Tuesday, April 5, 2011

a short list of amazing places in MN

i've lived in Minnesota my entire life.  my paternal ancestors, from which i gained my maiden name, traveled to this basic area in Minnesota way back when, and most of my relations from that small landing crew have pretty much stayed put.  this is a beautiful place.  lush grasslands (okay, so there's not so much prairie around these days), green forests, creeks, rivers, lakes, cities, towns, fine arts and farming.  it's nothing like New York (though my travels there were amazing) or other big city destinations, but i take that as a compliment.  Minnesota has everything... almost.

and i have to say that i feel a strong sense of safety here.  we do have murders, accidents and crime.  but we rarely have natural disasters that are unpredictable, devastating and massive.  we can predict tornadoes, for the most part.  and floods are generally apparent before they spill over river banks during spring thaws.  i don't know that i'll ever be able to wrap my mind around how areas of Japan, Haiti, New Zealand and smaller lands that have been obliterated by the earthquakes and tsunami waves.  my heart goes out to everyone who knows the beauty of these people and these areas that have been destroyed.  my prayers are ongoing, and i look to God to guide this scrappy bunch of humans here on Earth to come together to bring healing to their hearts and lands.

on that note, i look out my window here in middle Minnesota, in the calm of the fresh spring air.  i want to appreciate this place, as it is during my life - so i now think toward summer vacations.  from my livingroom windows, i see no more snow.  the grass is drying out, and starting it's slow progress towards green.  I'M READY TO GO OUTSIDE!!

for anyone looking for some interesting and enjoyable places to visit in Minnesota, the following are the few that have popped into my head this afternoon.

1. Duluth/Grand Marais/Lake Superior Shore Towns:

In the city of Duluth, there are many amazing places to visit.

With small children in mind, everyone HAS to go to the Duluth Children's Museum/Union Depot 
It is so much fun to see full sized trains - engines and train cars - walk through most with places to sit and imagine life during a different time, see model trains set up with great detail, and even stop in an ice cream and gift shop that fit in with the era of steam trains.
THEN, head over to the Children's Museum for some MORE fun!!  Our last trip included an indoor fishing trip, complete with a row boat and fabric fish; and what I sort of remember as being a frontier military fort, child-sized, with different buildings and costumes to fit each career.

A walk along Canal Street is great in warmer weather, with a multitude of shops to satisfy everyone's shopping needs.  The Maritime/Marine Museum next to the lift bridge is always a treat.  The ore "boat" (ship) permanently docked closeby is an interesting stop.  The Aquarium is a good one, especially if you can take in the view of the lake on a clear day.  There are loads of places to stay and so many other places to visit and things to do, that i'd rather you looked through their site on your own.  i've gone to Duluth countless times during these nearly four decades and have never been disappointed.

If you'd like to continue on passed the "big city", follow along the North Shore Drive (Old Hwy. 61) to enjoy Lake Superior on your right and many tourist stops along the road.  i would STRONGLY suggest stopping for the pie.  And Grand Marais isn't too far away.  A lovely little-ish place.  Light house, cool town, great history & hiking.  wonderful shopping.  WONDERFUL SHOPPING.  i wish they were closer.

You could continue on up to Canada, which i also think is a lovely place to visit, but passports weren't part of this post today.

2. Minnesota State Parks
They can be found all over this state, and each offers their own take on fun, family, natural experiences.  We haven't stayed in every park, but one's we REALLY enjoyed were - Bemidji State Park, William O'Brien (just outside of Stillwater), Gooseberry Falls St. Pk., and Itasca.  We try to visit at least one new park each year, so we've got years to go with all the choices there are.  You can rent a cabin, pop a tent, drive or pull in an RV, or in select parks, even rent a room.  (And you can set up your reservations online, and in some parks, even enjoy free wi-fi).  Then, you just pack snacks and lunch and go for a hike!  Play in the dirt!  Go for a swim!  A bike ride!  A nap!  And your summer memories will be so much better when they include campfire marshmallows and a soft cricket lullaby.  (did i fail to mention how exhausted little people get on these trips?  or how EASY it is to put them to bed after a full day in fresh air, having fun?)

3.  Wabasha

If you've seen the movies, "Grumpy Old Men" and "Grumpier Old Men" you've had a small taste of life in Wabasha, MN.  Set next to Lake Pepin, Wabasha is the quintessential small, sort-of-tourist town you'd like to visit.  It's a short trip South of the Twin Cities, which conveniently avoids most of the "cabin traffic" of summer weekends.  There are loads of campgrounds in the area, as well as hotels/motels, and i'm sure a few B&B's.  For anyone who enjoys toys, the Lark Toy Store is next door in Kellogg.  We spent a good part of the day there last summer, riding the gorgeous Carousel, eating fudge, shopping, playing with toys (there are 1000's) and learning how Lark Toys got it's start.  There's more to see around Wabasha too, but i'll let you look around their website so i can move on.

4.  Small resort towns

Now I've never actually stayed at the big resorts like Craguns but i've bunked many times in the cozy beds of small, mom &  pop resorts.  i know they are still out there, fewer than i remember, but great places to spend a great week or weekend of summer fun.  These little gems are found all over the state, but one that remains close to my heart is Hackensack, MN. 

After meeting my best friend, and essentially being adopted by her crazy but loving family, i spent many happy summer days soaking in sun and fun in this small, quirky town.  Painted turtle races, sandy swimming beaches, good enough fishing (i was a teenage girl on my last stay there), fun tourist shops, and enough fun to keep a family of five kids, each with a friend along, busy for the duration.  It was always at the Pleasant Pines Resort, which couldn't have changed much, unless they've added more to it (and it was great already).

So i hope you all have a wonderful Spring to look forward to an amazing Summer, which should really include some great vacations around this gorgeous (and safe) state.  Fill your hearts and minds with the greens and blues; the calls of the loon, the song of the cricket, the crackle of the campfire; and do all you can before all that goes quiet again in the cool months that send us inside, yet again.  But then, we'll have our photos, fading sun tans and memories to keep us sane.  Or at least, sort of sane.

Monday, April 4, 2011

a poem for this monday...

whenever i have the chance, i do a random "next blog" search for writers i would otherwise miss.  today, i found a cool one here on blogger.com.  it's called The Fearless Blog, and the latest or last post was a great poem about Obama.  I voted for President Obama, an experience I haven't enjoyed in what felt like WAY TOO LONG (i mean, voting for the winning candidate). 

Even with my joy at his accomplishment, and support along the way, I am not a blind fanatic.  I don't love everything Obama has done during his presidency, but I understand that, especially in these times, political gains are won in small increments. 

So, here I share the poem found on The Fearless Blog.  And I too hope that there are more, and bigger changes to be had - for the better, of course.  But always, in shear joy of poetry and politics, please read on:

Guest Post: Viva Obama By Bert Lorenzo

Obama beat McCain handsomely
so those who criticize my president should let him be
and show more respect for democracy.
The people voted for change
and change they should see
but it takes time to make new policy.

June 2009 he improved the economy.
Now everywhere I go I see people spending money.
He reduced unemployment.
Now concert halls, movie houses and sport stadia
sell-out for people’s enjoyment.
Things are fine
but people continue to whine.

They say he’s a Muslim
who secretly practices Islam.
And that he cares more for the lower classes
because he wants to raise the rich’s taxes.
And that he goes too far
when he supports building a mosque near that 9/11 scar.

I say he hasn’t gone far enough.
Obamacare should give us more stuff.
Rumor has it many doctors want to retire or quit.
They say Obama’s healthcare plan’s unfit.
But he should do everything he promised during his campaign
or those who voted for him
did so in vain.

Some who voted for him now feel remorse.
They fear things will get worse.
They elected the Messiah
but now turn their backs on a pariah.
They’ve abandoned hope so easily.
It says more about them
than about my president’s ability.

Constant criticism might make my president weary.
It can be such a bore.
But the critics should remember
in a democracy people should get what they ask for.

So viva Obama!
I still have hope he won’t abandon the fight
and make all that’s wrong in America right.

Copyright Bert Lorenzo, 2010

Sunday, April 3, 2011

feeling a little Job-ish today

as a kid, i attended school at the same Catholic church my family worshiped at each week.  i loved the cocoon of close-knit families i grew up with there, even though i failed to learn much about making new friends (who needs to?) or welcoming those who differ from you. 

spending so much time in what is basically church with a little reading, writing and arithmetic gave me a great deal of time with the big book of God.  and being a Catholic sanctuary of learning meant that a great deal of focus was placed on "offering pain up to God."  now i haven't studied all kinds of Catholics, but that is a strong message passed on to me.  instead of the secular message of "suck it up" i had it turned into a path towards martyrdom. 

the great, high holy saint (sarcastic font used here) of martyrs is by far Job.  (pronounced Jobe for anyone unfamiliar with my spiritual patron saint)  the book of Job is really a good read if you'd like to try it out, but to sum up Job's life: he had it all.  a great family, wealth, power, a strong faith, did all he could to honor God and all that.  bad stuff happened to him.  his family members died.  his wealth disappeared.  he was covered in sores.  people turned away from him.  he still praised God. 

now i've had a few trying times in my life, but never in any great magnitude.  mostly just times i've had a bad case of "feeling bad for myself-itis".  health problems that require moderate treatments.  irritating but not evil family issues.  loss of people i've loved, but had a lifetime of loving memories to carry me along after their passing.

this past month or so feels like a long laundry list of Job-ness. 

the winter here in Minnesota has dragged on so long, i sometimes wonder if i'm not actually trapped in the movie "Groundhog Day" and instead of reliving one day over and over, maybe i'm just reliving a month or two - again and again. 

we've saved up/ paid off bills just in time to realize we need to spend a good chunk on a newly discovered repair on our minivan (if i haven't described my love/hate relationship with this vehicle, i should say i love to drive it fast and hate when it blends into the 10 other gold minivans in a parking lot). 

i've had a minor health issue, that doesn't require surgery but has dragged on since the fall.  it's not something i talk about because it is "indelicate" and is slowly driving me insane.  quite literally. 

and little things that i've planned out have inconveniently been cancelled or rescheduled because of colds, coughs, and all around not funness.  (again and again and again...)

now i've gotta point out that none of the above listed events or issues has caused me to be shunned from society (though rescheduling the daughter's birthday party for illness put a serious damper on the chaos we had anticipated) or otherwise caused me to re-evaluate my life goals.

i try my best to be patient.  outwardly, i think i do a decent job not showing it too blatantly that i want things to go faster or more my way.  as an adult (in most ways), i understand that life is filled with moments when deep breathing and supreme self-control are required.  but this last week is surely a test to my spirit.

my darling daughter is 3 years old.  she has always been, in utero and hence forth, a firecracker.  she acts shy when it garners her added attention, and talks ears off to keep a good situation going - especially with grandparents.  she is very much NOT like me, which causes me some concern as to how i should parent her since i really have little to no idea what the poo is going on in her little, curly head.  but in ONE way, she is very much like me.  she doesn't sleep well.  or i should say, very long.

to those who are parents of children who fall asleep at 7pm and remain in that state until 8am, go screw yourselves.  you have hit the genetic jackpot and i don't want to hear anything about how it was all found in a parenting book requiring hours of infant-crying-to-sleep nights.  no amount of training will cause a child to sleep that long if it wasn't in their makeup.  my kids and i, and in some ways my husband, have a different sleep style.  right now, my daughter falls asleep pretty well, and only on occasion, wakes during the night for a good cry and then goes back to sleep.  she does wake up right about the same time my husband's alarm clock goes off (her room is a slight bit down the hall from our's, with both doors closed and her fan running).  this usually means she's up by 5:45ish. 

i have been staying up late, as of late.  ha ha.  truly.  it's not too strange to see my bedside lamp still on and me still reading at 12:30 or so.  so i didn't stress out monday night when i sat in the little lady's room as she was falling asleep, and knew i'd fall asleep for a bit too.  i woke up about 45 minutes later, to the sound of sweet husband walking in the door after a music rehearsal.  i was excited to talk to an actual grown up, so i started to get myself up off the floor.  my left leg was TOTALLY asleep.  leg, foot, the whole shabang.  there was a 2second pause when i thought, i should let it "wake up" a bit.  naw.  i wanna get out of here! 

i stood up, heard a gross Pop!/Snap! sound from my numb foot and then fell straight back on the floor.  i took out daughter's dolly umbrella stroller (i guess i weigh a bit more than a plastic doll) and then tried to crawl out of her room.  as soon as i made it to her doorway, the pain arrived.  i thought for sure i must have a bone sticking out of my skin because it felt like i had a burning hot dagger jabbing into my foot.  i made it to the couch somehow, and totally freaked out my husband by sobbing uncontrollably.  (thanks, sweetie, for trying to calmly assess my condition :) )

after a wait for my sister to arrive to guard the solidly sleeping kiddos, we trecked to the E.R. and had that date night we've been shooting for.  free child care, cable comedy shows, an attentive staff, and strong pain killers.

the Job part of this complaint-fest is that i am now, because of my impatience, bound to using crutches and hobbling around with a now disgustingly bruised and swollen foot.  if they had given me a crash helmet and pads, i would've felt better about using the crutches (i'm pretty graceless).  i am missing out on some beautiful walking - hiking weather that has FINALLY graced our landscape.  i am trapped in a land of inconvenience and irritation.  nothing deadly (thankfully). 

and i have to say, that i am, for the most part, thankful (even while irritated) that i have this happening right now.  my kids are pretty self-sufficient, i can order groceries (LOVE, LOVE, LOVE Cobornsdelivers.com), i can still drive (what freedom!), and i have a new appreciation for how difficult getting around must be for those who are resigned to this situation for longer than the 2 weeks or a bit more that i have stuck myself in.  and i know that it is completely MY FAULT.  humbling.  shameful.  irritating.  and thankful that i have the luxury to stay home and recover.  my life isn't dependent on me making it somehow to a job.  my home is safe for me to hang out in.  i can sit on the front step and keep an eye on my kids so they can still drink in the spring air, soaking in some good, cold puddle water along the way.  my land won't rumble, my air is safe to breathe, no bullets will fly, all i know are safe and are healthy - and if not healthy, under the care of good doctors with great integrity.

so today and every day, i offer my irritations/pain/annoyances up to God as a gift of thankfulness for being present here in this life.  there needs to be some repayment for all these blessings i enjoy.  and if this is it for now, i have received the best deal in the world. 

thankful for today!