Autumnal Grandeur

Autumnal Grandeur

I have always looked at the ruby-throated hummingbird’s delicate, flittering wings.
But had never really seen as he rested,
Perched proudly as he searched for his mate.
So much beauty never considered.
Guilt consumes me.
I’m inspired to change.
To not only hear, but listen;
Not only touch, but feel.
Respond to the echoing call of the common loon,
Beckoning me back to Moose Lake.
Watch as my girls listen to the chorus of howling wolves
Beneath the sky’s dancing Northern Lights.
I want to observe the blue needles of the Minnesota pines become bluer,
The red carpet of dewberry become redder.
I wonder how it smells,
As I remember the comforting aroma of birch bark and blueberries,
Of campfires and fresh caught walleye.
I dream of how it feels to jump off the end of the long wooden dock
And swim in the cold lake’s waters.
I consider the stories of the woods’ tallest tree.
It has seen so much more than me.
Impressive in it’s grandeur.
I will be back,
To seek answers to all I have missed.

Inspired by my mom, I wrote “Autumnal Grandeur,” for a creative writing project in my last semester at ISU. I spent the whole semester writing and designing a book about the power of a mother/daughter bond, in which this poem was included. It was published in the Clinton Journal two years ago as a part of my mom’s column, “Naturalist Notes.” Since then, it has been edited to the way it reads now. It serves as a reminder to me, once again, of how we can always improve on the past while still preserving our memories.

Traveling Internationally with Children: Tips and Tricks, Part I

Traveling Internationally with Children: Tips and Tricks, Part I

We are soon headed for our second trip “across the pond” with our two youngest in tow. Now 7 and 5, the girls’ last international travel adventure was a little over two years ago. We will travel from Chicago to London, from London to Paris, from Paris to Nice, back to Paris, back to London (with a small layover in Ireland) and then return home. Our itinerary is similar to the last, replacing time in Germany with the pebble beaches of Nice (and a little extra time to explore both Paris and London).

I remember our first time traveling abroad, my husband was living in Germany temporarily for work. I couldn’t find a direct flight from the United States to Germany for the girls and I through Expedia (my preferred method of booking travel – I’ve yet to have a bad experience). All available flights were routed with a layover in Turkey. Traveling alone with small children, I wanted to be able to speak the language and, at the time, international travel to Turkey was not encouraged. I played around with the flights and found that the girls and I could travel to London first and then fly to Germany for cheaper than the flights to Germany that were routing through Turkey (and because a pit stop in London, duh).

I have traveled domestically throughout the United States many times (my 7-year-old has already been to 27 of the 50 states and stuck her toes in the Pacific, Atlantic and the Gulf), I’ve taken the all-inclusive trips to Mexico, and I’ve crossed over to Canada a handful of times, so international travel is appealing to be able to see some “new” sights while crossing “new” countries off of our collective bucket list.

I have always been a “bargain hunter” for our trips, and have never compromised quality for price. International travel is no different. I’m our family’s personal travel agent (as most moms and dads probably are – especially if you’re currently reading this), dedicating lots of time to researching areas, the hotels, the food, the locals and then I book our trip at a fraction of the cost (so get ready to research)!

If you’re looking to travel overseas (more specifically with children), I have lots of tips and tricks to share with you. Most of my advice will apply to domestic travel as well, you can just ignore the suggestions that obviously don’t apply. To clarify, I will be advising based on the assumption that you’ll be using Expedia (which I am NOT receiving compensation from), but if you have your own preferred travel app use that instead.

*First and Foremost – have/get/find your passport. It is recommended that you allow six weeks turnaround time (to be safe) when ordering a new one. Make sure it’s not expired (ten years for adults, five years for children) and also make sure you have applied for a new one if you have changed your name since your last trip*

The first step I take to traveling is to know where I want to go and what we would like to see. What is the main goal for your trip?

Relaxing? Sight seeing? Both? You’ll want to book hotels based on your ultimate take-away goal. You can buy flight and hotel packages which can save you some money, but the hotel may not be anywhere near the beach (for example), which means you’ll have to pay to travel to and from the beach (or rent a car) and that extra cost could have been better spent on a hotel closer to your preferred destination or landmark.

If you’re traveling with children, you’ll also want to make sure that the hotel is child-friendly. I once booked a flight/hotel combo package to Florida and ended up at a hotel that was essentially in spring break mode year round (I’m talking vomit on the balcony – it was bad), despite that the pictures online showed a colorfully painted pool and several playgrounds. We took all four of our kiddos on that trip and ended up booking a second (and quiet) hotel down the strip for the remainder of our stay. Double booking certainly didn’t save any money.

The second important question to answer is how many days you would like to be gone on this adventure. All of these questions are better answered with a budget in mind, of course. We would love to travel to Europe for a month at a time, but our budget worked best for about two weeks (and my husband’s vacation time wouldn’t allow a paid monthlong vacation, either). The biggest cost of your trip is the flight and hotels, but don’t forget about the somewhat hidden extra cost of bag check fees and an Uber or taxi(s). Four checked bags can add about $200 (or more) both ways (plus you have to lug that mess around). Plan to pack light and with only a {generally free} carry-on per traveler if possible (hey, no worries about lost luggage and no waiting at the baggage claim). If you’re staying somewhere with laundry service (or in an apartment or Airbnb), consider that you can also wash clothes or have them washed on your trip.

In Paris, there is a regulated taxi fee of €50 to and from the airport to your hotel. We were able to budget that into our travel cost but many places are based on a combination of mileage and time and are not as easily budgeted (be sure to look into these specifics while researching your destination, you may find helpful information regarding regulated costs or preferred modes of transportation in the area – your hotel may offer a free airport shuttle and that is definitely worth considering when it’s time to book a hotel if you’re trying to save money).

Speaking of transportation when traveling with children, car seats and area car seat laws should be researched. We purchased two BubbleBum Inflatable Backless Booster Car Seats off of Amazon. They pack easily without taking up much space (and then you also avoid the sometimes extra cost of requesting a car seat through your Uber or taxi service), AND, most importantly, your children are safe while traveling.

Are your dates modifiable? If so, the extra wiggle room can save you hundreds of dollars. Final round trip costs from Chicago to London were $515 per adult and $415 per child because we are leaving on a Thursday and returning on a Wednesday. I have read that there are certain days that are cheaper to fly on, however, I personally have never found this to be consistent. I always play with the dates (and different months if you can) to make sure that extending it (or shortening it) one more day would save money (leaving on a Wednesday and returning on a Wednesday would have cost us $203 more, per traveler so it was definitely worth shortening our trip by a day). Just make sure that you check general weather habits for the time you are traveling. Snow and rain at home could mean sun and heat somewhere else (and vice versa). Avoiding high travel times and holidays will always save you money. Don’t forget to research low travel times for your intended destination (you don’t really want to share the beach with 10,000 spring breakers and your three-year-old).

Hotels are typically more expensive on weekends versus weeknights so if there’s a fancy hotel you have your eye on, you can actually save more money by staying there through the week. Sometimes, staying only one weekend night can also save some cash. We stayed at a hotel in Paris in a duplex suite with a near €1000 nightly price tag for only $289USD per night (I’ve easily spent double that on hotels in Chicago that weren’t nearly as nice).

The best part of using your Expedia app for booking flight and hotels, is that once you book your flight, you save an additional percentage off of a hotel(s) in that area (and gain Expedia points for future travel). For example, the first time we went to London, I booked our flights and saved almost 70% off of a Hilton Hotel. I ended up with a total cost of $63 for the night, and it even offered a breakfast buffet (it wasn’t included in the price but the availability is convenient).

Breakfast buffets can be really great for efficiency, convenience and even budgets. Sometimes children are free, but almost always their meals are at a reduced-cost. It’s an easy way to find something you like in a county that offers a variety of “new” and maybe different foods. If you’re staying at a tropical resort, foods are usually catered towards the majority of travelers to that area but it’s not always like that when staying in a different country. In London, for example, we had baked beans and chocolate croissants for breakfast; in Oelde, Germany, melon, prosciutto and fresh baked bread. This is something to keep in mind for picky eaters (our youngest being extremely guilty of this), buffets generally offer something familiar.

Fun fact: Most other countries have much stricter government regulations and guidelines on their food than here in the United States. In many other countries (most, in fact), you won’t find an overabundant number of preservatives (if any at all) in your food, and definitely not corn syrup. I loved that in Germany, the condiments were made daily from fresh ingredients (but be prepared picky eaters, even something as innocent as fresh ketchup definitely tastes different).

The Great Outdoors, cont.

The Great Outdoors, cont.

There is a smell here, one that can only be described as the northwoods of Minnesota. It smells fresh and crisp, a mixture of birch bark and juniper. I have traveled enough places to know that I’ve never smelled it anywhere else. It comes in waves while I am here and when it hits me, I can’t help but smile, knowing exactly where I am and what it means.

Our third day in Minnesota was our most eventful. Hearing a commotion early in the morning, Delilah, the 9 pound lodge dog, chased off a 350 pound black bear just 50 feet from our cabin. Unfortunately, we were not privileged enough to witness that spectacle, but I’m sure it was a sight to see.

After breakfast, we headed down to the lake where we spent most of our day. We swam in the lake, both Andrew and I taking a turn at jumping off the end of the dock. Kendall caught a small bass with her minnow net and a frog that she carried around with her until he had enough and jumped back into the water.

We had one of those cheap kiddie fishing poles so the girls could fish off of the dock. Somehow Kendall managed to break the line inside of the reel before we even had a chance to try it out. Heartbroken, we went to the lodge to see if we could purchase another one.

Due to the quality of those fishing poles, they are not stocked. However, the lodge owner, Joe, made Kendall her very own pole out of a stick, some fishing line, and a chartreuse fishing jig. Wouldn’t you know that we caught at least 50 fish off the end of the dock with that pole. None of them were big enough to supply us with dinner, but the girls were thrilled, giggling and squealing with delight each time there was a fish on the end of the “pole.”

Andrew and I each took a ride on a paddle board (side note: if you haven’t tried one of those, you should). Andrew took each of the girls on their own special ride with him, and each of us took a solo ride as well.

As I got out on the lake, I sat silent in a little cove filled with lily pads and their colorful blooms. I felt the breeze wrap around me, as if it were giving me a gentle hug. I was at peace, the landscape serene. That is why people come here, and if you don’t, or haven’t – you should.

We chatted with many families that come here annually, as mine once did. One couple has been coming here for 47 years, another for 60, and all have continued to bring their families, who now bring their families, who will hopefully some day bring their families, too. It is probably unnecessary to say that we already have reservations to come back next year as well.

On Wednesday nights, the guests from the lodge all come together for s’mores and to converse around the fire. We roasted toasted coconut marshmallows to put on cinnamon graham crackers with just the right amount of chocolate, and Kendall played with her newfound friend, Grace.

Thursday we went back to town and ate, again at the Chocolate Moose, saving room for their signature cake for dessert. We sat next to an older couple who played peek-a-boo with Collins, sharing memories of their family with ours. We shopped for souvenirs, remembering to grab a case of Dorothy Molter Rootbeer, made right in Ely (this has a fun, and “Google-able” back story).

Our lodge (The Northwind Lodge) offered a painting class “Into the Brush,” taught by Joe himself. Thankfully, Andrew surprised me by signing me up, and I enjoyed an afternoon of painting (one of my all time favorite things to do).

I was privy to participating in the very first class offered through this program. Eventually, Joe plans to expand “Into the Brush,” utilizing his resources and knowledge for a mixture of indoor and outdoor painting classes (with discounted cabin stays and guided trips through the wilderness), teaching techniques for painting landscapes.

Friday was our final day. We woke up early, visiting the lake one last time before our return next year, wishing we had just one more day. I remember when I was little, we would pack up all of our things and about the time we should be leaving, mom could be found on a rock in the woods, writing in her notebook. I could never figure out what she was doing, but now I understand, she just wasn’t ready to leave.

https://visitnorthwind.com

The Great Outdoors

The Great Outdoors

For the last three years, our little family has spent a week of our summer at the Northwind Lodge in Minnesota. This year, we will not be able to make it. However, next year – we will anxiously return to create more memories. If you’re looking for an amazing (and incredibly peaceful) summer reprieve, please look into the Northwind Lodge. I assure you, you will not be disappointed!

https://visitnorthwind.com

https://www.facebook.com/northwindlodgeely/

Written in 2016:

I am sitting here on a picnic table outside of our cabin just north of Ely, Minnesota. The sun is shining warmly, the waterfall is loudly pushing water down the hill into the lake, the white-throated sparrow is singing “Oh, Sweet Canada” amidst the other birds singing their morning song, and I am watching as a ground squirrel sneaks the peanuts we left him. He stealthily takes them off of a rock, running away as if there won’t be another handful waiting for him when he gets back. It may be cliche to say, but life is good – so good.

We arrived Monday afternoon after Andrew and I drove all night, switching off drivers so the other could nap before the next shift. The girls traveled well, and they, too, slept in shifts happily keeping us company through the long drive.

The girls have heard plenty about past adventures to Minnesota and were excited to start a new adventure, adding a new state to their (and Andrew’s) repertoire. I came here with my parents every summer, my mom came with hers, and her dad came with his. Several generations of our family have been to some of the exact spots we have visited since our arrival.

We are staying at the Northwind Lodge on Jasper Lake. Previously, my family frequented the North Country Lodge, just one lake over on Moose Lake. For nostalgic purposes, we drove down to the lodge my family used to stay in – which has since been broken down into personal properties. Seeing the old lodge and its new life was an emotional endeavor. Luckily, we are here to make new memories and start new traditions.

Our cabin came with a boat, which we took out an hour after we settled in. Five minutes on the lake and we saw a bald eagle swoop down to catch a fish right in front of us. Nearby, an otter playfully popped his head in and out of the water. Loons calling from across the lake completed our first boat outing.

We played in the lake, starting a rock collection of our favorite striped and speckled stones. Due to the high iron content here, it is not unusual to find Jasper in bright red hues. Quartz crystals are always a favorite and each collection gathered is guaranteed to have several.

When I was little and would come with my parents, we would fish…and fish…and fish…frequenting our personal fishing spots known to produce an abundant supply of walleye. As you can imagine, my mom had to come up with lots of creative ways to entertain a young girl in a canoe for hours every day. Inevitably, there would be a day that would rain and on those days (the best fishing days, but the worst to keep a little girl happy in a boat), my dad would fish and my mom would drive me to town to go shopping. Rain days were my favorite.

Tuesday, we took the girls to town to shop, in the same stores that brought me such joy when I was little. I was thrilled to see they are all still thriving – so many years later. We ate lunch outside on the patio of the Chocolate Moose, a restaurant I’ve eaten in countless times before. The girls picked out souvenir shirts and purses, binoculars, and a net to catch minnows.

Before we made it back to our cabin, we made another nostalgic and educational stop at the International Wolf Center. The girls were able to learn all about wolves, but unfortunately were unable to see one – maybe the next time we come to Minnesota.

Coming back to the cabin, we took a paddle boat out on the lake before grilling blueberry brats for dinner and s’mores for dessert. The girls and I fell asleep early, but Andrew had stayed up to watch for the Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis) that we heard might make an appearance. Thankfully, Andrew woke Kendall up and was able to take her to see the green lights of the Aurora Borealis dance across the sky, before she fell peacefully back to sleep.

The Northern Lights have not been visible here for weeks and are not a nightly occurrence. We are very lucky that this trip provided the opportunity to witness such a phenomenal light show. My heart couldn’t be happier that Andrew and Kendall were able to witness them together.

(To be continued)

© 2019 Lauren Johnson; http://livingthroughherlegacy.com

Today is the youngest you will ever be

Today is the youngest you will ever be

“Well, I can cross THAT off my bucket list!” – 4-year-old Kendall as she finished her cherry Popsicle

You may already be familiar with bucket lists, and might even have one. For those of you who are not, a bucket list is a comprehensive collection of activities and/or achievements you would like to accomplish in your lifetime.

My mom always kept her bucket list current, constantly crossing off completed items and replacing them with new ones. One day, she handed me a canary yellow legal pad and pencil, and said “write your bucket list.” Put on the spot like that, I couldn’t come up with a full list on my own. She, Andrew and Maci helped me complete an entire page in a matter of minutes.

I found that list recently and really thought extensively about the irony of an unfinished bucket list. In fact, there was nothing on that particular list that I could cross off. I in no way feel like I’m not “living” and accomplishing things, but I want to make more of an effort to do some of the things specifically on my list.

This past weekend, we were able to cross off “Take the girls to Disney.” It was not a fully magical experience the entire time as there is a lot of waiting, walking and people; however, there were a lot of really happy and exciting moments and we created many memories we can always cherish. Ideally, we will go again when they are both older and spend more time than a long weekend, but if we never make it again – we have been there, we have done it, and we were together.

One of my favorite parts of trips like this one, is the unexpected. I may have been able to cross something off of my bucket list, but while constructing the list there is no way to prepare for the unknown. For example, Collins is very shy around strangers and sometimes even people she knows well. I did not expect her to get too excited about meeting princesses and riding rides. She really opened up on this trip. Ariel is her favorite Disney Princess and you could literally see the excitement in her eyes when she first saw her. She hugged Ariel three times, and later even sat on Merida’s lap! She was still a little shy at the end of the trip when she and Kendall met Shaquille O’Neal (Shaq) in the airport, but she got close enough for a picture with him, too (I had to throw that in there, I was more excited for them than they were – meeting Ariel trumped meeting Shaq in their eyes, of course).

I was inspired by our trip to update my bucket list and found some interesting resources to do so. I still have my paper copy, right on top of my legal pad, but technology offers some interesting options for creating bucket lists as well. I created a “Bucket List” board on Pinterest, allowing me to add ideas as I come across them (especially since I rarely carry my legal pad with me).

Additionally, there are already prepared bucket lists available online. If you’re not really sure where to start in creating one, or you want to add to an existing one, this could be a helpful tool. I like the prepared lists for a more short-term approach. I searched for “Winter Bucket List” online, and found an abundance of fun, new ideas to do with our family.

Whether or not you actually have a bucket list written down, there are always goals you’re working towards and things you would like to do. Life is short (relatively speaking) and time is valuable. Now is as good a time as any, start crossing off your bucket list!

“I don’t want to get to the end of my life and find that I lived just the length of it. I want to have lived the width of it as well.” – Diane Ackerman

© 2018 Lauren Johnson; http://livingthroughherlegacy.com