Minnesota Dreaming

This is where I live now rendered as a watercolor (Lawrence, KS)

This last Friday I left Lawrence, Kansas and drove up to Minnesota. My wife’s father and stepmother had recently purchased a cabin, and they wanted to have us up to see it before closing it down for the winter. Then, on the way back south, we stopped at my wife’s mother and stepfather’s house to celebrate my mother-in-law’s birthday. I don’t often get to indulge in Minnesota-ness, but this five day trip was pretty packed–lakes, Scandinavia history, junk food, and beer.

The ‘cabin’ was about 2.5-3 hours north of the Twin Cities. I hesitate to call it a cabin because it wasn’t, it was a small vacation house by a small lake. This pair of in-laws had just paid off their mortgage and were looking to find a kind of retirement abode. They chose well.

A view from South Turtle Lake in the late afternoon with a day moon in the sky

I’ve never really been to this part of Minnesota. Although I have been to its Wisconsin equivalent, this was just better. It took all day to drive from Lawrence to Otter Tail County (fer serious, that’s its name), but it was pleasant enough. We got to see some nice foliage once we got into Minnesota proper and there’s just something about these “lost Swede towns” as F. Scott Fitzgerald once called them.

The wife & I pose next to the iron otter statue of Otter Tail County

First off, they are never Swedish towns, they’re always Norwegian towns. How do you know? By the churches. The nearly always Lutheran churches that still bear stolid Norwegian names: Sverdrup, Tordenskjold, and, my favorite, Tingvold. The nearest ‘town’ to this cabin barely has 300 people yet has two Lutheran churches in it as well as a Unitarian-Universalist church. It’s ridiculous to my mind. These Lutheran churches are the Starbucks of the nonsecular world.

Still, you have to love saying the names…Tingvold…

Our first day involved a bit of a hike, as we went to visit a nearby state park.


My wife, while a Minnesota girl, has completely lost her cold weather endurance. It was chilly but that kind of ordinary Autumn chilly. A short half hour march up a hill gave us a great view of the surrounding lakes and the foliage. Certainly well worth the effort.

Wind lead to some over-bundling

We ended up fishing. Fishing in October is a chilly affair, and I had serious doubts that it was going to be worthwhile. To my surprise, I caught a rather nice fish–a 14-15 inch bass that weighed between 1.5-2 pounds. It was damn fun to catch, and once we did, we wrapped up the excursion and went to go eat. I’m not really much for the outdoors; I’ve gotten lucky these two trips into the farther north of Minnesota. When you take a very laid back view of fishing, it can be really satisfying. 

My bass that set the ‘cabin fish record’…
…breaking my wife’s uncle’s previous ‘cabin fish record’ 


Then getting to watch some Minnesota United was also a bit of a boon. The Loons were able to heap another loss on the tanned-ass southerners of the Atlanta Silverbacks. The match was in Blaine, I couldn’t help but wish we could’ve been there. My hopes are that we can score some playoff tickets and make the trek come November.

Turned a cellphone into a hotspot and streamed the Minnesota United match via the NASL homepage

So, by the time we left on Monday morning, we had already packed a good deal of stuff into the trip. However, we were only halfway done as we drove down to the Twin Cities to visit my mother-in-law. On Tuesday, we ended up having a day out in Minneapolis. A self-guided tour of the mansion connected to the American Swedish Institute (I did not know this was a thing) turned out to be pretty damn enjoyable.


The mansion is amazing. During our visit, there was a display of Finnish folk rugs. That’s right, rugs. They were hung up, draped all over the place. It was an odd mix to tour the rooms of the mansion (which had some gloriously tacky fireplaces and some rather pleasing hand-carved woodwork) with these rugs all over. Instead of saying ‘these rugs’ I should use the correct term–ryijy. I can’t say the proper word though, because I can’t speak Finnish without sounding like an imbecile. There was also a couple of rooms devoted to contemporary Norwegian art, which completed the Scandinavian ‘big three.’

Ryijy, or Finnish folk art rugs
Swedish stone fireplace 
“The Constitution of Love” by Ian Ward Garlant

When we finally finished out tour, a brief stop-over in the gift shop revealed a huge collection of Swedish mystery and thriller novels and several literary works by other Scandinavians. I found a couple of books by Danes and more than a few by Estonians and Latvians (who are technically Baltic, but whatevs, they’re viking-esque). 

My favorite bit of the mansion was this stained glass window that lead to the solarium

This lead us to a more contemporary Minnesota experience. The search for a particular kind of bar burger, the Juicy Lucy. Or, in our case, the Jucy Lucy. Apparently, there are are two competing places that lay claim to the original or proper Ju(i)cy Lucy, which is just a cheeseburger with the cheese cooked inside the patty. 

We chose Matt’s Bar & the Jucy Lucy. And we chose wisely.

I like dive bars, I like burgers, and I like bitter beer 

After an afternoon of culture, this was an excellent balance. We made our way home and closed out the evening eating Bugles filled with EZ-Cheez while watching streaming movies. A fairly solid way to keep it classy.

A Bugle/EZ Cheez ‘ice cream cone’ 

Wednesday was an all day drive back to Lawrence. Uneventful, but I did have the presence of mind to stowaway two four-packs of my favorite beer. Surly Brewing hasn’t made it out of Minnesota yet, but I adore their brews. Specifically, I love Surly Furious. So coming home and unpacking was a pleasant thing to do because I got to unpack these:


All in all, a fairly pleasant time. But I find myself missing the Twin Cities. We’re desperately hoping to move back there soon, but everything circles around employment. I’ve been looking for work for four years now and have had no luck (a nearly forty year old sans job is unlikely to find a job). Too often I find myself muttering bits from Kids in the Hall: 

But my wife is actually brilliant. She’s floated the distant possibility of filling in for a year at her alma mater, Macalester College in St. Paul, after her postdoc here at Kansas University ends. The dream would be for her to get a permanent job there (or at any of the Twin Cities small colleges) and for me to somehow con Minnesota United into hiring me as one of their team writers.

Ah, Minnesota dreaming…




2 thoughts on “Minnesota Dreaming

  1. Next time if you’re around Duluth go to the Anchor Bar. Amazing burgers just over the bridge (the only reason to go to Superior, WI, other than Sunday when you can’t buy beer in MN.)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s