Category Archives: Travel

A winter visit to the conservatory

It’s one of my favorite things to do during winter! We haven’t been to the conservatory since before everything shut down in early 2020. And naturally, things are different now. Advance reservations are required. Oh wait, now I remember that we made reservations at one point in the last almost 3 years. But something came up and we weren’t able to make it. You can make reservations the day of, which is what I did. There were plenty of openings throughout the day about 3 hours prior to opening.

We’re over our 10 plus days of deep freeze and I thought it would be nice to visit the conservatory while it’s relatively nice. Highs are in the 30s now which feels absolutely BALMY compared to what we’ve had since before Christmas. So I ditched the winter coat because I didn’t want to be carrying it around with me. I wore a bulky sweatshirt with my down vest which was nearly perfect. Hubby also wore his vest. It was a tad chilly between the car and the building but we did okay!

We used to enter at the doors to the conservatory where you used to be able to hang your coat. Those days are gone, at least for now while they require reservations. You now enter through the Visitors Center where they scan your bar code for your time slot. And because we entered at a different spot than what used to be normal, our first room was the fern room.

We then wandered around to the different areas of the conservatory. It’s so warm and tropical in there and it smells divine! You feel transported to the tropics in the middle of winter. Ah…….

Next up: the sunken gardens. It was beautiful but neither of us expected it to be all white. The room was also filled with the aroma of one of those flowers, probably those smaller blooms on long stems. I believe they are paperwhites.

Various photos from other rooms.

We ended at the Tropical Encounters Exhibit where many beautiful birds were flying around. There is also a huge fish tank with many varieties to peruse and other containers with snakes, frogs and a tarantula! At the end of this exhibit is a sloth. He tries to camouflage himself but I found him!!! And he moved a little bit while we stood there.

If you’re in the twin cities area, do pay a visit to the conservatory. It’s such a nice break from winter!! There is also a zoo but that is mostly outdoors and we didn’t venture over there. But many kids with their parents were checking it out. Here’s a link to their website in case anybody is interested.

I’m working on my “year in photos” for 2022 so stay tuned for that post coming soon!


Filed under Minnesota, Travel

The North Shore of Lake Superior, redux

Last summer we finally travelled to the North Shore of Lake Superior. Neither of us had ever been before and we loved it so much that we went back this summer. Both very different but very fun trips. Last year we stayed at a place right on the shore of Lake Superior and every room had a lake view which was quite nice! We decided to try a different place and spent four nights at the Cascade Lodge in Lutsen. It is also on the lake but the highway is in between so one has to be careful when crossing highway 61 to get to the lakeshore.

We did a similar first day as we did last year lunching at the Black Woods Grill in Duluth, a nice halfway point. We then made another stop at Kendall’s Smokehouse for some smoked fish to enjoy as a picnic in our room our first night. This worked great last year and it was another success this year. Huzzah!

We even found Castle Danger Brewery. We drove past it without knowing it last year so I made sure we found it this year. After a short break with beverages we headed on to our next destination before getting to our accommodations. Our plan was to go to both Gooseberry and Split Rock State Parks but we spent a bit more time at Gooseberry than planned so we didn’t have time to go to Split Rock Lighthouse. Since I didn’t get to the spots for the iconic views of the lighthouse we added it to our trip back. Except that didn’t work out because it was raining the day we left the North Shore, same as last year. Next year then!

Our first full day we opted for breakfast at the lodge. The restaurant was one of the enticers to stay at the lodge and the food is pretty good. After breakfast we headed out behind the lodge and along a creek where we each had a small mishap. No big deal either of them and we used both as a reminder to watch where we were going. That hike on the Cascade Creek Trail was a bit more treacherous than we had anticipated. The next gallery contains photos from our hike and others of the lodge.

We had a nice lunch at the Gunflint Tavern in Grand Marais. Afterwards I got to shop at the Lake Superior Trading Post where I tried on some jackets and purchased some early Christmas presents and Reed’s butterscotch candies to boot! I really enjoyed that store.

We hiked in Cascade River State Park and found some waterfalls that afternoon. There was a small parking lot and trails right off highway 61 about 2 minutes from the lodge. Another nice hike! We had dinner at the lodge restaurant and our order got mixed up somehow. A big misunderstanding with the order taker. Once it got sorted out we enjoyed our meals. The salmon was delicious.

Our next full day started with breakfast at South of the Border Cafe and we did not time this well as all the tables were occupied when we arrived. We waited about 5 minutes and a couple of retired gentlemen invited us to sit at their 4 person table. We thanked them and sat with them. Such nice men and what a nice gesture.

After breakfast we headed to Grand Portage State Park on the Canadian border. It’s a fairly easy hike to the tallest waterfall in Minnesota. And if you’re lucky, you can see Canadians checking out the waterfall on the other side of the river and we saw some! They have a nice visitor’s center as well.

It was a short drive from Grand Portage State Park to Judge Magney State Park where there is yet another waterfall, The Devil’s Kettle. So of course we had to check it out. Oh but wait, there’s 192 stairs to get to it? Which means 192 stairs back up….oh what the hell! That was the reason we chose to take that hike and it was worth it!! Yet another beautiful waterfall. But all those steps down and back up again took a toll and my legs were a bit sore for a few days. Still worth it!! And I can’t believe I took no photos of any of those steps!

We lunched at Fisherman’s Daughter for fish and chips and they give you options of shrimp, whitefish or herring. We sat outside and really enjoyed our meal and the patio. Hubby chose shrimp and chips and I chose whitefish which came with cole slaw. Yum!!

For our last full day we took the scenic drive on the Gunflint Trail after another trip to South of the Border Cafe for breakfast. We saw the nice retired gentlemen again and waved to them. This time we got our own table. Sure is beautiful and peaceful on the Gunflint Trail. We stopped at some scenic overlook spots and could see the Canadian border again at Gunflint Lake.

I had written a bunch of notes about where to stop and our best chance to see moose but we didn’t feel much like hiking anywhere that morning likely due to all those steps to The Devil’s Kettle waterfall the day before. So we changed up the plan. Instead of hiking a half mile uphill to Blueberry Hill for some awesome views, we skipped it after we read the handwritten sign and no information (not even the name of the trail) about the trail. The handwritten sign said it was very steep and that the views were obstructed? We didn’t feel like doing anything steep so we moved on.  We did do the small hike to the moose viewing area further up the road, which was nice but there weren’t any moose.

We decided to go all the way to the end of the Gunflint Trail and check out the museum that’s there, Chik-Wauk Museum and Nature Center. But we skipped the museum as it was starting to feel like lunch time so we headed back to Trail Center Lodge where we had another delicious lunch.

We had dinner at the Bluefin Grille and had a table with a lake view. We ate here last year and really liked it so decided to make another visit. Another delicious meal in a lovely setting.

It was another successful trip to the North Shore this summer. Now, where shall we stay next year? This might become an annual trip! It is so beautiful and there are so many great hiking options. I definitely recommend a visit to Minnesota’s North Shore!


Filed under Minnesota, Travel

A long weekend in Chicago including The Art Institute

At the end of July I met my sister at Midway airport in Chicago to spend some time together and to visit with as much family as possible. We’re originally from the Chicago area where both of our parents grew up, married and had children. In 1969 we moved to California. Much of our family still resides in the Chicago area and we’ve been back several times to visit to celebrate birthdays, weddings and the like. Our cousin picked us up at the airport and we stayed at her house for five nights. She was in the process of selling her home and we weren’t sure if we’d be able to stay there. As it turned out, she had a contingent offer so we were able to stay there. So nice of her to let us stay in her house and we are so grateful!

A couple of photos descending into Chicago:

We saw our aunt and uncle every day and we had so much fun with them. We brought our flutes to play duets for them. We used to do this when we visited our mother in Florida and we thought our aunt and uncle might enjoy a little concert. We also made dinner for them that night and another cousin’s daughter was able to join us. She is a baker and brought the most delicious cake for dessert! There it is in this photo:

Our first full day we spent in downtown Chicago. We did some shopping, ate lunch and then spent a few hours in The Art Institute. Such a great museum! But it also has a bit of a confusing layout and we ended up walking more than we really wanted to. Some photos of downtown Chicago:

Similar to my visit to the National Gallery of Art in D.C., I made a list of pieces that I wanted to see using the museum’s guide of their recommendations. I really wanted to see the miniature rooms and that was the last thing we did at the Art Institute. We got in an elevator to take us to the lower level but we didn’t see the miniature rooms on the placard of what was on that level. Others heard us and instructed us to go back up and go to the other side. See what I mean about confusing? We had no clue, even with a map of the museum, that the lower level had two separate parts. Lucky those nice people guided us or we might have given up! Those miniature rooms were so worth it! It’s a huge gallery of, well, miniature rooms. Scenes from all sorts of places and eras. So much detail! And we discovered that you could see into other rooms or outside if you craned your neck a little bit. Following are the photos I took of the miniature rooms:

We didn’t see quite everything because we were just too tired to walk any more. We enjoyed what we did see and had such fun.

On the weekend another cousin was having a party at his beach home. Neither of us had been there before so it was nice to see the lovely house next to Lake Michigan. We dipped our fingers in the lake just to say that we did. Their house is over an hour’s drive away from our other cousin’s house and we had such a pleasant ride with our aunt and uncle. Our cousin whose house we were staying in (and our aunt and uncle’s daughter) came separately.

We got to see our cousin’s new ranch. She had a lifelong dream of owning a ranch where she can keep her horse. What a lovely property!! And that’s the reason she was selling her other home that we were staying in. She bought the ranch and then put her house up for sale.

We also got to meet our second cousins. I wrote a little bit about them in this post from last year. I especially love the story about the photo of their grandfather from last year’s blog post. We met them and their partners for lunch our last day in Chicago. It was lovely meeting all of them and we all enjoyed our visit. In this photo our second cousins are on either side of us and their partners are sitting next to them on either end of our table.

My sister and I took walks to start our day every morning. There is a nice walking path near our cousin’s (now old) house and of course I took a few photos of flowers. Enjoy!

I love Chicago and can’t wait to go back again. What a fun-filled weekend we had!


Filed under Travel

Minnesota State Fair 2022

It’s been another different year at the fair. We have gone to the fair on opening day since before I can remember. And then we’ve always gone at least one more time, sometimes more. Last year was the first time we didn’t go more than once due to Covid. Okay, 2020 too but there was no fair then. I’m glad that I went last year but didn’t feel very comfortable and wore a mask on the bus as well as in the buildings. This year’s opening day was so crowded! From the moment we entered I could tell it was going to be a very busy day. One reason we like going on opening day is because it’s typically calmer. But I guess since we haven’t had a “normal” fair in three years everyone was excited to go this year? Maybe.

It was so crowded that we weren’t able to view the crop art in the Agriculture building, one of my favorite things to do at the fair. We checked twice and both times the line was out the door to the crop art room. And I didn’t want to wait in the crowd. Bummer. But we enjoyed what we did see: the animal barns, the great art in the fine arts building and a trip on the Sky Ride. And I got my pronto pup as well as a chocolate malt from the Kiwanis stand outside the fine arts building. Best malt at the fair! I have no idea if they’re any different than the malts in the dairy building but I’ve always liked the Kiwanis malts. This first gallery contains photos from opening day:

We decided to go back on the second “seniors day” a week after opening day and wow, what a difference! It was so nice and calm and oh, so much more pleasant! We have always started our day, on opening day, with breakfast. This year our plan was foiled because, did I mention the crowds at the get-go? Oh my gosh. I wasn’t prepared to not have breakfast! We planned to have breakfast at the Hamline Church Dining Hall, the last church dining hall at the fair. Previously we went to the Epiphany Diner but that went away several years ago. Hamline was already packed with a line of about 20 people out the door when we got there about 8:30. Okay, regroup and this was a first: we decided on pronto pups for breakfast! Yum! On seniors day we had breakfast at The Peg, something new for us. It’s the only full service restaurant at the fair and it was great!! One difference I noticed was when the food comes, it is hot! As opposed to the dining halls where you put food on a tray and make your way through the line, find a table and by the time you eat, the food isn’t hot. Perhaps we’ll make The Peg our new annual breakfast spot.

And I may have been the first one in the Agriculture building when it opened at 9:00. Well, I certainly was the first one in that door. And I headed right to the crop art: no line!! There were maybe 3 or 5 of us checking out the crop art. Now this is the way to do it! We perused the flower displays in those rooms of the Agriculture building as well. They rotate every two days so these were different displays than opening day, and we didn’t even venture into the flower rooms on opening day. Just too many people for my comfort level.

Other photos from our second trip to the fair:

One fun thing from our second day was the Sky Ride. We did some shopping at the Grand Stand and we were just about done so decided to take the one way Sky Ride to get us closer to the entrance for our bus home. As we waited I spotted and photographed the Hippie (or Flower Power) car and as it happened we got to ride in it after we made our way through the line! En route inside our fun hippie car we heard a young girl yell out “Flower Power!!” and hubby yelled back “Peace, Love and Ringo!” Too funny. One of the best Sky Rides ever!

We stopped at the DFL booth and a nice volunteer asked if we’d like our photo taken, so there we are with President Biden and Vice President Harris. We were each given a soy bean to vote our most important issue this year. Abortion Access was winning at the fair as well as across the country! The last photo in the next gallery is hubby discussing issues calmly with a volunteer at the Republican lieutenant governor candidate’s booth. This is the way to do it, calmly discuss. Neither could change the other’s mind and they ended their chat positively agreeing that it is important to vote.

All in all, it was a great two times at the fair. Until next year!


Filed under Minnesota, Travel

Game Plan for the Great Minnesota Get-Together

This is such a great guide that I’m sharing it on my blog. Minnesota State Fair starts next week!

Travel. Garden. Eat.

A decade ago this month, I started this blog with a brief welcome post:

Life is a wonderful journey.As we reflect, our favorite memories confirm that the best things in life truly are not things, but rather experiences:travelnear and far, the simplicity of nature found in the garden and great outdoors,and good food with family and friends. Sit back and enjoy — you can always clean tomorrow!

Ciao~ Kat B.

Over the years, my blog contributions and creative energies have ebbed and flowed … but one thing has not changed over the last 10 years, and that is my enthusiasm for the Minnesota State Fair. It checks all the boxes — travel (near), celebrating the abundance of harvest and Minnesota’s great outdoor offerings (garden), and SO. MUCH. GOOD. FOOD (EAT … with a couple hundred thousand of your friends)! With over 300 acres of animals, attractions, entertainment, and food to…

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Filed under Minnesota, Travel

Washington, D.C. in May – last day

I’m finally getting to our last day in Washington, D.C. in May. We spent 6 full days in our nation’s capital and had a great time! We experienced all sorts of weather on this trip and our last day felt very much like autumn. The high was in the low 60s! And it was lightly raining off and on. But we still had another full and fun day.

Our plan was to take the bus down 14th Street, then catch the Circulator to the Hirshhorn to see the Laurie Anderson exhibit. This ended up being our worst public transit day unfortunately. But, it all worked out in the end. After waiting about 10 minutes for the bus, we decided to walk to the next bus stop, and then the next and so on. That bus never came! We did the same wait for the Circulator. You guessed it, that bus never came either. Harumpf!! I had hoped to not do too much walking on this last day of our trip. Alas, that was not to be and we ended up walking the nearly two miles to the museum. It was also lightly raining but I was equipped with my umbrella. We probably should have gotten a cab in retrospect, but it all worked out.

All that said, we both really enjoyed Laurie Anderson’s The Weather exhibit at the Hirshhorn Museum. She’s probably not everyone’s cup of tea but she is one very talented individual! And apparently is a Grammy winner, which I learned after visiting this exhibit. I had hoped to post this in time for others to see the exhibit, alas, it’s ending today August 7, 2022. Instead, I hope you will enjoy the photos that I took. Here is an intro from the museum about Laurie:

As a Grammy Award-winning musician, performer, writer, and artist, Anderson has an international reputation as an artist who combines the traditions of the avant-garde with popular culture. Anderson’s theatrical works combine a variety of media, including performance, music, poetry, sculpture, opera, anthropological investigations, and linguistic games, to elicit emotional reactions. As a visual artist, Anderson has been shown at the Guggenheim Museum, SoHo, and extensively in Europe, including the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris. She has also released seven albums for Warner Brothers, including Big Science, featuring the song “O Superman,” which rose to No. 2 on the British pop charts. She is currently Charles Eliot Norton Professor of Poetry at Harvard University.

From the brochure:

This exhibition, her largest to date in the United States, traces the vast range of Anderson’s career through her groundbreaking early performances, her achievements in the worlds of music and video, and several new installations responding to the changing landscapes of our time. Throughout the galleries, Anderson paints and tells stories on the walls, disrupting the conventional museum voice and guiding visitors on an intimate journey through her work in her own words. As digital technology and performance occupy an increasingly prominent place in contemporary art, Anderson has led the way with inventive work that has indelibly influenced art, music, and popular culture for more than forty years.

Hubby introduced me to Laurie early on and we saw her live at UCLA about 1989. It was definitely one of the most unusual performances I’ve ever seen and it was rather enjoyable.

The exhibit took up the entire second floor of the museum and was filled with her stories. One of the first things we saw were two rows of red flags attached to some mechanism that made them swish back and forth. I wasn’t sure of the purpose of that room. It was entitled “Salute”. Another room, Gallery 4, contained four sculptures, had black background on the floors and walls and these were covered with her thoughts and drawings that she painted herself in white. You’ll get a glimpse of some of these in the gallery below.

In Gallery 5 were photos of her asleep in different places. She wanted to sleep in various public places to see if it would influence her dreams. There are photos of her asleep near the water on Coney Island in January, another in a night court room and yet another in a women’s bathroom at Columbia University. So interesting! Such an imagination!

Gallery 6 consisted of very large pieces that she painted. Gallery 7 was entitled Habeas Corpus. Inside this gallery was a film narrated by Muhammed el Gharani who was captured at age 14 and imprisoned and tortured at Guantanamo for 7 years. He was released without explanation or apology. A sad commentary to be sure.

To find more detailed information about the exhibit’s rooms, please go to this link.

Editing to add the 60 Minutes interview with Anderson Cooper from July 24, 2022. The entire interview is interesting and towards the end they discuss parts of the exhibit at the Hirshhorn:

I had hoped to walk through the sculpture garden that is just outside the Hirshhorn but it was lightly raining and a bit cold and windy. As such, we decided to hail a cab to take us to our lunch spot. That worked great because we had just enough time to eat and for hubby to enjoy a cigar before heading to our last event of the trip, and one I had really been looking forward to, the Phillips Collection. We did walk through part of the sculpture garden on our way to a busy street to get our cab. Here’s a handful of photos that I took.

About a week before our trip I learned about a cigar bar that was right on the way to our afternoon visit to the Phillips Collection. Hubby likes a cigar every now and again so we had to check it out. Shelly’s Back Room is also a restaurant and the food is pretty good. As you walk into the main room you see many comfortable looking chairs along the wall and a wall with humidors. Customers rent a humidor so when they come in they can just get a cigar out of their humidor. Hubby had a huge menu of cigars to choose from. He really enjoyed his cigar and I like the smell of cigar smoke as it reminds me of my Uncle Nate. Win, win 😊

The metro station was only a couple of blocks away so we braved the weather to take the train to Dupont Circle. The Phillips Collection is not very far from that stop. When we emerged from the metro the weather had changed. It wasn’t raining and there was no wind so it was a pleasant 5 minute jaunt to the museum. It happened to be the 100th anniversary of the opening of this great museum.

There was a special Picasso exhibit that I wanted to see but I also wanted to see the museum. I have a memory of when I lived in the D.C. area in the late 80s of attempting to visit this museum. Apparently I chose a day that the museum was closed so this visit was a long time coming!

The Picasso exhibit consisted of paintings from his blue period, though at the end of the exhibit there were some paintings from his Rose Period. Many pieces were lent to the Phillips Collection for this exhibit. Many of these paintings left me with mournful feelings as so many of the figures Picasso depicted were of down-trodden people. You really got the sense of the poor and the imprisoned people that he painted during this period.

And now that it’s been a couple of months since we saw this exhibit I’m struggling to remember my impressions and my journal from that day isn’t much help. While we had a great time in D.C., I think this being our last day I was out of energy to write much about the day. But, as a huge Picasso fan, this exhibit far exceeded my expectations! For one, I was impressed with how many paintings were included. There were also many placards for all of the paintings which isn’t terribly common in my experience. Usually there is the name of the piece and the artist and maybe a small blurb about the painting. I took many photos of these placards in order to remember more about the paintings. Many of them are included in the next gallery:

We did end up in the original museum somehow and that was pretty cool too. The original museum was the Phillips family house which was eventually donated to become this fabulous museum. The house was built in 1897 and has been expanded to accommodate additional galleries, an auditorium, a library, a conservation studio, additional staff offices, a café, and a courtyard. For more history of the museum, check out this link. And here is a photo that I took of the history of the house and museum:

By the time we finished the Picasso exhibit neither of us had much more energy to check out other paintings there. But I did manage to view The Luncheon of the Boating Party by Renoir. It was larger than I expected and so beautiful! The first thing we saw upon entering the museum was another placard in honor of Ukraine. The museum showcased four paintings by Ukrainians in a stairwell. What a lovely way to support Ukraine. Here are the handful of “other-than-Picasso” paintings:


Filed under Travel, Washington D.C.

Washington, D.C. in May – day 5

Ah day 5, another full day but what a great time! My cover photo reflects what I did this day: the Capitol building and the United States Botanic Garden together. I took this photo as I approached the botanic garden after lunch.

Our request to tour the capitol was granted and it happened on this particular Monday in May 2022. We were to meet at the Longworth House Office Building’s entrance. Our guide was the person I exchanged emails with prior to our trip as he works in our congresswoman’s office. He was showing another new employee how to give tours so it was just the four of us. That was so nice!

We weren’t able to go into the Senate or House chambers as those were still closed to the public. I have taken the public tour before(which our guide told us were reopening on 6/1) but on this tour we saw where the Supreme Court used to work between 1810 and 1860, which I had never seen before. The room was darkened to reflect how it would have looked back then. Approximately half the furnishings are original. We went under the dome where all the pillars are that hold up the dome. And our guide pointed out Minnesota’s two statues. Every state gets two statues that are placed at various spots inside the capitol. We also saw a replica of the Magna Carta in the Crypt and I don’t recall ever seeing this either. Its principles underlie much of the U.S. Constitution. So cool!!

It was also a bit unnerving when our guide pointed out certain points from the insurrection on January 6, 2021. For example, where Officer Goodman redirected Mitt Romney away from the mob. These points gave me the chills remembering the horror of what we all saw on that day. I don’t think I will ever forget it.

We made our way to Zaytinya for lunch as I was determined to go back. I wasn’t able to make reservations for my birthday and had no luck trying to call them. I called at least twice and nobody answered the phone? I’d been to Zaytinya twice before and I love their food! Plus I had a $50 coupon to use at one of José Andrés’s restaurants. When I made reservations at Jaleo and Oyamel (two other José Andrés restaurants), I also signed up for their emails and I’m so glad I did! That $50 coupon made for a pretty cheap lunch! There was slow service again and it wasn’t that busy. I’m still glad we went and we enjoyed another Zaytinya meal. This was our third time at a José Andrés restaurant this trip and all three had service issues. I couldn’t help but think they could take some lessons from Clyde’s group of restaurants because we had excellent service three times at those restaurants.

After we exited the capitol building I wanted to find a fountain where my mother, uncle and grandparents took a photo about 1940. I did a lot of research prior to our trip just so that I could find this fountain. And I did find it! Hubby took a photo of me in front of the same fountain. He spent some time getting the photo in the exact same position as the one from 1940 and he did a fabulous job! The angle is a little different because my mother et al were sitting up on that ledge behind me where there are some flowers planted and I didn’t want to climb up there. You can see that there are some differences. The top of the pillar behind us, and to our left (your right) has a different top. And you can see cars parked in the 1940 photo and there is no public parking these days in that spot. This was one of the highlights of my day!

After lunch we separated again as hubby wanted to visit the Spy Museum(I got him a ticket in advance) and I went to the U.S. Botanic Garden. I’m so glad that recently reopened as it is another place I try to never miss. It is heaven in there! So many interesting plants and flowers and it smells so good!! My favorites are the orchid and cactus sections. I took my time and even sat on a bench for a nice, long rest break listening to the fountain and the birds.

We chose Logan Tavern near our hotel for dinner and it was pretty good. I couldn’t resist their signature mango key lime pie for dessert and that was the only photo I took. Delicious!!


Filed under Travel, Washington D.C.