anymore.  I did, however, see lots of fish in the fish pond,

and saw Ron Schara and Raven at the Northwoods Stage (you probably only know who that is if you're from Minnesota).  Then, I hopped on one of those skylift things to take me back toward the entrance, because I was out of cash now and wanted to beat feet before I decided to start writing checks.  The skylifts are a godsend if you're lazy and don't want to walk a long ways, but there really is no way to ride those without wincing every time the cable goes over one of those pylons, or imagining how much it would hurt to plummet 40 feet onto cement should the car pop off its cable.
Every home needs a chainsaw carving of a bear

My final stop was the Miracle of Birth Center.  Because as tough and stoic as I like to consider myself, nothing turns me into a cooing, giggling little schoolgirl quite like little baby newborn goats.  
Except, perhaps, little fuzzy newborn piglets.
Still, I had homework to do, so I left and hopped on a bus to downtown.  I ran/walked to Surdyks from Nicollet Mall and got some Joia sodas (my fav), went home, and did some homework.

Later that evening, homework done and with nothing good on TV, I got my fishing tackle and went out to the little pond back behind the apartment complex.  I'd heard that there were perch in it, and wanted to get rid of my remaining waxworms, but as soon as I got out there, I nixed that idea right away.  We'd had all that flooding last month, and that pond had at one point covered up most of our parking lot.  I also remembered seeing on the news that it had flooded the park upstream, including the two Porta-Potties shown conspicuously laying sideways in the water.  The pond was ringed by a thick layer of duckweed, in addition to the empty water bottles and beer bottles bobbing in the muck, and I decided that there were better places to fish than this two-acre petri dish of fecal coliform and criptosporidium.

(Sigh) Maybe Long Lake tomorrow.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Uptown to Chaska: 49.4 miles

May 23, 2011

I did my first long-distance bike ride of the year yesterday. I do these on occasion. I usually regret them 3/4 of the way through, when I'm twenty miles from home, dehydrated, exhausted, and feeling like someone's been pounding my butt with a meat tenderizer all day, and yet I've done several of them so apparently the benefits outweigh the pain.

Lake Calhoun

Now, let me clarify that I'm not exactly built like Jillian Michaels. I more resemble the people she screams at on the Biggest Loser--hence the bicycling. I'm trying to lose weight. I'm just wondering if launching oneself out on a 50-mile circuit after seven months of aggressive butt-sitting at home is really the best tack.

I'd been planning this trip for some time, and was going to go on Saturday, but the weather on Saturday was iffy and Tuesday was looking to be a gorgeous day (more on that later). I took the bus to Lyn-Lake and set out at about 10:30 am. Boy, was I pumped! The weather was lovely, and the air had that sunscreen and barbeque smell of summer. I went past Lake Calhoun, stopped for supplies at Trader Joe's, and set off down Excelsior Boulevard to join the Minnesota River Bluffs Trail at Hopkins. The Minnesota River Bluffs Trail is about 11.5 miles of crushed gravel leading from Hopkins down to Flying Cloud Road by Chaska.

Minnesota River Bluffs Trail, by Shady Oak Lake, Hopkins

The Hopkins section of the trail follows an old railroad bed. This is good, because it means a nice, even grade, but it also means that you get a beautiful view of gravel pits, scrap yards, and industrial brownfields as you get further and further from civilization. I wish I could tell you more about the second half of the trail, but the truth is that I got myself monumentally lost in Eden Prairie, trying to follow an alleged detour in the trail (this happens to me a lot, as you will learn).

All around me were huge, half-million dollar houses, and for someone who lives in a small apartment, rides the bus, and works with refugees in inner-city neighborhoods, it was a bit overwhelming. It was all sweeping, manicured lawns, country clubs, iron gates and street names like "Oak Ridge" and "Bear Path", and not a bus stop or brown person in sight. One developer, without a trace of irony, called his little subdivision "Enclave". I had plenty of time to contemplate the socioeconomic implications as I made several passes up and down Pioneer Trail Road, trying to find this blasted trail on a soggy and wildly inaccurate map I'd made just before I bolted out the door that morning.

Eventually, I just gave up and went down Dell Road, as it seemed large enough to be a through street and probably led somewhere, eventually. I was was right, it led to a farm--and then turned into a gravel road that turned and dropped into a deep ravine. After a brief pause at the top of the hill to contemplate how monumentally far away I was from anywhere I was supposed to be, I put my foot down in the gravel and coasted down into the ravine and up the other side, where I emerged at the top of a hill to this view:

Yeah, I'd pay a million dollars for this

So, at least I knew where the river was. The road was paved again, so I went down the hill and came out on Flying Cloud Road. I followed the road, taking a break at a conservation area where I found this guy in the parking lot:

He was a little camera-shy

I found the trail again on Great Plains Boulevard, and followed it the rest of the way into Chaska, hearing the sounds of sandhill cranes croaking in a distant marsh, and the first tree frogs and spring peepers chirping from the flooded sloughs. I got into downtown Chaska at about 2:30 pm and stopped to rest at the City Park. This, incidently, was the same park my Dad and I went to sometime in the summer of 1994, when we were visiting my uncle Gary, who lived in an apartment across the street at the time. This is also where Chaska's wonderful police force apprehended us both and drove us to a nearby apartment, where a terrified woman inside informed them that no, my Dad was not her abusive boyfriend who had just run away, as we had been earnestly trying to tell them all along.

I call this "My Dad is Not a Wife-Beater" Park.

I crashed on one of the park benches, ate my sandwich, and talked to my mom and my twenty month-old niece on the phone as they ate pizza in Iowa. I glanced at the temperature on the bank sign across the street, and it was 80 degrees. I realized I was dog tired, and drenched with sweat. I also realized that I had about 30 miles left to go, more than half of my journey, and that there was no way I'd get back in time to catch the last bus past my apartment. As I was about to learn, this would turn into a much bigger problem as the evening wore on.

I bought a 32-oz Gatorade at Walgreens and chugged the whole thing in the parking lot. Then I started up Highway 41 toward Audubon Road. The sun was blazing hot now--where the heck had all the clouds gone? I knew there were supposed to be storms today, but not until later. Meanwhile, the temperature was steadily climbing. I walked my bike up the hills, as I was starting to get dehydrated as well as tired. The heat index, as I would later learn, had soared to 94 degrees. I practically dragged myself into the Target on Powers Road, where I wiped myself down in the bathroom and presented my smoking red face to the guy manning the register at the in-store Pizza Hut. He graciously handed me a cup for ice water, and I drank two sixteen-oz cups worth, and stared into space, wondering why in the heck I do this to myself.

I continued on to Eden Prairie Road, where at one point I looked behind me and saw the first indication that my night was about to get interesting.

The moment I start peddling faster

In fairness to Mother Nature, the massive, looming thunderheads did provide some shade. And for all the damage they would do, they were some of the more photogenic storms I've seen in a while.

I got into Hopkins at about 7:00, where I stopped to rest at a cute little coffee shop along the trail called The Depot and buy a coconut water. I was debating whether or not I should just hop on the next bus and call it a night. I wanted to tough it out, but the first rumble of thunder told me it was time to admit defeat and start worrying about getting home before the storm hit. I caught the 12X back to Uptown, reaching the bus stop just as the rain began to fall.

Little did I know, Chaska, Chanhassen and Hopkins, where I had just come from, were currently getting pounded with two-inch hailstones. To the West, St. Michael was under a tornado warning. My bus was pounded with torrential rain as it took me back to the Cub Foods by my house, the closest I could get to home, and I wondered if I was going to have to bike the rest of the way home in the rain. At Cub, I waited under the awning until, just a minute or two after I arrived, the rain finally stopped.

I turned on my headlamps and finished the last three miles home in semi-darkness. I passed through a park, over a rain-swollen stream, and there were clouds of mist rising from the lawns and ballparks. The storm was drifting to the Northeast, but I could still see bolts of forked lighting flickering around inside it, overhead and off in the distance. At last, I made it home, locked up my bike in the garage, and went inside. I was drenched with rain and sweat, badly sunburned, and sore in every conceivable part of my body, but in terms of adventure, it was totally worth it.

Next trip on the docket: The Grand Rounds of Minneapolis. See you there!

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Feed My Starving Children

Got on the news today.  It's just a little clip.  Follow the link below and see me in my blue shirt and sexy hairnet, packing a box (it's at about 1:40).

I kind of signed up for that at the last moment.  I'm unemployed, and this crisis in Somalia has just been eating away at me, but I don't have any money to donate.  What I do have is time.  Lordy, lordy, do I have time.  So Katie, our volunteer coordinator from World Relief, swung by my apartment with some of our Somali clients, and we all went up to Coon Rapids to pack food for an hour.

Feed My Starving Children is a Christian organization that serves a lot of places in need, but they're focusing their efforts on the famine in the Horn of Africa, because the need there is the greatest (see the clip for more details).  They've also partnered with the Somali community here in Minnesota, and in fact, many of the volunteers were Somalis who had been invited to come by friends they knew from World Relief.  Seeing white, suburban evangelicals and Somali Muslims chatting, laughing and getting to know each other as they worked to help people in crisis was one of the coolest, most moving things I've seen in a long time.

It's a fairly straight-forward, assembly-line process where you pour the mix into a bag, seal the bag, and pack it into a box.  The bags are all marked by a date and a serial number, so the people on the ground can take pictures and stuff and verify that it all got where it's supposed to go, and we're not inadvertently feeding Al-Shabab (which is largely responsible for the famine in the first place).  One of FMSC's strengths is that they operate through a network of personal contacts and have exhaustive checks on what goes where.  Their success rate in getting the food from the warehouse to the children they serve is 99.97%.

There were a lot of people from World Relief there, including Stephanie, our former housing coordinator, and Abdirahman, our Somali case manager.  Our station was a few people from World Relief, two other people I didn't know, Asha Ali (from the clip), and a Somali man and his three children, whom I remember seeing around the World Relief office but whose names escape me.  The kids, who looked to be between 7-12 years old, were clearly having a blast, though I couldn't help but wonder if there wasn't an added dimension of determination for the Somalis who were helping pack that day.

Most of us whiteys were playing around, dancing to the music as we worked, glad to be having fun and helping out at the same time.  I often had to wonder if it wasn't an entirely different experience for the Somalis, who were likely thinking of children, nieces, nephews, cousins and friends who were still in Somalia, rapidly running out of options.  Then I thought of the 29,000 children, no different than the three little angels across from me, trying to reach the funnel with their spoons of chicken powder and vegetables, who hadn't survived the past 90 days, and the 400,000 children that were at risk of the same fate.  In my time at World Relief, the proverbial six degrees of separation have become one or two degrees.  Now, it's not just some tragedy taking place in another part of the world that I can quietly ignore.  It's affecting people that I know and care about.  Now, it's personal.

Pray for Somalia, and pray for Ethiopia.  But remember that faith without works is dead.  There are real, tangible things we can do to make a difference, even when it seems like it's out of our control.

And if you're living in the Twin Cities area, or the Chicago area, or in Phoenix, AZ, here's a good place to start:

Thank you, and God Bless

Friday, August 12, 2011

Wayzata and Long Lake

I took the bus out to Wayzata today, and did some writing sitting on a dock on Lake Minnetonka.  It was a perfect day for it, but I really didn't get a whole lot done.  I like to work outside of my apartment, out of range of my wireless internet, because that way I can't distract myself with lolcats and hours of rereading old articles.  Sometimes this works--oddly enough, the bus is one of my most productive writing/reading times--but most of the time, there are other things to distract me.

Like today, when I sat on the dock to eat my sandwich, olives and cheese wedges I got from Lunds after I got off the bus, and saw that a woman and her grandson were already on the dock.  She was sitting on a bench nearby; he was catching a sunfish about once every 30 seconds.  I bit into a wedge of Fontina Val d'Aosta and almost spat it out--it was soft, buttery, and tasted like the dead fish floating in the weeds below the dock smelled.  Ugh.  That's how it is with the cheese wedge basket at Byerly's and Lunds--you win some, you lose some.

The boy soon had a small audience--rich white guys in polo shirts pulling up to the dock to pick up a phoned-in orders of sandwiches, and slender, dark-haired Russian women, who briefly set down their Louis Vuitton handbags to peer into the water, ask about the worms he was using for bait, and smile and cheer when he reeled in a little four-inch bluegill.  You could tell that the boy was enjoying all the attention.  His grandmother, meanwhile, was talking to a guy who looked like he's played his share of golf games, and he was telling her how much he liked the Twin Cities, and much more natural beauty it had than his previous home in Los Angeles.  I had to agree.

I caught the bus home and sat around my apartment for a while--I kept thinking about the Long Lake fishing pier and how much I wanted to catch a few bluegills of my own, even if my favorite spot was silted in.  It was still early and the weather was still beautiful, so I set out on my bike and found a spot in the corner.  That heron was back, and I found out why--a grandmother and her granddaughter were taking the smaller of their bluegills and tossing them out to him, which he would then chase after and gobble down whole.  I personally witnessed that heron eat four fish, and who knows how many he'd conned people into throwing at him before I got there.

One thing I love about the Long Lake fishing pier is the sheer diversity of the people who fish there.  Today, there was the aforementioned older woman and her granddaughter, and another older woman who was with them.  Three old guys sat on the other side of the dock, telling terrible Sven and Ole jokes and not really doing much fishing; a hefty boy of about fifteen or sixteen was catching some bluegill behind me, and early on, we were joined by an elderly Japanese couple and their nervous little Pekinese.  On other days, there have been Hmong and Hispanic teenagers, older black men from the neighborhood, and there is almost always one or more kids there.

No one caught anything big; there were some carp jumping not far from us, but my carp bait is old and stale and doesn't attract fish anymore, so I wouldn't have much luck with them--I briefly wondered if there may have been a better use for my Fontina wedge.  I didn't catch anything at all, but the young girl and her grandmother caught their limit of bluegill, so at least I know that my favorite spot still has some fish in it.

All in all, I'd still say it was a productive day

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Stockyard Days

So, I just returned from my walk around New Brighton, and though I got to see the parade and stuff, I didn't get much reading done.  Who would have thought that a crowded street full of clowns, floats, and high school dance teams was a poor place to sit and read about Medieval mysticism?

"O Thou our Emperor!  Supreme Power, Supreme Goodness, Wisdom Itself, without beginning, without end, without"-- oh look, it's Bobo the Hobo Fisherman!

So apparently, the New Brighton Stockyard Days parade is kind of a big deal--a big deal as in, this thing started at 6:00 and didn't get over until 7:30.  It's supposedly the longest parade in the state, and I have to admit, I was impressed.  A lot of local cities and suburbs had floats, and some of them were pretty impressive.

While I was picking my way through the crowd of spectators, I was lucky enough to cross paths with Faezeh, a sweet, kindly Syrian lady who works in the cafeteria at Bethel and sometimes gave me rides home.  We chatted for a while before I continued on.  I haven't seen her in a long time, and it's nice to see that she's doing well.  She has three brothers who are still in Damascus, and I often wonder how they're faring, considering everything that's been going on in Syria.

Once the parade ended, I crossed I-694 over to Long Lake Park, where I was planning to sit and read, but a cloud bank was moving in and it was starting to get dark, so I ended up just walking around for a few minutes.  I saw a lot of wildflowers at the park, and--oddly enough--quite a lot of cannabis growing back behind that new office building on Old Highway 8.  Not that the location of marijuana plants has any relevance to my life, it's just that you'd think so many clumps of it in such an obvious place, literally spilling over the path in some places, would have been, I don't know, dealt with somehow--either by the New Brighton PD, or by the Parks Department, or by dumb, undiscerning teenagers too citified to understand the concept of "ditch weed."


I stopped by my usual fishing hole, or rather, what was once my usual fishing hole, and is now about three inches of oily, polluted water hovering over a sandbar.

This spot used to be about 6 or 7 feet deep, and I once caught my limit of bluegills out of here in 3 hours.    Then, in mid-July, we got 6 inches of rain one night, which not only flooded our parking lot:

but also caused a creek to overflow and silt up the area around the Long Lake fishing pier.  On the plus side, there are ducks around there now, and a heron:

So, no fishing tomorrow, I guess.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Interesting Goings-on at the Holy Land Deli

I took Izzy and Scooter to the vet today for their shots. It was their first time riding the bus in a carrier (both cats in one carrier), and it went about as well as you'd expect. It didn't help that they were both crammed into one carrier, but I don't have a car, and Petsmart was a quarter mile from the bus stop, so I sure as heck wasn't going to haul two carriers all that distance. My back is probably going to be sore tomorrow, though. Scooter just lay down in the back and chilled, but Izzy was pacing back and forth, howling and panting and freaking out the whole time. She's such a little spazz.

Anyway, we all got back alive, and later that afternoon I started craving meat and decided to take the bus down to the Holy Land Deli. I walked down to Central Avenue from Lowry, and as I was crossing the parking lot to the back entrance, saw an employee chewing out a man and his kids; something about "having to pay for what you buy". As I stepped inside, I was confronted with a huge line of very uncomfortable-looking customers at a checkout, all eyes trained on a hysterical Somali woman, probably the wife of the man outside, crying and yelling in Arabic at the cashier.

My Arabic isn't very good; all I could pick out were the words "Arabii", "Somaali" and "Muslima"--my guess is that when she was confronted for her theft, she tried to make it a race issue. Failing at that, she tried the "we're the same religion and its a Holy Month" sympathy-shame card, it being Ramadan, and I'm guessing the cashier gently reminded her that good Muslims don't steal from other Muslims, especially during Ramadan. The staff and customers all had a shared moment of "what the heck is going on?" before the manager on duty finally shooed the woman out and banned her from the store.

One final note: If you hate long lines at restaurants, 5:00 in the afternoon during Ramadan is the time to go to the Holy Land Deli. There were seriously about three white people in the restaurant that day (myself included), one Arab couple that was probably either Christian or non-practicing, and the staff. A second, final-final note: It's tough enough to be a Muslim when Ramadan falls in the middle of the summer, fasting from food and drink from 6:00am to 8:00pm. To be a Muslim celebrating Ramadan in August, and working at a restaurant, is downright badass.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Lastborn 2.0

So...after finally working up some nerve and reading my book after I'd published, I found more or less what I was afraid of--that the thing was full of typos and formatting errors. Therefore, I spent the weekend going over it one last time, fixing what I could and republishing it. It should be up for sale on Thursday or Friday.

That's the great disadvantage of DIY-publishing: you have to Do It Yourself. And after reading a 450+ page novel twenty times, you start to see what you expect to see on the page, not what's actually there. I confess that I added a few lines of dialogue toward the end, just to clarify what I was going for and bring out the character development a bit.

Soon, within the next couple of weeks, I'll go back to my rough draft for the sequel, The Dreamer, which picks up eighteen years or so after the events of the first book, and follows the adventures of the next generation of characters. Now that I know the amount of work that goes into Kindle Publishing, I'll give myself a little time, so I don't have to dive back in and rescue my manuscript after it's already gone live.