Life is a Journey – a tribute to my father

After a long hiatus I am back to start a new chapter in the writing of my travel blog, Nomadic Narrator. On June 24th my father passed away after a long valiant battle with cancer. He brought new meaning to the words ‘fight for life.’ I have never in my 51-years witnessed a stronger will to live than what my father showed, especially in his final days. It is this passion for life and living that feeds a new inspiration in me to be more aware of my surroundings, take more pictures, ask more questions, journal my thoughts and ideas, and fully enjoy the journey that is life.

In February of this year (2015), my father was told his cancer was in remission. Words we had all been hoping to hear since he was diagnosed with squamous cell cancer in April of 2011. After countless rounds of chemo and radiation, the cancer (cells that flowed through his bloodstream and on occasion metastasized to bones and arteries and grew into tumors), was finally whipped into submission. For two glorious months my Dad was cancer-free.

Then, in April, he began to have leg and lower back pain. A new scan showed the cancer had returned – with a vengeance. There were 11 new tumors: a large one in his liver, several in his lungs and the rest in his bones. The doctors felt he could not weather any more rounds of chemo or radiation and recommended he try a newly approved treatment that boosts the bodies immune system to kill off the cancer cells. At the very least, the idea that his doctors were willing to try something, anything, gave my Dad encouragement to push for more days to continue his life journey. As he said, “I’m not going to come 98% of the way, and then throw in the towel.”

This time around, we knew his days were numbered, and my three brothers and I dedicated the next weeks to spending more concentrated time with Dad. Two of my brothers and I live in AZ, while my other brother lives in MN where my Dad resided. It was a logistical challenge to create time together with Dad. Luckily, we all have flexibility in our schedules and on the weekend of May 30th, my three brothers and I gathered in Minnesota to experience a weekend that brings happy tears to my eyes just thinking about it.

We loaded Dad up into my youngest brother’s car, which meant dealing with a wheel chair and enough oxygen tanks to get us through the day. With my brother driving, Dad playing co-pilot/navigator/story-teller, and my two brothers and I wedged into the back seat, we headed ‘up the avenue.’ Our first stop was in Farmington (MN), where my Dad was born and raised. Thus began the day of Dad regaling us with stories of his youth, some we’d heard, a lot we hadn’t.

Our first stop was at the cemetery to pay our respects to his Mom, Dad, and grandparents. Then we wound our way through town: past the creamery where his mom once worked; along the Vermillion River where he swam, fished, read books and kissed many girls; by the railroad station where his step-father started his days as a caboose engineer; to the spot where his mother and step-father lived and where we all shared in years and years of Sunday dinners of fried chicken and mashed potatoes and gravy; this house backed up to the old Ford Motor shop where my Dad’s Dad (who died when my Dad was 14-years-old) worked as a mechanic; past the diner where his Mom worked a second job. Dad’s memories of setting pins at the bowling alley, working beside his Dad at the mechanic’s shop, shooting pool at the billiards hall, working the printing press for the local newspaper were all part of helping to create the man we grew to love and spend time with.

After a trip down memory lane of his youth in Farmington, it was off to Northfield, 15 minutes further to the south to relive memories of his next phase of life – marriage and the birth and upbringing of his four children. We routed the car past the multiple (6+) different homes he/we lived in over a 20 year span, from the first place in ‘hungry hollow’ near the river to the house on the hill on Wallstreet Road; past the golf course we spent our weekends playing golf together as a family of 6; to the high school he taught at and we all attended; the location where his one and only restaurant venture began; the office where he built a successful business career with NML; the Cannon River where we fished.

We ended the day by picking up broasted chicken at the locally infamous Quarterback Club, a favorite hang-out over the last 40+ years, and headed up the hill on the west side of town where St. Olaf College sits. Dad graduated from St. Olaf and was a proud Ole’ for life – so it was fitting we found a picnic bench on campus and enjoyed a summertime meal and recounted the amazing journey we had just embarked on. The tiredness in his body may have been real, but smile on his face was priceless.

What a day! We found a summer intern at St. Olaf to take this pic while celebrating a road trip down memory lane.

What a day! We found a summer intern at St. Olaf to take this pic while celebrating a road trip down memory lane.

The only way to eclipse a weekend like this one, was to have a weekend where all of the family – kids, spouses, and grandkids gathered together. And how fitting it was that Father’s Day was right around the corner. Dad had some setbacks in the weeks leading up to Father’s Day weekend, and we were worried he may not make it until then, but he dug deep – “mind over matter” – and was so mentally strong and physically tough over Father’s Day weekend it was beyond inspiring to all of us.

We began the weekend with all of the kids and grandkids (18 of us) taking in a Twins game, while Dad rested up for the weekends events. With Dad tiring so easily and being on oxygen 24/7 we decided to take advantage of the usage of the party room at his apartment complex for a place to gather. That way if he became tired, it was a mere matter of wheeling him upstairs for a nap. But he apparently was determined to not miss out on a minute of family time and he never even dosed off during the two 10-hour sessions of family bonding that took place over Father’s Day weekend.

Saturday began a lunch buffet with al lot of Dad’s favorite foods; followed by watching the men’s U.S. Open golf tourney while working on puzzles and playing board and dice games; great-grandpa reading a book to his one and only great-granddaughter; next came a collective toast from all the grandkids to their grandpa – where grandpa signed the lids of all the grandkids mason jars that were used to make the toast; topped off with a slide show presentation of Dad’s 81-years of living life to the fullest.

Dad's grandkids and great-granddaughter (sitting in for Nick) make a toast to Gpa after he signed the covers of each mason jar used for the toast.

Dad’s grandkids and great-granddaughter (sitting in for Nick) make a toast to Gpa after he signed the covers of each mason jar used for the toast.

Sunday was spent in similar fashion, 22 of us gathered back in the party room to pick up where we left off. Grandpa propped up in his chair, oxygen tank by his side, watching golf while being waited on hand and foot – being served his favorite foods and keeping his glass of Bushmills topped off.

Many years ago, my Dad wrote a monthly newsletter to his grandchildren telling the tales of the adventures he had on the north shore of Minnesota, specifically Tait Lake, with his ever faithful companion, a 100-lb. yellow lab he named Darby O’Doul. My Dad’s dream was to see these stories in print. Several years ago I took creative license and churned these adventures into a children’s novel, Darby the Wonder Dog: Tails from Tait Lake. After several years of failed attempts at getting this published, I knew my days were numbered in getting my Dad’s stories into print. Thanks to the help of today’s technology and creativity of some very talented people, I was able to self-publish this book as soon as we understood my Dad’s days were numbered and have it in his hands in time for Father’s Day weekend.

Dad personally signing a copy of, Darby the Wonder Dog: Tails from Tait Lake, to each one of his kids, grandkids and grandkid.

Dad personally signing a copy of, Darby the Wonder Dog: Tails from Tait Lake, to each one of his kids, grandkids and grandkid.

On Sunday, his final Father’s Day, my Dad personally signed a copy of the book for each one of us and had our picture taken with him and his book. A moment I know we will all cherish, because of his life long love of reading and writing and the special relationship he had with his human-like dog, Darby. Then we all settled in to watch a very exciting finish to the men’s U.S. Open golf championship – a premium way for a golf-crazed family to spend their final hours with the patriarch of all that was good and true of the family he nurtured and loved unconditionally all of his years. We could not have asked for or consciously created a more poignant weekend of activities to celebrate his life and give us closure to his passing.

Happy Father's Day, 2015 - from your kids, grandkids and great-grandkid.

Happy Father’s Day, 2015 – from your kids, grandkids and great-grandkid.

The next morning, Monday, found Dad exhausted and a little out of it. By noon, he was getting very sleepy so we propped him up on the couch for a nap that he would not wake from. Appropriately, at approximately 5:30 am, on Wednesday, June 24th, Dad/grandpa/great-grandpa took his final breath. For 81-years he had been trying to get everyone up at the crack of dawn to enjoy what he felt was the best time of day – his only taker in 81-years was his ever faithful companion Darby. But on this day we all arose as the sun rose and shed a tear for the man who touched so many lives in so many ways.

Dad’s legacy isn’t what he achieved career-wise or financially – his legacy is what he achieved at the family level. An unconditional bond so deep and so strong, the driving goal of our whole family surrounds the ideal of making sure our paths cross often. We love being together and can’t imagine a better way to spend time than with as many members of our ever-expanding family, whenever we can.

Cheers Dad! We love and miss you!

The family unanimously chose this as our favorite picture of Dad, taken sometime in his early to mid 40's.

The family unanimously chose this as our favorite picture of Dad, taken sometime in his early to mid 40’s.

On the day of his passing, my brothers and our families made a simultaneous Bushmills toast across 4 time zones, 6 states and 2 countries.

On the day of his passing, my brothers and our families made a simultaneous Bushmills toast across 4 time zones, 6 states and 2 countries.

Travel is not something we do only when we are on vacation or holiday. Everyday we ‘travel’ through life. It is up to us whether we make these daily trips challenging or fulfilling.

Please check out Amazon.com for copies of Darby the Wonder Dog: Tails from Tait Lake. All proceeds will go to Dad’s favorite charities.

Museums/Galleries: the artist behind the artwork

How often do you go to a museum to marvel at the works of art showcased and wonder about the artist behind the art work? As I travel the world, I find it revealing to check out the museum listings. It gives me a sense to the cultural awareness and interest of a place. The museum may or may not reveal the actual culture of a given area, but more that the city has a healthy curiosity to the multiple ways people look at life in the world around them.

A museum is defined as a place where important things are preserved. This place may be created for the specific display to share with the public like The Metropolitan Museum of Art or The Louvre. Or it might be a gallery in a private home. The medium can be anything from painting to sculpture to photos to artifacts. These pieces are the brainchild of an individual and their desire to create a tangible form of passion.

Passion is the catalyst of every artist I have had the pleasure of meeting, and others I have read about. Very seldom does an artist set out to create with the sole purpose to make money. Hence the starving artist mantra we so often hear. Even those who set out to make money from their artwork, create from a passion or deep interest in a process. An artist is born with an innate desire to craft something that speaks to them. It often isn’t until a friend or colleague see’s a piece of artwork, is wowed and convinces the artist they need to share their work with others.

Artists are often a school teacher or doctor by day and an artist by night. Or it’s their weekend anecdote to their hectic weekday life. Of course there are those artists who set out to be artists very young in life and are able to achieve a level of success early enough they can rely on the income from their artwork to live comfortably.

I believe there is an artist in all of us, and that is a major reason I am so drawn to museums or seeing artists in the throes of their passion. It is inspiring to see such commitment and desire and release of emotions into an object. And no piece of artwork has the same reaction to every person. I love watching people sit and ogle over a piece of artwork. If you ask them what they see it is often something that had not dawned on you as you looked at the same piece.

Evolution seems to be a constant for artists. One element of design leads to trying something new. Creating a new texture or color or light. Or even creating new tools to achieve a certain look or quality. I love looking at artists work tables to see everyday utensils turned into tools of the trade. Or going as far as designing and building equipment to allow the artist to take their craft to another level. I think it is all these elements why true artists are artists for life. It is generally not a passing fancy, even if you just “…dabble in it…” you usually dabble throughout your whole life.

Following are some artists I have had the pleasure of meeting and watch them create:

Seguin Poirier: born 1949; learned metal enamel artistry at age 17; designed the world’s largest kiln to bake his enamel on copper pieces. With exhibits in Rockfellar Center, NYC to collections at The Bank of Montreal, Montreal and a Royal Palace, Saudi Arabia, Monsieur Poirier has earned an international mark with his work.

http://www.seguinpoirier.com/?lang=en

https://nomadicnarrator.com/global-gallery/canada/seguin-poirier-gallery/

Seguin Poirier working on an original for our group

Seguin Poirier working on an original with ideas he got from the audience.

 

Seguin Poirier enamel original made especially for our group with our input

The Seguin Poirier finished enamel original from above.

Specially designed kiln, created by Seguin Poirier to fire oversized pieces. Only kiln like it in the world.

Kiln designed by Seguin Poirier so that he could expand his work to large format pieces.

Randy Strong: started off in photography, having worked with the likes of Ansel Adams, Strong moved on to glass blowing in the 1970’s where he has worked with Dale Chihuly. His work has been on display in The Corning Museum, in New York City and The Louvre, Paris. Strong still creates, designs and teaches this waning form of artwork.

http://www.rstrong.com/about-the-artist/

Randy Strong, world renowned glass blower, San Francisco

Randy Strong, world-renowned glass blower, San Francisco

Some of Randy Strong's masterpieces for sale at the demonstration.

Some of Randy Strong’s masterpieces including his famous flower where different colored petals are interchangeable.

Vicki O’Connornew to the world of public art display, O’Connor has been a passionate artist her whole life. But it was a bout with the often debilitating disease, Valley Fever, that Vicki gave a focus to her love of creating art on a level that finds her showcasing and selling her art with 500 other artisans (booth D-11) November 14th-16th at the Fountain Festival of Arts and Crafts (http://www.fountainhillschamber.com/festival-of-arts.asp), Fountain Hills, AZ. Her works have found their way into public locations, Starbucks, Fountain Hills, and private homes.

http://vickioart.com

See more of Vicki’s growing gallery of artwork: https://nomadicnarrator.com/category/favorite-authorsartists/vicki-oconnor/

Budding new artist Vicki O'Connor may not have exhibits and collections all over the world - yet, but her passion for the art creates is no less passionate than those have achieved widespread acclaim.

Budding new artist Vicki O’Connor may not have exhibits and collections all over the world – yet, but her passion for the art creates is no less passionate than those who  have achieved widespread acclaim.

The key to Vicki's works of art are her one-liner or one word messages. She says what we all think, or what we should all think more about.

The key to Vicki’s colorful works of art are her one-liner or one word messages. She says what we all think, or what we should all think more about.

Following are the listing of museums I have visited and artists I have learned about because of these visits:

The Metropolitan Museum of Art: New York City; classic architecture; one of the expansive and diversified exhibits in the world; historical to modern. Check out the Cloisters in Harlem.

The Guggenheim Museum: New York City; modern architecture; exhibits displayed from the ceiling and/or along walls of this multi-tiered spiral walkway overlooking an open center; modern and contemporary art.

The Frick Museum: New York City; Frick residence turned into a museum; Renaissance to the late 19th century artwork.

The Neue Galerie: New York City; once a Vanderbilt residence; now a museum to early 20th century German and Austrian art and design.

Museum of Modern Art: New York City; modern architecture; the name says it all – generally showcases some the most thought proving exhibits in the city.

American Museum of Natural History: New York City; classic architecture; natural exhibits and scientific collections; great place to take the kids.

New Museum: New York City; modern architecture; new work by living artists; five plus floors of open floor plan that encircles the freight size lime green and mirrored elevator.

The Morgan Library and Museum: New York City; classic architecture and once private library of Pierpont Morgan, father to J. P. Morgan, Jr.; collection of rare printed manuscripts and works of art, Egyptian to Renaissance to Chinese art and artifacts.

Whitney Museum of American Art: New York City; modern architecture; 20th and 21st century American art – many living artists. Whitney is presently closed while they prepare to move into a new building in 2015.

Brooklyn Museum: Brooklyn, NYC; classic architecture; diverse collection and exhibits ranging from ancient Egypt to cutting edge modern.

Walker Art Center: Minneapolis; modern architecture; modern concept art pushing for creative expression of art, some with audience participation. Check out the outdoor Sculpture Garden.

Minneapolis Institute of Arts: Minneapolis; classic and modern architecture; one of the finest wide-ranging art collections in the country – from Matisse to Monet, from Africa to Asia, 40,000 year old artifacts to world-renowned pieces.

SmithsonianWashington D.C.; classic and modern architecture; inclusive of 19 museum and galleries – what doesn’t it include? Obviously a great place to take kids – of all ages.

Montreal Museum of Fine ArtsMontreal; classic and modern architecture; diverse forms of art from antiquity to today.

The Louvre: Paris; classic with a small touch of modern architecture; one of the world’s most renowned museums because of it’s history and collection of Masterpieces such as: the Mona Lisa, Venus de Milo and King Louis XIV.

Musee de l’Orangerie: Paris; classic architecture with simple oval interior galleries. Claude Monet designed this museum to showcase the huge panels of his Water Lilies collection.

Belvedere Museum: Vienna; classic architecture for this one-time palace that is a piece of artwork in itself; Austrian art dating from Middle Ages to present day, most notably Gustav Klimt.

Some of my favorite artists are: Claude Monet, Gustav Klimt, Edouard Manet, Vincent Van Gogh, Renoir, Dale Chihuly. I’ve always been drawn to the traditional painter whether from the Renaissance era or Impressionist era, but I am learning to appreciate some of the modern forms of art that really make you think and imagine. So turn off the TV and head to your local art museum or gallery and expand your horizons! And take time to get into the passionate mind of the artist!

Fall is for Feasting, part 2 – October: MN & NY

October found my daughter and I having a much quieter travel month than we did in September. But that doesn’t mean we went hungry. Allison found two more destination eateries in NYC, and then we trekked to the shores of Lake Superior in northern Minnesota to check out the local fare.

Fruits de mer – Two nights, two opposite ends of the city (NYC), by Allison Malecha

I never thought I would get my dad all the way to Crown Heights—the Caribbean-bred, newly bohemian-infested Brooklyn neighborhood that is thirty minutes by express subway from Manhattan. Besides being the home of Silver Rice, which I wrote about in last month’s post [https://nomadicnarrator.com/2014/09/26/fall-is-for-feasting-part-1-september/], Crown Heights borders the monumental Brooklyn Museum, and its main drag, Franklin Avenue, is bursting with culinary life.

Owned by New York City native Lev Gewirtzman, Mayfield is the neighborhood’s most prominent fine dining staple—the first place my friends who live in the area take their parents for dinner. In a city of two-tops, this restaurant also has a whole array of hefty picnic-style wood tables that seat six. After attending the opening of the Brooklyn Museum exhibit “Crossing Brooklyn: Art from Bushwick, Bed-Stuy, and Beyond,” my dad and I walked the 15 minutes down Franklin Avenue and got right in without a reservation. Suffice to say, he was much more into the food than the art (his take: “I could make this in my garage”—I disagreed).

We missed the $1 fresh oyster happy hour but were happy to settle for the $13 fried cornmeal ones, served on a slick bed of smoked salmon and celery coleslaw and topped with big dollops of horseradish cream. We then had an unnecessary but 100% delicious Italian interlude of homemade ricotta gnocchi ($12) before moving on to the main courses: buttermilk fried quail ($20) for my dad and sautéed scallops for me. The quail, though striking the requisite balance between moist meat and crispy exterior, was shown up by its side of spoon bread: a ramekin full of hot, butter-sweet, perfectly browned goodness. My dish, a quartet of large sea scallops and a smattering of mini ones, was decidedly lighter fare, fortified by a sizable mound of corn-speckled risotto. The wine list here is also reasonable. We washed our dinner down with a $32 bottle of côtes du rhône. And after all that liquid, it’s worth a trip to the bathroom—the stall on the right is plastered with one of my favorite wallpapers, inspired by architectural blueprints.

Enjoying starters of fried oysters on a bed of coleslaw and smoked salmon, and   at Mayfield, in Brooklyn.

Enjoying starters of fried oysters on a bed of coleslaw and smoked salmon, and ricotta gnocchi at Mayfield, in Brooklyn.

Buttermilk fried squid with sides of spoon bread and sautéed spinach at Mayfield in Brooklyn.

Buttermilk fried squid with sides of spoon bread and sautéed spinach at Mayfield in Brooklyn.

Sauteed sea scallops perfectly browned and put to rest on a bed of corn infused risotto.

Sauteed sea scallops perfectly browned and put to rest on a bed of corn infused risotto.

The next night, my dad was kind enough to pony up for an even fancier affair—a full-on fish fête at Barchetta. Though the New York Times’ Pete Wells gave it only 1 star in September [LINK: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/09/10/dining/restaurant-review-barchetta-in-chelsea.html?module=Search&mabReward=relbias%3Aw%2C%7B%221%22%3A%22RI%3A8%22%7D], I was intrigued enough to book a table at the six-month-old brainchild of chef and restaurateur Dave Pasternack (known for Esca, in Hells Kitchen). The light-wood tables, soft lighting, and cream walls lined with a row of understated abstract paintings were a welcoming sight at the end of a grey day.

Cocktails to start: a traditional Manhattan for dad (fitting, for the location), while I tried on a “fiaschetta” for size (carpano antica, Campari, elderflower, and Woodford reserve). It fit quite well. Our first bites were many and varied—a six-part crudo tasting ($28), consisting of fresh wedges of fish, from tuna to Spanish mackerel, sitting in pockets of beautifully flavored oil. We were either lucky enough to hit the restaurant on a non “off night,” or my hunger for high-quality fish was too large for me to care. The server recommended that my dad fillet his porgy ($17) himself, but we both settled for having the hard work done for us. My de-boned black sea bass ($17) arrived glistening and flaky. The slightly dry side of acorn squash and lemon tart dessert were an ideal offset to the many bites of rich, meaty fish.

A crudo of varied fresh fish soaking in flavored oils at Barchetta in Chelsea.

A crudo of varied fresh fish soaking in flavored oils at Barchetta in Chelsea.

Freshly de-boned blackened sea bass with a side of acorn squash at Barchetta in Chelsea.

Freshly de-boned black sea bass with a side of acorn squash at Barchetta in Chelsea.

These were just two nights in a whole week of feasting while my dad was in town. I probably should have fasted for a week afterwards – but I didn’t.

Next:

Mid-October my daughter and I took a road trip to the North Shore, with my Dad and his wife. This large peninsula of Minnesota lines the shores of Lake Superior and many of the states 10,000 lakes dot the inland landscape.

We made a pit stop along the scenic North Shore drive at the appropriately named Scenic Cafe’. Talk about using fresh local ingredients; each dish at Scenic screams flavor by infusing unique food combinations like the special starter of the day – figs and walnuts bathed in a maple syrup molasses surrounding a tower of blue cheese served with crudités.

The specialty starter dish of the day used local Minnesota ingredients to create this abundantly flavorful dish.

The specialty starter dish of the day used local Minnesota ingredients to create this abundantly flavorful dish.

Further up the avenue we settled in the area of Tofte and Lutsen for a weekend of reading, walking, spa-ing and of course -eating!

The first night we headed to Lutsen for locally caught walleye and harvested wild rice, which make up the key ingredients to one of Lutsen Lodge‘s traditional menus choices at the Dining Room. The starter of Minnesota Wild Rice soup and finale’ of Swedish Cream round out this flavorful dinner selection.

Potato crusted walleye served with wild rice pilaf – a tradition along with a starter of Minnesota Wild Rice soup, served at Lutsen Lodge Dining Room.

If breakfast fare is more to your liking than head back down the road to Waves of Superior Cafe at Surfside on Lake Superior, spa and townhomes. Acclaimed Chef Judy Barsness, (my Dad’s wife’s sister-in-law) showcases her signature culinary style ‘Minnisine’ using locally caught, grown and handcrafted ingredients to make delectable Minnesota contemporary cuisine. The Sunday brunch is an absolute must after indulging in a relaxing spa treatment.

Chef Judy Barsness presents a Sunday brunch buffet to satisfy even the most discerning palate.

Chef Judy Barsness presents a Sunday brunch buffet to satisfy even the most discerning palate.

Next month I’ll showcase cuisine from our neighbor to the north – Canada. Butter tarts, perogies, poutine….. And of course Thanksgiving – American style!

North Shore, Minnesota – a/k/a a place of respite

This ones for you pops!!

Respite. A break. A breather. A lull. A reprieve. All definitions of respite – all words to define the desire that pulls me to the very northern tip of Minnesota – aka The North Shore.

Minnesota’s North Shore

Head North young woman - to the North Shore of Minnesota

Head North young woman – to the North Shore of Minnesota.

Non-Minnesotans would ask, “North Shore to what?” Answer: Lake Superior. Most resources list this most massive of the five great lakes as the largest fresh water lake by surface and third largest by volume – in the world. Reaching depths of 1,332 feet, this glacial lake swallowed up the giant ore boat made famous by Canadian singer songwriter Gordon Lightfoot’s song, “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” based on the true life story of this ship getting caught in one of many magnificent raging early winter lake storms.

I have been coming to the North Shore for 45 of my 50 years. I have traveled extensively, but few places have drawn me back like the North Shore. My mother was born and raised in Duluth which sits on the most southern US tip of the lake – this bay being flanked by Minnesota to the west and Wisconsin to the east. Our family started making the trek to the North Shore back in the 1960’s, mainly a weekend trip, several weekends a month year round.

The famed draw bridge in the Lake Superior Harbor in Duluth.

The famed draw bridge in the Lake Superior harbor in Duluth.

This journey north was a respite for my parents to get a break from their busy lives in and around the Twin Cities. For my three older brothers and I it was a chance to perfect our hot-dog skiing skills on the slops of Lutsen Ski Resort. The views of Lake Superior were truly breathtaking from high atop the resort. In 1972, my skiing season was cut short when I broke my leg skiing. In those days there were no ambulances in that area, so I was taken to the hospital 30 miles away in Grand Marais, in the back of my Dad’s boss’s wood-paneled station wagon.

Other weekends found us cross-country skiing on the Gunflint Trail northwest of Grand Marais or along the backside of Moose Mountain; hiking the paths emanating from Lutsen Lodge or Cascade Falls behind the Cascade Lodge where they make the best blueberry pancakes; jumping off the cliffs into the warm waters of the Temperance River; fishing for river trout in the fast running Onion River or going deep for walleye in the tranquil waters of Tait Lake; golfing with the black bears at the little 9-hole par-3 course at Lutsen Lodge or across the street at Superior National.

Many an hour spent lounging, eating, swimming, hiking...at Lutsen Lodge.

Many an hour spent lounging, eating, swimming, hiking, golfing…at Lutsen Lodge.

The inclusion of the next generation began in the 1990’s and still continues today. Almost 22-years ago, my husband and I drove our 20-month old daughter and our 1-month old son through a raging Minnesota winter storm, to my Dad’s cabin which sits on the shores of Tait Lake, 13 miles off the main road, the last eight on a one lane dirt road – no cell phone. We arrived at the warm and inviting cabin, with two very anxious grandparents standing watch at the front door. After my husband and I were seated in front of a roaring fire with a glass of wine to calm our nerves, the kids were given a bath by the grandparents in the only tubs in the cabin – the two-sided stainless steel kitchen sink.

The one lane dirt road back to Tait Lake - think heavy snow. The leaning tree in the pic was nicknamed 'I-lene' by one of the grandkids.

The one lane dirt road back to Tait Lake – think heavy snow. The leaning tree in the pic was nicknamed ‘I-lene’ by one of the grandkids.

Last weekend found my daughter and I returning to Minnesota from our respective homes in New York City and Arizona to take ‘Grandpa’ up to visit the North Shore. Over the years this has continued to be his ‘go to’ place. The leaves were still in their fall finery – vibrant oranges and reds of Maples and Sumac; blinding yellows of the Aspen and Birch; all intertwined with deep green of the many evergreens that dot the landscape.

We hunkered down for the weekend at a condo at Surfside on Lake Superior. Our unit sat on the shores of the big lake the Ojibwe natives call ‘Gichigami’ – where we curled up in front of a warming fire; enjoyed smoked trout from Kendall’s Smokehouse where we have been buying smoked fish for 40 plus years; sipped a glass of wine while pouring ourselves into our book picks for the weekend. We also took advantage of the onsite Waves of Superior Spa by having a relaxing massage, followed by a delectable Sunday brunch spread presented by Chef Judy, sister-in-law to my Dad’s wife, at the Wave’s Cafe.

The Thinker a/k/a my Dad, Gpa, Grand-snappy - sits overlooking the shores of Lake Superior as he contemplates 80 years of amazing memories!

The Thinker a/k/a my Dad, Gpa, Grand-snappy – sits overlooking the shores of Lake Superior as he contemplates 80 years of amazing memories!

My daughter reading fireside. I spent the weekend listening to the two most well-read people I know - my father and my daughter - wax philosophical for hours on end as they compared their libraries of knowledge. What amazing minds!

My daughter reading fireside. I spent the weekend listening to the two most well-read people I know – my father and my daughter – wax philosophical for hours on end as they compared their libraries of knowledge. What amazing minds!

Waves of Superior Spa at Surfside on Lake Superior.

Waves of Superior Spa at Surfside on Lake Superior.

Chef Judy serves up an amazing fresh and locally inspired Sunday brunch spread: Belgian waffles  with Caribou Maple Syrup, Minnesota wild rice and sausage gravy over biscuits,  homemade granola, cheese blintzes, and other fresh pastries....

Chef Judy serves up an amazing fresh and locally inspired Sunday brunch spread: Belgian waffles with Caribou Maple Syrup, Minnesota wild rice and sausage gravy over biscuits, homemade granola, cheese blintzes, and other fresh pastries….

A little nostalgia was called for to relive some old memories to mix in with the new ones we were making. We had dinner at Lutsen Lodge where I spent endless hours of my youth playing in the game room or reading by the fire while the adults wiled away the hours in the bar after a traditional Minnesota wild rice soup and walleye dinner. We stopped into Sea Villa B-?, the condo we owned back in the 1970’s, and went back to visit Vennskaap Hyte on Tait Lake, the log cabin my Dad and his wife owned for many years. We stopped at a little shop that sold homemade maple syrup among other homemade Minnesota goods. The shop often incorporates the honor system to pay for goods, as the proprietor is often not able to be on site.

My dad and I reminiscing about all the great times spent at the Sea Villas at Lutsen.

My dad and I reminiscing about all the great times spent at the Sea Villas at Lutsen.

A cabin store full of many different local homemade goods like Caribou Cream syrup.

A cabin store full of many different local homemade goods like Caribou Cream syrup.

Only in Minnesota could you feel confident in relying on the honor system for your customers to pay for their purchases.

Only in Minnesota, where ‘Minnesota Nice’ is the mantra, could you feel confident in relying on the honor system for your customers to pay for their purchases.

More Minnesota-North Shore pics to come in the Global Gallery!

Gardens Galore! – Arboretums and Botanical Gardens year round beauty

Diversity. Serenity. Beauty. Oasis. Cultural. Magical.

I’m staring out the window of my office at a beautiful sunny summer day wishing I was outside taking in the warmth of the sun and breathing in unfiltered fresh air. No time like the present. I walk into my bosses office and quit. I exchange my high heels for steel toed boots, and my computer for a shovel, a dead-end job for doing something that makes me happy. I’m a doer and an outside person. I went to work for Bachman’s Growing Nursery in Minnesota, which led to getting a degree in Landscape Design and Horticulture.

That was thirty years ago, and even though I am no longer in the landscape business, I did spend over a decade in an industry that created in me a lifelong love of being one with Mother Nature. While I was going to school I spent many hours strolling through the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum, learning everything I could about plants, their habits, their different seasonal looks, their hardiness. Learning the Latin nomenclature for every plant that grew in our midwestern hardiness zone.

What home have you ever lived in that isn’t surrounded by plant material? We have trees for shade and color. Shrubs to add street appeal to our homes while adding a form of insulation for better efficiency. Gardens for fresh herbs for our food and colorful flowers for our table. Evergreens or cactus to hang our Christmas lights on.

Over the years, I have incorporated a visit to several arboretums and/or botanical gardens in my travels. It’s a great way to learn about the local flora and fauna, which tells you a little bit about the local culture. I find each garden venue strives to incorporate diversity into its plant presentation. Oriental gardens. International sculptures. English rose gardens. Monet’s lilies.

A feeling of serenity comes over me when I enter into one of these magnificent gardens. I feel the pressures of the world melt away for those few hours I spend meandering through the tranquil pathways. Everybody seems in a happy mood as they walk through these oasis amidst the busyness of the urban life and our chaotic go-go-go schedules.

The botanists of the past came up with the idea of teaming their creative talents with what Mother Nature has naturally presented to us for centuries. The culmination of these efforts are the multitude of arboretums and botanical gardens that have been built over the last century – from the Brooklyn (NY) Botanic Garden developed in 1910 to the Overland Park (KS) Arboretum in 1996.  Giving people magical places to take their kids to learn about nature; a great backdrop for that fairytale wedding; an outdoor classroom for people in the landscape/horticulture business; a great place to stretch your legs and fill your lungs with fresh air.

Day or night – spring, summer, fall or winter – it’s always a great time to visit these vast gardens and their unique exhibits! As the seasons move along I will update this post to show some of the beautiful transformations these gardens go through in a year.

Following are some of the gardens I have visited over the years while on my travels:

Arizona Desert Botanical Garden: Founded 1939; covers 140 acres (55 cultivated); 700,000 visitors annually.

Moon rising over the Saguaros at the Desert Botanical Garden

Moon rising over the Saguaros at the Desert Botanical Garden

Brooklyn Botanic Gardens: Founded 1910; covers 52 acres; 900,000 visitors annually; 12,000 species.

Double deal and Brooklyn - cherry blossoms at the Brooklyn Botanical Garden drape over the facade of the neighboring Brooklyn Museum

Double deal and Brooklyn – cherry blossoms at the Brooklyn Botanical Garden drape over the facade of the neighboring Brooklyn Museum

Minnesota Landscape Arboretum: Founded 1958, covers 1,100 acres; 5,000 species.

The ornate garden and paths at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum

 

Montreal Botanical Garden: Founded 1931; covers 190 acres; 900,000 visitors annually; 22,000 species.

China - Shanghai entry at the International Exhibit at the Montreal Botanical Garden

China – Shanghai entry at the International Exhibit at the Montreal Botanical Garden

Overland Park Arboretum: Founded 1996; covers 300 acres.

Monet's Pond - a replica of the scene Claude Monet painted several of his most famous paintings

Monet’s Pond – a replica of the scene Claude Monet painted several of his most famous paintings

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A statue of Claude Monet as he paints his ‘lily’ ponds. Overland Park Arboretum

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A river runs through it – through the Overland Park Arboretum that is.

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One of many ponds at the Overland Park Arboretum, with a weeping Willow overhanging the shoreline.

I'm sure this was built for or by the little fairies that inhabit the Overland Park Arboretum. I knocked but nobody answered.

I’m sure this was built for or by the little fairies that inhabit the Overland Park Arboretum. I knocked but nobody answered

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

San Francisco Botanical Garden: Founded 1940; covers 55 acres; 8,000 species.

Japanese Garden at the San Francisco Botanical Garden in Golden Gate Park

Japanese Garden at the San Francisco Botanical Garden in Golden Gate Park

Check out the Global Gallery for more great pictures from the Overland park Arboretum and more….

Traveling is exciting, but “There’s no place like home!”

We’re not in Kansas anymore Dorothy! Oh wait, yes we are. That’s exactly where all our moves have taken my husband and I – back to Kansas, for the second time. As Dorothy so eloquently said in the Wizard of Oz, “There’s no place like home!” and I couldn’t agree more. And for me ‘home’ has culminated in many different locations. I may not have a pair of ruby-red slippers to take me back home, but as much as I love to travel there is nothing better than coming back home.

I have been very lucky throughout my lifetime to have some amazing places to come home to: Minnesota, California, Montana, Kansas, Arizona, Saskatchewan and Alberta. Some of these places are a little better known to the masses, but I found out through living in all these places each location offers up a set up unique characteristics that make them very embraceable places to live AND visit.

Minnesota: My beloved Minnesota. This is where I grew up, and for me that means this will always be home. I was born in Northfield – town of Cows (large agriculture community), Colleges (St. Olaf and Carleton) and Contentment. Inside the city limits an academic nature prevails, but as soon as you hit the outskirts of town you are enveloped in perfectly aligned fields of corn and beans; orchards that are ripe with scents from spring to fall; and cows, horses and other livestock roaming the succulent stands of grasslands. If all of that doesn’t spell ‘contentment’ I don’t know what does.

I spent many weekends with my family “Up North“, along the shores of Lake Superior. Downhill skiing at Lutsen; cross-country skiing on the Gunflint Trail; walking the streets of Grand Marais; hiking trails with amazing views of Lake Superior; and having walleye meals at the Lutsen Lodge.

My husband and I moved back to Minnesota in 1991, and our son was born there a year later. Many of our family members still live there and to me there are fewer more beautiful states. Minnesota showcases the four seasons better than any other state I have visited or lived in. There is nothing like the scent of the spring bloom of the lilacs mixing with the flowering crabapple trees; the summer ripened lush green fairways and thick forests of trees of golf courses; a drive along the St. Croix or Mississippi Rivers showcasing the vibrant colors of fall; or a walk through the snow packed backwoods roads of Minnesota with evergreens draped with a fresh snowfall.

The lush green fairways and thick trees that line Northfield Golf Club, Northfield, MN - "The Money Tree"

The lush green fairways and thick trees of summer that line Northfield Golf Club, Northfield, MN – “The Money Tree”

The fall colors of Minnesota

The fall colors of Minnesota

California: My husband and I married in 1986, and our honeymoon was driving from Minnesota to California – our first home away from home. We lived in Stockton, CA. The best feature of Stockton was its location. We were an hour to San Francisco for fresh crab and strong coffee; an hour to Napa Valley to replenish our wine supply; two hours to Yosemite National Park to float down Merced River. In the one year we lived in Stockton, we had more family visitors than any other place we have lived within the same time frame. Locally we played several great golf courses; took walks along inland waterways fed from San Francisco Bay and the Pacific Ocean; visited a burgeoning local wine industry; and enjoyed great weather year round.

The rows of grape vines in Napa Valley, producing some of the best wines in the world

The rows of grape vines in Napa Valley, producing some of the best wines in the world

Montana: Big Sky country! And until you visit this massive beautiful state, you can’t comprehend just how accurate that state motto is. Being based out of Great Falls, which sits along the Missouri River, afforded a great location to visit the many highlights throughout the state. Head northwest to the Going to the Sun Road in Glacier National Park – be sure to try some huckleberries; continue west into the quaint small western town of Whitefish that sits at the base of Big Mountain ski area; turn south along the great boating lake Flathead Lake; continue south into the Bitterroot Mountains of Missoula; veer a little southeast to the mining (past and present) town of Butte; continue east to fish the Gallatin River or ski at Big Sky or Bridger Bowl outside of Bozeman; then work your way back north along the Missouri River as it cuts through some of the most beautiful Rocky Mountain settings in the country. And to the east are the plains of Montana where Lewis and Clark trekked back in the 1800’s.

Big Sky country, where the (deer) and the antelope roam, Montana

Kansas: I first lived here 25 years ago, and my daughter was born here in 1991. Having never visited the area, I was in awe of the lush rolling hills of Kansas City. When I learned we were returning to KS, I had no reservations in returning – especially since KC straddles the Kansas/Missouri line, so you are getting the highlights of two great states at your fingertips. The people are a mix of Mid-western nice and southern charm and take great pride in the care of their properties; strong family and work ethics; and great cooking. The unique Spanish architecture of The Plaza (great shopping and eating) is a draw, especially as outlined in lights for the holiday season; the stately mansions of Mission Hills are tough to be replicated anywhere; not being a huge fan of BBQ, even I have to admit the BBQ in KC is “…to die for!”

One of the areas most well-known BBQ stops, be ready to wait – but it’s worth it!

Four must haves at Jack Stack BBQ: pork ribs, burnt ends, cheesy corn bake and hickory pit beans.

Arizona: I have lived in Arizona, specifically the Phoenix area, a couple of different times and it will be where my husband and I retire, but Arizona has been the preferred vacation spot for my family, going back almost 40 years – my how this place has changed in 40 years. The dry warmth was always an appeal for a winter getaway from the humid cold of Minnesota. And being avid golfers it was a natural choice. As noted in my previous post I lived there as a junior in high school, when no major highways through the valley existed, and often Tempe and Mesa would be cut off from the rest of the valley when the monsoons hit and the Salt River bottoms flooded.

With the development of several major freeways, the city is now easy to navigate. Besides golf (albeit some of the best golf in the country) and an opportunity for a great tan, the valley has much too offer the visitor. Hiking trails abound throughout the surrounding mountain ranges providing spectacular views; floating down the upper Salt River watching wild horses drink from the shoreline; never-ending supply of great eateries; shopping to rival any other major city; a plethora of beautiful cars adorn the roadways; concerts, theaters, museums galore to satisfy the cultural palette.

The views from atop one of the surrounding high points that line that Phoenix Valley

The views from atop one of the surrounding high points that line that Phoenix Valley

The night skies from the Desert Botanical Garden, Phoenix, AZ

The night skies from the Desert Botanical Garden, Phoenix, AZ

Saskatchewan: The year 2000 found us moving northward. At this stage in my life I assumed I would be working my way south to warmer drier climates. Instead we headed north to one of the coldest climates known to man, that has a population of more than a few hundred. Regina, the capital of Saskatchewan was our landing spot. It didn’t take long to realize that as challenging as it was to survive the winters, the people held a warmth to offset even the coldest of days. It was a great place to bring up our children.

The standing joke in Saskatchewan is that you can see your dog run away for 3 days – because it is so flat there. But you have to give the pioneers of Regina a lot of credit for making Regina a/k/a the Queen City a place worth living and visiting. Every tree in the city was hand planted in this once desolate plain, and Wascana Lake was created to be the center piece of the city with the stately provincial legislature building sitting proudly at its shores, and walking paths that take you along the lake and out into the surrounding neighborhoods. The Queen of England and all of her children have been visitors, since Canada is a Commonwealth of England; and there has been no shortage of great acts (ie. Rolling Stones, ACDC, Prince) through this city that sits on the one main highway through Canada – the Trans-Canada 1.

Downtown Regina serves as a backdrop to Wascana Lake and the Legislature building

Alberta: My stay in Calgary, Alberta was short-lived, only two years, but it wasn’t hard to make a real go of it in a city that sits in the foothills of some of the most majestic Rocky Mountain ranges in the world. Our kids were off to university by now, and so my husband and I took the opportunity to live in a high-rise condo, affording us amazing daily views. The weekend we moved there I sat on our 25th floor deck and listened to an outdoor concert, that was being held along the banks of the Bow River. The concert was part of the world-famous Calgary Stampede, based two blocks from our apartment when the whole city of Calgary turns into a cowboy theme park for the better part of two weeks.

While the city itself has a lot to offer, the proximity to places like Banff and Lake Louise make it an equally appealing place to live. Summer golf and hiking and winter skiing await you on a beautiful drive through a greatly untouched Bow River Valley, on a well maintained four-lane highway, past Cranbrook – stop in for a helicopter ride to reach new hiking heights. On into Banff National Park to get your fill of natures beauty: glacier fed turquoise blue lakes; snow-capped mountains even in the middle of summer; wildlife roaming over manmade animal bridges; clean fresh crisp air year round.

One of the many turquoise blue water lakes in the Banff National Park, Alberta - with snow capped peaks in this July picture

One of the many turquoise blue water lakes in the Banff National Park, Alberta – with snow-capped peaks in this July picture