Posted by: Mom on a Mission | November 10, 2012

New Market, Virginia

We headed out of Maine sad to leave our island home, but also a little bit excited to get back on the road. Unfortunately, Hurricane Sandy left the eastern coast ravaged, so we routed ourselves over to Pennsylvania and then down through the tip of Maryland, West Virginia and into Virginia.

Virginia is a beautiful state, lush with green grassy pastures, and picturesque farms that remind me of Wisconsin. Why does everything remind me of Wisconsin? I don’t even live in Wisconsin. Although, when my hubby and I talked about moving to the Midwest from Georgia, we really wanted to live in Wisconsin. It’s still one of the most gorgeous states as far as I am concerned, with rolling hills, red barns, white farm houses, and yes, grazing cows.

Back to Virginia. Looking at the map we tried to decide which town was going to be our home for a few days. We like to really settle in when we visit a new state, and try to feel what it would be like to live there. Who will be our friends, where will we hang out, which farm could be ours – that kind of thing. We always leave with a few new friends and get the a local viewpoint on the surroundings, where to go, and what to do.

It’s hard not to find someplace special to visit in Virginia – this state is rich with history! We settled on New Market, the site of one of the many Civil War battles. The Shenandoah River runs right through this fertile valley and splits in two around the nearby mountain range. We spent our first day at a battle site museum, then visited one of the many indoor flea markets in the area. These people love their flea markets and thrift stores! So do we!

We had a late breakfast at the famous Johnny Appleseed restaurant (biscuits and gravy, and waffles) – they start your meal with a plate of fried apple fritters – tasty – and then walked around the pre-revolutionary war town. The buildings are still in use, with the original windows, shutters, and brick sidewalks in place. There were houses actually covered in painted tin! We lingered in more than one quaint shop featuring hand-made Christmas ornaments and “primitive-” style decorations and furniture.

In the evening I walked down the street to a wine shop and enjoyed a free tasting. I bought a bottle of my favorite wine from the tasting, and the lady behind the counter then gifted me with a bottle of spiced wine that I really loved, but didn’t want to spend the money on – how cool is that!

Dinner, back to Johnny Appleseed’s – why mess with a good thing? The sauteed Southern greens were worth the trip alone, let me tell you.

Our last day was spent at Shenandoah Caverns relaxing at the Wine Festival. The kids loved riding mini pedal tractors, and tasting apple-cherry juice, while watching real apple butter cooked and stirred in a giant, copper pot over a fire, while mom enjoyed tasting wine, and shopping. I found the coolest stand filled with wall decor and candle holders, and wine stands, etc., all made from parts of real wine barrels. Music played all day long, and we couldn’t have asked for a more beautiful, sunny afternoon.

At the end of the day, we could see ourselves in Virginia . . . may be. Pluses for Virginia, per the locals: mild winters, good fishing, gorgeous scenery, and friendly people. Cons: very humid summers, and mercury in this stretch of the river due to runoff from farms that use chemical fertilizers. Hmmm, sorry Virginia, and we were so close.

But we will always be friends and I promise, we will be back to visit!

Posted by: Mom on a Mission | October 18, 2012

Make your own scents for your home

DIY Natural Room Scents

Throw out all those canned room sprays and make your own natural and safe room scents using simmering waters infused with spices, herbs & fruit.

General procedure: Combine the ingredients in a 2 cup (pint) jar or container, or in a pan on the stove top. Cover them with water and heat. The gently steaming water will release its aroma all day. Keep an eye on it so it doesn’t dry out and burn! You can store in the fridge and reheat for a few days. You can also put it in a small (or large if you double or triple the recipe) slow cooker like this one, or in a potpourri simmering pot like this one or this non-electric one.

Another idea is to use a fondue pot as a portable scent station. Set it up in any room you’d like to scent. This one is electric, and this one uses a tea light for heat. So, this will only remain warm as long as the candle lasts–3-1/2 to 4 hours. Like the slow cooker, this is a low level of heat and releases a very subtle scent–enough for a small room. Get the scent mixture boiling hot before adding it to the fondue pot.

For a small bathroom, you can use an electric mug warmer like this one in black or this one in white, to put a small amount of potpourri mix in a cup and keep warm.  Remember, it only keeps it warm, it doesn’t actually heat it up. So be sure to heat the mixture before adding it the bowl. Or microwave a jar and set it right on top of the mug warmer. This low heat puts off a soft, subtle scent that is suitable for a small area.

Additionally, use a candle warmer, like this one that has an automatic shut-off. These work just like mug warmers. Some candle warmers come with a little bowl on top for melting scented candle pellets. Instead, you can add some heated scented water, or remove the bowl and set a jar or other bowl on top. You can also try a glass tea pot warmer or a cast iron one, which are very similar to candle warmers.  Just re-fill with hot water  when you need more.

Make ahead and…

  • …store in the fridge. Uncooked jars of scented waters will keep in the fridge for 1 to 2 weeks, so you can make these ahead to have on hand. I recommend adding all of the ingredients, including the water, to the jars before refrigerating them. I’ve tried refrigerating the fruit/spice/herb combos in jars without the water, but they don’t last as long that way.
  • …freeze them.  I’ve tried freezing them both with and without the water added, and both ways work fine. I haven’t tested them in the freezer longer than 2 weeks, but I’m confident that they can be frozen for a month or longer. Make sure you use freezer-safe jars like these or these glass ones. Not all mason jars are freezer safe.

To keep it looking pretty while it heats,  float a fresh slice of citrus on top, or add a few cranberries from the freezer; they float and add a touch of color.

Fragrant items for naturally scenting your home:

Citrus – Other fruits smell good initially, but they don’t hold up for more than one use. Citrus is sturdier, longer-lasting, and gives these scent recipes freshness. Lemons and oranges are particularly fragrant and have the best staying power in these scented waters.Herbs – Any herb can be used for making a room scent, but the ones that are sturdier and on woody twigs hold up the best. Some favorites for room scents are rosemary and thyme.

Pine or Cedar Twigs/Needles — There may be other fragrant trees that will work, too; pine and cedar are the two known for their appealing, fresh fragrance.

Extracts — A touch of vanilla or almond extract improves most room fragrance mixtures. Mint extract has a nice fresh scent. Order vanilla beans here to save up to 80% over grocery store prices.

Spices – You can use ground or whole sweet spices. The whole spices look prettier, if your scented water will be in a location where it will be seen. I have found that cinnamon sticks and whole cloves have the most scent staying power. Cinnamon sticks can be rinsed off and reused several times.

Other items you can use:
  • Leftover ginger —  If you ever cook with fresh ginger and end up with leftover pieces , this is a way to use them up before they spoil. Slice the leftover ginger and freeze it in a bag or container to have on hand for whipping up a quick batch of scented water.
  • Save your orange peels — When you eat an orange, save the peel for use in scented waters. Store them in the refrigerator or freezer until you need them.
  • Save your juiced lemons and limes — After you’ve juiced these for use in a recipe, refrigerate or freeze the leftover pieces.
  • Save your leftover herbs — If you have herbs in a garden or have leftover herbs that you’ve purchased for cooking, they can be frozen and saved for use in these scented waters.
  • Use expired juices. If you have fruit juices that are past their prime, use them as a base in place of the water in these mixtures. They’re both fragrant and colorful.
  • Use expired spices. Spices are supposed to be replaced after a year, because they lose much of their flavor. But, they still smell good! Instead of throwing out old spices, use them for scenting water.


BTW, I found this useful info at The Yummy Life.


Posted by: Mom on a Mission | October 3, 2012

“I’ve been everywhere, man, I’ve been everywhere . . . “

I feel like we have been everywhere since the last time I blogged! Time off was much needed. After all, we came on this adventure to spend time together as a family, experiencing it together, without irritation (I am doing important writing stuff here, so do not interrupt my massively intelligent/hilarious/wise/changing-the-fate-of-the-world-as-we-speak thought process, for crying out loud!!!), hesitation, or just-one-more-minute-and -then-we-will-see-the-wonderful-whatever-thing-because-I-am-almost-done-writing-about-the-last-wonderful-thing-ation. I couldn’t think of another -ation word. Sorry.

So, in the theme of the Geoff Mack song – that’s the title- you’ve heard Johnny Cash sing it, right? – I’m going to quickly tell you everywhere we’ve been and one or two “must-see’s” in that locale. Are you ready? And no, don’t sing it to the song tune, it really doesn’t work, I tried.

Scott’s Bluff, NE: Visit the Farm and Ranch Museum (FARM); buy some doughnuts at the bakery downtown (sooo good); wave at 2011 Miss America Teresa Scanlan (actually she is in college now in VA but her family is a wonderful, home-schooling, runnin’ errands after work, just folks bunch of people who I am blessed to call my friends); say hello to Kay Grote down at the paper; and do not forget, whatever you do, to climb Scott’s Bluff and stand in awe. It’s truly beautiful and worth the trip! Read the newspaper article about our visit.

Scott’s Bluff, NE

Mariposa, CA: Visit the giant Sequoia’s  and Yosemite National Park.


Los Banos, CA: Eat at Ming’s Chinese Restaurant and then head up Pacheco Pass to one of my favorite places ever (mostly due to childhood memories but it’s still pretty cool), Casa de Fruita. Once there, ride the carousel, buy some Chaucer’s Mead (honey wine) because if you like sweeter wines it is wicked good (I am currently in Maine so . . . wicked), and get yourself some dried fruit from the huge “buffet” offered.

Pismo Beach, CA: If it’s winter, get over to the eucalyptus grove off of the beach, and feast your eyes on thousands of Monarch butterflies spending the cold months in the tree tops. It’s pretty amazing. When you get hungry, head over to The Cracked Crab; if you don’t mind paying a bit more for really good food, that is.

Monarch butterflies in eucalyptus trees in Pismo Beach, CA. Photo by Vincent Winkelman, all rights reserved.

Clovis, CA:  My home town, actually, although it’s practically been swallowed up by Fresno. Clovis has managed to keep its small-town charm, though. The rodeo grounds are still one block off main street. Stroll along the cobblestone streets in the re-vamped downtown area and eat at DiCiccos Pizza – the Italian salad dressing is probably bottled but it tastes so good, bringing up all those memories of me and my mom and sister sharing a small pepperoni pizza and a salad. We’d sop the last of the dressing up with warm bread, and it still tastes just that good, to me.

Santa Cruz, CA: The Beach Boardwalk is where it’s at. Ride one of the country’s oldest wooden rollercoasters. Rides are still just $1! The surrounding communities are lovely, as well, with lots of public beach access and shady spots under giant redwoods. Visit Soquel (where I did my Zumbatomic dance fitness instructor training with Joy at Santa Cruz Dance Company) and Felton, where there is a fabulous natural foods store. Why, oh why, didn’t I stock up??) Go to the Mystery Spot, preferably not in a 36 ft. motorcoach (white knuckle drive.) But go, it’s crazy.

Redwood tree in Soquel, Ca

I am not leaning. I am standing straight, right? Mystery Spot

San Marcos, CA: Great beaches, and LegoLand (very overpriced – get some discount tickets, I beg you.) Kids under 12 will love it, though. The rides are geared toward younger children. My sons are Star Wars fanatics so that exhibit was extremely cool for them. Save time to just watch your kids build in the Lego play area. Take a whale watching cruise  – but be warned, there is no guarantee you will see whales (we didn’t) but you will likely see dolphins, at least.


Crescent City, CA: What a great little town. It’s the farthest north you can go on the coastline before Oregon, meaning it’s far enough north to leave the snotty, entitled, don’t-you-even-think-of-parking-that-rv-here and get-out-of-my-way-I-am-in-a-hurry attitude, of a certain western state, behind. Whatever do you mean? Hey, I grew up there, I can mock it. And yes, there are many,many wonderful people in CA (like my entire family practically) and even more beautiful, wonderful sights and locales.  Crescent City is just close enough to Oregon to catch the relaxed vibe,  as in, “We don’t care, park that rig anywhere you want.” I parked on the pier and listened to the waves crash all night long. Do not miss going to Ocean World– quaint, inexpensive, and up close. The seal demonstration is a crowd pleaser!

Driftwood at Crescent City Beach, Ca

Lake Havasu City, AZ: See the London Bridge. It was falling down (hence the song) so they took it down, sold it, shipped it, and re-built it. It’s beautiful. Say hi to Connie Alexander (Alexander Insurance) and her incredible non-profit org., “Women with Willpower.” And do not miss out on the Arizona Sonoma Desert Museum. I don’t know why it’s a museum, the whole thing is outdoors. I’d almost call it a zoo. Just go. I’ve never seen so many types and colors and varieties of cacti in my life. It’s a forest of green in the desert. Be sure and catch the Raptor Free Flight.

London Bridge

Cacti at Arizona Sonoma Museum

New Mexico: The Gila Cliff Dwellings. A wonderful stop for home-schoolers and history buffs. It’s also just really pretty. The staff are all volunteers who are dedicated to this beautiful monument. Also Carlsbad Caverns. Amazing. That’s all I have to say. Oh, and take a jacket.

Gila Cliff Dwellings

Carlsbad Caverns

San Antonio, TX: Yeeeee haw! No, actually, it wasn’t like that. Although on the drive out there, wow, miles and miles and miles of noooootthhhing. The speed limit was, I kid you not, 85 mph. Cause, what are ya gonna hit? Nothin’. Hear my accent, ya’ll? San Antonio is actually very cosmopolitan, clean, and not desert-like at all. Other than the cacti growing in the woods around the church we camped at, like the one I kicked over to show my son “what’s inside” and got a nice bunch of 3 inch long spikes through my shin for my troubles. While you are there, of course, see The Alamo, like, duh. Also, check out the River Walk. It’s a beautiful place to take the kids for a stroll along the walkway-enclosed river and it’s a whole lotta fun at night for dining and dancing. Refer back to that yee-haw, earlier. Actually, we spent our evening at a salsa bar doing Zumba routines to the latino beat!

Beautiful old tree at The Alamo

River Walk

Little Falls, MN: OK, it’s kind of where we live, but there are great things to do there. Check out the antique shops downtown, and Charles Lindbergh State Park. Take a class through Community Services.  Enjoy the clean air and nearby lakes!

Sunset on Big Deep Lake

Grant’s Pass, Oregon: Too big for my taste, but lots and lots to do in the surrounding area. There’s a Farmer’s Market nearly every day of the week, somewhere. Our favorites are the Applegate Valley and the Rogue River.  Yeah, and I’m not giving away all the good places because I am going back there and don’t want to find you all crowding it up. I’m selfish like that.

Rogue River

So, that, in a nutshell, is how we spent our summer vacation. Or the past 11 months to be precise. I bet I skipped a few places, so feel free to point them out and remind of the coolness I neglected to mention. Oh, by the way, we are hanging out in Maine right now. I know, it’s reaaaaaalllly rough.

Sand Beach

Maine lobster

Be well and safe travels!

Want more? Visit my foodie column on and see what tips and tricks I’ve found for you on my blog. Perhaps you’d like to check out my book? Come on, live a little!

Posted by: Mom on a Mission | October 3, 2012

Cacti – Arizona Sonoma Museum

Cacti - Arizona Sonoma Museum

Arizona Sonoma Museum

Posted by: Mom on a Mission | November 14, 2011

The big silver school bus heads from Iowa to Nebraska on I80

Gothenburg Pony Express Station monument

Image via Wikipedia

This is why I originally vowed to write every day, even if it was a few lines. I am hopelessly behind and trying to reconstruct our trip in the Big Silver School Bus (otherwise known as Old Girl, as in “C’mon Old Girl, start ‘er up!” or “C’mon Old Girl, get up and walk!,”  the last being a trucker term that means go real fast!)

My husband’s semi is the Big Dog. My coach is the Old Girl. We’ve got a big old ’92 Detroit in the coach, but his semi engine is bigger. He gets up and walks away. Unless he is carrying 45,000 lbs on a hill, then I smoke him! Heeheeehee, gotta love that.

I love all those old trucker terms from the short time I spent driving long haul with my husband. The phrases, the songs, the CB calls . . . ahh, good times. Obviously length of time has increased my nostalgia, but we did have a lot of fun together on the road. At least after the first few months when we routinely threatened to dump one another on the side of the road, put it in park “right here” (did that), or marched two feet to the sleep compartment and “slammed” that curtain shut in the midst of an argument. Yeah, good times.

But, as usual, I digress. I’m to the pitiful point of being in the habit of darting off a few quick Facebook updates on our whereabouts, while I find myself trying to remember just where we did go, and what we did do. Sounds a little Seuss-y, there.

Bravely, I will do my best and forgive me if I leave out the eloquence and wonder, because, it’s been a while since I actually saw said wonders. I do so most veraciously swear, from this point on, to get caught up so I can properly awe and amaze you, one and all, with my writing splendor and grandiose descriptions of all places and people visited forthwith! But, don’t hold me to it, you know how I get when my husband is around . . . sigh . . . butterfly lashes . . . blog, what blog?

Now, leaving Iowa – woops, here I go again. I forgot to mention we also visited Historic Forestville, near Preston, IA. Another good home school stop! What’s left of the charming village is a landmark Carnegie bridge leading into town, a 19th-century store with original merchandise, and original buildings in which the staff represent the lifestyle of the times. The picturesque community is complete with chicken flocks, working pump organ, and events like apple butter-making and summer camps. We made it there after hours so just wandered around peering into windows and admiring the old farm equipment and buildings. We still enjoyed it, and,always a plus, it was free!

So, on to Nebraska! We traveled down I29 and picked up I80 in Omaha. Because of flooding we had to detour around the city itself. Passing through Lincoln and Grand Island (where I hear there are a lot of good restaurants) we stopped instead in Gothenburg to visit an original Pony Express Station building.  The ladies working the Station were a wealth of knowledge and the small, one-room building holds plenty of artifacts and souvenirs to keep the kids and adults amused and educated. Great for homeschoolers! This and the museum are great, FREE, things to do in historic Gothenburg.

From there, we traveled onward west on I80 to Sidney. It’s kind of your last stop out of Nebraska, er, except for Kimball, but its main claim to fame is that Sidney is home to Cabela’s Headquarters. If you’ve been to Cabela’s you know there are huge displays of stuffed animals in faux habitats all around the store. It’s pretty impressive and the kids enjoyed it. I love hunting, and eating, wild game, but I do have a hard time with hunting animals merely for sport. What a waste of a beautiful elephant!

So, Sidney. The weather is wonderful compared to you-know-where, and the people, like all those we’ve met in Nebraska, are very friendly. We hung out at a park the first day and talked to a mom who was from, go figure, Minnesota. She and her husband came for a visit a few years ago, and ended up getting jobs in Sidney, and love it. She also gave me a tip for a good place for the boys to get hair cuts at Transformations.

Later we stopped at the Visitor’s Center where a very sweet young woman pointed us to the fairgrounds for camping. After a couple of nights we moved to the Cabela’s lot, next to another good place to camp, the Cabela’s Campground. If you have a Cabela’s credit card you get a 20% discount, and there is a 10% discount for Good Sam Club members. Being ton a budget, we spent the night in Cabela’s parking lot and used their free dump and water refill.

If you are in Sidney, be sure and visit the free Fort Sidney Museum and Post Commander’s Home.  They were not “officially” open as they were replacing the original 1800’s windows in the home, but were happy to give a homeschooling family a tour, anyway.

The main floor highlighted military artifacts from the earliest days of the US to today, focusing one large display on General Custer, due to his brief stay at the Fort, in Sidney. The upper rooms held artifacts and memorabilia from the Victorian age, with each room decorated appropriately. The donated period items were fascinating for my three children!My daughter of course, loved the elegant gowns, hats, and gloves of the ladies of the age, while the boys appreciated the saddles and other outdoorsy stuff.

Now, do I want to move here? Well . . . based on the drive along I80 at least, probably not. Eastern to Mid-Nebraska seemed pretty similar to that of Iowa: Plenty of corn and dry, flat land, but granted, it is late fall so may be there is usually more green stuff.  Sidney was really nice and as I go further west, Nebraska is getting purdier and purdier.

Now, now, don’t send me multiple emails, I admit I haven’t seen much, just commenting on what I have seen based on what I’m looking for. Let me know where I should visit next time I cruise through Iowa or Nebraska. Educate me. You know my criteria for a place to live: Minnesota-like, but with good weather most of the year. Does it exist? We will find out!

Well, let’s wind this puppy up, shall we? After a few days in Sidney, we headed north to see Chimney Bluff and Scott’s Bluff. But that needs it’s own post! So, till then, good night, friends.

Posted by: Mom on a Mission | November 2, 2011

What we did in Iowa

Hoover birthplace cottage, West Branch, Iowa.

Image via Wikipedia

Heading south out of Minnesota, our first intention was to visit the Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum, in Burr Oak, IA and possibly the Norwegian Museum down in Decorah.

We stayed the night in Burr Oak and decided that since the Wilder Museum only covered the year the family worked at the Burr Oak Hotel (and charged a fee – ditto for the Norwegian Museum) we would save our money for something the kids were more interested in.

We did attend a wonderful church in Decorah – Stone Ridge Community Church – check it out when you are in the area.

Luckily, my husband was heading for Iowa City around that time, so we headed that way ourselves.

He caught up with us at the Herbert Hoover Presidential Museum and National Historic Site. Now, if you had asked me to plan a trip specifically to see this really wonderful place, I would have thought you’d bumped your head. I honestly thought twice. I mean, it sounds a little boring: a Presidential Historic Site, and it’s not Lincoln or Washington, or the like? Yawn.

I couldn’t have been more wrong. There was a very nominal fee for the Library (which we skipped) but the grounds and museum were free. A must-see is was the video about Hoover’s life and contributions to our nation. Hoover was a Quaker and his values interwove every decision he made as a man, and as President. It is thanks to him that we have some our National Forests, to begin with. Blamed for the Depression, there was much Hoover did behind the scenes to help our nations economy, and for which he would not defend himself, due to his Quaker upbringing.

“Few Americans have known greater acclaim or more bitter
criticism than Herbert Hoover. He achieved international success as a mining
engineer and world wide gratitude as “The Great Humanitarian” who fed war-torn
Europe during and after World War I.

Elected president in a landslide, Hoover quickly became a
scapegoat in his own land. Even today, Hoover remains linked with the Great
Depression of the 1930s. Yet he refused to fade away. In the years after World
War II, Herbert Hoover joined Harry Truman and helped organize the relief effort
to save Europe and reorganize the executive branch of the federal government. By
the time of his death in 1964, the scapegoat of the 1930s had become the grand
old man of the Republic.”

On the grounds are the original homes, the church, and some of the town buildings from Hoover’s childhood right there in West Branch, IA. You can walk right in and visit with a site exper – high on the homeschool value! Hoover wanted his home town, and his memories, preserved and I am grateful he did.

From West Branch, we journeyed west to Sioux City, right on the edge of Nebraska. There are normally a lot of great sites to visit in this part of IA-NE, however flooding took a heavy toll on the towns.

The Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center looked like a really great place to learn and play, but unfortunately was still closed for clean-up. We made do with the Sioux City Art Center featuring artists from near and far. We just missed the Leonardo Da Vinci showing (darn!) but there were plenty of fascinating and intriguing collections to view, as well as art by local students. The Center features Saturday classes (also missed!) and workshops throughout the summer, as well. The kids especially enjoyed the 3rd floor sculptures!

Across the street we toured the Sioux City Public Museum which kept the kids entertained for hours with interactive exhibits. In the foyer there was a miniature Corn Palace which the kids recognized from visiting the big Corn Palace in Mitchell, South Dakota last summer. The kids spent $1 each on souvenirs: an arrowhead necklace; a Japanese fan; and a stone ring.

We ate dinner at a local “famous” diner, the Green Gables Diner, known for their hot fudge sundaes for decades. Honestly, eat dinner elsewhere, but do stop in for a sundae. Overall, the people were great to us in Iowa, and we wouldn’t hesitate to spend more time there. As for moving in . . . I realized that miles upon endless miles of corn would drive me batty. So, the search continues for the ultimate place to put down roots for this family – but it’s a great place to visit!

Adios amigos – we are headed into Nebraska!



Posted by: Mom on a Mission | October 19, 2011

Spam Museum, Austin, MN

The Spam-mobile.

Image via Wikipedia

OK, so I know in my last post I said we left Minnesota, but I forgot about the Spam Museum. I’ve wanted to go go the Spam Museum since I moved to MN. Why? Who knows? I guess because who’da thunk?

I had never heard of Spam until I lived in Hawaii back in 1989 or so. Spam is big among Asian cultures. When you got a bento plate from the gas station/deli on Makakilo Drive, it came with fried Spam. Same thing when I lived in Japan and visited Korea. Spam. OK . . .

So, I  move to Minnesota and guess what? More Spam! So, I’m thinking, I gotta check this place out. The kids weren’t so sure, but they kind of have to go along.

It’s a great place to visit! The museum is full of memorabilia and interesting historical references all set up in theme rooms. I, of course, loved the “tv studio” in which you pushed buttons to watch dishes featuring Spam prepared by famous chefs in all parts of the world. I took home some recipes from Chez Spam that apparently are not listed online, but let me know if you want to try English Spam Fritters; Japanese Goya Champlu; Australian BBQ Queensland Steak and Marinated Spam; Hawaiian Spam Musubi; or Korean Kimchi-Junghol!

The kids loved the Spam assembly room in which they donned white lab coats and hard hats, and worked an assembly line putting “Spam” (a pink bean bag) into empty Spam tin cans, sealing with a lid, placing on a label, and then “cooking” it in a play oven. This process is timed and when you are done with all the cans of “Spam,” you push the red button and find out how you compared to the Spam factory which puts out thousands of cans of Spam in minutes. We averaged about 2 minutes for our 6 or so cans of “Spam.”

It’s a great trip for homeschoolers and history buffs, not to mention lovers of “Spam.” After the museum, you’re funnelled into the Spam Store where you will find about 10 flavors of Spam – we like turkey Spam and bacon Spam – to buy ($3 tax-free) as well as every toy, clothing item, and souvenir related to pork, pigs, or Spam. We bought a hat and a can of turkey spam.

Reminds me of a song. Really? You inspired to sing the (wrong) lyrics to a song? Shocking.

Fried Spam, Fried Spam, cheese and bologn-y

After the macaroni we’ll have onions and pickles and pretzels

And then we’ll have some more fried Spam

Fried Spam, fried Spam!

Here’s a link to more recipes at the Spam site, and also  more Spam recipes.

Posted by: Mom on a Mission | October 18, 2011

Twin Cities, MN

A cave formation popularly called the "bi...

Image via Wikipedia

We’d almost made it out of MN at this point, but couldn’t leave without one more trip to the Cities. The Twin Cities, that is. Liquid gold, moonshine . . . OK, I don’t even think those are the correct lyrics to the song.

By the way, we have found if we did nothing but visit State Parks in every state (especially MN) we would have more than our share of beautiful sights and learning activities. And there’s one about every 50 miles, it seems.

In the Cities, we visited MOA, duh, for the Lego store and to ride the rides. We weren’t investing 30 bucks a person for an all day pass, so we spent about $40 on enough tickets for everyone to ride 4-5 rides. Plus the kids all wanted to do the high ropes course (I know, I got them hooked at Lake Beauty Bible Camp.)

While they spent an hour on the course, I sneaked around the corner to Tucci Benucch and had a $3 glass of wine and a $3 dish of butternut squash ravioli – happy hour discount. Delicioso!

We had to swing by the Lindt chocolate store for a free Lindt ball (white chocolate – gag!) and buy one more (50 cents each) for the road.

Hold on – I have to digress here – I am laughing like crazy! We are parked in Sidney, NE as I speak, where I heard we could park and have full hookups for free or a small donation – don’t laugh, lots of towns in NE do this. So the electric heat is cycling on and off and when it shut off a second ago, my 6-year-old, who apparently thought we were doing something illegal or in some other way wrong, goes, “Uh-oh, got busted. They shut the heat off.”  Gotta love this kid.

OK, back to the past and the Twin Cities. After MOA, we went to Como Zoo (well, the entrance to Como Zoo, which is free, by the way – the zoo, not the entrance) but didn’t go in because my youngn’s were fighting and would not let it go, so mom nixed the trip. That will teach ’em.

Yeah. The next day we went back and started in the Conservatory next to the zoo. Now you might think a glorified, albeit beautiful, hothouse garden would be a boring destination for kids, but they loved it. Each room has a theme, like ferns. Don’t mock the ferns, they are amazing. There are ferns that look like trees, that look like sculpture, that live on the sides of cliffs. Trust me, it’s actually a pretty cool place.

Afterwards we were going to the Zoo, and you guessed it. One temper tantrum later mom has “Had it with you people” and we went back to the bus. You’ve seen one zoo, you’ve seen them all, right? Now to be fair to my kids, normally they are very well-behaved when we go places so this was an unusually bad day for all of us. Especially mom.

Later on we made it to Chez Arnaud, the real French bakery in Maple Grove and I wasn’t taking any chances – I went in alone. After eating half a Parisian sandwich (ham, swiss, butter, on a delicious french roll) and a lemon tart (so small, yet so satisfying) plus a cappuccino, blissfully alone, all alone, in peace, in silence, except  of course for the sound of chewing and the occasional grunt under my breath, “So good, mmmmm, yum,” I brought a bag of eclairs, madeleines,  a pain au chocolat, and the other half of my sandwich, and a long baguette, back to the kiddies. That and a bottle of red traveled with us to Grandma’s where we made and ate spaghetti with meat sauce for dinner. Good times.

In the morning, we visit a state park and do the obligatory dumping of the tank. Do not pass up a state park. If you have the sticker you can go in and use the dump, otherwise it is just $4 for the parking pass. Other than the obvious reference to saving money, why am I telling you this? Just wait. So that night someone leaves the water running in the bathroom and we wake up to no water and full tanks. Back to the state park to dump. Round Two.

The next day we went to Lake George to swim. Uh, no thanks. Have you ever seen green water? Seriously a gross green you couldn’t even see through. The lake was so shallow that the kids walked a really long ways out and it never went over their thighs. I, on the other hand, could not be tempted into that water unless one of my kids were drowning, and good luck in that pond. My apologies to anyone who prefers to swim in pea soup.

We ended the day going out to eat with Grandma. It was a sweet ending to our time for a while in Minnesota.

Heading out the next day, I realize someone flushed the toilet and didn’t make sure it closed, so all our water again, went into the tanks. So, we visited Myre-Big Island to eat lunch by the lake and dump our business. Round three. I did a load of laundry and didn’t make sure the lint trap door was shut properly and a flood of water ends up on the floor. All of our towels were used to sop up the dirty water, so we use up the rest of the water doing laundry. Back to dump. Round four.

We then traveled to the Mystery Cave. For about $20 we took a one hour tour underground which was very nice. My kids are all amateur geologists and love anything to do with rocks, caves, and just the whole underground thing is very cool in their eyes. Make note, if we come back this way we want to be sure and visit Niagara Cave for the waterfalls.

Soon after, it seemed all the kids were taking a turn leaving the bathroom water on – what that was all about I don’t know, but after one more dump (round 5) I think we got it back under control. And with that, dear readers, we broke free of the Minnesota tractor beam and entered Iowa! Hoo-rah!


Posted by: Mom on a Mission | October 12, 2011

Charles A. Lindbergh State Park, Little Falls, MN

Charles Lindbergh House, Little Falls, MN, USA
Image via Wikipedia

Here is another jewel we’ve had access to for the last decade, but hadn’t taken advantage of until we were heading out of state. Charles A. Lindbergh State Park.

I thought it just had a small playground, as well as the historic home and tenant farmer house formerly belonging to one of Minnesota‘s most famous residents. Upon closer inspection, we found one of the prettiest hiking trails and creek I’ve seen in a while! What a treat to stroll between the trees, a feast for the eyes with changing colors and ground cover.

Since we had just studied a bit about forest management, we picked up on the way the different trees affected the undergrowth, and consequently which plants and trees were able to grow and gradually take over the landscape. With the trees changing, the groundcover on the path changed from pine needles, to moss, then to sand, all depending on which trees held the majority along the trail.

The trail starts with a bridge (built by a teen Lindbergh) over the very creek young Charles played in and fished, as a boy. The kids crossed on stepping stones and imagined Charles doing the same. The farm fields have all been taken over by trees, except the preserved area where the “Jenny” plane landed.

If you live in Little Falls, the park is a great place to take your afternoon walk – don’t miss out on this local attraction! To park at the site, you’ll need a MN State Parks pass ($5 for the day, or $18 for a year). It’s at least a mile out of town. The houses are closed up after Labor Day, but you can still walk around outside and read the guide signs. The park staff are also a wealth of information.

Posted by: Mom on a Mission | October 12, 2011

Duluth, Minnesota – RV style

Lakewalk, Duluth, Minnesota

Image via Wikipedia

Duluth, MN is a wonderful stop over for RV’ers. Whether you spend a long afternoon, or an entire week, you will enjoy yourself and find new gems you’ll want to see “next time.”

We left Moose Lake State Park, and stopped in at the Welcome Center just south of Duluth. There we picked up a coupon book for area dining and attractions, and a wonderful booklet with pictures and a monthly calendar of events. Included are prices and directions, as well as a helpful description, for each event. A really helpful  young man at the counter helped us get in touch with the MN Newfoundland Rescue Center as we had decided to find stationary homes for our big dogs. Zeek was getting arthritis, we since learned, and getting too grumpy to ride in the coach with us.

So, those of you who “just couldn’t do it,” would never take those big dogs along,” “can’t see why I”d do it,” and what was another constant remark – as if by my taking my dogs along on our travels was somehow setting a precedent for the rest of you to be obligated to do so- oh yeah, “I thought it was crazy, stupid, or insert any derogatory term here, for you to take those dogs along,” can now breathe a collective sigh of relief.

No longer will the fact of my bringing our beloved pets in our coach keep you up at night. Grin. I guess I could make some comments about dragging heavy tow vehicles, horses (yea, that’s low maintenance and not at all limiting), etc., along, buuuut . . . I figure that’s your business, right, and more power to ya.

Ahhhhh, feeling better. Guess that was getting on my last nerve, huh?

Still with me?

Back to Duluth (man, I feel better!) Our first stop was the Lake Superior Zoo. It’s a great small zoo with a lot of bang for your buck. There are animals we see all the time, like wild turkeys and crows (yes, a crow exhibit – I know, right) but also welcome surprises like polar bears, tigers, lions, and bears – oh my! We enjoyed listening to the lion roar every morning like an alarm clock souvenir leftover from an African safari tour.

Skip the snack bar unless you like microwaved french fries, but they do serve a good-sized ice cream dish. Bonus – the parking lot opens into a large gravel parking lot for the play and dog park, next door, so they let us park overnight. Watch where you step, no one picks up after their dogs and it is poodle-bomb galore, but the playground was clean. On the other side of the park is the hiking trail entrance for the state park. Overall, a really nice place to visit!

The next day we went up the road a couple miles to shop at Super One and strolling around, found The Italian Village, at 301 North Central Avenue. (218) 624-2286. This little diamond is a must when visiting Duluth. It’s a cozy little corner deli/restaurant serving real Italian recipes made by a real Italian father and son. The spaghetti and meatball dinner is a bargain at about $8, served with salad and warm ciabatta bread.

On the side they have a meeting room with lovely old world charm. It features a hand-painted mural on the wall. In fact, the owner put me in touch with an artist Brad Vanderbrook, who was having an art show the following weekend. Brad not only does incredible pen and ink drawings, but was tireless in finding wonderful homes for my Newfies!

Italian Village catered the art showing, and mama mia! The muffolato sandwich and homemade brownies are enough to make your palate sing! Good art, good food, and a little vino with lots of great people who showed up to support a local artist – now that’s a good time!

The next day it was over to Bayfront Park to attend Oktoberfest. We were early so we parked at the playground just below the Great Lakes Aquarium – (the only freshwater aquarium so it’s a priceless homeschooling destination) another great spot – to play. This has a large parking lot that also serves Bayfront Park so the bus fit nicely. The playground is huge and inventive, the ground cover is actually torn bits of clean tire rubber and the walkways are also covered with impact absorbing rubber so it’s wonderful for small children.

Later we meandered over to Oktoberfest for a bit to eat and some tunes. The polka music was lively (and LOUD) and the roasted rosemary chicken, grilled brats with sauerkraut, huge fried pretzels, and yes, good German (read strong) beer were tasty. Best of all, it was free admission! We got there early on the first day so there weren’t many people there to obscure our view of the beautiful bay or the keg-toss and nail-pounding contests. They even had a “kindergarten” area set up with bowling pins and polish horseshoes for the kids.

One thing I love about northern MN, is that the people show they really value children. A lot of the towns are built around the lake, with a nice swimming beach and really good playgrounds. The playgrounds are built by the town citizens, and you can tell a lot of thought went into making them special and unique, both entertaining and intellectually stimulating. Not your run of the mill couple of swings and a slide.

We hated to leave before seeing more of Duluth, but it was time to head out. The weather was turning cold, drizzly, and depressing. Winter already? So back down to Brainerd and our favorite campground for the one hot day of the month! And, the last jump into the lake of the year – brrrr! But after a nice long hike around the Cayuna State Park trails, it was just was we needed.


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