Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Send in the Clown

Just when you thought your bad day couldn’t possibly get any worse, you get a phone call and learn that Al Franken has just become your US Senator. Can I just stumble out of bed and start this day all  over again?
But then I do live in Minnesota whose voters have already elected professional wrestler Jessie Ventura as Governor so it follows suit that a Saturday Night Live comedian would become a US Senator. What’s next for Minnesota politics? Bob Dylan for Governor in 2010?
I do give Norm Coleman credit for staying in the recount this long and conceding as a gentleman after today’s 5-0 State Supreme court decision.  He is handling this loss with much more grace and eloquence than me. Overall I don’t think that these election results were correct given the odd way votes were counted throughout the state. If the election were held today, perhaps the results would be different. Maybe this experience  will give Minnesota a chance to revise its rules on uniform vote counting procedures in all precincts. Regardless of your political persuasion, you’re probably as relieved as I am that this recount is finally over.
As for the Minnesota Republicans, I’m not seeing anyone very exciting out on the horizon. I’m looking for someone to root for who stands up for what I believe. That person certainly is not Al Franken.
For more opinion on the Minnesota recount, take a look at this op-ed from today’s Wall Street Journal.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The Road Warrior

Don’t you feel like the summer months herald the start of the driving season? At least for me, that holds true. Last summer, the minivan logged  6000 miles over the summer vacation, and I’m on track to top that record with 2000 miles driven these past 2 weeks. 
What is with all of the driving? It is summer which should mean fun times hanging out at home with your friends and long lazy days in the sun or curled up with a good book. Maybe 30 years ago but not for my kids in 2009. I will admit that I am a Mom who schedules her kids a bit during the summer. (In my own defense, I have cut them WAY back on their summer activities this year.) I don’t think that they are overly scheduled as they seem to have plenty of free time but scheduled enough that I spend a good 2-3 hours in the car most days driving them around. That is a lot of my time! And I’ve found myself caught in a trap of my own making. 
I want a mix of summer athletics and academics to keep them busy and give me a bit of time without the whole gang underfoot. Great idea except that since I don’t have a nanny or a chauffeur, I’m doing both roles. This worked out perfectly fine in previous summers, but this summer I’m trying to start up my own graphic and web design company. Let’s just say the drive time is cutting into my creative time. Again, a problem of my own making. 
I do feel like a road warrior as I drive all over the Twin Cities. Any of you who normally  drive around Minnesota’s Twin Cities will sympathize with me. Typically I am stuck behind a car driving 20 mph below the speed limit on a narrow, single lane highway with no hope to pass around the creeping car. Or there is the other extreme of driver who really believes that he or she is the ultimate road warrior and drives like a maniac hovering on your back bumper until they can whip around you going 85 mph. My question in this case is “where are the police when you need them to a pull over those overly aggressive drivers?” 
I’m not a creeper or a maniac driver but fall somewhere in between. I’m just forever running 5 minutes late for the next practice or class and am just trying to transport kids without getting in a wreck. (Maybe that puts me closer to the maniac end of the driver spectrum.) Now you’re probably wondering why I don’t just set up some carpools with other kids. The majority of these drives do involve one leg of a carpool! I think it is the sheer volume of kids and their far away activities that keep me on the road. 
I do not mean to sound like I am complaining as I know that hauling kids around to activities is part of the Mom deal that you sign up for when that first baby arrives. I’m just trying to work out the details of being a stay-at-home Mom while trying to get a foot in the door of the design industry. I’m trying to find a good balance.
Of course my kids don’t realize (or appreciate) any of this. They have so many more summer opportunities available to them than I ever dreamed of at their age. As a parent, it really is hard not to schedule them in all of these interesting camps and outdoor activities which they love. Summer truly is all about the kids (at least in my suburban mom world). 
Now if you slow drivers out there would just drive at the speed limit!!!!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Favre's Viking Comeback?

Brett Favre as a Minnesota Viking? My die-hard Packer-backer grandfather is turning over in his grave at that news. 
Plastered across the sports pages of today’s Minneapolis and St. Paul newspapers are the accounts voiced on HBO last night by former Green Bay Packer quarterback Brett Favre on his offer for a second comeback as quarterback for the Minnesota Vikings. According to Favre, all of this is dependent on the outcome of his recent surgery on his right arm to mend a partially torn tendon.
I am a HUGE Green Bay Packer fan and even I can understand why he is considering an offer with the Vikings. Last summer the Packer management team truly mishandled Favre’s decision to come out of retirement and rejoin the Packer line-up as quarterback. Their refusal to let Favre back on the roster resulted in Favre’s one-year contract as QB for the New York Jets. Now Favre has an opportunity to really stick it to the Packers.
This season I will have a difficult time watching him running around with his number 4 on his back but wearing the Viking’s purple and gold instead of the Packer’s green and gold. In fact, I may not even watch those Vikings vs. Packers games with Favre as the Vikings QB as it just seems wrong. 
On the other hand, I also think if Brett Favre is healthy enough to still be a professional football quarterback at the ripe old age of 39, more power to him. The Packers had their chance to keep Favre around and decided to let him slip away. It is their loss and Brett’s gain--both in his bank account and for his own personal pride.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Tria's Patio: A Perfect Sunday Brunch

Once again, Tria lives up to its reputation of being predictably unpredictable. If you have ever dined at the Tria Restaurant in North Oaks, you will know what I mean. If you haven’t had this opportunity, let me enlighten you.
This is all from my personal dining experiences at Tria over the past few years. Since it is a relatively new restaurant which opened in 2006 (I believe), they have had some time to work out any glitches in the menu and service. Usually one of two things happens when I dine at Tria: the service is horrible and the food mediocre or vice versa with passable service and a meal that leaves you wishing you had ordered something else on the menu. 
However, I was blown away this morning by both today’s brunch and the service!
We did not have a reservation for our party of 7, and were questioned about if we had called ahead (which I did but no one answered the phone). The hostess looked worried as she scanned the nearly empty dining room so I offered that we would love to sit outside. Relief as there were even more empty tables out on the patio. (Perhaps they were anticipating a huge brunch rush that never materialized.) Being true Minnesotans and Wisconsinites, my family reveled in the opportunity to dine outside in the brilliant sunshine of a balmy Sunday morning. 
The waiter greeted us immediately (a change from my previous Tria experiences) and didn’t leave us waiting in the hot sun for our cool drinks. He promptly took our order and even checked back to let me know that they had found some chocolate for my son’s off-the-menu request for chocolate chip pancakes. A plate full of fresh-from-the-oven funnel cakes appeared (covered in powdered sugar) as a courtesy from the kitchen. Nice touch!
Usually Tria requires quite a long wait for food but not today. Everyone’s brunch food arrived without a long wait and was met with pure satisfaction. My Florentine omelet with spinach, tomatoes, and Boursin cheese was outstanding as were the East Coast Eggs Benedict served over crab cakes topped with a sauce that had a bit of  kick to it. Best of all, the chocolate chip pancakes passed the test and were polished off. 
I’m impressed. If this is the new Tria, sign me up. The food was very reasonably priced and delicious served with perfect timing by our attentive waiter. Although the patio could stand a bit of a spring cleaning around the edges, I’d say it was a lovely outdoor brunch, and I’ll be back again this summer.
Brunch at Tria includes your choice of juice or a mimosa, and prices range from $10-15. The patio is open during the summer months. I also would recommend the bar for a late supper or a drink after the movies as it’s pub-like atmosphere is especially warm and cozy during the winter months. 
If you would like to try the Tria Restaurant, it is located at 5959 Centerville Road in North Oaks, Minnesota. For reservations, you can call 651.426.9222. I have better luck reserving a table at Tria through OpenTable.com or at triarestaurant.com.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Escape to the Dells

Did you know that Wisconsin Dells holds the honor of being “The Waterpark Capital of  the World”? Neither did I but this becomes quite obvious as you drive around the Dells and Lake Dalton. You are bombarded with a vast array of both indoor and outdoor water theme parks everywhere you look. Some are very cheesy while others are spanking new and very high-tech for a waterpark. The kids and I chose high-tech over cheesy for this trip.
Being the native Wisconsinite, I have been visiting Wisconsin Dells for decades now. There is so much to see and do in our time limit of 3 days and 2 nights that we focused on Wisconsin’s largest water park, The Kalahari, and a day trip to the Circus World in nearby Baraboo, WI. (I’ll fill you in on Baraboo in a later entry.) We couldn’t possibly do Wisconsin Dells on our own so we met up with our fellow waterpark-tripping friends from Chevy Chase, Maryland who were en route to Colorado. This is our second Wisconsin Dells meeting as we did the Great Wolf Lodge together the last time so don’t think I’m a waterpark novice.
The Kalahari is incredibly huge with a sprawling hotel, conference facilities, and what looked like condos. It had five restaurants, three gift shops, a movie theater, and a new Indoor Amusement park complete with ferris wheel. Despite it’s vastness, it was very easy to navigate. 
The indoor waterpark was all in one huge room unlike the Great Wolf Lodge which was spread out over 2 or 3 rooms. (This means it is much easier to hunt for lost kids.) Kalahari also had two really good large raft rides that weren’t terribly scary and were family friendly, i.e., you can take your little kids on these rides without being terrified and coming out soaked to the skin. We did avoid the water slide that dumped you out in toilet-bowl fashion into a 9’ deep pool. We all loved the abundance of hot tubs and the separate little kid climbing and slide area. There were tons of attentive lifeguards, the wave pool was fun, the water and air was warm, and lines were quite short. We felt very comfortable letting the pack of older kids run around on their own while my friend and I hung out with the little boys. 
The outdoor part of the park was perfect as the weather cooperated. The slides were fun and one included a boogie board/surfing run. The lazy river was long, winding, and VERY relaxing. The kids adored the outdoor pools and the opportunity to dump buckets of water on their unsuspecting friends from the top of one of the slides.
On the downside, it was the week for middle school field trips. They arrived at the Kalahari in massive packs at 9:30 am and stayed until 3:30 pm. We left when they arrived and returned later in the day when they had loaded up their school buses and left. (Note that we visited the Great Wolf Lodge at approximately the same time of year and the Great Wolf did not have any field trip traffic.) Also the housekeeping service was really lacking. They only emptied the trash once and never bothered to tidy the room or swap out the towels.
On the upside, we requested two rooms together and were upgraded to a “Royal Suite” area of the hotel that required your room key to even enter the hallway. Fancy! Our suites had two cavernous room with comfortable beds, a fridge, fireplace, and two baths. Being on the ground floor was also a plus. We had an outdoor patio with a large table and chairs enabling us to seat and feed six kids all at once with a view of the outdoor waterpark and surrounding gardens. The pizza delivery service was lightening fast leaving no time for kids to complain about starving for their dinner. Best of all. I found Krispey Kreme doughnuts (and good coffee too) in the lobby cafe for one of our breakfasts. 
I think the kids and I would love to return to the Kalahari but not during the end of the year field trip weeks in mid-June. The Great Wolf Lodge is definitely quieter. The Wisconsin Dells experience has left me thinking back to one similar “park” experience a few years ago when we lived in Virginia. While wandering around the Hershey Park Amusement Park in Hershey, Pennsylvania, my good friend summarized his experience which is poignant for our recent Wisconsin Dells trip...”I feel so thin!” Very true unfortunately. So if you want to feel really good in your bikini, head for the waterparks at the Dells! (The kids will have an amazing time in their bathing suits as well.)  
OOPS...did I offend again?!
For more information, check out the following websites:
The Wisconsin Dells is about a 31/2 hour drive from the Twin Cities. Don’t have a lead foot and be sure to watch out for those pesky WI State Patrol officers.