It’s been a wild weather week in the Midwest.

Last Sunday the thermometer plunged to 25 below zero (-31.666 Celsius). As an exotic tropical import, I find this intolerable. I’ve never gotten used to my eyes freezing shut, or having my hands turn into painful, purple stumps. I’ve also never adjusted to the fact that the sun is purely ornamental.

Centennial snow 1710280 BLOG

There are some things I love, though — like the brittle sound jet engines make, as if the sky itself might crack. And I especially love the clarity. When it’s this cold, the air looks as crisp as it feels and the sky turns extra-blue.

Centennial snow 1710295 BLOG

Last Monday was unusual because some moisture managed to stay in the atmosphere — albeit as ice crystals — causing this rare “icebow” as the sun rose. Too bad I had to choose between keeping an appointment and getting a decent photo. (I kept the appointment.)


Less than a week later, on Christmas day, we had proper thunderstorms with lightning and torrential downpours. And today the wind was gusting so fiercely that taking the trash out felt like walking into a leaf-blower — but not in a good way.

And what might tomorrow bring? That’s anyone’s guess. A plague of frogs, perhaps, or scattered meteors.

I’ll keep you posted.

In memory of Leonard Cohen, 9/21/1934 – 11/10/2016

Receding storm 1090220 Cohen BLOG

October has been a full month. Friends have been ailing. My loved ones have had health scares. I’ve been busy at work. I’ve been busy at home, too, as Esteban and I have begun preparing our home for sale. But through it all I’ve tried to pause for a few minutes of stillness and reflection every day. And although none of the resulting photos is a masterpiece, at least I have a record of the moments I may have otherwise missed.

October 1
The kids next door held an epic party. The next morning my neighbor across the alley found a pair of shoes in her pond. All I got was an all-night hip-hop soundtrack, and the time to finally dig into my vacation photos from last May.

Arles 1690697 BLOG

October 9

A flock of wild turkeys ran toward me in the woods. I thought I was about to earn The Most Interesting Obituary of the Year, but it turns out they were just habituated and looking for handouts. We all parted peacefully, if a little disappointed.


October 15

One of my walks around Como Lake coincided with a fundraiser. “There are nearly 700,000 individuals in the U.S. living with this,” read one of the signs. I felt grateful to be one of the lucky ones who is truly living and not merely surviving.

Como 5K 1010067 BLOG

October 16

After a summer of gorging on our compost, our resident squirrel finally got too corpulent to run away from us. Soon it will be sound asleep, and I’ll miss the thumpa-thumps of its furry Riverdance on our roof in the morning.

Squirrel 1010099 BLOG


October 17

I decided to sell a bunch of stuff on eBay. I took the pictures, but never listed anything. Oh, well. Maybe next year.

Panny 12-32 1040142 BLOG.jpg

October 22

Even from a block away I could spot our ash tree’s golden leaves shimmering against the deep-blue fall sky. An hour later I was cursing these same leaves for sticking to the wet paint I’d just put on the garage.


October 23
During a morning walk in my neighborhood I spotted this sign on a business that has survived a market crash, a fire, and Minneapolis’ new zoning laws. I immediately adopted it as my new personal motto.


Also, I paused to admire my city’s beautiful urban canopy — and another rotund squirrel.


Urban canopy 1010202 BLOG

Urban squirrel 1010169 BLOG

October 23

After 30-some years of driving past the Gibbs Farm Museum, I finally went inside. It merits its own post, but here are a couple of teasers.

Gibbs Farm 1010273 BLOG

Gibbs Farm 1040801 BLOG

October 29

Esteban and I voted. Those may have been our most important 10 minutes of 2016.


October 30

From historic walks to run-ins with rattlesnakes, the tiny town of Frontenac has hosted many wild adventures with my friend Pam. Sunday’s visit was more subdued, in keeping with the season’s muted hues — but still beautiful.

Frontenac fall 1010311 BLOG

Frontenac prairie 1010340 BLOG

Frontenac state park 1010299 BLOG

October 31

I got the results from my annual physical, and it appears my growing girth has brought a rise in blood pressure and cholesterol, too. That means no Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups for me this year. Sigh. Happy Halloween anyway.


Prairie 1040259 BLOG

Years ago, when we still had our dog Arrow, Esteban and I used to hike in a state park almost every weekend. But after Arrow died and our lives grew more complicated we slowly abandoned the habit.

I’d almost forgotten we even had state parks in Minnesota until my friend Silke — who was visiting from Paris a couple of weeks ago — specifically requested a prairie walk. I was glad to oblige, and we were blessed with a gorgeous day.

This post goes out to Silke with my thanks for not only reintroducing me to William O’Brien State Park, but also for being the perfect prairie roam companion.

À très bientôt, j’espère !

In spite of my loathe/hate relationship with the Minnesota State Fair, last Saturday Esteban and I fulfilled our legal obligation as residents of our fair state and attended the annual event.

There are three things you need to know about this 320-acre cornucopia of farm animals, crop art, and questionable foods:
1. it’s smelly,
2. it’s loud, and
3. it’s crowded.

In other words, it’s basically an introvert’s nightmare. So how do I cope? Here’s my plan of attack, in three easy steps.

Step 1 • Plan ahead

Before I go, I study the new food selections for that year. (Pork. BE INSPIRED.)

State Fair 1040370 BLOG

This year featured not one but TWO Spam® dishes — including Spam “sushi.” We also had some multicultural options, like the extremely authentic and very traditional Italian Taco.


But the ad that most caught my eye was the last one: “New Vendors. New Vendors. Two brand-new vendors located at locations throughout the fairgrounds.” Could you please be less specific, and more redundant? Thank you.

Anyway. After perusing these dubious delicacies, I note their locations on my map — so I can actively avoid them.


Step 2 • Go early, and leave early

There’s no way around it: The Minnesota State Fair is going to be crowded. (In 2016 it broke its attendance record with 1,943,719 visitors over 10 days.)

State Fair 1040413 BLOG


But over the years I’ve noticed that some elements of the crowd are more obnoxious — like, say, screaming children and drunks — so I’ve developed strategies to minimize my exposure.

Careful observation reveals that most of the families with small children arrive at the Fair after about 10 a.m. (My working theory is that this is because it’s physically impossible to dress a small child before he or she wants to be dressed.)

These small children are adorable when they first arrive, of course, because there’s so much interesting stuff to eat (see Exhibit A — New Foods for 2016) and so much to see. Why, just look at these two tots dueling with their popsicles!

State Fair 1040390 blog

The novelty wears off quickly, though, and by 2 p.m. these once-happy children are emitting howls of displeasure so loud they could deafen a coyote. Not coincidentally, this is also when many of the adults show the first signs of inebriation.

You can avoid all of this by arriving at the Fair at 7 a.m. and then cheerfully leaving at noon, before the smiles turn to snarls. Sure, you may miss out on a couple of entertaining arrests — but you can always catch the highlight reel on the evening news.

Step 3 • Take shelter

If in spite of following Steps 1 and 2 you’re still overwhelmed, head for the relative safety of a barn. (Important comfort tip: Not recommended with open-toed shoes, unless you’re up for a poo-dicure.)

Inside the barns you’ll find a haven for introverts, many of whom will also be hiding behind cameras.

State Fair chicken photogs 1180157 CL BLOG.jpg

And if you’re lucky you’ll get to watch a farrier demonstration …


… catch a few zzz’s with a cow …

State Fair 1040359 BLOG

… or chat with the local cowboys and cowgirls.

State Fair 1290954 BLOG

State Fair Wrangler 1300019 CX CL BLOG

State Fair cowgirl 1290922 BLOG

State Fair horses 1180395 BLOG

State Fair rider 1300040 BLOG

As a former horsewoman, this is my favorite part — even if that horse on the left, below, seems to disapprove of my photography.

State Fair 1290963 BLOG

When Esteban and I were there they were also judging cattle in the arena. We got a huge kick out of the judge’s explanations of why he had chosen a particular heifer.

State Fair 1040367 BLOG

But as fun as it was to reconnect with Minnesota’s agrarian roots, I was relieved when it came time to leave and the crowd thinned as we walked toward the exit.

It’s been grand, Minnesota State Fair.


Fail harder


I read an article a while back about Johannes Haushofer, a professor of psychology and public affairs at Princeton University who wrote a rather unconventional résumé: rather than tout his accomplishments, instead he listed his failures.

Johannes Haushofer resume BLOG

“Most of what I try fails, but these failures are often invisible, while the successes are visible,” Haushofer wrote.

That rings especially true in our age of social media, with its constant stream of images and posts. It’s easy to forget that those posts are highly curated, and that for every beautiful image we see there are likely a hundred crappy ones.

But wouldn’t it be refreshing if we occasionally set aside our polished highlight reels, and shared something a little bit more real?

In that spirit, today I’m abandoning my hand-picked travel photos to show you a shoot that went horribly wrong.

It wasn’t a professional gig, thank God — I simply wanted to make some nice portraits of my friends’ cat Rocky while I was cat-sitting.

I began with the obligatory Google search for “pet photography.” You know, for inspiration.

Google pet photography BLOG

Seems simple enough, right? In actual practice, it was much more complicated: ROCKY WOULD NOT SIT STILL.

First, he was twitchy as he stalked the squirrels.

Rocky 1030508 BLOG

Then he flopped around on the floor.

Rocky 1030596 CR BLOG

Finally, he got back on the table and threatened me with death.

Rocky 1030562 CL BLOG

Rocky 1030562 CR BLOG

And when none of those performances elicited the petting he so richly deserved, Rocky began head-butting my camera.


Rocky 1030440 BLOG


Rocky 1030408 BLOG


Rocky 1030409 BLOG

Covered in fur and cat spit, I finally convinced the animal to cooperate. Alas, even my best efforts fell short of the Googly goodness.

Rocky 1030671 BLOG

Rocky 1030633 CX BLOG

Rocky 1030330 BLOG

But you know what? That’s OK. None of us can excel at everything, right?

And anyway, at least one image did spark my imagination to take Rocky’s portrait in a whole new direction.

Rocky Cologne market 1020453 BLOG

Rocky Venice Gondoli 1560088 BLOG

Rocky Paris 1010494 BLOG

Rocky over NYC 1120528 BLOG

The moral of today’s story:

If at first you don’t succeed, FAIL HARDER.

I was going to whine about how busy the past month has been (because it has felt like the writer’s equivalent of a puppy mill). But then I stumbled across this photo I shot in May and was reminded that even when we’re quite literally running from one thing to the next, there’s still beauty and stillness all around us.

P1730868 BW BLOG

My apologies to all the blog-friends I’ve neglected. I look forward to catching up on your lives and your posts soon!

One of our favorite pastimes in Minnesota is talking about the weather. This isn’t because we’re superficial or boring; rather, it’s because our weather is so darned interesting. Last Tuesday is a perfect example.

The day started gloriously, with bright sunshine and blue skies. I wanted to be outside — but since I was already lobster-pink from my adventure on Saturday, I decided instead to spend my rare weekday off at the Como Conservatory.

Como conservatory 1000331 BLOG

Como Conservatory 1000317 BLOG

Aquatic flower 1000325 BLOG

I got distracted on the way to the beautiful Victorian greenhouse, though, by the “pollinator garden.”

Como conersvatory 1000279 CL BLOG

Just as advertised, it was alive with the buzzing of busy bees.

Como Conservatory 1000225 BLOG

But something else soon drew my eye. A hummingbird?!

Hummingbird moth 1000228 BLOG

Nope. A hummingbird moth. I don’t know what purpose this mimicry serves, but the illusion is perfect.

Hummingbird moth 1000274 BLOG

Hummingbird moth 1000236 BLOG

Hummingbird moth 1000254 BLOG

I also found some other bugs we might not usually hail as pollinators. Like this iridescent beetle …

Beetle 1000297 BLOG

… and this cheeky little fellow I dubbed “Mister Mephistopheles.”

Cheeky red bug 1000239 BLOG

Although Mister Meph looked sleek from a distance, upon closer inspection I saw he was covered with tiny hairs to better collect the pollen.

Cheeky red bug close up 1000243 BLOG

By now it was hotter than Hades and I was redder than Mephistopheles himself, so I headed home. That’s when I got the updated weather forecast:

Special weather statement BLOG

If you don’t talk Minnesotan, this means “We’re all going to perish in an apocalypse of hail, wind, and maybe a few tornadoes.” And soon enough, I believed it as the sky turned an ominous shade of bluish-green.

Storm 1000416 BLOG

Then the wind started, and the rain.

Storm 1000423 BLOG

It wasn’t until the next morning, though, that I saw the extent of the damage. The sidewalks were littered with leaves and bits of bark, and trees blocked several streets.

Storm damage 1000950 BLOG

Storm damage 1000494 BLOG

Storm damage 1000839 BLOG

Storm damage 1000900 BLOG

In one spot, sparks from downed power lines had even caused a small fire.

Fire line 1000848 BLOG

Storm damage 1000787 BLOG

Storm damage 1000809 BLOG

Storm damage 1000859 BLOG

My mind turned to the little creatures I’d photographed only 16 hours earlier. Had any of them survived? As if on cue, a neighbor’s garden caught my attention. I was relieved (and surprised) to note that even the most delicate flowers were unscathed.

Daffodil after storm 1000719 BLOG

Gerbera after storm 1000710 CL BLOG.jpg

Then I spotted an eastern cottontail rabbit: She was a bit bedraggled, but none the worse for wear.

Bunny 1000510 BLOG

And while this little fellow looked perplexed by his new split-level squirrel condo, he too seemed otherwise unfazed.

Storm damage 1000920 BLOG

By the end of my walk, the only creature I was worried about was my clueless neighbor.

Storm moron 1000974 BLOG

Although I admired his skill in lifting the fire tape above his car as he circumnavigated the fallen tree, I also couldn’t help cringing.

“Did you notice you just drove over a bunch of power lines?” I asked him. “Oh really?” he replied. “Oops …”

In the end, no tornadoes materialized in the Twin Cities — but there was widespread wind damage, and five days later the clean-up continues in some neighborhoods.

As I said: It’s never boring here!

It’s been a terrible week, full of senseless and tragic killings. A few of them happened in the United States — one of them in my home state. I can picture the spot where Philando Castile was shot; I’ve driven past it many times.

But what can I add that hasn’t already been said? I have no words to describe how heartbroken I feel for Phil, his friends, and his family — or for the police officer who shot him. And anyway, my heartbreak is useless.

I’m trying not to surrender to hopelessness, though. I’m trying to remember that the good people (whether in uniform or not) far outnumber the bad. I’m trying to believe that the week’s tragic events will somehow spur positive change. And I’m daring to hope that my fellow Americans will weigh their reaction — and that they’ll choose love, wisdom, and compassion.

Robert Kennedy Quote BLOG

In Minnesota we have two seasons: Winter, and road construction.

Minnesota welcomes you 1000192 CX BLOG
Welcome to Minnesota. Enjoy our orange cones!

But sandwiched between them every year is one single, glorious day we call “summer.” Summer really does feel that fleeting here, perhaps because the winters are so memorable.

 Winter World 1100264 BLOG
Proof that Mother Nature is trying to kill you.
How to dress Minnesotan BLOG
This is my friend Norine, casually stopping by to say hello.

But on that rare day when the prairie grasses sway in the breeze like an inland ocean and the sky turns a deep cerulean blue, I forgive nature for the months I’ve spent as a purple popsicle.

Today was one of those rare and glorious days.

I’d made plans to spend the morning with my friend Carol, who lives near the town of Stillwater. She knows all the meandering back roads and scenic spots — including this public dock on the St. Croix river.

Stillwater launch 1000121 BLOG

Carol also has a great eye for architecture, and today she gave me a tour of the Jackson Meadow community in nearby Marine on St. Croix.

Jackson Meadow 1000130 BLOG

Jackson Meadow 1000127 CR BLOG

Jackson Meadow 1000188 BLOG

Part of the idea behind the development is harmony with nature, so the yards and public grounds are planted with native prairie grasses and wildflowers. I loved how you could hear birds everywhere, and the buzzing of bees.

Jackson Meadow 1000165 BLOG

Jackson Meadow 1000181 BLOG

The light was so intense that the colors almost looked fake.

Jackson Meadow 1000145 BLOG

Jackson Meadow 1000138 CL BLOG

Jackson Meadow 1000173 BLOG

But Carol was there; she can vouch for me.

Jackson Meadow 1000153 BLOG

And I can vouch for the fact that there’s no better way to spend the rare Minnesota summer day than with a dear friend. Thank you, Carol.

%d bloggers like this: