I was 30 minutes ahead of schedule on my drive to the airport, so I detoured to Fort Snelling National Cemetery. Administered by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, the site comprises 436 acres and remains the final resting place for over 180,000 service men and women.
Known as the “Great Minnesota Get Together,” the Minnesota State Fair also can be the Olympics of fried food eating. As always, there were some new entrants to the menu lineup this year. The International Bazaar wasn’t yet selling the camel burger and Mark and I didn’t look too hard for the lamb fries (which are actually testicles).
I tried Mouth Trap cheese curds, 1919 root beer, a stuffed green pepper with beef & rice, Sweet Martha’s cookies and all-you-can-drink milk for $1, Turkey to Go sandwich, and Tom Thumb mini donuts.
Sweet Martha’s will mark its 34th year at the fair. The cookie booth produces more than ten million cookies during the run of the fair…about 100,000 cookies an hour! According to 2010 State Fair records, the Sweet Martha’s stands grossed nearly $2.4 million dollars, roughly three times the amount of Fresh French Fries and Mouth Trap Cheese Curds, Sweet Martha’s two closest competitors. How sweet it is to sell a cookie.
The annual Irish Fair took place this weekend on Harriet Island in St. Paul. I’d gone once before about 10 years ago and was excited to get in touch with my Irish roots with a pint, some fish & chips, and Irish music and dancing.
I really tried to get acceptable photos of the Irish dancers because their moves were really kickin’. Alas, it was dark under the dance pavilion tent. It’s just as well….they say you should write about what you know. And I know absolutely nothing about Irish dancing, unless you count the Notre Dame jig at football games, and that probably doesn’t count!
I do know about sheep and border collies. (Our family had both on the farm.) So, I was excited to see a sheep herding demonstration, and boy, those border collies are wicked smart herding dogs. I’d never seen this sheep breed before, not that that’s saying much with 50 breeds in the U.S. and about 850 worldwide. They are Katahdins, which are a woolless breed. On our farm, we raised Suffolks (meat breed) and Targhees (for wool, and apparently known as a dual-purpose breed, I kid you not.)
During summers, I would “train” lambs for the 4-H county fair, which was a daily endeavor to get them comfortable being around humans and then halter broke. It may look easy at the fair, but it’s ridiculously time consuming. And by the time your sheep are ready for the fair, they’re about three weeks away from lamb chops.
Today, I stopped by India Fest at the Minnesota State Capitol and snapped photos of the capitol building and festival. I love (good) architecture, history and cultural events, so this was pretty much a perfect recipe for a weekend activity. The Red Cross Mobile Blood Bus was also on-site, so I made an impromptu donation. (PSA: Red Cross blood donations are the lowest in 15 years, so please consider donating, if you’re able.)
The Minnesota State Capitol was designed by Cass Gilbert and modeled after Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome. Did you know the unsupported marble dome is the second largest in the world after Saint Peter’s? (It was under renovation, so no photos of that today. In fact, there were scaffolding structures outside too, which made for an interesting challenge to photograph!)
A gilded quadriga called The Progress of the State depicts four horses, representing the power of nature: earth, wind, fire and water. The women riding in the back of the chariot symbolize civilization while the man standing at the front of the chariot represents prosperity.
IndiaFest celebrated the culture and heritage of India, and the country’s upcoming Independence Day on August 15, with traditional music and dancing, food (mmm, chicken biryani!), crafts and a parade. And, I even ran into my coworker Prachi!
Can you find the hidden “Bullseye”?
The Cathedral of Saint Paul in St. Paul, Minn. is the third largest church in the U.S. It’s the Co-Cathedral of the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis, along with the Basilica of St. Mary in Minneapolis. The exterior walls of the cathedral are Rockville granite from St. Cloud, and the interior walls are American Travertine from Mankato.
I love farmers’ markets. In every city and country I’ve traveled to, outdoor markets are not only great for local produce and good deals, but they show off a bit of the local flavor and people, too. From La Boqueria in Barcelona to las ferias in Santiago; to the back alley market in Wuxi, China (near Shanghai) which included live animals and live fish (but not for long); to fresh fruit from Pier 39 in San Francisco; the outdoor market in Fairbanks, Alaska with giant vegetables, and the farm stands in your local town, the colorful fresh fruit and vegetables flirt for your pocketbook.
As a kid, I remember selling sweet corn for a couple summers at the farmer’s market in Akron, Iowa. My sister, brother and I would wade into the cornfield and load our arms full with stacks of sweet corn, undeterred by the beating sun or itchy pollen. We’d unload them in bushel baskets in our wheelbarrow cart, not stopping until we had several hundred ears. At $2 a dozen, we offered a pretty good deal.
The Curry’s have almost always planted bicolor sweet corn, but in the early 90’s it was more of a rarity than a regular feature at markets or even grocery stores, for that matter. People would ask for our “candy corn.” Sweet corn is not a core part of our family business, but is planted for our family, employees, friends and neighbors. There was always an overabundance of corn, and the farmers’ market allowed my siblings and I to pool together some extra vacation cash. We can’t possibly have earned that much money, but to this day, it remains a rich memory.
I did a double take the other day, after noticing an upright piano on the sidewalk next to the Dakota jazz club. That afternoon, I found another decorated piano in City Center. Was it a case of orphaned pianos? No. Turns out, it’s part of Pianos on Parade, a project that places ‘artistically transformed’ pianos around the Twin Cities in outdoor locations for all to play and enjoy. Isn’t that nifty?
Pianos on Parade is spearheaded by Keys 4/4 Kids, a local nonprofit that refurbishes and sells donated pianos. Through mid-September, the Twin Cities will host 20 unique and colorful pianos, inviting people to spontaneously engage with art, music, and one another. But wait, there’s more. As an added bonus, open the piano bench to participate in the free music exchange. You might find a booklet of music by Minnesota composers (as I did), or someone’s gently used sheet music donation.
Today was my first visit to The Raptor Center in St. Paul. Established in 1974 as part of the Univ. of Minnesota College of Veterinary Medicine, the center rehabilitates more than 700 sick and injured raptors each year. I learned about all sorts of raptors: hawks, falcons and kestrels, eagles, owls and osprey, as well as the turkey vulture. Raptors are characterized by a hooked beak, strong feet with sharp talons, keen eyesight, and a carnivorous diet.
Did you know the peregrine falcon can reach speeds of 200mph? That the bald eagle has 7,000 feathers? How about that the Northern Saw-whet owl is one of the smallest owls, standing at 7 inches tall? Or that if humans’ eyes were proportionately equivalent to owls’ huge eyes and their skull, we’d have eyes the size of tennis balls?
Today’s photo is of a juvenile bald eagle. They don’t get their characteristic white color markings until 4-5 years of age.
Trivia: When is a minute 61 seconds? Tonight actually. At the last minute before midnight on June 30, I learned that the UTC will be adding a leap second. This is the 25th leap seconds that’s been added since 1972. About every 1.5 years, one extra second is added to Universal Coordinated Time (UTC). This accounts for the fact that the Earth’s rotation slows down over time while the atomic clocks we use to measure time tick away at almost the same speed over millions of years.
It’s funny how time changes your perspective. I love attending the annual Festival of Nations, where ethnic food from 35 countries, folk artisans, and entertainment combine over a four day weekend in St. Paul, Minnesota. I sampled empanadas, arepas and chorizo from Colombia, a caramel apple crepe from France and kolaches from Czech Republic. While everything tasted quite good, in the last decade since I first attended the festival, I’ve either had the privilege of trying those treats in their respective countries, or I had an enormous swath of ethnic restaurant to choose from in Chicago. Once exotic foods like Hungarian, South American, Indian, Thai, Nepalese and Lebanese are no longer Greek to me.
I most enjoy the performances by students and adults alike who are proudly sharing their music and culture. It reminds me that each of us has a rich history and heritage, which make the world a more interesting place. And, that’s something to celebrate.