Christmas Wrap Up

Pun intended.

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Christmas came and went, again.

This process seems more fleeting each year.

2017 held a few unexpected turns. We discovered late in the game that our planned accommodations weren’t going to work out, and we booked the last room at the local inn.

This turned out better than expected.

We were able to use the hotel gym to exercise.

We watched “Elf.”

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The glass wasn’t ideal but the wine was delicious.

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We opened family presents with just the four of us.

Santa still found us on Christmas morning, too.

I may make this a tradition.

 

Christmas Brickmania Display

Last weekend we went to see a massive Lego display sponsored by Brickmania Toyworks.

The Christmas diorama was fantastic:

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It was hard to capture Santa’s train:

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A huge State Fair/Circus scene was also so much fun to view. There were a lot of surprises – aka Easter eggs – hidden in plain sight, like the Mystery Machine from “Scooby Doo” in the parking lot.

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Storm Troopers were also riding the Giant Slide.

While Spouse originally planned this with the kids in mind, we all had a blast.

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If you’re in the Twin Cities, this is worth a visit.

 

 

Friendsgiving 2017

I have a lot of catch-up posts to do, including this one about our whirlwind trip to Chicago to see our friends T, A and their daughter for Friendsgiving 2017.

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A random image I Googled. Sigh.

Backstory: Spouse and T. met at their first jobs out of college in the mid-1990s. They hit it off and so did their girfriends, a.k.a A. and me. Fast forward two plus decades and we’re still friends, albeit now with different jobs, kids, dogs and everything else that goes along with that.

They have also come to visit us in Minnesota at least three times and we were waaaay overdue to travel to Chicago. Plus, we’ve already spent two Friendsgivings with them over the past few years so this is becoming a tradition.

Chicago is approximately 400 miles from Minneapolis, so this drive is not insignificant.

We decided to break it up into two days. On Wednesday we left after work and drove to Wisconsin Dells, WI, which is roughly half way. Traffic leaving the city was as crazy as we expected and a three hour drive turned into four plus.

If you’re not familiar with Wisconsin Dells, it’s a seasonal resort town in the middle of Wisconsin that is primarily known for its water parks. I’d purposely booked a hotel WITHOUT any water park bells and whistles because I knew it would be impossible to get the kids out of there the next morning when we had to finish our drive to Chicago. We stayed at the Springhill Suites, which opened in 2015. More about the hotel in a second.

The part above where I said “Seasonal resort town” really hit us when we tried to find somewhere for dinner at 9:30 PM on the night before Thanksgiving. In the summer, Wisconsin Dells is bustling but in the winter, it’s more like a ghost town. Many restaurants were closed and with the additional need to find some decent gluten-free options for Trixie (8), we were limited. This place was still serving:

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I don’t know what is happening between this delivery vehicle and the moose, but based on the image, you can estimate for yourself the type and quality of food served here.

We reached the Springhill Suites (right around the corner from this restaurant) about 10 PM and checked into our “suite,” which was somewhat of a misnomer since there was no real separation between the small sitting area and the rest of the room. There were two queen beds and the sitting area contained a desk and sofa bed, plus a small coffee bar/mini fridge area with a microwave. The bathroom was really nice with a big shower and plenty of space for more than one person to brush teeth, etc. There was also an oversized walk-in closet with an ironing board. Where the hotel really shone was in the free breakfast the next morning. There was something for everyone including eggs, bacon, sausage, bagels and other pastries, oatmeal, cereal, hard boiled eggs, make your own waffles, etc. I was impressed because the toast toppings included peanut butter, a variety of jams and Nutella. I mention all of this because while the hotel is not posh it is new and serviceable if you are looking for a place to crash during your roadtrip and then re-fuel the next day.

I was surprised by how many families were in the same boat we were, sleepily waking up and then heading out to Thanksgiving somewhere else. The breakfast area was full.

The rest of the drive to Chicago was uneventful. The weather was great and traffic was not bad. We arrived in early afternoon. T. and A. live in a nice neighborhood with a lot of trees and winding roads. We walked dogs and went to a park with the kids. A. had texted me a few days before and asked how committed we were to traditional Thanksgiving food, and the answer was “Not at all,” so we had tacos instead of turkey with all the trimmings. I loved it. The great thing about a taco bar is that you can also make them as healthy – or otherwise – as you want, so this appealed to everyone in the group. T. and A. have also made some amazing lifestyle changes over the past year so this fit well for them to eat in a healthy way. After dinner we played games and worked on a puzzle.

On Friday we woke up, had breakfast and went to a fun park, then a huge arboretum near their house. With temps in the 50s, it was easy to spend a few hours wandering the arboretum. We split up (girls/guys) after that and the girls went to a paint-your-own pottery place. Trixie immediately picked two pieces and painted them within 10 minutes, then asked for more.

These were the color chips that you could use to select your paints. I found them oddly cool, especially since they were piled into a big bowl.

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I made a small dish for myself and really enjoyed the painting process. Here it is pre-firing:

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Now I just need a giant diamond ring to put in there.

The girls and their masterpieces:

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On Friday night we had Chicago style pizza, which is insanely delicious. I went way overboard. It was worth it but this is not something one should often eat. The calorie total per slice is approximately one zillion.

Saturday was another beautiful day but we had to start heading home. We were going to make a pit stop in Madison, WI (our college alma mater) and then stay the night in our hometown in western Wisconsin before finishing the drive on Sunday.

We spent Saturday night at my mom’s lake place. We had it to ourselves since she is in Florida for the winter. The afternoon sun was awesome:

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The drive home on Sunday was also uneventful, but we got home a little later than we expected and then still had to pick up the dog from the boarding place, do a Target run, etc., so it was not a restful end to the weekend.

One major perk of driving six hours each way: lots of time for passengers to shop online for amazing Black Friday/Cyber Monday deals. I did almost all of my Christmas shopping on the trip home, including some things From Me to Me, which is basically my favorite type of gift. 

Friendsgiving 2017 is in the books and I chalked it up as a big success. Now to start planning for next year…. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

School Break

Last week the kids had two days off of school, the famous MEA weekend in Minnesota, where public schools ostensibly give teachers two days off to attend an educational conference.

But basically this is a Mini Spring Break in the Fall, and many families take copious advantage of this to escape town for a long weekend.

Per my usual state, I didn’t prepare well in advance and for Day 1 of break, both MGM and Trixie found themselves back at school for an all-day Kids’ Club session.

Miraculously, I’d had foresight back in the summer to take off work for Day 2 of the break, so we had a whole day to spend together. It was a perfect fall day – warm and sunny – and we decided to do something fall-y, which was to go to a corn maze.

Everyone else in the Metro Area had the same idea. This place was a zoo, figuratively and literally since there was a petting zoo area. 

After paying for entrance fees, face painting, some strange food for the animals at the petting zoo, overpriced drinks and for camel (!) rides, I was suddenly $100 poorer for the effort.

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But the kids had a blast, especially in an area that was like a ball or sand pit, except completely filled with corn.

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On the con side, I’ve been digging corn kernels out of the washing machine for a week.

The weekend held one more perfect day and this time, I decided we were going to get some culture. Off the the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden!

If you’ve ever seen pictures of Minneapolis, there’s a fair chance you’ve seen the most iconic work in the garden, Spoonbridge and Cherry.

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The kids appreciated the art about as much as I predicted, which was approximately a 2 on a scale of 1 to 10.

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This “snowman” sculpture was a hit with the late afternoon sun providing a perfect angle for the shadows:

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The giant blue chicken also did not disappoint:

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In the end we spent about an hour and a half enjoying the sculptures and running up and down the hill behind the Walker Art Center (them, not me).

Perfect way to cap off fall break!

Clue 2017

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Trixie recently discovered the classic boardgame Clue.

You know, the murder mystery game where Colonel Mustard did it with the knife in the Conservatory.

We uprooted my family’s 1970s version (complete with wooden game pieces and at least three characters who appear to be smoking) at my mom’s lake house a few weekends ago, and she quickly became enamored.

So much so that she made her own version:

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There were a few liberties taken with the rooms:

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And the characters:

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Besides Mr. Col. Musterd (sic), there was also Mrs. Musterd, Mr. Salad, Mr. Elevator, and Mrs. Peacock. Of course that temptress Miss Scarlet was also represented.

Some of the weapons were redundant, considering “gun” and “revolver” both made the cut:

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We had a lot of fun playing a few rounds of this version, but in the end we decided to splurge and buy our own 2017 model for the low price of $9 at Target.

Now we can ask Whodunnit every night!

 

Summer’s End

Lately, I haven’t had much to say.

Not that things weren’t happening; they were. 

We’ve been trying to get settled into our new place, which has been interesting. 

The location is great and being in a rental house means overall less worry about things like home maintenance/improvement. But the small size has been a huge adjustment, and I felt self-conscious introducing myself to our neighbors as the New Family in the Tiny Rental House in the Middle of a Neighborhood with Otherwise Extremely Expensive Tear Downs.

That’s the thing to do here: buy an older house in a prime location, knock it down and start from scratch. The tab for all of this is typically $1.5-2 million, which leaves me scratching my head as to how this is so widespread or possible.

The kids also started their new school yesterday. It’s only a 5 minute walk away, which is terrific, and MGM (10) has finally agreed to hot lunch, so there’s one less task to do each day.

I remain cautiously optimistic.

More to come.

Summer Camp

Last week, Spouse and I took a leap of faith and sent Trixie off to camp.

For three weeks, one of which is spent doing a canoe trip that involves setting up tents, portaging and crossing the U.S. border into Canada.

She’s eight years old.

One more thing about that canoe trip: the guides purposefully steer the girls into headwinds and cheer when it rains under the premise that adversity builds character.

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I already love this camp.

“This American Life” recently replayed a 1998 episode (it’s held up remarkably well) entitled “Notes on Camp,”which explains the rituals, memories and strong emotions of kids who’ve grown up attending the same camp every summer. I highly recommend a listen; it would make almost anyone yearn for a type of childhood that most of us don’t get to experience.

The thing I love most about Trixie’s camp is that it’s an all female environment, from the campers to the counselors to the cooks to the camp director. The emphasis is on building strength, confidence and character, something I am 100% behind and I think is best accomplished in this exact setting.

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Trixie is already strong and confident, but the world can be tough on girls and even the strongest wings will have to fly through some storms.

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My friend M’s daughter is also attending this session. This is her second year at camp (she’s older than Trixie) and M. described last year’s experience as transformative for her daughter. I am hoping for the same.

My biggest wish: Trixie attends every summer and ultimately builds memories, friendships and qualities that last a lifetime.

I have so many dreams and hopes for This Girl.

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