Summer drives: Sasquatch, a mysterious military vehicle and traffic jams.

In the vein of yesterday’s odds-n-ends post, I’ve found some tidbits and scraps to share. Weirdly (conveniently) they all have to do with traveling the roads of Minnesota.


Back in August, I hopped into the car with a friend, the lovely Caroline Burau, author of Life in the Hotseat: Answering 911 and Sugarfiend. I was actually combining two trips into one – Caroline wanted company as she sought out a childhood memory, and I was expected at my family’s girls’-weekend at the cabin.

On the way from St. Paul to Mille Lacs Lake, Caroline and I chatted, discussed and otherwise became embroiled in catching up with each other. Then – from the corner of my eye – I saw bigfoot lurking at the edge of the woods.

It is a testament to the patience of my friend that she turned the car around.

Imagine her relief when I was able to point out this:


Of course we were both dressed in shorts and sandals, but we tramped through the field anyway so we could get a better look. I tore my ankle wide open on a tree stump. (‘Tried to snap a picture of the injury, but I missed. YOU try to photograph the back of your ankle with a cell phone.)

Bleeding staunched, we continued toward our destination.

Mille Lacs Lake is nothing compared to Superior, or even Ontario. It’s only 132,516 acres (536 km2), with a maximum depth of 42 feet.

minnesota map

Still, it’s big enough to freak me out. From certain vantage points, you cannot see the opposite shore at all. And 42 feet seems deep enough to host at least a small lake monster … which kind of turns this lake cam into a monster-watch cam, doesn’t it?

mille lacs lake

click the pic to go to a ‘best of’ Mille Lacs photographic collection

By the way, this is the same lake that made national news in spring of 2013. A rare phenomenon called an Ice Tsunami or Ice Shove was recorded by a woman who emphatically states she grants “no use (of her video) without permission”. (Even though she has not disabled the embed code. Hmm.) Anyway. You can see the video here. (I presume it’s okay to share the link.) Please enjoy the raw Minnesota-ness of the video, and remember we don’t all sound like that.

No. Really. You should watch at least a little of the video – it’s bizarre and awesome all at once. Mute if necessary.

PS: There will be no pictures of anything that took place at official girls’ weekend.  What happens at the cabin, stays at the cabin.

(I’m pretty sure I shouldn’t even mention the Cha Cha Slide.)


On September 1st, Ogre and I needed a get-away, so we headed for the Fire Museum in Hinkley, MN. On the way up, we stopped at a Lion’s park in one town and A&W in another. Because I am a child.

Once I’d been sufficiently stuffed with pizza burgers, we moved along, taking the back roads, of course. On one otherwise quiet stretch, we passed this:

It just emanated menace and secrecy. The fatigue-clad driver and his cohort were young and stony-faced, with their eyes hidden behind mirrored aviators.

Do you have any idea what this kind of vehicle is used for?

In Hinkley, we were surprised to find that we’d coincidentally chosen to make our visit to the museum on the 119th anniversary of the fire itself.


On October 4th, I’ll share a video project made from information gathered that day at the museum. It will be the inaugural entry in an experimental new blog feature – The Friday Night Picture Show.



Just this last weekend, we drove to a wedding on Saturday and a Renaissance Festival on Sunday. Somehow we managed to keep in good spirits through the events, even though traffic in both cases was a bloody nightmare.

Going to the wedding should have been a half-hour drive. Ogre and I left the house at 3:00p, planning to mill about with other guests before the 4:00p ceremony.

We arrived at the country club in time to see a distant white speck on the other side of the expansive grounds, marching down what appeared to be a grassy aisle. We opted not to wait for the next shuttle cart. I kicked off my heels and we trotted over.

Luckily, it’s summer, so I wasn’t wearing stockings. Also luckily, it was the correct bride. (We found out later that there were at least three other weddings going on – all in opposite directions. Did you know that pretty much all brides look alike from a distance?)

After the stress and joy of the wedding, we expected to be very calm about going to the Ren Fest the next day.

In the morning we had a nice pancake breakfast for five. (Ogre, The Dog, The Boy, The Boy’s Buddy, and me.)  We left the apartment with the expectation of an hour’s drive ahead. We knew it would be snug in the little commuter car that Ogre drives – what with a 70+ pound dog AND two 6′ young men in the itty-bitty back seat, but we’re a close family.

The first 30 minutes went fine. Then traffic started to slow. Ninety minutes later, we saw this sign.

20130929 renaissance congestion ahead

I had ample time to photograph it.

In another 10 minutes, we were parked next to a similar sign (which I didn’t photograph, sadly.) It said,

Renaissance Festival
1 mile

The time was 1:42p when our front fender crossed into the same plane as that sign.

Ogre hit the trip odometer.

Wait for it …

20130929 renaissaince odometer

That’s POINT 1 mile, btw. One TENTH of a mile.

We got through the festival gate a little after 3p. Miraculously we were all still alive and smiling.

I told you we’re a close family.

blogher Blogroll_Large_Oct_2013

Finding Halloween events & celebrating autumn: haunted houses, apple orchards, ghost tours and more.


halloween countdown 6 final


Friday marks six weeks until Halloween. I’m no longer (nearly) alone in my countdown to the big day – horror movies and creepy documentaries are cropping up on all the channels; fun-size candy bars and this year’s Halloween decorations are arriving in the stores; bloggers are writing about costumes and theme parties.

Monday the 22nd will be the autumnal equinox.

I’m not happy about the looming winter, but autumn is my favorite season and I intend to suck every possible bit of creepy, eerie, festive, color-saturated, pleasure from the next six weeks. I will be able to lose myself in my celebration of all things fall-ish and Halloween-y because (for those of you that don’t already know) I am lucky enough to live in Minnesota, not far from where I grew up, in and around Anoka – the Halloween Capital of the World. 


Click for Proof

I realize not all of you live in or near a town so mad for Halloween, but that shouldn’t hamper your celebrations. This week’s Halloween Countdown post is meant to help all my readers – Minnesotans AND folks from farther afield – find great autumn and Halloween events no matter where they live in the US.


Below, you will find a printable PDF calendar of the next six weeks.


 2014  6 weeks until halloween calendar pdf

  • print your calendar
  • look over the included checklist
  • browse the links below for inspiration
  • mark the check boxes of any activities that appeal
  • use the calendar and the links below to plan your season


Probably, the best tool for hunting down your community’s offerings is a local newspaper or the September / October issue of your city or state magazine. As a supplement to such resources, I’ve gathered a set of search engines and guides to assist in planning. THE most useful site I found was Explore Minnesota – our state’s official tourism site. You can find your state guide at




Start your search here:

In Minnesota:



calendar dog walk cc by skirtpr         OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA         calendar reading cc by US Embassy Canada

Start your search here:

  • Go to, enter your state or city, and type Halloween into the “I care about …” box.

No matter where you are:

  • check at the local shelter for dogs that would love a walk on a fall day
  • carve a Jack ‘O Lantern (or several) for the local retirement home
  • read spooky stories at the local elementary school
  • play ding-dong-ditch with a twist – leave a Happy Halloween note & a prize



Start your search here:

In Minnesota:



Start your search here:

In Minnesota:


Start your search here:

  • check local newspapers and city magazines
  • Google ‘zombie pub crawl in __________’ (where the blank is your town, nearest metropolitan area, or state.)

In Minnesota:



Start your search here:

In Minnesota:



Many years ago, I had a costume business with a friend.

We made the lion costumes you see at 0:45 – 0:48.

Start your search here:

In Minnesota:


Start your search here:

  • Check your local mega-plex for special showings of Halloween movies.
  • To find an independent theater for cult and horror classics, check PBS’s Independent Lens. (Zoom in on the map.)
  • Alternatively, Google ‘independent theater in __________’ (where the blank is your town, nearest metropolitan area, or state.)
  • Search for a screening of The Rocky Horror Picture Show near you at

In Minnesota:


The 48 Hour Film Horror Project is a creative contest where teams of filmmakers create a horror film in a single weekend. Teams will be given certain elements to incorporate into their short film and 48 hours – the rest is up to them.

The project weekend will kickoff on a Friday evening and all films are due back Sunday evening. Filmmakers and their friends/family will be able to help to celebrate their accomplishments via a screening soon to follow.

All creative work for the video must be done in the official 48 hour time frame. Films must be 4 – 7 minutes long with an additional minute allowed for credits.

In select cities in October & November, 2014:

  • Oct. 3rd: Minneapolis
  • Oct. 10th: Detroit, Pittsburgh, Seattle
  • Oct. 17th: Albuquerque, Atlanta, Cleveland, Louisville, Providence
  • Nov. 7th: Kansas City
  • Nov. 21st: Amsterdam

You must register at the site. The fee to compete is $175.

Visit the 48 hour film: horror project homepage.



Don’t forget to leave room for activities that don’t have to be done on any particular date. Outings are great, but things like decorating the house, stealing an hour to browse the local Halloween shop, and snuggling down with a scary book or movie are important too.

NOTE: If you’re going to have a Halloween party, you should set the date now.


2014: Countdown-to-Halloween Ideas & Checklist

2014: The Paranormalist’s 1st Annual Halloween Photo Scavenger Hunt


halloween countdown main fridays

The twilight walk: exercise for those who prefer the shadows.

For a couple of weeks now, more days than not, I’ve been doing something a little different. About an hour before sunset, I leash up my dog, grab my purse and keys, and drive ten minutes to a particular neighborhood in White Bear Lake. Then I walk. And look at things.


I know I could just head out my front door on foot and go, but I don’t enjoy the sprawling lawns of the neighborhood surrounding me as much as I do the village gardens, snugged up next to each other.

It’s not really exercise, because:

  • I don’t change into anything resembling workout wear.
  • I don’t walk for any set time.
  • I pause, stop, even sit down whenever I feel like it.
  • I neither break a sweat nor raise my heart rate.
  • I’m not miserable.

See, to me, real exercise has always been something one does at the gym or in front of a blaring TV. It’s loud, and bright, and unbearably upbeat. If you know me, you know that’s not my favorite kind of environment. If you read this blog, you probably don’t care for it much either.

Even so, I’ve been thinking lately that I have to start going to the gym again. These 10-18 hour days of sitting in an office chair – hunched over a keyboard until my back locks up and my mousing wrist gets hot –  are turning me into an old woman. But I keep putting that off, because the process is such a chore. I’ve been off that horse for a while, and climbing back on doesn’t appeal.

Don’t get me wrong, I haven’t spent much time resolving to go back. Ever since I quit the job at the hotel, I’ve been so focused on writing that I’ve been neglecting my body. In fact, I wasn’t even thinking about my health when I started the walks … I just felt bad for my dog, who was cutting short his own (purely utilitarian) daytime walks because of the heat and humidity. Guilt and concern made me take him out one cool evening.

Now we go because that first pity-walk made me remember that I need to unkink. So it IS exercise, even if it’s no fitness walk. It’s just as good for my mind and soul as it is for my body. I already feel a little better physically. And I’m remembering how good it feels to actually move around.

Yesterday, I skipped the walk. I watched Dexter with Ogre, then worked on the mostly-invisible blog revisions some more. By the time I was finally ready to quit for the day, it was so late that my normal walk might have gotten me arrested for casing the neighborhood. I was a pretty much one big knot of tight muscles. I wasted a minute or two shaming myself for not taking my opportunity to walk. 

Then I spent 10-15 stretching out. I used some of the yoga poses I remembered from classes I’ve taken, and I made up some by paying attention to what my shoulders and lower back were telling me to do.

Before I started my twilight walks, I wouldn’t have thought to stretch out. I might have climbed into a hot bath, but I would most likely have just gone to bed, hoping sleep would fix me before it was time to sit down at the keyboard again.

So, in its own way then, this twilight walk has been the best kind of exercise. Not only will I do it happily, it has energized me enough to take another step in the right direction.

In case all this talk of feeling better hasn’t been enough to send you out the door, here’s a sampling of the kinds of things I see.

It’s worth the drive to go to a place that feeds your soul.