Minnesota Visit 2017

Another year, another wonderful visit to our family in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area! With Helen 17 months, Marcus newly 9, and Samantha just over 5.5, our experience was richer this year than in past visits, and we crammed as much into a five-day weekend (Wednesday night to Monday midday, over Labor Day) as possible. We stayed at Brian's house, though unfortunately for cousin-bonding he was away for most of the weekend, and we saw as many other cousins, aunts, and uncles as we could.

This visit memorably included an emphasis on vehicles. Marcus rode a four-wheeler with Brady (14, a freshman in high school who's reading Jane Eyre for fun), and Samantha spent hours (literally) driving around a battery-powered two-speed mini John Deere. She'd drive it around for an hour, then we'd recharge the battery, and four hours later she'd be back in the saddle. Er, driver's seat. Marcus got a turn on it briefly too, and Helen loved being pulled around by either of them. Not pictured are the big kids getting to help drive Uncle Frank's truck, but yes, that happened too.

We had a midday hayride on Thursday, which was a great treat, and we happened to see the train coming behind the garden, and the driver blew the whistle and waved. Helen (and everyone else) waved enthusiastically back.

After the hayride, we went out for mini golf at "the Dome," which was thankfully almost entirely empty (we did see one family of three, and one single man with an all-day mini golf pass (those things exist....?), but that was it), since we were a sprawling, slow group, slightly complicated by the baby who loved picking up golf balls.

We had a quick White Castle stop next, and then it was home to help Uncle Frank pick some vegetables from his garden for dinner at Aunt Martha's.

On Friday morning, Aunt Martha made breakfast and we visited a little with Brady again before going to Minnehaha Falls to meet a friend of mine, check out the playground, hike down to the falls, play in the water, and eat at Sea Salt at the top of the falls (we had a really good catfish po' boy and the kids had mini baskets of fried fish or shrimp).

I got a nap in the shade, Helen sleeping on me as well, while I waited for our food and the kids frolicked in the river. Marcus was in prime big brother mode, showing Samantha carefully how to cross on various logs and stumps and rocks.

From Minnehaha, we drove into downtown Minneapolis for Glam Doll Donuts. Marcus had one stuffed with cookie dough, and I had a french crueller topped with fluffy lemon cream cheese frosting. We brought back a bourbon-brownie-cream-filled donut, a maple bacon one, an apple fritter with pecans and more bacon, and a coconut passionfruit curd one for Uncle Frank and Aunt Martha's household.

Saturday morning was the Minnesota State Fair--the great Minnesota get-together, as it's known, or "the great Minnesota stick together," as a tee shirt proclaimed, showing all the different foods on a stick. Mark, Brady, Angelina, Lexi, Joci, Dan, Uncle Mike, and Aunt Nancy all joined us, and we had a great day.

There were rides and amusements, including a rock climbing wall, giant slides, trampoline, and swings.

And of course there was also food: a huge bag of freshly popped kettle corn, dill pickle beer, walleye macaroni and cheese, walleye cakes (with a coupon), fresh-squeezed lemonade, poutine, tater tot poutine, root beer floats, ice cream sundaes, a large bowl of hulled strawberries and whipped cream, pork chops on sticks, samples of succulent roast pork, french fries, all-you-can-drink milk (I preferred the half and half, half white, half chocolate, but Samantha, not too surprisingly, was an all-chocolate-all-the-time girl), Sweet Martha's cookies, deep-fried marshmallow and nutella-filled "sconuts" (scone dough, and gluten free), and at least four orders of deep-fried cheese curds. Sadly we never got around to the pickles on a stick. Helen's shirt proclaimed her love of fair food for all to see.

The big kids, Robert, and Joci milked a cow and proudly displayed their "I milked a cow" ribbons, and we took a pass through the birth barn, where Helen pet a three-day old lamb and we smiled at five-day-old piglets and a cow in early labor. In the main cow barn, Helen looked back over both my shoulders, her head pivoting from side to side, both hands out and pointing, shrieking "Animal! Animal! Animal!" literally left and right.

Since we were a large group with a couple of small kids and one bad hip (Uncle Mike), we did not move quickly. I think we spent two full hours in the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources area in the middle of the fair, with Smokey the Bear, kayaks, a grassy shady area, and a pond full of Minnesota-state fish.

Twelve hours after leaving the house, we returned, having experienced the fair morning, noon, and night, including the crowds of teenagers on the midway after dark, and the orderly Minnesotan park-and-ride facilities.

Sunday was our family fishing derby day. Uncle Frank put his pontoon boat into White Bear Lake and Samantha and Marcus caught a whole bunch of little sunnies. We ended up keeping seven, which Uncle Michael cleaned and fried up with breading as an appetizer for supper that night. Angelina modeled her Lularoe leggings for me (though she had to roll them up to wade into the boat), and Marcus and Brady jumped off the boat and swam to the beach area at the end.

Helen loved leaning as far over the side as she could, excitedly pointing and calling "Fish! Fish! FISH!"

We stopped at Dairy Queen for blizzards and for an ice cream cake for dinner that night (with a fish and a lake on top of the cake, of course--how could we not have gotten that cake?). Humorously, Aunt Nancy also showed up with a Dairy Queen cake (albeit one without a fish...), after Robert had nixed the idea of getting pies from Perkins as too much of a common family dessert--the ice cream cake seemed novel to us, as apparently it had to Nancy as well.

Samantha and Marcus helped pick and then shuck 42 ears of corn (for 16 people), and as a special treat, Gavin and Grace joined everyone for dinner. I lined the cousins up in size order in the yard, briefly interrupting their playtime. After dinner, Angelina, Robert, Samantha, Helen and I drove over to visit with Great Aunt Annie, who had just turned 90, and who is now living with Luanne, her daughter.

We walked into Luanne's house and Samantha immediately said, "Can I go into your basement?" Robert and I were a little startled, because we couldn't recall ever hearing her ask that question before, but in hindsight it seemed perfectly logical--both Brian and Uncle Frank have very interesting basements, with Nerf guns, tractors, pool tables, air hockey, and marble runs, for example, so perhaps all Minnesotan basements were just as interesting. Luanne hesitated for a fraction of a second, and then said, "Well, normally I rent out my basement, so I'd say no, but my tenant just died last week and I don't have anybody else down there. Of course, all his things are there still, so you'd have to be careful not to disturb them..." This sufficiently startled all of us, including Samantha, who didn't ask about the basement again, and instead sat down at the dining room table with crayons and a word search while we chatted with Aunt Annie. At some point Angelina asked Luanne about her tenant--was he older?--and it was mentioned, casually, that no, he was just 46, and he had died of flesh-eating bacteria that no one knew he'd had until he died of it. Hello, Minnesota: land of folks so accommodating that, when there's been flesh-eating bacteria in their basement, they still don't actually want to say an outright "no" to the five-year-old who asks to play down there.

We escaped without (as far as we know) any flesh-eating bacteria hitch-hiking home with us, and back at Uncle Frank's, Samantha sweet-talked him into a night-time hayride. It was an extra long, deluxe hayride, with an actual bale of hay (er...straw, I mean--we were corrected several times) that Samantha perched on top of, and I think Samantha and Marcus never wanted it to end.

On Monday morning, Uncle Frank and Aunt Martha brought over donuts before we went to Joci and Dan's house for bagels. Their house is lovely (Uncle Mike did the renovations) and we were glad to have seen it. We headed straight from their house to the airport and had a smooth trip home on Labor Day afternoon.

So, in sum: Marcus's favorite part of the trip? The fair, with Joci, Lexi, and Brady. Samantha's favorite part of the trip? Hands-down, picking corn with Uncle Frank. Helen's favorite? Eating it.

Goodbye, Minnesota! (Hope to) See you next year!


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Created: 9/6/17. Last Modified: 9/6/17.