{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.

{Super Auntie} Dear JackĀ 

It dawned on me today that I never wrote a welcome letter for Jack. Life got busy and I was grieving the loss of Baby E and what could have been. Had Baby E survived he/she and Jack would have been 6 months and 1 day apart. It wasn’t meant to be so as I healed from the D&C I looked forward to feeling the weight of Jack in my arms. 

Dear Jack,

This is a little late, you’ve been hanging out with us for oh almost 7 months now. Unlike your sister you are the quiet observant type. She was always mumbling and trying to chew on the world around her. You on the other hand chose to be quiet and play possum in strange arms. It took you a bit to warm up to me, Auntie gets a big gummy smile now. Maybe it’s because Sophia is telling you “auntie is the best ever” or maybe it’s because you are realizing that I am the present giver.

Either way you have a lot to learn little one and there is a big world just waiting for you to find it. Life is a beautiful disaster. It’s not perfect, but in the gray you will find moments of perfection, it’s those moments that will carry you. Each day is an adventure and no two are ever the same. If they were, life would be boring and no one likes a boring story. 

Your family will always be here for you. No matter what you do. If you find yourself in a predicament that you can’t get out of, call auntie or nana they will bail you out.  It’s ok to veer from the path, take the one less traveled or better yet blaze your own trail. Do big things, discover big things and be big in a world full of small. Only you Jack can determine how your story will end. Live a life worth living, fill it with laugher and meaning. And remember tears are ok too. 


That Mama of yours will keep you in line. Just know that you are butter in her hands and with a quick smile you can probably get away with anything. She’s pretty easy and lucky for you she isn’t very observant, so yes you will be able to sneak that frog into your room. Just make sure you don’t lose him in the house, otherwise she’ll be mad. Well not mad, she’ll be more freaked out that she has to look for said frog in the house. She doesn’t do frogs or slimy things. 
You should also know that Nana is pretty easy to, but be careful she is called the “warden” for a reason. No one likes the warden. Jack just do what Nana tells you and you’ll be all right, you will spend little time on the chair in the hall. Sophia can tell you all about the time out chair. Don’t worry Auntie can tell you how to get out of said chair, we just need to find a doll that looks like you. 

 You are lucky Jack, you are the youngest child which means your sister Sophia is your built in friend. You will never go through this life alone, Sophia loves you and wants to see you grow big. In her mind she is plotting adventures for the day you are big enough to run along side of her. Your sister she will always be and you will always be her brother. When she’s older she’s not go going to like you much, you will want to tag along when she is too cool to have a little brother. But don’t worry love, Sophia will find her way back to you and bonded you will always be. 

Your Papa, he’s a special breed. He is weathered by time and struggles have aged him. Your Papa almost wasn’t, he’s stolen 14 years from the sand man and you Jack are his greatest joy. Papa can’t wait for the day you are old enough to go fishing and camping. Maybe he will get the old truck running so you and Sophia can ride along through the country side with slushies in hand. Your Papa is a fighter, the ultimate under dog who landed on top and no one is knocking him off his mountain. Listen to his stories, learn from them and you Jack will do all right in life. 


When you are much older Auntie will tell you about Lucia and Baby E. Lucia came long before you and I am certain the two of you would be thick as thieves. You Jack are the second grandson and third in line. Lucia was 1st, Sophia is 2nd, you Jack are 3rd and Baby E was the 4th. Your cousins are always with you, where ever you go they are there blowing in the breeze. Day in and day out Lucia and baby E watch over you from heaven. Your big cousins turtles dance in front of your window, a piece of him was with you from the moment you got home. One day Auntie hopes to bring Nana and Papa’s 5th grandchild into this world and you Jack will have an instant friend.

You love can break your uncle Jason in. Uncle Jason has no idea what to do with or how to care for a little human. You were the first baby he has ever held. He did a really good job and you two are going to be buddies one day. 
You can do no wrong in this world for you have angels on your side and they will always keep you on course. I want you to travel, go to college, take the chances your mama never dared to dream off. Take time to smell the roses, keep your family close, and you will never lose yourself. Life isn’t going to be perfect. It’s  up to you to find beauty in the disaster and to determine your course. This life is yours to live and the world is for you to take. Take it and never look back Jack. 

Love Auntie AJ