By Jesse Marx
By Chris Parker
By Jake Rossen
By Jesse Marx
By Michelle LeBow
By Alleen Brown
By Maggie LaMaack
By CP Staff
1999 Editors' Picks
Quality time is both misunderstood and overrated. Any time we spend with our children has, by definition, some sort of quality attached to it. It just may not be the qualities for which we hope to be remembered.
Our children are as likely to recall a family stroll around the neighborhood as an exhausting day at an amusement park. Sometimes it is easier to be the type of parent we aspire to be during those simpler occasions, when expense and energy are not such a drain on precious family resources. The time-honored concept of a family outing needn't always be elaborate, expensive, and action-packed. Often just the opportunity to hang around together provides the framework for extraordinary moments and the foundation for lifelong memories.
This year's edition of Family Favorites seeks to highlight events and locales throughout St. Paul, Minneapolis, and the surrounding suburbs that encourage economical family interaction, not merely entertainment. Not every entry meets all the guidelines of simplicity, frugality, and a conversation-encouraging atmosphere, but taken together, they do illustrate why this metropolitan area is so highly rated as a place for raising families, and why we have chosen to parent here, together.
Best Indoor Park
7700 York Ave. S.
Need a soothing way to manage inclement weather without resorting to the Mall or the Zone? The rains that persisted this spring illustrate why this lovely indoor park can be such a vital part of weather survival for families in Minnesota. Our climate stretches to the limits a child's tolerance for indoor play and a parent's capacity to create wholesome, low-volume diversions. There are times--snow, hail, mud, humidity, and bugs notwithstanding--when kids just have to run around at a park. Call up the play group and head on over to Edinborough.
It seems strange to enter what appears to be a highrise senior center with strollers and diaper bags in tow, but rest assured that little feet and happy, crowing voices are welcome here. There are places to run, gather, frolic, and picnic as well as street-level shops and businesses to peek into. There aren't the florescent lights and other stimuli that can turn an outing into chaos management. Check for scheduled family events and watch your children burn away any case of cabin fever the environment can dish up.
Best Family Cultural Center
American Swedish Institute
2600 Park Ave. S.
There's something magical about walking in through the doors of this great Park Avenue mansion. Step into a place grander than those most of us will ever live in and back to a time much simpler than the present. Even if you don't have a Swedish ancestor lurking around the family tree, it's still a chance to learn about some of the people that helped settle and define this area of the country.
From a child's perspective, the rooms can appear both regal and warm. What might it be like to have lived in such a place and time? What do we wish we could have in our own house? What are we glad we don't have to do without? Find the simple beauty in practical things and savor the surprising elegance of the porcelain tile stoves. Is there anything in our own homes that one day might be considered a treasure?
As well as family-friendly educational exhibits and programs throughout the year, the Institute hosts folk-music gatherings. Such opportunities to join as a family in song are rare these days.
Best Artsy Hangouts
Minneapolis Institute of Arts
2400 Third Ave. S.
Walker Art Center
725 Vineland Pl.
Art museums used to be the things of dry field trips, drier lectures, and endless galleries filled with those stuffy folk immortalized in oils, but staffers seem to have since learned the value of engaging families in the artistic experience within a welcoming setting. Free admission, family events and projects, and hands-on opportunities provide children with an appreciation for the creative process.
The Minneapolis Institute of Arts offers free admission (there may be a charge for certain exhibits) and the inescapable feel of the classic museum. Galleries lead into other galleries, and, while maps and tours are certainly available, there is nothing quite like turning a corner to a classic treasure of the art world. The period rooms are especially delightful over the holidays.
The Walker has free admission on Thursdays and the first Saturday of each month. Go prepared to find the joy and whimsy of modern art as well as the power it can hold. Children often have the capacity for understanding things that we make too complicated. The layout allows for easy exploration, even with young ones. Family events in both settings offer things to create, to see, and to experience together.
Best Advice of the Times
Stay In Your Neighborhood
Certainly, staying close to home isn't an original idea. But there are many compelling reasons to remain in the neighborhood now and then beyond saving wear and tear on the family car. The local merchants whose businesses we regularly support are also the folks who might guide our children into the nebulous world of consumerism. How much better is it for them to make that first solo purchase under the watchful eye of a store clerk who has known them from toddlerhood than the often harrowing Six Items or Less line of a mass retail store?