A Week-Long Alaskan Dream: Mosquito Cove Trail

We gathered in the hospitality room for Alaskan Dream Cruises in Sitka, Alaska, four couples from Michigan, New York City, Minnesota, and Australia. Introductions were made and we sized up our shipmates for the upcoming week. While the Misty Fjord finished its preparations for the Inside Passage cruise departure that afternoon, we were invited to join Alaskan Dream staff on a morning hike in the nearby Tongass National Forest.

The day before had been rainy and gray, so it seemed a good omen that the skies cleared and sun shone as we loaded into the van to hike the Mosquito Cove loop together. Making small talk and taking turns to point out interesting observations, we climbed timbered steps in the temperate rain forest, stepping carefully past piles of bear scat, while large slugs slowly made their way across the trail.

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We learned that only in the cleanest of atmospheres can a certain moss grow — usnea or “Old Man’s Beard” — a gossamer-like thread dancing in the slightest of breeze on the spruce and hemlock branches.  Old Man’s Beard reminded one of the delicate balance within Nature, and John Muir’s quote, “When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe.”

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We emerged from the deeply-shaded forest to a cove at low tide, greeted by a world that is revealed periodically as the water recedes: broken shells left behind by ravens and other creatures seeking morsels from within; tiny crabs scurrying under rocks; slow-moving snails carrying smaller travelers on their backs. A person could miss the sub-plots as the allure of the main landscape story drew the eye to the larger vistas across the bay.

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Mosquito Cove, Sitka, AK

Looping back to the trailhead, the clear blue skies yielded unobstructed views of the dormant volcano, Mt. Edgecumbe.

Mt. Edgecumbe, Sitka, AK

We walked the remaining trail back to the van, to return to Sitka before embarking on our cruise adventure later that afternoon.

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Conversation already flowed more freely, and a casual, comfortable vibe was established among our new travel companions after sharing the meditative beauty of the forest together.

~ Kat

Next post: Leaving Sitka on the Misty Fjord

 

Making the Most of the Minnesota State Fair

It is once again time for the Great Minnesota Get-Together. Twelve days of an almost-overwhelming array of food, art, music, gardens, animals, shopping, and people. What you need are Minnesota State Fair Tips (#MSFTips) to help you create a plan of attack to maximize the fun!

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  1. Let Someone Else Do the Driving.

With so many options for transportation to the fairgrounds, why hassle with driving yourself and hoping there is an open parking spot nearby?! Free Park & Ride, Express Bus service, Lyft … there are plenty of options for enjoying the ride and guaranteeing a short walk to one of the entrance gates.

Link to MN State Fair transit options, here.

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2. It’s All About the Food

Go hungry.   With 27 new foods for 2018 alone, and a growing list of favorites from prior years, planning to share is a great way to optimize the number of foods you have the chance to sample throughout the day.  The State Fair Food Finder will help you satisfy your craving! I will even give you a sneak preview of our food list to get you started (remember, pacing is important!):

New Foods to Try?

  • Earth Wings (deep-fried cauliflower with sesame BBQ sauce) from French Meadow Bakery
  • Firecracker Stuffed Shrimp Avocado from the Hideaway Speakeasy
  • Mangonada Shave Ice (from Minnesnowii Shave Ice) is on my son’s list, while Honey Cream Soda Float (from Minnesota Honey Producers) is on mine
  • Nordic Waffles (the Slammin’ Salmon-on-a-Stick variety, perhaps?)
  • Smoked Soft Serve Ice Cream (cold press coffee flavor) from Blue Moon Dine-In Theater
  • Wood-Grilled Elote from Tejas Express (my son added this one, while I will stick with the classic Roasted Corn instead — see “Old Favorites” below)

Old Favorites on the “Must Eat” List?

  • Fruit and whipped crème crepe from the French Creperie
  • Roasted Corn from the Corn Roast (because sitting on the curb next to dozens of your Minnesota friends chewing on a cob of corn before tossing it into the communal compost bin is a classic Fair experience)
  • Blue Barn’s Blue Cheese & Corn Fritters with Chimichurri Sauce and their Blueberry Basil Lemonade
  • Pronto Pup – I can’t leave the Fair without having the flour-battered, deep-fried hot dog on a stick, generously brushed with ketchup and mustard.
  • Chocolate-dipped frozen bananas (my boys always make sure to find space for one)
  • Mediterranean Lemonade at Holy Land Deli (in the Int’l  Bazaar) — when you are ready to melt from heat, humidity, and crowds …
  • Wine Slushie – another perfect refreshment for a hot day (at the French Creperie).
  • Cheese Curds from the Mouth Trap (in the Food Building)

While I love Sweet Martha’s cookies, they are best when fresh, so if you buy that overflowing bucket o’ cookies take a tip from the cookie veterans who bring a gallon-sized ziplock bag and put the cookies that don’t fit in the bucket into the bag, so they can put the lid on the bucket for the ride home!

And don’t forget to pick up a Blue Ribbon Bargain Book and help support the Minnesota State Fair Foundation with your $5.00 purchase.

3. See a Show, Watch the Animals, Learn Something New

Grab the daily schedule from one of the information booths after you arrive on the fairgrounds for the day, or scouting out the day’s events ahead of time, either on the website or through the mobile app.

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4. Remember: The Agriculture-Horticulture Building is more than Farms and Plants!

One of our favorite stops of the day is the crop art competition and display. Creativity, political themes, cultural icons … it’s all in the Ag-Hort Building!

Check out my Minnesota State Fair posts from prior years for additional photos, tips and links:

~ Kat

Morning Climb to Castelmola

We had arrived in Sicily the day before, traveling from the airport in Catania to our hotel in Taormina on a gloomy, rainy day. The next morning dawned clear, with temperatures already climbing toward 50ºF (which for these Minnesotans was akin to beach weather).

Mt. Etna from the Hotel Bel Soggiorno

We only planned for one night in Taormina, so we would not have time to exhaustively explore the area. But I was determined to make room in the schedule to see the mountaintop village of Castelmola. What better way to battle jet lag than by lacing up the running shoes for a morning run with my son …. winding our way through Taormina to reach the zig-zag path up the mountainside.

Climbing the stairs in Taormina

My much-speedier son bounded up the steps, and on to the path that led to Castelmola via the Madonna della Rocca. At one point, striped tape was tied across the stony steps. When I paused and questioned whether perhaps the path was washed out up ahead, my son cavalierly responded, “Looks like fake news to me.” And away he went … as I huffed and puffed behind him, trying to maintain some semblance of running form.

The Stairs to the Madonna Della Rocca church

Thankfully, there were many reasons to pause and take in the view of Taormina below, with the Ionian Sea beyond. Periodically along the path were sculptures depicting the Stations of the Cross, giving the rigorous morning outing a feeling of a pilgrimage, as well.

Stations of the Cross overlooking the Ionian Sea and TaorminaMadonna della Rocca high above Taormina

Upon reaching a plateau, the street sign reminded us that the climb to Castelmola was not over yet.

Road to Castelmola

The last stretch of the path sent my heart rate through the roof, as the incline seemingly never-ended, with the tease of the village straight above us.

Piazza Sant’ Antonio ~ Castelmola, Sicily

Our climb finally opened to the Piazza Sant’ Antonio with the charming Caffe’ Bar San Giorgio perched on the edge of village square.  The combination of jet lag and a challenging run/hike uphill left us parched, with the downhill journey back to the hotel  still ahead of us.

Caffe Bar San Giorgio in Castelmola

Thankfully, I had stuffed a 10 euro note in my jacket pocket, so we could take advantage of the picturesque cafe seating and a classic cappuccino, with a bottle of water to rehydrate for our downhill trip. We also ordered a freshly squeezed glass of orange juice, which ranks up there with the tastiest and most refreshing beverage ever! What we learned as the week went on, is that everywhere in Sicily the fresh-squeezed orange juice is spectacular  — a benefit of visiting during January, when the oranges are in season.

Mountaintop dining at Caffe Bar San Giorgio, Castelmola
Our eyes scream “jetlag” …. the view says, “no worries” ….

We entered the square in Castelmola and a rustic truck drove by with its loudspeaker calling out to the residents, announcing the arrival of fruits and vegetables for sale.

My son and I took a few minutes to wander the narrow, meandering paths of the village, still quiet as the day began.

Narrow alleys of Castelmola

Mt. Etna provided the postcard-worthy backdrop to Castelmola’s public library.

Castelmola's library with a view

Knowing my husband and younger son were waiting for us to join them for breakfast back in Taormina, we headed down again, refreshed and refueled after our mountaintop stop.

Descending from Castelmola

Completing our run with a circular route, we took the path off of Via Branco to Taormina.

Returning to Taormina from Castelmola on Via Branco

The village of Castelmola quickly receded from view, as we bounded downhill and wound our way along the narrow path leading to the touristed streets of Taormina. I encouraged my son to go on without me, since he had so patiently waited for me to catch up on several occasions on the first half of the trek, but he kindly hung with me as we finished what ended up being an almost 5-mile outing.

Mountaintop Castelmola viewed from Salita Branco

Oftentimes the best vacation memories are not the iconic sights, but instead the times when you soak up your surroundings without the fancy window dressings of a tour or excursion or timetable in hand. Do more than just visit a destination … enjoy the journey.

~ Kat

Preserving Moments, Part II (30 Days of Gratitude: Day 8)

On Day 6 of the 30 Days of Gratitude, I recalled fond vacation memories and spending time with family on St. John, USVI … years before the devastation of the Hurricane Irma ripped so much of the island to shreds two months ago. Before we even had time to fully comprehend the damage done by Irma, Hurricane Maria barreled through.

This time, Puerto Rico took the brunt of the storm’s wrath.  The post-hurricane images showed a land barren of green foliage, wiped clean by the powerful storm. Turning to the digital archives from 2014, I gratefully recalled the moments preserved by the camera as we explored that often-underappreciated isle.

The headlines are full these days, and we cannot forget about the people and places that need our help to restore even the most basic of services. News articles from the last day or two reveal the long road of recovery that Puerto Rico has ahead of it:

The animals of Puerto Rico are struggling, as well, with updates posted regularly on the Facebook pages of Save a Gato and Island Dog, two of the hard-working organizations collaborating with others to find displaced and stray companion animals loving homes, and caring for those left behind.

Many opportunities are available if you are interested and able to donate to relief and recovery efforts. There are many doing good work, but if you need a few ideas, we chose to direct our donations to these organizations:

Thoughts and prayers are great, but Puerto Rico, the USVI, and so many other regions which took the brunt of these monumental storms need action and money to help get them back on their feet again. Do what you can, even if it is only to spread the word to others about doing the same.

~ Kat

Preserving Moments, Part I (30 Days of Gratitude: Day 6)

Photography is amazing — it allows us to capture a moment in time to revisit again and again. Some of those moments are heartbreaking. We have seen its power during times of tragedy and disaster … too many times in the recent days and months.

Gratefully, photography also allows us to revisit happier times. Even as the video footage and still photos continue to document the unfathomable destruction that Hurricanes Irma and Maria wrought this fall, I was reminded of the beauty that filled many of these locales, that hopefully will return in full force again.

St. John, U.S.V.I. was one of the tiny islands gutted by Hurricane Irma. It still struggles to recover, as reflected by some of these recent news stories:

One of the local non-profits supporting post-hurricane recovery efforts in the U.S. Virgin Islands is the Community Foundation: http://www.cfvi.net/.  As described on the USVI Recovery website:

To help those affected by the hurricane, the Community Foundation of the Virgin Islands (CFVI) has established the Fund for the Virgin Islands.

100% of your donation will benefit those in crisis.

CFVI is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization that has been operating in the USVI for more than 25 years. It has supported past relief efforts in the region and is working closely with government and community providers to identify priorities and direct resources for immediate needs as well as long-term recovery efforts.

 

The USVI is just one of many areas still struggling to rebuild after the devastating natural disasters earlier this year. Consider supporting these regions’ recovery funds, as you are able.

~ Kat