Wordless Wednesday: My Son's First Job

>> Wednesday, December 30, 2020

I posted this the morning after we got back from Itasca State Park last week:

Proud of this rosy-cheeked fella. He’s got his first job shoveling snow for our retiree neighbor. He really had to earn his $20 this morning. But he worked hard and didn’t complain.

A friend commented that he needs a fake beard for warmth, so I added this:

He's raked in $60 over the last week! (Plus a $10 Christmas bonus and a plate of fudge!)

Related to the snow, my wife snapped a cute selfie during our 2-inch snowfall last night as she was running home on the Greenway:


A Few Days in Itasca State Park

>> Tuesday, December 29, 2020

After a night in a camper cabin in Forestville State Park and then a night in a yurt in Afton State Park, it was time for another quick trip. Last week, the boys and I headed 3.5 hours north to Itasca. We went to Itasca 2.5 years ago in the summer, but we'd never seen it in the winter.

Lots of beautifully flocked trees on quiet highways.

My boys in the hand of "The World's Tallest Paul Bunyan!"
He'd be 60' (they say) if he stood up.

With me as well.

5 miles down the road was the "World's Largest Tiger Muskie!"
Northern MN is a wild, lawless place. :)

Pulling into Itasca.

It was time to try our third form of lodging in our last 3 trips: this time, we were staying in one of the "4 seasons" cabins. Itasca has 2 cabins with 6 rooms (all with separate porches and entrances) that have mini kitchens, 2 queen beds, WiFi, and cable TV! This was NOOOOOOTTTT "camping!"

Small kitchen. No oven, but there's a 2-burner stove, microwave,
toaster, mini fridge, and all the utensils you'd need.

The fridge once I stocked it.

Charlie at the counter having a snack. (With our food unpacked below him.)

View from near the door. I thought it'd all be 1 room,
but the 2 beds are through the door on the right!

Two DECENT queen beds.

Our porch of "4 season" cabin #62.

A nice table on the porch. And screened-in for the bugs
in the summer. (Not a problem on our trip.)

We got unloaded and headed out. We drove along Lake Itasca and pulled off at one of the overlooks to hike.

Charlie heading down the steps.

Charlie and I SHOT out onto the lake, but Henry wasn't so sure at first. (That's him
back there.) There were trucks and ice houses on the lake, so no worries.

Selflie on the lake!

Running through some big pines.

The boys started clearing a spot on the lake so they could slide around.

We stayed there until it got a bit dark, and we headed back with the last remnants of daylight. It was time for supper:

Eggs your way: fried hard for Charlie, scrambled with
cheese for Henry, and in a burrito for me. With sausages.

Also, we made Jello for the next day.

The "4 seasons" cabins are just about 2 blocks from the main lodge
(currently closed). So we just walked down there and played more on the lake.

Henry dropped his pocket knife somewhere along the way, and I got
a BIG HUG when I was able to backtrack and find it in the dark.

It was DEAD CALM on the lake that night - so calm that my city boys called it "creepy." It was fantastic.

Reading before bed. They don't like to sleep together,
so Charlie will willingly take a "nest" on the floor.

The next morning, I pulled my biggest "dad move" of the trip. I got the boys up around 6 a.m. and we headed to the Mississippi River Headwaters. I thought it could be magical to have that area to ourselves - it's usually the most crowded area of the park. We were there from 7-9 a.m., and we didn't see ANYONE else.

We were there WELL before ANY daylight, and I started to make some photos as the sky started to brighten. Here are a few long exposures that I made as the sun was still starting to rise (between 20 and 30 second exposures):

CLICK HERE to enlarge.

CLICK HERE to enlarge.

CLICK HERE to enlarge.

We had to go back to get snow pants right after we got there, but once the boys were warm enough, they didn't want to leave:

Charlie pretending to "fish" with a stick.

Henry was making "slush balls" on the beach.

The rocks to cross the headwaters were icy. I still had to
cross them though. (Yes, I briefly fell in and soaked a boot.)

When we decided to leave, we were still the only car in the huge parking lot!
(That's an iPhone panoramic with my car to the left-of-center.)

Tacos for lunch. (I brought taco meat that
I had cooked at home that I could just warm up.)

Running among 300+ year old pines in Preacher's Grove.


Then we drove just a bit farther down the road to the boat launch and paddle boat rental area. We ran out onto the ice and bumped into the only other people we'd seen all trip. (Really.) We started walking along the lake and soon found a big ice buckle. I tested it, and it was safe - it had re-froze in the middle where it would have been open water at some point. The boys LOVED it and played on it for a long time:

The buckle was at the entrance to the mini marina.


Here you can see some of the thickness of the ice.

The ice was quite clear!

Hiking the lake to get to a pioneer cemetary.

Lots of young kids buried here. I explained a lot about
(now preventable) diseases to the boys.

Walking back was WARM as we were with the slight breeze.

A bit sweaty on our way back!

More playing at the buckle!

Breaking through to water!

So I need to explain that last photo some more. After we played there for a long time, we busted down the "slide" that Henry had made along the shore (he's "buffing" the slide in the 2nd photo up from here). We found a little ledge with fresh poop and a LOT of snail shells. So something was swimming up with snails as snacks and eating them on that hidden little "ice cave." It was pretty cool.

We went back to our cabin for supper:

Charlie lighting our fire.

There's 1 fire pit for all 12 cabins to share, but luckily we were only 1 of 3 cabins
being used, so there was no one else wanting to use it. It was QUIET there.

Our 6 unit cabin in the background. That fire ring had just seen a FEW fires,
and the grill grates had NEVER seen food, so they were SOOO SMOOTH!

Fire grilled hamsteak (our "go to" camping meal) and grapes and carrots...

... and salted fire roasted naan for dessert (kinda like a fluffy hot pretzel)...

... and then marshmallows.

The other 6-unit cabin is way out-of-frame to the right on the other side
of this parking lot. (That light is in the middle of the lot.)

A few rounds of "trash" as I cleaned up after supper.

Leftover meat for eggs in the future.

A shot of some of the pots and pans and utensils that were in the cabin.

Notes I made about things I was GLAD I brought or WISHED I had brought.

We drove out of the park so we could see Jupiter and Saturn (the "Bethlehem Star").
This image is surely the highlight of my career as an artist.

Books before bed.

One "new" thing for us was that we didn't need to clean up. When we stay at camper cabins, we have to wipe things down, sweep the floor, take the trash out, etc. But there were no posted "rules" like that in this cabin, so I actually had to ask the office. "Uhhh, we'd like it if you could wash the dishes, but then housekeeping takes care of the rest." SWEET! Don't get me wrong: I like tent camping, and I really like camper cabins, but it was REALLY nice to pay $100/night to not have to do any of that extra work AND have heat, WiFi, cable TV, a full kitchen, and a bathroom! (A great deal considering camper cabins are just $30 less.)

I was watching the path of an upcoming snowstorm. And it didn't look good. If we weren't planning on seeing my folks the next day for Christmas (on Christmas Eve), I would have asked the park office if we could stay for another night. I woke up at 5 a.m. to start loading the car. Snow was already gently starting to fall. Here's a shot from around 6 a.m. with Henry still passed out in the bedroom as Charlie watched some cartoons:

We hit the road around 7 a.m., and it was BAD for the first hour or so. There were curvy roads that I were unfamiliar with that looked like this:

I pulled over at one point because I had a truck behind me. I figured there was a better chance that they knew the roads, so I let them go past and then tried to keep their tail lights in view:

Now I could easily tell the road slightly curved, and things like that were a BIG help.

But after an hour (of driving 20-40 mph), we drove out of the front edge of the storm. We had gotten ahead of it! Then it looked like this for the next 2 hours:

Then it just drizzled after that for the final 90 minutes home. The boys passed out:

A sure sign of getting closer to the Metro.

500 miles total with the boys. The normally 3.5 hour drive back took just over 4, and I was happy with that!

The snow started coming down here in St. Paul around 1 pm and piled up. I turned on the evening news at home, and they showed cars that had been PARKED on I-94 for 3 hours at that point - and that's the EXACT way we came through hours before:

SOOOOO glad we got ahead of this!

My wife got home at midnight, and I had shoveled along the alley so she could
get in. Notice her undercarriage scraped snow the whole way up the driveway.

It was a bummer that we missed out on our final half-day at Itasca, but we still had a GREAT time. The 4 seasons cabins are a great off-season deal, so check them out! I have a few videos I need to download and put together from our trip, so look for that in the near future. And here's our recent camper cabin trip to Forestville State Park and our night in a yurt at Afton State Park if you missed those.



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