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Como Park Zoo & Conservatory, Part II - St. Paul, MN

Dear Diary,
It was the final Minnesota Chill team practice before their departure to California.

With 2 hours at our disposal once we dropped off Landen, we ventured back to Como Park Zoo & Conservatory to check out the Sunken Garden.

(My tour guide was a little bossy.)

It is truly a site to behold.

The sunlight that poured through the glass was deceiving, especially as we viewed the brilliant pinks and Kelly greens. The outside temperature was a freezing 20* but inside, we were quite toasty at a humid 70*.

We were simply acclimating our Minnesota bodies to the warmth of San Diego we'll find ourselves in later this week.

I really liked the light fixtures that hung from the glass ceiling.

I'm certain however, if left to me, I would murder each of these plant species. I have zero skills in gardening.

But I am a champion in the appreciation of such natural beauty.

The Conservatory has been enjoyed by visitors since 1915. In fact, in June 1962 a severe hail storm damaged the building. Despite no human injuries, golf ball-sized hail stones crashed through and shattered half of the glass. Today, this story merely a testament that it is possible to rebound into something better than before.

It is a beautiful Victorian-era glasshouse that I am so privileged to tour with my children.

(Venus Flytraps) 

Related Post: Como Park Zoo & Conservatory

Back-40 Explorations: Strange Stones

Dear Diary,
Often when the kids and I go for walks out on the trails, I ask leading questions to ignite their imaginations.

What animal do you think visited and left these tracks?

What were they doing here?

And now, with the leaves gone, we are able to see into the wooded areas that were once previously concealed.

If you take the trail furthest to the right and walk up the small hill, you'll come upon a massive boulder with a vast grouping of large, smooth stones. They are isolated to this particular area only, which is peculiar.

(What if? Turn your logic off for a second, and just consider the possibilities.) 

Landen immediately connected this sight to an episode of The Curse of Oak Island, where the McGinnis Foundation was shown. The comparisons between what we saw on TV and at that moment were similar, and confounding.

"What do you think this is, Landen?"

"Maybe an old house?"

We live on one of the last underdeveloped areas of the Twin Cities Metro, so who knows what stories this patch of land could tell.

(This is the view from the top of our plat. Buck Hill is visible, as are the commercial 'for sale' signs trying to influence further development.)

By now, Madelyn lost interest and continued forward to wait by the 4-wheeler. Landen, however, crept into the thicket to photograph and film the discovery.

"Who could have lived here?"

"Maybe settlers. Maybe this was a trading post. Maybe there's treasure here!"

A few more clicks of his shutter, and Landen exited the brush.

"Could we go see Oak Island for ourselves?"

"I would be into that," I replied, remembering the passport applications I needed to finalize for the kids. "Perhaps we could make a long weekend out of it."


By this time, Madelyn had grown impatient and called for us to hurry up. Landen climbed onto the 4-wheeler and pulled it into the shop while Maddie and I walked back towards the house.

Landen was silent for a while when he came inside, and I have no doubt he was considering the possibilities of what could be.

I am too. Even if nothing were to ever become known, I hope we never lose our sense of wonder.

Barren Trails

Dear Diary,
When I first began to envision what my post-graduate, "grown up" life would look like, it did not appear in this format.

I thought for sure I'd find myself in New York City, living in an overpriced studio the size of a closet.

Never did I imagine I'd find myself here.

(Both Landen and Madelyn were driving and operating heavy machinery by age 4.) 

Here, is where we wound up after leaving my hometown in 2011.

I was drawn by the allure of starting fresh with a blank slate in a city few people knew our name.

And with relatives 6 hours away, we were completely reliant on only ourselves.

Even with the challenges this posed, I was excited to have full creative control over my life as my husband and I established it.

This is the culmination of a few job changes and career moves, one apartment, one flipped house for sale, and many conversations about what would best suit our lives, our marriage and how we're raising our two children.

This is Ground Zero for our dreams, goals and plans for the future.

This is the place we cannot wait to come home to after traveling, and now that we're settled, our itineraries have been filled with new zip codes to explore when the school calendar allows. There are plans to allow our passports to help raise Landen and Madelyn, to cash that cultural paycheck. We believe the direction that our role as parents is to TEACH and not DIRECT, as self-determination is a character trait I'd like for both of them to nurture.

(Helping Dad sweep up the leaves to be burned.) 

(He quickly mastered the manual transmission of the 4-wheeler, logging plenty of time on our trails.) 

 (Deer sighting ...)

(Further evidence of animal activity on the back-40) 

With the leaves fallen, our property is now quite barren. In fact, the cows on the farm next door are visible from the hilltop and they watch our every move. They're probably judging us.

The path you choose is either a blessing or a lesson, but I've found each step is worth it.

Exploring Concordia University - St. Paul, MN

Dear Diary,
This season, Landen's had the privilege of practicing in numerous stadiums on college campuses in the Twin Cities. I thought Hamline's stadium was impressive, and I appreciated Augsburg's location in downtown Minneapolis (still one of my favorite downtown scenes).

Concordia University is considered home base. Minnesota Chill is an 'all state' team, so college campuses are ideal gathering points for the teammates to practice.

One weekend morning, I dropped Landen off at the Sea Foam Dome and went for a walk. 

Landen prefers we find something else to do while he works with his team, though I'll be honest that I catch the last 10-15 minutes out of curiosity.

I'm a sucker for these ornate doors.

Concordia University was founded in 1893 as a men's-only learning environment guided by Christian values and faith. The Great Depression nearly caused the school to close its doors, but thankfully it survived. Today, it's a small liberal arts university with just over 4,000 students enrolled.

Having graduated from a liberal arts Christian university myself (though mine was Catholic as opposed to Concordia's Lutheran foundation), I felt a small sense of camaraderie as I strolled through the campus.

I just don't dare research how much private school tuition is these days.

F. Scott Fitzgerald Walking Tour - St. Paul, MN

Dear Diary,
Only recently have I become aware of F. Scott Fitzgerald's Minnesota connection.

Before the romance of the Jazz Age, the lavishness of "The Great Gatsby", and his time in Paris and Manhattan that preceded his untimely death at age 44, Fitzgerald was just a kid from the Midwest.

He was born and grew up in the Cathedral Hill neighborhood in St. Paul.

The unassuming townhouse at 481 Laurel, though now a private residence, holds the distinction as the birthplace of one of America's literary geniuses.

I had to settle for a walking tour of the sites since the interiors are not open for public tours. And since I alone carry an interest in this sort of history, I decided to see them for myself while Landen practiced with the Minnesota Chill.

Street and pedestrian traffic was at a minimum that Saturday morning, so thankfully I didn't have too many passer-by to question why I was photographing these town homes.

Just a few blocks from Fitzgerald's birthplace is 599 Summit, and probably one of the better known addresses in the author's story. He himself proclaimed the building to be "ugly", but it didn't prevent him from penning a few of his works from within its walls.

Personally, I was mesmerized by the charm of this "New York" style brownstone.

Summit Avenue holds the distinction of being one of the longest rows of historic Victorian-era homes in the country.

What struck me most, was the juxtaposition between the images conjured in my mind when Fitzgerald's name is spoken and the modesty of the neighborhood that formed and informed him.

At the time of his upbringing, this neighborhood was considered "working class." The homes were quaint, and he was exposed to class differences. Later in life, his works brought him the celebrity and extravagance of cocktails with Ernest Hemingway, but he never seemed to forget his roots.

Fitzgerald may have left St. Paul, but the city never left him. He references it time and time again in his novels.

It drove the point home for me - we're all just a kid from somewhere.