Friday, May 28, 2010


I have two questions. 1) Why have I never heard of Duluth, Minnesota before before and 2) Why haven't my sisters and I been there on one of our sister's weekends?

After John and Lauryn's wedding in Ely, Minnesota Kate and I drove Rachel to the Duluth airport as it was the closest place for her to fly out of. Rachel had to get back to New Orleans and Kate and I had an extra day or so to explore Minnesota a state Kate had never been to before. Ordinarily Kate would have had something all planned but she had been busy with school and work. I'm not much of a planner, I feel if you over plan it destroys all the surprises. We had been impressed with the area on our way to Ely so decided to check out the city.

There are really two cities: Superior, Wisconsin, an industrial, working class city and then on the other side of the river Duluth, a college and tourist town. Someone at the wedding had described Duluth as Lawrence, Kansas meets San Francisco, California. I could understand the comparison.

Duluth is the western most city on the great lakes. It sits on the western edge of lake Superior the largest of the great lakes. We read somewhere that you can fit all the other great lakes in to Lake Superior plus a couple more Lake Eries. Duluth and the area around it is dedicated to the great out doors. "With rocky cliffs, pebble-strewn shores and miles of sandy beach, Duluth isn't what you'd expect in the heart of the country. Dozens of trout streams cut through the town's 100 parks and 105,000 acres of green space--more than any other U.S. city." From the Duluth brochure.

Duluth has a great water front with the Split Rock light house celebrating it's 100 year anniversary this year and the Aerial Lift Bridge, Duluth's most famous landmark. The bridge was originally built in 1910 and then upgraded to its present design in 1929. It takes two minutes to rise and goes up 25 to 30 times a day during the height of the shipping season. Because the bridge is so low to the water it has to be lifted for 1000 foot freighters as well as small sail boats. The bridge connects a 7 mile long strip of land to the mainland. About 6 of the miles is only accessible by foot. We unfortunately did not have to time to try a 12 mile trek.

Along the water is the lake trail that we did take. Because Duluth goes straight up form the water the trail is unmarred by commercial enterprises. But by walking up stairs at many points you can access shops and restaurants as well as the rose garden. The trail is 5.1 miles and is easy hiking. I'm not sure how much of it we walked that day but it was beautiful. There are a dozen other trails within the city to explore including the Superior Hiking Trail that is 29 miles long within the city with a total of 205 miles above the lake.

If you don't want to hike you can do as we did and drive the Skyline Parkway. We unfortunately were having trouble finding it and were running out of time so we only got to drive a small portion but the view was stunning. The whole drive is 25 miles.

Kate and I spent the greater part of two days in this wonderful town and only scratched a very small surface. I think it might take a month to see and do everything I wanted to. There are boat rides and train rides, and an aquarium. Although the town is active both in the winter and the summer I think I would prefer to stick to the summers. I'm definitely going back.

One more important fact. Duluth is the birthplace of Bob Dylan.

Monday, May 24, 2010


Last week I went to my nephew's wedding in Ely, Minnesota. Being a very small wedding I was the representative from the groom's mother's side of the family partly because I live the closest to Ely and partly because my daughter, Rachel was in the wedding party. She was a groom's man which tells you right away this was not a traditional wedding.

John and Lauryn exchanged vows and rings in the rain in a small clearing in the woods on the property of Lauryn's sister's house. The thirty guests stood in a semi-circle around the clearing. Lauryn's father performed the ceremony as well as catered the reception. The ceremony was beautiful, the light rain just adding to the magical atmosphere. The theme of the wedding was Alice in Wonderland complete with the white rabbit leading the way down the "aisle". The crochet match was rained out.

In thinking about weddings , I think about the importance of family. I feel sorry for those that don't have strong family bonds. Although I don't see my family (brothers and sisters, daughters) as often as I would like or even talk to them as often as I might, there is a bond so strong I can think of nothing that could break it.

I went to my writing group yesterday and we wrote about a sibling. I chose my oldest sister, Susan, to write about. In the fifteen minute timed writing I barely scratched the surface of our relationship. The thing I remember most about our childhood is the stories she would tell us at night, always leaving us with a cliff hanger. We would beg her to continue but she never would. Later I would find out that she needed the next day to work out the story for herself. A woman in my group said that while friends come and go family is always there. Susan seems to hang on to friends forever but I have not been so lucky, (though it probably has little to do with luck.) But I have my family.

Maintaining my new family seems to be a little harder. I find myself falling into the same pattern as with my brothers and sisters; not communicating with my kids as often as I would like. Kate is a little different because she lives close to me and we maintain a more frequent exchange of ideas. With Judy and Rachel it is hard not being in their everyday lives. I would love nothing more than if they would move to Chicago but alas, the winters (or maybe it's mom.) The key to raising happy children (and that is all we really want isn't it?) is to love them unconditionally (easier said than done) and remembering that they are not a reflection of ourselves. They are their own persons and what ever they decide to do (as long as it isn't becoming a serial killer) is O.K. As much as I complain about how critical my mother was, she never wrote us off when we took paths not to her liking.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010


I was introduced to kefir by Karen of Holes in My Jeans, a great blog that I follow. I thought it would be fun to grow healthy stuff in my kitchen and drink it. You can check out Karen's blog on Kefir for the many health benefits.

Karen said that she had gotten a teaspoon of kefir grains for 15 dollars. I got two tablespoons for 20 (including shipping.) The woman I got the kefir from lives in Ohio and also raises goats. (Karen raises goats.) She is a little odd in that she only accepts cash (doesn't believe in banks) and sends the stuff before she receives payment. She says that people who want kefir are generally honest people.

Kefir is basically fermented milk similar to yogurt but with more probiotic bacteria. Per Wikipedia kefir "originated with shepherds of the Caucasus region, who discovered that fresh milk carried in leather pouches would occasionally ferment into an effervescent beverage. It is prepared by inoculating cow, goat, or sheep's milk with kefir grains. Traditional kefir was made in skin bags that were hung near a doorway; the bag would be knocked by anyone passing through the doorway to help keep the milk and kefir grains well mixed"

The kefir grains look a bit like cauliflower. As the milk ferments it feeds the grains and they multiply. You reuse the grains over and over and give the extra to friends. If you use the real grains and not the commercial starter kits you never have to buy them again. Ever.

My instructions sounded a little different from Karen's perhaps due to a smaller amount of grains that she had received. She had to wait a few days for her Kefir. I put all of my grains in a glass jar and added 2 cups of milk. I covered the jar with a paper towel and left it at room temperature. By the end of 24 hours I was drinking kefir. The instructions say you go by taste and not by consistency. I strained the kefir milk after 24 hours and then put my kefir grains and more milk to a clean jar and started again. The problem is that the kefir grains multiply and I have yet to find anyone who wants to share in my good health or they would rather just buy the flavored drinks at the health food stores. (Here in Chicago ethnic stores also carry Kefir.) My Kefir is getting thicker and thicker. When I asked my supplier how I make just enough for me and not keep multiplying she said to simply eat the extra grains. I haven't done that yet.

The taste of the Kefir is somewhere between buttermilk and unflavored yogurt. The amount of grains and how long the milk ferments will determine whether the drink is mild or strong in flavor. Since I am not crazy about the taste I put mine in a blender with frozen fruit. I was using maple syrup, honey, or agave to sweeten in but have recently found that by just adding additional fresh or dried fruits such as apples, grapes or figs the drink is really sweet enough. I am getting use to the taste and actually drank 1/2 glass plain today. Not bad.

I like to make the kefir and then put it in the refrigerator for a day. It becomes cold and a little thicker. Great for the smoothies. What have I noticed so far health wise? Maybe its all in my head but I think I'm sleeping better. Or maybe it's the fermentation. I seem to be craving less sweets. I'm hoping it helps me live to be 100. Karen wants 125 but I will settle for 100. Oh and below you can see my before and after pictures. This is after just one week of Kefir.

The one on the left is the before, the one on the right is after. Pretty amazing huh?