Could you live where -60 degrees isn't out of the question?

 
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When I lived in Montana, I was surprised at how many Minnesotans had relocated there. Montana winters are serious, but Minnesota’s are even more so. But when you land in Minneapolis on a sunny Spring day and head straight to an 11-acre sculpture garden, you start to think, well, maybe I could live here…

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The Minneapolis Sculpture Garden is right in the city, not far from downtown. The scale of its pieces fit nicely with the cityscape in the background.

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I got a kick out of watching this couple play with the mirrors on this piece. You can just see her faint outline from the other side in the shot below.

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Next to the garden is the Walker Art Center, which is a fantastic contemporary art museum with free admission on Thursdays. I arrived a little early for the free entry, but lucky for me, they had a beautifully done, full-stocked bar near the entrance, so I had a drink while I waited for the free art.

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The tree below is entirely filled with wind chimes.

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The city seems to be thoughtfully planned, and smaller green spaces are tucked in among office buildings and large-scale developments like Target Field, where the Twins play.

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Given the reality of those long, cold winters, it comes as no surprise that the Minnesotans can make some beer. I found this guide before I went, and stopped by Fulton Beer (yum) after the sculpture garden. Lakes and Legends was near the hotel hosting my conference, so I popped in there as well. They have a decent IPA, an open, modern look, and you can bring your dog. I always think that’s the mark of a good spot.

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I never can get enough of all the textures and patterns that come out of fitting a bunch of large, mirrored buildings into a tight space.

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On my last day there, I walked to the Stone Arch Bridge, which is the only such bridge on the entire Mississippi River. It’s now exclusively used by pedestrians and cyclists, and the surrounding area is beautiful. The whole city reminds me a bit of Toronto and Montreal, but especially this section—the Gold Medal Flour sign echoes Montreal’s Farine Five Roses.

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According to a new study, beautiful cities may have an economic advantage, which I see as just one more reason to design and improve with aesthetics and quality of life in mind (while being careful to make provisions for people displaced by gentrification).

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I couldn’t find the path down to this green space, but what a nice way to escape the city for a bit.

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I only had a few hours to get out and about with my camera, and I know there is much more to explore. I think any place that can make you consider living where -60 is a thing deserves a second visit, albeit carefully planned in the Springtime.

Opening Day for Trails

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April 13th is opening day for trails across the country. This means communities all over have events to celebrate the rail trail that runs through their town. I was recruited to this particular event in Salem, WV for a specific purpose: to help assess the interaction between the town and the trail.

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We scoped out the trail conditions and found some major problems just outside of town. Water runs in ditches on either side of the trail bed, which is now much lower than when the railroad ran trains on it. When the railroad pulled out, the company tried to make as much as it could from all the components that once made up the tracks. Railroad ties, steel rails, and even the ballast that supported them were sold off in truckloads.

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The lack of drainage creates some serious issues for the trail surface. It was swampy with mud and completely impassible in places. The water has created a path of least resistance, at times directly bisecting the trail.

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We also saw quite a few unnatural “waterfalls” along the way, such as the pipe above that spews soapy water into the trailside ditch. We stopped when it became clear conditions weren’t going to improve, but not before seeing this collection of barking dogs. They remain fairly intimidating despite the chains that tie them to their individual houses.

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Someone bought the house below to open a trailside store, but it never materialized.

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The bright spot in town is the Dairy Queen, which also happens to be the site of my very first job. That’s right. At age 16 I learned to make a kickass Blizzard and a cone with a perfect curly cue on top, all while wearing a monogramed visor. My childhood babysitter, who we called Zippie, managed the store when I was in high school. It was the cleanest fast food restaurant you’ve ever seen in your life. On slow nights, she’d put me to work scrubbing the bathroom walls. I believe she owns the place now, and she still runs a tight ship.

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They have nice new picnic tables outside, some open air and some under a covered patio, as well as a bike rack and a place to tether your horses. The onion rings are still delicious.

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This beautiful house sits on Main Street, which is largely boarded up and closed now.

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There were a few nice touches, such as this little courtyard surrounded by daffodils. and a quaint little bridge to access the trail from the sidewalk on Main. But otherwise, the downtown is largely boarded up and closed.

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For such a tiny town, I could not believe how many kids on bikes showed up to participate in the bike rodeo.

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The best part was, the “rodeo” was a simple course laid out with a sack of flour and some orange cones. The kids had these determined little looks on their faces as they threaded their way through the course.

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We rode east out of town all the way to this tunnel, which is not in good shape. Stalactites hung from the ceiling, and the ground was muddy and filled with puddles. We decided millions would be needed to fix all the issues there. Can you imagine? For just one tunnel. But the goal that the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy is working on right now is connecting the trail from Parkersburg, WV to Pittsburgh, PA. And to do that, not only will they need to acquire additional property to bridge the existing gaps, but they’ll have to address these infrastructure issues as well. It’s a big job.

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It was pretty inspiring to meet all these people who drove several hours to support this effort in a community that isn’t even theirs. I tend to think it really meant something to all those determined little cyclists.

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Tucson, Part 2

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I visited Brian and Susan for the first time in 2005, when I lived in Oregon and they hosted a family gathering. I fell in love with their house then and couldn't wait to come back this time with my camera. These two creatives are so inspiring. I guess that’s what happens when an architect and an artist come together. But also, this landscape. Can you imagine waking up to these mountains every day?

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It starts with the handmade purple cactus screen door. And then the gardens. They’re all around the house, and each one is its own beautiful vignette. Everywhere you look, there’s something amazing to discover—both inside and out. Brian designed and constructed must of the structures, including the fence and gate above.

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Two standout favorites in the back yard: the old truck above, which Brian took from Susan’s brother Charlie’s ranch and repurposed as a giant funky grill cover, and the striking bright pink wall with the purple cactus cut-out gate below.

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I remember Susan telling me years ago about how her mother had arranged groups of plants in pots every year on their patio. She’s carrying on the tradition, and man, is she doing it well.

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I learned a lot about the family on this trip. Susan’s mother Mary Jo moved to Tucson in her early twenties because she was told it was good for asthma. Mary Jo’s Aunt Emmy (my Dad’s great-aunt) also relocated from New England to Tucson and opened a gift shop downtown. Both Mary Jo and Aunt Emmy had artistic taste and a good eye—I still have beautiful bits of silk and lace that Emmy gave my mom years ago. It’s very comforting to know that all these strong, artistic, adventurous women are in my genes.

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And what better place to move than one filled with natural beauty and amazing art? We happened upon these beautiful Mexican painted animals when we visited Tohono Chul, a botanical garden and gallery where Susan had a painting on display.

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And I went crazy over the cacti. Naturally.

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We took a short jaunt downtown to historic Fourth Avenue on our last day there. I found this amazing courtyard of repurposed shipping containers selling food and drink. It’s called The Boxyard and appears to be a sort of semi-permanent food truck situation. Doesn’t this seem like something we should recreate here in West Virginia?!?

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Public art is clearly a priority in Tucson. They’ve even worked it into their bus stops. That sort of dedication really sets a tone.

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On our last night, we got to have dinner with Dad’s cousin Charlie and his partner Connie on their ranch.

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The skies are big and wide there, and both the stars and the company were fantastic.

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I told Dad he and Charlie look like east and west coast twinsies. Not only were they both wearing tucked-in plaid shirts and work boots, but also identical Carhart jeans. Whoa.

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I get it now, why people go to the desert seeking clarity. I came back from this trip having found some, and some artistic inspiration to boot.

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Tucson, Part 1: Sometimes, you just need to go to the desert.

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I took the boy on his first trip out west a few weeks ago. My dad and stepmom have taken to RVing down South through the winters, and so we met them in Tucson. Not only does Tucson have the obvious appeal of cacti and mountains, but Dad’s cousin Susan and her husband Brian live there. Which means we got to visit with some of my favorite family members and explore the desert while snowmelt filled the streams and the flowers were in bloom.

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The first day we went to the Arizona-Senora Desert Museum. That place was amazing and so well done. It’s a huge maze of pathways that connect multiple botanical gardens and desert animals in natural settings. So many different types of cacti.

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Dad wanted to know what I was going to do with all those pictures. At least two blog posts, Dad.

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Just two miles from the museum is Saguaro National Park West.

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Twice in the last few years I’ve had the feeling that I was exactly where I should be. (Both times I was out west next to some serious mountains. Coincidence?) Hiking through Saguaro National Park was one of those times. I asked Coban if this was the best thing he’d ever done in his whole life, and he agreed that it was.

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The next day we headed out of town for a zipline adventure. My second cousin, Emily, who I met for the first time on this trip, is part owner of Arizona Zipline Adventures. She and her partner have created an amazing space with bunkhouses for people to stay in, a communal space for meals and gatherings, and of course, a zipline course that gives amazing views of the mountains and surrounding ranch land.

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There’s even a place outside to mine for gold.

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Right up the road is the historic 3 C Ranch, which Emily’s family has restored to include guest houses and event space. There was so much color and texture and beauty out there that I couldn’t fit it all in one post. Stay tuned for Tucson Part 2.

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A Slice for Thanksgiving

 
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I drove to NYC last week with Coban to meet our lovely friends for a destination Thanksgiving.

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You know it’s a cold one when this child is willing to don a scarf. (The next day he snuck back to the hotel room before we left to remove his fleece and leave his gloves behind, perhaps because the long underwear from the parade day had made him sweat. This happens when you run everywhere at full speed.)

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The Thanksgiving Day Parade was cold, but quite an experience. My cold-blooded friend brought hand warmers, which we stuffed into our boots, and those and the fleece tights under my jeans kept me feeling fine.

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The floats are just huge, but we could barely see the street where they walked. And yet, being there with other people from all over was such a nice bonding experience. It’s not that we made friends and shared blankets, but I felt a certain positive energy from waiting in the same space for an event that everyone agrees is kind of awesome and worth freezing your pants off for a few hours.

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I just love the textures of the city. So many designs interplaying every where you look.

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I also loved how our kids made their own fun no matter where we were, running and jumping and moving quickly under pipes and railings.

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My child jumped up and down with excitement when he saw the first fast-moving subway, but then a few trips later he decided it was old hat. I find both of these positions entertaining. He may make a good traveling companion.

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These colors. Imagine this for a quilt pallet. Or a hand-woven rug. Yum.

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The new World Trade Center is nicely designed.

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And the monuments and the nearby tour guides made me cry.

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But I thought it was worth the wait to get to the 360 view at the top.

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This was the site of a mini-meltdown, so someone was pouting as he took in the views.

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But what can a bagel and lox not fix? Not much. After that, we jumped on the Staten Island Ferry.

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I didn’t get a picture of the guys behind the counter at Ray’s Pizza, who grumbled at me when I asked what something was, but I have a nice mental picture of how good it felt to sit drinking a beer and eating a slice on Thanksgiving with old friends while our kids listed things they were thankful for, which of course included pizza and Minecraft.

But hey, we were all really thankful.