Just how big of a Saint is Saint Urho?

St. Urho's DayI was never much of a believer in Santa Claus. Logic told me a big man couldn’t fit down a chimney and in the case of our house, he’d burn to death. Plus, my sisters pointed out presents Santa would be bringing to us about a month before Christmas in our garage.

That said, I was much more naïve than most folks I know. I share my birthday with a very important day for Finlanders fondly known at St. Urho’s Day. The only problem, it is quite likely nobody in Finland knows about this rich and important piece of their history.

“Heinäsirkka, heinäsirkka, mene täältä hiiteen” the poem fondly goes. (“Grasshopper, Grasshopper, go to Hell, for those who don’t know Finnish.) Growing up in northern Minnesota, all of my friends seemed to know or at least nod my head when I said I was born on St. Urho’s Day. Never once did it seem odd to me that the holiday landed right before St. Patrick’s day and involved driving grasshoppers from Finland to prevent the grape harvest from being destroyed. I mean honestly, this makes complete sense, right?

Turns out, the entire holiday is a hoax. St. Urho’s day originated back in the 1950s and while there’s some discrepancy about where it originated, it definitely didn’t originate in Finland. What I do know is that when I hit college, folks looked at me a little more strangely when I proudly pronounced I was born on St. Urho’s Day. And, while working in a television newsroom, I was told to attempt tracking down the creator of the holiday for a spoof package we wanted to produce. After looking at my boss with a look of bewilderment, he said to me, “you know it isn’t real, right?” “Of course,” I replied, feeling my nose grow as I spoke.

Today, I accept that perhaps I don’t share my birthday with a national holiday in Finland. But, I take pride in knowing my special day will always involve the Miss Helmi crowning in Finland, Minnesota where local men showcase the best in women’s clothing. I’ve only been to the festival once, and that was to see an unusual parade full of purple and green (the official St. Urho’s Day Colors)… I guess it’d be best described as a mini Northwoods version of Mardi Gras, only rated G for grasshoppers. Plus, it feels good to one up the Irish and their snakes.

So, to my fellow Finlander friends, Happy St. Urho’s Day and Happy Birthday to me!

P.S For those wanting to take a snapshot of St. Urho, head to Menahga, Minnesota where a 12-foot statue of the infamous Saint sits…

Start Your Year at Blu!

Blu Ice Bar at Grand Superior Lodge near Two Harbors, MN.

Winter has a way of getting on my nerves. Long. Cold. At times boring, especially since I don’t excel at winter adventures. Luckily, I’m not alone. And towns and businesses all over the place are trying to keep things interesting in hopes folks like me will suck it up, bundle up, venture out and spend money and maybe even have some fun along the way.

Blu at the Grand Superior Lodge in Two Harbors was the first of ice bars that are popping up all over the northland. I had the joy of visiting it back in 2011. Two thumbs up to fun staff, creative drinks (and old-time favorites for the hubby), gorgeous artwork carved within the ice, and of course, my favorite color–Blue! I must admit, once you drink a couple of shots and sit on an icy bench, there aren’t too many reasons to linger around. That said, it got me out and was a great excuse to stay on the North Shore for a night. Even on the coldest of days, Lake Superior is still a beauty to look at!

Ice bar near Two Harbors, Minnesota.
Ice bar near Two Harbors, Minnesota.
Bartenders works his magic at Blu Ice Bar near Two Harbors, Minnesota.
Bartenders works his magic at Blu Ice Bar near Two Harbors, Minnesota.

Blu bar isn’t the only spot where you can get an icy cold beverage along the North Shore this winter. In Duluth, Little Angie’s is jumping on the ice bar bandwagon and upping the ante with a fire and ice theme. While I haven’t been in the bar, I’m a huge fan of their food so I imagine I’ll be having a drink or two there as well this winter.

Bucketlist and an unusual but special tree

This past fall I had the opportunity to check another item off of my bucket list. For years, I have wanted to visit the Witch Tree. The tree, which is also called Manidoo-giizhikens, or Little Cedar Tree, is located near the Canadian border.

The area where the tree sits was once open to visitors, allowing for what is potentially the most photographed tree along Minnesota’s North Shore. I first learned of the tree after seeing photos of it by Travis Novitsky.

There was something impressive and humbling about the twisted trunk embedded in an exposed rocky shoreline subjected to the gales of Lake Superior that intrigued me. After doing some homework, I learned that the tree was first written about back in 1731 by French explorer Sieur de la Verendryne. While not a history buff, this little snippet of the tree’s past made me want to photograph it even more.

Unfortunately, not everyone respects nature. Due to vandalism issues, the tree is now on tribal land and is off limits to visitors unless accompanied by a local Ojibwe band member. However, I discovered on a warm Friday morning this past fall, they are quite accommodating and willing to take you out there to photograph the tree and share the historical significance of this tree. For that I am thankful.

The trail is short and unmarked. Due to the rockiness of the area and the fact that it is sacred land, one cannot get up close to the tree from land. Thus, while I have checked one item off my bucket list, I’ve added another: seeing the Witch Tree from water.

Eyebrows + Potty Talk + High School Yearbooks = Transformative Weekend?

My last post I mentioned being the lucky winner of a 250-word essay contest for an all-inclusive Girl’s Gone North weekend. The weekend was focused around women reconnecting with friends and finding their inner cool factor without the added stress of men being around.

My weekend ultimately involved throwing a group of women together who sort of knew each other. For 40 hours we drank steadily while sharing totally inappropriate but hilarious fun facts about the skeletons in our closet, laughing to the wee hours of the morning and then repeating. Dinner conversations were as intense as who could shout “Penis” loudest in a crowded restaurant. Yearbooks of our past fed plenty of on-going conversation about the good old days. Ambitious morning work-outs involved lifting our coffee cups and eventually a few stragglers making their way to a morning yoga class or the fitness center, followed by some relaxing by the fireplace we never quite could get going. It turns out our rustic, outdoor survival skills have long since disappeared. But, these skills have been replaced with more important skills such as opening boxed wine (tell me again, just how many degrees does it take to open a box?) and a palette so complex Almond Champagne compliments dark chocolate and Doritos.

I had a brief respite during a two-hour session by the Minnesota Monthly team makeover for a friend and I. My ultimate goal was to walk away with eyebrows. This probably seems like a simple request. But, as a life-long blond with a few colorless pieces of hair approximately in the spot of brows, this was important to me. Make-up artist Ashley Kilcher from Roe Wolfe made it happen. And, more importantly, this morning in mere seconds, I was able to replicate the easy maneuver. As for the wardrobe, I pushed myself enough to know what doesn’t work and am grateful that few photos were taken and none would be shared. The experience confirmed that I’ll never be a fashion queen. But, I think I can achieve a Polished Tomboy look, complete with a new hairdo from Justine from Root, that will take me far in North Woods Wisconsin and be true to who I am on the inside.

I’m not sure if this equates transformation. But, in some respects I think the experiences encountered this weekend trump that. At the keynote presentation Saturday afternoon, Lori started off by asking the question, what if you realized that what you had to offer the world was good enough. That if in fact, you as a person, was enough. It stuck with me. In part because everyday, especially as a female, I am reminded of my inadequacies. The pressure to make more money, find balance, be happy (what does that even mean?!?!), lose weight, grow professionally, all while being the perfect wife, procreating and being an engaged citizen in my community. Because, according to these messages, it is the only way I’ll be a full, realized human being. Let’s be real. It isn’t going to happen.

Instead, this weekend the sexy six on Friday night and fabulous five on Saturday night celebrated our flaws. We wore sweatpants and ordered French fries with dinner. We exposed our past, laughed about our insecurities and faced up to some of the difficulties we’ve encountered or are encountering in life. We also celebrated our successes. And, at the end of the day, flaws and all, we came to the undeniable reality that we are in fact not only good enough, but frankly awesome.

I’ve been betrayed, let down and disappointed by more people in my life than I care to mention. But, the women this weekend reminded me that occasionally in life, your path intersects with amazing people. People you can count on. Trust. Share your life with and most importantly, not be judged.

I didn’t need to win a contest to know how blessed I am to have such amazing women in my life. But, I’m glad I won. And, I hope this brief check-out of our daily lives reminded them not only how amazing they are, but how thankful I am that they’ve come into my life. So today, I am grateful for them and Bluefin Bay for making this Girls Gone North weekend happen.

Girls Gone North – Fabulous Five. (No pics of the sexy six were taken because true friends don’t post pics of their gal pals in sweats).

Raise a Glass or Two…

This weekend I’m heading up north for a weekend of girl time and inspiration. The weekend came together quite suddenly after I discovered I won a writing contest about why my girlfriends and I deserve a weekend away at Bluefin Bay Resort.

When I first started to craft my 250 words about why my friends and I deserved a weekend away, I honed in on some of the struggles I have encountered the past year. Topping the list—my failed adoption of course. But, after reading it back to myself, it didn’t ring true. To be honest, while I’ve had a few major downs this year, I am extremely blessed.

With the clock ticking away, I quickly changed my appeal to something a bit more authentic. It wasn’t nearly as dramatic but it was honest. I am blessed to have some amazing friends in my life. You know the kind I’m talking about—the kind that stick around when things get tough and never fail to inspire you to be a better person. I regularly find myself looking to them and going, wow.

The 5 gals accompanying me this weekend have all played a role this past year in making me a better person. Whether it was inspiring me to lose weight and start running, recalibrating my priorities, or pushing myself professionally and personally, much of who I am in this moment of my life I owe to them.

This weekend, we’re leaving the boys and worries behind to just be girls. Drinks, laughs, great food, inspiration, fresh-air, yoga, some time unplugged and hopefully a few good sunrise pics I can post here. Last but not least, a makeover by Minnesota Monthly for my one of my gal pals and I.

The weekend should be a brief respite from the hectic world that surrounds us. I’m excited that Bluefin Bay recognized how amazing these women are in a mere 250 words. And, I could not be more blessed to have them be a part of my life!

The Hike

(I first wrote this a year ago while hiking near Bean and Bear Lake near Silver Bay, MN. But, on this blustery fall day, I cannot help but share again.)

The anticipation was killing me. For months, I had patiently watched the calendar waiting for that brief moment in northern Minnesota where fall comes to life in a vivid, rainbow of colors. As the calendar ticked down to my day off, the gobs of storm clouds grew larger than life. Soon, warnings were out, communities in southern Minnesota were flooding, and the sky was black. For most, this would not be the ideal hiking conditions. Add to this, my husband’s stern warning that should I destroy my new Canon 5D by hauling it through the rain I was not getting a new one. Together, this should have been enough to hold me back. But, the stubborn Fin in me refused to back down. Mother Nature doesn’t wait for the skies to clear. Plus, a gray, rainy day means solitude, right?

The morning goes smoothly. A gorgeous drive along Heartbreak Ridge, accompanied with a perfectly brewed latte and Blueberry Scone from the Coho Café. And then, a quick glance at the map in the trailhead parking lot.

My hike starts out simple enough. Up and down, round the colored bend. Within minutes my underused hiking boots are covered in mud. I look up only to be blinded by needlelike mist piercing my face. Soon, the up and down just become up. Having glanced at the topography map prior to jumping on the trail to Bean and Bear Lake near Silver Bay, Minnesota, I knew what I was in store for. But, the lines always seem a lot less intimidating from the comforts of my car.

One hour, two hours, mist evolving into a steady rainfall, muddy trails transitioning into trails underwater… I’m starting to have second thoughts. Seriously Mother Nature, logic says as you climb higher, the drier the trail should be, right? Soon, the only break in the squishing of my boots is me cursing under my breath as the wind whistles by my face. Having chosen to do this hike solo, I have nobody to blame but myself. What am I thinking?

And, just as the gas in my tank was running out I have one of those moments. You know the ones I’m talking about. The ones where you are huffing and puffing, trying to catch your breath, and then you look up and for just a moment, the entire world stands still. Suddenly, everything is put in perspective. Suddenly, I realize how small I am in the grand scheme of things. And, looking out over the vast, untouched countryside, I can’t help but be in awe of how fortunate I am to experience this beauty—even if it is just for a moment. The moment isn’t perfect. The sky is far from blue and the fog removes the crisp color I had planned on seeing. But, in this haze everything in life seems clearer. One foot in front of the other, and eventually you reach your summit. Is it exactly what I had expected? Absolutely not. It is better. The hike down doesn’t seem nearly as bad.

I am 99.9999% sure I will not climb Mount Everest, hike the Poles, or save Polar Bears. It is unlikely my experience on this day will have any impact on anything other than my knees and my poor husband listening to my pathetic whining when the Ibuprofen wore off. But at this moment, nobody can take this beauty away from me.

Fall is an extremely busy time of year. The commitments are endless. But, we live in this place for a reason. Find time to take advantage of it. The past few years, I’ve stumbled across multiple reports about a decline in young people connecting with the outdoors. A Minnesota State Park survey shows the median age of users is on the rise faster than the median age of the state. The Department of Natural Resource conducted focus groups only to find that young people have their lives just too planned out to find time for visiting State Parks. Hunters, anglers and wildlife watchers are aging. And, some speculate that there is some correlation that this decline is loosely connected to the growing popularity and reliance on technology.

Today, I challenge you to prove “some” wrong and get outside. It doesn’t have to be a four-hour hike in the rain. It can be as simple as turning off your Blackberry, lacing up your tennis shoes and taking a stroll through the park. At the end of the day, life’s commitments will still be there, but perhaps you’ll be able to tackle the day-to-day with a clarity that can only be found in a hazy fall day where heaven and earth intersect in a grandiose view of what matters in life.

Gunflint Trail and Honeymoon Bluff

North Shore versus South Shore. During fall, I struggle with where to split my time. Generally, the quieter crowds and brighter colors of northwest Wisconsin win… But this year, I decided to give the North Shore a bit of my time. Rather than hike the overpopulated Oberg Loop or worse yet, Gooseberry Falls, we headed up the Gunflint Trail. Well worth the trip. Priceless views and plenty of open space to hike. Come sunset, we headed to Honeymoon Bluff. Two thumbs up and a photo to boot.

Gunflint Trail

An online trail guide I occasionally reference urged folks to go during fall. The truth is, this spot would be pretty spectacular year-round. I’ll definitely be returning, in part because of the awesome spot for dinner just a few miles down the road.

Too many trails to talk about tonight but expect some more posts about a few other gems in upcoming weeks.

Homeward Bound

A room next to the highway makes for an unpleasant sleeping experience. On the flip side, it does mean we’re up and moving at an early hour. I’m feeling mixed about our final day. On the one hand, I’m anxious to see our pets and dive into my gardening that is getting a late start due to our vacation. On the other, the thought of returning to the daily grind and all that comes with it seems jarring compared the quiet days of reflection, contemplation and enjoyment we’re experiencing.

Our final day involves driving from Thunder Bay to Iron River. Along the way, three stops. The first is Kakabeka Falls. Steve rolls his eyes at the thought of another waterfall. This one does not disappoint, though. The falls drops about 130 feet, giving it the nickname “the Niagara of the North.”


We follow-up this stop with a very Wisconsinite thing—we visit Ontario’s only gouda farm. Thunder Oak Farm features more than a dozen types of gouda; many of which we taste test after watching a brief video and seeing some of the cheese making in action. The cheese curds are particularly delish. At less than 24 hours old, the expected squeak in our mouth is refreshing and fun. We do not leave Thunder Oak Farm empty handed. From here, we make our way to the border. Once again, we experience an unexpectedly and welcomingly easy crossing of the border.

Within minutes, we are parking at Grand Portage State Park. Steve and I have traveled the North Shore countless times. But, none of our journeys “up north” have made it to the high falls at Grand Portage State Park. The high falls, which are located on the Pigeon River and plummet about 120 feet, are the largest in Minnesota. We spend a few minutes watching the river cascade over the rocky canyon and make its way towards Lake Superior. As a kid, I spent a lot of time in school learning about the countless streams that have carved their way through layers of rock to find their way home to Gitchee Gummee. Today, watching the river in action, it helps me realize why I’m so strongly drawn to this region and why I’ll always consider the Lake Superior Basin my home. The clock is ticking. Steve is getting anxious. It is time. Stealing a kiss by the falls and snapping some final waterfall shots, I realize this is the perfect high note to end our trip around the big lake.