{Cabin Life} Is the Life for Me

She may look weary, but her logs still hold life. Built in 1937 for a sheep herder and his family. Her logs taken from this land. Hand hued and filled with promise. The stories she could tell. Her basement walls guarded the sheep by night and were filled with laughter by day. She saw the landscape change around her, a road punched through in the sixties connecting her to town. Yet she stood tall and held her ground against winter storms and spring floods. That new road caused the family to leave, town life was the life for them. So she sat empty and waited.

She sat empty from 67 until 1985 when a man with a dream came along. Though her roof had a hole, her windows were long gone, doors shot up with shot gun blasts, he didn’t see ruin, instead he saw promise. A promise to bring her back to a brighter day. In which as money allowed he painstakingly did. A new roof was put on, each broken window replaced, a new floor in the sleeping loft, and new doors were hung. This old pile of logs was forever his and she was thankful.

For he brought laughter and childhood wonder back into her rooms. Camp fires were once again lit and stories seeped into the night sky as fireflies took flight. This old home took a breath of relief for she knew this family would not abandon her. This family was different. This family needed her more than she needed them. Her old logs and fields of wildflowers provided refuge from the storm. Out here next to her a little girl’s illness melted away as she became Super Mannie and took on the days adventure. No turtle nor snake, nor toad nor salamander were safe when she was on the prowl. Her logs protected Super Mannie on rainy days as she colored and played connect four by lantern light. An old iron bed, heavy blankets and a breeze through the window lulled her to sleep. This place was hers and hers alone.

Gardens and apple trees were planted. Bikes and roller skates hung from the rafters. Rides to the creek and through the fields to pick wild flowers were aplenty. Forts were setup in the woods and lookouts on the hillside to watch out for bandits. In this place her imagination was allowed to run wild. Day dreams filled the sky as she laid in the field and watched the clouds pass by. Croquet was played on the lawn, wiffle ball in the fields, and kites stuck in trees. Trees to climb, Barbies lost and found, pounds to swim in as honey bees buzzed by. Christmas trees were cared for and cut in the fall. No matter the season, the land around the cabin was always filled with activity.

But just as she had seen before, the child she so loved grew up before her eyes. Yet this time it was different. The child didn’t go into town, this child returned every weekend to run her hands along her logs as she breathed in a sigh of relief. This place, this very place was her happy place. Tears would often stream as the memories of days gone by played in her mind. Her old fort is long gone, but she remembers exactly where it stood. The wild berries are no more yet she knows exactly where they grew on the fence line. This land is apart of her and she will always belong to her. Her Dad realized that she loved this place as much as he did. He realized that Super Mannie saw the promise too and on a fall day he handed her the deed. It was now her turn to carry on her legacy. With tears in her eyes she hugged her dad and said “I will do my best to carry her into the next 100 years.”

She has held on to that promise. A new roof was done and now a new foundation will be laid. A new chapter is being written with her third owner at the helm. It’s a chapter filled with promise, wonder, and love for the place she calls “childhood.” Yet her heart is heavy as she takes in the fresh country air, she holds out hope that one day she will return with a baby in her arms, the forth generation to love this place as much as she does. She dreams of the day that she will walk these fields with a child of her own. Oh the stories she could tell as she shows her child the best spot for catching turtles. For a log cabin like this one deserves to be filled with child like wonder. This land needs to hear the footsteps and laughter of a little one. Adventures are await amongst the pines and campfires are just waiting to be lit. This place is what childhood dreams are made of. A safe place from the outside world to just run free and be exactly as a child should be, FREE.

{Cabin Life} Do we save her or do we let her go?

In 1986 my dad was driving through the Wisconsin country side when a log cabin caught his eye. The cabin had seen better days, her windows and doors were gone, and the roof had a gaping hole. But, her logs were strong. Where others saw a dilapidated building, he saw beauty. And he knew that he had to have her. So he sent my mon off to go find the owner. The owner was more than happy to sell the cabin to them, he needed $5,600.00 for a new pole barn. So a deal was struck and the log cabin was ours.

After purchasing the cabin my Dad learned that it was built in the late 1920s for a sheep herder and his family. The basement is a dirt floor and that is where the lambs and sheep were kept on stormy & winter nights. The family lived on the first floor and utilized the sleeping loft. They lived in the home until they moved to town in the 60s. And there she sat, she sat empty waiting for her new owner. Slusher purchased the 300 acre parcel somewhere in the 70s and had no interest in the cabin, so she sat empty. He rented out the land to Mr. Bathel a Christmas tree farmer and to Mr. Smith a Bee farmer. Eighty acres across the road was sold to a Postal Carrier from Saint Paul and he built a little cabin down by the creek. He was our only neighbor.

When I was a little girl the son of the sheep herder would bring his family and friends down to see where he grew up. He often shared pictures and stories with us. He was thankful that someone was working on restoring the place he once called home. He was glad to see that a new family was making memories in the logs that once protect him.

This cabin of ours is a magical place. Its a place of healing. When I was little I was sick. Being in town meant that our world revolved around doctor visits, tests, medication, and pitiful looks from strangers. I couldn’t even play with the kids in my neighborhood or go to school. I was homeschooled by Ms. Ann and played dolls with my next door neighbor Ms. Cora (she was my 90+ year old best friend). Every once in a blue moon they’d let me go to Sunday school, which was a real treat. As a child I didn’t understand that they were protecting me from getting sicker than I already was. It was torture not getting to be a normal kid. But, as an adult I realize that they gave me an escape, they gave me something most people never have.

My Dad bought a second home, a summer home without electricity or running water. He bought a place where his daughter could truly be a kid. I was allowed to explore and dream. These woods that surround the cabin entertained me for hours on end. These old logs over heard scary stories and jokes told in the dark. Her old logs sheltered us from stormy skies as we played board games on the living room floor. And with time her logs healed a sick little girl and her family. She allowed them to dream again.

It’s more than logs, the land the cabin sits on is magical. The woods were my playground. I often could be found picking strawberries, mixing potions, “hunting bad guys,” playing in my make shift fort, or just laying in a field of wild flowers calling out shapes in the clouds. When my parents weren’t looking I was known to capture an unfortunate toad, frog, salamander, or turtle in my bucket. Somehow my dad always knew, he didn’t even have to look at me and I’d hear him yell “Mannie! You better put that critter back where you found him!!” Snakes? I wasn’t afraid of snakes. I was fearless as a child and my dad had to teach me about poisonous snakes in order to keep me safe. If a snake crossed my path it was a guarantee I’d pick it up and put it down the back of my sister’s shirt. I’m pretty sure I am the reason she has a fear of snakes. I am probably the reason for her fear of the dark, dead fish….. and many other things in life. And yes, she deserved it, she’d cheat at board games and violated my Barbies by cutting their hair. As we grew older we grew apart, she lost interest in being my sister and in her eyes the cabin lost its magic.

Even though the magic faded for her, it grew and grew for me. We are not the only folks who love the land the cabin sits on. As I said earlier Mr. Slusher rented out the land to local farmers. As a child I’d watch Bathel and his crew expertly care for, trim and spray paint the Christmas trees that would be sold in the fall. Yes, believe it or not Christmas trees are spray painted…. that’s why you sometimes get a tree where the needles fall off as soon as you get it home. It’s a pretty neat process to see in person. Anyways, Mr. Smith tenderly cared for over 20 hives and he’d tell me “now Mannie, don’t kill the bee. The bee doesn’t want to sting you, he just wants to get back to the hive.” He taught me to respect the honey bee and to this day I find myself telling people “don’t kill that bee! He just thinks you are a flower. Once he realizes you aren’t, he will go on his way.” It’s true, they will. My Dad used to have an orchard on the land. I’d spend my summer days following him from tree to tree with trimmers in my hand as he patiently explained the delicacy of grafting. When we weren’t trimming or grafting, he made me carry 10 gallon buckets of water up the hill to thirsty little trees. He said “it will teach you character….” I don’t think it taught my character, however I did have really strong arms for a 10 year old.

Sunset is my favorite time at the cabin. My Dad calls dusk “God’s magic time,” because each sunset is a beautiful painting to remind us that life goes on. I spent my summer nights sitting by the fire roasting marshmallows while watching fireflies dance in the darkening skies. We’d tell stories about UFOs and aliens as the foggy mist rolled in through the trees. The sound of bullfrogs singing, crickets chirping, and wind rustling the leaves would lull me to sleep in the old iron bed. I’d dream of another day at the lake and rescuing turtles from the road. The smell of the fire would stir us awake, the morning mist dissipated through the trees as our feet touched the wet grass. Breakfast was always fried potatoes and some sort of meat, if my Mom was there we’d get pancakes + fried potatoes + meat. Breakfast always tastes better when eaten outside under the old oak trees. Those are days that I will always cherish for as long as I have breath in my body.

Speaking of body, this little log cabin of ours is no match for the test of time. She was built back when we knew little about concrete and her foundation is crumbling. Her logs are good, but her base has seen better days. My dad guarded me from her fate all summer long and told me over and over “I can fix it, I just need some materials.” When I laid eyes on her, I knew that this wasn’t a project for him. We needed help. We had to map out our options and attach cost to those options. We needed to make the decision of do we save her or do we let her go?

We chose to save her. All roads pointed to one contractor, we are bringing in Heritage Builders from Menominee WI to restore her. In the spring of 2021 she will be lifted, her old foundation will be removed and a new one will be put in its place. Once the foundation is completed the Jacks and supports will be removed one by one and she will be sat on her new foundation. This project terrifies me. One wrong move and we will end up with a pile of Lincoln logs. I know our log cabin is in the right hands, Troy from Heritage Builders immediately saw what we see, he saw the gem. The gem that my dad saw all those years ago, the one painstakingly brought back from ruin to life.

I know in my heart God is making a way. This land, this house is my Dad’s heaven on earth. And he gave her to me, he’s trusting me to carry her on to the next generation and beyond. We pray each day that this cabin of ours will hear the pidder patter of little feet within her walls again. That scary stories and laughter will once again ring through her rafters. This log cabin craves life and life is what we will breathe into her.

Because she breathes life into my Dad and makes his soul sing. This log cabin of ours will be where my Dad’s soul rests. As his daughter I made a promise to ensure that her log walls are his final resting place. I will honor that choice. When the time comes his ashes will be placed in an old ceramic Indian whiskey decanter and tucked up in the rafters to watch over the place he loved most in life. And I will spend the rest of my days caring for and protecting his Heaven on earth.

{Travel} The Trip That Almost Wasn’t….

In April I got a call that no child wants to receive. A call from my mom that my dad was in a head on collision. Those words were all I needed to hear and I was headed to Red Wing.

In my heart I knew it was useless because due to Covid no one, but the patient was allowed in the ER. While on my way a nurse called to ask me some questions about my dad and she said she needed me to come in and talk to him. I asked her why and she said “the doc will explain everything to you when you get here.”

On the surface he looked like his normal grumpy old self. He had some bruises and scratches, so to me he seemed ok. Then the doc came in and started explaining his Troponin level was off the charts and that he needed to be sent down to Mayo.

I stood by and watched as the EMTs loaded him up and rushed him away. It broke everything in me knowing that I could not follow that ambulance to Rochester. I could try, but there was no way I’d get in. So I did what my dad always says to do in a time of trial, I prayed. I prayed that he was going to be all right and I headed back home.

My dad had his second sudden cardiac arrest. This time it was while he was driving home from our cabin with Ruby (his trusty dog. Ruby did not sustain any injuries in the crash, she walked away unscathed to chase a turkey for another day). The Doctors figure the impact of him hitting the airbag/steering wheel restarted his heart. There is nothing they can do to prevent it from happening again. So we decided to live life, to live a full life because the next time it happens he might not walk away.

In June we had planned to go to Yellowstone, I had to move our trip to September due to his accident and Covid. September finally arrived and I was excited to get this trip underway. This was his first time on an airplane. As the plane lifted I looked over to see him in his seat pretending to fly the plane. I could feel the tears welling up and I fought them as hard as I could. It was in that moment the reality of our summer sunk in. I could have easily been traveling to Yellowstone alone.

It made me realize that these Daddy/Daughter trips will not go on forever. As much as I’d like time to stop, I know it has to end eventually. And that I as his daughter need to fill whatever years he has left with adventure and make memories. I want to have stories that I can tell to my children. Hell I want to be able to take my kiddo on trips with their grandpa, so that they can have stories to share.

In the end when the drip finally stops, all that is left of us is our stories. And I pray that you have people in your life who will continue to tell your stories when you are gone. Charlie used to tell me that “date of birth and date of death don’t matter on a tomb stone. It’s the “dash” between those dates that matters. Some of us chose to die while living and others my friend, they live while their dying. Your dash is your story, it’s the nuts and bolts of a life well lived or a life well mourned.”

Somewhere between the ghost towns of Montana and the valleys of Yellowstone, I added to my Dad’s dash. He kept saying over and over “I never thought I’d see Yellowstone. This is a trip of a lifetime.” he was right, this was a trip of a lifetime for him. We set out for Yellowstone in 2019, but only made it to the entrance due to car trouble. We vowed that day to come back, to come back and finish what we started. When I parked in the exact spot our trip ended in 2019, my dad looked around and looked at me and said “We completed our task!”

Garnet Ghost Town, Montana
Nevada City, Montana
Norris Geyser Basin

Indeed we did and all I have to say is Yellowstone is beautiful beyond measure and the mountains of Montana speak to your soul like no other place can. I would take this trip with him a million times over, including the tiny cabin with a broken heater that we stayed in.

Tiny Cabin at Pine Creek Lodge
Grand Teton National Park
Mammoth Hot Springs
Yellowstone National Park
Golden Gate, Yellowstone National Park

If you have a dad don’t take your time with him for granted, for he is not immune to growing old. Take the time today to start making memories. It doesn’t have to be some grand trip, it could be lunch or even just a walk in the park. Memorize his every word so that one day when he is gone you can pass his stories on. Even the highly inappropriate stories. Even the ones that make you cringe a little. When he is gone from this world his words will matter and you will be thankful that you have them to keep you company.

And as for my dad, I thank God every darn day for his third chance at life. I could not imagine this world without him and travel just wouldn’t be the same. He is and will always be my road trip buddy.

Old Faithful, Yellowstone National Park
Devil’s slide, Montana
Garnet Ghost Town, Montana

{Divorce} Is a Launching Pad not a Failure

Ten years ago I woke up and made a decision. A decision that was months in the making and one that needed to be made for my own sanity. I chose to leave. To walk away from a marriage that wasn’t worth saving and said goodbye to a child that I will love until my last breath.

Only a handful of people knew about my situation. Most thought I had the perfect storybook marriage. I had the big house in an affluent community, money, travel, and a husband that adored me. In reality my husband only adored me in public, my big house became my prison and the money only flowed one way, his wallet. Day in and day out I was told that I wasn’t good enough, I wasn’t thin enough, smart enough, or pretty enough to be loved. Those words cut into my soul and my mind believed them as truth. After awhile I no longer recognized the woman in the mirror and my laugh disappeared. Smiles rarely showed and my light hearted manner slipped away. He broke me in more ways than I could ever explain.

I never correlated what I experienced with abuse. Until I started therapy. My therapist looked at me point blank and said “Hun, that’s not normal. You went through mental and emotional abuse.” All I could say back to her was “Umm what?” She explained that he used manipulation and gas lighting to break me down. To make me feel like I was less than and that if I ever left him I wouldn’t survive on my own.

His last words to me were “you will never make it on your own.” Those very words have been my fuel. I’ve been fighting to do better and be better because I couldn’t let his last words win. It took awhile but I slowly found myself again. At first tears were plentiful. I felt like a failure and having to start over at 27 was scary. I got my first apartment, learned how to pay bills (no side eyes, the ex had done this for me), and I adopted a muppet like dog. And I never looked back. I was determined to make it on my own.

My adorable apartment in Uptown + the muppet like dog

And when I was ready I dipped my toe into the dating pool. It took awhile for me to realize that his words were false and that I was indeed beautiful. To this day I can remember the first time after my divorce a stranger told me that I was beautiful. It was in the uptown Green Mill parking lot and I cried. I cried because it was the first time in over a year that someone uttered that word in my direction. I left that parking lot with a new found confidence and my grove was back.

Dating as a young divorcee is hard. I kept my guard up and my hope close to my heart. I just wasn’t going to settle for anyone that slid into my DMs. I was picky and there were times where I didn’t even show up to the date. Yes, I AJ ghosted people and that’s ok. Sometimes you just don’t feel like it or maybe you got lost and you didn’t want to be super late. Anyways dating is hard, like real hard.

I didn’t spend a lot of time in the pool, Charlie came in and threw me a life ring. Charlie was able to peel back the layers and heal the years of hurt. In his eyes I was everything and nothing would ever change that. Sure he was 13 years my senior, yet the difference didn’t matter. He’d tell me often “AJ do you know why we work?” I’d tell him no. “You understand the work. You understand that an Attorney doesn’t always work a 9 to 5. You understand that sometimes a case comes before family. You understand that sometimes I have to be away for weeks at a time and because you understand, you are ok with it.” He was right as a paralegal I understood the work and all of the late nights and long weekends that go into a case. I never complained or batted an eye when he stayed in the office till 1AM. He was right, because I understood the work we just fit.

That fit was short lived. And my heart to this day still hurts. Charlie died on February 16, 2012 from injuries sustained in an auto accident on Valentine’s Day. His life was taken by a drunk driver. A driver that I have forgiven. He made a mistake and like me he has to live with the consequences of his mistake for the rest of his life. Charlie was a once in a lifetime love. His soul was vibrant and his personality could fill a room. He knew how to make you smile in the worst moments and roar with laughter. To calm me Charlie would tell me stories in Mohican and with each word whispered I’d forget what I was fretting over. Charlie looked out for everyone and lived life to the fullest. A piece of my heart lies in a little cemetery in Montawk and because of that I strive to live the life Charlie had imagined for me.

After Charlie I took time to let my heart heal and when I was ready I dipped a toe back into the pool. Dates were plentifully, but only a few had long term eligibility. After awhile I just gave up and decided that the single life was the life for me. I had a good job, a cute apartment and a muppet like dog. Life was good and I was happy. But fate, she’s a funny lady, Fate had other plans for me. On Veterans Day 2014 a marine slipped into my DMs and I’ve never looked back.

It hasn’t been easy. We’ve had our trials and our triumphs. We’ve gone through more than most couples do and we’ve come out on the other side stronger than before. He gets me and I get him back. Jay believes in my crazy dream of motherhood. Jay doesn’t like the limelight, he prefers to be in my corner where he can cheer me on from the cheap seats. He answers to every whim of my wanderlust heart. Jay gets my Tasty Taco addiction and my need for adventure. If it’s out there and if it won’t kill me, I want to do it. But mostly Jay is what my heart always needed, he can make me laugh until I can’t breathe, he can calm me when I’m out of sorts, he knows that the simplest things make me happy, and he always makes sure the bed is made. (Having a made bed is everything to me) He is a good egg and I am never letting go. Well that is unless he declares that he hates dinosaurs and fluffy white dogs, then I’ll let his ass go. I can’t have that negativity in my life 🙃.

Looking back now I realize that my divorce wasn’t a failure, it was my launching pad. I’ve done a lot of amazing shit in the past ten years and none of it would have happened if I stayed in that marriage. I wouldn’t have worked as a contract paralegal hopping from case to case. That job eventually led me to my niche, I’m a Risk Consultant and it perfectly fits me. It’s a mix of law/regulation review and procedure/policy analysis, which is my jam. I never would have done the best thing ever…….. duh adopted a muppet like dog! Cullen has been my side kick for almost ten years, he is my joy in four legged form. In the end I am the one who got rescued on adoption day. Nor would I have a shit ton of travel stories to share. My life would have been boring and sad. And ya all know me, I may be a lot of things but boring and sad isn’t one of them. This life I’ve built and rebuilt and rebuilt again, is fucking amazing and I wouldn’t change any of it. Life is a beautiful disaster and this disaster is all mine.

What a difference 10 years makes!

From time to time people ask me for advice. Like relationship advice, yes you read that right, relationship advice. And when I respond I think back to what Charlie said “you need to find someone that understands the work.” He was right, at the end of the day you need to find someone who understands the work and understands you as a person (<—- last part is my two cents). Otherwise your relationship isn’t going to work. Things will happen in your relationship that neither of you signed up for, it’s what you do with those things that matter. If those things break you apart and that break is not repairable, it’s ok to walk away. You did your best, you gave it everything you had and now it’s time to call it. A wise attorney once told me “there are no winners or losers in a breakup or divorce, someone has to call it. That’s the hardest part, making the judgment call.” <—- I heard this advice on a Friday and walked out of my marriage that Sunday and then never looked back. Best advice I was ever given. So if you are where I was ten years ago, just call it and never look back. Your launching pad is waiting for you.

{Survivorhood} Year Nine

Nine.

I can still remember exactly what I was wearing on the day my world broke. Gray cardigan, white button down peasant top, jeans, and cranberry ballet flats. The shoes, I still have them. They are worn and raggedy, I just can’t let them go. Those shoes carried me in the ER and they walked me out days later. Those shoes are a symbol that I survived the worst day possible.

Every day I am reminded that four had to die so I could be the one out of five who walked away. I live each day for those who no longer can. I live each day for the women who lost their lives to the Nuvaring. Those women are my battle cry and I will not rest until there are none. Those women have given me more strength than I ever thought possible.

I survived because God, he wasn’t done with me. God knew my strength before I did. God gave me a second chance and I have cherished each day to the fullest. Fate, she’s a funny one and I know that everything I have lived through was apart of her plan. That this plan isn’t mine and only Fate knows where I am going. I cling to every drop of borrowed time and thank God for every day I rise. For I know this second life of mine is an incredible gift.

On October 22, 2009 I made a choice. A choice to not be a victim. A choice to thrive and live a life worth telling. I want a life filled with incredible experiences and stories that will keep me company when I’m old. I made a choice to stand up and be a voice against the darkness. A voice to bring awareness to a cause and educate those around me about the side effects of hormonal contraceptives. My voice will not be silenced until there are none. I have work to do and I will not rest until there are none. One day there will be none and on that day I will take off my white hat and rest.

This past year was filled with heartache and joy. I became a mama to my 3rd sleeping son. Emmett James left this world before his feet ever touched my hands. I am grateful for the experience and I am thankful to be his mom. When sadness fades to joy life begins. I got to watch Sophia and Jack turn one year older. There faces bring joy to the darkness of the night. I am grateful that I survived and get to hear their little voices say “Auntie! Auntie! Auntie!” They are my world and I am there’s.

I spent my weekends traveling form place to place with my dad at my side. No matter the destination he was game. We went to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula; Mackinac Island; The Badlands; Mount Rushmore; Crazy Horse; Wyoming; Jeffer’s Petroglyphs; Milwaukee; Racine; Hayward; Effigy Mounds National Monument; Crowing Wing State Park; Door County; Washington Island; and the North Shore. This summer we traveled more than most people do in a lifetime. Much wine and booze was bought and we have memories to last us until the end of time.

My dad isn’t the only one who got in on the road trip fun. I traded my dad in for Jay! We made our usual pilgrimage to WI Dells and we ventured west to South Dakota and Wyoming. This year was the year of travel and my heart is happy. I am the trip planner in our family. I plan and Jay just comes along for the ride. That is what I love about him, he’s up for anything as long as I’m involved.

My heart she is thankful. Thankful that I got a second chance at this thing called life. This second chance taught me to live in the moment. Fate has taught me to let the little things slide and stand up for the big things. I have more hope and faith than most people. For I’ve seen God work. Long ago I stopped asking “why me,” instead I stand up and ask “why not me.” I am a firm believer that everything happens for a reason and God knows what he’s doing. Research, saved my life and it will continue to save the lives of others. We need to believe in research and fund research so that others can have my outcome. So that they too can have a chance at living in a beautiful disaster.

YEAR #9:

For the past nine years I’ve asked for motherhood. This year I am just asking to be HAPPY. Happy with myself. Happy with my work and life. I want to feel joy and give joy. I want to be that person whose happiness is addictive and strengthening. That beacon we flock to on a bad day and the one we laugh with on a good day. I simply want to be happy.

{Road Trip} HOME

For as long as I can remember I was told “you are the descendants of Voyagers and Indians.” A pedigree anyone would be proud of. The stories I was told were validated in my sixth grade Minnesota History class and again in college. My family, my amazing courageous family had a hand in shaping the Minnesota that we all know and love. This, this place that I love has always been my home. My roots are forever tied to this land. I am Minnesota and she is me.

For years I have heard about the Clement H. Beaulieu house in Crow Wing State Park. The park is a little over two hours from minneapolis, practically in my backyard, but I never felt the need to venture. I am a firm believer that we are drawn to locations and when it’s our time to go, we go there. This day was 35 and 66 years in the making, it was time for us to go HOME.

As far as weather goes, today was a beautiful sunny calm Minnesota Saturday. A day meant for exploring. Only I could get lost in a state park. If the arrow is pointing left, I will turn right and then wonder why I’m doing a U turn. Only me. Anyways, with a little rerouting we found the parking area for the “Crow Wing Main Street” trail, parked and headed on down the path. My Dad is one of those types who likes to stop and read all of the signs, so I trudged ahead of him and waited. He caught up to me as I spied the roof line through the trees a huge gust of wind came up and my Dad looked at me and said “He knows we are here!”

We reached the over look and began to read the plaques. I will admit it’s kind of weird seeing your last name in print and tied to the historic building in front of you. This house is simple by today’s standards, however back in its day the home was a bustling hub of hospitality and business. Clement a “half breed” was sent from Wisconsin to develop the fur trade in Minnesota. He was a well respected man who had great success. His home over looked the river and Crow Wing village.

I circled the house many times in an effort to engrave all of its details into my brain. Faced pressed to the glass I tried imaging what the inside looked like in Clements day. The interior of today is a far cry from what it looked like in the late 1800s. This house if it could talk, would have an incredible story to tell. Stories of love and loss, business deals, parties, family, and of the community that once surrounded it. My dad and I soaked it all in. This place was our place, this this home is where our story began.

Clement lived in this home until he moved to White Earth in 1873. White Earth, a place that I know of so well, but never visited. This reservation is where my Grandfather’s tale began. My Grandfather was a product of the assimilation and relocation of the American Indian. The government calls the program a success, I call it a failure. Ripping children form their parents, their language, their culture, and their religion does more harm than good. My Grandfather was taken form the White Earth when he was five years old and he never returned. Today, my Dad and I were the first ones from our branch of the family to return HOME.

Our name is present on the Reservation. There is a Street named after us and a township too. My goal wasn’t to visit the township, but to find the graves of my ancestors. Find A Grave . Com told me that Clement was buried in Calvary Cemetery. Which is a small cemetery nestled on top of a hill surrounded by soy bean fields. It was simply beautiful. As we pulled in I noticed a plot with a large fence around it and figured that had to be our family’s plot. I went to the fenced in area and my dad wandered to the very back of the cemetery.

The gate gave me some trouble, but I was determined and eventually I won. AJ 1, Gate 0. As I walked through the gate a strong swirling wind came up and I was home, my ancestors were acknowledging me, their lost family who returned HOME. I traced my fingers across their names as I read them aloud to the wind and laid tobacco down. I can honestly say I have never seen my last name on so many stones at once. Heck I’ve only ever seen it on one stone and that is my Grandfather’s.

I looked up to see my dad waving his arm and the wind carried his shouts, so I bid them goodbye, wrestled with the gate again, and walked to the back of the cemetery. He had found more of our family. Two graves nestled along the fence line. I laid tobacco down and moved through the cemetery along side my Dad. We made our way back to the more populated area and found five more sets of graves. I started to notice a few stones for babies. When I traced my hand across their names, I no longer felt alone, for my ancestors know the heart ache of child loss too. Our babies no matter how much time has passed, will always be ours.

My Dad and I got back in the car and on our way out of the cemetery I looked up to see an Eagle soaring over the soy bean field. Our visit had been acknowledge and our ancestors were happy to have us home. From the cemetery we drove to the town of White Earth. As we drove around I said to my dad “just think your Dad could have fished in that pound or played in that field!? It’s beautiful here, he got ripped from beauty and dropped in an orphanage that lead to a farm.” My dad said “Yeah,” as he looked out the window. He had done what his Dad never did, he went home for him. We went HOME for Clifford, a child of the White Earth who was once lost, but now is found.

This trip meant the world to me. It was simple yet profound and I am grateful to have had my dad along for the ride. This trip was for him as I know he has always wondered where his Dad came from and today he found his HOME.

{Infertile Me} She was lost; and Now I’m found

It’s been a stressful past few weeks. I found myself in a place I never thought I would be in. I’ve called more fertility clinics than I’d care to admit. All of the clinics in MN will not take our embryo. Between you and me; I feel like Dr. B put the word out that I am a terrible patient. Several of the clinics said it’s a liability after they found out who I was. After the last clinic said no I felt defeated. I was ready to throw in the towel and face a childless life head on.

Yet something in me was tugging away. Something in me told me to pick up the pieces and continue the fight. Geneva is a name that I carry. I carry my Great Grandmother’s name as my middle name. Now she was a warrior. Geneva’s children were taken from her during the relocation and assimilation period. That woman, that strong woman never gave up on finding her children. Even when authorities told her that they had died in transport, she never gave up hope. Geneva picked up the pieces of her shattered life and never stopped searching for the missing pieces. Geneva lived his life knowing that pieces of her were scattered and she rode the wind until they were found.

Geneva was reunited with my Grandfather Clifford. Life came full circle. June was found too, along with her other son. This woman, this patient woman was finally whole. I thought to myself “Geneva didn’t get you this far for you to give up. She fought like hell for her children and her battle paid off; she died whole.”

I need to honor this woman’s legacy of determination and grit. Knowing she walked this road before me and that I would not be walking this road alone I turned to Wisconsin. Wisconsin is in my blood and is my second home. My mom, she is from Wisconsin and Geneva is buried outside of Hayward in a sleepy little cemetery. My roots run deep in Wisconsin, so it’s the perfect place to bring our embryo. I called a couple clinics in Wisconsin and they will take Embryo #3! I got ghosted by one doctor in Johnson Creek, which is ok. My gut is leading us to Green Bay. With a little luck and a lot of faith Green Bay will be where Embryo #3 is transferred back to me. Our little embryo, this little fighter of ours will be made in Wisconsin and with a little luck born in Minnesota.

Call me crazy but, I deeply believe that Geneva is leading the way that somehow someway she is going to make this work for us. She’s been in this fight, she brought me this far and now it’s up to me to bring it home. Her blood, her fight runs through me and I know IVF got this.

{Road Trip} Traveling with Littles

Every time I told Sophia “Papa and auntie are going on a trip,” she would ask me “Auntie when are you going to take me? I am more fun than Papa!?” I knew in my heart she felt left out and that she needed to experience an Auntie led road trip. Duluth is one of my favorite places to visit, it is the gateway to the north shore after all. And the north shore has a special spot in my heart. One because I love it and two, because it was my home away from home for four years. I went to college across the bay from Duluth at the University of Wisconsin Superior and I had the time of my life.

Enough about my love of the north shore, let’s get down to business. Friday night proved to be an awful traffic night. A major crash on HWY 61 backed up the road for what seemed like miles. With snacks in hand we powered through and slowly crept along. When seeing the state of the cars involved I said a silent prayer and hoped that at least one person walked away from it. Jack & Sophia just saw the fire trucks and police cars, which was good because I didn’t want to explain that sometimes cars don’t make it home. About an hour into the drive I learned that Sophia has to pee a lot, so she got cut off from liquids and we made it all the way to Hinkley before she needed to go again.

We rolled into Duluth around 10:30PM checked into our hotel and immediately went to bed. Well those under the age of 7 went straight to bed. I showered and went over my plan for Saturday with my mom. It got the Nana stamp of approval. We woke up around 7:30AM and were headed out the door by 8AM. Jack was super excited to start his adventure and Sophia was still a little groggy but forged along side of us. Breakfast, did I mention I love breakfast? We went to Uncle Loui’s Diner and it did not disappoint. Did I mention that I love Diners?

Uncle Loui’s has your traditional diner fair. I ordered the tailgater, my mom the country fried steak, pancakes for Sophia, and strawberry stuffed French toast for Jack. Jack didn’t know what to think of his French toast and Sophia immediately eyed it and whined that she didn’t have it too. We explained that she chose pancakes and that is her breakfast and Jack’s is Jack’s. Jack sat next to me happily munching away asking me “Auntie what’s next, what’s next!?”

Next was Canal Park. We were running ahead of schedule and had sometime to burn before we needed to be at the train station. Jack climbed on everything he could and demanded that we take his picture. We of course obliged. Our arrival couldn’t have been more perfect, I heard the familiar alarm and directed their attention to the lift bridge. The bridge was lifting up to let a large laker through, which if you are not familiar is a large ore boat. Jack was intrigued by the large ship and sat on the canal wall waving until it passed him by. The crew on the ship waved back in his direction and he was beaming from ear to ear.

Sophia didn’t really care much for the ship, she was instead trying to find a way to climb down to a tiny strip of beach. I advised her numerous times “if you were meant to go down there, there would be a path. There is no path so it’s not meant for us to climb down there.” She gave me this look and begrudgingly stopped asking about it. Sophia was amused with the seagulls and curious about the lighthouse. We walked around the park until it was time to head to the train.

Jack happily played at the train table while I waited in line to pick up our tickets. With tickets in hand I showed them to Jack in which he squealed and shouted “TRAIN” he squealed again and let out a choo choo! He was one incredibly excited little. I let Sophia and Jack peek into the gift shop before boarding the train. Each of them picked out a little something and ran over to the boarding line. I chose the short one hour ride and it was just long enough to hold their attention. If you have little ones I recommend the Lake front express ride, which as you guessed it goes along the Lake front past the Cogdon estate and returns to the station. After our ride was over we made our way up the north shore.

I mentioned that I love the north shore right!? Because it literally is God’s country and to me it’s special. Getting to show Sophia and Jack why I loved it so much was part of our adventure. A trip isn’t complete unless candy is involved. We pulled off at the Great Lakes Candy Company in Knife River. It is a cute little shop filled to the brim with delicious hand made confections. I can of course only attest to the white Chocolate confections. Which are delicious by the way. Sophia and Jack both got a bag of candy fruit slices and happily paid for their treat with their own money.

The Candy company had a sweet little sitting area nestled amongst the trees and a bear trail for the kiddos. The bear trail is adorable and includes a candy kitchen play house and bears nestled along the path. Sophia and Jack loved every bit of it and asked if they could come back again. Candy, is always a hit!

Just up the road from the Candy Kitchen is Tom’s Logging Camp. I’ve driven by it for years but never ventured in. The cost of admission is $5.00 for adults and $4.00 for kids 6-12. You do not have to do the museum, you can stroll through the gift shop aka trading post or grab a sandwich at the restaurant across the parking lot. I chose to do the museum. The sweet woman at the counter advised me that we needed quarters to buy feed for the animals and that the baby goat was not stuck. She also advised the kids to look for the red horseshoes and to tell her how many we found to get a treat. With quarters in hand we followed the path exploring the buildings and looking for horseshoes. The kids loved feeding the animals and looking for the horseshoes. We found 7 total and with that they earned a sucker.

With suckers and souvenirs in hand we hit the road again. We stopped for lunch in Two Harbors to avoid the rain and continued our drive to the black beach in silver bay. As I watched the kids play in the sand it hit me “there should be four kids playing on the beach and I should be 7 months pregnant.” Sophia and Jack have no idea that they were cheated out of a lifetime with their cousins. Sophia has no idea that she is the second grandchild and Jack has no idea that he is the third. Moments like this break my heart, yet I know that my babies are together in heaven watching over them. Their cousins they will always be. As I wiped a few tears away I looked up to see Sophia & Jack giggling happily and waving their shovels back at me. Those two were having the best time on the beach.

It was getting late and I wanted to make good on my promise to Sophia, so we packed up and headed to the car. I promised Sophia that I would take her to a waterfall, Gooseberry Falls to be exact. As a child I loved coming to the falls and climbing around on the rocks under my parents not so watchful eye. Jack is to little to navigate the slippery rocks of the falls, he stayed back with Nana and watched from the viewing area. Sophia grabbed my hand and looked up at me beaming “Auntie! This is so cool,” as we skipped over streams of water. She kept telling me “Auntie! There is a way to the edge.” I loving explained “you are a klutz like your mother, the edge is not meant for you.” She groaned and asked if we could go closer to the upper falls. Which I obliged and Jack squealed as we came into view. It was starting to get dark, so Sophia and I made our way back to Nana and Jack.

Once back in Duluth we stopped at Grandma’s for dinner. As we waited for our table I kept Sophia and Jack amused by winning them rubber ducks from the crane game. Soon our buzzer went off and it was time for us to eat. Jack & Sophia munched happily on Mac & Cheese while Nana and I discussed our plan for Sunday. The Prius decided it would be fun to make a weird noise and we promised their Daddy that we’d be back by 5, so we decided to abandon the boat trip. We would head out after breakfast. After dinner we walked around Canal Park for a bit. The bridge is lit up at night and the kids loved being out after dark. Sophia proclaimed “vacation means staying up late,” with a giggle.”

After breakfast I had one more adventure up my sleeve. Jay Cook State Park. The swing bridge to be exact. Sophia happily darted across the bridge while Jack cautiously clung to my side. The movement of the bridge scared him, yet he was brave and made it across. On the way back over he paused to look through the bridge and shouted “Auntie! Water fall,” with a smile.

Soon it was time to get back in the car and head home. Jack slept the entire way back to Red Wing, while Sophia mumbled about being stuck in traffic and asking when she could go on vacation again. I told her “Next summer Sophia” she grinned up at the rear view mirror as she twirled her coin purse in her hands.

Thirty years from now Sophia & Jack will remember this weekend and will look back on the adventures they had. As their Auntie I get to provide experiences for them and in turn make memories that will last them a lifetime. This life is about living outside of the box and creating memories that are yours and yours alone.

{Road Trip} Wisconsin Dells

It isn’t summer unless I make a trip to Wisconsin Dells. I have been going every summer for over ten years now. Over the years I’ve had numerous travel companions but for the last four years it’s been Jay. Ya know because he’s a keeper and I sort of like his face. Anyways all I can say is I LOVE the DELLs. It’s kitschy and touristy and it always changes and every time I go I discover something new to do. Your options are endless here, just be ready to pay for it all. Wisconsin Dells is what I call a money pit, you come in with a full wallet and leave with change, but it was totally worth it.

Everyone has at least one restaurant that they go to when they are in The Dells. For me it’s Mac’s Macaroni and Cheese shop. It’s amazing and I crave it all year. They have 18 different Macs that you can choose from, every thing from traditional to the three little piggies. Jay tried the hangover Mac and I tried the three little piggies Mac. Both were delicious and my craving has been satisfied for another year.

This year we decided to do a few things that we’ve never done before. I wanted to make this trip amazing and fun! If you are familiar with Paul Bunyan’s Cook Shanty, then you know that there is a lumberjack show right next door. Tickets are $17.98 for adults and $10 something for kiddos. The show happens rain or shine, because the crowd sits under cover. The show is mainly for kids with a few adult jokes sprinkled in for good measure. The host explains that the two camps will compete against each other in various lumberjack activities. Activities that include, axe throwing, pole climbing, sawing, and chopping. The show was good and it lasts about an hour and 20 minutes with a short intermission for the lumberjacks.

After the show we decided to stop for cheesecake which led us to paintball. Ya know because cheesecake and paintball go together. $10 gets you 120 balls with a bonus shot. The booth is small and the staff was friendly. While you pick your paintball gun the staff gives you some simple instructions, dumps your balls in the hopper and you are in business. Jay learned that I am a pretty good shot! See we’ve been together almost four years and he’s never seen me shoot before. Haha gotta keep those secrets ladies, always let them learn something new about you.

After paint ball we headed back to our kitschy motel for a late swim. We stayed at the Indian Trail Motel which is basically like staying in 1950. Hello pink bath tub! Anyways this isn’t our normal hotel. Our normal hotel Days End closed unexpectedly in early May and I was left scrambling to find us a new place to stay. The motel did fit the bill, swimming pool, fire pit, and price point. But it wasn’t the same. We still enjoyed our stay, the staff could use some customer service training and then this place would be awesome!

Since this weekend was about doing things we had never done before I suggested the Cave of the Mounds to Jay. In which Jay obliged and we set out on Saturday morning. The drive to the cave was beautiful, we wound are way through farm county and curved through bluffs. Soon we were at our destination, $18.98 gets you into the cave and the tour is about an hour long.

The cave did not disappoint. It is possibly the most beautiful cave I have ever been in. Cave of the Mounds is nicknamed the “jewel box” for the many different colors presented in the formations. Our tour guide Ariel was very sweet and informative about the cave and it’s history. I loved the fact that she paused to let us take photos through out our journey.

Once our cave tour was completed we went back to the surface, aka the gift shop. On our way in I noticed that you could buy bags of dirt to “mine” for jewels and fossils. I was determined to do this and so I did. A bag of dirt will set you back $12.99, but it’s worth it. It was for me at least. With my jewels in hand we said good bye to Cave of the Mounds and hit the road.

Wisconsin is littered with wineries. Every where you look it’s “oooo wine!” Some of the wineries are out pacing the California wineries in competitions across the globe, how cool is that? I saw a billboard for Baraboo Bluff Winery and so we went. The tasting room was very lively and the staff was knowledgeable about the wines. You can taste up to 3 wines for free, if you want to taste more than 3 it will cost you. Jay and I both dove in and tried 3 wines each. Somehow we walked out of there with half a case of wine. Ya know because that’s how I role. I do have to mention the winery is literally on top of a steep hill with a slightly less steep walking path. I let Jay carry the box down, I didn’t want to trip and break all the wine. AJ and steep paths don’t mix.

Once the wine was safely secured in the car we headed back to the Dells. We got some pool time in before the rain came and then headed off to dinner. When I was in Milwaukee my dad and I went to the Sprecher’s Brewery and I was surprised to see a Sprecher’s restaurant in The Dells. Well I wasn’t surprised, my dad told me it was there so it was more like “Whoa! Stinky Pete was right!?” Anyways the restaurant was a little busy, which is typical for dinner in the Dells. I ordered the prime rib and Jay got the rib eye, both were delicious.

After dinner we watched a Street magic show and I poked around in the shops on Main Street (really its Broadway). I’ve learned in my travels that wherever I go I am always reminded of my son’s. I was in a little shop looking at Christmas ornaments (don’t tell Jay) when something caught my eye and I had to have it and so I bought it. This was the perfect ending to a perfect Wisconsin Dells trip and I cannot wait for next summer.

{Road Trip} Milwaukee

It was late and I had this weird feeling that when we got to the hotel our room would be wrong. Well that feeling turned out to be right. Motel 6 charged my card and gave our room away. That was their first excuse, turns out they had the room but it was dirty and then it was back to “we gave it to someone else.” No one knows exactly why our room was lost but hotels.com rescued us and found us a different hotel. I wasn’t going to let this blunder ruin our trip.

Google told me that there was a chapel in Milwaukee. A chapel that originated in France. A chapel where THE Joan of Arch prayed. Well how the heck did it get in Wisconsin? Good question. After Word War I it was taken apart and shipped to a wealthy family in NY. That family donated it to Marquette University where it stands proudly to this day. They rebuilt it piece by piece and inch by inch until it was perfect.

If you know anything about me then you know I am a Frank Lloyd Wright fanatic. It’s like listed in my bio for this very blog. Google, man is she a blessing told me that the largest concentration of FLW homes was right in Milwaukee. My dad, he’s a good sport and we headed off to Burnham block, the American System Built Homes. I loved every minute of my tour, our guide was the best and he was impressed with my knowledge. I’ve seen the extravagant homes built by Wright, but these were simple and practical. The block contains two single family homes and four duplexes. One is under renovation and others are awaiting renovation. It’s a complex project that takes a lot of love and money. So if you find yourself in Milwaukee, GO!! The tour will set you back $15.

Sherri told me that she went to a brewery that had soda in Milwaukee. Google told me that place was called Sprecher’s and it did not disappoint. The tour was short and the line to get your free samples was long. We abandoned the line and started filling our case. You can buy the soda for 90 cents a bottle which is a steal. In the store you pay $3 for a bottle of soda. The flavors are endless, we got “low cal” root beer, watermelon, raspberry, strawberry, grape, and orange cream to name a few. Plus a few hard sodas and ciders.

Harley as in Harley Davidson. I have no interest in Motor Cycles. They make me nervous and don’t get me started about motor cycles on the freeways. Anyways since this trip is not all about me and my dad did willingly tag along to Wright and the church I brought him to the museum. His first words were “this is bigger than I thought it would be.” I should also mention that the guy at the ticket counter asked my dad if he needed a wheelchair because there is a lot of walking. My dad replied in the only way he knows how “do I look like I need a FUCKING wheelchair!?” Yup, that’s my dad and I’m keeping him. He loved the museum. The museum is filled with every Harley in existence from the very start to modern day. The displays are well executed and curated. If you like buttons there are lots of those to push. At the end they have an area where you can climb on a bike for photos.

Since Milwaukee is know for its high concentration of Germans and German culture I thought it was fitting that we go to a beer hall for sausages. What can I say, I am half German, thanks mom! And I love me a good sausage and German Potato salad and Spatzel. We went for the pretzel and beer hall platter. A platter our waitress called “the meat party.”

My whole reason for this trip was to visit Frank Lloyd Wright’s Greek Orthodox Church aka the “Jewel Box.” Now I should mention the congregation does not offer open tours. You can make a tour by appointment or you can just pack a dress and go to church. Now I am Methodist so the service was very different for me and my dad too. A wonderful woman named Denise took us under her wing and explained the service to us and made sure we were doing ok. There is a lot of standing during the service and the majority of it was in Greek and we were lost. Although lost it was a beautiful service in a beautiful church. Bucket list item accomplished.

After service we stopped for breakfast and drove onto Racine, because you guessed it another Wright building tour was on deck. But first KRINGLE! My lovely and dear friend Lisa would always bring Kringle back from Racine and it was delicious so I had to stop in at the bakery and grab like 3 of them….. don’t judge.

Trip advisor told me that the Wind Point Lighthouse was not to be missed and since I also have a minor obsession with lighthouses we went. She did not disappoint it was a perfect day on the shores of Lake Michigan.

Wingspread was my main reason for driving to Racine. Not familiar with Wingspread? Well, you’ve come to the right place. Wingspread is the Home Frank Lloyd Wright built for Herbert F. Johnson the owner of Johnson Wax now known as SC Johnson. The home was extraordinary for its time and expensive as well. The original budget was $100,000.00, Wright was famous for blowing budgets and blow this one he did. This is an extraordinary example of Wright architecture and it did not disappoint. It is after all the only Wright design that includes a swimming pool. Wright believed that swimming pools were glorified bath tubs, I tend to agree with the man.

Wingspread was the last stop on our journey. It was getting late so my dad and I headed westward to Home. Of course we made a stop in the Dells for dinner and I politely told my dad “this is your last trip this summer….” He didn’t like the sound of that and he keeps on asking me where we are going next. August and September are up in the air, when going through IVF you hand your life over to the clinic and pray for the best.