edamomie

An Exploration of Parenting by the Vowel

For Fall Colors, Do North October 7, 2013

Vista from our TwoHarbors vaca home

Vista from our TwoHarbors vaca home

Fall colors in Northern Minnesota get so much hype every year. So when we had the opportunity to travel early October to TwoHarbors to stay in a private home, courtesy of a very generous client of my brother’s, we hopped on it. Our trips to the Lake Superior shore Minnesota side have typically been in the summer (Backdoor Exploring blogpost) and winter, both recent trips were to Lutsen.

 

Car one – my parents, brother and sister-in-law and their 8 month old – went up Thursday eve of the first weekend in October. Car two – our family of four – drove up Friday afternoon. The weather didn’t look to particularly promising, so we left the golf clubs behind in favor of board games. Our home away from home for the weekend was in TwoHarbors right on 440ft of lakeshore with a long winding private drive. Luckily it is a year-round home with heat and a fireplace – much needed for a chilly fall weekend.

 

Nana and kids on the shore

Nana and kids on the shore

The first crew visited Gooseberry Falls on Friday, while we were still in the Twin Cities. It was the best day weather-wise. When we arrived around 7:00 on Friday night, it was pitch black. You could hear the waves crashing, but see nothing of Lake Superior. Needless to say, the kids, Ava (10) and Calvin (8) were pretty blown away the next morning by the views and rocky shoreline.  Winds reached 45MPH out of the NNE that day which made for huge, crashing, ocean-like waves. A few times, they caught us of guard and had us retreating pretty quickly!

 

On Saturday, my husband made omelets with everything – and I mean everything from steak to sausage and all the fresh veggies from gardener friends we toted with us. After brunch, it was misty and overcast so our plan to visit the Glensheen Mansion in Duluth, haunted in murderous mystery, was an eerily perfect choice.  We arrived by 12:15 and watched a few of the historical videos in the gift shop before our 1:10 tour. We opted not to do the expanded 1.5hour tour that included the boys’ floor and attic, where Elisabeth, the heir to the estate, was murdered in 1977.

 

Waves Crashing, Coming Closer, Run!

Waves Crashing, Coming Closer, Run!

The kids thought we were en route to a Haunted House, like the one at the MN State Fair, so we had a lot of explaining to do.  The tour mentioned nothing of the murders. Most of us had read Glensheen’s Daughter, the story of Margorie Congdon, the adopted daughter of Elisabeth Congdon. It had been years though, so we refreshed our memories by paging through the book in the gift shop, by Minnesota author, Sharon Darby Hendry, a family friend on my husband’s side. We thoroughly enjoyed the tour — it really transported us to a different era. Built between 1905-1908, the home had not only the best technology available in its day, but the most humane and equal treatment of servants.

 

After the tour, we headed into Grandma’s Sports Garden for the 2:30 Gopher game.  It was only fair after the guys endured the home tour, maybe not their first choice. The weather was fierce as we left to head back up to Two Harbors. We decided to stay in make a fire and order pizza from Do North Pizza. Good stuff especially because they delivered. Later on, indulging in Betty’s Pies and a heated game of Cranium, we had an experience worth a Yelp review (Perfume Pie).

 

Exploring Minnesota

Exploring Minnesota

After a pancake breakfast Sunday morning, our crew split up. Our family of four visited Gooseberry Falls and the rest of us drove up the shoreline to Splitrock Lighthouse. We met back at the house late afternoon and packed up to head back to the cities. The skies brightened a bit on the way home to take in some peak fall colors. I would much rather have been out walking among them, which we did a bit of at Gooseberry Falls.

 

With all of our indoor time, we did check out the homeowner’s vast collection of historical books while Calvin studied the map of Lake Superior and shipwrecks of the past, including the Edmund Fitzgerald. The kids were intrigued enough to want to plan another vacation to the lake next summer – potentially the Apostle Islands. (I did post some #fallcolor finds on Instagram as part of Explore Minnesota’s Instagram campaign #ExploreMN and a quick Vine video). I am want to find another fall weekend to visit where the viewing pairs nicely with warmer weather – maybe fall of 2014!

 

A Castle, a Courtyard and a Cafe November 18, 2012

O: Outings

Who doesn’t have an obsession with castles? The American Swedish Institute in Minneapolis does and with the new addition by HGA Architects, you can go from historic to modern with a courtyard in between.

 

Trolling for Swedish Fish

Trolling for Swedish Fish

I hadn’t visited ASI for years and since the opening of the new addition, it’s been on my list. With relatives in town, not of Swedish but Scandinavian heritage (close enough!), and the holidays approaching, we opt for a Friday afternoon visit. Our group includes my mom, aunt, my two kids and me.

 

ASI lies just south of downtown Minneapolis on Park Avenue, the first asphalt road in the Twin Cities which is also known as the Golden Mile. The institute’s new signage, parking lot and landscaping greatly enhance its presence and ease of access. They also designate close parking spots for fuel-efficient vehicles only, our first hint at the sustainable features for the site’s new design.

 

Upon entering we’re drawn to the right, right into their gift shop featuring Scandinavian designed goods and to my kids’ delight – a candy store. Might they have Swedish Fish? Bulk candy is $12 a pound so after a quick study, the kids chose a few items that occupy them while the grown-ups check out the shop a bit more. The kids discover the Norwegian (our ancestry) version of Ticket to Ride. I file that idea away for later.

 

Just (Scandinavian) Desserts

Just (Scandinavian) Desserts

The cafe, Fika, runs the length of the courtyard’s southside. There is plenty of daylight streaming in at 3:00 in the afternoon and many larger groups  of people dining in the cafe. We peruse the chalkboard menu for some time and place an order for various coffees and desserts from lattes to hot chocolates (both of which are served with fancy swirls) and flourless chocolate torte to bread pudding. Our order is served to us at the table along with real linens and silverware. The minute I insist I have to try my 7-year-old son’s dessert, he picks up the last large section of it to shove in his mouth. I manage to talk him down from that to share a bite with me. The rest of us are sharing politely.

 

Third Floor Children's  Playhouse

Third Floor Children’s Playhouse

After dessert, we pay our admission fees for the castle portion of the institute (the cafe, gift shop and access to the courtyard are all free). Fees run $7 for adults and $4 for kids (ages 6-18; under 6 are free). Upon arriving at the paid portion of the museum, the kids immediately assume we are in some sort of Harry Potter-like adventure (we are in the process of reading the books together). The castle-like vibe is heightened here because we are inside at the old to new transition point, yet can touch the exposed exterior stone of the castle.

 

In the Castle's Shadow

In the Castle’s Shadow

We explore all three levels of the castle including the solarium in about an hour. It was the right amount of time considering we had a nine and seven-year old with us. Many of the rooms were set with holiday decor including some very elaborate table settings and Christmas tree decor. I would like to get the kids in for napkin folding instruction, please!

 

We spend more time on the third floor at the kids’ playhouse and Turret area, where Tomte, the elf, is now accepting written holiday wishes. The kids each scribe a letter to drop into the post. From our perch, we also discover the new addition’s green roof and miscellaneous hidden goats, gargoyles and gnomes. Before leaving, we take one last walk around the courtyard. I envision that us adults could easily come back and explore the museum more, and that for free, the kids and I could come back to shop, dine and just be in the shadow of Minnesota’s only castle.

 

Backdoor Exploring August 26, 2011

I: Independence

Lutsen in the Summer

Lutsen in the Summer

I always file vacations under Independence. A time of outdoor exploration and inward reflection, planning and spontaneity. Upon returning from our North Shore Minnesota vacation, our family of four recapped it as a good choice all-around. We had considered Montana and Chicago as other destinations. Montana would amount to a lot of driving and with the state’s huge tourism budget, the lodges we looked at in late June for Glacier National Park were booked (You saw the bus ads and billboards, right?). We put that on the back-burner for next year. I was still holding out for Chicago, but in the end the lure of hiking and exploration won out.

 

We opted for a local vacation to the North Shore of Lake Superior – a four hour drive from the Twin Cities to Lutsen, where we stayed. The kids had never been so far as Duluth. I had only been up north that route once in the fall, once in June for Grandma’s Marathon and a few times for winter downhill skiing. My husband estimated maybe 30 visits that direction for him.

 

We set out on a Sunday morning for a Sunday  – Wednesday vacation. It was nice to have Friday and Saturday to prep as well as a short Thursday – Friday work week upon return. At many of the lodges up north, they offer mid-week deals like three nights for the price of two, kids eat free and good twilight rates for golf. We chose Eagle Ridge in Lutsen and I’ll admit, it took me a good while to accept that it wasn’t in its all-snow covered glory. The rooms were average, but the views were all green with a glimpse of the great lake.  The weather was beautiful, but chilly at times. Both kids had forgotten their sweatshirts somehow. We made due.

 

Sunday kicked off with 1:30 lunch at Two Harbors and a 4:00 check-in at Eagle Ridge Resort. We headed to Papa Charlie’s, the restaurant on site, around 6:30, but no one was hungry quite yet. By the time we worked up an appetite, it was nearly 9:00 and the Coho Cafe in Tofte, just seven miles south of Lutsen, was closing. We headed one more stop south on the route to the Bluefin Grille. Husband Chad was hesitant —  the place looked pretty fancy. I reminded him it was a Sunday night and that we were on vacation. They might have had a kids’ menu, but the late night happy hour menu looked interesting and shareable. Two bacon and cheddar and two bbq’d pork with coleslaw sliders, fried onion green beans, green salad and cheese empanadas later, everyone, except 6-yr-old Calvin who was sleeping, was satisfied. I think the tab came to $26. Super reasonable.

 

Grand Marais Lighthouse

Grand Marais Lighthouse

Monday morning, after coffee doused with creme to kill the unmistakable hotel water flavor (note, remember to bring in water always), we headed to Cascade River State Park for a hike on the Superior National Trail. We didn’t have a map, so relied on signage. I felt we could have been more prepared – had we not learned from previous hiking experiences that you need to plan? The views along the trail, high above the river whose water and foam is likened to a rootbeer float, lasted 15 minutes before we diverged away from the river to Lookout Mountain. We made it halfway to a significant vista to make it feel like the summit, popped a few gummi bears, and headed back. All total, 1.5 hours worth.

 

Rock Sculptural Elements

Rock Sculptural Elements

Another 20 minutes north and we arrived in Grand Marais, starving. We grabbed a few sandwiches to split and drove up the coast a bit more. This town was reminiscent of small town Alaska for me. We parked on the pier by the U.S. Coast Guard Station, skipped some rocks, built some rock structures and climbed the lighthouse steps. We spent a few hours there, then ventured into town to pay a visit to the Angry Trout. It was here my normally extatic son, ready to eat at a moment’s notice, was experiencing the first of high fever and exhaustion spikes. He pouted a bit and whined and we coined the term Trout Lip.

 

After a mandatory late aft nap, we headed back to the arcade within close walking distance at Papa Charlie’s for Ms PacMan, Arctic Cat, golf, darts and the like. Calvin assured me he was up for it. We stayed close to camp that eve, heading to the shared campfire area that hosted Eagle Ridge’s nightly gathering with complimentary stuff for s’mores. We met some nice folk there, perfected golden brown marshmallow roasting and toasted some hot dogs. A bubbly woman from Prior Lake, of grandmotherly age, gushed, “are you all here on Crowd Cut?” … “no we’re not here on the Crowd Cut,” admittedly they had never even heard of it.

 

By Tuesday, Calvin’s temp was really climbing and his patience with the outdoors was waning. While my husband and 8-yr-old daughter hiked,  I hung back so Calvin could take the mid-morning nap he so needed. We bypassed canoeing, golf and hiking and opted for the Gondola ride across the ski trails of Lutsen to the top of Moose Mountain and the Summit Chalet. We packed a lunch and left around 10:30. Tickets were a bit pricey, but we decided worth it. The views were spectacular and the thrill of the gondola was entertainment enough for the kids.

 

Ready Set Split

Ready Set Split

More napping for Calvin. He was not going to cut our vacation short! He was rested and well enough, once again, for Buck Hunter and Arctic Cat around 4:30. Kids could eat free with an adult entree purchase at Papa Charlies for our entire stay. We didn’t take advantage of this once due to kids menu burn-out at the end of summer. We ordered a lone app from Papa’s, otherwise ate our stash from Trader Joe’s we brought and three nice meals of all grown-up stuff and shared everything. Tonight, we hit the Coho Cafe in Tofte around 6:00 for pizza, ravioli and dessert, right from the dessert bar. Completely satisfying meal.

 

We checked out around 10:00am Wednesday and headed back with a few stops to see Split Rock Lighthouse, just newly listed on the National Register of Historic Landmarks as of August 15, 2011, and a visit to Vitta Pizza, just opened mid-June this year, in downtown Duluth. Calvin was barely holding out – feverish and shivering for the last part of the drive. Without passing go (our home), we went straight to the pediatrician and got in a visit before closing time. No ear infection, pneumonia or strep, just a six-day virus. Fantastic!

 

Lesson learned: pre-vacation planning and resting are a necessity to make things go smoothly. Calvin’s fever might have set us back a bit from original plans, but we probably got more rest than we normally would on vacation, if you look on the bright side. As far as location, up north for Twin Citians is a good deal (see Minnesota Monthly August 2011 for statewide ideas). We agreed that trips to far-off destinations are one thing, but exploring what’s right outside your backdoor is a whole other enlightening idea.

 

 
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