This year, even more than ever, we are in need of finding the magic of the holidays … that magic that helps bridge divides, smooths strained relations, allows people to set aside differences to share in the beauty of the season.
Even without snow on the ground, and the second warmest November on record, Duluth’s Bentleyville is just the place to go to kindle the often-nostalgic feelings that accompany the December holiday season.
Whether you are 2, or 20, or 20 times 4, joy fills the air as you walk through the arches of light, as Christmas classics play over the speakers. Donations and sponsorships support the free cookies, popcorn, hot cocoa, and fire pits for roasting marshmallows! People from all walks of life come together to watch the lights dance on the 128 foot tall Christmas tree, wait patiently to talk to Santa or Mrs. Claus, or pause for one of the many photo ops.
The year-round evening illumination of Duluth’s lift bridge glows across the bay, taking a back seat to this seasonal festival of lights.
The meandering lit paths give many opportunities to reflect and be grateful — whether wandering with friends, with family, or taking time for solitary reflection. Give thanks for good health, for a roof over our heads, for love, for community. Bentleyville gives a nod to our troops, as well, with Duluth’s own 148th Fighter Wing garnering a special spot in the display.
If only for an evening, let the “Tour of Lights” push the stress and anxiety of the world’s issues to the side … Embrace the magic of the season.
That red-letter day is almost here – our annual trip to the Minnesota State Fair!
I have written before of my love for the Great Minnesota Get-Together, in my post “One in 164,694 (People): A Day at the Minnesota State Fair.” As my boys became teens, and now with one now in college and the other poised to leave the nest next year, I have treasured this tradition of quality mother-son time that is often hard to come by! Recognizing that we may not have the chance to keep up our tradition attending together every year as they pursue their studies and whatever life holds for them beyond, we make sure to maximize our visits to the Fair — the food, the bargains, the exhibits …. you can’t see it all, but you sure can try. How do you pack it all in? Follow me, friend.
1. Do Your Homework.
The Minnesota State Fair website is your go-to resource for daily event schedules, entertainment options, logistics, and more. We map out exhibits and any special music or culutural shows we want to watch, in addition to annual standards. Key sections of the website to check out?
Blue Ribbon Bargain Book ~ scout out coupons and deals to use and then buy your book at the Fair if you missed a pre-Fair sale opportunity
Download the free Minnesota State Fair mobile app. You can flag the food, merchandise and fun things you want to do while at the Fair, and then scroll through the list of marked items while at the Fair. The app’s map feature is particularly useful at the Fair, as it has a feature that allows you to follow the blinking blue dot marking your location to the food, merchandise or fun items on your list. And if you are craving a certain food item at some point during the day, pull up the app, and use the proximity-based search tool to view the options near you.
The Minneapolis Star Tribune publishes a guide to the Minnesota State Fair the Sunday before it opens. Then once the Fair opens, the newspaper has helpful and entertaining updates in their Minneapolis Star Tribune online edition. Rick Nelson, the Star Tribune’s restaurant critic, is always spot-on with his food recommendations (on Twitter @RickNelsonStrib).
Parking on the fairgrounds can be a reasonable option if you arrive early in the day and are willing to pay $13.00. The convenient and free options at any time of day, however, are the Park & Ride lots. Park your car in one of the many lots scattered around the Twin Cities and hop a shuttle bus to the Fair. Some lots are popular and may fill by noon on busier days, but a short distance away you are likely to find an alternate option. Buses run from 8:00 a.m. to midnight.
3. Support the MN State Fair Foundation and Enjoy a Cool Drink, Air Conditioning, and Clean, Uncrowded Bathrooms!
Supporting the Minnesota State Fair with a donation to the Minnesota State Fair Foundation provides multiple benefits — not the least of which is helping to perpetuate the Great Minnesota Get-Together! Become a “Friend of the Fair” and stop by the Foundation’s J.V. Bailey House when you arrive at the Fair to pick up your Blue Ribbon Bargain Book, calendar, supporter ribbon (contribution level may determine eligibility for different Fair gifts), and enjoy the old-fashioned setting and hospitality of the old groundskeeper’s house. Contributions made after early August will go toward the following year’s Fair, so make your donation now and look forward to that clean, uncrowded bathroom option next year.
4. Don’t Miss the Crop Art.
Creative Crop Art
Crop Art Music
Crop Art Fairy Tales
Crop Art Gallery
Crop art can be found in the Agriculture Horticulture Building, as can the display of fantastical scarecrows. What is crop art?! I provided some background information on this fascinating creative display in this earlier post.
5. Pet a Piglet.
While the avian flu concerns have emptied the poultry barns of the noisy array of chickens and roosters this year, the animal barns still have plenty to keep you entertained. Baby farm animals have that universal “aawwwwww” factor, and the Miracle of Birth Center is aptly named. Seeing a newborn lamb or piglet always invokes a sense of wonder.
6. Prioritize Your Food List — You Can Try, But You Simply Can’t Eat It All.
Saving the best for last: At its heart, the Minnesota State Fair is all about the food! Any regular fairgoer has a list of food favorites, and everyone’s list is different. We have our favorites, but always try a few of the new foods for the year (see #1 above, with research resources for scouting new foods before you arrive). With our trip looming, here’s our food plan — the key is having several people to share some items, so you each get a taste without getting so full you can’t sample the next selection.
Fruit and whipped cream crepe from the French Creperie ~ we each get our own to kick off our day at the Fair, no matter what time our day starts.
Cheese curds ~ from the Original Cheese Curds
Corn Roast ~ roasted ears of corn dipped in a vat of butter, with big composting bins nearby to collect the cobs
Mediterranean lemonade smoothie at Holy Land Deli at the International Bazaar ~ THE most refreshing drink on a hot day!
A new favorite after the 2014 Fair? The Blue Barn’s Blue Cheese & Corn Fritz with Chimichurri Sauce and their Blueberry Basil Lemonade
We often share a shake from the Gopher Dairy Bar or a treat from the Dairy Goodness Bar in the Dairy Barn , after viewing the Princess Kay butter head carvings, of course!
And, finally, the new foods (either new to us or new to the Fair) we intend to add to the list this year!?
Butter Queen Coffee Ice Cream from the Hamline Dining Hall
Chocolate-Dipped Cherry on a Spoon from Jonny Pops
A Salad Named Soo at the Rabbit Hole in the Midtwn Global Market ~ a watermelon, basil, mint, and arugula salad with chili honey lime sauce
Maple Bacon Funnel Cake from Funnel Cakes
What are your Minnesota State Fair favorites? Share your tips and Fair traditions in the comments below.