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Friday, January 31, 2014

Tuesday, January 28, 2014


Over the weekend my friend Jim and I attended the 125th Winter Carnival in St. Paul.  In the dozen years I’ve lived in the Twin Cities this is only the third time I’ve taken part in the festivities.  Winter Carnival is a ten day celebration that is filled with myth, history, and legend, and dates back to the late 19th century.

The ice sculptures are amazing.  This is King Boreas' throne.

In 1886, St. Paul was the fastest growing city in the country, and was the third largest rail center.  In six short years the city’s population had grown from 39,000 residents in 1880 to 120,000 residents in 1886.  The people of St. Paul were proud of their developing city and wanted to showcase it with a festive celebration.  Also, city officials wanted to disprove a New York newspaper reporter who had described their beloved city as “another Siberia, unfit for human habitation in the winter.” Minnesotans have never been ones to shy away from winter fun, and so in 1886 the Winter Carnival was born.

Ice Age Dinosaurs. 

The Carnival centers around a great legend.  Boreas, King of the Winds, and his royal court were so enchanted by the seven hills of St. Paul, that they chose to make this their winter playground, and for ten days they frolic and celebrate in the cool temperatures.  However, Vulcanus Rex, the god of fire, wanted to stop Boreas and his court from perpetuating the cold, and so throughout the days there are several small skirmishes.  The events culminate with the Vulcans (no, not the Mr. Spock kind) storming the ice castle and driving Boreas and his court from St. Paul, thus ensuring that spring would again return.

It was a very cold day for pony rides!

Even the historic St. Paul Hotel . . . 

. . . joined in the festivities.

Over the years some of the features have had to changed for practicality, or be eliminated because they have become cost prohibitive.  The biggest loss there is the Ice Castle.  Over the years these have ranged from a simple stage to elaborate medieval structures.  The castle played an Important role over the years, but the legend has been able to continue on nicely in it’s absence.  

Despite the sub-zero temperatures . . . 

 . . . the crowd lined the parade route.

The blasts of heat form the occasional hot air balloon entries 
was welcomed relief from the cold.

I loved that the men cleaning up after the horses 
were wearing white tuxedos and tails.

The Vulcans were on the move.

The Royal Family.

This man marched the entire parade route 
wearing shorts in sub-zero temperatures.

This year, I was a little disappointed.  Our weather has been bitterly cold this month and fewer people were there on Saturday afternoon.  Also, other than the elaborate ice sculptures in Rice Park and the parade, there really wasn’t much else to do that day.  I remembered more activities in the past.  I did enjoy the display models of many of the ice castles from previous years as some of them were quite AMAZING!  Also, the history buff in me, was intrigued by the historical room, which displayed, costumes, posters and memorabilia from past the Carnivals. 

Models of ice castles from days gone by.

This is a photograph and model of the ice castle 
at the very first Winter Carnival in 1886. 

The non-Star Trek Vulcans.

While we were downtown, we had Lunch at Mickey’s Diner, a St. Paul landmark.  The diner is housed in a rail car and has been providing 24-hour service since 1939.   Seating is limited and the atmosphere is exactly what you expect from diner, making the whole experience wonderful.  Mickey’s Diner has been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1983 and was one of the first diners given this distinction.

I also had the opportunity to stop into Heimie’s Haberdashery, my favorite store in St. Paul.  They are a full service menswear store, with made-to-measure, made-to-order, and off the rack options.  They truly have something for every man, including hats.  Yes hats!  LOTS of hats!  While you’re there, be sure to also take advantage of their full barbershop – the ultimate pampering experience.  More information on Heimie’s Haberdashery can be found in this post.

Even though I was a little disappointed with the Winter Carnival this year, I think most of the disappointment stemmed from the bitter cold temperatures that kept many people away.  The Winter Carnival really is an exciting and fun celebration.  The Carnival runs through this weekend and more information can be found here.  If you haven’t had the chance to attend it, I would encourage you to check it out.

Thursday, January 23, 2014


Every year on the first weekend in February, Minneapolis plays host to the Twin Cities Loppet.  A Loppet is a series of ski races, and ours takes place along the chain of lakes in the city, ending in Uptown (my neighborhood).  This year my friend Cynthia and I have decided to walk the Luminary Loppet which is held on Lake Of The Isles on that Saturday evening.  Because this event takes place ON the lake, I knew that I would need some warm socks to keep my feet cozy and comfortable while walking on the ice.

While I will be wearing a couple pairs of socks that evening, the outer pair was acquired by visiting the Alpaca Connection store at the Mall Of America.  This is one of my first purchases from this store and gave me the opportunity to learn more about them and how they do business.

Since the mid 1970’s, artisans in the Andes Mountains have been handcrafting products from alpaca fur.  Alpaca Connection carries these products along with sweaters and accessories knitted from alpaca fibers, as well as woven alpaca capes, shawls, and wraps – all of these products are made in Peru.

If you visit their store in the summer, in addition to the wonderful alpaca items you will also find a large array of Peruvian pima cotton blouses, and a nice year-round selection of accessories from Guatemala – my friend Connie purchased a wonderful purse there while visiting over the Holidays.

Alpaca Connection works directly with the artisans to create handmade products that directly support the indigenous communities of Peru and Guatemala. By doing this over an extended period of time, the artisans are able to improve their lives, by receiving education and training, and help to ensure their children’s future – this connection with these artisans has now benefited three generations.  I like too, that the store also has a strong commitment to providing a fair income for the artisans and their families.

The Alpaca Connection has been independently owned for forty years, and their Mall Of America location serves as its “headquarters.”  The store operates with a small, but dedicated, and knowledgeable staff that is happy to answer any questions you might have.  If you have a chance to stop by, I would highly encourage you to do so.  I know I will be going back as I have my eye on an awesome sweater.