Frozen Peanut Butter Chocolate Pie

August Coffee Chat

Where did summer go? I’m not quite ready for cooler weather and sweaters, but it like everything else in life it will come regardless.
Don’t you just hate that though! That those things you wish you could drag out forever always seem to come to an end before you are ready. Yet, the things that you want to change right away seem to take their sweet time. In fact, there is one thing in my life that I know I need to change, my therapist told me I need to change, and my family says I would be happier if I changed. But of course it is the one thing I can’t seem to change.
So instead I cope and try to distract myself . . . that was really the theme for August.
Food
When something is bothering me or not going my way I often turn to food. I am not an emotional eater, but I am an emotional cooker. Give me a day in the kitchen to knead, mix, and bake my way out of my own head and I’m much happier. So this month I clocked more time in the kitchen than I have in a long time. The family got to enjoy the fruits of my labor of course 😃
Cinnamon Rolls
Frozen Peanut Butter Chocolate Pie
Parmesan Zucchini Tots
Chocolate Chip Peanut Butter Zucchini Bread
(If you didn’t notice we had an abundance of monster zucchinis in our garden.)
Exploring
The other activity that helps put me at ease is travel. In August we didn’t travel far from home, but even a little local exploration was enough. We took our first camping trip as a family of four!
Happy campers Littlest hiker
Father daughter hike
Lebanon Hills is a gorgeous park about 20 minutes from our house with walking trails and full hook-up campsites. Yep, camping for this family means a camper with running water 😃 Hey, we still cooked over an open fire and went hiking with an infant and a five-year-old.
Family
Speaking of infants, our little man turned one on August 1! Where did the time go?! How did we get from the NICU to finger foods and crawling so quickly?
But here we are with an adventurous, flirty, and ornery little gentleman in our lives.
First birthday

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July coffee chat

Agra Culture coffeeBefore having kids, coffee chats were a weekly part of my life. I worked for myself in a business that was heavily based on networking so I really challenged myself to set-up time with people on a regular basis. Groups make me anxious, but one-on-one over a cup of coffee I blossom.

Even though I often had to talk myself into getting into the car and going, I loved it once it was done. And now that I work full-time and have two little kids I really miss these coffee chats. So I will just make do with my virtual coffee chat. I’ll sip my cold press (yes, it is the middle of the afternoon and I’m still caffeinating) and chat away to all of you about what has been on my mind, what new things I’ve tried that I’m excited for you to try too, and what is keeping me going for the future.

Me time

As a mom, really as a woman, we all seem to be pretty bad at taking time for ourselves and fulfilling our own needs while constantly worrying about those around us. Getting back to this blog is one way I’ve taken time for myself, but July was also a time to regroup about what I need from life. So trying new restaurants, spending time with friends, and working out have found their way onto my calendar in permanent ink.

Fried Chicken Revival St Paul

When a friend and I got together after months of both being super busy we caught up over fried chicken, mac ‘n cheese, and beers. Classy, I know! But this was one classy and amazing meal at Revival in St. Paul. It is a bright space that feels like a group of friends got together on someone’s porch down South for some good home cooking and chatter.

Thankfully, I’ve also been able to squeeze in more consistent workouts along with the extra restaurant trips. Back up to five mile runs!!!! That only took a year and a half, but really who is keeping track?

Exploring

I love being home and we have been slowing making updates to make our space our own little cocoon away from the world, but I have that need because I also love exploring. As I’ve mentioned in the past, this blog is a way for me to keep exploring – through food, new places and experiences, and meeting new people.

July was a month full of cabin visits that included some excursions to places that even after ten years of visiting the region I hadn’t been to. Over the 4th of July we went to Madeline Island for a gorgeous picnic lunch. Then a few weeks later we headed to Hayward for the World Lumberjack Championships. I didn’t even know this was a thing still, but after seeing these men and women compete I was in awe. I mean, how do you even get into these sports?! And what would possess you to climb a 90 foot pole and then pretty much free fall to see who can get down faster? Or stand on a piece of wood and swing an axe between your feet until you cut all the way through? It is impressive and crazy what these competitors from all over the world did and you can tell that they have worked their butts off getting there.

Our taste buds also did a little exploring in July when we tried two new Minnesota made products. First, Maddy & Maize popcorn. We had been seeing it on Instagram and were so excited when we saw that it was coming to our local Hyvee. The first day it was in stock we grabbed a bag of the Bourbon Barbecue popcorn and oh my god it is amazing. It surprised me with a spicy kick, but it is so good. I think Apple Pie a la Mode is the next on the list.

Thumbs Cookies

To go with our something a little spicy, we tried out Thumbs Cookies when Robyn (the owner and baker) offered a limited edition S’more flavor. I had the pleasure of picking them up in person and meeting Robyn at Agra Culture which I love because it was an opportunity to be face-to-face with someone doing what they are passionate about. The hardest part was I picked the cookies up in the morning and wanted to try them as a family so I had the box on my desk at work all day. Talk about will power! The cookies were a hit at our house and we are looking forward to trying the Peanut Butter Sea Salt ones next.

Even though July was a busy month and it wasn’t all good change, I am choosing to keep the blessings and adventures in mind as I move forward to the end of summer, my baby’s first birthday, and our oldest’s journey to kindergarten in September. Cheers to August and a lot more coffee.

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View of Bayfield from the ferry

Madeline Island and the glorious staycation 2017

I love to travel to far off lands and experience things outside my norm, but this past week I was reminded of the fun and beauty that exists right outside our front door.
For the long 4th of July weekend we hadn’t planned on taking more than the two extra days off, but things have been a little crazy lately. What is a few more days off? So for the first time in years we went to the Northwoods for a whole week.
Sometimes a staycation isn’t the only thing you can do, it is the best thing to do.
Cabin fun 2017
Between lots of fresh air on the lake, s’mores by the campfire, and runs on country roads, we squeezed in an excursion to possibly one of my new favorite places – Madeline Island.
View of Bayfield from the ferry

View of Bayfield, WI from the Madeline Island ferry

Located just off the shore from Bayfield, WI, Madeline is the southern most island of the Apostle Islands. Getting there is a fun experience all its own. During the summer you can take the Madeline Island Ferry across and witness floatplanes landing in the water near the dock. We haven’t been in the winter yet, but we hear that crossing can be even more interesting as you cross on an ice road when the lake is frozen over and on the Windsled Taxi – part sled, part boat – when the lake isn’t completely frozen solid. But until then we enjoyed the warm breeze and sunshine of our summertime visit.
Although there are several dining options we planned ahead for a picnic lunch and carried over some supplies with us. After disembarking along with the dozens of other visitors we headed down the street to Joni’s beach. This quiet little area is right on the water front with a play area for the kids, shaded picnic tables, and bathrooms. The perfect spot for a little waterview al fresco lunch.
Besides great views and outdoor activities, the island is known for the many artisans that have set up shop there. The main street is dotted with galleries and local stores. Lots of pottery, weaving, woodwork, and small batch foods could have made their way home with us. Thankfully, we showed restraint and only indulged with a new handmade coffee cup and ceramic soap dish from Deena’s Pottery Studio and a beautiful hand made candle from Madeline Island Candles.
All that walking, shopping, and sunshine really worked up an appetite. So off to Grampa Tony’s for some pre-ferry ice cream we went – next time we will be trying the pizza. We gathered with a group of other visitors in the grassy spot next to the building; lounging in Adirondacks and at picnic tables in the shade of old trees. It was the perfect peaceful end to our day.
ice cream at Grampa Tony's

Strawberry cheesecake ice cream from Grampa Tony’s

We never even made it to the historic sites or the Madeline Island School of the Arts . . . there is always next time 🙂

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How we did Disney with a baby and preschooler

Living in Minnesota for ten years I’ve learned that a winter getaway is sorta mandatory. We have loooooong winters that even Frosty the Snowman would find brutal and unbearable at times. While we revel in the warmth of the gorgeous Minnesota summer it might be hard to even consider that snow will again fall, but now is the perfect time to plan that winter getaway.

With people thinking about warm destinations for future family trips I’ve been getting a lot of questions about our 2017 winter escape. We braved taking a 6 month and nearly 5-year-old to Disney World. This was my third trip there and our daughter’s second trip. Right away I would say if you anticipate Disney World being a once in their childhood experience wait until they are older – at least 10 – so they can fully enjoy all the park attractions. If however, you are taking them at a young age and headed back once they are older there are a few tips I’d like to share to make your trip that much more enjoyable.

Stay on-site

We have stayed off site (pre-children) and on-site and after staying at a Disney property we won’t go back to off premises. Save yourself the hassle and stress of getting everyone organized in the morning, driving to Disney, finding parking, shuttling to the entrance, and finally making it into the park after waiting in line. Instead, stay on site and get access to the parks early and late as scheduled, take a quick boat ride or shuttle to the park of your choice, and get your day started.

Fort Wilderness might be the least known of the Disney World resorts, but it should be top of the list for families. This fun property is a throw back to the Disney of old and a world away from the chaos of the parks. The cabin option is perfect for families – kitchen to eat breakfast and have a slightly slower morning, separate room to watch TV in while the kids sleep in bunk beds in the back room, a deck to enjoy a little calm outdoor time. There are also swimming pools and other activities for the afternoon when the kids (and parents) need a break from the crowds. The other great part is the evening entertainment. Enjoy a campfire with sing along and s’mores with Chip and Dale.

Chip and Dale sing along at Fort Wilderness, Disney World

Plan ahead for little one’s meal times

If you have a really little one who is just switching to solids, like our little man was, make sure you pack a few appropriate spoons. Throughout the parks and at the resort shops we were able to find baby food, plastic bowls, even baby tylenol and diaper cream, but no soft plastic spoons.

If you are breastfeeding the parks do have great mother’s rooms/nursing stations. They have comfier chairs usually, more privacy, a TV to keep older kids appeased, and changing tables.

As for older kids, have an idea of where you want to be at lunch time (or a few options) so Mickey pretzels don’t become the entree of choice. We did the dining plan and used our quick service options for lunch most days so we could get back to the rides ASAP. We used our sit down meals mostly in the evenings when we were all ready to crash anyways. You can easily make reservations and look at menus on the park site and even on the app, which I highly recommend downloading.

Do: Download the Disney app, scope out menus before leaving home, make reservations when possible. 

Characters, characters, characters

One of the best of parts of a trip to Disney is getting to see your kids’ faces when they meet Mickey, Minnie, or any of the dozens of characters that are found throughout the park. Not gonna lie, I still get a little gidy when meeting them. The app now lets you pinpoint times and locations of characters so you can plan ahead and be sure not to miss a favorite.

Character dining Disney World

We found the best way to see characters was through the character dining options. Book in advance! These were great because rather than standing in a long line waiting to see one character you can keep the kids busy eating or with an activity at the table while they wait for the characters to make the rounds. We also found you tend to get a little more time with characters during the dining experiences versus at the parks.

Our favs were Minnie’s Beach Bash Breakfast at Cape May Cafe in Epcot and the Tusker House Restaurant character dinner in Animal Kingdom.

Do: Book character dining in advance, bring activities to keep the kids busy while they wait for characters. 

One final tip

We have been lucky enough to travel with other family members who can watch the kids for a few hours. If possible, travel with other adults so can sneak away to enjoy a some of the fun just the two of you. You are never too old to enjoy Disney World!

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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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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.

Continue reading

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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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Two homes for the holidays

This time of year can be stressful and extremely busy as we rush between holiday events and wrapping up the end of another year. We all hit the road to see family and friends near and far. For twelve years now I have lived away from my parents and siblings; first in Kansas and now in Minnesota.

Year after year we pack up our car and make the holiday trip to Illinois along with hundreds of others. Usually I’m filled with dread at the thought of forgetting something, being on wintery roads, and the occasional arguments that are bound to break out when you have any group of people together. Last week for the Thanksgiving holiday we hit the road once again. However, this year I remembered something . . . I am lucky to have two homes.

As we head back to Illinois I always view it as heading home even though I haven’t lived there in over a decade. At the end of our stay we pack up again and head back to Minnesota and back to our home. Some people have no home and no family, but I am blessed with two homes and a large group of people to act as a beacon when my wanderlust leads me astray. I hope as we show Olivia the world we also remind her that she has a home and sometimes coming back to it is the greatest journey you can make.

Roots and Wings

 

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Minnesota fall bounty

Fall is one of those seasons in Minnesota that if you blink you might miss it. But if you do catch it, it is a beautiful time of year. A time of bright reds, oranges, and yellows. Friends around the fire. Sweaters and boots. Pumpkins, cider, and apple picking.

Fall foliage MN

So before the snow invaded the fall bliss we headed out to a few orchards and pumpkin patches near the Twin Cities and ended up with a delicious meal from our local bounty.

The first stop was Country Sun Farms in Stillwater, MN. This fun location was a little dead on a weekday, but it offers so much – pumpkins, fall décor, corn maze, hayrides, silly string tag (think laser tag with silly string), and lots of animals to pet. Here we nabbed some goat saliva, pumpkins for Halloween, and a beautiful acorn squash. After riding the mini carousel and lots of hand sanitizer we headed to our next stop.

Aamodt’s Apple Farm is a beautiful orchard, shop, and tasting room. Unfortunately, we were there when the tasting room wasn’t open, but it will make a perfect date day next spring. Even without the tasting room the farm is a charming experience and full of great products to enjoy. We tried a new apple, Pazazz, which to me tasted like a mix between a Pink Lady and a McIntosh – loved them! And everyone in the house loved them too because my five apples only lasted two days. Honeycrisp apple salsa

While we were browsing the local products we also walked away with apple oatmeal cookies and some amazing Honeycrisp Apple Salsa. In fact, this salsa is what gave me the inspiration to rework one of my favorite recipes for a delicious fall meal.

Stuffed Acorn Squash
6 servings

3 acorn squash ( ¾ – 1 pound each)
1 small red onion, chopped
½ medium red bell pepper, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 (15oz) can black beans, rinsed
1 cup Honeyscrisp Apple Salsa
1 cup shredded Cheddar cheese (I used Red Barn 3 year aged cheddar)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Lightly coat a large baking sheet with cooking spray. Cut the acorn squash in half horizontally. Scoop out the seeds and place the squash cut side down on the cookie sheet. Bake until tender, about 45 minutes.

While the squash is cooking, toss the onion, bell pepper, garlic, beans, and salsa in a large bowl. Set aside until ready to use.

When the squash is tender remove from the oven and reduce oven temperature to 325 degrees. On your cookie sheet carefully flip the squash over so you have a edible bowl to fill. Fill eat squash half with some of the filling mixture. Top each with cheese as desired.

Return to the oven and bake until the filling is heated through and the cheese is melted – 8 to 10 minutes.

Stuffed acorn squashEnjoy!

P.S. I will tell you all about the Red Barn cheese in a future blog post . . . some of the best cheese I have EVER had!

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