School’s Out…For Summer
Today is my son’s last day of school. Not forever, and not even until Fall really. But every year I get the Alice Cooper song stuck in my head. I am still annoyed the Minneapolis Public Schools start each new school year the week before Labor Day. I would rather have my son start school in September, so we can enjoy the MN State Fair together on a week day. But I’m not so thrilled, overall, with the American tradition of giving students such a long break every summer. When my son was younger he attended a year round charter school, Monday through Thursday. My employer at the time allowed me to bring him to work with me on Fridays or work from home. I didn’t have to worry about saving up for summertime childcare, until after the 4th grade. And then it became a major stress point, as it is for many families (but especially as a single parent household). This NY Times piece is a great read:
The Families That Can’t Afford Summer
Most American schools take a 10- to 11-week break during the summer. The assumption that underlies summer vacation — that there is one parent waiting at home for the kids — is true for just over a quarter of American families. For the rest of us, the children are off, the parents are not. We can indulge our annual illusion of children filling joyful hours with sprinkler romps and robotics camp or we can admit the reality: Summer’s supposed freedom is expensive.
This antiquated system ought to change. Now that my son is older he no longer attends summer camp. I thought he might get a job this summer but he’s traveling quite a bit. And it’s even more difficult to find appropriate employment for a young person with autism. So instead I’ll have him help me out with yard stuff while I’m at work. We rent and our landlord provides a lawn mowing service, but that’s it. This year I’ve been determined to transform our backyard from a blah space into an oasis. I began by attacking an overgrown but mostly dead rose bush in our front yard. It fought back. And I’ve been adding planters full of colorful flowers and hanging flower baskets and additional patio furniture. I made the mistake of turning to Pinterest and fell down the rabbit hole for a while. Too many ideas. Some good, some bad, some outlandishly expensive. Hoping my outdoor commercial grade string light plan pans out. But it won’t be all work and no play for us. Aside from relaxing in our backyard paradise, there are plenty of fun goings on in the Twin Cities in the summer because our warm weather times are so brief. This coming weekend is the annual Northern Spark dusk-to-dawn festival. And each of our Twin Cities have put out schedules for their free movies in the parks series. Minneapolis Music & Movies in the Parks and Saint Paul style. This past weekend we missed both Grand Old Day and Open Streets Lyndale, in favor of our friends’ housewarming/baby shower. Totally worth it. Besides, there will be more Open Streets events around town. And we’ve already gotten to our favorite Pizza Farm – in Stockholm, WI – once this season. And the Internet CatVidFest is returning to the Saints stadium in August. But summer is bittersweet. My son will be sleeping in now and that means no more weekday morning hugs before I leave for work.
Playa Del Carmen
My son and I travel a fair amount and have generally gone out of town for his Spring Break. That wasn’t the case for 2015. I had just switched jobs after a full decade with my previous employer. And my son and I spent a couple nights of his break at Children’s Hospital. Not fun. Spring Break 2016 was exponentially better. We took our first ever warm weather beach vacation. It won’t be our last. I found a magical place in Mexico, called Mahekal Beach Resort, in a sub-tropical paradise. We spent most of our week lounging and swimming at the resort. Our palapa faced the ocean and our front porch had two hammocks that we made use of quite a bit. Our package came with two meals a day. The resort’s breakfast buffet was a slice of heaven. Amazing coffee, delicious fresh fruits, chilaquiles and black beans, all on a patio overlooking a pool facing the ocean. And dinner was just as delightful with a surprising number of vegan-friendly options for my son. We were just a few blocks from the downtown area too and wandered the main drag, enjoying lunches at Italian and Japanese restaurants, and cocoa at a lovely chocolate cafe chain.
Seeing such a mix of flashy wealth and abject poverty is always strange when traveling abroad, or here in the US. But in Mexico I noticed a lot of creativity and ingenuity. I don’t kid myself that we saw a lot of the real Mexico, aside from some of the region’s natural wonders and ruins. We did experience a bit of the garishness of the tourist industry. We shared a couple of van rides with other tourists who were staying at gated fortresses out of the way, off of the highway. I was utterly disgusted when I learned about Secrets Akumal, where big money was allowed to dig up the beach where sea turtles had been laying their eggs for all time and turn it into a volleyball field. Thankfully our resort wasn’t anything like that one and the tour company I chose has a strong focus on preserving the environment / ecology of the area. I highly recommend Edventure Tours for anyone visiting the area. The teenager trudged alongside me at the Tulum ruins. He was grumpy because we’d had to get up so early we couldn’t catch the breakfast buffet at the resort. And at 8am it was already roasting hot. But he was much happier when we got into the ATVs and went roaring through the jungle to get to the ziplining course. That was definitely a highlight for me as well.
Returning to real life was a shock, physically and emotionally, with Minnesota’s mercurial weather in full effect. I miss our oceanside hammocks and will remember them fondly for all time.
Without Music Life Would Be a Mistake
Winter in Minnesota makes me want to hibernate, and I generally want to hunker down after the chaos of the holidays. Recently I looked into getting a Seasonal Affective Disorder lamp (some prefer to call them “happy” lamps). But it turns out they may not be a good option for me, as my family has a history of macular degeneration. Foiled again! But then I realized what was really missing from my life. Music. It had been weeks since I’d been to a show. And clamping on headphones and listening to music over my smartphone at my cubicle just isn’t the same. So I forced myself out two nights in a row last weekend to see friends’ bands. And it was just what the doctor ordered.
Friday January 22nd, 2016 at The Hexagon Bar
Twin Cities locals American Cream
Lifestyles, from Chicago
Soft Serve, Minneapolis
Saturday January 23rd, 2016 in the 7th Street Entry
Chris Bierden’s Invisible Boy, Minneapolis
Lower Dens from Baltimore
They Grow Up So Fast
Once upon a time we had the best neighbors in the world. The parents were great company and their adorable daughter was slightly older than my son. The two spent a lot of time playing together and it was great. But they moved away as their family grew and they understandably needed more space. Thankfully we’ve kept in touch.
Fast forward to over TEN YEARS LATER. And this adorable little girl has become a lovely young woman, and is as hilarious and fun as ever. Somehow she is graduating from high school at the end of this school year and I had the honor of taking her senior photos. We had a delightful photo session in Saint Paul’s Lowertown. An area that has changed quite a bit since we all lived nearby, just over the river on the other side of the Wabasha Street Bridge.
The Island Awaits You
Last weekend we headed North to Bayfield, WI for our lovely friends’ wedding. I’ve been up there a handful of times and adore it. This visit was even more fun, having a bunch of our friends there with us. And since I wasn’t the official wedding photographer I was able to goof off and take all the silly photos I wanted, while having a glass of wine (or two or three). The ceremony – officiated by another friend of ours – was short and sweet. And much fun was had at the reception and the after party on the island, which involved catching the last ferry of the evening to Madeline Island. I was ready for bed by midnight but in this instance bed was a sleeping bag in a tent in Big Bay State Park. We drove back home Sunday afternoon but I would have gladly stayed a few more days. Next time.
The Geography of Happiness
This year has been one of transition for me. At the beginning of 2015 I left my employer after ten years, though I had been happy there much of the time. My role was changing – again – but the future was far too nebulous. I’m not a big fan of uncertainty. By some stroke of fate I happened upon a position with another software company that was almost a surreal fit for my skills, experience and interests. As though the job posting had been written just for me. That the company is headquartered in Denmark – with an office near my home – was of interest. But mostly a novelty. Having European co-workers initially just meant factoring in the time difference when attempting to communicate. The idea of our HQ in Copenhagen became much more relevant and real when I was invited to join the entire company for three days of team-building activities there last month. This seemed bizarre and generous, especially by American standards, but there are valid reasons the Danes are at the top of the UN’s World Happiness Report. And I’m learning more and more about Hygge – the art of enjoying the good things in life with good people. Now I’m so happy to have spent some quality time with my European colleagues. This 2014-2015 Corporate Social Responsibility report highlights what a great bunch of people we’ve got. And below is my personal take on our adventures together.
Some of my American colleagues headed to Europe early, for bonus sight-seeing, and were able to overcome their jet lag before our jam-packed itinerary kicked in. Others, like myself, were a bit discombobulated at first. I endured two layovers on my way to Copenhagen but thankfully had enough time to nap for several hours before our first event. We were amused to discover our company had rented a couple of double-decker buses to shuttle us all around, and had them vinyl wrapped with our logo. For the first item on the itinerary we were shuttled to an amazing evening at The Blue Planet, a cool vortex-shaped aquarium. We mingled with our colleagues, enjoyed some excellent catering and drinks and Europe’s largest school of piranhas and other ocean creatures.
Our second day in Copenhagen, and our first full day there – began with a lovely breakfast at the hotel followed by some presentations. Including an amusing and relevant talk by Colin Moon, about international and cross-cultural team building. Afterward we split into eight groups for an Amazing Race style scavenger hunt through the city. It was a great way to see some of the tourist-y landmarks I had planned to visit anyhow, like the Rundetårn – an old observatory with a spiral corridor used as a racetrack. And the Queen’s palace and some gorgeous parks. In the afternoon we headed to the beach for “The World’s Largest Blind Tandem Bike Ride” hosted by Siteimprove in conjunction with the Danish Association of the Blind to promote Global Accessibility Awareness Day. And we wrapped things up in the evening with a fun BBQ and home brew at the super cool Siteimprove HQ.
We were up bright and early and back on the bus for a day of sailing and hygge at Skovshoved Havn. I tend to motion sickness so I skipped the sailboats with the lightweight hulls in favor of the smoother riding schooner, which was most pleasant. After our time on the water there were push-up and planking contests (I only observed). Then we were served some delicious smørrebrød. After it was back on the buses to get some much needed clean-up time at the hotel, to make ourselves presentable for a gala at a castle! It’s hard to do the experience justice. We were treated to a tour of Kronborg Castle – where Hamlet was set – and then a lavish four course meal, paired with amazing wines. At the doorway to the banquet hall we each pulled a number out of a bowl, determining which table we’d be placed at and thus who our dining companions would be. I enjoyed the randomness of it. The event unfolded from 5pm until 4am. So much happened in that time span. Both magical and ridiculous. At one point I was standing in line at the bar, just to get more water, when a tall person near me was jostled and wound up depositing a full cocktail on my head. But it didn’t matter. Because I was in a castle! And I just went right back to the dance floor after chugging some water.
Saturday I intended to sleep in after getting to bed so late, but it was my last day in Copenhagen. I was sleep-deprived but managed to shower (I had to shampoo after having that mojito unceremoniously dumped on my head) and get down to the hotel restaurant just before breakfast was ending. Then some lovely co-workers joined me for a peaceful canal tour of the Nyhavn, with a most adorable tour guide. Afterward we enjoyed lunch at one of the many restaurants on the Nyhavn, and tried Danish Aquavit for the first time. Then it was off to check out Christiana but there wasn’t much going on. I had hoped to get there when bands were playing at the venue, Loppen, but the timing didn’t work out. So instead we set off for Tivoli Gardens to enjoy some rides at the amusement park with some more co-workers. Getting around by metro and bus was really quite easy but I would have loved to have my own bike with me. The bike lanes in Copenhagen are great! Separated from the auto traffic in the street by a substantial cement curb. But maybe biking there would be moderately terrifying just because of the sheer number of bikers, and how close to one another they get. Perhaps I’ll find out next time I visit.
The Walker Art Center’s Sculpture Garden has long been one of my favorite places in Minneapolis (along with the Walker itself). I clearly remember my first visit, on a field trip with my suburban (but nearly rural) school. It just felt magical. Like a creative oasis. I started visiting on my own as a teenager. Over the years some installations have changed while others remain. I’ve shown it off to friends visiting from out of town. And throughout my son’s life I’ve taken him there fairly regularly. He particularly enjoys the artist-designed mini golf in the summer time. I’ve photographed friends and family there, including a wedding, and more than one family portrait session. Now spring has finally sprung, sort of. My seasonal allergies say yes, the current gloomy-cold weather says no. But there was one gorgeous weekend recently where Minnesotans shed their outer layers and enjoyed mild temps outdoors in short sleeves. And I had the pleasure of photographing another adorable family in one of my favorite spots.
Ray of Sunshine
February in Minnesota can be a tough month. Technically it’s the shortest one but we’re so deep into winter it can really drag. So it’s best to look for bright spots. I found one last weekend. A lovely family asked me to meet them at the Mall of America to take some photos on their daughter’s first birthday. Normally the MOA would be a fairly quiet place at 9:30am on a Saturday, before the stores open. Little did we know there would be a Walk to Cure Diabetes happening at the same time. Thousands of walkers arrived at the mall before we did, to register and begin their event. That certainly made the shoot more lively. But we were able to go with the flow – or sometimes fight our way upstream – and get some great shots.
The Ancient Oak
Last winter seemed to be never-ending. There were far too many of those soul-sucking Polar Arctic Vortex days with dangerous windchills. So severe that classes were canceled on multiple occasions. A rare thing for Minnesotan schools! This winter has been far gentler (knock on wood). Mild enough that I was able to shoot some family photos outdoors recently. I’ve been a lifelong resident of the Twin Cities, and on and off again Minneapolitan – it’s been a tug of war between St. Paul and Minneapolis all of my adult life. Yet somehow I never knew the story of the oldest tree in Minneapolis. It was an ancient burr oak. Sadly it died a few years back but what remains is still impressive, and commemorated with a plaque. And it made a beautiful backdrop for this adorable family of four.
Salt and Light
Last weekend we attended the annual Winter Kite Festival on Lake Harriet. The weather has been remarkably mild, which makes the winter more bearable. But it’s been awfully overcast. And the mild temps might not hold so I’m adding to my previous list of activities to get us through until Spring:
- Each Wednesday St. Paul’s Union Depot hosts a free game night featuring oversized chess sets, Jenga, dominoes and more.
- At the end of this month my friend Luke is putting on the second annual Drone Not Drones 28-hour drone fest, a benefit for Doctors Without Borders/ Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF). The 2015 line-up looks amazing. Last year’s event was thoroughly enjoyable.
- I’ve been hearing about The Salt Cave in Minneapolis. While there are no proven health benefits, the anecdotal evidence is that the experience is quite relaxing. Especially for Minnesotans looking for a respite from winter.
- Our household has a Walker Art Center membership, so we can get in for free to the 2015 Film Independent Spirit Awards Screenings. But it’s also open to the public! Tuesday and Wednesday evenings for several weeks.
- Not exactly an activity, except it takes a lot of effort to eat…my favorite fruit is in season. Pomelo! For me, it’s one of the highlights of winter. I’ve been nerding out for them for over a decade now (according to flickr).
- For the lovers (or good platonic friends perhaps), there’s a Valentine’s Day Picnic at the Bell Museum. My partner and I enjoyed it a couple of years ago. This year’s theme is “Across the Universe” and it looks like fun. We’ve already got other plans that night. Some serious 90s riot grrrl era nostalgia, with Sleater-Kinney.
- Speaking of music, warm things up with some surf rock! Local favorites The Blind Shake teamed up with Rocket From The Crypt’s Swami John Reis, Listen here.
- For fans of Bob’s Burgers and H. Jon Benjamin, the cast will be touring with a live show.