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Pre-Thanksgiving Get-Together at AuntC's

This year the holiday rotation was Danks Thanksgiving and Bernier Christmas. Since Clint and I would miss out on hanging with the Berniers at Coon Lake, AuntC decided to get most of us together for a pre-Thanksgiving feast at her house.

She'd bought a bunch of different kinds of bratwurst – one of which was Gummy-bear flavored – in some Hugo meat market, so we had a sort of indoor picnic with brats, salads, appetizers and decorative, edible penguins that Sophia & Michael made.

While I don't like black olives (therefore didn't try this delicacy), the little penguins were quite the hit. (P.S. I'm still trying to learn how in hell to use my new point-and-shoot camera Clint got me for my birthday. I figured if I made this shot artfully whimsical no one would heed the fact it's not in focus :)

After gorging on delicious brats, we headed out into the wonderfully-warm November weather to enjoy some fresh air. After playing on AuntC's new fountain (now dry for the winter season), walking around and through her gardens and running about, the girls – Sophia, Charlotte and a new friend – decided it was time to go to a nearby park.

(A note about the fountain: Sophia and the little friend were clambering around and over all the rocks and of course Charlotte (the youngest of the trio) wanted to do all that, too...but she bit off more than she could theoretically chew when she got to the highest point – where her big sister had just been sitting – and then looked down. Panic ensued until Amy came to the rescue.)

We walked through the woods, down a lonely little country road and to the park, which consisted of a swing set, jungle gym, teeter totters and a balance beam.

Sophia gravitated right to that balance beam and wow'd us with her really good sense of balance. We could have a gymnast in our midst...

After seeing how much fun Charlotte and her little friend were having on the seesaw deal, Amy and I decided to try it out for ourselves. We didn't QUITE fit but fun was had nonetheless ;)

While BB and Mocha had to stay on leash, Zada got to run around with her ever-present stick, which I threw (repeatedly) for her into the nearby soccer field. Of course, at one point all of the little girls (ahem, me included) decided to have a foot-race across said field. Takes more out of you than you'd think after a big meal.

It had started to get a bit cooler and the girls were getting tired so we gathered them all up and headed back to AuntC's...of course, since we had three dogs and three little girls, each one got to walk their own dog and felt pretty important about being on a "dog walk."

We wandered back through the massive back yard and lingered before finally bundling up into our cars to head was a very fun afternoon and I'm glad we got to see everyone. 

It's always a good time at AuntC's...I look forward to the next time we can hang out there :)

Mom & Tesa Go To Agility Class

Last summer Mom and I headed over to a family friend's house to partake of their homemade agility equipment and see if the dogs (Tesa & Zada) liked it. As it turned out, my German shepherd wasn't too impressed with the concept but the golden retriever absolutely loved it.

I've noticed when I'm home and have the dogs out for a hike in the woods that Tesa is a gamey little Golden – she'll go through, over, under, or even UP anything if she thinks there's any type of gain for her (i.e., lovely smells, food, etc.). She even followed me out onto a felled tree once and got about 10 feet off the ground before she realized "now how do I get down?"

That being said, I was super-excited that Mom decided to enroll in an agility class this fall so she and Tesa could learn what it's all about.

Although she had to miss the last couple of classes (drat, SOMEONE had to go hold down the beach in Puerto Vallarta), she and Tesa had a ball and learned a lot. I even got to attend one of their classes over the long Thanksgiving weekend I spent up North.

The agility facility at Hunts Point is beautiful – very new – and they had all the equipment needed to turn a dog into an agility champ: jumps (including the tire jump), A frame, dogwalk, tunnel, chute, teeter totter, weave poles and of course, the pause table.

Tesa's only trepidation came when she was introduced to the teeter totter – she wasn't QUITE sure she liked the fact that it moved when she did – but I have no doubt with practice she'll master it like she did everything else. I kept thinking how GAMEY she is that she'll try or do anything (especially if there's a treat involved) without fear.

Zada, on the other hand, would've been cowering in the corner the entire time just listening to all the noise in the facility and freaking out at all the weird goings-on. Tesa didn't even flinch at any sudden noises and barely gave the other dogs (there were about 8 total) a passing glance. It was refreshing to be with a dog in that type of environment that was confident enough to just do her thing and have fun in spite of all the commotion.

Mom had obviously practiced a bit with Tesa for class and while they weren't perfect at all the obstacles, they were pretty darn good! The night I went I helped Mom work on the "touch" at the end of the A frame, dogwalk and (eventually) teeter totter: when a dog is actually competing in an agility course, their back feet need to touch the yellow paint at the bottom/end of those obstacles. It's very important to teach the dogs early on that when they hit that portion of the obstacle, they're to pause before moving on; they can't jump over it or they'll lose points.

Tesa caught on very quickly with Mom using my method...I told Mom, "when her front feet hit the floor (and her back feet are still on the obstacle), tell her touch, then shove treats in her face for a few moments and then release her, so she knows there's a REASON to pause there."

After a couple times of this, I had Mom start lengthening the time between treats so Tesa would know it was because she wasn't moving that she was being treated...Eventually, of course, Mom will have to wean Tesa off the treats completely but this was a great way to teach her that when she hits the end of those obstacles she needs to wait with her back feet touching until she's released.

It was super-fun to watch Mom & her bouncy golden retriever bopping around the agility course, having fun and learning together. It made me just a touch jealous that I don't have a dog that's interested in agility...I wanted to jump in there and start running through the course with Tesa!

Hopefully Mom & Tesa continue practicing and maybe they'll even get interested in competition some day :)

October Trip to Duluth

Clint and I wanted to take a fall trip again this year (two years ago we went to Duluth; last year it was Grand Marais) but finding a free weekend to go anywhere this fall proved difficult for us until October. Originally he thought he wanted to take me on a scenic photography tour in south-western Minnesota, but we weren't sure about the fall colors that late in the season so we opted to head up to Duluth again.

Through some obscure connections we were able to not only procure a room at the Fitgers Hotel on short notice; it was a lakeside room AND we got it for a discount. Bonus.

We drove up Friday afternoon – after my cut & color with LaRae at Hair Matters – with surprisingly little traffic. It was a gorgeous drive with the setting sun illuminating all the colors on the trees. We got to the port city in record time and after trying to figure out the parking situation at Fitgers (evidently valet parking is complimentary so we didn't have to park the truck after the initial attempt) and checking in, we were ready to decide where to eat.

What we forgot is that in spite of Duluth being the 4th largest city in Minnesota, there really aren't that many restaurants from which to choose. Since it was already 7pm and we were starving, we decided not to fuss around and just walked over to the Pickwick. There was a 20-minute wait but the food (clam chowder and steaks) was really tasty and our waiter was pretty good, too.

The next morning we awoke in our hot hotel room and Clint made me hotel coffee while I watched the sun come up over the lake. After a quick breakfast-snack in the hotel we were ready to start our morning of hiking. We jumped in the truck and started up the scenic highway along Lake Superior, with no specific plans other than stopping whenever and wherever to hike around.

On one of our stops we saw a couple fishing and just happened to walk by when the guy pulled about a 10-pound fish (of some type I can't remember) out of the water. That was neat. After a few more stops, we ended up in Two Harbors. We stayed there for over an hour, walking by the lake and climbing around on the rocks. It was a beautiful, sunny, breezy morning...perfect for hiking.

After moseying back down to Duluth, it was time to think about lunch. We hoofed it on down the lake walk to Canal Park and decided on Little Angie's for some tacos and salsa con queso. Refueled and ready to be tourists again, we decided to head into the Great Lakes Aquarium to see the fishes and other aquatic life.

Give us a break – sure we've been there once before, but we were born and raised in Minnesota and it's not only fun to see all the wildlife, it's nice to contribute to the wildlife community. Or whatever it is that place does with the exorbitant entrance fees...

When we were all fished out we walked back to Fitger's and promptly took a nap. Since I was drugged up on antihistamines my nap might've been SLIGHTLY longer than Clint's (ahem...about 3 hours. Mine; not his).

Upon waking up and getting ready we were in another dinner quandary: Saturday night and no reservations in a town with little variety for restaurants. We ended up at Blackwoods and had a fairly decent meal in the bar. After that, it was obviously time to head back to the hotel and watch some TV before drifting off to sleep (again).

The next morning we woke up, packed and started our journey back to the Twin was a short trip but fun and we had great weather. Maybe next time we'll take that scenic byway vacation, but I always love heading back to Duluth :)

Miss Becky's Halloween Haven in Robbinsdale, MN

When my sister and her family moved to their house on Islemount Place in Robbinsdale a few years ago, they had no idea they'd be living next door to a local Halloween legend. "Miss Becky," as she's fondly called by my nieces (and the rest of my family, come to think of it), loves Halloween. In fact, it's her favorite holiday.

"It's the one time where it's a community event and everyone is out participating," she says in her interview with Channel 12 News. She spends the entire day turning her corner lot into Robbinsdale's Halloween Haven for the evening. Two tunnels mark the entrances to her yard, where the kids can meander through and see every single one of her decorations. And it's not just for the kids – the adults get into it, too.

My brother-in-law told Channel 12, "It puts a smile on my face." And why wouldn't it? My nieces think it's pretty cool to not only live next to Miss Becky's Halloween extravaganza (which comes with certain bragging rights among the neighborhood kids); they get to help test it out before the evening's trick-or-treaters arrive.

It's not the same set-up process every year, either. Starting out in 2003 with her first Halloween blow-up decoration, she's now amassed 48 of these decorations – and she's still adding.

Sounds like a lot of work to get all those decorations out of storage, set up all the cords and strategically place each decoration for best possible viewing...but with upwards of 200 kids each year tromping through her yard, she thinks it's well worth it.

But if you want to see this special corner in Robbinsdale, you'd better get there on the eve of Halloween – it's a one-night-only event. Miss it this time? Says Miss Becky, "You have to wait 'til next year!"

Skye Blue Waters

I've been a dog- and horse-lover my entire life. I don't ever remember a time when I didn't have SOME animal to love and call my own. Having a pet (or more than one!) is a joy in life I could not live without. It comes with great responsibility – and there comes a time in every pet owner's life when a decision must be made. The biggest responsibility of all: deciding when it's time to let go.

When you reach that point, it's best not to dwell on the here-and-now; rather it's a great time to remember all the happiness and good times brought about by none other than this sweet pet you've loved for so long.

Of course, I say this tongue-in-cheek since I still haven't been able to bring myself to edit the photos from the final portrait session of my family's 27-year-old mare, Joy...and she was put down in May. All in due time :)

So it was with bittersweet emotion I journeyed to a family member's house to take some final portraits of their beloved 13-year-old yellow lab, Skye. She was sound of mind – and still absolutely 100% obsessed with softballs – but her poor little body just couldn't keep up anymore.

We alternated heading outside to shoot photos with watching the Vikings – this family is as obsessed about sports as their hunting dog was about chasing balls. It was a gorgeous, warm dog-day of summer...perfect for a little family photo shoot.

It was great to see her in such good spirits, and she posed beautifully for my camera (although she couldn't wait for the breaks in between shots so she could chew on her baseball!). Between Skye's utter devotion to treats; Zada's incessant begging for someone, ANYONE, to throw the ball for HER; and the antics of various family and friends on scene, it was a fun afternoon.

Although this wasn't even my dog, she had become part of my extended family – of course, why wouldn't she? – and has been in front of my camera on numerous occasions (in fact, it was a last-minute entry of her that took first place, grand champion AND sweepstakes at the Crow Wing County Fair photography competition in 2010).

From the feedback I've heard so far, I think I captured the true "essence" of Skye – her sweet nature, her undying love of baseballs, her proclivity for crossing her legs in a lady-like fashion, her ability to con a hug (or a snack!) from anyone she came into contact with just by the look on her face.

Skye Blue Waters, you were SUCH a good girl, and gave your family a lot of love over the years. You will be truly missed :)

Refrigerator Pickles

I think it's only been about two years since I was introduced to refrigerator pickles by our family friend, who brought them on a horseback riding/camping weekend (I fell in love).

Now I just expect she'll not only make them every year, but give me at LEAST two jars' worth. I've always been a pickle fan but fridge pickles have become my ultimate favorite. I tend to hoard them and not really share...good thing The Hubby doesn't really like pickles.

This summer was no different – I expected her to bring them on our weekend in August of camping at Pillager with horses/food/perhaps some beer – and she delivered yet again. This time I got two jars at once, so I was pretty pumped.

Then – wonder of all wonders – my friend made them for the first time this summer (she gets a TON of fruits and veggies from her CSA every week) and evidently had enough to bring into the office and share...ANOTHER jar of homemade, beautiful pickles à la refrigerator. Plus, hers are different from our family friend's, so it's not as if I have three identical pickle jars in the fridge. Not that it'd really matter anyway, I guess...

So my friend's pickles are more sweet than dill, and while I'm not normally a fan of non-dill pickles, these are incredibly tasty and they were just so beautiful I almost didn't want to open them and start gorging. Had to take a few shots just to preserve the memory :)

I think I've just decided my new favorite thing: friends who're great in the kitchen. Thank you for sharing, friends :)

PS: It seems I'm not the only one enamored with refrigerator pickles. Just on a whim I decided to look them up but didn't even get to type in "pickles" before The Google knew for what I was searching: