Minnesota – land of corn and lakes!

CAMPGROUND:  Not a campground, but a beautiful lake-side home of a friend
LOCATION:   Battle Lake, Minnesota – in NW part of state
WEATHER:  Very pleasant.  High 80
DRIVE:  6 hours

A note to our Rochester friends…..we are sorry that we did not get together with many of you while we were there.  I was busy with Mayo Clinic appointments, then surgery.  (All went well!)  That plus Covid-19 did not make for many party get-togethers.  Next time we are through Rochester, we will be certain to reach out to good friends!

I went to Mayo Clinic for an early AM follow-up appointment this morning.  They do an excellent job screening for Covid 19.  I sure don’t know how Mike Pence didn’t know masks are required as these signs are everywhere, and you cannot even get into the door without lots of screening and without a mask on. 

Our route today took us from SE Minnesota to the NW part of the state.  We took secondary roads rather than taking the Interstate to avoid driving through Minneapolis and to stay away from big trucks and bumpy highways..The Interstates are in terrible condition.  We drove by field after field of tall corn.  I don’t think I have ever seen so much corn in my life!  Then, in the last hour of driving, we started seeing lake after lake – some of Minnesota’s 10,000 finest!

This part of the state is just beautiful.  My friend lives right on a lake.  After getting settled in on their driveway, we took a pontoon ride  (accompanied by a glass of wine) to look at the beautiful lake and the houses around it.

We saw some loons frolicking in the water.

In the evening, we drove into the town of Battle Lake and ate dinner in a really nice bistro.  We sat in their back patio area.  George and I shared a walleye taco (walleye is big here in northern Minnesota) and a salad.  Very nice

Joy was happy to be parked in their driveway, and we were happy to be with friends for a lovely visit.

Back to Rochester…

LOCATION: Bryon, Minnesota – a “suburb” of Rochester in SE part of state
CAMPGROUND:  Oxbow Park/Zollman Zoo.  It is a small (30-site) county park.  Nice gravel/paved sites with a stand-up firepit and picnic table.  Electricity at sites, and common area for water and dump station.  Very nice bathrooms.  Woodsy.  $30/night.  5 stars out of 5.  Only downside is zero cell service and TV.  No big deal. 
WEATHER:  Superb.  High 80.  Cool morning and evening
DRIVE:  1 hour

We hung out in Nelson in the morning, and I took another walk around town.  I watched a bunch of neighbors helping a guy build a garage.  Such a homey feel around here.   A corn-on-the-cob pick up truck set up shop next to the blueberry truck.  That was the biggest excitement I saw.

We took a very winding, hilly, and pretty route back to Rochester, stopping for a picnic lunch along the way.  We are seeing a lot of nature…..An entire family of raccoons ran into the road in front of us.  The 6 or so babies were so cute.  Thankfully, they scrambled back into the woods before we ran over them.  We also saw several sandhill cranes which are common in this area.  True confession:  I did not take this photo, but this is what they really do look like.

We thought we would check out this different campground for our Rochester visits.  We are only about 8 miles from town.  We really like it.  Quieter and cheaper than the commercial one in Rochester.  Next trip, we will probably stay here the whole time.  Our daughter Alexis and her boyfriend Graham came out to see us.  He is the one who designed our new Joy logo, and Alexis updated the blog with the new logo.  We told them how happy we are with the finished products.

We joined them for dinner back in Rochester at Twigs Restaurant.  They have an unusual, and delicious menu.  One of their popular items is a “hot rock” dinner.  You  choose some sort of meat (beef, chicken, seafood) and it comes raw with your choice of sauces.  They bring an extremely hot rock to the table and you “cook” your meat on the rock. 

DINNER:  We shared some veggie ravioli as an appetizer.  Graham ordered a delicious-looking onion burger.  Alexis had a Mexican “bowl” full of veg.  We shared a scallop “hot rock” dinner.  Besides the plump scallops, it came with onions and mushrooms to cook on the rock, and a side of asparagus mashed potatoes.   All was very tasty.

We stopped by their apartment on the way back to pick up some CSA (Community-Supported Agriculture farmshare from a nearby small farm) veg that they had for us.  Now our refrig is stuffed with cabbage, lettuce, peppers, peas, and onions.  Gotta get cookin’! 

It was a beautiful evening.  There are only about 5 RVs in the campground.  Several had campfires going.  This is why we prefer campgrounds over RV parks…

Enjoying Nelson, Wisconsin to its fullest! Uff-da!

LOCATION:  Nelson, Wisconsin
CAMPGROUND:  Nelson’s Landing RV Park
WEATHER:  “UFF-DA” – Quote from the weatherman when he predicted today’s 94 high temps.  We are definitely in Wisconsin!!!

I took a walk around sweet Nelson before it got too hot.  Population 350, it reminds me a bit of the town where I grew up.  It still has a 1950s feel.  As I walked around the residential section, I watched people tending their vegetable gardens (looking very healthy!) and saw youngsters riding their bikes around, accompanied by their mothers pushing baby strollers. 

Suddenly, a group of about 20 cars came up behind me, honking and waving their arms.  It was a rolling birthday party for someone down the street.  The cars were decorated with balloons and signs.  I waved at the cars; the people happily waved and tooted back, with grins from ear to ear on their faces.  It was so sweet!

I know the USA gets a bad rap for its Covid-19 behaviors.  However, so far on this trip, we have found people to be extremely compliant with mask-wearing, social-distancing, and staying outside.  Most restaurants only serve on outdoor patios.  We, along with 99% of others, wear masks.  This drive- by birthday party was another way to stay safe, while showing a lot of love. Even the animals in one of the town’s biker bars are compliant!

The town gets most of it revenue, I think, from tourists driving on the Great River Road, which goes right through town.  There are always a lot of  bikers drinking beer and/or munching on ice cream cones (sometimes both simultaneously!) 

And, in the winter, it is a popular snowmobile destination.

In addition to the 5 bars downtown along the highway, there are 2 fireworks shops and 2 liquor stores, especially convenient for the Minnesotans.  Up until recently, Minnesota liquor stores were closed on Sundays, so these places do a lot of business.

I spotted this pick-up downtown selling fresh blueberries and vegetables.  I picked up a pint of their freshly picked berries.

Lunch was a veggie pizza back at the Nelson Creamery.  This- our 3rd visit in 2 weeks- shows how much we like this place!  It was busy selling ice cream cones, but the bistro in the back was nice and quiet.

We took a road trip around Nelson to check out its other offerings.  We stopped by this very popular winery that looks like it belongs in Italy.   We did a wine-tasting, which was a nice experience, but the wine (expensive) wasn’t all that good.

Then, on to a fish farm.  It is stocked with trout and is a fun place to catch some fish.  Called “Eat My Fish”, they clean and cook the fish for you if you would like.  It is a Harvest Host site, and we saw one RV parked their for the night.

Then, on our way home, what do we spy but a microbrewery!  We split an IPA and listened to the band for a while.  All locals inside, enjoying the day in a converted machine shed.

For dinner, we drove about 3 miles to  Nelson Stone Barn Pizza.  It is an old barn whose stone walls have remained, without a roof.  Tables are dotted around the barn’s old walls and in the field.  The pizza, from their brick oven, is paper thin and super delicious. 

It was a lovely evening, sitting outside around a cornfield. 

BOOK: Since we were so busy, it is surprising that I was able to finish up another book —  “In a Dry Season” by Peter Robinson.  I’m  reading his entire series, about a detective in the North Yorkshire (England) Dales.  I like it mostly because of the memories we have of housesitting there. 

Joy on the Mississippi

LOCATION:  Nelson,  Wisconsin
CAMPGROUND:  Nelson’s Landing RV Park
WEATHER:  Another nice day.  High 83

Today’s adventures took us north on the Mississippi, about 25 miles to Red Wing (home of famous Red Wing shoes).  We passed through “popular” tourist attractions in a few tiny (population 67, 119) towns.  One town advertised a house you could visit where a boulder had fallen down on its roof.  Another town, Maidenrock, explained its name and history……A young Indian, daughter of Chief Red Wing of the Sioux tribe, was in love with a Chippewa brave. The families would not allow them to marry, so she jumped from one of the cliffs hovering above the Mississippi to her death. You can still see the barren cliffs.

This Great River Road, following the Mississippi from Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico, is a popular drive.  There are always a lot of motorcyclists roaring up and down the route. 

Our plan was to meet a friend whom I have known since grade school who lives outside of Minneapolis.  We met at the Red Wing Brewery for lunch….

Not an up-to-date photo?  That is what it used to look like, one of the historic buildings left in the city and where beer was actually brewed until Prohibition.  We had fantastic pizzas for lunch – ours had some Minnesota blue cheese on it – just spectacular!  It was good to chat with my friend Nancy.

Previously, we had placed an inexpensive Joy sign on the side of our Airstream, christening her with her new name.  It started disintegrating so we were looking for a more permanent replacement.  We just happened to see a sign shop next to the brewery/pizza restaurant.  We lucked out as the owner/sign-maker was in and was able to custom-make our sign in just a few minutes.  We love to support small businesses like that.  It was fun to watch the process.

Then, back to the RV park, this time on the Minnesota side of the river.   George put the Joy sign on.  I think it looks great!

We met my former work colleague and his wife in Wabasha, just right across the river from Nelson, at a brewery named Hoppy Girl.  It is a cluster of out-buildings in a beautifully restored  Bed&Breakfast&Brewery hotel.

DINNER: Feeling like we have been eating too much lately, especially meat, we had a lighter, vegan dinner.  I sauted some cauliflower, green onions, and the peppers we had grilled last night on the fire together.  To that I added this lentil sauce I had bought at Trader Joe’s.  I served it over rice.  A bit spicy (which we like) and very flavorable.  I would recommend this easy-to-make dinner.

Along the Great River Road

LOCATION:  Nelson, Wisconsin
CAMPGROUND:  Nelson’s Landing RV Park
WEATHER:  Really nice.  High 80.  Very cool evenings and early mornings (George wears a jacket!!!)

We continue to really enjoy this RV park – one of the nicest we have ever stayed in. We used their showers – they are the kind that are like individual suites.  All squeaky clean.  No one else seems to be using them.  And, the wifi antenna is right by our site, so we have never experienced such fast, strong internet in a campground.

Today was a trek along the Great River Road.  We drove south about 40 miles on the Wisconsin side of the river, passing through cute river towns. 

We ended in a town called Trempealeau, settled long ago by a French trader.  We found a fish shack, right on the river, for lunch.  It was kind of a dive……

Do they even make Blatz beer any more?

Speaking of beer joints, little Nelson (population 300) has 5 bars.  All seem to do quite a bit of business.  The only other business, besides the popular Nelson Creamery, is a church.  Quite typical of Wisconsin!

We sat on the patio, and watched the fishermen and barges go by. These barges are really long….

A houseboat was moored at the restaurant’s dock. 

When we were living in Rochester, MN, we rented a houseboat for a long weekend.  When we were doing the rental paperwork, the owner stressed the importance of mooring carefully, and not floating into the path of one of the huge barges that go up and down the river.  He even showed us photos of a houseboat that had literally been run over by one, in order to scare us.  That night, we tied up along the river.  In the middle of the night, George awoke to see a huge light coming in our window….we were in the path of one of those barges!  Our mooring had come loose, and we were dangerously approaching the main pathway.  Thankfully, he got us out of the way in time.

Back to today….we shared a catfish po-boy (when in Rome eat Mississippi catfish, right?) . View from our patio table….

We crossed over the Mississippi and returned on the Minnesota side.  We stopped at a roadside vegetable stand and bought freshly picked corn on the cob.  This is livin’!

Then, we visited the home of one of my former Mayo Clinic co-workers.  He recently bought a house right on the river.  We watched more barges go by in the peace and beauty of his backyard.

Back at the RV park, George got a fire going and grilled dinner.

DINNER:  Salad of charred green peppers and red onions, served with farm-fresh tomatoes.  Skirt steak we had bought at the farmers’ market – so really tasty.  And, that corn on the cob, of course!  My new way of making it is to rub the ears with butter, salt, and pepper.  Sprinkle on a bit of parmesan, then wrap in aluminum foil and bake over the fire (or in an oven).  Much better than boiling!!!

Social distancing on patios…..and loving it!

LOCATION:  Nelson, Wisconsin
CAMPGROUND:  Nelson’s Landing RV Park
WEATHER:  Super duper!  High 78.  Even a bit chilly in the AM!!!

We decided to cancel our St. Cloud RV Park reservation in addition to the campground near Brainerd (northern Minnesota) and just stay here for 5 nights.  It will mean a lot less hassle (not having to drive through the Twin Cities to and from).  There is a lot to do in this area, making day trips to cute river towns along the Mississippi.  And, this is a beautiful RV park, well-run, new, clean, and almost empty. 

For lunch, we drove about 5 miles to Pepin, Wisconsin.  Pepin is located on Lake Pepin, which is a lake in the middle of the Mississippi.  It was formed when the silty Chippewa River and the Mississippi merged many years ago.  A natural dam with all the silt created the lake.  It is a very popular tourist destination with a marina.  Mid-week it was nice and calm. 

We ate lunch on the patio of The Pickle Factory restaurant, overlooking the marina.  We shared a Reuben sandwich, something we haven’t had in ages. 

Back to Joy for a rest.  Boy, life is hard! 🙂

Then, a very nice surprise…..Our good friend that lives in Michigan and in St. Paul, MN was driving through the area toward Michigan.  She stopped by to say hello.  We walked 1/2 block to the Nelson Creamery from our RV park, and enjoyed a glass of wine with her on the patio.

DINNER:  Shrimp soba salad.  This is a very nice, refreshing summer salad.  You can substitute a lot of veg; I followed the recipe – corn kernels, thinly sliced English cucumber, radishes, and scallions.  Make a sauce with mirin, lemon juice, lime juice, orange juice, soy sauce, lots of minced ginger, and sesame oil.  Boil and cool a few shrimp, and mix in the shrimp with the veg.  Pour a bit of the sauce over the shrimp/veg mix.  Let marinate for 1/2 hour.  Then, add the rest of the sauce and the  cold, drained, cooked Japanese soba noodles. 

On, Wisconsin!

LOCATION:  Nelson, Wisconsin – just across the Mississippi from Minnesota in southwest corner of state.
CAMPGROUND:  Nelson’s Landing RV Park.  New, spacious park.  Full hook-ups.  Level, gravelled site with picnic table and fire ring.  Sparkling clean/new bathrooms.  $40/night.   5 stars out of 5
WEATHER:  Some rain.  Beautiful temps.   High only 78!
DRIVE:  One hour from Rochester

We puttered around our final morning in Rochester, letting the rain move out before we hitched up.

We finished up the decal on the Airstream – Joy, and finalized the new logo.  Our daughter’s boyfriend worked really hard to get the logo set up using a software app called Blender.  Thanks, Graham!  We bought this inexpensive decal at Michael’s craft shop, but are looking for a better, more permanent solution.  Does anyone have any suggestions?

Then, a very pleasant drive east toward Wisconsin.  They say that there are two seasons in Minnesota – winter and construction season.  The city of Rochester is all torn up with street construction with detours everywhere.  We encountered one today on our way, so we had to re-route through new-to-us byways.  We didn’t mind as we had lots of time.  We drove through lush fields of corn and beans, and huge dairy farms.

We are here in Nelson for 3 nights, a change of plans.  Originally we had planned to go “up North” to Northern Minnesota, but it seemed like a lot of miles to and from Rochester, as we have to return next week to Mayo Clinic.  We have 2 nights scheduled in St. Cloud, and are trying to cancel those, too, so we can just hang out here in Nelson until the Mayo Clinic appointment.  Would be much more leisurely. 

The RV is nestled  under a huge cliff…

The town of Nelson is tiny.  Its only real offering is the Nelson Creamery (where we went last Sunday).  We will probably go there again while we are here, for either a glass of wine or an ice cream cone!  Guess which one I will select!!!???

This photo popped up as a Facebook memory….from a housesitting assignment near Oxford, England. I encountered this elderly gentleman on a hike….

DINNER:  Leftover hamburgers on a pretzel bun.  Big salad, using the last of the lettuce that our friends in Rochester gave us from their garden.  Thanks, Lesley! 

The sun set about 9:00 PM and reflected against the cliffs.  Beautiful…

Winding down in Rochester…

LOCATION:  Rochester, Minnesota
CAMPGROUND:  Autumn Woods RV Park
WEATHER:  Very nice.  High 83.  Cool evening/night

We spent the morning doing laundry and I cooked up some meals for our daughter Alexis to have on hand.  We worked to finalize the new logo that Alexis’s boyfriend did for us….

I mentioned yesterday that our neighbor here at the RV park is messy…  It just gets worse.  They did laundry and it is hanging out all over, in addition to their garbage.  They just open their door and throw out empty bottles. 

We will be returning to Rochester for just one night for a follow-up visit at Mayo.  We scoped out a county park where we will try to stay next time. 

Then, in the late afternoon, we went to the home of  one of my former coworkers to enjoy a glass of wine on their deck.  It was so relaxing, and with perfect temperatures. 

From there, we joined Alexis and Graham at my very favorite restaurant in Rochester – The Redwood Room.  A lot of new places have opened up, but this is still the best, in my opinion.  It is in the downstairs of a historic building, and is very cozy.  When we were working, especially in winter,  we would walk there after work on a late Friday afternoon, munch on their complimentary French bread dipped in olive oil and parmesan, sip a beer or wine,  listen to a musician, then walk a few blocks to catch our city bus home.  At that hour of the day, we often were the only bus passengers.  The driver played classical music on the radio, and it seemed like we had our own private limo!  At a bargain price!

For our meals, Alexis had a cauliflower curry; Graham ordered a pizza; and George and I shared a chicken/Andouille sausage cajun rice dish.  All washed down with a Malbec.  A very nice evening out! 

Making memories and remembering memories

LOCATION:  Rochester, Minnesota
CAMPGROUND:  Autumn Woods RV Park
WEATHER:  Another beautiful day.  Sunny.  High 83.  Cool at night

We met up with a former co-worker and his wife for lunch and a beer at a new bar/restaurant in town.  It, like many others, has built a large patio area to attract customers who are wary of eating indoors.  It was a lovely day.  They have a great beer selection so George was happy! 

Lots of Facebook photo memories popped up today.  This was from 6 years ago when we were on our way to Alaska.  We spent a few days in fun Dawson City, Yukon where George flirted with the can-can girls.  He was in heaven there, too!

This memory was from 4 years ago when we did a housesitting assignment in Bangkok, Thailand.  That has been one of our most unique experiences….the cat got really sick (diabetic coma) and we had to rush him to a pet hospital, all with a pretty steep language barrier.  Everything ended well. While the cat recuperated in the pet hospital, we had a lot of free time to explore the city, sometimes in a tuk tuk…

We stopped by our daughter’s apartment to take showers.  The showers here at the RV park are closed.  We could use our own shower in the Airstream, but that would mean emptying it all out, as it serves as our primary storage area …..and wine cellar.  Afterwards, we went back to Trader Joe’s for more shopping.  They were only allowing a certain number of people in the store at one time. 

We have decided to change our route a bit.  When we leave here tomorrow, we are going over to Nelson, Wisconsin along the Mississippi for 3 nights, rather than up North, Minnesota.  It will mean less driving.  We have to come back here next week for a follow-up appointment at Mayo, and it does not make sense to be going so far north, and then to return here.  This will be easier on us. 

DINNER:  Baked potato topped with spaghetti sauce.  Side was fresh broccoli in a cheese sauce. 

BOOK:  “Snow Flower and the Secret Fan” by Lisa See.  I have read several of her books.  I think she is a protege of Amy Tan.  It is historical fiction, telling the story of a Chinese woman in the 1700s.  5 stars out of 5. 

Farmers’ Market

LOCATION:  Rochester, Minnesota
CAMPGROUND:  Autumn Woods RV Park
WEATHER:  Really nice.  High low 80s.  Cool at night.  Just about perfect!

We have the messiest neighbors here at the RV park.  They have been here 2 weeks and have spread their “stuff” all over their site.  Last night, it rained pretty hard and everything got soaked.  They live in a motor home (the kind you drive like a bus) and are not pulling a car.  That means that they are pretty much stuck here.  The wife goes to Mayo daily; an Uber picks her up each morning.  Today, George gave the husband a lift to WalMart to buy groceries and to pick up prescriptions.  The guy is a little strange.  He sits outside, sometimes wearing no pants.  One day he wore a dress. 

Today (Saturday) was the Farmers’ Market in Rochester.  When we lived here, we went faithfully each Saturday morning.  Today, we checked out their new venue, with more parking and vendors.  There were so many vegetables to choose from.  It was delightful.  Masks are required all over Rochester, even for outdoor activities like this.  Since we already have a refrigerator full of veg, we just bought some meat and some homemade zucchini bread.  Nice outing!

We bought our Joy decal lettering for the Airstream.  George did the honors….

This Facebook memory popped up from one year ago. We were outside Edmonton, Alberta with my aunt and uncle, visiting the area where my mother grew up. We were searching for their old house down this VERY muddy road. It was so muddy that we could not turn around, and we ended up backing up about 3 miles. What a nightmare! (Now in retrospect, it is kind of funny)

In the evening, George went to a beer club  meeting.  It is a club that he belonged to when we lived here.  Some of the folks make beer, but most are just beer lovers.  Tonight’s meeting was at a farm where the owner has a huge garden and enough bees to make 1 ton of honey!  George said that the theme tonight was mead.  (I stayed home).

DINNER:  As we are swimming in vegetables, we just had veg for dinner….also because George snacked at the beer meeting.  I made a big lettuce salad with the lettuce our former neighbors gave us.  I also made a squash casserole with the squash from our daughter’s CSA.  Easy and good recipe:  Saute sliced squash or zucchini with diced onions or scallions, and garlic or garlic scapes.  Sprinkle on Parmesan or other cheese.  Bake or microwave until cheese sets.  Top/serve with kale pesto – which I recently discovered at Trader Joe’s.