Camping on Lake Superior

Camping on Lake Superior
Camping Day 2

It didn’t just rain, it stormed.  Camping on Lake Superior makes sound travel quite a distance.  So thunder and lightning illuminated the tent like an all-night fireworks show.  Rain pattered the tent almost constantly and some moments, it sounded like the sky opened up and dumped everything it had on us.

At one point, Nate got up to check on the floor to see how wet it was.  He moved my bags from the side of the bed to the end.  My side of the tent was floating on a large puddle of water that was caught between the tent and the tarp.  It wasn’t leaking in, but it was damp.  He pushed on it to show how it jiggled like a waterbed.

Despite the lack of sleep, I was excited to get up when my alarm went off.  The rain had stopped and soft light and the sound of birds greeted me.  I dressed for the Kingdom Hall along with Cupcake.  At the last minute, the rest of the family decided to join us so they could explore Grand Marais.

I drove carefully down the road through thick fog.  Fog is so beautiful.  The air smells sweet and delicious.  The cool air is comforting and invigorating.  I kind of wish I could start every morning with a beautiful thick lake fog.

The Grand Marais Kingdom Hall was adorable.  It was a small, beautiful building with tall windows along each side.  Every once and awhile a bird would fly by and I’d have to refocus on what was going on inside, rather than the beauty outside.

The talk itself was so good!  The part that stuck with me was a metaphor.  If Jehovah throws us a lifesaver when we’re drowning, it’s up to us to make the effort to reach out.  All the life preservers in the world won’t matter if we don’t make the effort to reach out and grab that help he’s offering us.

After heading back to our campsite, I made bug spray.  The kids ran around playing while I enjoyed my tea.  We were all exhausted so we took a nap.  Once we woke up, we were ready for adventure!

We hiked down acrossTemperance River through the fog.  At the bridge, we used our drone* to take a family portrait.  There was a couple next to us who used to come to Temperance with their kids but this time, they were alone, their children all grown up.  It made me feel like freezing time and holding my babies in my arms.

They’ve grown up so fast.  Before I know it, they’ll have moved on with their lives and I’ll be taking vacations without them.  Right now, they are my little people.  I can protect them, guide them, love them and adore my time with them.  I don’t want to waste a moment.

We had a lot of fun exploring the rocks along the shore.  We’ve never gone past the beach before so we enjoyed going a little further.  Mr. Awesome was having a lot of fun jumping from rock to rock.  I think if we let them, they would have gone along the shore until they were tired.

We wanted to have dinner and relax before it got dark, so we walked back to our campsite.  Princess and I had butter mushrooms for dinner while everyone else had brats.

It was a wonderful day.  Camping on Lake Superior is so peaceful, an experience which could almost tantamount to the time when we’d been camping in Yosemite National Park. That night we crawled into bed and fell asleep to the sound of wind through the trees and slept deeply.

*Note: We found out later after asking a park ranger about their drone policies that drones are no longer allowed at State Parks.  They changed the policy last year.  Drones are interfering with Peregrine Falcon nesting grounds in certain areas.  Rather than police certain areas where they shouldn’t be used, they issued a full ban.  The videos we took with our drone were the only ones we took for the trip.  Birds are more important than getting some pretty footage for videos.




Check out our video from our day!

Did you miss Camping, Day 1?  Read about it here!

INSTAGRAM @ melissajg

[enjoyinstagram_mb]

Temperance River State Park

Temperance River State Park

Temperance River State Park is one of the most beautiful places in Minnesota, in my opinion.  Temperance has camping right on Lake Superior.  It’s got beautiful trees, flowers, and wildlife.  You can hear the sound of the lake lapping against the rocks, the waterfall roaring, the delicate song of the birds singing in the morning or the wind blowing through the branches of the trees.  The wind from the lake keeps mosquitos at a minimum.  If you’re there at the right time, you can enjoy being shrouded in the thick fog rolling in off the lake.

1st Day Of Camping

My favorite place to camp is Temperance River State Park.  It’s right off of Lake Superior.  At some of our previous campsites, we could see the lake from our campsite.  This time we chose a new camping spot, closer to the river than the lake.  It was my favorite spot so far!

The weeks prior to camping, I prepped to make sure that the day we left wouldn’t be too stressful or crazy.  I washed ALL of our dirty laundry.  With 6 people, that’s something to be proud of! Ha! I preordered food, prepped and made food, packed up and cleaned.

Even with all of the prep, the day of still had a lot of work.  At 7 am a heat advisory alert popped up on my phone, so we were trying to hurry before it got too hot.  I finished packing up outfits for myself, Princess and Mr. Awesome.  We loaded up the van while trying not to stress or fight.

Our goal was to leave by noon, but we left a little late at 1:30, which isn’t too bad.  The temperature was just starting to get unbearable.  We cranked up our air conditioning and began our long drive with Nate at the wheel.

Surprisingly, our first bathroom stop was 2 hours into our trip.  We stretched our legs and had a snack in the parking lot.  An ambulance pulled up next to us and offered the kids a tour.  I think everyone was too sleepy and shy to accept, but we thanked them for their offer.  We got back on the road with my turn to drive and didn’t stop until we got to Cloquet.

We had to pick up a couple things at Walmart that we’d forgotten.  Small mayo, ketchup and mustard, hot dog and hamburger buns, band-aids, butter, sandwich meat, chocolate, a bigger chair for Mr. Awesome, and swimming trunks for Nate.  We spent about an hour, at least, shopping.

I was getting really excited as we got back on the road.  We were so close to Lake Superior.  I was tingling with excitement and joy.  As we came over the hill and caught our first glimpse of the lake, my heart raced with happiness.

Usually, after a long drive, I get sleepy staring at the monotonous stretch of road before me.  Driving up the north shore, with glimpses of Lake Superior I could barely contain my excitement.  At some point, fog began to gather on the Lake and engulf the shore.  I think I had a dopey grin plastered on my face for the rest of the trip.

As soon as we pulled into Temperance, everyone else woke up.  The office was closed for the day, but we checked our initials off the list for our spot.  As we pulled into our new space Nate was also giddy with excitement.  The last time we’d been up, he’d scouted all the locations in search of the best one for our large tent and family.

This spot had a large pull through driveway with plenty of space for the kids to run around.  There was a huge tent pad and opposite the driveway, a nice large area for the picnic table and fire ring.  It was right next to the river, so we could hear it from our campsite.

The first thing we did was unload the topper on our van.  The kids set up the chairs while Nate and I set up the travel gazebo for the table.  That was, if it rained, our stuff would stay dry on the table.  I began pulling out the blankets and bags and handing them off to the kids.

We pulled out and set up our tent in exactly 5 minutes!  Sometimes we can do it faster, but we forgot to lock the roof beams before straightening out the legs.  I threw in the air mattresses and had the kids start blowing them up.  I pulled everything from the van and put the food in the trunk to keep it safe from bears.

After that, we made the beds so that we could fall into bed after we got tired.  The big girls immediately crawled into bed to relax. The mattress that had been laid out was so comfy. Cat worked on her sketches and Cupcake read comics.

I was itching to see Lake Superior and let it melt my stress away.  I asked everyone if they wanted to join me.  Only Mr. Awesome and Princess did.  They’re always up for an adventure!

We tried a new path that led to a rocky area by the lake, across from the beach.  It felt like we were climbing down into another world.  The lake was shrouded by fog which added to the mystery.

After letting the kids climb around on the rocks and try to skip pebbles on the shore,  I was ready to head back for dinner.  We climbed up the steep stairs leading back to our campsite.

For dinner, we made hamburgers.  Princess and I had 100% grass-fed beef and gluten free bread for our “buns”.  We cuddled around the campfire and enjoyed the warm fire in the dark.  We were happy to climb into our comfy beds once the embers burned down.

It was a fabulous first day of camping!  Have you camped at Temperance River State Park?  What campsite is your favorite?




Check out our video!

Continue on to Camping, Day 2!

INSTAGRAM @ melissajg

[enjoyinstagram_mb]

Nerstrand Big Woods State Park

Nerstrand Big Woods State Park

Are you looking for a fun new place to hike and you’re interested in Nerstrand Big Woods State Park?  Maybe you’re looking for a waterfall to check out, or maybe you want to have a challenging hike for a good workout.  Read on to find all about it!

Last year, we had a lot of fun doing a 5 Week Workout Challenge.  For 5 weeks we visited a bunch of parks for hiking and also did a couple indoor workouts.  It was a lot of fun!

Although I’d love to try another challenge this year, I’m not sure what yet.  I have a few fun ideas already!  This year though, we have already started visiting new parks!   Our first new park was Nerstrand Big Woods State Park.

We’ve seen some amazing images of the waterfall at Nerstrand Big Woods State Park.  We also noticed on the website that they had a campground.  Since we love camping, we decided to check it out.

The drive out to Nerstrand was about 45 minutes.  We weren’t disappointed by the scenery,   There were lovely rolling hills of farmland broken up sporadically by patches of woods and walls of rock cut through the hills.

I found it amusing that a place called Big Woods could be found in the middle of so much farmland.   So many times, I could see nothing but fields as far as the eye could see, and I couldn’t imagine how a huge forest could be hiding somewhere.

As the fields turned to denser and denser trees, we all became excited at the newest adventure before us.  Driving up to the park, we noticed a huge solar panel, awesome!  Thankfully our state parking permit was up to date.  If you don’t have a state permit, you can find current prices here.

We drove through the campground to check out the sites to see if it seemed like a place we could stay at.  The campgrounds are a thinly wooded area and are moderately spaced apart.  Some of the spots did not look like they could fit our large tent.  Many did have adequate room, given it is an RV friendly park.  So if you’re tenting, make sure to check the tent ffot print.

We parked at the entrance to the walking trails and checked out the map.  The park was huge.  Hidden in the dense trees, I could almost forget we were surrounded by farmland and miles upon miles of fields.   On the map, the park looks like a little green dot in the middle of nowhere.  In the park, you find yourself in a precious oasis of trees and trails.

We chose a shorter hike since it was our first of the season.  We decided to head to the waterfalls one way and back another.  Both were listed as extremely difficult.

I found out that the difficulty was most likely related to the incline.  Down was easy, up, was not.  Unrelated to the map, we also had to navigate the mud and puddles left behind by the winter melt.  I think this was probably the hardest for our family.  Trying to keep the kids from playing in the mud!  Ha!

The day we came was incredibly busy.  Everyone else must have been equally excited to get out of the house.  Everywhere we turned on the way down were people and dogs.  People in front and behind us.  Given that most Minnesotans are cheerful folk, we had a lot of small chit chat and friendly greetings.

The falls were beautiful.  There was still snow and ice all around.  I can only imagine how they must look frozen over.  The falls themselves aren’t very large.  I wasn’t worried about the kids drowning in the creek, should they fall in, just that they would get wet and make a mess.  I did have to constantly reign them in due to the pent-up excitement of being outside.

Our way back was pretty not so crowded.  Although we could hear the gleeful sounds of children echoing throughout the park intermittently.  I had to have Nate drag me up one steep hill, but other than that, the rest was a relaxing stroll.

We really enjoyed our visit.  We might have to come back another time to check out some of the other trails and to see what the park looks like when it turns green!  Or maybe even come back in the fall!  It looks like they get a lot of beautiful color!

Have you been to Newstrand Big Woods State Park? What is your favorite hiking trail in Minnesota?  Let us know, we’d love to check it out!




Check out our video!

 

What I’ve Learned From A Year of Dedicated Blogging

What I’ve Learned From A Year of Dedicated Blogging

I started my blog as a fun hobby.  In the first few years, I only made a couple of posts.  I knew I wanted to do more, especially since I was making the investment in paying for hosting.  Letting my blog sit there seemed like a waste of money.

It wasn’t until my circumstances changed that I decided to dedicate time specifically to blogging.  My health had taken a turn for the worse, I had to quit working.  I was struggling with accepting my new life and the depression that came with significant change.  I knew I needed to fill the void of work with a new hobby.

Blogging seemed like the perfect way to occupy my mind and fill my time with something positive.  Since I stopped taking professional portraits for other people, I reminded myself that I could still be a photographer, only, I would be taking images for myself.  I decided to challenge myself with something I have always wanted to do, a 52 project.  It was a lot of fun and I love the way my images turned out.  From there, it became easier to blog about things.

With the end of school nearing, I decided to add another challenge to my blogging, vlogging.  This took my blogs to a new level, as I had videos to go along with my writing.  I initially started vlogging for fun and as a challenge to warm me up to what I really wanted to do.  I wanted to do a video series on the challenges of severe, life-threatening allergies.  Along with this, I will have accompanying blogs that detail in writing the facts that go along with my videos.

Over the past 5 years of health struggles, I have done an extremely large amount of research.  Some of the things I researched had little to no information and I had to really dig in order to learn.  It was so hard to gain footing in the world of severe allergies.  Not many people are allergic to nearly the entire world, and there isn’t a handbook that goes along with it.

I knew that I wanted to help people and make their journey a little easier, by sharing my story and experiences.  I wanted to help someone avoid some of the mistakes I’d made in the beginning, or maybe find a new way to help them cope now.

I realized that I had found the purpose of my blog.  I guess you could say I found my niche.  This information isn’t only helpful for those with severe allergies.  It is beneficial for everyone.  I tell people that I am the canary in the coal mine.  If my health takes a dive because of my sensitivity to chemicals, then It can’t be very safe for other people either.  Even if they’re not having a life-threatening reaction to it.  Toxic chemicals are not beneficial to anyone.

Holistic health and nutrition can benefit everyone live a healthier, more meaningful life.  Living life without toxic chemicals reduces the risk of having cancer, heart disease, eczema, diabetes, and more.

I love sharing what I’ve learned with others.  Blogging gives me a platform so I don’t have to drive my friends and family crazy by constantly talking about the latest medical article I’ve been reading.  It allows me to share my photography.  It allows me to be creative and give me an outlet for my lack of ability to work.  Hopefully, someone out there will appreciate and enjoy my ramblings and my photography.

After a year of dedicated creating every month, I can definitely say that blogging is something I enjoy and will continue to do.  Thank you for those of you who have commented, shared, liked and followed me over this last year.  I have loved hearing that you enjoyed something I shared.  Hopefully, I’ll have more fun things for you in this coming year!

Love, Melissa

8 Tips to Survive Camping With Severe Allergies

8 Tips to Survive Camping With Severe Allergies

Camping with allergies can be difficult, but it’s not impossible!  Like most things with severe allergies, camping takes a lot of planning and preparing.  Knowing what to do and how to plan is one the hardest parts.  Hopefully, I can help you with that!

 

1. Make a Schedule

I try to make a rough outline of not only each day of my camping trip but also the weeks before it.  This helps me to leave enough time on the schedule to make sure I didn’t forget anything.  With a normal camping trip, if you forget something, you can run to the nearest store.  With severe allergies, that’s not always possible, as most stores do not carry the necessary specialty items.

My schedule is usually outlined in a notebook like this:

  • 4-12 Months Before Camping: Pick and Reserve Date for Camping
  • 10-8 Weeks Before Camping: Research Area-Food and Water Sources, Activities, Medical Care
  • 4-6 Weeks Before Camping: Plan Schedule and Menu, Mail Order Necessary Food, Check Medical Supplies To Order New Or Low Items, Vehicle Maintenance, Set Up Pet Sitter, Mail Grabber and Plant Waterer
  • Week Before Camping: Food Prep, Home Absence Prep, Verify Pet Sitter, Plant Sitter, and Mail Grabber, Pack Non-Food Items, Wash & Pack Clothes, Clean Out Fridge
  • 2nd Day Before Camping: Charge Camera Batteries, Pack Remaining Items, Remaining Food Prep, Check Medical Supplies, Pack Non-Perishable Food
  • Day Before Camping: Fully Charge Phones, Bathe Children, Pack Remaining Non-Perishable Items, Load Vehicle, Water Plants, Leave Money and Thank You Note for House Sitter/Plant Waterer/Pet Sitter
  • Camping, Day 1: Shower, Quick Breakfast, Add Perishables to Cooler, Pack Remaining Items, Load Remaining Items, Double Check House, Double Check Medical Supplies, Drive To Camping Spot, Eat Easy Snacks or Packed Lunch on the Way, Set Up Tent, Scope Area, Dinner, Campfire, Bed
  • Camping, Day 2: Breakfast, Activity, Lunch, Activity, Dinner, Campfire, Bed
  • Camping, Day 3: Breakfast, Activity, Lunch, Activity, Dinner, Campfire, Bed
  • Camping, Day 4: Breakfast, Activity, Smorgasborg Lunch, Activity, Smorgasborg Dinner, Use Up Remaining Wood in Campfire, Bed
  • Camping, Day 5: Breakfast, Shower, Pack, Load, Lunch On The Road, Drive Home, Dinner

2. Make A Menu

Menu planning is probably the most important activity.  Finding safe food locations around home usually takes a few months to years with a lot of food trials.  Camping is not a great time to trial food, as you don’t want to be sick while camping.  It is the most time-consuming task of your camping prep, but it’s worth the work.  At least, that’s what I tell my self when I’m up to my elbows in massive food prep operations.

It’s usually the food concerns that give me the most camping related anxiety and stress.  It’s expensive, it’s time-consuming, it’s stressful.  I usually freak out during my week countdown to camping.  Since most of my food is prepared from scratch, it must be made directly before camping to prevent spoilage.  Once we are on the road, I finally relax and breathe a sigh of relief.  Everything is prepped, now it’s time to relax!

I try to make food prep fun by involving the kids so that they can learn some useful skills, and also lend poor old Mom a hand.  Some of their foods are not safe for me to eat, but they are safe enough for me to be around.  I usually make two batches of whatever food is safe for me vs safe for them, because my safe food can be more expensive.

I usually go a little overboard in making sure I have enough safe food for the entire trip.  Most of my safe food is what would be considered snacks.  That is kind of my normal routine though.  I generally don’t eat breakfast or lunch unless it’s a special occasion.  I’m not a big meal person.  I provide food for my entire family for these meals since they seem to enjoy them.

Dinner is the one meal I always put a lot of work and effort into.  We all sit down together and enjoy a meal.  It’s one of my favorite parts of the day.  Camping is a reflection of what we do at home.  We eat snack-like things throughout the entire day, but I still schedule breakfast and lunch so I can make sure my kids are fed.  Dinner is our time to relax and hang out around the campfire after an adventurous day.

3.Inventory Stock

It’s always a good idea to have an inventory of your food supplies.  Planning ahead and being prepared is one of the best ways to avoid exposing yourself to dangerous foods.  If you run out of safe food, you’re more likely eat whatever is nearest to you, regardless of its safety.  Or, if you have self-control, you might have only limited foods to eat and end up going hungry till your next shipment comes in.

If you don’t regularly keep inventory, then at least make a menu for the week prior to camping and the period of time you’ll be gone.  Make a complete list of every item you’ll need and start ordering at least a couple of weeks before you have to go.

Waiting until the last minute is not a good idea.  Items can take longer to ship, get held up for any reason, or get lost.  If you give yourself a reasonable amount of time for error, then you’ll be well prepared ahead of time.  Unlike non-allergy people, those with severe allergies cannot get food on the go or at the location.  If your order doesn’t show up, this means your trip might be delayed or even canceled.

Also, don’t forget to plan for the meals you’ll be eating when you get home!  If you use up all of your safe supplies for camping, you might be out of food when you arrive back home.  This is where keeping a regular inventory and planning ahead come in handy.

4.Double Check Medical Supplies

Double or even triple check your medical supplies.  Make sure you have what you regularly use and a backup.  Make sure you have emergency paperwork printed out.  I keep mine in my purse all the time, but sometimes it’s good to have a backup in your camping supplies, should your purse or bag get stolen.

It’s always a good idea to have any prescriptions regularly up to date.  You can keep a printed prescription refill in your supplies in case of an emergency.  I had an emergency incident where I was having an asthma attack and I went to refill my inhaler prescription at a pharmacy.  My prescription had just expired and the pharmacy couldn’t get hold of my doctor and refused to give me an inhaler without it.  I had a full asthma attack and started turning blue.  Thankfully, my Dad arrived and had someone call an ambulance.  It’s always good to have backups and backups for your backups!  If my parents hadn’t been able to rush to me with an emergency inhaler, I might have died in front of an audience, sitting right next to the pharmacy.

I always keep my inhaler, epi-pen, and medical emergency paperwork in my purse now.  I never go anywhere without my purse.  This has saved my life on more occasions than I can count.
See what’s in my bag.

If you compose a medical folder, you can include these things:

  • Local Map with Medical Locations Highlighted
  • ER Paperwork
  • Medical History
  • Back up Prescriptions

5.Find Local Emergency Health Services

No matter how much planning is done, there is always the risk of having a medical emergency.  It’s best to have a general idea of where the nearest emergency room, pharmacy, or local medical services are.

Either print out the information of the location or save the info under the contacts on your phone.   You could do both if you’re assembling a medical folder to bring with.

You can download google maps, of the area you’ll be in, ahead of time if you’ll be in an area where there is little to no service.

6. Find Local Safe Food as Backup

Every place I’ve camped, I’ve researched local health food stores or farmers markets available ahead of time.  Should I run out of food, lose food to wildlife or have an unforeseen accident, I want to be sure I have a backup so I don’t have to go home early.

This year, there was a farmers market in Ely that we visited.  We were able to get some organic, spray free carrots for Princess and me to snack on and some fermented veggies and kombucha for the family.  I also found a guy who was selling pure, maple syrup with no defoamer added.

Last year, there was a health food store in Grand Marais that carried a few of the foods I can safely eat.  I was able to pick up a couple things to supplement my normal food.

7.Learn About Local Foods to Forage

This is kind of a lifetime thing to learn.  Foraging for foods should now be on your new “normal” list of things to do.  If you’re new to this, it might sound strange.
“You mean, you can find food outside?  On the ground?  In the woods?”

The answer is yes!  People have been doing this since the beginning of time! Foraging has only recently become less common due to the convenience of packaged foods.  We have become disconnected from our food source, the Earth!  Food doesn’t originate in the store, as though it popped up overnight in perfectly arranged and identical boxes and bags.  It grew outside, from the ground.  It’s time to skip the middleman.

Now, you do need to be educated about foraging.  Get a few books, watch a couple youtube videos, take a class, grow some of your own in your garden, get real hands-on experience.  You can’t just go out into the woods and expect the food to beckon to you.

Once you start learning about foraging, you’ll start finding food everywhere you go!  Although, since you’re also battling severe allergies, you need to be in tune with your body to know what is safe and what isn’t for you.  So if asparagus is growing in a ditch next to a cornfield, and you’re allergic to corn, you might want to skip it.  If you’re in the middle of the woods, hours away from civilization and you find some fresh raspberries, then you’re good to go!  As a general rule, even if I 100% believe the food to be safe, it’s always good to be educated about plants that look similar to safe foods but are toxic.  For example, mushrooms and berries have a lot of variation, some safe mushrooms look similar to toxic mushrooms.  If you are not an expert, it’s best to avoid them altogether.  Berries are a little on the safer side, but there are still toxic berries out there.  Many lettuces and leafy plants are safe, but you still want to steer far from poison ivy or poison oak while you’re searching.

8. Look for Local Springs

I love spring water.  Spring water from up north is the cleanest, most delicious water I’ve ever had.  I want to move near it just so I can have fresh, clean, and safe water all the time.

For someone with severe corn or chemical allergies, finding a safe source of water can be difficult.  Bottled water usually has corny additives and is purified and treated with chemicals.  The bottles can be made from plastic made from corn or chemicals that are toxic.  Tap water is full of chemicals used to sterilize germs and bacteria, chemicals to remove discoloration and it even has toxic chemicals like fluoride added to it.  In addition, a lot of things are not filtered out at water treatment plants, things like pesticides, birth control, antidepressants, and other prescription drugs.  Some water tests have even found levels of illegal drugs.  Almost everything I’ve just listed was produced with corn or was directly derived from corn, which is why it is extra toxic to someone with corn allergies.

Spring water is not always completely pure from contaminants, but it’s usually a significantly lesser amount than water found anywhere else.  In addition, there is usually beneficial minerals from the underground natural filtration systems of rocks and sand.  It also has a significantly low PH level which is beneficial for a healthy body.

You can look online to see if there is a spring near you at the website Find A Spring  There was an artesian well at one of the State Parks that we stayed at that is not located on the list, so it’s always a good idea to call the office and ask about locals springs or wells in the area.

I hope that by sharing what I do to prepare for vacation helps inspire you to be able to go camping yourself!  Going camping with severe allergies can be difficult, but we need a break from the stress of daily allergy-free lifestyle every once and awhile.  Enjoying the great outdoors with fresh air and sunshine is something I look forward to every year.

Do you have a medical condition that you work around so that you can enjoy camping?  I’d love to hear about it!  Please tell me what you do in the comments.

We Went 2,341 Feet Underground!

We Went 2,341 Feet Underground!
Camping, Day 5
The Soudan Mine

Since it was another rainy day, we decided to head out to see The Soudan Mine.  I didn’t know what to expect, but it sounded interesting.  I had never been in a real mine before.

When I was little, my parent’s would take me to an amusement park in Burnsville.  One ride that I’ll always remember is the Mystery Mine Tour.  It was a fake mine shaft that shook and showed passing rocks.  The doors opened and showed a mine scene while a voice over the speaker gave the guided tour.

For some reason, I loved it.  I would beg to go and my Dad would take me.  Every time, I would get afraid when the mine started to shake and I would climb up my Dad like a monkey.  He would hold me in his arms and I would watch the rocks fly by the small window.  Since I was so young, I thought it was real, even though my Dad insisted it wasn’t.

Driving up to the mine I was rewarded with a beautiful view that stretched for miles.  I love a good view and this one did not disappoint.  The buildings were older and made from brick, but they were well maintained.

We purchased our tickets, but since there were so many people there, our tour didn’t start for another hour.  This gave us plenty of time to check out some of the other exhibits.  In the main building, there were a lot of fun souvenirs.  I purchased two books, one on mushrooms in our region and one about berries in our region.  There were also a lot of historical photographs.  I really enjoyed the rock exhibits.  The kids liked the scale models of the mine.

We went to see the first visible building on the site, the hoist house.  There they had giant machinery.  One of the biggest things was an enormous spool winding up giant steel rope.  This was attached to the cages which lower and raise people from the mines.

Since it was getting close to our tour time, we went back to the main building to use the bathroom and wait for our tour to be called back.  We had more fun in the gift shop while we waited.

We started our tour in a theater room.  While we waited we watched a short video with different facts on the screen.  After that, our tour guide talked to us about what to expect and highlighted safety rules.  Then he led us to get our safety hats on and filed us toward the mine shaft.

The shaft itself was outside.  It was open to the air and quite small.  Just like in mining days, we were packed into the small cage like sardines in a can.  Unlike in the mining days, we were not each loaded with mining equipment.  Our cage descended into the ground.  I was close to the front, so I could see the rocks flying past the window.  I had flashbacks to the fake mine tour as a child.  Periodically I could see different levels of old mine shafts.  We were going down so fast that I could only see them fly by for a brief second.  Our guide chatted calmly, cracking jokes about past tours with geologists being packed in at an even larger number because they all wanted to go down at once.  It made me feel at ease and not so afraid and aware of the fact that we were sinking deep into the earth.

Arriving at the bottom, the door opened to a cold, semi-dark room.  It was about 15 feet deep before us.  To the right, the tunnel was full of a bunch of utility equipment, to the left, a long tunnel spanned into the distance.  Behind us was an opening to a laboratory that was bright big and modern.  The ceiling was maybe three stories high on the modern side.

In the middle of the room was a train ride.  Our tour guide led us away from the doors and off to the side to begin our tour.  He talked about how the temperature was a comfortably cool 51 degrees year round and gave us some interesting facts about how deep into the ground we were.  Then we all climbed about the train.  We were cautioned to keep all extremities inside the car at all times, lest we wanted to lose a hand or an arm.  Although we were able to enjoy a fun, windy ride to the next tour site, I was amazed at the fact that the men who used to work there walked so far in complete darkness.

Arriving at the end, we were led upstairs to a giant cavernous room.  I was amazed at how beautiful it was.   It was basically just a giant room full of rocks, but there were lights highlighting the walls in different areas with mannequins as pretend workers.  Although our path was smooth and well lit, the original workers would have had to climb over and around rocks in the dark.  They would have had to avoid the holes in the ground to keep from falling into the lower tunnel.  Thankfully for us, there were wooden barriers built around each one, but these did not exist in mining days.

I loved hearing facts about mining life and the stories of the men who had worked there.  I found out that women were not allowed anywhere near or in mines.  There were tales of deaths and superstitions so strong that when the owner of the mine, unaware of the superstitions, brought his wife to work, all the men quit and walked out!

Returning on the trains and the elevator cage going up was just as fun.  I think it might have been more fun because I was less afraid.  The temperature outside was considerably warmer once the doors opened.  A whoosh seemed to envelop us.  The children were giddy after the excitement of being 2,341 feet under4ground and 689 feet below sea level.

We walked the grounds and checked out the other buildings and sights.  After having been underground, I enjoyed seeing where all of that iron ore was going.  We followed it all the way down to where it was put into train carts.

We found another painted rock!

Our whole family agrees that this was their favorite part of the camping trip.  I really recommend checking out the Soudan Mine if you’re in the area.  If we’re ever in the area again, we’ll probably go back!

We stopped at a grocery store on the way back to the campsite.  There, I was able to find a safe cream for my tea!  That, mixed with the maple syrup I found at the farmers market, made for an awesome dandelion root latte.

Nate cooked up the remainder of the meat for dinner.  He and the big kids enjoyed a feast.  Princess and I happily ate the fruits and veggies I found at the store.

After dinner, Cat and I played with my glass globe.  I’m pleased with the way the images turned out.  I think I’ll use it more in the future.  Mr. Awesome found a toad!  All of the kids were thrilled with their new friend.  I had to convince them that he would be happier staying there, in the wild, rather than at home, cooped up inside.

We finished off our last night of camping relaxing by the fire.  We all enjoyed smores, Princess and I had corn free ones of course.  It was a great end to a fun day.

Have you been to the Soudan Mine?  What was your favorite part?

Check out our video!

Continue on to Camping Day 6!
http://cisforcomfort.com/getting-lost-norberg-trail/

Did you miss Day 4?  Read about it here!
http://cisforcomfort.com/4-year-old-caught-fish/

Our 4 Year Old Caught The Most Fish!

Our 4 Year Old Caught The Most Fish!
Camping Day 4

The morning started out with a panic attack.  Looking back, I can’t remember what caused it.  Maybe it was sleeping on a small, uncomfortable air mattress for half the week.  Maybe it was having to walk a long way to the bathroom with a child who had to go to the bathroom, again.  Maybe it was camping food.  Maybe it was lack of creature comforts… and tea.  Maybe the kids were being crazy.  Maybe the Mister was being impatient.  Maybe I was just homesick.

Whatever it was that caused it, I could feel anxiety climbing up me like a bomb about to go off.  I was becoming irritable and panicky.  Rather than freak out and start screaming like a mad woman, I told my family I was taking a timeout.  I went into the tent and laid on the bed facing the window so I could watch the clouds roll by.  I breathed deeply and tried to calm my racing mind and the panic that was squeezing me tightly.

When I stop a panic attack before it gets out of hand, it’s easier to calm down.  I focus on my breathing.  I focus on telling myself it’s ok.  I try to minimize things that add to my panic, like noise and activity, and go somewhere quiet to regroup.  As I begin to calm, I can start to feel not so trapped and afraid.  I was at that point of mellowing out when my family began to peek in at me from the window.  They made me smile, and then a laugh chased away the rest of my storm clouds.  I was ready to get back to our day.

Nate had rented the boat bright and early that morning before anyone else had gotten up.  I packed up a few necessities like simple snacks, water, and wet wipes.  Nate prepared everything necessary for fishing.  We made sure everyone had one last potty break and drove to the boat area.

When we were packing up the boat, Nate realized he forgot the life jackets and had to go back to the rangers office to pick them up.  The kids and I opted to wait by the boat.  I thought they could burn off some energy playing before having to sit for a long period of time in the boat.

Once he was back, we put on our vests and set off.  The view out on the water was beautiful.  I wanted to explore the whole lake, but our motor was slow and battery operated.  We didn’t want to get stranded in a far corner and have to row back.  The forecast predicted rain, but it was partly sunny and beautiful.  The kids wanted to go swimming after fishing was over.  With how warm the water was, it sounded like a great idea.

Princess had been wanting to go fishing for many months.  While shopping for camping supplies she was always on the lookout for fishing lures.  We ended up using worms rather than lures.  I was the designated worm attacher, much to my dismay.  I felt guilty and sick spearing the little guys with each hook.

Princess caught the first fish.  She was thrilled.  She fell in love with her fish and insisted we be careful with it.  Nate attached it to a rope to save for dinner as I re-wormed her hook.   Shortly after, she caught her 2nd fish!  Then her third!

We noticed storm clouds heading our way in the distance, so we moved our boat closer to our campsite.  In our new spot, Princess caught more fish!  After she caught her seventh, Mr. Awesome caught one.  Then he got his second and Princess caught her 8th!  Nate caught a fish and Mr. Awesome caught his third.  We were constantly catching and releasing them!  Out of all of those fish, only 2 were big enough to eat.  We decided that Princess and I would eat those and the family would eat sandwiches.

While we were fishing, I told the kids a story about my childhood.  When I was very little, maybe 3 or 4, we went on a family vacation to Howard Lake.  My Grandparents were camping in a cabin nearby.  My Grandpa Ray wanted to go fishing and I begged to go with.  He relented but I think he was worried I would complain or perhaps scare away the fish if I were naughty.

I was so excited.  Grandpa gave me my own fishing pole to use.  We each had our own side of the boat.  I began to catch fish!  Grandpa was laughing and exclaiming his surprise.  After catching maybe 5 large fish he teased that perhaps I had the better side of the boat and switched with me.  I caught several more fish!  He said that maybe I had the better fishing pole and let me continue to fish.  If memory serves, I caught 11 large fish that day.  I was so happy I made Grandpa smile and be proud of me.

It started to sprinkle so we decided to head back.  We decided that we might try fishing more later in the day since the rental was for the entire day.  Nate dropped me off at the boat docks so I could drive the van back to the campsite, then he and the kids set out across the lake.

I met them at the docks and we all drove back to our campsite.  Since we had relied on fish being our dinner, we decided to get dinner in town for the non-allergy part of the family.  Our fish would be a nice corn free dinner for Princess and me.

As we drove to town, we saw a small black bear on a hill on the side of the road.  We pulled over to stop and watch for a little bit.  I was thrilled, but the rest of the family grew bored quickly.  Their growling tummies might have had something to do with it though.

In our haste to leave, I forgot to make sure everyone went to the bathroom.  After getting food at Zupp’s Market, Princess insisted she was going to pee her pants so we stopped at a gas station.  There, she found a baby loon stuffed animal.  Princess is a stuffed animal addict.  She must rescue every adorable stuffed animal she finds.  Some of the ones we say no to, she sobs for hours after because the poor things are sad and alone and no one will take care of them.  I find that letting her carry one or two of her babies everywhere seems to deter her from picking up anymore, but as this was an emergency bathroom break, at a gas station, I was unprepared.  So baby loon became the newest member of our family.

We made a trip to Dairy Queen since we felt bad that the kids weren’t able to go swimming.  Thankfully they were happy with the trade-off.  Princess and I could enjoy our homemade snack bars and gluten-free grilled cheese once we got back to the campsite.

While waiting for Nate to bring out the goodies, I admired the many flower gardens in the parking lot.  Someone had taken a lot of time and love to create such a delightful and colorful array of flowers.

Once we were back, we set to making dinner.  However, someone stole our fish!  They also connected and drained the battery on our boat.  The kids tried to catch us some while Nate prepared dinner, but they were only able to get little ones that we released.  After dinner, Nate went to get a new battery from the office.  Once he got back, he set off in the boat to the main dock.  I sat at the edge of the water under an umbrella with the kids for a little bit before heading back to the campsite.  I was going to drive around to pick him up and then we would drop off the vests and the battery together.

However, once I got to the van, it was locked, and I realized that Nate had the keys with him.  It was getting dark fast.  I ran down to get the children from the edge of the lake.  I brought them back to the campsite and got them settled in the tent.  I told them to stay together at all times and not to leave unless they had to go to the bathroom.  I grabbed my lantern and my umbrella and set off on the long walk around the lake.  Walking in the dark, in the woods alone, I was a little scared.  I had encountered a bear as a child up close and I didn’t want that to happen again.  I sang out loud as I walked along to alert any wildlife of my presence.  Once I arrived at a dock that was across the lake from the boat launch, I started calling out Nate’s name.  I didn’t see him or hear him.

It was pouring heavily.  I had three options:

  1. Walk around the lake toward the boat dock in hopes of finding Nate.
  2. Walk up towards the office in hopes that I might find him along the way.
  3. Head back to the children.

I felt like walking around the lake was a waste of time.  He didn’t hear me calling, so chances are, he had started to walk back to the office himself.  I could go back to the children, but at least I knew they were safe, dry and together in the tent with the other lantern.  Nate was out there, alone, in the dark and the cold, heavy rain.  I decided to head toward the office.  I walked up the trail, stopping at intersections to call out for Nate.

After walking up the long road to the ranger’s office for a way, I saw a man walking toward me.  I hoped that it was Nate, but his size was smaller and thinner than Nate’s tall, muscular shape.  I paused as he approached me.
“Excuse me, sir, Have you seen another man walking on this road recently?”
“No, I’m sorry.  I haven’t seen anyone.”

I thanked him and continued the walk to the office.  I could see it’s lights glowing in the distance.  Inside was a bright, warm, dry relief.  The ranger on duty had seen Nate about 20-30 minutes prior.  My heart sank.  Nate had probably taken the far road back to the campsite after walking up there with the motor.  It was the opposite side of the park that I had been on.  I thanked him and took a deep breath before heading back out into the dark.  I walked swiftly along the road, the temperature had dropped and the rain that was blown sideways by the wind had gotten my lower half wet.  I was tired and chilly, too cold to loudly sing away the bears.  I did so anyway, intermittently, in a voice quavering with shivers.

After a while, I noticed headlights approaching in the distance.  As they got closer, hope sprang to my lips in a smile.  It was our van.  Nate had come to rescue me.  I happily climbed into the warmth where the heat and seat warmers were already on.

It turns out that after Nate had been waiting a couple minutes, he got bored and put his hands in his pockets, realizing he still had the keys.  He groaned and started the long walk with the heavy boat motor.  Thankfully, he is strong from his manual labor at his job.  He had the same thoughts running through his head that I had, what if I should happen upon a bear?  He thought he might kick it in the face.  I laughed because Nate taking on a bear with a boat motor and kicking a bear seemed like a not so safe idea.  He is tall like Paul Bunyan though, so perhaps it would be enough to scare one away.  He had walked the far way home and found the kids.  After making sure they were ok, he set out looking for me in the van.  He stopped along the lake and intersections as I had for him, calling out my name.  We were always on opposite sides of the park.  So although I was trying to be the hero, I ended up needing a hero myself.  It was a silly situation all around.

Do you go fishing as a family?  Who usually catches the most fish?

Check out our video!

Continue on to Camping, Day 5!
http://cisforcomfort.com/went-2341-feet-underground/

Did you miss Day 3?  Read about it here!
http://cisforcomfort.com/checking-ely-minnesota/

We Locked Our Keys In The Van in the Middle of the Woods

We Locked Our Keys In The Van

Camping, Day 2

After a night of heavy rain drumming our tent, I woke to the sound of birds.  Thankfully, we were nice and dry inside!  I got out of bed before everyone else to capture some nature photography before breaking down the campsite.  Cat joined me and we had fun capturing the world, damp and dew drop covered from the night before.

After Nate got up, we decided to see if our next campsite was available.  We weren’t able to get all of the days at the same spot since everything was so booked.  Usually, the whole north is mostly booked by the time spring rolls around.  If we want to pick a good spot for an entire week next year, we might have to reserve our spot within the next few months.

Cat watched the little ones while we walked across the campgrounds to take a look.  As we walked past, we noticed the people there were already packing up!  Check out isn’t until 4, so we had time to pack up our stuff and get over there.  However, we wanted to get settled in early so we could relax the rest of our day.

We packed up all of our stuff, putting all of the wet things in the back.  I was going to walk over there with the kids since it was such a beautiful day, and the van was packed in almost every seat.  Just as we were about to walk off, Nate shut the door, with the keys in the ignition and the van running.  We locked our keys in the van.

Unfortunately, my purse was in the van.  As were my keys.  There was no way to get back in.  Nate set off to find the campsite hosts to see if they could assist us.  While we waited, I took the kids down to the lake to explore.  I decided to take them over to our campsite to occupy them and give them a new place to explore.  Then I walked all the way back to see how the van situation was going.

The campground hosts were there with Nate.  They recommended calling the local police to come out and open it for free.  Nate was worried we would run out of gas if we had to wait, so he called a local tow truck to do it instead.   We ended up chatting while we waited.  Our hosts were actually from a neighboring town to our hometown!  I didn’t want to leave the kids unattended for too long, so I set off to our new site again.  It turns out, it was $90.00 to unlock our door.  Ouch.  I think waiting for the police and buying a gas can might have been cheaper.  Ah well, hindsight.

Once we got everything set up, we decided to check out the local town and also pick up some water.  Ely wasn’t what I expected.  I think I romantasized it, as I had the other towns on the drive up.  It was a pretty typical small town.  There was the main strip that went right through the center.  The shops were all mostly Mom and Pop stores, but there were a few regulars near the outskirts, like Dairy Queen and Family Dollar.  It was quite scenic from the top of the hill.

We didn’t stay too long, as we wanted to get back.  The day had escaped us.  We decided it would be good to start dinner early so we could get to bed at a decent time.  The big girls and I played card games while Nate cooked chicken over the fire.   Princess and I had gluten free grilled cheese.   For dessert, we had the camping classic, smores.  Our second day of camping was a lot of fun!

Have you had any mishaps while camping?

Check out our video of our day!

Continue on to day 3 of our camping trip!
http://cisforcomfort.com/checking-ely-minnesota/

Did you miss day 1?  Read all about it here:

Bear Head Lake State Park

Bear Head Lake State Park

Camping, Day 1

Around 1 pm on Sunday, we drove up to Bear Head Lake State Park in our RV.  The van was packed to the brim, and we were set for a fun week of camping partly because we managed to get the best glamping tents for less.  Never having been to this part of Minnesota, I looked forward to a fun new adventure of exploring. The RV was in its best shape since it had just come from the mechanics and was just installed with the new rearview camera we found on this buying guide.

The final week before camping, I was dreading camping.  Going somewhere new is always scary for me.  Adding in anxiety, severe food allergy prep, packing for a family of six for a week and prepping a home for our absence is a recipe for panic attacks.  At one point, I said that I never wanted to go camping again. I visited www.campingconsole.com to make sure I had everything for enjoying a perfect outdoors.

Also, I was worried about my Grandpa.  I didn’t want to leave him.  My parents insisted I go.  I so rarely get a break and camping is something our family looks forward to every year.  Grandpa’s health has really improved and I’m hoping he might be well enough to take him off of hospice care!

Once on the road, a large weight was lifted.  All of the hard work was done.  This was our third time camping, so I had a bit of experience for what to expect in the setup department.  At this point, I was only mildly apprehensive about exploring someplace new.

The forecast predicted a 40% chance of rain for part of the day on Wednesday.  It started raining as we left our driveway and continued to do so on and off for most of the way up north.  Thankfully, it stopped shortly after we passed Cloquet.

I had this image in my mind of what I expected the area to look like.  Deep woods, occasional small towns filled with romantic charm, stretches of roads with nothing but thick trees.  I was right about the woods and thick trees and long stretches of nothing but wilderness, but I did not expect the size of the towns or the amount of normalcy.

The city of Virginia was about as large as my town.  Along the tops of their hills were many large wind mills for power.  They had all of the same amenities that we have.  If I had been dropped there and not been told where I was prior, I would have guessed I was in a town close to the cities.

As we neared Bear Head State Park, we encountered a large amount of road construction going on.  I’m assuming they are in the process of making a single two-lane, one each way road into two roads with two lanes.  We almost missed our turn because of this.

The stretch of road into the park was beautiful and peaceful.  Tall pines bordered the road with glimpses of lakes along each side.  The cabins and homes along the way had personal name signs and cute mailboxes.  The sign for Bear Head Lake was impressive, with gold lettering and an image of a bear head.

Our campsite was in a grove of tall white pine tree.  It had a nice big space for our tent.  Getting unpacked and setup was quick and efficient.  We were located right across from the bathrooms, which was nice for our little ones.

Nate and I took a short walk to the lake to check it out while Cat watched the kids.  Once we got back, we made our dinner of hamburgers for the three big kids and Nate and gluten-free grilled cheese for Princess and me.

One of my favorite things is to sit around a campfire with my family.  We enjoyed the silence of the woods and relaxing next to a toasty campfire in the cool night air.  I let one of the kids have the camera so they could take a picture of me.  After giving them a smile, they joked about making a silly angry face.  I tried my best, but it looks like I’m blinking.  🙂

That night, it stormed and rained heavily.  Thankfully we stayed dry and warm in our beds.  It was a great first day of camping.

Have you been to Bear Head State Park?  How well do you handle the stress of packing for camping?

Check out our video!

Continue on to day 2 of our camping trip!
http://cisforcomfort.com/locked-keys-van/