North Shore Camping – Labor Day 2010


If scenery like this was just 3 hours away, wouldn’t you go? Especially if you had a great guide (aka my Mom)! This is Gooseberry Falls, just north of Duluth, Minn., where we camped over a long Labor Day weekend. It was a great wrapup to summer and made for glorious memories as our autumn school, sports, activities schedules began.

Best of all, we did have a great guide: My Mom has spent lots of time “up north” and added her joy, stories and beautiful view of nature to our trip.

Caroline and my Mom enjoying blueberry pancakes at our campsite

Pack the sweatshirts

It had been a sweltering summer, but we dug deep and added sweatshirts to our camper lockers since the forecast called for chilly days and nights on the North Shore. Is it ever warm up there?! … Actually it was a welcome change. 

Thursday evening, we made the easy drive to Cloquet while listening to the Twins game. (Again, my Mom is a big fan, too!) We camped at Cloquet’s KOA Kampground. It was fun to see the cute little town this time of year, since last time we were there, for Matt’s hockey tourney, it was the ice/snow/bitter chill of February. (sorry, the Cloquet rink still a dump)

As promised on our last trip, I got Greg a pull-through campsite, so even though it was getting dark, there was no swearing from the Mr.

Shoreline and ship wrecks

Friday morning, we indulged in a restaurant breakfast and followed the drizzle into Duluth. Lake Superior is fascinating to watch. It’s as if she has moods and a personality of her own. The kids were intrigued by the ships, water, shoreline, ship wrecks and so much more. Luckily my Mom the teacher answered all their questions with great stories.

First stop: Glensheen

The night before, we’d talked about the Congdon’s mansion. All the adults had toured it several times before, and the kids were curious about its size (15 bedrooms?!), gardens and of course the murder story.

Great tour: If you haven't done so, take it. If you have, I promise you'll notice something new.

It’s a beautifully preserved estate and a well-paced tour that really allows you to appreciate life back then. I imagined Christmas dinners and summer gatherings, quiet moments and lavish parties. We had a tiny tour group and good guide who even addressed the murder after the official tour ended.

Caroline, Julia, Matt - looking pretty comfy on the mansion grounds

Some of the kids’ impressions:

“Well that Clara Congdon sure got what she wanted.” — Julia

She was one innovative, particular woman (just like Julia, frankly) who used incredible materials and techniques throughout the home. My fav: The faucet in her breakfast room that fed directly from one of the streams because she’d heard that water was healthier for her indoor plants.

Glensheen Green Room (check out the priceless tile)

“This would be my room.” — Each of them at separate times

“Those are blood stains.” — Matt, on the front stair landing. He’s right, you know. I’d love to go back and see the ghosts of Elisabeth and Velma

The front staircase: notice the incredibly intricate carvings

“Well that lady wasn’t very nice to her mom.” — Caroline, upon hearing my simple version of the story of Elisabeth Congdon’s death

In my favorite area of the Congdon estate: the formal gardens; with my fav 12-yr-old

Up the Shore

We drove the scenic route north, along the ever-changing shoreline, contemplating teachers, friends and coaches who have run Grandma’s Marathon. We enjoyed Russ Kendall’s smoked whitefish and of course Betty’s Pies. A few of our other stops:

Climbing the rocks near the Two Harbors Lighthouse
Hiking around Gooseberry Falls

Artists in action

Photographer Julia gathered some images for my Mom to use in her latest venture: watercolor paintings, printed onto greeting cards and available here in her etsy shop. Shameless plug: Check out her dozens of gorgeous creations. One of these may soon be part of her collection:

“Goodnight, John Boy”

Back at camp Friday evening, we enjoyed a nice dinner. I tried a new salmon recipe and new arborio side dish. Mmmm. The kids tried out the pool (brrr!), playground and helped Mollie meet her four-legged neighbors. The game room had the NFL edition Monopoly game and we had fun playing like NFL owners while watching the Twins.

Back in our camper, we watched episodes of The Waltons from our dvd set. Always charming, with messages that transcend generations. Lately, Grandpa Walton’s wisdom resonates with me. Like when Grandma is complaining that Mary Ellen is forever primping in front of the mirror and he says, “Someday she’ll have her own mirror in her own house and you’ll wish she was back here.” Amen.

Shipping News

Friday, Greg cooked us a big breakfast and we went to Canal Park. I still get excited when the lift bridge operates and the barges are on the horizon. Some images of our day:

Captain Matt at the Museum

Lunch at Grandma's with Grandma (!) | When in Duluth with Grandma, really, where else can you go?
From the harbor rocks to the sandy shores of Minnesota Point
A boy and his dog
Grandma sorting agates from other "pretty rocks"
Our Julia (when did she change from a little girl splashing in the waves?)
Too much fresh air and Lake Superior water swimming
Hay rides and ice cream
Back at camp, we savored the late summer evening with a hayride and ice cream social.
The hayride was fun, including a mystery man who popped out of the woods and showered us with candy

Sunday morning, we were on our way back….home.

Visited the North Shore? I’d love to hear your memories and tips for our next trip up there. Feel free to leave a comment.

Camping With & Under Stars

On another trip to Baylor Regional Campground , we camped with some birthday stars, and had an up-close look at some real celestial stars thanks to a Star Party at the Onan Observatory, where real astrologers rolled out the big guns, er, telescopes for some amazing views!

Here’s a recap:

We arrived late Thursday evening and, amidst a little swearing by the Mr. of the family while backing in between two large trees in the dark, set up camp. (My only comment: “In Duluth next week, I reserved a pull-through site.) We were also the hors d’oeuvres, salad, main course, dessert and apéritif for all the mosquitoes in the entire county. Even Mollie was itching for a week!

Love, love

Baylor has great tennis courts. Cute of Julia and Matt to dress alike, just like I did to them when they were little, huh?

Sketching and stretching

We all relaxed all afternoon.

Julia, Caroline and I sketched some of nature’s beauty with our colored pencils.

Our treasured set from the MN Art Institute, with color names I wish I'd written, such as: Cardinal at 5am; Dew on June Second; September Serenade. Ahhhhh.

Nope, I’m not giving up my day job for artistry, but it was relaxing and fun to draw together.

"Campfire with Blue," by Caroline



Friday evening, Grandma Donna came out for dinner. To accompany our grilled chicken, I tried out a new recipe, Veggie Stuffed Portobello Mushrooms.

It was another way to use up the veggies from our flourishing garden at home. As usual, Matt’s chef side emerged. He was still in chef mode Saturday morning on our new griddle:

We again had a pet kitten at our campsite, little Caroline’s alter ego:

Birthday party x4!

August is a crazy month in many ways. In our family, as my dad describes it, “Of my 5 grandchildren, 4 have birthdays within 25 days.” That was nice of my brother and I, huh? We’ve come around to celebrating all their big days together, including:

Julia, turning 12; Allie, turning 8; Justin, turning 5; Caroline, turning 7.

Another thing about our families: My brother Dave is married to Greg’s cousin, Amy. <insert redneck jokes here> So we invite everyone and everyone knows each other: It makes for a lovely get-together, and this one was truly wonderful! I believe we had 26 people at our campsite on an absolutely perfect late summer day.

Incredible cake from the legendary Mackenthun's
Allison, Caroline (back), Julia, Justin and their spread of gifts from the most generous, loving grandparents, aunts and uncles!
My niece Allison (bonnet hand-crocheted by my mom-in-law)
My nephew Justin drops a line in the pond at our campsite. He had better luck at the lake, while...
...the birthday babes swam! (Julia, Allie, Caroline)

A new cousin

One more thing about our families. We’re dog people. My sister Kristina and her husband Eric recently had to send their beloved dog to heaven rather suddenly, and they are now proud (read: crazy) parents of a blue tick coonhound-mix puppy, Bowie. After he chewed his way through all the birthday kids fingers and toes, then rolled in a dead snake, we brought him to the beach. It was an interesting ride there:

Get a good look: If you live in MN, WI or ND and you’re missing a shoe, I bet Bowie just may have it.

Justin got new baseball socks! (He may not take them off until November.) That's my brother (in red) and dear dad behind him.
Caroline got another purse! (I believe this brings the collection to 165.) "But this one is REVERSIBLE!" oh.Justin got Legos and...
...he and Matt built it. Cool, boys.


Matt with Auntie Zoa, my 86-year-old great aunt whose grace and humor inspire us all. She is a Catholic Sister with a sharp wit.
Jules takes the lead on candle-blowing

Star Party

We braved the ravenous mosquitoes for time at the Onan Observatory. It was an incredible experience. If you’re into stars and space, planets and sunspots, I highly recommend these events, held periodically throughout the year. Some of our favorite moments:

"Mom, it's Venus and it's like RIGHT THERE BIG!"
Julia checks out the celestial views.
Sis Kris, the eternal avid learner and teacher, views Saturn. "Whoa, you can see the rings and everything!" She's right. THAT was amazing.

Lasting warmth

In the chill of winter, when the stars are blanketed by clouds, I know I’ll harken back to this perfect weekend with our loving families–our true stars.