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Off to the park

We’ve recently moved across town and happen to live closer to nieces and nephews. You know what that means. We’ve been added to the speed-dial sitter list.

Last weekend was our maiden voyage.  A full day with the 3-year old twins. As you might imagine, we had no trouble sleeping that night. We had a lot of fun and enjoyed the girls, but they certainly kept us going all day.  To any of you who have children or nieces/nephews, this will come as no surprise, but we came away from the day having been reminded of some important things. These are lessons I gained from a day with three-year olds:

1: SLOW DOWN. Normally, it takes Brent and I about four minutes to get to the park on our bikes. Not so with three-year-olds. No, it was a 45-minute walk each way. The trip to the park wasn’t my brightest idea on a 95-degree day. But they were troopers and never complained. Yet it was a slow, deliberate pace the entire way. There was no rush, no sense of needing to get to our destination quickly. No wonder it’s only adults who deal with things like high blood pressure. We’d all do well to slow down our pace a notch or two!

Stop & Smell the Flowers

2: STOP & SMELL THE FLOWERS: One of the highlights on the trail was to stop and smell the flowers. If we’d been in a hurry, the beauty of the landscape and wildflowers would have been missed. It was sweet to see one sister want to share her flower experience with the other. What a great lesson. Stop, take a look around. Be present in the moment, enjoy what God puts in your path and share it with those around you.

Quack Quack!

3. INJECT FUN INTO ORDINARY THINGS. The girls knew we’d be having a cold treat when we got home, but we kept the fact that it was smoothies a surprise. Unwilling to allow an unnamed treat, the twins decided to refer to the surprise as “Quack Quack.” Silly as it was, it brought us all lots of laughter for the rest of the night.

4: KINDLE THE JOY OF READING (no pun intended!). I’ve always loved books. Most of my life I’ve been a voracious reader. But, for some reason, recent years have drew my attention elsewhere. Watching the girls bring me book after book after book to read was contagious. I think we put away about 20 books before the night was over.

5. REMEMBER THE SNEETCHES. One of the many stories we read was Dr. Seuss’ “Sneetches.” It’s a book I’ve had since I was a child and it shows by its well-worn corners. It made an impact on me as a child and I often recall its lessons even as an adult. The basic message is not to get caught up in the latest trends or judge others just because they’re not caught up in them. I think about how our society is so influenced by the latest

Sneetches

hot gadget, fashion or topic. Too often we’re judged by what toys we have or what we wear or how informed we are about the current trending Twitter feed. Yet, being on top of those things has nothing to do with strong character, kindness and living a godly life.

Isn’t it amazing what God shows us through children? What lessons have you learned lately?

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Brent & Lisa arrive at the feet of "The Claw"

This was one of our busiest weekends of the year. Our typical agenda was interrupted to dedicate the entire Saturday afternoon and evening to the U2 360º Tour. This came on the heels of my 30th high school reunion on Friday night. I will circle back and blog about that later this week. Two nights in a row where I didn’t get to bed until well after midnight. It’s tough to recover from one late night let alone two in a row as I push closer to the mid century mark.

For those of you who went to the concert this weekend or a previous one on their current tour, or you’re a fan in general please feel free to chime in with your impressions.

This concert has been well covered in the media, much of it delayed by a year as Bono underwent back surgery and recovery. By now you’ve read the facts of the expenses and receipts to generate one of the most intimate major rock experiences in history. With their giant “Claw” or “Spaceship” circular stage, U2 transforms mega outdoor stadiums into a living room experience. It’s very hard to describe in a few words. The band lands themselves exposed on all sides of their circular thrust like stage which is engineered by Belgian company Stageco. The band has purchased carbon offsets in consideration to the environmental impact to transport 3 identical 360° Tour stage sets around the world.

You feel like you can reach out and touch a portion of the setting and the artists themselves. For those who waited in line for general admission floor access, they got intimate enough to have Bono and the band drip sweat on them as they criss-crossed the concentric circles via moving brushed steel bridges that spun around the circumference of the central stage. Fortunately, the rain that eventually drenched the venue halfway through the show washed the masses clean. The rain did not diminish the performance in my estimation. In fact the incredible electronic central video graphics performed well despite the weather. Resembling a large circular scoreboard at a hockey arena, the video screen is made up of over a million parts and descends down toward the center of the stage and over the band for fantastic visual effects. The elongated hexagonal video panels are all connected together and machined to create a truly unique experience.

So you can have all this really expensive machinery, stagecraft and logistics to manage it, but it takes a really outstanding group of performers to

Ready for the Crush!

pull off the complete package. U2 satisfied on all counts, even in a torrential downpour of rain. My reasons for saying this?

  1. The band genuinely enjoys performing together. They smiled at each other, played to each others’ strengths, and had fun with one another during the performance. In the final set, Bono came swinging across the stage on a circular red illuminated microphone hanging from a cable wearing a black leather suit decorated with red lasers. Wild!
  2. The band desired intimacy with their audience. They know where they are. They weren’t confused about which city they were in and they understood unique aspects of the Twin Cities. Hours before the concert in Minneapolis, Bono was meeting with local Somali leadership regarding the famine conditions that desperately need world attention at a time when world governments in the West are more consumed with their own insolvency and budget issues. For those readers who don’t know, the Twin Cities has the largest population of Somalis outside of Somalia in the world.
  3. U2 writes and sings smart, intelligent lyrics with deep meaning and philosophy behind it. And you can understand every line even when Bono’s falsetto cracks a bit.
  4. The band didn’t create this performance around a new CD. They understood that their fans wanted to hear their favorite tunes that spanned the decades from the earliest days like I Will Follow on Boy to Rejoice on the October release to Get on Your Boots from No Line On the Horizon.
  5. The crowd was engaged from start to finish. Concert goers spontaneously sang back at the band without being prompted, singing and tracking through every moment. The band actually stopped playing and listened to the audience sing to them a couple of times. For “With or Without You” the crowd simply hushed and listened.
  6. The band knows who they are and their talent is bigger because they’re comfortable with themselves. The audience understands this. What results is parents bringing their entire family to the concert. A band that speaks to generations of fans that are younger than 10 to well over 60. A friend’s daughter, about 6 or 7, when asked, “What’s your favorite song?” didn’t hesitate and said confidently “El-e-va-tion!”

My favorite song? Until the End of The World.

That song makes me thankful that even though I’m as guilty as Judas, He chose me to His inheritance before the beginning of the world. I don’t know why He did that. The only thing I can do is live up to His choice and be who He made me to be until the end of the world.

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Looking for a roughly 20-mile bike ride with plenty to see and eat? We spent this 4th of July enjoying the gorgeous day and getting some exercise as we looped the Minneapolis lakes area. We took well-marked, nicely paved trails with very few steep hills as we made our way along Minnehaha Parkway from Lake Nokomis heading toward Lake Harriet, onto Lake Calhoun and then circled Lake of the Isles before cutting across the city on the Midtown Greenway to the West Mississippi River Parkway. We “put in” on the north side of lake Nokomis and circled clockwise, west on the parkway.

Punch Pizza (near Lake Calhoun) made a fabulous half-way point to stop for lunch. That worked for me since it’s one of my favorite summer spots to grab a bite to eat. It was fun to see the city from a new perspective with great people watching opportunities. The lakes were buzzing with activity and Minnehaha Falls was roaring.

We came home in time to put a couple steaks on the grill to accompany some sauteed brocollini, a caprese salad and iced tea. It was an excellent, low-key way to spend Independence Day! We hope you found a fun way to celebrate as well. Happy 4th and thanks to all who serve our country. We appreciate you!

Minnehaha Falls

Bike Trails
Midtown Greenway
Minneapolis Trails

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The weekend before last, there were four of us middle-aged white faces that set out in two canoes on a 2 day overnight camping trip in northern Minnesota. We had 3 rivers to choose from depending on water flow. We ended up putting into the Whiteface River at County Road 52 about a mile west of the town of Cotton. The river originates in the Whiteface Reservoir and flows southwest finally feeding the St. Louis River. We did not put in

Breakfast

These guys know how to make breakfast in the woods!

at the reservoir, although the fastest water runs between there and County Road 52. The main thing is that we were 4 middle-aged guys who packed to travel in comfort. We had 2 aluminum canoes, 2 large tents, 2 large coolers, 4 captains chairs and 4 backpacks. We just wanted to paddle, camp, eat, mix Jeremiah Weed lemonades and enjoy the outdoors for 36 hours. And believe me, we ate like kings!

Our drop in site on the Whiteface River near Cotton, MN

The real adventure began when we started about an hour late putting into the river. As it turned out the only other people we would see for the next 36 hours happened to come floating by as we arranged the boats under the county bridge. They were 3 guys, 2 in a canoe and 1 in a kayak…and they were traveling LIGHT. They had the real-deal equipment: light weight canoe, small packs and a water proof pack for food and tent.

They smiled, waved and gave us words of encouragement as the 4 of us loaded our gear like we were at a private campground and not sparing the luxuries.

Off we went, and I must say that once you’re on the river, it’s quiet, full of wildlife and peaceful. There were several class 1 rapids to navigate and we did pretty good. Although the flow coming out of the reservoir was reported less than optimal. So in several places we had to get out and push the canoe through rocky, shallow spots. There are very few county road crossings along the way. Much of the stretch has long expanses of state-owned land with no access, so there’s literally nobody around. There are spots with private land, a few houses with barking dogs and many hunting shacks buried in the woods. We saw mostly deer, geese, wood ducks, mergansers, beavers, song birds, and otter and raccoon tracks. This river is just one of 32 waterways totaling 4,400 miles designated by the Minnesota DNR as “water trails”. If you scout the DNR website, you’ll get references to books and online materials that provide phone numbers for water flow rates from dams and reservoirs that would affect your experience. If you go to the Whiteface, you can dial for discharge readings: 218-720-2777. A discharge of 150 cfs is enough to get by with a bit of scraping on the bottom of your canoe.

Most of the trees are maple, cedar, conifers, aspen, birch and pine. Most of the pine is gone. It was logged long ago, but you’ll spot the occasional red or white one standing tall amongst the rest. The forest is mostly made of large ferns that look like something from the forests of

Mark stuck

Mark learns that the shore isn't as solid as it appears!

Avatar. There aren’t any official campsites along the way. So part of the adventure is making your own. However that can be a bit tricky because you must respect the private property and then you must find someplace where you can access the river bank easily. And that is where the challenge is. Other than the rocky class 1 rapids, the rest of the river is mostly a weird mixture of charcoal colored sand and clay. This stuff sticks to you like putty and if you’re not careful will suck you in down to your knees. This leaves you wondering how you’ll extract yourself without loosing your shoes and not falling completely into the river.

Oh, if you go, beware, there are mosquitos. They fly faster than you can paddle. However, I was prepared. I had doused my clothing in permethrin before the trip and we all sprayed clouds of deet on ourselves. Amazingly, I didn’t have a single insect bite. They buzzed me incessantly, but I never itched from a bite.  And once the campfire was going, the bugs simply stayed away. I only had one tick find the palm of my hand as I was out gathering firewood, and he ended up in the fire.

Earlier I told you that you might see beavers on your trip. If you don’t see any, you’ll certainly run into their handiwork. Mother Nature does her best to add to the fallen trees through wind and erosion. There is a stated log jam about 3 quarters of the way toward where County Road 133 crosses over the river. This is a HUGE log jam. The maps list the portage around the log jam as 50 rods, but it is MUCH

Portaging the canoe over logjam #1

bigger than that. At a minimum, I’d estimate it to be 200+. The kicker is that you think it is the only one on the trip. Not so. We ran into 3 log jams. And the only way around most of it is by portaging through ferns and stinging nettles. The copper colored waters of the river feel really good after burning your legs on the nettles! Originally we intended to exit another 7 or 8 miles south of County Rd 133, but the log jams slowed our progress and we were thinking one of us would have to hitchhike a ride from someone to our van. But as luck would have it, the 3 guys that had passed us the day before

A collection of 2 groups gives each other a hand!

ended up behind us on the following day. We had set our earlier and they eventually caught up to us at the 3rd log jam. They rescued us as they had a ride waiting for them at County Road 133. In exchange we shared our 2 coolers full of food and we all exchanged stories of our trip and spent a few minutes enjoying God’s provision for us all.

Brent and Mark

Brent and Mark

Getting ready for supper!

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At the old flour mill waterfall.

So the stay-cation hasn’t exactly been what we were envisioning. Still it was good to have a week break from the office to do some relaxing and accomplish a few home projects. The less-than-desirable weather made sure of that. In some ways, the timing may have been just what the doctor ordered. Literally. Brent ended up in the cardiac unit of Urgent Care which led to an atypical number of naps and a few doctor’s visits. So, when Thursday came along with its long-awaited beautiful weather, we were more than ready to do something more “vacation-like.”

I ran across an article in last Sunday’s “Dakota County” section of the paper. It named the Hastings bike loop “one of the best-kept secrets in the Twin Cities.” After hitting this trail on Thursday, we agree.

One of the things we enjoyed most about the loop was the variety it offered. We rode through neighborhoods, countryside, nature parks and the small historic town of Hastings itself.  And we saw horse farms, fish jumping left and right in the Vermillion River, a lock and dam at the Mississippi, several bald eagles and a roaring waterfall at an old flour mill. We had no idea this bike gem existed until a week ago.

We parked at Jaycees Park along Lake Rebecca and headed west along the trail, circling the city for a 12-mile ride. With gradual inclines and very few steep hills, it makes for a nice leisurely pace. A fun ride with a fair amount of exercise without threatening to put either one of us into the hospital. We’re glad to recommend this biking option and it looks like there are plans underway to connect it up to the regional system.

Our only real disappointment was in hoping to find a cute little lunch spot. We drove around town with no luck. We’re weren’t overly impressed with the options unfortunately. We went so far as to make it to Prescott, Wisconsin. If you’ve got recommendations, we’d love to hear them since we came up empty handed. Lunch turned into a dinner of brats on the grill at home. Not a bad option after all.

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We’re getting home late from a long, wonderful day that felt like the first real taste of summer in central Minnesota. In order to do justice to our adventure, we’ll have to  insert some follow-ups to this initial post.

The adventure began with an email from Lisa’s friend, Peggy, a couple of weeks ago. Paraphrased, the email simply said, “I saw this and thought of the two of you. This seems like something you both would like.” Lisa started describing it and at first I wasn’t sure I understood what it was about. The bottom line is it was an open invitation for members and non-members to this year’s first Slow Food Minnesota event.

Focccacia bread fire baked with herbs and wild flowers!

What is Slow Food Minnesota? Good Question!

Slow Food MN is the local chapter of Slow Food International – [Slow Food USA Facebook]. In short, Slow Food was created as a protest against the ubiquitous nature of fast-food. The idea is predicated on how our accelerated lifestyles of western culture have separated us from our roots; our choice to live fast has severed cultural connections to land, nature, agriculture and the traditions derived from our local environment. Eating processed food and fast food while demanding it in our grocery stores has further disconnected us from where our food comes from; and it has changed our taste buds so that we don’t recognize what real, honest whole foods from our own environment taste like. Consequently, our demand for packaged and branded tastes not only affects our health, but affects our personal economy, knowledge and  appreciation for the people who grow food locally. This means that our choice to eat fast affects not only local growers, but the whole world. Slow Food is a grassroots effort to bring attention to these ideas and build a network to regain what we’ve lost, retrain our taste buds to accept, appreciate and enjoy local, sustainable, small-scale production of choice edibles. It’s a way of living and eating that seeks to build commitment to communities and the environment.

Samples of the wild edibles served at the meal including: Morels!

Let us whet your appetite for the follow up’s to this post by telling you that the meal we had was prepared by the owners of Broder’s Cucina Italiana and

Slow Food Minnesota Style!

Pasta Bar in Minneapolis. [Broder’s Facebook]. All ingredients for this fabulous meal were locally obtained. The meal featured a pig from Pastures A Plenty, foraged greens, flowers and mushrooms (fiddleheads, asparagus, garlic mustard, nettles, morels, violets, cress and other tender greens, depending on what’s in season). Shortbread dessert was included, as was local beers from Flat Earth Brewing Co., wines including the Frontenac variety.

In the follow ups, we’ll tell you about the wild mushroom discussions, farm tours and eco-tours of the land prior to the meal.

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Success!!

Our first foray into the wilds of Sakatah Lake State Park just west of Faribault, Minnesota proved fruitful! Ha! Sorry I couldn’t resist saying that. We were geared up for a fun day and we weren’t disappointed. There were plenty of foragers who joined us as the trip was organized by the Minnesota Mycological Society. Over 60 people arrived at the Park and were ready to forage by 10am. Our quarry was Morchella esculenta, or the common morel mushroom. And in case you didn’t know, it is the official state mushroom of Minnesota.

The season is still rather early as our winter hung around for an extra 3 weeks. The trees haven’t even leafed out yet. You can still see through the woods as if it were the middle of April. It made it a little easier to get low and see to the ground, however the ground cover is springing up pretty fast now. Another week and the morel mushrooms should be perfect. The group found quite a few, but they’re not very mature yet.

A word of advice, you will want to take precaution against ticks and mosquitos. The best way to do that is to treat your jeans, your shirt and your socks with permethrin. You can get it in the form of an aerosol at most camping stores or as a spray. We opted for the spray. Don’t treat this stuff lightly. Do NOT spray it on while wearing your clothes. You must treat the clothing and let your clothes dry for at least 2 hours before wearing your outfit. You do NOT want to spray yourself with this chemical. We purchased the Sawyer brand and treated our clothes earlier in the week. Tuck your pants into your socks and wear gloves. There are plenty of prickly shrubs and you will get scratched if you’re not properly covered. When we arrived it was overcast and had been sprinkling. This was a good thing because otherwise it could’ve been warm to be covered up as we were.

Not a bonanzaa, but a typical basket. Conditions should improve over the next week.

Finding the morels is not as easy as you might think. They blend into their surroundings as they are a grey to golden yellow in color. At this time of  year, look for dead or dying elm trees with a nice sunny southern exposure. The ground needs to warm up a bit for the fungus to fruit, so this year especially you’ll need to look carefully. Another item to carry is a long stick to bend ground cover over while you peer closely. Some folks used old ski poles, others had their favorite hiking rod. Still others had carved their own sticks with wooden morel mushrooms at the top of the staff. I opted for something provided by mother nature. I found two nice sticks each about 3 feet long. A used hockey stick works pretty well too.

Another find were hundreds of wild onions. These are similar to spring ramps or wild leeks. They are rather potent for their size, so you don’t need very many. But we can tell you how delicious they are! We sauteed the wild onions with our vegetable medley for diner tonight and it was terrific! Are you wondering about how the morel’s taste?

Early May Morels from Minnesota!

Well, we can tell you that we just sauteed them in a little butter with salt and pepper. They were outstanding! They are a very meaty mushroom. Eating them is like taking bites off of a steak. We’re looking forward to our next foray near Lake Pepin.

If you like biking, you’ll enjoy Sakatah Lake State Park too. The Sakatah State trail runs about 40 miles from Fairibault to Mankato. It’s an old, paved railroad bed and the biking is easy. There are plenty of rest stops with picnic tables. Bring a lunch and enjoy the fresh air. We biked for about 90 minutes at a leisurely pace and covered about 14 miles.

By the time we were ready to bike, the sun had emerged and warmed us up providing a little of the season’s first humid air! Spectacular!

Are you finding any morel mushrooms? Have you gone foraging before? If you’re willing to share a good location to find some, please feel free to type a tip or location in the comments below! We’d love to hear from you!

Other sightings today included a bluebird, early spring wildflowers (Dutchman’s Britches) and several species of woodpeckers.

Blue bird

Dutchman's Britches

Rest stop on the Sakatah State Trail, Minnesota

MMS - MN Mycological Society Members

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