New Year’s Day. For some, it’s a day to rest or maybe recover. Last night we knew we weren’t feeling a big to-do, so instead dined out with the dearest of friends, then did pjs and TV. About 11:40pm, attempted to watch ball drop but forgot we are in the wrong time zone. Yawned. Explained to dogs the concept of fireworks: Abby, the foster, wanted to bark them into submission. Stevie Nicks, the resident, stared frantically at weird corners of the house, searching for ghosts. Applied a little calming oils to them, turned off the lights and prayed for the best.
A restless night, an early morning sub-zero potty break and a 5am nap on the couch and I was ready to face the new year.
So what does that mean? Resolutions are traditional. I like traditions — but I also like to shake things up. I also love a good to-do list. So, for the past few weeks I have been taking notes on things I both want and need to accomplish. Some are new, some are embarrassingly old. Some require dedication and a lengthy commitment, some can frankly be a one and done. Some are tangible, some are spiritual. All are worthy in their own right — to me.
I figure if I put this out in the universe, I will feel held accountable. I will try to update every month here (see resolution #2) for my sake, and perhaps your curiosity (I am perhaps flattering myself to thank that anyone else cares about this crap. But I digress.)
- I’ll start with the one that everyone has: lose weight (one pound per week before our vaca to Jamaica in April). I’ve already posted a reminder in the kitchen:
- Blog more regularly! And if I don’t have anything to say, I best get out there and create some interesting stories!
- Take more bubble baths.
- Clean out this garbage collecting under the deck:
- Be in more pictures, not just be the one taking them.
- Attend a show at First Avenue (can’t believe I have never done this! http://first-avenue.com/)
- Use all the gift cards we’ve bought at auctions (there are soooo many)
- Clean out this weird box in which I have been piling crap since 2017. Almost afraid to see what’s in there.
- Make progress on my genealogy search, and plan a trip to get more info.
- Organize and purge this collection of cords.
- Fight less with Singer Girl
- Frame and hang all the old family photos from his side and mine.
I think that’s enough for now. Twelve months, 12 resolutions on my to do list. Ill keep you posted.
How about you? What do you need to FINALLY get done???
So no sleeping in today: we had ground to cover.
First up was sustenance, and I needed a bloody Mary. HWSNBN insisted I would never find one. Seriously: he has no faith in my investigative prowess!
Camera in hand, we set off to the tram station (no directional errors this time) and headed to a neighborhood known as the Jordaan. It’s very cute, full of shops and restaurants and kitsch. I had found a restaurant called Gs, and we feasted. we got there just in time, as the tiny place filled up fast and a line formed. We almost felt guilty, sitting in our little window seat, feasting and sipping. I got the Dirty South: cheddar waffles, fried chicken and bacon with hot sauce, and a Hete Ketel bloody (served with spicy Ketel One vodka). Actually, I didn’t feel guilty at all. I felt content. Fat and happy. Ready to roam!
Next we searched for a cool shop I’d heard of, hoping to find a souvenir for the girl. Rock Archive (http://rockarchive.nl/) specializes in knock out concert photographs of iconic performers. I really wanted to buy a Led Zeppelin one, but they started at $600. Seeing as my souvenir was a mug, I left the photos in the shop (but truly: check the place out if you are in town).
Now it was just time to explore and enjoy this beautiful city, from it’s quirky shop windows to it’s stunning architecture.
One cool thing about Amsterdam are the gevelstenen, or house plaques. These were put on buildings before addresses were invented, and are ways for folks to find homes. Some indicate the business of the building’s occupants, many are religious, and some convey philosophies or morals of the home owners. Here are two I saw:
We made our way to the oldest part of Amsterdam, and visited the Oude Kirk, or “old church.” It’s a huge space — and the oldest building in Amsterdam (built in 1213). The irony of course is that t is now in Der Wallen, the red light district. While touring, I had to nudge HWSNBN who was intently listening to his audio guide, and point out the view from the window — of a lovely lady proffering her wares from a window in the next door building!
Other snapshots of the city as we strolled around:
That night we decided to wing it. We started out by wandering towards the Rijksmuseum, to see the famous outdoor ice skating rink (and get a drink, of course).
As for dinner, we decided to grab food from street vendors and shops as we craved it. Asian food is big there, so steaming hot noodles on the go in the chilly rain seemed perfect to start!
We wandered the Red Light District, admiring the views (the women were so much prettier than I expected!), catching a drink here and there, and noshing some more. The Dutch are famous for waffles, and we had one dripping in molten milk chocolate that was to die for (we ate it so fast I forgot to get a picture!).
After the crazy weirdness of Der Wallen, I searched Trip Advisor for a nice bar near by, and we found an oasis: Bar the Tailor, inside the Hotel Krasnapolsky (https://www.barthetailor.com/). We had fancy cocktails, and a charcuterie plate, and sank into the plush cushions. We had planned to head back to the hubbub, but we just kind of realized we were happy where we were. We finished our drinks in happy silence, then headed back for our last sleep before heading home the next day.
The nice thing about a vacation is getting to relax and set your own schedule.
The tough thing about a mini-vaca is that you are pressed for time and you want to fit everything in.
Those warring sentiments hit us in the face like a cold cup of much-needed coffee when we woke up for the first full day of our Amsterdam jaunt — at noon. Dutch time.
We scrambled to focus and get ready for the day, wondering where we ought to be wandering. We had set evening plans, so our focus became quality, not quantity. I laced up my oh-so-appropriate sneakers and we headed off to the Van Gogh museum.
This was actually third on my list of museums to see, and the only one we actually made it to. First was Anne Frank’s house, but a spur of the moment trip sometimes means not getting into sold out things. Evidently you need to reserve months in advance. We were told to stalk the website day of, and tried for both our full days in Amsterdam, but did not get in. One of the many reasons for a return trip!
Second on the list was the Rijksmuseum, which is huge and has Vermeers, Rembrandts and more. Next time (with more time)!
So the Van Gogh museum: we loved it (https://www.vangoghmuseum.nl/). Way better than I thought it would be. With the audio headphones on, we wandered and wondered, learned and admired and wondered. Every few rooms we’d ask each other which were our favorite pieces (we both adored his “Almond Blossoms” the most!), but I was fascinated by the variety of his work. So many different styles and subject matters. I would’ve been hard pressed to ID some of them as his. But when it was time to go, I took my fave piece of art with me:
(While learning about Van Gogh’s life, we came up with a great idea: planning a trip around the life of a famous person. For example: for Van Gogh, you would do Paris, Saint Remy, Brussels, London, Amsterdam and more. Not a bad itinerary!)
After the museum we wandered through the rain in search of nourishment — both the food and liquid varieties. Found another great neighborhood bar, Cafe Gruter (http://cafegruter.com/en), and greatly enjoyed the cozy respite from the elements.
That evening we were scheduled to do a boat tour of the canals, focusing on the light show. The entire city is crazy with lights this time of year, and some of the displays are best seen from the water. For more about the festival, go to https://amsterdamlightfestival.com/en.
I had booked a small boat tour, with just 8 of us aboard. We thought we had plenty of time — and we would have, if I hadn’t screwed up the directions.
A word about the transportation system: the trams are the bomb. No worries about if you are on the right train, or how to buy a ticket; unlike most cities, the system is not done without human interaction. Each tram has attendants, and they are there to help. Sadly, this time I thought I knew what I was doing, and didn’t ask for assistance. Instead, I relied on my Google Maps app. It was right: take the tram towards Centraal Station. But Is topped reading; while we were supposed to head that way, we were supposed to get off before we reached the station. We didn’t.
So now we needed to backtrack, and we were going to be late And it was raining. We ran in circles trying to get our bearings. I called the boat — someone actually answered! They said no problem. So stressful, as we new others were waiting on us. We ended up being almost 20 minutes late!
Luckily the other guests were drinking wine and nibbling on snacks, so they were cool. And the company was so gracious, they extended the tour so we all got our money’s worth. I would totally recommend them! If you head to Amsterdam, be sure to book a canal cruise through Pure Boats (https://pureboats.nl/). They were wonderful!
The lights were stunning.
After the tour, we paired up with two cousins who were also from the states, and found dinner at Restaurant Bleu (https://www.restaurantbleu.amsterdam/). The food was as delicious as the restaurant was stunning.
After awhile we realized the staff was waiting for us to leave so they could go home — always a good sign of a good time! We said goodbye to our new friends, and wandered back to the hotel for a night cap and some well needed rest. I warned HWSNBN that the next day, our last full one in Amsterdam, was gonna be busy, so he’d better be ready!
HWSNBN has done a lot of European travel for work this past year. While not always great for either of us, we have decided to take full advantage of all those frequent flyer miles, and my flexible retirement schedule. He recently mentioned he needed to go to Belgium for a trip, and would I like to tag along ad meet him in Amsterdam ? So I checked my schedule for the least difficult weekend to bail on my responsibilities, and off we went!
I had been to Amsterdam several times, but only in the airport (seems all flights from Minneapolis go through there). We had bandied about the idea of using Amsterdam as a departure for another location, as he didn’t think we could find enough to do there. Silly man. He still underestimates my epic planning skills! I knew we would never get it all done in the long weekend (Thursday-Sunday) we were there. I was right (shocking, I know).
He arrived in Amsterdam on Wednesday, and had meetings through Thursday night, which meant I’d be on my own until he could escape from work. He apologized, but I knew I’d be fine. Pretty sure I could travel anywhere solo and find ways to entertain myself!
I arrived midday Thursday, and had arranged a one one one tour for myself through an AMAZING company called With Locals (https://www.withlocals.com/). You should check them out (they are all over the world): you pick your own guide, based on little bios on the website. Into fashion and shopping? Pick this guide! A foodie? This one’s for you! I chose mine based on my love of history and architecture. Ente was fantastic. We spent three hours wandering, discussing how the city evolved with the political and economic changes of the times. Every time we turned a corner (and there were many — old cities built around canals have lots of corners), he pointed out something new about a building or a location, pulling out old maps and drawings to show context. Some folks might’ve been bored; I was fascinated.
Afterwards I moseyed back towards the Museumplain, or museum district, where our charming hotel was. We were staying at the Hotel Vondel (https://www.hotelvondel.com/en). Holiday lights and shop window decorations always delight me. Whether whimsical or charming or just plain head-shaking, I think they are often a glimpse into a city’s personality.
HWSNBN being still in a dinner meeting, I wandered the misty streets, looking for a cozy brown bar to have a beer and dinner. A brown bar or cafe is an old place with lots of wood and smoke tinted walls — no, they don’t smell gross and dirty. They just feel old and welcoming! A quick Trip Advisor app search (smart phones are saviors, lemme tell ya) led me to Gollem’s Proeflokkal (https://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurant_Review-g188590-d2405892-Reviews-Gollem_s_Proeflokaal-Amsterdam_North_Holland_Province.html), where I cozied up to a beer and bitteballen, a traditional Dutch snack of deep fried dough and ground meat.
Perfect for enjoying the happy sounds of a neighborhood bar, while watching the world pass by. HWSNBN finished his meeting and met me, and we enjoyed more food and drink as we planned our attack on the next few days!
So just a quick follow up from yesterday (betcha didn’t think I’d post again this fast!)
As soon as Stevie Nicks (fka as Sissy) arrived, I did her DNA and sent it out, The results came in this morning!
Over the past couple of weeks, we’ve heard all sorts of thoughts on what she was — a doodle (my bet), an Irish Wolfhound (my daughter’s dream), a wheaten terrier (I was worried about that one, as they are notoriously hyper) and the latest: a Tibetan terrier. had to google that one: she does look like it! So, what is she?
Reading about the various breeds, as described by the good folks at Wisdo Panel, I can see it:
Great Pyrenees: “Can be standoffish and wary with strangers and has a tendency to bark.” Yeah, that sounds like her. She is a tad nervous when new folks arrive, but quickly warms up (the submissive peeing is getting better, thankfully). She is, unfortunately, much barkier than I am used to. Hoping to get some training ricks to work on that. Like a Great Pyr, she is so soft and fluffy! She has a white streak down her chest that I just love to pet! People often comment on how mellow she is for a puppy, and the Great Pyr litters I have been around are kinda dopey, sweet, chill animals.
Standard Poodle: “Have a sensitive nature and respond well to motivational tools such as treats or favorite toys in a reward-based approach to training.” Yeah, she is so into the food. All the food. She learned sit too quickly: when she goes outside to potty, she knows which pocket my treats are in and sits, rather than potties, to get food. We are working on that, too.
Golden Retriever: “Happy-go-lucky, calm, or easy-going dogs, although some can be energetic or nervous. Usually friendly and are generally good family dogs.” Sounds about right. Also food motivated, like the Great Pyr and poodle. We have already caught her stealing food, pantry surfing like her predecessor. Not good. Working on the food whore-dom.
Terrier group: this one they don’t know which terrier, just that some scruffy business is in there.
Her family tree:
So basically she has purebred grandparents and great grandparents. Then someone created a goldendoodle (my guess!), and a pure bred Great Pyr slummed it with a third-generation mutt. Then their kids hooked up, and we got Stevie.
My fave thing about this is that, most likely, we got the good genes from all the breeds. They also did her health history, and she genetically only carries markers to sightly increase her chances of two illnesses, both that we can all work with. Her adult size is estimated to get to 40-70 pounds, which is just fine with us. I mean, let’s be honest: we’d be fine with whatever she ends up being!
Once again I take too long between blog posts. I just haven’t had any big doings in my life to report on — no trips, no big changes, no crazy silly stories. We’ve just been kinda settling in to empty nesting. It’s going well. Trying to do date nights every week, but life sometimes gets in the way. HWSNBN has been travelling, I spent October getting ready for our annual Halloween bash. Oh: and we got back into fostering.
As you know, we have had a gigantic hole in our hearts and lives since we lost Penny. Fostering was just too much. But before we went on our Greece and Croatia trip, there was a dog languishing in the office, waiting for a foster with no kids, no dogs, no cats. That was us. I told the family if Sirius was still looking when we got back, we were taking him. So we did.
He wasn’t an especially easy foster, but so sweet. He had become increasingly aggressive in his adoptive home. The owners tried everything they could, but he was just too afraid of the world. Interestingly enough, this was from birth. He had been the most skittish puppy in the litter, but everyone assumed he would grow out of t with love. But he didn’t. Just like some people are naturally shy or hesitant, Sirius needed to learn how to control his environment. Moving him into a kidless, dogless environment would be a good way to reset to factory settings as it were. There were a few days when I was worried he would never be adoptable, but Second Hand Hounds believed in him, and footed the bill for an in home trainer, leash aggression classes, and a doggy behavioralist.
With time and training and medication, he became a happy dog. The cutest couple ever applied for him, and we all took a chance. Would he be OK in their urban yard with a short, see-through chain link fence? With dogs and humans and cars and critters and kids everywhere? He was. He is now renamed Pico de Gallo, and is well loved.
We are often asked “are you going to keep this one? How do you let them go?” We loved Sirius, but he was not our dog. We entertain too much, and want a dog that likes to party at home and go out in public, not to mention one that will welcome other dogs into his home so we can continue to foster. Our life would’ve been awful for him. And I often say the best part of fostering IS the letting go: it’s when you get to complete a family circuit. My favorite moment is taking and sharing that photo of the once-lost dog going home with his new family. Best feeling in the world.
But what about us?
After Sirius, we took in Goober, a temp foster. Goober was a silly, intensely lovable pit bull that seriously wanted to be with us 24-7. And by with us, I mean physically a part of us. When I showered, he stood with his nose pressed up against the glass, as if fearful I would wash down the drain. HWSNBN thought Goober was great, but couldn’t commit to a pitty. “Too affectionate,” he said. “I need my personal space.”
So Goober was not our dog.
Next came Lady. On paper, Lady seemed very much like what we would want. House trained, crate trained, god with kids and dogs. She was some sort of greyhound mix we thought, so probably a good running partner.
We brought her home and set about getting to know her. She was easy: slept through the night, didn’t steal food, didn’t bark when folks came to the door, etc. Very sweet, but not overly clingy. But there was something missing. We just didn’t feel it. I asked my husband what he thought. “About adopting her? I mean, she’s great and all. But shouldn’t she go to someone who is excited about her?” He made an excellent point.
So she went on the website, and shortly we received an application from a veterinarian. She, her husband and their two young daughters had lost their two dogs a few months back, and were looking for a new one to fill their family’s dog-shaped hole. They met lady, and loved her. They were giddy about her. The little girls couldn’t stop talking about her. She was THEIR dog.
Shortly after Lady left us, I got an email from her adopters. They had renamed her, as most do. Her new name was going to be Penny.
They did not know about the sweet beast that left us in April. They had picked her name for the color of her fur — the exact same reason we had named ours Penny.
It was a sign to me that our Penny had moved on, and now it was time for us to welcome a new furry family member.
Meanwhile, I had seen a picture of a dog on the Facebook page of one of our partner rescues in Kentucky. Something hit me in the heart, and I immediately asked if she was coming to Minnesota. If so, she was mine.
And she is!
She came to us as Sissy, but has now been renamed Stevie Nicks. We don’t know what she is (DNA pending) so not sure how big she will grow to be. Some say she is done at 6 months old, others think he will get bigger. She’s only about 26 pounds, which is small for us. She is a complete ragamuffin thing. She is not house broken. She may never be a runner. She is not a late sleeper (we’re hoping she grows out of that quickly). But we love her. On paper, she is very wrong for us.
My kids think it’s weird that she is so similar to our Penny, but most folks adopt a type. I mean, if we always did yellow labs, or chihuahuas, or boxers, wouldn’t they all be similar? But they are all different. And they are all perfect.
Over the years I have had to say no to many adopters, not because they weren’t great but because simply can’t share a dog between applicants. Often they come back to me later and thank me for saying no — because they had since adopted THEIR dog. Had they taken the other, they would never have known this one. I feel that way about Stevie. I am grossly infatuated with her, and can’t keep my eyes and hands off her.
The perfect dog is a fairy tale — or, as I called it when I told folks we were “fostering with intent,” looking for our unicorn. But they are like glass slippers. They don’t fit everyone. But they fit the right one.
Every Labor Day weekend we travel to Madeline Island, Wisconsin. You travel to Bayfield, and catch the ferry. When you drive onto that boat, you leave a lot of the day to day worries behind.
We have done this for years, meeting up with friends who introduced us to the island’s charms. You can do a lot , or nothing. Golf, lay by the pool, paddle board, boat, nap. Hike. Go to fine dining restaurants (but don’t bother dressing up), shop for artistic creations, hear tons of live music.
Over the years our trips evolved. At first the moms were exhausted, supervising 8 crazy kids who ran between lake and pool all day. Then the kids were old enough to wander the town unsupervised, then they could rent mopeds and then they started graduating high school and moving away. This would be our first weekend without kids.
Our dogs loved the island. Monte and Penny were married on the shuffleboard court, and spent hours chasing fetching sticks in the lake. This weekend, we released some of Penny’s ashes in her favorite place on earth. Our first Madeline trip without a dog.
I was nervous that the weekend would be sad. So I made sure we did some things we had never done before. We ate at a restaurant I’d always wanted to try. We went kayaking. I explored parts of the island I’d never gotten around to before — heck, I even golfed! Yes, there were definitely sad moments, but we also managed a lot f laughter and smiles. As always, the island gave me many reasons to pull out my camera. I hope you enjoy these glimpses of Madeline as much as we enjoy being there. Maybe, next year’s pics will have a new dog in them!
It’s the morning we move Singer Girl into her dorm, and into her new life. She’s in the bathroom getting ready, when suddenly — just like she always has — she starts singing.
No idea when I’ll get that spontaneous joy again. At home she always asked me to not listen. I lied and said I couldn’t hear her. I think she knew I lied. As long as we kept up the charade all was cool.
Now I couldn’t pretend anymore. It would be true — I would still be listening, but I wouldn’t hear her.
The night before, as we were wandering her effingly beautiful campus, she offhandedly remarked that this will be her only “first day of school” picture without Santa Bear. I doubled over like someone had punched me. UGH.
The months preceding this moment have been like walking on a Minnesota pond in early December: the ice might hold, it might not, so every step you hold your breath, listening for the subtle cracking, desperate to avoid the violence of a cold water bath. I learned that we only talked about things in tiny morsels, and if/when she freaked, I shut up. I dunno if it was the right way to handle things. But that’s true of every step of parenting: you gotta rely on instinct most of the time. You MacGyver through things, hoping that a paper clip, playing card and some chewing gum will get you through successfully.
As we got closer to the actual departure date, I grew a bit more frantic, knowing that there were things that needed to be done — didn’t every Facebook parent group keep telling me what I had to do? I had the checklists, and we discussed them. I said she didn’t need a steamer, she ordered one anyway, then decided to return it. Was I wrong to not get the famous Ikea blue bags? (Nah — we didn’t need them). Should I send her with her original Social Security Card or a copy? (settled for copy).
The night before she left, we hosted one last sleepover. HWSNBN thought I was nuts. I knew it would be an added layer of stress, but it would be worth it. I think it was also for me. As I looked at the pile of shoes strewn by the door, I knew it would be a long time until I saw that mess again. Her leaving was the end of something more than just no kids in the house — it was the end of my day to day job for the past 21 years. I had been laid off. But that’s another post…
The kids had a ball — scarfing crap, drumming and singing and being very loud all night long. I told everyone they had to be gone by 8am, as we were leaving for the airport at 9am. It was a slow, slow morning. I tried to give them all space, but as the clock ticked I finally had to rip off the bandaid. They all trudged upstairs, and convened in the driveway.
The girls clustered around her, laughing and crying and saying they couldn’t believe it. The boys stood awkwardly to the side, trying not to get emotional, discussing cars. I overheard the band’s bass player, a giant of a guy, semi-joking that this he might actually cry for the first time in years. I stood in the garage, out of sight, watching, crying, grateful that she had this group and praying that this wouldn’t be too hard.
After most of the friends left, Drummer Boy stuck around. My stomach was in knots. They went back downstairs to get the rest of her things. They looked shattered. At 8:45 I finally stood outside her door and said “honey, it’s time.”
She yelled through the door “NO!”
But she came out. He carried her suitcase for her. They clung to each other, and he left. My heart ached for them.
It was finally time to go. We loaded 6 suitcases and 5 carry ons into the uber, and we were off. At the airport, there was another mom and daughter wearing t shirts from her college. I wanted to say hi. Singer Girl looked at me like she would cut a bitch. To keep the peace, I bit my tongue. I posted on the college’s parent page instead, and gave the gal a virtual hello. No idea if she heard me…
On the flight, I couldn’t stop staring at my baby, touching her. Remember that first time you are alone with your newborn in the hospital, and all you do is gaze at them? Yeah. It was like that. I couldn’t keep my hands off of her either — which would’ve been fine except her arm was sore from one of the last minute vaccinations I made her get, and I kept forgetting. Nothing like pressing on a bruise to make someone remember you (now that I think of it, it’s all like pressing a bruise, isn’t it? Little, constant, painful reminders of the passage of time. Blech. Very maudlin.).
To her credit, she actually seemed to find my frantic devotion cute. She humored me all weekend long when I had spontaneous attacks of leaky eyes (yes, I packed waterproof mascara).
My biggest fear about her leaving was that she wouldn’t enjoy it. She was soooo unexcited, whereas I remember being so pumped I don’t remember anything about moving in. I mean, I know my parents were there, but my strongest memories of the first day of college was meeting my roommate and choosing wear to hang my Van Halen poster (sorry Mom).
Move in was fun and busy and exciting and exhausting. I thrive with a project and organizing is like oxygen to me. It’s the one thing I KNOW she got from me. I also recognized the process, and her need to make this her space. I asked her opinion and permission on everything, even though I of course knew how it should be done. HWSNBN stood floundering in a sea of boxes and packaging. I pulled him aside and said “just do what she says and no one will get hurt.” That evening he looked at me, stunned, and revealed he had no idea move in would be so exhausting. I reminded him that the last time he handled a college move he removed the screen from his second floor apartment window and threw his belongings into the back of a pickup.
We had planned to stick around until Sunday (moved her in on a Friday) as we were so far away and knew she would need to run errands. After move in, we went to dinner then shopped a little — she finally agreed that naked cinder block walls were not attractive. We found a big wall hanging, and we agreed to pick her up in the morning and do some more shopping. By the end of the weekend, we had done Office Max, Kroger’s, Home Depot, Urban Outfitters, Bed Bath & Beyond and Target (twice).
On campus the school had arranged barbecues and concerts and speeches. I cried at everything. She patted my arm and grinned. Every now and then I saw a spark of excitement — although she would never admit it when I asked her about it. She would reveal things slowly. She and her roomate had wandered around the first night meeting people. On the second night she did the same with other people. After a week there, she was “out with friends.”
Good news bad news: we never hear from her. I am trying to be respectful and not bug her. With every online post I see about kids begging to come home, I breathe a little sigh knowing that if she isn’t calling me, it can’t be that bad. She has asked to come home for her high school’s homecoming, and that’s fine.
Me? I realized when I got home that she had done an excellent job of training me for this moment. I never saw her when she was living here, so it doesn’t feel that different. I cried so much more when we were with her than I do now. In fact, I cried more writing this than I have in all the time she’s been gone.
But moments get me. This week we did the state fair for the very first time without kids (could’ve used her help eating some of the food). This weekend we go up to Madeline Island, Wisconsin, like we have for umpteen years — first time without a kid, or a dog, for that matter (double ouch).
Can’t believe she won’t be laughing at her parents’ weird friends at our annual Halloween party.
This is the first fall in seven years that I haven’t volunteered at the high school’s freshman orientation.
She will be okay.
Eventually she will text me without being prompted — or without needing something.
It’s hard, but it’s supposed to be. I look forward to seeing what happens next for her.
But in the meantime — you know those Facebook “on this date” memories? They are awesomely cruel bits of nostalgia. Thanks, Zuckerberg, for both treating me with glimpses of days gone by, and reminding me of all the everyday shit I am missing. Can’t decide if I want to strangle you with your damn black T shirt or buy you a new one.
Hmm… wonder if Singer Girl needs a new t shirt?
We came, we saw, we ate.
I gained 3 pounds.
It was totally worth it.
Every year we look forward to the Minnesota State Fair. The Great Minnesota Get Together, as it is affectionately known, ranks consistently in the top state fairs of the country. Attendance is second only to the Texas State Fair — which runs twice as long in a state with almost five times as many people. The rides, the music, the animals, the exhibits: they all rock. Where else can you see piglets born, see no fewer than five Donald Trump versions in the scarecrow competition, haggle with smiling toothless carnies, listen to the Beach Boys and En Vogue on the same afternoon, watch dogs being spayed, or buy a hot tub?
And did I mention the food?
We kind of go there to eat.
It has become big business for the fair, and every year, months in advance, the fair starts touting the new food options. This year there were no less than 44 new foods. We did NOT try them all. But we would’ve if we could’ve!
I did my research, consulting various different news sources for their recommendations (big thank you’s to Rick Nelson of the Star Tribune and Stephanie March of MSPMag for always being the first reviews I read!) . Quite honestly, I weigh all the recommendations against one another, take in my personal preferences, and then compile my top 10 must try options (full disclosure: I won’t eat seafood of any kind, and I hate sweet beers and any kind of ciders, so those things will ever be on my list).
Then I get my handy dandy Minnesota State Fair app (if you do not have this, you need it. You can place stars on the interactive map of food/entertainment/merchandise you want to see. As you wander the fair, you see what is close to you. Game changer. Also: buy your tickets in advance at Cub — and pick up the Blue Ribbon coupon book and any ride ticket sheets. The fair can be pricey. These things help!)
So after my research, my list looked like this:
We go every year with another family, the Meldahls. Their kids are besties with ours, and their dog Monte was married to our late great Penny. They like the food as much as we do. Mike shares my love of all things spicy, Erika is a scoville scale wimp like HWSNBN (but both are up for almost anything). This year only two of their kids, Joey and Lucy, were able to come. We had no kids for the first time since we moved to Minnesota 21 years ago, It was tough. We missed tem — and having a few extra mouths with which to share the grub!
That’s how we do this: we buy one of something, and everyone gets a bite, It helps lessen the caloric load — somewhat. By the edn of the night all restraints is thrwn t othe wind, and we all start furtively darting glances around, as our personal cravings start whispering to our inner food addicts. We may end the night going rogue, but we always start off united, with a plan.
I start the day on the bus (we don’t drive. Take a shuttle. You’ll thank me), discussing my plan. Then I ask what they really want to eat, and add it to the app map. Since they revamped the west end, we always start at the Blue Barn — geographically it is the first place you reach getting off the bus. It also never disappoints.
First up: bacon and Cheese Stuffed Tots, and the Swedish Meatball Smorgas (with beers). Both were amazing, for different reasons. I have never met a potato I didn’t like. I still remember discovering the glory of potato skins at my friend’s dorm back at UC Davis in 1986. Sometimes I think she feared I hung out with her just to be close to their starchy goodness. These are like that, but fried. And the tangy smoky goodness of the bacon fat infused sour cream? Gurrl. The Smorgas were also great. Think Swedish meatballs with white gravy, sweet lingonberry sauce and tart pickle bits. I chose not to eat the bread, quite honestly. I was told it was like a Hawaiian bread. We were split on which we liked better. I went the more pedestrian route, but others moaned over the Smorgas. I recommend both!
Also eaten in the West End:
On the left you have the All-Day Breakfast Waffle from Nordic Waffles. On the right are the always good chicken tenders from Lulu’s Public House (not new, but a must have for some in the party). I only tasted the corner of the waffle, as I don’t do eggs. But it was sweet and savory at the same time, with the perfect soft and crunchy ratio. Those who ate the whole thing said it was exactly right. This is one of those things I can totally see someone trying at home. Great on-the-go meal with eggs, bacon and cheddar in a waffle sandwich! By the way: look for the goat on the roof. No idea its significance, but any goat wearing headphones is ok in my book!
The path then takes us by two oldies but goodies, on opposite sides of the spectrum: Preferred Pickle and Cream Puffs.
Hard to mess with a big ass dill pickle on a stick. I mean, it can be done, but this is a family show. And the cream puffs? Well, not my thing, but they are a fave of my better half.
We also picked up deep fried cajun pickle slices. They were amazing, but don’t go because you like spice. We had to add hot sauce to the mix to get the kick we needed.
None of these items are new, but you don’t have to be new to be a favorite. We hit up Preferred Pickle again late at night for another round of fried pickles. But since it was during the time of night when we devolved and scattered according to our own base needs, I have no photo.
We headed towards the area of the fair where there are no new foods usually on my list: the animal barns. But along the way we couldn’t resist a stop at our favorite fry place: Fresh French Fries. We shared a small cup, with sides of both ketchup and malt vinegar (my favorite). This place is the bomb dot com. There are lots of places to get french c=fries (in fact 46 fair vendors sell them), but this place will always have a warm spot in my tummy. In fact, we ate there twice. Later in the night we got the giant bucket with a handle, and we ate them down like Charles Dickens street urchins. Mind you, this was after about 6 hours of conspicuous consumption. I think we ate so furtively fast in half-assed-shame (who am I kidding? At this point we were all full moons. Nothing half about it). Or maybe we thought that if we scarfed fast enough it would count as an aerobic activity?
(this pic is from our baby helping)
A couple more side steps along the way to the next new foods: A corn dog (NEVER a Pronto pup). an ooey gooey caramel roll with a side of frosting madness, and poutine.
We split up at this point, some heading to the Miracle of Birth Center, others heading to get some Ghost Pepper concoction. I am a sucker for the animal babies, so I was torn. But my heat- loving cohorts saved me a bite.
We did not allow our spouses to try. They would have suffered. These were awesome. I only had one — and it was enough. Not for the weak of palate. One slightly injured party requested a trip to the all you can drink milk booth — a place we stop every year. This time we had three glasses before moving on, both chocolate and regular.
We made it up to the next new food on my list.
These are the General’s Tso’s Chicken Tacos at Midtown Global Market’s Taco Cat. I’ll be honest: this one wasn’t rated unanimously by all the critics, and I get it. It was yummy Chinese food in a flour tortilla. I could’ve done without the tortilla. Put it in a crisp lettuce wrap and it would’ve been better!
This. This apple. Oh my.
Go to Minnesota Apples in the Ag building. Buy this. Eat it. Swoon over the combo of sweet and tart. Start stalking your local produce aisle. This one will be BIG.
Ok: back to the unhealthy.
Sausage Sister and Me in the Food Building never disappoints. I mean NEVER. If they have a new food, we are there. We will also pick up an old favorite. The new? The Up North Puff Pastry, seen here on the left. It is a flaky concoction of pastry dough (which I would eat solo — the stretch factor is to die for) stuffed with porketta, cheese curds, dill pickle pieces and just the right amount of coarse mustard. This would be an AWESOME cold weather thing. On the right is the classic fave: the Twisted Sister on a Stick. Every year baby!
This was the only beverage on my list to try: a strawberry-basil lemonade. Granted, I wanted to add vodka, but it was a good mix of flavors. Too tart for some in the group, but I thought it was as good palate cleanser!
Onward to Thanksgiving:
This is a terrible picture of the Turducken Sausage at Giggles Campfire Grill. It tastes like a turkey had carnal relations with a bratwurst. That is a good thing, by the way. Impressive pop on the skin! Leaner than you expect from a sausage, but that’s ok. I was still glowing with greasy goodness from Sausage Sister and Me!
Detour for some old faves:
Mini Donuts. Big Fat Bacon. Foot Long Hotdog. All traditional. All must be consumed at some point.
One old, one new, from a perennial new food place: Tejas Grill. On the left you have the Beergarita, which I love. On the right, the elote, which I now covet. And which I vowed to try to replicate this weekend on the Island (blog to come). The elote is grilled corn on the cob slathered in a mixture of chile powder-spiced mayo, lime juice, cotija cheese and cilantro. Your brain tells your stomach it’s a vegetable. Your heart tells you it’s actually crack. And you will eat it until it is gone, then look like an addict, gnawing the ends of the cob and sucking on your fingers. Danger, Will Robinson.
Lots of “healthy” items on the list this year. Sort of. This one was consistently at the top of every foodies list this year. It’s the grilled peaches from the produce exchange (even if you don’t buy this, just buy one of their baby-head sized peaches. Glorious). Drizzled with honey and topped with goat cheese and mint, I turned into Gollum and called it my precious. But not everyone shared my enthusiasm, especially those who don’t like got cheese. That’s ok. HWSNBN and I decided we can totally try this at home. And we will.
We next had a very sad moment. On the top of the I wanna try it list for Mike was the Bananas Foster French Toast at the Hamline Church Dining Hall. Alas, it was only served at breakfast, and we are not morning people. I am sure it was delicious…
Mike helped me search for the next food item, which was a wild card. In the meantime, others hit Juanita’s Fajitas:
So. The one item on the list that I was most uncertain about was the Rainbow Cloud Roll from Rainbow Ice Cream, located upstairs in the Grand Stand. I’d never even been up there before, which added to the dubiousness of this dish. First they take cotton candy, and roll it out. Then you add three scoops of Superman Ice cream, and a sprinkling of Fruity Pebbles, then roll it up like a unicorn’s burrito. Then it’s rolled in more Fruity Pebbles. I was sure I would hate it I was sure it would be a sugar bomb. It was THE BOMB.
They gave me a spork, at which I scoffed. I picked that bad boy up in my hands and bit down. Holy mother of Tooth Decay. I am not sure how, but I managed to polish that sucker off with really only the help of one other person (thanks Lucy!). The others tried it, warily, and liked it, but not enough to go all in like we did. Seriously worth the weirdness.
It was now the time of night to hit the midway for rides and games of chance (I came home with an aqua dinosaur, thank you very much. We all wanted a llama though. I was gonna name mine Dolly. Think about it).
We soon hit that time I told you about: we were at capacity, but we were feral now, and baser instincts took over. There were more fries and pickles. More beer (I really didn’t count that stuff, btw. We did try the watermelon frose — frozen rose– at one point which was ok — if you liked watermelon and rose. Which I do not). A few bottles of water.
Erika craved chocolate. I wanted savory. We also needed cheese curds (no picture — but we got the jalapeno ones. It has taken me 20 years but I can finally enjoy one) to go for one who could not make the fair (hi Paige!). Erika and I found what we needed at French Meadow Bakery:
She had the chocolate mini sconuts (scones and donut holes married together) and I had the gluten-free risotto poppers with cheese and black beans. They were out of sauces for both, but we didn’t care. They were the perfect end of the fair bites.
We staggered to the buses, checking our fitbits and praying that all the steps mitigated the calories a tad. We were done, and frankly (I know, hard to believe) just feeling full. As we neared the gate, a gentleman was walking by with a bucket of the world-famous Sweet Martha’s Cookies. I don’t crave them — they are way too sweet for me. We had chatted about them on the bus ride in, and mentioned that all we needed was one bit of them to satisfy the need.
The food Gods were listening.
As we walked by the cookie man, Mike jokingly offered to take the bucket from him. We all chuckled, and we walked past him. The man called out: “Hey, want one?”
So Mike and I stepped out of the fair with one shared cookie. One last melty chocolate bite. We agreed: too sweet. But we all agreed we’d do it again — next year!