We’re home again! Didn’t know we were away? Oops. I forgot to mention it. On our anniversary last week, after a lovely breakfast out, we set off on a week-long vacation. And now we’re back.

Before I expound on the vacation, I’d like to share a quote with you from the book I’ve been reading, “The Paradox of Choice – Why More is Less” that says alot about the quality of our vacation. It’s hard to find the perfect quote that puts it into context, but this is a good start…

“As our material and social circumstances improve, our standards of comparison go up. As we have contact with items of high quality, we begin to suffer from ‘the curse of discernment.’ The lower quality items that used to be perfectly acceptable are no longer good enough. The hedonic zero point keeps rising, and expectations and aspirations rise with it.”

In case you’re afraid I’m going to say how bad our vacation was because our expectations were too high, no, it would be quite the opposite. I’m just using that as an intro. to explain how a week-long vacation that involved 6 nights in a tent and only one in a hotel, most meals over a cookstove or barbecue in a campsite and only a few in restaurants, and many degrees of “on-the-cheap” could be one of the most incredible weeks I’ve had in a long time.

You see, five years ago, we gave up a lot of things so that Marcel could go to University. Vacations was one of them. When you haven’t had much chance to go away with your family, almost ANY kind of vacation feels downright luxurious. I can’t imagine we could have had much more fun if we’d been in an expensive resort somewhere.

We spent a week south of the border in Minnesota, the state that borders our province. If you’ve never camped there, I’d highly recommend it. It was perfectly lovely! In fact, we’d originally planned to cross over into Wisconsin and Michigan, but we were having so much fun where we were that we didn’t bother.

Here are some of the highlights of the trip: (Sorry – it might be a bit long, but it’s serving as my trip journal)
– The absolutely picture-perfect campsite we stumbled upon when we took the wrong road near Bemidji (and spent most of the evening dealing with a flat tire on the utility trailer we’d brought for bikes and camping gear, but that’s another story). This campsite felt like a little piece of heaven, with a lovely little private beach (dotted with tiny intricate white snail shells that we couldn’t resist collecting and bringing home) about 20 feet from where we pitched the tent. It was rustic (outhouses and a manual water pump) but it was so beautiful we stayed for 2 nights.
– The amazing bike trails near all three of the campgrounds we stayed at (even though we didn’t end up using the third one because we had so many other fun things to do). I was SO glad we’d bothered to take the bikes. I had no idea Minnesota had spent a fortune on miles and miles of beautiful PAVED bike trails through pristine forests, beside peaceful lakes, over hills, through prairies – you name it. A cyclist’s dream. We stuck to the easy trails, but there were lots of more challenging ones too.
– Campfires. Almost every night. And s’mores. Yum.
– The whole family shampooing their hair together in the lake in our little private beach. The giggles that accompanied the moment.
– Bike rides. Oh, the lovely bike rides. A long one with Julie (she was so thrilled to put on 21 kilometres in one day), another one with Nikki and Julie, one with the whole family, and one all by myself up a very gentle incline until I was high in the hills with the most spectacular view of Duluth and its picturesque bridges. Talk about a perfect moment! Stopping to eat chokecherries and watching a deer bound off into the bush made it so far beyond good I almost felt like stopping to write a poem.
– A ride on a miniature train with Maddie in Bemidji.
– Good people everywhere. It was the kind of trip that helps remind a person that people are predominately good at heart, generous, and helpful. There was Jeanette at Cass Lake who drove me 30 miles into Bemidji and back when we were stranded with a flat tire on the trailer (plus a flat spare), and then phoned ahead to the campsite to make sure they had a spot for us; there were Emma, Chloe, and Summer – the new friends the girls made in the campground near Duluth; and there was Curtis and his children Heidi and Timothy, who spent an evening with us in the Lebanon Hills near Minneapolis – first at the beach and then around the fire at his campsite after the kids were in bed. And then there were all the other people whose names we didn’t catch – the woman who lent us cooking oil for our pancakes, the woman who gave me change to finish my laundry and her husband who helped Marcel the second time we had a flat tire, the woman in the washroom who gave us recommendations for campgrounds, and the friendly proprietors at all three campsites – especially the one who found a spot for us even though the campsite was technically full.
– Wandering along the boardwalk on the shore of Lake Superior at dusk in downtown Duluth. Beautiful. That’s all I can think of to say.
– Chatting with the family on lazy mornings in the tent.
– Riding the trolley car through downtown Duluth.
– Coming up with fun pictures to take of Joe Banana in various locations (more on that later).
– Watching the massive ships go in and out of the harbour at Duluth, while the sounds of the waterfront blues festival (ccap – another festival for us to visit some day!) wafted across the water.
– Visiting the aquarium in Duluth.
– Seeing the looks of excitement on the girls’ faces when I let them pick the absolutely least nutritious breakfast cereal. Did you know they made chocolate chip cookie cereal? Funny thing was that after the initial excitement wore off, they didn’t actually like it and when we left the last campsite, half of it got tossed in the dumpster.
– Getting lucky with three really great campsites. The first one (Cass Lake) held tonnes of rustic charm. The second one (Indian Point, near Duluth) was a little more crowded with not as much charm, but it was close to Duluth, our site was near the play structure and the laundry room, and it was close to the Munger Trail that led me up into the hills on my bike. The third one (Lebanon Hills in Apple Valley near Minneapolis), had beautiful secluded sites (we seemed to luck out and get the best one), we were right close to the most beautiful washroom and shower I have ever seen in a campground, and it was close to a beach, Valleyfair, and Mall of America.
– A day spent at Valleyfair. Again, because our kids have not grown up with expensive vacations every year, they are absolutely THRILLED with a one day visit to an amusement park. And I had no idea Valleyfair was so impressive. I happen to love rollercoasters, and there were so many of them we didn’t even manage to ride them all. And did you know that you go SIXTY-EIGHT miles per hour on the steel venom?! I’m glad my two oldest daughters love rollercoasters as much as I do!
– Seeing the African acrobats at Valleyfair. Just like the ones I saw in Kenya.
– Good moods. The girls were all such good sports on this trip, even when there were less than ideal moments. I thought for sure they’d panic or get cranky when they had to stay with daddy on a secluded dirt road with the flat tire as the sun was setting (and after Jeanette had mentioned the possibility of bears), but they handled it remarkably well. And the one and only time rain briefly hampered our activities (just as we were getting ready to eat supper) we all hunkered down in the tent for an hour or so and actually had alot of fun laughing and talking.
– The final night in a hotel, especially when we lucked out and got a poolside room for an unexpected discount (that the clerk gave us just because she felt like it) right across the street from Mall of Americ
a. We even got into the room several hours before check-in.
– Watching the lightning and rainstorm through the windows while floating in the hotel pool, and knowing that we didn’t have to sleep in a tent that night.
– Wandering around Mall of America with the girls, buying Lego with Maddie, candy with Julie, and clothes with Nikki (and that pretty much sums up each of their shopping priorities). Plus shopping at Ikea with Nikki.
– The absolutely incredible weather we had all week. Only two short rainfalls, and neither of them drastically impacted our plans, nor did we ever have to pack up wet camping gear. We had perfectly sunny days on all the days we wanted to do outdoor things, and comfortable nights for sleeping in a tent. Sometimes – like when the temperature dropped from the mid nineties when we first arrived near Minneapolis to a pleasant 83 degrees when we spent the day at Valleyfair and then back to the mid nineties when we were at MOA and the hotel the next day – it felt like the weather was custom made for us.
– A remarkably bug free week. The only exception was the afternoon on our private beach at Cass Lake when there were some pesky biting flies. But we fended them off by staying submerged in the water or biking faster than they flew.

There were only two downers on the trip – the trouble with the trailer tire, and the severe case of poison ivy (or something else that causes a really bad rash) Marcel picked up along the way. He’s at emergency right now trying to get some relief from the itching. He was a good sport about it though, and didn’t let his discomfort dampen the fun we were having.

Unfortunately, with the end of a vacation comes unpacking and laundry and clean-up. That’s what I’ll be doing tomorrow – at least up until the time that I get to go see my SISTER’S NEW HOUSE! Yay!

Hopefully soon I’ll get a chance to catch up on your blogs. And maybe tomorrow I’ll get some pictures posted.

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