Ramsey County

Christmas decoration road trips

I love road trips in December because of the vintage Christmas decorations in small-town Minnesota. This year I took two trips just to see the lights – the first heading west along Highway 12 to Dassel, then north to 55 back to the Twin Cities (though it was too dark for pictures for the journey back), and the second south on 35 to Owatonna, back to Faribault, and then west to Waterville and New Prague. These were my favorites from the adventures (along with a couple extra photos from shorter trips).

My new favorite scene is in Montgomery, a city that celebrates its Czech heritage. These 3-D Christmas trees are paired with a blue banner that says “Peace” and “Joy” in both English and Czech.

tree decoration with a banner that says Pokoj Radost

The town also has two other styles:

garland and an antique streetlight, and a wreath with three red candles

Its neighbor, Lonsdale, has many design variations on the Season’s Greetings lights.

three drawings on white oval lights surrounded by garland

Antique street lights share a pole with the regular city spirit banners in Delano:

Share the Road with Bicycles banner next to a streetlight hanging from garland

Owatonna’s Central Park has trees in each corner, including a picturesque spot across from the historic National Farmers’ Bank:

tall tree with a gold tinsel star, in front of the historic bank, and a lightpole with garland and a wreath

Snowflakes in Northfield:

blue Welcome to Northfield banner next to a white snowflake

Simple wreaths in North St. Paul:

wreath on the left side of a lamppost with two lights

New Prague has candle wreaths like many other towns, and this jeweler added its own tree:

wreath on a utility pole next to Marquardt Jewelers sign with a tree made from green light strings

Grocery stores are painting their windows in New Prague…

painted words The Simple Joy of Food with painted cookies

…and Farmington:

painting of two elves and a skating snowman

Garland crossing the intersections in Cannon Falls:

four garland strands at the street corners, meeting at a wreath in the middle

Cannon Falls also has wreaths on its lampposts – an effect that is somewhat muppet-like when viewed up close:

two light bulbs with dead bugs that look like eyes above a large narrow wreath that looks like an open mouth

Snowflakes on lampposts that look like candles in Faribault:

white snowflake decoration on a light pole wrapped with red tinsel

This was the second time I drove through Morristown and Waterville, and I have a hard time keeping their names straight. I can remember the “Morris” and “Water” but never remember which is a town and which is a ville, so I usually end up saying Morrisville and Watertown. I reached these two just as the last light was fading, and the snowflakes were blinking on in Morristown:

lighted snowflake on a pole in front of a business with lighted decorations in the windows

Shooting stars in Waterville:

lighted star decorations on both sides of a quiet street

Skinny wire in Medford:

candle and Christmas tree

A variety in Rockford, including curly trees I haven’t seen anywhere else:

lighted set of bells, reindeer, and curly tree one one side of a busy street

Darwin had the most shapes of one style of decoration – in this case, white wire.

white wire shapes - snowman, angel, bells, candle, shooting star, horn, wreath

Waverly has two styles, the white-wire along Highway 12…

Welcome to Waverly banner with a dove, and a bell

…and “tinsel” style on Main Street.

colorful tinsel - candle, white snowflake with blue lights, a triangle-shaped tree, and a three-tiered tree

Montrose wins my Most Variety Award for 2015. Many different banners and tinsel shapes along Highway 12, snowflakes on the south side of County Road 12…

Peace banner, Season's Greetings oval, white wire snowflake, tinsel candles, candy cane, and tree

…and my second-favorite of the season, these ornate vintage street lights on the north side of County 12.

red streetlight circled twice by garland, more swirled above, Happy Holidays sign hanging on bottom

Other small-town Christmas trips

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Categories: Dakota County, Goodhue County, Le Sueur County, Ramsey County, Rice County, Steele County, Washington County, Wright County | Leave a comment

The Great Minnesota Get-Together, 2015 edition

This year, I went to the Minnesota State Fair twice: on opening day with two friends to celebrate a milestone birthday, and another time with my husband, my sister, and her husband. The first day featured wonderful weather – not-too-hot, not humid, with a breeze. The second time was right after a rainstorm with more rain to come, followed by uncomfortable humidity. These photos combine the two trips.

street crowded with people and a trolley from curb to curb

Last year I did the Giant Slide for the first time, and this year it was the Space Tower. It spun fast as it climbed and descended and I got a *little* bit of motion sickness, but it was my favorite activity this year. A neat look at my favorite building, Agriculture Horticulture:

octagonal building with spokes on the roof leading to each door

I don’t usually get all the way to the north side of the fair, but this year we stopped briefly at the Giant Sing-Along and thought it would be fun to participate (from afar – next time it will be at a mic).

people at microphones with lyrics to Dancing Queen

Waited for a friend in the International Bazaar, where we listened to a steel drum band play not Kokomo, but Call Me Maybe.

The new Math on-a-Stick section, which my math-teacher sister was excited to see:

the hands of kids playing at an activity table

On my second trip we got to the fair incredibly early (my words) to catch the History-on-a-Schtick performance by the Minnesota Historical Society, where I work. I thought it was charming, especially the 10,000 Lakes Polka, which attempted to name every lake in the state (they soon realized it would take forever).

three singers wearing life jackets

If you get to the fair early enough, there’s no waiting at Sweet Martha’s:

several open lines

We ducked into a barn more than once to avoid the rain:

a sheep and five lambs

Apparently this needs to be said…?

Sign: Please do not put your fingers in the mouths of the donkeys.

Also ducked into the Coliseum, where I was surprised to enjoy the barrel racing:

a horse and rider making a sharp turn around a barrel

My favorite food of the fair is not a new food, but it was a first for me: fudge puppies, which are waffles dipped in chocolate and covered in whipped cream. This is what I will make next year when my office has a fair-food contest.

Other food we shared:

Super Stick from Spaghetti Eddie’s – basically a cheese-and-pepperoni-filled breadstick that’s been fried (would have been better as a regular breadstick):

Hotdish-on-a-stick (I was expecting more hotdish, less cornbread):

looks and tastes like a corndog

Deep-fried green olives (I didn’t even try this because I don’t like olives or cream cheese, but everyone else thought this was great):

deep fried olives stand

Minneapple pie with cinnamon ice cream (delicious):

two people sharing a pie

and tipsy pie (tasted like regular pie):

a round pie drizzled with honey

Not pictured from the two trips: my friend’s first Pronto Pup, walleye cakes and stuffed mushrooms from Giggles, cheese curds from the Mouth Trap (plenty for two people to share), a meatball sub from Spaghetti Eddie’s (really good for lunch the next day), French fries, Swedish meatballs-on-a-stick from Lynne’s Lefse (good), fried green tomatoes (highly rated by the others), Gizmo (meh), a couple of special beers (not mine).

We also looked at a lot of food that we couldn’t eat in the Creative Arts building, like award-winning pies…

jellies…

and cookies.

several entries in the snickerdoodles contest

My trip to the fair is never complete without a visit to the honey room:

honey jars with a painting of a beekeeper in the background

…and a look at all the vegetables lined up. I was particularly interested in the kohlrabi since we are growing a lot of it this year:

individual trays of kohlrabi, horseradish, cucumbers, and more

Things at least one person wanted to do but we didn’t get to – save this list for next year:

  • River Raft ride (I couldn’t convince anyone to go with me)
  • Education building and the MNHS booth
  • Newspaper museum
  • Reptile show
  • Dole Whip
  • Brown butter ice cream at Hamline dining hall
  • Key lime pie on a stick
  • Puffcorn ice cream
  • Nitro ice cream
  • Minnekabob

More from the Minnesota State Fair:

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Winter in MSP

Before the snow completely melts, I should recap some of our winter adventures in the Twin Cities.

One Saturday in January we planned two outdoor stops in Minneapolis. First up, a kite festival on Lake Harriet. This “dangerous ice” sign didn’t stop anyone.

Sign: Keep off. Dangerous. Ice not safe.

There were many kites and hundreds of spectators. I managed to avoid a crash-landing kite at the last second.

Hundreds of people and several flying kites

After we’d had enough of the kites, we drove east to Minnehaha Falls, but we got distracted by all the cars near Lake Nokomis and then remembered the U.S. Pond Hockey Championships. We reached the rinks on the middle of the frozen lake just as time expired for the day, but still got to see some action because this game needed overtime…

Hockey puck between two players in front of the goal

…and then needed a shootout to determine a winner.

One team celebrating while the other skates off the ice

Then on to the frozen Minnehaha Falls – essentially a must-do winter activity:

Light blue, frozen Minnehaha Falls with many people standing at the base

Later in the season our sights switched to St. Paul and the Winter Carnival, which kicked off with the Crashed Ice downhill skating (not skiing) race. I took some time over a lunch break to watch practice near the Cathedral one afternoon before the competition began:

A skater at the top of the course in front of the Cathedral

Maybe half of the competitors were able to stay upright throughout the course’s ups and downs and jumps.

A skater coming off a jump after a short incline

Then we went back to downtown St. Paul one very chilly weeknight to see the carnival itself. It seemed that the excitement must happen on the weekend because there were so few people, but that meant we were able to get up-close to the ice sculptures in Rice Park. This was the only sculpture we noticed still standing after the warm first weekend of the carnival:

Ice sculpture: bear with fish and penguins

There was a broomball game on the ice rink next to the candle on the Lawson Commons building:

A player swinging at a ball with two defenders

We also headed over to the state fairgrounds to see the snow sculptures:

Snow carving of the Winter Carnival logo, with colorful lighted sculptures in the background

 

More photos

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Festive Minnesota towns

I love driving through small-town Minnesota in December, seeing all the vintage Christmas lights. One Saturday in 2014 we drove up Old 61 to Duluth, stopping in every town along the way. Out-of-order, here’s what we saw.

Rudolph in Hinckley.

white outline of a reindeer with a red nose

Dala horse in Cloquet.

Dala horse covered in net Christmas lights

Festive dinosaur on the playground in Mahtowa.

green apatosaurus with a wreath around its neck, in front of a snow-covered slide

A stocking in Rutledge.

red stocking with a candy cane and toys coming out the top

A couple candles in Sandstone.

two red candles with different flames

A bell in Sturgeon Lake.

green bell with a red bow

Curb-to-curb garland in Pine City.

garland with a wreath in the middle and old-style lights on both sides, and tree and wreath decorations on the other light posts down the street

Starburst in Barnum.

three white stars with wavy streaks

Light poles wrapped in garland in Carlton.

lighted garland

Wreaths are a popular choice on Minnesota main streets. Finlayson, North Branch, and Pine City have the same style.

three wreaths, each with three candles and a big red bow

Harris, Rush City, and Moose Lake have other styles of wreaths.

tinsel, artificial greenery, and a green wire

We finished the adventure at Bentleyville in Duluth.

Bentleyville 2014 main entrance, with the giant lighted tree in the background

The Lift Bridge in lights:

S.S. Bentleyville ship sailing under the lift bridge

Paul and Babe:

Paul Bunyan chopping down a tree with Babe the Blue Ox's help

And, perhaps in a nod to Mahtowa, dinosaurs:

apatosauruses and pterodactyls near palm trees

A couple other favorites from the season, though not from this trip:

Folsom House in Taylors Falls, with each room decorated for Christmas by a local business.

front entrance to a big white house, with the pillars wrapped in red ribbon and a wreath with garland above the door

A wreath again in Scandia.

artificial greenery with four sets of three red ornaments, and a now-pink bow on top

Rice Park in downtown St. Paul.

the tall, skinny blue tree with white lights in the foreground

These photos were retroactively posted on Dec. 1, 2015. I don’t know why I didn’t create this post in 2014; perhaps it’s because I recorded it all on Instagram instead.

Other small-town Christmas trips

Categories: Carlton County, Chisago County, Pine County, Ramsey County, St. Louis County, Washington County | Leave a comment

The Great Minnesota Get-Together, 2014 edition

It’s the end of the summer, and that means state fair time. As the ad says, attendance is practically mandatory, and so we went.

Sky Glider from the ground

We met a friend on the northeast corner of the fairgrounds, so Giggles’ Campfire Grill was our first stop for their new walleye mac-and-cheese. With so many red peppers, it wasn’t my favorite dish, but it would have been pretty bland without it. Lots of other fairgoers apparently like this one.

walleye mac and cheese

We then headed over to the new transit hub to meet up with my sister and her husband. While we were waiting, we walked through the new history and heritage center, an area of the fair that takes on extra meaning for me now that I am an employee of the Minnesota Historical Society. We also walked through the new west end marketplace shops, tried the blueberry basil lemonade at the Blue Barn, and spotted a pop-up puppet show.

pop-up puppet show

I’d never been on the giant slide, but for some reason, this was something I really wanted to do. I’m so glad I did: it was very fast and very fun.

three people on the giant slide

After the activities, we decided to indulge in the new deep-fried buckeyes, my favorite food this year. Very sweet because of the chocolate, peanut butter, powdered sugar, and strawberry jam, but not too much when shared among four people.

deep-fried buckeyes

Up next: the new pretzel curds at O’Gara’s. I was unsure about these before we tried them (why ruin a good cheese curd?), and I wasn’t impressed. Of course, we stopped there at a slow time, so the curds had been sitting for awhile and the cheese wasn’t very melty anymore. Those two items were all I needed for my fried food fix.

pretzel cheese curds

While waiting for the curds, we stumbled across the daily parade and saw the MNHS History Hound.

Minnesota Historical Society's History Hound in the parade

On to the dairy building to see the butter sculptures, then over to the barns. The Miracle of Life building was pretty active, with lots of newly born or hatched babies.

baby animals: piglets, chick, lambs, ducklings

A quick stop at the DNR fish pond, with 45 different types of fish.

a crowd of people looking at the DNR fish pond

For the first time, I had dinner at one of the “sit-down restaurants” at the fair, the Hamline Dining Hall. I liked their new hamloaf sliders, a trendy addition this year to their traditional hamloaf entree. But unfortunately everyone was too full to try their jello salad ice cream.

two hamloaf sandwiches with fried potatoes and a pickle

Last but not least, my favorite building at the fair: the Agriculture Horticulture building (affectionately called the Ag-Hort Building). Of course the giant pumpkin is always a draw, but I enjoy the neatly stacked vegetables and seeds even more.

red potatoes, cases of seeds, cherry tomatoes

I can’t tell any difference between the different corn entries, but it’s always fascinating anyway.

corncobs and mini pumpkins

Minnesota apples: there’s more than just Honeycrisp.

Minnesota apples - SweeTango, Honeycrisp, Paula Red, Haralson, and more

I don’t remember seeing a Christmas tree competition in previous years. It was really fun to walk through and smell all the fir trees. It even felt cool in that room, though I’m sure that was just my imagination.

several different types of fir trees

And my absolute favorite spot at the fair: the honey room. As long as I get a chance to see the pretty ombre rows of honey, my trip to the fair is complete.

rows of honey jars

2014 Minnesota State Fair

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