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Minnesota Nice

I thought about making this a multi-part series, but there are other fish in the sea to blog about. So hang in there, this may get long...

Drive out the tollway from Chicago past Rockford and it's a whole different landscape. Go through the Land of Cheese...past Madison, the Dells, strange places called LaCrosse or Eau Claire...and you will eventually come to the Land of Nice. To tell people from Chicago about this place makes it sound like Oz. Really it exists. (The roads are free!)

It's a crazy place where when you pay for gas--with cash, no prepay necessary--the station attendant skeptically eyes your vehicle trying to decide if $40 will fit in it. "Come back for your change if it won't take it all." Umm, sure thing.

It's a crazy place where drivers do something called a "zipper merge" politely taking turns letting each other into traffic via a "use all the space then be nice" philosophy. In Chicago, it's every driver for himself...if you don't own the road, someone else will cut you off. In the Land of Nice, they even have metered freeway on-ramps in the Twin Cities that create 2 lines of traffic alternating who goes on each green.

No, really, I swear it exists. And wait, there's more! There are parks and bike trails everywhere. The bridges have automatic de-icing in the winter. They have some weird obsession with fishing--apparently Mother's Day is also the start of the season and everyone was on the news because of taking their boats out on the lake at midnight to be first. But I'll forgive this...they have miles and miles of wilderness to contend with so it makes the civilization they've built that much sweeter.

7 hours in the car with two small kids is actually easier than you'd think...in our cast, at least. The trouble is they only last about 6 hours before getting antsy. So at the end it's a lot of "we're almost there!" But other than that we didn't stop as much as we thought we would have to. They both slept and played and quietly watched out the window. Once we finally got the car loaded it was actually easier to just keep going.

We'd packed plenty of snacks and we pulled over at a rest area around lunch on a gorgeous May day to walk the dog, the toddler, eat, and use the bathroom. Really it's more of a mega stop. Cole neglected the playground in favor of finding the 20 or so trucks parked in the back. Pointing each time one pulled in. One even honked its horn at him, but that didn't go over so well. I stopped him at the sidewalk edge of the parking lot, but he mostly wanted to get close. I'm sure he'd have climbed on one if I let him.

Friday morning we got up and went to Como Zoo. Which is a small, free zoo surrounded by a larger park, some rides, a conservatory. It's sort of the old timey, close together animal exhibits so it felt crowded but there was plenty to see in a couple hours and despite a few issues I think everybody had a good time. We went back "home" and had a nice dinner of salmon on the grill, salad. Another beautiful day.

Saturday we were up and at 'em for the Main Event. Really, this deserves its own post so look for photos later maybe. Shepherd's Harvest Festival was a big hit all around.

We got there not long after the gates opened so that we could get to the pen for the working dog demo. A husband-wife farming couple had some of their sheep there and a range of dogs from puppy to well-bred UK collie to show the training progression when handling sheep. They were informative and fun to watch. Then Kelly went to see the yarn booths while Cole and myself went to the other end of the process--the animals. We saw sheep, goats, alpacas, llamas, horses. There was a Lincoln Longwool that Cole got to pet and I absolutely loved and wanted to take home. Kelly, I think, is holding out for the smaller, horned ewe named "Big Mama" and her lamb "Dobby." Serious discussions have been had about our future in shepherding. Kelly bought yarn, Cole got to see some shearing. The sun was hot. We ate coleslaw and pork sandwiches and parked in a lot full of other Subaru vehicles. Minnesota really is a "nice place." Although I've yet to see it in winter.

Don't go to El Nuevo Rodeo to eat. It smells funny and the food is just so-so. It was, however, conveniently located between two points and served margaritas. So, I suppose it had that going for it. What I will recommend is Grand Ole Creamery which had a line out the door and down the block on a Saturday evening. The ice cream deserves the Twin Cities reputation as the best and, though I found their waffle cones didn't quiet hit 10 out of 10, it was strangely well-matched to the ice cream. If you want some old school pizzeria style, go to Carbones on Randolph. Good thin crust dough-slinger type stuff. Cole picked the olives off the top and loved it.

Saturday night was a strange evening for us in that it did not involve children. We were hesitant to leave, but Kelly's mom had a free hotel stay to give to us. It was weird, but the good night's sleep was appreciated. It also set up an extra day of vacation time. We'd left our departure up in the air depending on the kids, but they were doing pretty good. Especially in the area of sleep. Naps were difficult to achieve. But when exhaustion set in we figured out a balanced act of Cole-in-play-yard until Leda's bedtime then switch. Leda slept the night in the play yard. Cole got a parent in the big bed. He's horrible to sleep with. I got the first night. Kelly got the 2nd. Then me for the last night. He sleeps at all angles and I cut my eye on his toenail. Actually it was better than I thought it would be. He was cute at least and woke up smiling the first morning with a crazy grin on his face like he knew he was getting all the attention at that moment. Back at home, Leda is now sleeping in the play yard in the play room like a good girl. No more cosleeping in our room. But I will say it's good to have the crib for Cole where he can wake up and play and wrestle around without disturbing anyone...hopefully.

Sunday we ended up someplace very cool called Caponi Art Park. Essentially a 60-acre, wooded, hilly piece of land that someone built a house and then sculptures on. Now the trails and art are open to the public. There's a place for concerts, a lake, lots of mossy/shaded areas. Had we been better prepared, we'd have stayed to enjoy it more. But we didn't have the right shoes or stroller, etc.. Kieran the greyhound isn't so much up for hills anymore either. It's the kind of place I wish we had in IL so I could go trail running.

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