Friday, May 31, 2013

Replant, Revive, Re-ignite

The long winter and wet spring has really done a number on all three of the gardens I tend.

At Summit, the Great Pool Disaster (TM) had the biggest impact (short version - big tree branch fell on pool and ripped apart the cover plus caved in the poorly-laid bluestone, thus causing a multi-faceted repair plan and over 20K worth of work needed). That work has only drawn attention however to the remarkably terrible job the landscaping company did just 7 years ago, however (hint, if you want landscaping done, DON'T use Landscape Renovations!!), and I have spend much of the spring ripping out dead plants and getting really bummed out over poorly designed/planted beds. It needs some major redesign and replanting, especially since we are hosting the SARPA tea, but I just don't know that we can afford that with the other work going on.

Winter Street is...well, Winter Street. We planted a new tree.

Here at Ashland, we are preparing to install a raised bed garden in back to grow vegetables this summer. We've hung gutters on the garage to grow lettuce, and we have a tomato tree that we are trying out. We hope to be more successful with vegetable gardening than our front grass, which is not growing at all after the Great Sewer Debacle (TM) the winter before last. The flower beds are also a little wonky, having lost some things over the winter (how on earth does one lose chives and bleeding heart? I thought they were indestructible!). The front juniper has some severe Drunk Damage and had to be cut back extensively.

Maybe my ransacked beds, especially at Summit, are a good way of filling my gardens with plants from friends? We have plenty of extras — sedum, iris, mint, lettuce shoots, oregano — so if you want anything, let me know. We can do a one-on-one exchange, or maybe I should host a cocktail hour plant trade next week...

Monday, May 27, 2013

Wait Wait

So, last week I was able to cross off a long-standing item on my bucket list and go see "Wait Wait Don't Tell Me" recorded live.

But it gets better — the amazing John Moe introduced the show!

And better — in a reception afterwards (more on that later), I got to see the lovely Joanna Schnedler, and hear my former classmate Dave Kansas (now the COO of American Public Media) speak, and meet his lovely and impressive wife Monica!

And even better — I got to attend with Jennifer and Elaine, the two best friends a girl could have, and the perfect companions to girls night out! (plus chauffeur service by a handsome man!)

And better still — my college friend Adam was one of the panelists, and so we got to catch up ever so slightly. Adam is an amazing and talented human being that I feel lucky to call a friend.

But most amazingly, Peter Sagal hosted the entire thing having experienced a brutal fall earlier that day, with an eye swollen shut and likely in an incredible amount of pain — but I guess his brain didn't get shaken up. Hosting in dark classes that made him look like a CIA understudy — and with support of a truly brilliant panel and production team — Mr. Sagal made it one of the most memorable performances I have ever experienced. Also, at the end, extremely touching.

Not to mention, again at the reception that Adam got us into, even more charming and witty one on one. Though I left it to Jennifer to eat his olives — and no, that was no a euphemism.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Preserve This!

Another preservation goal — I suppose that's appropriate, since May is Preservation Month!

This building, and another one like it, sit over in Highland Park; this one is on the corner of Hamline and Montreal, right by a frisbee golf course that has sprung up and across from a city-owned golf course and from Circus Juventas. I believe it's designed by Cap Wigington, if I remember correctly. What you can't see from the picture is that it is two-story, built into a hillside, and with a lovely patio spreading out beneath it.

It's city-owned, and it's been boarded up as long as I can remember. To their credit, they have not demolished it, simply moth-balled it.  The rationale I keep on hearing about it is "we can't do anything with it because it's historic," which makes no sense, because it's the history that makes it so beautiful. I have heard recently that they are looking for a public-private partnership to develop it, which is a good sign, but I am not sure if such a partnership could employ federal and state historic tax credits.

I have no experience in the business world, and not enough capital to make it happen, but doesn't this just call out to become an independent coffeehouse/cafe, with a big patio and maybe some meeting rooms? The location is perfect for casual traffic, and also for the golfers and frisbee golfers to stop by after a round, and for the several hundred circus parents who are there daily to grab a cup while their kid is across the street (not to mention pre-show dining).

A girl can dream, right? Anyone want to take my idea and go in on it with me?

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

According to the City of Saint Paul, This House is a Threat

Scarey, huh?

This is a turn-of-the-century home in my neighborhood, currently a duplex, just steps from a park and on a quiet, one-block stretch of Iglehart. The block has some beautiful homes, and is an original part of the Historic Hill District, the city's first historic district established in 1976.  It was moved into the lot in the 1980s, when a new housing complex was built across the street, so has new mechanicals and a new foundation. I haven't been in it, nor has anyone I know, but the reports I have seen show damage but not insurmountable issues. It's the kind of home that dozens of people I know would love to move into.

According to the City of Saint Paul, this house is a major threat to public safety and must be razed immediately. Yes, the city (including some neighbors, my councilmember, licensing, and various other city officials) considers this empty house not an opportunity, but a major threat to the community. Yes, more of a threat than the weekly break-ins in the bar parking lot next to me, or the daily drug sales in the empty lot next to the playground on the next block.

The house has been empty for the last twelve years, and it's frustrating. The owner keeps on saying he'll "get around to working on it," but doesn't do anything. It's had multiple "repair or remove" orders, and has even gone to tax forfeiture. Recalcitrant as the current owner is, he actually could not sell it (except under special circumstances) — due to the "Bostrom Amendment," a Category 3 vacant building cannot be sold without bringing it entirely up to code.

I've been working with a task force of neighbors for 6 months to come up with solutions to this, and gotten nowhere. Nicole Curtis has leveraged as much as she can, and made me appreciate her passion and commitment to old homes. To be fair, city officials have tried what they can, including tax court. Approved CDCs, such as Historic Saint Paul and Preservation Alliance of Minnesota, have tried to purchase it, but the owner simply won't respond.

There's much that's not ideal about this, which I'll admit from the beginning. But that long and short of it is, that this is a beautiful, historic, desirable and eminently rehab-able home that will be irreplaceably lost because no one has the courage or innovation to save it. It will be an empty lot, likely for the next several decades like the other empty lots in the neighborhood. It will likely draw more undesirable activity than a home with potential. And, according to the city's own studies, it will bring down the values of the immediately surrounding properties by 20% or more.

That's what's scarey. Not an empty home.


Edited to add: I really mean it when I say everyone has tried everything. The neighbors I have worked with have asked to buy it, cash in hand, multiple times, only to be rudely rebuffed. We have offered to keep up the maintenance of it while the issues was solved — again turned down. The city has come up with new ideas and taken it all the way to tax court — only to have the owner pay the back taxes and redeem the house literally at the last second. Licensing has attempted to stabilize it. Preservation non-profits have offered to but it and fix it up. Nicole has given an incredible amount of time and energy to the process. Literally hundreds of hours have been put in so far to try to find a solution. Although I am frustrated with city ordinances that leave only razing the home as a resolution (and one that will be so very costly, in so many ways, to the neighborhood I love), the ultimate fault here is with an owner who will not respond to the situation and who will basically force it to be torn down.


Edited to add: RIP. Demo'd June, 2013.

Monday, May 13, 2013

The Rainbow Connection

Two summers ago, we were in New York state when their legislature passed gay marriage. I remember sitting on the couch, looking out over one of the Finger Lakes, when the radio announced it — and almost immediately, in the just clearing sky, two rainbows arched across the lake. It was magical.

I feel that way today. After years of not understanding why my state seemed to have abandoned its progressive past, after the last two years of a divisive and mean-spirited constitutional amendment debate, and after I have seen my gay and lesbian friends consistently encounter discrimination at every turn, I feel like we have turned a corner. I wasn't alive (or at least old enough to be aware) of the civil rights struggles in the past. But I can feel proud to have been part of this one.

To Beatrix, people fall in love and get married, and it doesn't matter to whom. To her, our friends Mr. Bob and Mr. Jan are just as married as her uncle Robert and aunt Janet, and we have never said anything to correct that. Now we don't have to.

Thank you, Minnesota, for getting it right. I really love you right now.

Friday, May 3, 2013


It's a big joke that Minnesotans spend all their time talking (complaining) about the weather. It would be a bigger joke if it wasn't true. But this year — it's especially bad.

It's May 3 and it is snowing. Enough to stick on the ground. And it is cold and gray. And I am just so over it. We need spring.

Spring is a reset button for your life. Whatever bad habits you got into all winter, it's time to shed them in the spring. Time for a whole new start on your goals and your existence in general. Time for green and growing and baby animals and evenings spent outdoors and open windows and seeing the neighbors who have been shut in their homes for months.

Instead, we have this neverendingwinter. Everything is a slog. Every day my neck and shoulder hurts. Every day I work frantically to keep up with work and create absolutely nothing new. Every day I walk through the back door at the end of the day and am greeted with a tower of dirty dishes that have amassed there and have to be dealt with. Every day is yet another day that I don't make it to the gym or get any kind of exercise. Every day I think of the list of things To Be Done and just want to crawl into bed. Every day I lose a little patience.

And I think I am not the only one.