Tag Archive | Minnesota

The Great Minnesota Get-Together

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In Minnesota, the State Fair is a big deal. Depending on how you measure it, our fair is the largest or the second largest in the country. During these Twelve Days of Fun Ending Labor Day, a common conversation starter is Are you going/have you been to the fair? As the end of August approaches, people wait eagerly for the critics’ write-ups of the year’s new foods (2015 introductions include the mac & cheese cupcake, kimchi ‘n’ curry poutine, and BBQ pickle ice cream).

I missed the fair last year, but this year I spent the better part of a day there. Here’s what I saw and ate:

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Sheep in the Sheep Barn

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I stumbled into the sheep program. A judge from Indiana inspects the yearling ewe class. The first place ewe he ultimately chose beat the second place ewe because “she [came] together a little nicer in that neck and shoulder region”.

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A handsome rabbit

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A new lamb in the immensely popular Miracle of Birth Center.

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A calf in the Miracle of Birth Center.

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This is Captain Jack, this year’s largest boar. He weighs 1,080 pounds.

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There was an appalling lack of goats in the Swine Barn (their usual home) this year. Nothing but these Boer goats! I wanted Oberhaslis!

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Yeah, it doesn’t get much more Minnesotan than this.

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State pride

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The first thing I ate this year was a new fair food, a Bapple (blueberry-apple) hand pie from Sara’s Tipsy Pies.

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The seed art is always great.

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And engagé.

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You’ve probably always wanted to grow a champion sugar beet.

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Or a truly monstrous kohlrabi. To think the farmer who grew that one on the white tray thought they had a shot at largest kohlrabi! Little did they know.

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The first place winner of the Giant Pumpkin Contest. This pumpkin weighs 1,473 pounds, more than the largest boar.

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You can also win prizes just for growing some nice tomatoes.

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Whoo!

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I caught the Celtic duo Willow Brae playing under the AFL-CIO marquee. Here, the Scottish smallpipes! She also had border pipes.

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Walleye mac and cheese!

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Prize-winning Swedish-inspired crafts in the Creative Activities building

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And in a different vein…

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So many snickerdoodles

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Not the most photogenic contest

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Prize jams and jellies

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Prize maple syrups

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What passes for ethnic baking in Minnesota

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Swedes-in-a-blanket: Swedish meatballs in lefse

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Minnesota

In Which We Wave At Canada

After leaving the Boundary Waters, we drove back to Grand Marais and had lunch at the Angry Trout on Lake Superior. We bought some smoked trout and walleye cheeks from the fish market next door, then headed further north to Grand Portage, at the very tip of Minnesota’s Arrowhead. The actual Grand Portage, or Gichi-onigamiing, is a 9-mile trail that bypasses 20 miles worth of rapids and falls on the Pigeon River near where it flows into Lake Superior.

We stopped at Grand Portage State Park, almost at the Canadian border, to see the waterfall. On the way into the visitor center, there were signs giving the English and Ojibwe (Anishinaabemowin) names for various animals. I later learned these seven animals were clan names of the Grand Portage Band of Lake Superior Chippewa.

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We walked the extremely accessible trail to the High Falls as thunder rumbled in the distance. These falls (there are more) are about 120 feet tall. They’re on the Pigeon River, which at this point forms the border between the U.S. and Canada.

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Part of the High Falls

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In case you can’t figure out where it is…

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The U.S. (Minnesota) is on the left and Canada (Ontario) is on the right

Back in the visitor center, I found this sign listing helpful Ojibwe words:

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And then we turned back, not having actually visited Canada.

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The Boundary Waters

Last week, my family went canoeing and camping in the Boundary Waters. It was my fifth trip there and the ten-year anniversary of my first time in the Boundary Waters. The Boundary Waters are a network of lakes that straddle the U.S.-Canada border in northern Minnesota and southern Ontario. It’s a wilderness area where you camp, canoe, and portage between lakes. It is one of my favorite places in the world.

We drove up from the Twin Cities on Monday afternoon, passing through Duluth and driving up the North Shore. At Grand Marais, we turned inland and drove another hour and a half up the Gunflint Trail to Seagull Outfitters on Seagull Lake. We spent the night in the bunkhouse and embarked in two Kevlar canoes on a gray and misty Tuesday morning.

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Seagull Lake

Armed with a map, I navigated us into the Boundary Waters proper and around the northern end of Three Mile Island. Seagull Lake is very large by Boundary Waters standards and apparently has over one hundred islands, which can make it tricky to navigate. We investigated two campsites on Three Mile Island and one on another, much smaller island, which was unfortunately taken, so in the end we went with the first campsite we looked at.

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Our campsite’s cove

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The sun comes out in the cove

We camped for three nights. During the day, we explored different parts of Seagull Lake: the palisades, some rapids, various islands.

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The palisades

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Brilliant sky, brilliant water

We had a campfire each night. We did not move campsites or do any portaging (even though we had light Kevlar canoes–portaging one of them sure beats carrying an 80-pound Grumman). We saw lots of birds: bald eagles, loons, common mergansers, gulls (it was Seagull Lake, after all), a woodpecker, gray jays. Our campsite was also home to at least one very territorial red squirrel who chittered constantly at us. We saw crayfish and minnows in the water and a bright green caterpillar on land, and my brother spotted a large turtle sunning itself on a rock.

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Bald eagle

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Turtle (from behind)

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Crayfish, with faithful fish friend following behind

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Red squirrel eating pine cone

One of the best parts of going to the Boundary Waters is getting away from everything: enriching one’s MA thesis, revising one’s manuscript, remembering the day of the week. There is just water, sun, sky, rock, and trees. It’s peaceful and quiet and empty and wild.

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My mother is into rock balancing these days

The morning we left, we took a side trip to see a landmark labeled Falls on our map. It was at the north end of the lake, outside the Boundary Waters and near the U.S. Forest Service’s Trail’s End Campground. There was a small waterfall and rapids beyond, and we walked the 38-rod portage to see them and the lake at the other end. Then we paddled back to our outfitters and hot showers.

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The start of the portage

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The rapids

The 25th Annual Minnesota Sacred Harp Convention

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The day after my Twin Cities launch party for Sparkers, I attended the 25th Annual Minnesota State Sacred Harp Convention. The timing of my trip home couldn’t have been better. The convention was held at The Landing, an outdoor museum that recreates a 19th century settlement on the Minnesota River. It’s very picturesque. There are charming preserved houses and buildings, vegetable gardens, apple trees, and a river overlook. We sang in the Town Hall.

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The Town Hall

I was called to lead during the second session of the morning. The arranging committee member introduced me, saying, “We welcome Eleanor Glewwe back from Los Angeles, CA. Ask her about her new novel, out on Tuesday!” With that, it was in to the center of the square with me. I led 501 O’Leary, for rather specific reasons. It was composed in the year of my birth by Ted Mercer, a singer from Chicago who was at the convention. It’s named for the O’Leary family, who live in the Los Angeles area. Finally, I like the tune and the text, especially the lines “How will my heart endure / The terrors of that day” (I mean, it’s about Judgment Day, but I think you can sing those words about any day you’re feeling trepidatious about). Later, a singer came up to me and said how fitting it was that I’d led O’Leary, since I’d come to the convention from Los Angeles and since Ted Mercer was in the room. She said she loved it when she could figure out why a leader had chosen a particular song. Also, Ted Mercer came up to me and asked if I’d sung with the O’Learys (I have).

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The Minnesota River

The singing was fantastic, and there were a number of illustrious figures in attendance, including Judy Hauff of Chicago, who basically wrote all my favorite songs in the book (perhaps it’d be more correct to say all four of her songs are among my favorites), and Mike Hinton of Texas, the current president of the Sacred Harp Publishing Company. I also got to hang out with a number of young singers I don’t see very often. And the setting was just so idyllic: blue sky, autumn sunshine, painted wooden houses with porches…

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Since the arranging committee had told people to ask me about my book, well, they did. And this is where things got interesting. During one of the morning breaks, across the refreshments table (and what refreshments they were! Sparkling apple cider and basil-infused lemonade!), a woman asked me if I was “that science fiction writer”. Later, someone asked me if I was the one who’d written that book about “a woman who is a robot” (or something like that). I knew at once who they were mistaking me for. What they imagined was very flattering and very wrong.

There is a Sacred Harp singer from Missouri named Ann Leckie who wrote a science fiction novel called Ancillary Justice (the sequel, Ancillary Sword, came out yesterday). I read it earlier this year on the enthusiastic recommendation of a good friend, and I thought it was amazing. But you don’t have to take my word for it: Ancillary Justice won the Arthur C. Clarke Award, the Nebula Award, and the Hugo Award (among other honors). In other words, Ann Leckie is a big deal.

I was tickled that other singers thought I was Ann Leckie, particularly because I had actually been hoping that Ann Leckie would be at the Minnesota convention. Missouri isn’t that far from Minnesota, and in fact there were other Missouri singers there. Moreover, Ms. Leckie was going to be at the Heartland Fall Forum (a regional trade show) in Minneapolis on October 1st, so she conceivably could have combined convention and author appearance in one trip. I had imagined accosting her at dinner on the grounds, reaching across a picnic table laden with kale salads and baked pasta dishes to shake her hand and asking her for her autograph. Alas, it was not to be.

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The church

The convention was wonderful all the same. Unfortunately, I was only able to attend the first day, but I made it to the evening social in St. Paul, where there was more food, including a delicious bread pudding (in two versions, with and without raisins!). I overheard someone say they thought about bringing a kale salad but knew there would already be at least three, so they didn’t. More people asked me about my book. And I learned that there’s now a (small) Georgian choir in the Twin Cities!

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Singers mingling–look closely for some nice beards

A last word about funny Sacred Harp texts: When singing 280 Westford, we came to this line that I always forget about until I sing it again. I have to struggle not to laugh every time. It’s this: “Blest Jesus, what delicious fare!” Whenever I get to those words, they sound to me like, “Jesus, yum!” (I know. You’re thinking of communion. That is not the context. At least, I don’t think so.) That line might be the most amusing one in the book, outside the temperance song, which is impossible to sing without laughing. But that’s a song for another day…

What I’ve Been Reading

I’ve been reading a lot lately, at a rate of almost a book a day, which is probably not helping my summer research any, or the book I’m supposed to be writing. Then again, it is summer, and it’s not Tolstoy novels I’m gulping down daily.

Yesterday, I finished Anne Ursu’s Breadcrumbs, which is most definitely a snow book. It’s also a modern fairy tale, a retelling of “The Snow Queen,” and it’s deeply rooted in Minneapolis, which I loved, because sometimes it’s nice to encounter a setting in a book that you don’t need to imagine because it already exists in your memory. From Linden Hills to the chain of lakes, it was all familiar and real to me. Even Joe Mauer, though goodness knows I don’t care about the Twins.

Even though the central story echoes “The Snow Queen,” Breadcrumbs weaves in other fairy tales, especially those of Hans Christian Andersen, like “The Red Shoes” and “The Little Match Girl” (hmm, I suppose it’s not a coincidence the heroine’s name is Hazel Anderson?). Growing up, I had a Hans Christian Andersen collection, a big, old book with a worn spine and a drab cover and lovely illustrations. I think “The Snow Queen” was the very first story in that collection, and it was my favorite. I particularly remember the robber girl and her knife. There is no robber girl in Breadcrumbs.

In addition to the intermingling of fairy tales, there are references to the literary magical worlds that come alive for Hazel and her friend Jack. Hogwarts, Narnia, the planets in A Wrinkle in Time. I liked the strong conflation of the Snow Queen with the White Witch Jadis from The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe and was amused when, after Jack climbs into her white sleigh, she asks, “Would you like some Turkish delight?” and he says, “Huh?” and she says, “Just a little joke.” (But surely he got it, after a moment?)

The most thrilling moment, though, was when Hazel is reading a library book on the school bus:

“The girl in it was reading A Wrinkle in Time. She was best friends with a boy who lived in the apartment below. And then one day the boy stopped talking to her. Hazel closed the book.”

I thought, Aha! I know that book. It had to be When You Reach Me, the 2010 winner of the Newbery Medal. It was one of those gleeful Lemony Snicket I-caught-your-reference moments, but also, I was blown away by When You Reach Me, and there is a strong affinity between the two books.

I read another book set in Minnesota recently: Sex & Violence, by Carrie Mesrobian, who, like Anne Ursu, is a Minnesota author. Sex & Violence takes place on a fictional lake in a fictional county of Minnesota, so I didn’t recognize landmarks the same way I did in Breadcrumbs, but it still captured that atmosphere of being “up at the lake”. (Well, my family doesn’t have a lake cabin, so I don’t have tons of experience being “up at the lake,” but it felt right nonetheless.) Sex & Violence was a 2014 finalist for the Morris Award, which honors a debut YA novel. I’d heard lots of good things about it, so I plucked it right off the shelf when I spotted it at the library. It absolutely lived up to its reputation. And all I can say is I wish I knew of an island on a lake with an old mansion on it whose library and other rooms I could explore. That sounds fantastic.

I also read another 2014 Morris Award finalist, In the Shadow of Blackbirds, by Cat Winters. It’s set in San Diego in 1918, against the backdrop of World War I and the Spanish flu pandemic. The strong-willed, scientifically-minded heroine arrives in southern California to stay with her aunt after her father is arrested for helping men avoid the draft in Portland, Oregon. There she finds herself hounded by a spiritualist photographer, the brutish brother of the boy she loves, who is in the trenches in France. I really enjoyed the historical details, in part because the setting of Sparkers, while fantastic, is modeled on this era, in terms of the level of technology. The book also illuminated for me the full impact of the flu and the level of panic it created. I knew the pandemic happened, but I didn’t realize that practically everyone was going around wearing gauze masks, that schools were closed, that people ate onions and carried around garlic in hopes of warding off the flu, that wagons of dead bodies rolled through the streets, and that people hung color-coded flags representing the dead from their houses. At least as depicted in the book, it was like the Black Death transported into the 20th century. This sense of impending doom brought on by a plague also made me reflect on Sparkers.

Even beyond the richly-rendered setting and the omnipresent fear of the flu, In the Shadow of Blackbirds impressed me. It was genuinely surprising: many of the characters had a complexity and ambiguity that made it impossible for me to predict the roles they would play in advance, and I never saw the identity of the ultimate villain coming. Maybe another reader would’ve guessed, but I didn’t. Also, the climax was truly horrifying and terrifying. Finally—and this might be spoilery so if you care about that sort of thing, maybe don’t read on—I have this rule that has generally served me well that says you never believe a character is really dead unless you see the body. The protagonist may think they’re dead, but if you don’t see the body, they’re probably not and will likely return before the end of the book. So, in this book, someone died, and there was even a funeral, but we never actually saw the body, so I was pretty convinced for a long time that he would turn up, safe and sound, by the end. Maybe the fact that he was appearing as a ghost to the protagonist should have tipped me off to his actually being dead, but I held out hope (and confidence in my rule) for quite a while. But no. He was really dead. He didn’t come back. And thus Cat Winters subverted my expectations, and I was pleased. Because I always feel vindicated when a purportedly dead character resurfaces, but it’s also a little disappointing to be able to see it coming from the beginning, so I appreciated being proven wrong.

So that’s what I’ve been reading. Next up is Anne Ursu’s The Real Boy.