Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Getting Back To The Great Outdoors

Days are getting longer ... Temps are getting warmer ... Mosquitos are getting peskier ... And people are getting eager to launch a boat, cast a line, or just jump in a nearby lake. Summer has finally arrived in the Northland! While Covid-19 precautions and preparations delayed the start of the camping season, many fellow campers, like us, are ready to ...

Get Back To The Great Outdoors!

State, county, and city campgrounds are always a favorite destination for us. Thus, we needed to have some patience when these government-run parks delayed their opening in order to prepare their facilities. They want to be able to safely welcome back campers of all ages. In mid-May, Iowa opened their state parks, and we discovered some hidden gems that belong to our neighbors to the south. Iowa state parks are very reasonably priced (No entrance fee and just $16 a night for an electric site), have very clean and modern bathroom facilities, and are located near many beautiful natural areas.

These parks are typically very busy on the weekends, but we have found a plenitude of sites available mid-week. We were happy to be able to join fellow camping friends in celebrating the beginning of camping and campfire season at Clear Lake State Park.

While the lake looked a little more foggy than clear, and a warm jacket and even warmer campfire were still needed,

... it was still wonderful to get back to the great outdoors as we were surrounded by the aromatic fragrance of blooming lilacs!

Energized by our first camping experience of the season, we decided to check out a ''new-to-us'' Iowa state park the following week. Pikes Peak State Park is located about two hours south of Rochester on the bluffs overlooking the Mississippi River. Its name is a result of military explorer Zebulon Pike ''peaking'' around the area in 1805 in search of a good location to build a fort. 

The campground is surrounded by hiking trails that brought us to scenic vistas and waterfalls,

... past curious forest creatures,

... through serene woodlands,

... and close to birds singing and enjoying a sweet meal,

... as they too rejoice that the humans are getting back to the great outdoors and making sure that their bird feeders are kept full.

On June 1 we joined other campers in celebrating the opening of Minnesota's campgrounds for the season. We left our driveway hosts in Rochester for a couple days and headed out to Chester Woods County Park. Located 20 minutes east of Rochester, it is always great to be able to string up a hammock,

... check out the view of the dam,

... and enjoy the many wildflowers that line the creek and welcome us back to the great outdoors.

At the end of the first week of June, it was time to say goodbye to our hometown friends in Rochester. Wanting to visit Doug's family, we headed south and east to begin our loop around Lake Michigan. Along the way, we were able to enjoy another Iowa camping gem, Palisades-Kepler State Park.

Hiking through the woods, we came upon beautiful views of the Cedar River,

... that seemed to invite us to sit for a spell,

 ... and enjoy the chance to get back to the great outdoors once again. A gorgeous world awaits!

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Color Our World With Friendship and Justice

I love spring in Minnesota! The rain showers and warmer temps help the grass green up and the trees bud out. The geese around our lakes proudly strut around with their newest family members. And best of all, Mother Nature starts to color our world with her spectacular spring blossoms.

We had the pleasure of hanging out for the last few weeks in the driveways of various family members and friends while watching their gardens explode with colorful blossoms. Despite Covid keeping us from hanging out together like we have in the past, one thing still is certain ... 

Even six feet apart, we appreciated our friends reaching out to help us grow. 

From long walks and even longer talks,

to planting gardens and reminiscing ...

From birthday picnics,

to birthday breakfasts ...

From piano concerts,

to bike rides ...

Friends are the flowers that never fade!

Tragically, in the last few weeks, the pains of injustice were felt not far from us in Minneapolis. We were saddened to hear of the destruction that affected so many people and businesses, and we were concerned for our sons who live very close to the unrest. But we are also grateful to read the texts from our sons telling about how they and their neighbors of all races are working together to peacefully protest while helping one another clean up, protect, and strengthen their community.

''Justice will not be served until those who are unaffected are as outraged as those who are.''
Benjamin Franklin

''True peace is not merely the absence of tension: It is the presence of justice.''
Martin Luther King, Jr

As the states around us start to open up, we are thinking about our next move. We are intrigued with exploring the Western United States later this summer. Since Habitat for Humanity Care-a-Vanner builds are canceled through the summer, we would like to find some other way to help out others while exploring different parts of the country. 

We are headed out on a circle tour around Lake Michigan. Along the way we plan to visit family and assist them with home ''fix-it'' projects. We hope that we can return some of the kindness that so many people have shown to us when they open up their driveways and homes to us. We are grateful for those who color our world with their friendship,

... as we work together to brighten our world with justice for all.

Monday, May 18, 2020

We Interrupt This Pandemic to Bring You ... Bluebells!

Schools, churches, restaurants, and stores are closed. City streets appear empty during normal ''rush hours''. And who is that masked person who just waved to me from across the supermarket?? So many things around us have changed in the last few weeks. We may need to celebrate the month of May with socially distanced visits with family and friends, but there is definitely one benefit of being in Minnesota in early spring. We can still get up close and personal with the ...


Mertensia viginica or Virginia Bluebells make their brief but showy appearance in the woodland areas of southeastern Minnesota every year in the early part of May. They adorn our favorite bike paths and parks just before the trees start leafing out. Carpeting the forest floor, these tiny bell-shaped flowers provide a calming respite from the current craziness that surrounds us.

Two weeks ago my expert driver found a perfect parking spot close to Rochester's Mayowood Trail which is a popular bluebell viewing area. Parked on the side of the road, we enjoyed a number of afternoons at our peaceful lakeside hangout.

From our parking spot, we took a three mile hike that led us past the Mayowood Stone Barn, 

brought us through the woods on the gently winding Mayowood Trail,

and took us past the fairy house hidden in a old log.

Legend has it that fairies are attracted to the bluebells and build their homes in the midst of them. If they sense humans trampling on the delicate stems of their beloved flowers, they will be angered. Doug heeded the warning and stayed on the path. He has learned through the years that it is wise to keep fairies as well as his wife happy at all times ... and he has succeeded wonderfully!

''Happily'' celebrating our 35th wedding
anniversary among the bluebells!

To further promote harmony and peace, Doug suggested a day trip to nearby Carly State Park which is famous for its early spring bluebell displays. As we drove in, the picnic area was bustling with families out enjoying a beautiful spring day. We were a little concerned that proper social distancing would be a challenge along the narrow hiking paths. But as we ventured out on the trail we found only ...

a serene stream,

bountiful bluebells,

and a discerning deer who properly kept her six foot distance!

As we walked along the forested trails, I felt a sense of calm. For the first time in many weeks, our minds weren't working overtime trying to analyze the latest news stories. We weren't trying to figure out what our traveling lifestyle was going to look like this summer. We weren't concerned that a sneeze was anything more than a response to the pollinating flowers that surrounded us.

It felt good to interrupt this pandemic and find our happy place amidst the ...

... beauty of the bluebells!

As society slowly begins to open up, spend some time recharging your soul in the beauty that surrounds you!

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

April Showers Bring ... Decision Time

My Easter lily was not impressed. With seven inches of snow on Easter, the April ''showers'' here in Minnesota have been as strange as the everyday life that we are all currently experiencing. We are grateful that we have been able to hunker down in an apartment during the past month and develop a daily routine. This routine has helped us enjoy some normalcy when life around us is everything but normal.

The blanket of snow covered our world for a few days. But as the temps warmed up, we noticed the grass greening up under the melting snow ... as the most ''hardy'' of all Minnesota wildflowers made an appearance.

During our evening walks around Cascade Lake, we observed flocks of pelicans and a couple loons making an overnight stop on their way north. Who knew that this lake was as popular for the migrating wildlife as Walmart is for migrating van-dwellers like us??!!

As van-dwellers, we had hoped to be able take flight like these creatures and go where the wind might blow us. Covid-19 has changed that. ''Sheltering in place'' has given us plenty of time to discuss the current developments, think about our next move, and ask ourselves ...

What will the April showers bring??? 

Not just for us,
but for our family and friends,
for our community,
for our country,
and for our world.

Our answers showed up in the beauty of the new life that has started springing up around us ...

The sunshine, pleasant temps, and blooming beauty of the last week has us thinking that maybe, just maybe we can bring Baby Beest out of hibernation.  Time to de-winterize her and move back in! But where to go?? And what to do?? With campgrounds, restaurants, breweries, and local attractions still closed, our options are a bit limited at this point. We have decided to follow the example of the nature that surrounds us. Van life is all about flexibility. We can use this flexibility to ''fly where the wind takes us'' or ''bloom where we are planted''.

And right now it feels good to be ''planted'' in Minnesota for the time being while also being flexible enough to ''follow the wind'' if we are called to help out family or friends who may need us during this unpredictable time. Thanks to some dear friends, we have a driveway to hang out in and a shower to use while Minnesota continues with its ''shelter in place'' way of life for the next few weeks.

Yes, these are difficult times, but some things don't change.

April showers will still bring forth May flowers ...

... and we will be strengthened with the HOPE that life will be even better than before as we all work together to weather this storm!

Sporting our fancy Easter bonnets in a winter wonderland!