My 11th Annual Summer Solstice Adventure

Each summer solstice (or the day or two after if it's not available), I take a long, all-day walk or bike ride to explore someplace near my home I haven't explored before. In the first ten years of doing this, I covered basically every direction from home except one, so this year I did what couldn't be put off any longer and made an excursion by foot into North Minneapolis.

My goal was kind of nebulous. North Minneapolis is the poor part of town, and when I Googled attractions there, I came up pretty much blank. Two people had the same local coffeeshop on their personal lists--apparently it was a big step toward revitalizing the local community, so I resolved to try and find it, but my real objective was some kind of northern park. I eventually decided that Victory Park was an apt one for potentially declaring victory in. I remembered a summer Movie in the Park that had once been screened there; I'd thought of going to it but decided it was just too far away. Was it too far away now?

I left at 7:45 a.m. and saw a couple interesting things in the first, morning leg of my trip--a robin gathering more nesting material in its beak than I'd ever seen a bird hold at once, and a tree trimming city crew with one guy in a cherry picker throwing down branches to his colleagues left and right. I discovered something that no one ever knew before now: Arby's doesn't open until ten. (I got ice cream at Sebastian Joe's instead.) And I saw a group of thirty boys being led in some sort of training exercises up a steep hill over and over, separating whenever a car drove down the street to applaud the driver warmly and implore them to 'loop around'.

Having brought with me a little book on rainforests I acquired some twenty years ago, I read bits of it during my first two mile breaks before putting it into the first Little Free Library I found, as was my plan. I paused for some time beside the library box, skimming it to get everything I reasonably felt I could. I've been stocking various Little Free Libraries with old books of mine lately, one per trip, as I assess them and decide I have no use for them nor anyone to reasonably give them to.

I passed the renovated Walker Sculpture Garden and took a gander about. I came close to playing the artist-designed minigolf course, which various people were wandering about and no one was actually playing. I decided that if the price was $19 or more, though, I wouldn't play it, and that turned out to be the exact price.

I finally wandered past 394 into North Minneapolis and rested in the shade of a tree in a funny-shaped park. When I eventually reached the place I thought the cafe was, I couldn't find it, nor can I find any sign of it now. So I kept trucking. I rested cross-legged in a vacant lot halfway between the equator and the north pole. Most vacant lots one hears about are bare or full of weeds; this one was lush with grass.

I'd been a bit apprehensive about walking through the north side, worried that I might be hassled or possibly worse. But there were no remotely scary situations. In most cases, the neighborhoods I walked through were just like familiar neighborhoods--some with construction, some more working class, some more middle class, some lush with trees and some open with smaller yards. An ordinary mix. The thing that really struck me was how I saw no attractions at all. An occasional government building, and a few businesses on the big avenues (Broadway and Plymouth), but nothing exciting that a person would want to visit. I didn't even see any McDonalds or the like. There were corner markets a step up from convenience stores, which belie the federal designation of 'food desert' that's applied to parts of North Minneapolis. If produce is available, I feel like a neighborhood shouldn't be called a food desert, though that doesn't mean there's no cause for concern.

Although you might say the local library branch, North Regional, is an attraction. I've substituted there a couple times and gone to a couple of meetings there, so it seemed reasonable to go a little out of my way to visit. As is often my custom when randomly visiting libraries, I read through a bunch of children's picture books, and most notably found a couple by amazing author/illustrator Graeme Base. One, The Legend of the Golden Snail, was new to me, and it was good to revisit The Water Hole, an ominous simple tale about running out of water, especially because I'd run out of water earlier on the trip.

So! Unable to find the cafe whose name I couldn't remember, I had to decide on a concrete goal and chose Victory Park. I don't like using my phone for mapping during these adventures, but I had little choice. It turned out that there was some ambiguity: Victory Park exists far north in Camden, but there's also a Victory Memorial Park abutting the length Victory Memorial Parkway. While lying in the grass near an overpass, I decided I would try to visit both--then I had what my friend called a Zen moment when I discovered that I was currently technically lying in Victory Memorial Park--goal achieved! As if to underscore the moment, I spotted a monarch butterfly feeding on the forbs and got one lousy picture before it flew around and around and around me.

I wandered randomly into Robbinsdale, which was clearly a horse of a different color, but didn't go in deep enough to experience it. My left knee was starting to hurt by this time, so I rested by a picnic table between a hospital and a freeway and ate some blueberries to regain some health, as well as rediscovering half a bagel I'd forgotten was in my inventory. Whoever had drawn stars on the table hadn't known how to differentiate between the five-pointed and six-pointed varieties.

Returning to Camden, I then followed Victory Memorial Parkway, on which elm trees are planted with striking regularity across the streets and walking paths. Beside each is a plaque commemorating a serviceperson of Hennepin County. As it's part of the Grand Rounds, I'd come this way on my first Solstice Adventure ten years earlier, but this gave me time to savor it. I took off my shoes and walked barefoot between 19 pairs of trees, then found I had a little wildflower between my toes.

Eventually I reached a surprisingly nice neighborhood, with lots of greenery and a ridiculous density of Little Free Libraries--I counted five within several blocks of each other on the same street. My knee was hurting enough that I had to rest frequently and take it slow. Eventually, I reached Victory Park and declared victory. Families were enjoying the playground and wading pool area. To celebrate, I found some chalk lying around on the pavement near a bunch of chalk drawings and decided to add my own:

(It's a character from my current favorite video game, Undertale. I drew her because she's yellow and there was a big stick of yellow chalk.)

On my way out of the park, an ice cream truck happened by, so I bought my customary fudge bomb pop. I wanted to maybe find a different coffeeshop/cafe I'd been to once, but I couldn't find that either, even with the internet for assistance. So I just wandered east, looking for a bus route.

I happened randomly across a new library--Webber Park Library, near the park of that name. As it happens, my former supervisor relocated to this recently reopened location, and I'd thought of visiting; unfortunately, it was after 5 by then and the building was closed. (I still got to use its wi-fi sitting outside!) So, with nothing more to be done, I walked until I spotted a familiar bus line, and after a little more waffling, I finally settled for taking the 5 back, which left me just under a mile of walking to get home.

It was one of my least remarkable solstice adventures--possibly only Year 3 was less interesting, when I simply tried to ride a hundred miles on my bicycle. And it was disappointing I couldn't find certain places of interest. But there were still a fair number of highlights, as you've seen. I estimate that I walked a total of 14 and a half miles, which isn't bad. I got home at 7:55 p.m. after a little over twelve hours on the hoof, for an unimpressive rate of 1.2 miles per hour.

Christmas wishlist 2016

For those inclined to give me something for Christmas or my birthday this year, here are some ideas.


* The Horse Who Lived Upstairs by Phyllis McGinley--I wrote a novel-length story whose title was a play on this book without ever having read it!

* The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway--a fan who loved the aforementioned story said my work reminded him of it. :)

* Bridge fiction--anything from the Baron Barclay fiction collection (except The New King's Tales)!


An infusion system for looseleaf tea. My current options are flawed, so I never buy loose leaf, but I know there are cool infusers out there!

Undertale stuff! It's the fandom I'm currently into. Posters, figurines (Toriel, Alphys, Sans and The Human preferred), T-shirts (cast shots are nice), throw pillow.

Quaker's Crunchy Corn Bran cereal, now known as Corn Bran Crunch. Long ago when I allowed myself to buy cold cereal, it was one of my favorites. Also Kix/Crispix. Or Trix. Anything that ends in 'ix'.

New winter gloves, either heavy or light.

i don't know if they sell them separately, but I could use new plastic translucent folder tabs for my file box's hanging folders, since the tabs have broken over time. They're red/orange/yellow/green/blue. Or if they aren't sold separately, new folders and tabs would be fine.

Blank books are nice, and I'm out at the moment.

The Jim Henson's Labyrinth board game recently came out! It was well reviewed and I love that movie.

And if you really feel like splurging, I could use a new CD player/radio--the one I had finally died. I kept the speakers. Something that would let me digitize my tapes would be cool too.

No pressure! Happy holidays, all.

A writing goal achieved

For a long time, I had a personal goal of having seven literary pieces (short stories or poems) under consideration by publishers. I copied this goal from month to month along with numerous others until I gave up the practice as futile. But in June, I determined that I would revise my old short stories and write one or two new ones in order to meet this goal, and on the 1st of July, I finally succeeded.

Moreover, I'm proud of all the stories and poems I have in circulation. I believe that any one of them could genuinely be bought, and that I'm sending them to appropriate markets. I've made a wall of rejection, which I remember someone in an old writing group once doing--all my rejection letters arrayed together in a mosaic of right angles, colorful old letters mingling with printed e-mails from the last few months. Disappointingly, all but one of the modern rejections have been form letters, but I'm still hopeful, given that I regularly see stories printed in the magazines I'm submitting to that are (in my judgment) no better than mine.

I used to tell myself that if I could get seven pieces under consideration, I would have a sense of things churning behind the scenes and I would feel comfortable returning to novels. I have four stories and four poems currently being considered (and a fifth story to submit somewhere new), but I can't say I feel that sense of churning. Still, I am returning again to my novel Reba of Rivermill, which I left for some time due to losing months worth of revisions due to a faulty understanding of my back-ups combined with a hard drive failure. I feel like I've reached the point where my new revisions will be quite possibly better than the ones I made before, anyway. And some distance helps makes the novel new and delightful again.

My 10th Annual Summer Solstice Adventure

On Tuesday, I went on my traditional exploratory adventure for the summer solstice! (The solstice was actually Monday, but I give myself a day or two for leeway.) This is a lengthy walk or bike ride from home to some local destination that seems excitingly exotic. This year, my goal was to ride my bicycle, Lord Chauntecleer, to the far southern end of Nicollet Avenue, a street that's long been important in my life. (Its where my first two non-college jobs were, for one thing.) I also wanted to ride along the Minnesota River Valley and, if possible, visit Burnsville Center, a shopping mall I didn't remember ever visiting.

I sent messages to a friend on AIM as I went, making me think it would be a good day to be on Twitter:

* I'm in a quiet churchyard next to Diamond Lake.
* I'm in the Minnesota River Valley Wildlife Refuge.
* I crossed the Minnesota River and now I'm resting in a McDonalds.
* Now I'm at a park with an amazing playground.
* Earlier I rode my bike through a shopping mall.
* I just waded through a complex water feature with tons of sprays and water dumps and fountains!
* At one point my bike fell in the muddiest mud and I had to clean it off with leaves.
* I have seen so many hawks today!

There was a lot more to it than that. My tenth adventure was a good one and a long one, complete with triumphs and travails. To begin with, I In no particular order, I saw huge ravens in addition to the hawks--there was even a heron or something in the sky before I set out, like a good omen. The quiet churchyard appeared after I found a surprisingly elaborate set of paths in the woods around Diamond Lake--I chose the spiritual fork. The water feature (or "Splash Pad") at the Burnsville Park was popular and fun, and the crowning feature is a bucket that you trigger by throwing a ball at to make it dump out the water. I didn't mind getting wet with my shirt off and my pants rolled up, since it was reasonably sunny and I was sweaty. The shopping mall was a partly roofed outdoor outlet mall in Eagan, and I only found out as I was leaving that they no longer allow bicycling. I think I've never been so delighted to see a McDonalds. I desperately needed to clean up and get a caramel frappe in me. I later ate at the most exotic place I could find at the Burnsville Center food court--a Pimento Jamaican Kitchen. At one point I saw fireflies. There were a weird number of bodies of water on my right.

A curious moment was my biggest blow. I was riding a beautiful River Valley trail with a few isolated muddy spots. One muddy spot had an impressive yellow streak running through it, and I wondered whether it was dry and how deep the yellow went. So I got off my bike to investigate. However, as I jumped the mud puddle to get over, I destabilized the ground my bicycle was propped up on, and it feel over into the mud! It was very, very muddy for such a small patch of mud. I didn't have enough tissues to clean it up, so I did what I could with leaves and a spare turtleneck I thankfully never needed to wear. Eventually, I finally reached the Cedar Avenue pedestrian/bicycle bridge across the river, a cute baby bridge next to the big one for cars. As I was crossing, a barge randomly passed under me! That was exciting. On the other side, I was able to access the river and took a break to rest and clean up some more of the stained side of my steed.

I did finally find the distant Burnsvillian coda to Nicollet Avenue. It was much hillier than its northern counterpart, or maybe I was just really tired by then. There were swanky intersections with terrible traffic lights. Apparently every traffic light in Burnsville has a lengthy left turn cycle. I guess turning left is the unofficial city pastime. After setting out at eight in the morning, I finally reached the end of Nicollet, a little unimpressive loop called Nicollet Court, at a quarter to four. I then spotted the shopping mall and took some time to browse. I expect I'll go back there come Christmastime.

Getting home was much less fun and took much longer than I expected. But these adventures always have to have a bitter side. Even my easiest Solstice Adventure, a jaunt to Nicollet Island (which you might call the counterpart to this year's quest) was marred by the then-new Niceride bike system. I was resolved not to return by the same bridge, which meant a long detour and a very achy me. Of note was the fact that, for the first time, I took my bicycle on the light rail.

Overall, my trip took fourteen and three quarters hours, and according to online maps, I rode a bit over 50 miles, much of it hilly or unpaved.

Christmas list

Here are some ideas for things I might like for Christmas (or my birthday on January 2nd).

First, some books I'd like to have:
* Anything by Allie Brosh--I read some of one of her cartoony books on a trip and enjoyed it.
* I seem to recall there was a sequel to Walter Wangerin, Jr's The Book of the Dun Cow. Not gonna Google it, but that would be awesome!
* Speaking of sequels, they finally put out a sequel to Rise Up Singing, the definitive song book for singing circles--my own copy of Rise Again would be nice. Normal size, not large print.
* I fondly remember the Serendipity books by Stephen Cosgrove, a line of beautiful children's books remarkable for having a moving, bittersweet feel. Some of those would be neat.

* I'm intrigued by the idea of playing Undertale, a game on Steam that my friends have been talking about! (On Steam I'm Derpy, at

* And for those rainy days that are also windy, I've sometimes thought what I could really use is a big umbrella. My normal-sized Eddie Bauer umbrella doesn't always cut it.

* I have several stocking caps, but I recently lost the nice wool knit cap I had for years that fit perfectly. It was sturdier than an ordinary winter cap, and big enough for my large head. A replacement would be lovely.
* And speaking of winter wear, I could actually use another pair of gloves.

* Then there are things I always enjoy--physical manipulation puzzles... posters of animals or landscapes or abstract colors and patterns or cool digital art... interesting books on things I might like.

As always, no pressure! I don't feel much need for presents, but they are nifty.

My challenge

Giving myself 24 hours to rewrite a story I wrote years ago.  This is the third time this summer I've done this.  For this particular story, I'm switching from first person to third person omniscient.


Lately I've been rewriting short stories I wrote years ago.  I'm seeing some big improvements--I'm actually starting to love these stories again!

And the winner is...

~ Sally Forth! ~

It's not exactly my favorite strip in the paper--that would be either Arlo & Janis, F Minus, Luann or Doonesbury.  But it was the most consistent strip in terms of effort during the almost two months in which I winnowed out what I considered the worst strip in the Strib's funny section each day.  Sally Forth has changed a lot over the decades, or at least it's seemed so to me.  Both the art (currently by Jim Keefe) and the writing (currently Francesco Marciuliano) have changed hands during its run.  The characters weren't always insane, right?  And it wasn't always a dense repository of twisted observational humor and pop culture, was it?  I don't know.  But Sally Forth, which gives unusual weight to holidays and annual traditions, is perhaps at its strongest during the extended holiday season from Halloween to New Year's.  It benefitted from adorable art and cozy scenes--things like Christmas trees and gingerbread cookies made the experience of reading it heartwarming as well as humorous.  And yesterday's Sunday strip was a fitting climax for the whole affair, a homage to the wacky inventions in the art of Dr. Seuss with as much humor in every panel as most strips muster in their entirety.

The runner-up was surprising: Stone Soup, an ordinarily somewhat drab and predictable feature about a fairly ordinary family.  The writing is sometimes clever, but it's not usually brilliant--it just happened to be going through the equivalent of sweeps week during my little contest, with an extended storyline about the question of whether Val and Phil will ever get engaged.  This gave it a profundity that lifted it above the pack.  I was also surprised that Judge Parker narrowly made it to third place.  I stopped reading it long ago, but I guess I should start again.

4. Luann   5. Heart of the City   6. Doonesbury   7. F Minus   8. For Better or For Worse   9. DIlbert   10. Arlo & Janis