Reclaiming this space and the journey

Photo cred: Alex Krivec

Maybe it is being in my thirties or having two kids instead of one or the postpartum anxiety, but I’ve reached this feeling of having stalled out. That feeling where you’ve accomplished all of the really cool things in your life. That new experiences are a thing of the past. That you are to old to try something different, challenge yourself, and face down insecurities.

It is way to early in life for that!

So I am embarking on a journey to fully embrace what I started this blog for, hopefully gain a little of my swagger back (who am I kidding I never had swagger, I’d twist my ankle), and find not only peace but growth in this new season of life.

When I started the blog I was transitioning into motherhood and out of what I thought was going to be a long term career in travel. I started this blog as a way to stay accountable to my goal of keeping my eyes open to the world and  embracing exploration. We spend so much time online and shuffling from place to place we miss the adventure that lives in each day. I started this blog to eat, travel, and meet amazing people and build my own adventure.

I want to continue to grow, learn, and challenge myself. I want to finish life saying I really lived it and provide lots of amazing memories for my children. I want to try new things – things that scare me, that make me anxious, that force me to face down insecurities and unrealistic fears of failure.

I want to meet new people – yes me, a hardcore introvert with anxiety (legit I take meds for that) want to meet people. I want to connect with people following their passions and writing their own story of life. I want to be inspired by their creativity, joy, and ability to face down their own fears.

And of course I want to eat and travel to experience new flavors, see new places, and meet new people.

So, I’m reclaiming that challenge and I’m sharing the journey as a way to stay accountable, provide a journal for my kids to look back on, and, hopefully, inspire some of you to do take on a new challenge, explore a new place, or meet some new people.

Here we go!

 

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5 Midwest food and drink fests worth the calories

Spring and summer in the Midwest means it’s festival season. With almost every weekend providing an option for food, drink, and fun which should you make room for in your schedule and diet?

Here are five of our favorite options for a day in the sun, eating and drinking our way through local favs.

Wisconsin Grilled Cheese Championshipgrilled cheese

Date: April 23, 2016

Location: 600 Bennett Road, Dodgeville, WI

Cost: Free general admission or $25/ticket Grilled Cheese VIP

The childhood favorite is taken to the griddle by talented home and professional chefs for some tasty results. With four different sandwich categories, food trucks, and vendors, you are sure to find something that hits the spot.

http://www.grilledcheesewisconsin.com/

Taste of Chicago

Date: July 6-10, 2016

Location: Grant Park, Chicago, IL

Cost: Free admission; food items are 1 – 5 tickets each; 12 tickets for $8.50

Since 1980 Grant Park has hosted one of the top outdoor food festivals in the nation. Over five days enjoy hundreds of food items, live music, cooking demonstrations, and plenty of family friendly activities.

http://www.cityofchicago.org/city/en/depts/dca/supp_info/taste_of_chicago.html

Great Taste of the Midwest

Date:  August 13, 2016

Location: Olin Park, Madison, WI

Cost: Tickets $60 go on sale May 1st; tickets often sell out

Headed into its 30th year this brew fest is the second oldest in the U.S. and for good reason. Featuring over 150 brewers and 1000 beers you are sure to find something that quenches your thirst. You can also enjoy educational and entertaining presentations on topics such as beer and chocolate pairings, beer cocktails, and live music. And of course there are plenty of food options to pair with your brew of choice.

http://greattaste.org

Mackinac Island Fudge Festival 

Street view photo – “Mackinac Island” by Marada is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

Street view photo – “Mackinac Island” by Marada is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

Date: August 19-21

Location: Mackinac Island, MI

Cost: Free admission; cost of food items varies

I love the Cedar Crest ice cream named after this delicious treat and this event takes it to a whole new level.

A fudge inspired dinner, beer and fudge tastings, and even loompahs delivering Golden Tickets to the fudge shops.

http://www.mackinacisland.org/event/mackinac-island-fudge-festival/ 

Taste of Madison

Dates: September 3 – 4

Location: Capitol Square, Madison, WI

Cost: Free admission; food items priced $1 to $4

This festival has been on my radar since we moved to Minnesota almost 10 years ago and I still haven’t made the time to get there. More than 80 restaurants serving bites, 3 performance stages, and 26 beverage stands make for two days of fun and feasting. Best part – all the proceeds go to local non-profits.

http://www.tasteofmadison.com/

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March Round-up: Travel, recipes, and forks

This past month flew by (this seems to be a theme for my year)!  So let’s jump right into a few things we’ve been enjoying, coveting, and anticipating over the last month. sunset

Travel 

After anticipating vacation for so long it is hard to believe it is already over. The beginning of the month included a quick road trip for Olivia and me to visit my precious new niece in Illinois. An eight-hour drive with a toddler while being almost four months pregnant seemed like a good idea until we pulled out of the drive way. I was concerned when less than an hour into the eight-hour drive she was asking, “we are close?”. All turned out all ok and ended with some sweet memories of Olivia holding her new niece and gave a little glimpse of what life might be like when the new baby arrives.

beach

After two years of grad school we took our first real vacation – no homework, no required reading, and no online check-ins. Just beach, sun, naps, and lots of great food with good company. Stay tuned for more next month on our trip to Fort Myers Beach.

Recipes

Between trips, planning for trips, and trying to get ahead at work I didn’t have much time for experimentation in the kitchen. I did, however, make plenty of time to try out a few recipes I had stowed away on Pinterest.

Recipes

Lemon and Chia Seed Yogurt Cakes – These delicious muffins made for a sweet start to Easter morning. I didn’t take the time to make the syrup and candied lemon slices, but they were still amazing with a bowl of fresh fruit.

Homemade Crescent Rolls – I have always wanted to make homemade crescent rolls, but had never taken the time because it is just so easy to open the can of the refrigerated kind. I finally did it! And they were delicious . . . not always the prettiest, but just as tasty.

Mushroom and Cheese Quinoa Cups – I love quinoa and am always looking for different ways to incorporate it at every meal. These mini cups were a great addition to the menu with a cheesy crust on the outside and even squeezed in some veggies for the little one.

Forks

Consider the forkOne of the joys of being done with school has definitely been my self challenge of reading a book a month. This month, the book of choice was Consider the Fork by food writer Bee Wilson. I am slightly obsessed with culinary history and this book was just the thing I needed to unwind from business books. Bee Wilson has a conversational voice so you feel like you are talking to a witty friend who shares your passion for all things food, cooking, and history. The book covers a wide range of topics and can sometimes feel a little disjointed when it comes to the idea of culinary evolution, but it is full of fascinating tidbits and things to fill your antique shopping list with.

Looking ahead

April is already jammed with activities and things to look forward to. Our daughter is turning four on the 20th so we will be doing a lot of birthday planning. And trying not to be the crazy parent that creates unrealistic expectations for celebrations.

After our March travels I had to start planning our next adventure. The next getaway will include a weekend away for our anniversary in Duluth. Close to home, but something I feel is totally untapped by us.

And the big project for April? Let the home remodel and construction begin!

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A visit to Pine Brook Farm

As we drove the winding roads of backwoods Wisconsin I was slightly concerned about the dining option for the evening. Really, what sort of restaurant would survive out in the middle of nowhere? Pulling into the packed driveway all my worries disappeared. In fact, I felt right at home (or at least like I was at my grandparent’s house) as we parked on the grass and approached the farmhouse.

farm houseAs we soon learned, the gorgeous farm was originally owned by Dr. Arthur Gillette whom the Gillette Children’s Hospital in St. Paul is named after. He had used the location as a retreat for himself, his family, and his colleagues. In 1921, Dr. Gillette passed away and left the farm to his great nephew. Throughout the years, several generations of the Gillette family worked the land and called the farm home. The land stayed in the family until it was sold in 2012 to Michele Law and Jason Martell.

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An apple a day on the cider trail

They say an apple a day keeps the doctor away and while I’m sure this only applies to the fresh fruit I will salute the adage with a toast of crisp apple cider. Summer is quickly fading and fall will soon be upon us and one of the few things that lifts my spirits when thinking of saying good-bye to the warm weather is the thought of all those fresh picked apples and the tasty creations they become.

One of the best places to enjoy the more mature of the many apple based beverages is in a region known more for its wine and cheeses than anything else. The Pays d’Auge area of Normandy, France is home to the “Route du Cidre” or Cider Road and a great epicurean extension from Paris. Only a few hours’ drive from Paris the region boasts fertile farmland and delicious cuisine using seafood, duck, and the famous Camembert cheese. For a leisurely fall getaway rent a car or hire a driver and follow the clearly marked route through the countryside.
CalvadosDriving from Paris you will enjoy small villages and traditional houses as you peruse this hilly region.  Make base at the heart of the Pays d’Auge in the village of Cambremer where you can enjoy historical buildings, a traditional market, and life in a French town. From here you can enjoy the Cider Route as one circuit or take several days to visit villages on the route and short detours to orchards not officially on the marked path. Following the signposts you will find several farms or distilleries advertising cider and calvados, a strong apple brandy.  Most distilleries are open Monday through Saturday, 10AM to late afternoon and offer tours of the orchards and/or production facilities. Many of these tours are led by members of the families that have been working the land and producing the cider for hundreds of years. You will discover how cider goes from tree branch to bottle and, of course, partake in a few tastings along the way.

Photo: Narisa Spaulding

Photo: Narisa Spaulding

 

This region has been granted appellation controlee status from the government for its ciders and calvados, meaning it has been certified as the specific region the product will be manufactured in and producers must hold to a set of defined standards. What is means for the consumer is consistently high quality and a wonderful drink to toast the beginning of fall.

 

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5 sanity saving tips for road trippin’ with a toddler

When we decided to take two road trips in the month of June, I must admit I questioned our sanity. We had been potty training our three year old for several months and she hadn’t quite gotten the hang of it. I’ll admit I had nightmares of constant clothes changes and a urine smell permeating the air. Roadtrippin with the fam

We survived our expedition odor free and with the majority of the clothes we departed with. Here are 5 sanity saving tips for your own potty training road trips . . . if you are that travel crazy too!

  1. This is not the military. Some “men” will be left behind.

Over the years we have left onesies in San Diego and pants in Mexico. When potty training expect that not every piece of clothing you left with will make it back. Unless of course you plan on making several pit stops at laundry mats or enjoy carrying soiled clothes with you.

  1. Potty training is like poker.

Toddlers are deceptively intelligent – they seem like they don’t understand what you want them to do, but as soon as they figure something out they will play you to get what they want. They are tired of being in their seat and they instantly have to potty. The thing is, like any novice gambler they have their tell. You have to be patient and figure it out, but once you do let the real games begin.

  1. Double time and keep your trainer on board.

Badlands beginA trip is supposed to take 2 hours, double it. Until you learn their tell you will be stopping what seems like every 15 minutes. You just have to prepare yourself for this and realize that the request will come at the most inopportune time. This would be why we kept our training potty a constant fixture in our vehicle.

The middle of nowhere South Dakota . . . no problem, we can go potty.

  1. This too shall pass

As a traveler you have most likely experienced the bodily changes that occur with a change in routine. It is no different for a toddler, especially one that is already in the midst of a change in routine from diapers to underwear. Expect constipation or increased need to urinate (wow, it sounds like the disclaimers for a new medication) and just go with the flow knowing that it will normalize.

  1. Keep calm and road trip on.

mickey carWhen it is all said and done you won’t remember the seemingly endless bathroom stops. You will remember the first time they saw their buffalo and going to the zoo with great grandma. And the ones that you do remember – such as “I peed on Mickey” – will make for great graduation and wedding stories.

The sun is out, the windows are down, there are places to explore – it is road trip season!

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Your new favorite travel app: Fieldtrip

One of the things I enjoy the most about travel is the history. The stories of the people who came before me, what the place was like decades ago, and the events that shaped the destination.

Maybe it comes from being surrounded by a family of history buffs or growing up in the Land of Lincoln where nearly every corner includes a plaque or statue or some other marker of historic relevance. Wherever it came from, it started early and has continued throughout my life. It has followed me, or possibly led me, around the globe.

Fieldtrip app

So when I heard about an app called FieldTrip I had to try it out. It is super easy to use and is great for those times when you find yourself in a new place and don’t have any sites planned.

I started with our current neighborhood and was surprised at how many historic sites and interesting things have been hiding right under my nose. The gorgeous house I pass nearly daily and always wondered how old it was? Turns out it was built in 1887 by a somewhat eccentric German immigrant farmer. Or the building my daughter likes to call the castle? I knew it was called the Stockyards Exchange, but had no idea it was also built in 1887 and once housed the offices for the country’s largest stockyard . . . and for one year in 1998 it was the Castle Hotel (maybe Olivia was right after all!).

Stockyards Exchange

Stockyards Exchange building, West St Paul, MN

Even if history isn’t your thing, this app allows you to narrow recommendations by interest: history, cool & unique, architecture, food, drinks and fun, and art and museums. You can save places as favorites or to return to later.

If you have your smartphone and the FieldTrip app you should never run out of places to visit . Happy travels!

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Sisters take Chicago: A three day jaunt through the Windy City

Chicago skyline

Photo: Roman Boed

Chicago, the Windy City; the epicenter of city life in Illinois. Growing up in the Land of Lincoln Chicago was the big city to visit for school trips, fancy prom dresses, and weekend getaways for those that could afford it.

Now, living in Minnesota, it is still a quick trip for a weekend getaway, especially when your travel pals are still located in Illinois. The easy access, affordability, and sense of familiarity is why we chose Chi town for our first annual sisters weekend.

We desired a little relaxation and plenty of space to have fun so we rented a house instead of going the hotel route. I found a great little place on Home Away located near Lincoln Square and if I ever moved to Chicago this is probably where I would end up. (Other than the fact that the house across the street was going for close to a million!)

Easy access to the brown line, a beautiful park, lots of little restaurants and local shops, and plenty of history. Designated Lincoln Square in 1925, the area use to be heavily German. You will still find a few German relics, such as the Chicago Brauhaus, but the neighborhood has become an eclectic mix of smaller chains such as Fleet Feet and unique shops like Merz Apothecary.

Chicago el

Photo: Tony Webster

Day one I found a tasty little place named Gene’s Sausage Shop that would be my go-to spot if I lived there. A great deli, prepared salads, and killer giant pretzels; not to mention, the upper level alcohol selection and rooftop beer and wine garden. Then of course there was the consignment shop, A Secret Closet, where I grabbed a whole new outfit in less than 15 minutes and chatted with the friendly staff.

Once my sisters joined me the next day, we spent a little more time wandering Lincoln Square for shopping and dining. We enjoyed a morning coffee stop at The Grind, which seemed to be the favorite among the locals. The wait in line was well worth it! We walked out with delicious iced coffees and a moist zucchini muffin.

A quick trip on the brown line and a switch to the blue line got us to Wicker Park/Bucktown. This area is now very popular among the younger Chicagoans, and therefore has a reputation as a hipster area. However, it has great shopping, restaurants, and people watching. And it is a nice alternative to the crowds and large national chains that clutter the Magnificent Mile. We wandered up and down the neighborhood and enjoyed a leisurely lunch at Francesco’s Forno. The wide open windows and classic rustic settings made us feel like we were dining al fresco in a café a world away. We made a post lunch pit stop at the Toms store which offers coffee that gives back along side their comfy shoes that give one for one.

Wicker Park

After a long day of walking, our legs were cramping and we were ready to head back to our apartment. We decided to stay close to home base and dine in Lincoln Square. Of course, that didn’t really narrow our options or make it any easier to decide on a restaurant. We finally settled on Barba Yianni Grecian Taverna for Mediterranean and it was a great choice. The staff was friendly and knowledgeable; and the food was fantastic and authentic. We highly recommend the humos, greek salad, lamb kebobs, gyro platter, and olive plate. Really I don’t think you can go wrong with anything on the menu, but be prepared to eat big or share a meal.

Day two we hopped back on the brown line and jumped to the red line to go check out Navy Pier. Unfortunately, Navy Pier is undergoing a massive redevelopment and is currently missing some of the grandeur and fun that it is known for. I’m sure it will look amazing when it is finished, but for now I’ll keep it off the list of possible stops for future trips.

River North

Although Navy Pier was a bust, we really enjoyed our lunch at Osteria via Stato. So if you find yourself in the River North neighborhood, stop by for great pizza, Italian specialties, and drinks.

Unfortunately, we didn’t have more time to explore further, but I’m sure we will visit again. Good thing, because I’ve already started a list of places I haven’t gotten to visit yet: Chicago Foodseum, the Andersonville neighborhood, Scone City in Wicker Park, River Roast for a Hoosier Mama Pie. Any other things I should add to the list?

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5 reasons mom should plan some adults only travel

I love traveling with Olivia and one of my top goals as a parent has been to show her as much of the world as possible. However, I have recently come to realize that traveling solo and traveling adults only can be just as important.

This past weekend I met up with my sisters for a long weekend in Chicago (more on that next week). Hopefully this will be the beginning of an annual tradition because it was just what we all needed.

I had a day along before they arrived and then we had two days of fun, laughter, adult conversation, shopping, good food, and relaxation. So here are just five reasons why I know I will do it again and why I think all the overworked, overstressed moms should do the same.Chicago O'Hare airport

1. You will be reminded of why you love travel and what you hope to share with your little one. I love traveling as a family, but I will be the first to admit that traveling with kids can be stressful and no matter what it is different. Going solo reminded me of why I love the airport – the people watching, the excitement and expectation of seeing new things, and the sense of possibility that hangs in the air. Once my feet the ground in Chicago it was about being out of your comfort zone and soaking in as much as possible.

2. It is a reminder of who you are. Yes, I am a mother and a wife, but I am also a dozen other things that I was long before I took on either of those roles. Getting away from the daily grind can give you the space to remember things you love to do and things you want to bring back into your everyday life. I was reminded how much I love running when I don’t have a constant thought in the back of my mind that she might wake up before I am finished. Or that I have been a sister longer than a wife or mother and that we can rely on each other for advice, honesty, and laughter.

map3. You get a glimpse of the outside world. As a mother, especially a mother of a young child, your attention is always focused on them when they are around. You can try to fight it and give partial attention to what is around you, but there is always this mental force that draws you back to them. Are they safe? Are they having fun? Are they getting what they need? Without that, you can let that mental field down and relax your mind. You can take a look around in a way you haven’t done in a while.

4. Sleep. I’m not going to lie, the opportunity to sleep and rest your mind and body is beyond compare.

5. You will miss them and be reminded of how much you love your life for all of its craziness. When we are in the thick of everyday life we often can’t grab even a second of peace. We can’t wait to get away and leave it all behind. However, you will miss their little smiles, their stories, and their hugs before too long.

Mother's love

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Du Nord Craft Spirits: Behind the scenes

I have certainly had my fair share of beer and wine, but at heart I will always be a spirits girl. There is something about the vast array of scents, flavors, and mouth feel that excites and hypnotizes me. Which is why I am so excited to see a craft spirits movement blooming in Minnesota. People who are passionate about what they are doing draw me in like a magnet and if they have a bottle of vodka to sip while we talk all the better.

It was one of these magnetic stories that drew me in this past weekend. My husband and I found ourselves without a toddler in tow so I decided it was time for an actual adult excursion. With a little searching I came across the Du Nord Craft Spirits Distillery tour and Cocktail Room. The story behind how people came to do what they do and the history of a product have always fascinated me. This tour did not disappoint.menu

We arrived a little before our 3:00pm tour time at a rather non-descript building in an underdeveloped area of Minneapolis. Located just off of Hiawatha and the light rail line I had been past this block hundreds of times and had no idea this was here. Of course, in my defense the cocktail room only opened in January 2015 after Minnesota law changed to allow distilleries to offer more to drink on-site than just tastings. So we partook of the rewards of the law change with a couple of pre-tour cocktails. Both the Bee’s Knees and Du Nord Salty Dog were phenomenal – beautiful color and fantastic balance of flavor.

drinks

With our cocktails in hand we joined a small group of fellow spirits lovers for a behind the scenes look at this small operation. Started by a husband and wife team they are keeping it completely Minnesotan. The name Du Nord comes from the state motto, L’Etoile du Nord (The Star of the North). They are a grain to glass operation – all of the grain comes from Minnesota growers (directly from the farmer when possible), is distilled in house, and bottled for sale at local liquor stores. As our guide Ed told us, you will never see a Du Nord Rum because Minnesota cannot grow sugar cane.

Really keeping it Minnesotan they call the big copper one in the back Zelda - F. Scott Fitzgerald's wife :)

Really keeping it Minnesotan they call the big copper one in the back Zelda – F. Scott Fitzgerald’s wife 🙂

So they have started with Gin and Vodka and are working on adding Whiskey and Bourbon (takes 2-3 years). The process of how science and art come together to create these elixirs was fascinating. I guarantee after learning about where and how they make the cuts, how good distilleries don’t strip away the flavor, and what goes into creating a unique formula you will have a whole new appreciation for quality spirits and the amazing things being done locally.

Aged barrels ready for their Whiskey and Bourbon . . .

Aged barrels ready for their Whiskey and Bourbon . . .

I am very excited to keep on eye on what Du Nord is up to since they are coming out with a few new formulas, including a new world flavor Gin (will have no juniper) that people will be able to vote on to pick which gets bottled and distributed, that whiskey and bourbon that will be sitting in the aged barrels, and as part of the Minnesota Distillers Guild working with the MN legislature to pass a bill that would allow on-site bottle sales similar to what you can currently do at wineries.

Until then, I will just have to head out to my favorite liquor store and pick up a bottle of L’Etoile Vodka and Fitzgerald Gin (named after famous Minnesotan F. Scott Fitzgerald). Or I can organize a group of friends for a bottling party where I get an even closer look behind the scenes when we get to help bottle the spirits and we walk away with a parting gift of our own. And of course there is always the Cocktail Room with great atmosphere, big windows to look in on the distillery, and even a food truck on-site for some Italian nibbles – happy hour here we come!

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