1 Get an in-town break from this brutal weather with a trip to the Como Conservatory in St. Paul. The Fern Room is downright steamy, but the Sunken Garden is a peaceful oasis. Stroll through the Holiday Flower Show, a breathtaking display of several varieties of red and pink poinsettias. This festive flourish closes Sunday, but the Winter Flower Show opens Saturday. The Sunken Garden, site of occasional weddings, has four seasonal shows and one holiday show every year. www.comozooconservatory.org
2 Combine the simpatico sensibilities of photographer Alec Soth and writer Brad Zellar and you get the LBM Dispatches, travelogues of the human condition in words and pictures that are as astute as they are compassionate. The Minneapolis duo’s latest self-published treasure, LBM Dispatch No. 6, collects their observations of the Texas Triangle, the area formed when you connect the dots between San Antonio, Dallas and Houston. www.littlebrownmushroom.com
3 “The Audacious Eye: Japanese Art From the Clark Collections” features highlights from an amazing collection of Japanese art that the Minneapolis Institute of Arts acquired in June from California collectors Bill and Libby Clark. Valued at an estimated $25 million, the art spans more than 1,000 years and every aspect of the culture, from delicate ink paintings of rugged mountains, wild birds and life-size bulls to folding screens depicting aristocrats at work and play under skies filled with golden clouds. Traditional and modern materials, ancient literature and whimsical diversions introduce aspects of Japan rarely seen in the West. Closes Jan. 12.
4 While World War II rages, Detective Chief Superintendent Christopher Foyle fights battles in his own quiet corner of England over profiteering, treason and, of course, murder. “Foyle’s War,” which aired as part of PBS’ “Masterpiece Mystery,” features a story-of-the-week format, providing for a game of Spot the Guest Star (hey, there’s James McAvoy! Look, it’s Emily Blunt!). But the primary delight is watching as Foyle (Michael Kitchen) spars good-naturedly with his spunky driver (Honeysuckle Weeks) and delivers comeuppance to an assortment of miscreants in his wonderfully wry, perfectly British manner. (Six seasons available on Netflix streaming, seven seasons on DVD.)
5 “The Good Lord Bird” by James McBride deserves a high ranking on any Best Books of 2013 list. McBride tells the story of Bible-misquoting antislavery militant John Brown and his legendary 1859 raid on a munitions storehouse in Harpers Ferry, Va., through the eyes of a freed slave boy who mostly passes as a girl nicknamed Little Onion. McBride’s astonishing achievement in the picaresque historical novel is to write both a bold-stroke, often violent history and an intimate character study, all while keeping the laughs coming on nearly every page. It’s “Gunsmoke” meets Huck Finn meets Peckinpah meets “Our Gang.” Brown and Onion are unforgettable, thanks to McBride’s masterful touch.