Your new favorite travel app: Fieldtrip

One of the things I enjoy the most about travel is the history. The stories of the people who came before me, what the place was like decades ago, and the events that shaped the destination.

Maybe it comes from being surrounded by a family of history buffs or growing up in the Land of Lincoln where nearly every corner includes a plaque or statue or some other marker of historic relevance. Wherever it came from, it started early and has continued throughout my life. It has followed me, or possibly led me, around the globe.

Fieldtrip app

So when I heard about an app called FieldTrip I had to try it out. It is super easy to use and is great for those times when you find yourself in a new place and don’t have any sites planned.

I started with our current neighborhood and was surprised at how many historic sites and interesting things have been hiding right under my nose. The gorgeous house I pass nearly daily and always wondered how old it was? Turns out it was built in 1887 by a somewhat eccentric German immigrant farmer. Or the building my daughter likes to call the castle? I knew it was called the Stockyards Exchange, but had no idea it was also built in 1887 and once housed the offices for the country’s largest stockyard . . . and for one year in 1998 it was the Castle Hotel (maybe Olivia was right after all!).

Stockyards Exchange

Stockyards Exchange building, West St Paul, MN

Even if history isn’t your thing, this app allows you to narrow recommendations by interest: history, cool & unique, architecture, food, drinks and fun, and art and museums. You can save places as favorites or to return to later.

If you have your smartphone and the FieldTrip app you should never run out of places to visit . Happy travels!

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Sisters take Chicago: A three day jaunt through the Windy City

Chicago skyline

Photo: Roman Boed

Chicago, the Windy City; the epicenter of city life in Illinois. Growing up in the Land of Lincoln Chicago was the big city to visit for school trips, fancy prom dresses, and weekend getaways for those that could afford it.

Now, living in Minnesota, it is still a quick trip for a weekend getaway, especially when your travel pals are still located in Illinois. The easy access, affordability, and sense of familiarity is why we chose Chi town for our first annual sisters weekend.

We desired a little relaxation and plenty of space to have fun so we rented a house instead of going the hotel route. I found a great little place on Home Away located near Lincoln Square and if I ever moved to Chicago this is probably where I would end up. (Other than the fact that the house across the street was going for close to a million!)

Easy access to the brown line, a beautiful park, lots of little restaurants and local shops, and plenty of history. Designated Lincoln Square in 1925, the area use to be heavily German. You will still find a few German relics, such as the Chicago Brauhaus, but the neighborhood has become an eclectic mix of smaller chains such as Fleet Feet and unique shops like Merz Apothecary.

Chicago el

Photo: Tony Webster

Day one I found a tasty little place named Gene’s Sausage Shop that would be my go-to spot if I lived there. A great deli, prepared salads, and killer giant pretzels; not to mention, the upper level alcohol selection and rooftop beer and wine garden. Then of course there was the consignment shop, A Secret Closet, where I grabbed a whole new outfit in less than 15 minutes and chatted with the friendly staff.

Once my sisters joined me the next day, we spent a little more time wandering Lincoln Square for shopping and dining. We enjoyed a morning coffee stop at The Grind, which seemed to be the favorite among the locals. The wait in line was well worth it! We walked out with delicious iced coffees and a moist zucchini muffin.

A quick trip on the brown line and a switch to the blue line got us to Wicker Park/Bucktown. This area is now very popular among the younger Chicagoans, and therefore has a reputation as a hipster area. However, it has great shopping, restaurants, and people watching. And it is a nice alternative to the crowds and large national chains that clutter the Magnificent Mile. We wandered up and down the neighborhood and enjoyed a leisurely lunch at Francesco’s Forno. The wide open windows and classic rustic settings made us feel like we were dining al fresco in a café a world away. We made a post lunch pit stop at the Toms store which offers coffee that gives back along side their comfy shoes that give one for one.

Wicker Park

After a long day of walking, our legs were cramping and we were ready to head back to our apartment. We decided to stay close to home base and dine in Lincoln Square. Of course, that didn’t really narrow our options or make it any easier to decide on a restaurant. We finally settled on Barba Yianni Grecian Taverna for Mediterranean and it was a great choice. The staff was friendly and knowledgeable; and the food was fantastic and authentic. We highly recommend the humos, greek salad, lamb kebobs, gyro platter, and olive plate. Really I don’t think you can go wrong with anything on the menu, but be prepared to eat big or share a meal.

Day two we hopped back on the brown line and jumped to the red line to go check out Navy Pier. Unfortunately, Navy Pier is undergoing a massive redevelopment and is currently missing some of the grandeur and fun that it is known for. I’m sure it will look amazing when it is finished, but for now I’ll keep it off the list of possible stops for future trips.

River North

Although Navy Pier was a bust, we really enjoyed our lunch at Osteria via Stato. So if you find yourself in the River North neighborhood, stop by for great pizza, Italian specialties, and drinks.

Unfortunately, we didn’t have more time to explore further, but I’m sure we will visit again. Good thing, because I’ve already started a list of places I haven’t gotten to visit yet: Chicago Foodseum, the Andersonville neighborhood, Scone City in Wicker Park, River Roast for a Hoosier Mama Pie. Any other things I should add to the list?

5 reasons mom should plan some adults only travel

I love traveling with Olivia and one of my top goals as a parent has been to show her as much of the world as possible. However, I have recently come to realize that traveling solo and traveling adults only can be just as important.

This past weekend I met up with my sisters for a long weekend in Chicago (more on that next week). Hopefully this will be the beginning of an annual tradition because it was just what we all needed.

I had a day along before they arrived and then we had two days of fun, laughter, adult conversation, shopping, good food, and relaxation. So here are just five reasons why I know I will do it again and why I think all the overworked, overstressed moms should do the same.Chicago O'Hare airport

1. You will be reminded of why you love travel and what you hope to share with your little one. I love traveling as a family, but I will be the first to admit that traveling with kids can be stressful and no matter what it is different. Going solo reminded me of why I love the airport – the people watching, the excitement and expectation of seeing new things, and the sense of possibility that hangs in the air. Once my feet the ground in Chicago it was about being out of your comfort zone and soaking in as much as possible.

2. It is a reminder of who you are. Yes, I am a mother and a wife, but I am also a dozen other things that I was long before I took on either of those roles. Getting away from the daily grind can give you the space to remember things you love to do and things you want to bring back into your everyday life. I was reminded how much I love running when I don’t have a constant thought in the back of my mind that she might wake up before I am finished. Or that I have been a sister longer than a wife or mother and that we can rely on each other for advice, honesty, and laughter.

map3. You get a glimpse of the outside world. As a mother, especially a mother of a young child, your attention is always focused on them when they are around. You can try to fight it and give partial attention to what is around you, but there is always this mental force that draws you back to them. Are they safe? Are they having fun? Are they getting what they need? Without that, you can let that mental field down and relax your mind. You can take a look around in a way you haven’t done in a while.

4. Sleep. I’m not going to lie, the opportunity to sleep and rest your mind and body is beyond compare.

5. You will miss them and be reminded of how much you love your life for all of its craziness. When we are in the thick of everyday life we often can’t grab even a second of peace. We can’t wait to get away and leave it all behind. However, you will miss their little smiles, their stories, and their hugs before too long.

Mother's love

Du Nord Craft Spirits: Behind the scenes

I have certainly had my fair share of beer and wine, but at heart I will always be a spirits girl. There is something about the vast array of scents, flavors, and mouth feel that excites and hypnotizes me. Which is why I am so excited to see a craft spirits movement blooming in Minnesota. People who are passionate about what they are doing draw me in like a magnet and if they have a bottle of vodka to sip while we talk all the better.

It was one of these magnetic stories that drew me in this past weekend. My husband and I found ourselves without a toddler in tow so I decided it was time for an actual adult excursion. With a little searching I came across the Du Nord Craft Spirits Distillery tour and Cocktail Room. The story behind how people came to do what they do and the history of a product have always fascinated me. This tour did not disappoint.menu

We arrived a little before our 3:00pm tour time at a rather non-descript building in an underdeveloped area of Minneapolis. Located just off of Hiawatha and the light rail line I had been past this block hundreds of times and had no idea this was here. Of course, in my defense the cocktail room only opened in January 2015 after Minnesota law changed to allow distilleries to offer more to drink on-site than just tastings. So we partook of the rewards of the law change with a couple of pre-tour cocktails. Both the Bee’s Knees and Du Nord Salty Dog were phenomenal – beautiful color and fantastic balance of flavor.

drinks

With our cocktails in hand we joined a small group of fellow spirits lovers for a behind the scenes look at this small operation. Started by a husband and wife team they are keeping it completely Minnesotan. The name Du Nord comes from the state motto, L’Etoile du Nord (The Star of the North). They are a grain to glass operation – all of the grain comes from Minnesota growers (directly from the farmer when possible), is distilled in house, and bottled for sale at local liquor stores. As our guide Ed told us, you will never see a Du Nord Rum because Minnesota cannot grow sugar cane.

Really keeping it Minnesotan they call the big copper one in the back Zelda - F. Scott Fitzgerald's wife :)

Really keeping it Minnesotan they call the big copper one in the back Zelda – F. Scott Fitzgerald’s wife 🙂

So they have started with Gin and Vodka and are working on adding Whiskey and Bourbon (takes 2-3 years). The process of how science and art come together to create these elixirs was fascinating. I guarantee after learning about where and how they make the cuts, how good distilleries don’t strip away the flavor, and what goes into creating a unique formula you will have a whole new appreciation for quality spirits and the amazing things being done locally.

Aged barrels ready for their Whiskey and Bourbon . . .

Aged barrels ready for their Whiskey and Bourbon . . .

I am very excited to keep on eye on what Du Nord is up to since they are coming out with a few new formulas, including a new world flavor Gin (will have no juniper) that people will be able to vote on to pick which gets bottled and distributed, that whiskey and bourbon that will be sitting in the aged barrels, and as part of the Minnesota Distillers Guild working with the MN legislature to pass a bill that would allow on-site bottle sales similar to what you can currently do at wineries.

Until then, I will just have to head out to my favorite liquor store and pick up a bottle of L’Etoile Vodka and Fitzgerald Gin (named after famous Minnesotan F. Scott Fitzgerald). Or I can organize a group of friends for a bottling party where I get an even closer look behind the scenes when we get to help bottle the spirits and we walk away with a parting gift of our own. And of course there is always the Cocktail Room with great atmosphere, big windows to look in on the distillery, and even a food truck on-site for some Italian nibbles – happy hour here we come!

Girls’ day out – toddler style

I’ve never been great at relaxing and although I’ve had many wonderful female friends in my life, I’ve never gotten the girls’ day concept. I will admit I occasionally get jealous of the posts about girlfriends grabbing coffee and heading to the salon or shopping and treating themselves to a little something.

Maybe, that is why I decided to start small – literally. Olivia had a day off school and I had a day off work so instead of just hanging around the house like we normally do I decided to plan a girls’ day out on the town. Of course, I had to keep little hands and interests appeased so there would be no salon stop. But, we would still have a coffee stop, shopping, and lots of treating ourselves to a good time.

If you ask Olivia where she wants to go in the morning, the answer will most likely be Caribou. We aren’t really sure where the preference or brainwashing came from, but she does have good taste. So that is where we started our day together. Sitting at a table with my iced coffee, her strawberry banana smoothie, and crumbs from a apple cinnamon muffin making their way across every available surface.Caribou coffee

The second place Olivia is sure to tell you she wants to go is Target. What can I say, we live in Minnesota? The kid talks about Target all the time, can spot a Target from miles away, and really should be in one of their ads. This is sort of the perfect place to wander on a girls’ day . . . we played with toys, found some cute spring outfits, ate a rice krispy treat, and found some new snacks (we are both grazers).

The place I was most excited for was the Stages Theatre in Hopkins. I had been looking for a fun show to take Olivia to, but I’m not sure she would sit through a movie in the movie theater and the Children’s theater can be so expensive (come on she is three years old and we are watching a weekday production of a children’s book!). So when I found out Stages Theatre Company puts on shows for children that bring their favorite children’s books and fairytales to life and it only costs $16.00 per person ­- I was sold. I had never been to downtown Hopkins, but it is a traditional little downtown with free public parking so win-win all around. The small theater is perfect for a group of fidgety kids. Comfy seats, booster seats provided, nothing is to far from the stage, and the length of the show is long enough to test their ability to sit still, but not so long that you need a cranky child intermission. For Olivia’s first ever theater visit we saw Goodnight Moon. The show was a cute rendition with talented acting, wonderful lights and sound effects, and a colorful set that kept our eyes glued to the stage.

Stages ThreatreAfter watching the bunny refuse bedtime and have a few adventures we were off to continue girls’ day. It was lunch time and both of our tummies were calling so we headed to a new spot – PizzaRev. I had never even heard of the place, but it was a tasty spot to stumble upon. A build your own pizza joint with a variety of topping options and a wonderful crackery thin crust. I let Olivia pick the toppings and we, of course, ended up with pepperoni, but surprisingly we also finished the pie off with mushrooms, black olives, and spinach. The pizza was great for sharing with a little one or you could easily have your own. All done in 15 minutes tasting fantastic it was a great find for when you have a hungry toddler in tow.Pizza Rev

After a second stop at Target (because why would we buy everything we need in one visit!) we finally headed home exhausted, but so happy. I think I get the appeal of the girls’ day now. I know for sure I’ll be doing more with Olivia and I can’t wait to see what new places we find as she gets older.

Flashback: Australia wine and chocolate

My mother-in-law recently returned from G’Day USA – an event that brings influencers from Australia together with influencers from the USA to continue to build a relationship between the two countries. There are speakers from business, tourism, academia, and other areas to strengthen economic and political ties. I have to admit I really miss events like these since I left the travel industry, but I still got a goodie out of it all.

Margaret River Valley

This beautiful Hazelnut chocolate bar from the Margaret River Valley in Australia made it’s way to me – thank you Rhonda! It was so delicious and reminded me of a little wine and chocolate pairing I took part in during a trip to Australia’s Adelaide Hills wine region a few years back.

I love chocolate and always have, but my palate has evolved from the M&Ms I ate as a kid to single source and gourmet dark chocolate bars. I’ve eaten a lot of chocolate so I figured I know what it tastes like and how to truly enjoy it . . . I was so wrong! The ChocoVino Experience at South Australia’s Hahndorf Hills Winery set me straight and provided a soothing and wonderful experience.

This isn’t your do it yourself chocolate and wine indulgence. They don’t just pick up a Hershey bar (or a Cadbury since we’re in Australia) and throw it on the plate with a glass of wine. This is an experience that takes months to build and has to be redesigned every year when the new wine blends come out to create the ultimate tasting pairings. Before you even pick your wines the chocolate has been vetted by the trained staff to create the specific pairing. Trained by the experts in this type of tasting, staff from South Africa’s Waterford Estates, the crew at Hahndorf Hills spends six months training on chocolate prior to even tasting anything. Then they spend several weeks tasting one to two wines per week with around twenty chocolates. After voting and eliminating pairings only eight to ten will make it on the final menu.

Wine and chocolate

Some of the most exclusive chocolates in the world are on this menu – Chuao, Dolfin, Valrhona single- origin. These aren’t chocolates you just scarf down which is why they go perfectly with this relaxed and unhurried experience. You will experience chocolate in a whole new way as you use all five senses to enjoy the full range of flavors.

See the different colors of each chocolate. Listen to the snap as you break off a piece with your teeth. Feel the texture on your tongue as you move it around your mouth. Taste the flavors as the components of the chocolate melt apart. Smell the chocolate and the wine as you sip each pairing.

Chocolate then wine. Wine then chocolate. Each creates a completely different flavor, but how when it is the same wine and chocolate?!? I guess I’ll just have to keep coming back to try all the new flavors 🙂

Craft Beer and Kitchen: A first impression

The restaurant scene is always changing, which is part of what makes living in a culinary playground so much fun. However, I am always heartbroken to see establishments close, especially ones that have been around for years and been enjoyed by generations (or the ones on my restaurant dream list that close before I get to them). The past few months have seen the closing of some favorites such as Pracna on Main, Spill the Wine, and Nye’s Polonaise.

The only thing that offsets the sadness of one closing is visiting a new restaurant and being reminded that new favorites will open, chefs will continue to hone their skills, and we will keep sharing meals and memories with friends and family. A recent visit to the new Craft Beer & Kitchen in Woodbury, MN got us excited about exploring new places again.

Opening in the old Sunsets location the new look is modern and inviting with low lighting and dark wooden accents. The menu also received a bit of an upgrade with some interesting twists on old classics. The thing that really made this trip stand out, however, was the excellent service.

Today wait staff doesn’t tend to make that big of an impression on me since it is high turnover and often people who don’t enjoy what they do. The waitress we had the night we visited Craft was phenomenal. My daughter started to feel like she might be running a temp so my husband left to run across the street to CVS for some fever reducer. The waitress was kind enough to hold his meal in the kitchen and then she was so attentive she saw him come back in and she had his food out to the table seconds after he sat down.Cheese curds

The food is of course what we were there for and it didn’t disappoint. We started with breaded cheese curds and char wings. They were beautifully presented on a wooden board with delicious dips – honey mustard for the cheese curds and blue cheese for the wings. I’m not a big fried food or cheese curd person, but the cheese curds tasted like light and fluffy mozzarella sticks and were gone in moments. Between the six of us we had a hard time narrowing down entrees, but each settled on something different.

The jerk burger was well balanced with a little kick after the fact. The tree hugger grilled cheese was light years beyond any American cheese sandwich made at home.

Pumpkin ravioli

The pumpkin ravioli were little clouds of pasta sprinkled with chunks of savory sausage nestled into a light creamy sauce.

chicken sandwichThe open-faced chicken rotisserie chicken sandwich was piled atop perfect ciabatta bread with a layer of tart cherry chutney aioli keeping everything balanced.

The food and service will have us returning soon and we wish the team at Craft good luck!

Two homes for the holidays

This time of year can be stressful and extremely busy as we rush between holiday events and wrapping up the end of another year. We all hit the road to see family and friends near and far. For twelve years now I have lived away from my parents and siblings; first in Kansas and now in Minnesota.

Year after year we pack up our car and make the holiday trip to Illinois along with hundreds of others. Usually I’m filled with dread at the thought of forgetting something, being on wintery roads, and the occasional arguments that are bound to break out when you have any group of people together. Last week for the Thanksgiving holiday we hit the road once again. However, this year I remembered something . . . I am lucky to have two homes.

As we head back to Illinois I always view it as heading home even though I haven’t lived there in over a decade. At the end of our stay we pack up again and head back to Minnesota and back to our home. Some people have no home and no family, but I am blessed with two homes and a large group of people to act as a beacon when my wanderlust leads me astray. I hope as we show Olivia the world we also remind her that she has a home and sometimes coming back to it is the greatest journey you can make.

Roots and Wings

 

The power of a mouse

When we found out we were going to be parents one of the first things I told Nick was that I don’t want to stop traveling. I love to travel and experience new places so for my own sanity and happiness I knew I wanted to keep traveling, but more importantly I wanted our child to be a global citizen. I wanted them to understand and accept different cultures and even embrace the good (and tasty) things from around the world.

Maybe that is why the traditional family vacation spots never came up. Not that I had discounted them as a possibility, but they certainly weren’t at the top of my list. That is why when we took a recent trip to Disney World I was amazed I hadn’t given the idea more credence and I was glad we made the trip.

Disney Hollywood Studios 2014

Sad that next year the hat will be no more. Glad we got one last picture with it!

Watching Olivia and all the other kids run around smiling and excited (except during the afternoon crash) I realized that Disney is a great place to take a child if you want them to be curious, creative, and engaged. This is an environment they feel comfortable being curious in because they understand the characters and places. We have taken Olivia on several trips without anything this child focused on the agenda – Mexico, San Diego, St Louis – and she has done well, but this was something completely different for all of us. She knows who Mickey Mouse is, she was excited to see the castle, and she even got introduced to a few new characters.Meeting Pluto at Disney World

In fact, she met more than just new characters. We met people from around the globe because Mickey transcends barriers. During our few days there we heard languages and accents from all over the map and even chatted with people from Brazil, Norway, Ireland, and Guatemala, all without entering Epcot’s World Showcase. We had an amazing waitress from Vietnam give us a tablecloth to cover Olivia as she napped through lunch at Tony’s Town Square Restaurant and watched a candy maker from Germany create amazing chocolate covered caramel apples only twenty minutes later. True she wasn’t getting a lesson in other cultures, but maybe she was learning another important lesson – that we aren’t as different as an accent or name may make us seem. Disney world kindness

Mickey caramel chocolate applesThat sense of familiarity is another thing that made this trip to Disney so special. My husband and I were there ten years ago on a trip during college and long before us my parents and in-laws had been. Many rides and attractions had changed, but many had stayed the same and as we waited in line or wandered past a site the memories that came back and were shared with Olivia were something special. It is comforting to know that family and friends have experienced what we are experiencing and that maybe one day Olivia will bring her own kids here to see Mickey Mouse and remember when she stood with us in this exact spot watching fireworks above the castle.

We all want our children to believe that if they truly want something and they work hard enough for it they will succeed. Walt Disney is one of the greatest examples of that and his belief in the power of imagination and a mouse has brought joy to so many other people. Disney reminds all of us that growing up doesn’t mean shedding the creativity and magic of childhood. We should carry these gifts with us and exercise them daily so it isn’t magic for just a few short years, but magic for a whole life.Chip and Dale meet Olivia

What travel is always about for us is introducing all of us to new experiences, places, and people and we accomplished that in a very special way thanks to the power of a mouse.

Still a nomad: a weekend in Des Moines

I recently had my first weekend away by myself since having Olivia and I’m not sure how I feel about it. It was a blast exploring Des Moines with my sister-in-law – trying new foods without worrying about feeding someone else, exploring antique shops without this overwhelming fear that we are going to break a $1000.00 lamp, and sleeping until 6:30am!

At the same time it felt like a piece of me was missing. Nick and Olivia were never far from my thoughts and I had not realized how much of my life revolves around them. How I relate to people and experiences as well as what I am drawn to has evolved over the last three years in ways I probably haven’t fully grasped.

One thing that has been enhanced is my need to explore. Some people have kids and feel a need to hunker down and create a safe cocoon. I have found myself, however, desiring to know more about the world around me in order to share it with my daughter as well as a way to maintain a piece of my former self. While my weekends may no longer include late nights on the town or laying around until 9 or 10 I would say this weekend was a great balance of a little me time and a little world time (as well as plenty of much needed daddy-daughter time).

So it was off to Des Moines with a four hour drive of my music, singing out loud, and enjoying the beautiful fall colors developing above the golden fields ready for harvest. There were so many local little surprises along the way that I was tempted to stop at . . . so I guess a few more weekend trips that direction will be on the calendar.

I wasn’t missing out though. Once I got to Des Moines it was all about enjoying some local activities, people, and places. Saturday morning was kicked off by a trip to the farmer’s market which is still in full swing even as we approach the end of the season. Just this month Women’s Health magazine and Yelp named Des Moines the best up and coming city for foodies and for good reason. We made a quick lap around the market to decide what we wanted for breakfast – sweet rolls, ham and cheese crossaint, Dutch letter, breakfast burrito, mango on a stick???? After a double lap we finally settled on egg sandwiches from Local Yokels. breakfast sand

local yokelA fluffy brioche bun toasted on the griddle encompassed a perfectly cooked egg, sautéed lightly salted kale, and a slice of both yellow and red tomato. It was a savory package of deliciousness that I was still thinking about at the end of the day!

Without even moving the car we wandered a few blocks from downtown across the bridge to the East Village shops. This little neighborhood of old buildings now is home to cute boutiques, antique shops, and local eateries. I became completely smitten with All Spice Culinarium and the antique shop Found Things. We took a load off for lunch at Noodle Zoo and it completely exceeded my expectations. Unlike the name may imply this is no Noodles and Co knock-off. I enjoyed a delicious Athenian salad with creamy feta, full Kalamata olives, and homemade greek vinegarette with a wedge of parmesan coated grilled focaccia. My sister-in-law enjoyed a Pesto Shrimp and Roasted Red Pepper Wrap . . . certainly not what I was expecting!noodle zoo

Since we had set aside the whole day for exploration we headed over to the fair grounds for Iowa’s Largest Arts and Crafts Show. It was a good thing we had eaten to get our energy back up. This year’s event had over 300 vendors and thousands of items to browse. Lets just say I walked out with a few décor items for my house and a small book of business cards for people to get back in touch with. On the list of items to add to my house: a bistro table and chairs made from pieces of used wine barrels, beautiful painted wood and burlap picture frames, and reclaimed wood holiday décor.

I also started another list on this trip – places to visit and things to eat on my next trip to Des Moines.