Family Favorites Editors' Picks
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?
The merchant down the block
Perhaps household goods are a bit more expensive around the corner; but can a little extra money be justifiably squeezed from the family budget for paper napkins or shoe laces? Light bulbs are a profoundly satisfying purchase for small ones as there is such a clear line between seeing the need, making the effort and completing the task.
Local coffee shops offer all sorts of possibilities for low-key family time. Many provide toys and books for young children, Scrabble and chess for the older crowd (and they might be open to accepting donations from the toy overflow that threatens to take over your closets and family rooms). For the price of a cup of herbal tea--cooled with milk, sweetened with a touch of honey--there can be found a reprieve to both summer doldrums and subzero cabin fever. Perhaps it might be a time to practice restaurant and company manners in a relatively forgiving setting.
Newspaper and mail carriers
The morning paper and daily mail are not brought to us by helpful gnomes...the people who come to our homes each day delivering that which keeps us connected to the rest of the world can be wonderful members of a child's life. Much is luck of the neighborhood draw, but it's often worth the effort to establish a contact--notes, homemade gifts or pictures, a "thank you."
There are few things that make a child as proud as their own library card. To know they are a part of a larger community and have their own identity separate from their parents is a joyful childhood moment. It is also, of course, an excellent way to begin lessons in responsibility, patience, sharing, and research. And it's mostly a wonderful way to become engaged in the world of books. Be sure to explore the fairy- and folktale sections for a change of pace from Dr. Seuss and Curious George. Stories on CDs and cassettes provide a chance to relax and be entertained without turning on a TV or computer. Each library has family offerings, story hours, computer and research assistance; the children's librarians are especially helpful friends.
Best Way to Wear Out the Kids
Chutes and Ladders climbing structure at Hyland Park Reserve
Never underestimate the power of large motor activity. The play area at Hyland Park Reserve in Bloomington is the perfect place to bring even the most jaded playground-going kid. Just about the time you've had enough of their crashing through the house, or when it seems the back yard is too small to contain their activity, pile into the car and head to this Hennepin County park. Suggest a game of hide-and-seek or tag and watch from the benches as they make their way to the top then shoot down one of the slides to the bottom. There are climbing variations and slides suited to almost all skill levels, and there is also a play area for the preschool set. Come prepared to provide an escort for little ones to the top.
The Richardson Nature Center, located within sight of the playscape, has restrooms and concessions. The park is also loaded with bike paths, hiking trails, open green spaces, and recreational activities year-round that are worth checking into. In the end, you will take home grubby, worn-out, and contented children.
Best Model Railroad
Trains of Bandana Square
(west of Lexington Avenue and
Energy Park Drive)
Housed on the second floor of Bandana Square, the Twin City Model Railroad club has constructed panorama of the representing St. Paul and Minneapolis during the '30s, '40s, and '50s. There are passenger trains and freight trains, trolleys and cars at the depot, and plenty of room to lean on the railing and watch the activity.
Volunteers maintain the tracks, keep things running smoothly, and often have a story to tell. Making your way around the room is a peaceful experience, and young children are afforded the opportunity to run ahead without actually getting out of sight.
During the holidays, the exhibit is open later in the evening. Then the room is darkened and the steady activity of the rails after dark reinforces the romance of an era gone by.
Best Cure for Blah Days
Minnehaha Falls and Park
48th Street and Minnehaha Parkway
It's easy to take the obvious for granted. When the weather is merely mediocre, when there is a large age-span of people to entertain, when all your budget can handle is the one-dollar parking fee, when everyone is so restless they need to do something but can't think what it might be...head for the falls.
It's one of those outings that can satisfy both grandparent and grandchild. The falls are lovely, impressive, and interesting to watch. There are pathways to wander that cover a moderate distance. If the stairs are too much for some members of the group, the trails lead back to one another in a loop that circumvents the backtracking dilemma. There are places to sit, to play, and to simply stand and watch the water. As the seasons change, so does the temperament of the falls, inviting return trips for comparison's sake. The concession stand sells snacks and ice cream, the pavilion offers a covered picnic area.
There are statues and historic buildings that beg exploration. And a steady albeit not overwhelming stream of visitors allows quiet moments of watching the world go by. And there is the poem: Longfellow's "Minnehaha." Perhaps it's a bit long to bring along and read to the youngest set, but there is something moving about seeing the place that encouraged such a remarkable work.
Best Family Outing
The Minnesota State Fair
Don't be afraid. Yes, the State Fair can be a daunting excursion with children. But there are ways to control the costs and to make it a day filled with happy memories and only a few blisters.
A decade ago, upon our arrival in Minnesota, my husband and I went to our first State Fair. We had sturdy shoes, spare cash, no children, and an incredibly high tolerance for hubbub and chaos. Ten years and two children later, we know our limitations. We've been to every State Fair since, but we've got it down to a science.
Our friends comment on our stamina and our ability to come back invigorated and ready for more. It's simple, really. Go early, go often, throw out the food rules, and stick, as much as possible, to things that are purely State Fair.
Before you go, make a plan. Begin by purchasing discounted advance-sale tickets at Holiday Station Stores and the Happenings Book, jammed with coupons. A little time spent perusing the coupons can help you develop a strategy for the whats, whens, and wheres of food and fun. There is also a Web site that lists the days activities in advance (see above).
What to bring
Considering the ages of your children, think carefully about what wheeled device you will bring along. Strollers are comfortable, but they tend to do best on smooth walkways. Lifting excited children in and out of them numerous times can be tiresome as well. Jogging strollers can handle the more interesting terrain (e.g., curbs, hoses and cords, around and through the barns) but they aren't always good for napping and often don't have much storage. A wagon may be good, as it can handle much of the terrain easily and hold what you are likely to collect over the course of the day, but it can also encourage unrestrained children to climb in and out a great deal. By all means, though, do bring something for them to wheel around in. As you head back to the car at the end of the day, there is little satisfaction in hauling a hot, sleepy, and sticky child in your arms.
A picnic blanket is a good thing to have along for mealtime and resting. Extra baby wipes can keep grime to a minimum. Water bottles are handy and can be regularly refilled at the plentiful drinking fountains. Keeping everyone hydrated on hot days is essential, and it's preferable to spend the food budget on the more interesting goodies. Make an agreement before you go as to how many drinks will be purchased, and how water will be the main beverage. Make sure you have a camera, extra film, some bandages, sunglasses and visors for everyone, tissues, and a sense of fun.
When to go
Early. Really early. There's a lot to see as farmers prepare livestock for the day and the Fairgrounds make a transformation from sleepy small town to bustling metropolis. Seven a.m. is not too early. It may be difficult to face this reality, but remember that at that hour, especially on weekdays, there is plenty of parking--much of it along the street, and free. Conversely, you won't have a long journey back to the car at the end of the day.
And when the outing starts so early, a full day can mean leaving by 1 p.m., just as the crowds are beginning to feel unmanageable. There is a great deal of satisfaction in driving home contentedly after six or seven very full hours and seeing all the traffic fighting to get into the fair, and hearing how many of the park-and-ride lots are full. If there's a way to take a half-day off work, it's quite reasonable to plan an early fair arrival and departure with a return to the office for the second half of the day (although you might want to shower first!). This early strategy works just fine on weekends as well, and Sunday mornings seem especially joyful at the Fairgrounds.
Besides, the things that you can experience early in the morning are some the things that make it so special. There are light crowds in all of the barns, so it's easy to get a clear view of the champion boar and sow (traditionally one of the most crowded corners of all the animal barns). Watch the cows line up for the milking machine and the cow wash. The poultry barn is especially spectacular in the early morning hours. Don't miss at least some animal judging. If you are organized enough, you might visit some of the animal contestants before their events and choose your favorites. The judges are very informative, and they'll explain how and why they make their selections.
Take note of the youth that are staying in the dorms above the animal barns, young people full of hope, promise, and laughter. They are obviously having as great a time watching the city folk traipse through as we are traipsing. One year, when I was quite pregnant and awkward, a dimpled, smiling face called down, "Pardon me, have you any Grey Poupon?" We laughed together, and had one of those precious moments that only strangers can share.
What to eat
Early in the day, church kitchens serve yummy, economical meals, and the morning crowds are light. There are a number of food vendors also open. Consider a hot dog for breakfast; it certainly may be difficult to imagine, but it's fast and inexpensive. Mini doughnuts are classics, and actually justifiable at that hour of the day. Just as they open is also a terrific time to grab those most popular items that boast forty-five-minute lines later in the day: fried cheese curds, fudge puppies, the pork chop on a stick. If the parent in you deeply needs to see your children consume something approaching healthy, consider the caramel apple. It's fruit, more or less. Sure, candy coating is involved, but it's very slow eating. And look for the fresh-roasted corn on the cob; there is definitely a vegetable lurking under the melted butter.
What to avoid
Another essential element to State Fair sanity maintenance is "managing the Midway": In other words, Avoid it.
Not that I'm bashing the Midway: We've spent many happy hours there and expect to again, when our children are older. But for some reason, that particular area seems hotter, louder, and more tiring than the others. When children are very young, creative routing can prevent them from ever seeing the Midway. As they become wiser to the tricks of the parental trade, they can be pacified with the Kidway (rides geared toward the younger set) and even reasoned with. But this latter technique works better if the explanations begin the night before or on the drive to the Fairgrounds. Reinforce that there are amusement-park rides in lots of places, but the things that make the Fair unique--animals, crafts, butter queens, entertainment--are the plan of the day. Besides, it doesn't open until 9 a.m., and by that time kids can be happily involved with activities way at the other side of the Fairgrounds. Pick a couple of biggish child amusement things to space out during the day and spend some time at the Kidway.
And beware of the Haunted House. It's really scary. Actors don't touch, but they do reach out. While many aficionados are devoted to it, I haven't had the nerve since before my first pregnancy. Watch the faces exiting and assess whether it's a good idea for your crew.
Where to go
Look to the exhibit buildings for amusement and amazement. The Princess Kay contestants becoming immortalized (for a while) in one-hundred-pound butter sculptures must be seen to be appreciated. Explore all the different sorts of things people have cooked, baked, sewn, sculpted, painted, raised, and grown over the past year. Walk through a living informercial underneath the Grandstand, visit the petting barn, the snakes, and the wild life.
And listen to music. There are stages all over the Fairgrounds that have performances going on all day. Check out the daily schedule, saunter over, spread out the blanket, and relax. Listening to music outside, next to the people you love most in the world, is a gift not to be taken lightly.
Best Boat Rides
Canoes on Lake Calhoun
With the large, fast-paced crowds who use the foot and bike paths around the chain of lakes for fitness and recreation, it can sometimes be hazardous to explore around the lakes with small children. But, with life jackets securely buckled on everyone, families can climb in a canoe or two at the Lake Calhoun refractory and soak in the peacefulness of a paddle on the lake. Everyone moves at the same pace in a canoe, so older siblings can't dart ahead, leaving frantic toddlers struggling to catch up.
Canals connect Lake Calhoun, Lake of the Isles, and Cedar Lake. Look for otters, geese, mallards, and other lakeside wildlife. Sing camp songs, take in the stately mansions, drift under the branches of enormous trees, and wave at the fishing folk. And see if, in the middle of a busy city, you can find a place that is silent.
Best Sunday Brunch
Kieran's Sunday Brunch
with the Kyle Family
330 Second Ave. S.
Brunch is served from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at this authentic downtown Irish pub, but plan on being there close to noon for St. Brendan's Launch, hosted by Hillary and Paul Kyle. Arriving at the Gospel Brunch is like joining a warm, friendly, and musically inclined Irish family for a church revival. There is first, of course, the Gospel, shared and explored in respectful way. But there are also songs, stories, and dancing to highlight the gathering. Children are embraced and encouraged to revel in childhood as the waitstaff graciously maneuver around laughing little ones. This is one of those rare places that knows how to make dining out with the whole family a pleasure. The reasonably priced food is simple, satisfying, and plentiful, and there are entrées for almost every palate. As the Kyle family sings each week:
There's room for one more friend
To join us in St. Brendan's fine company.
We're bold and stout-hearted
Our course it is charted
We're travelers all
Crossing over the sea.
Best Place to Revere Nature's Force
Upper Lock and Dam Observation Deck
1 Portland Avenue
This glass observation tower allows you and your children to get up close and safely observe freight barges being lifted fifty vertical feet. It's free, it's mesmerizing for kids, and it's a teachable moment. The observation tower is open 9 a.m-9 p.m. daily.
Mayor of St. Paul
"Given the hectic schedules of our entire family, we value our time together dearly. One of our favorite things to do is visit Laurie's family cabin in northern Minnesota. This wonderful retreat is always bustling with children and parents and excitement and activity. It gives each of us the opportunity to be together and to enjoy something different about the cabin and the lake. Sarah and Jacob love to explore, Laurie and her sisters spend hours trading stories of their youth and I have the opportunity to get in some great fishing. I even turn off my cell phone when I'm on the lake! It's truly a great family get-together away from the hustle and bustle of City life."
--Mayor Norm Coleman
"I love taking my family to dinner at Buca di Beppo--a wonderful Italian restaurant. The food is not only excellent, it's served family-style, and we enjoy sharing a couple of different dishes together. At Buca, kids can laugh and talk a little louder than they do at the dinner table in the kitchen at home and the staff are fun and really make us, especially the kids, feel special."
--Mayor Sharon Sayles Belton
Best Place to Learn About Minneapolis
821 Marquette Ave. S.
Here at the Foshay tour you will find, if not the very best view of Minneapolis (which we've already credited to the Witch's Tower in Prospect Park), a very, very good view of the city. Plus, the Foshay tower has the distinct advantage of being open much more than one day a year. Visitors can take the Foshay tour Monday through Friday between 12 and 4 p.m. and Saturday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. The cost is $4 for adults and $2 for children under 12 and seniors. For that price, you will be able to gain access to the open-air observation deck thirty-second floor, mill about the tower's small museum, and view a video about the history of tower and its builder. And, if you visit the tower on a day when the Foshay's resident historian, Mort Levy, is on duty (he's only there on alternate days so you might be wise to call ahead), you can expect answers to almost anything you'd ever want to know about the history of the Foshay Tower or the city of Minneapolis.
Best Gift Shop
China in the Nude
3001 Hennepin Ave.
As difficult as it sometimes is to find gifts for the special people in our lives, it's usually much more difficult to help a child with the same task. Father's Day ties would not be such a universal joke if the clichéd gift did not appear time and again on each third Sunday of June. And as they pass the stage of dandelion bouquets, children's wishes to give something lasting and desired may easily conflict with a limited budget and limited artistic acumen.
So with child on one hand and gift list in the other, we can enter a shop full of possibilities that cover all genders, ages, and budgets. Shopping becomes an experience to share, rather than a chore, as a selection is made from among the hundreds of yet-to-be-glazed ceramics. Coffee mugs, serving pieces, tiles, and pitchers are but a few of the possibilities that await a loving touch. Expert, low-key guidance is available to make suggestions and illustrate techniques. A return trip to pick up the finished product is required.
The most difficult part is keeping the secret. Children are delighted to creating something beautiful, but it is sometimes hard to wait until the opening. How lovely to learn the delicious anticipation of giving.
Best Athletic Entertainment
University of Minnesota
ticket office: (612) 624-8080
Why pay the high prices the professional teams charge? Granted, there are hot-ticket events with limited availability at the University of Minnesota, too, but even nonalumni families can enjoy cheering the local college athletes to do their best. It's fun to have a team to regularly root for, and attendance can also serve to assist younger children in learning the rules of a game. If you have someone at your house who can't get enough of sports--any sports, all sports, all the time--try following some of the lower-profile teams. Learn more about an unfamiliar sport, go to men's and women's events, watch skills improve, pick up new techniques, and appreciate the talent and dedication displayed.
Best View of the Cities
Seymour Avenue and
Malcolm Street SE
Some know it only as the Witch's Tower. Marking the trip between Minneapolis and St. Paul, it begs to have stories told about it and to be explored. Rumor has it that when the tower light is on the witch is in residence and busy with magical chores.
Once a year, it is open for exploration. During Prospect Park's neighborhood June Ice Cream Social, the doors stand open for those who dare to begin the ascent. There's something soothing about climbing the shallow circular stairs as other voices and footfalls drift and echo about. The 360-degree view is well worth the climb. While it's high enough to be exciting (you can watch planes in a landing pattern as far away as the airport), it's not so removed that little ones lose perspective, because streets and houses are easily distinguished from feet. Walking around the top of the tower and looking out over the neighborhoods and the city, you have a sense that we are all a part of one community.
Best Living History
Historic Fort Snelling
Highways 5 and 55
A walk around the restored fort provides a peek into once upon a time. While everyone in costume holds fast to their historical context, they welcome visitors and invite them to be a part of a regular day at the fort. A chat with the blacksmith might require some bellows pumping or fuel gathering. Mrs. Snelling uncomplainingly shares the challenges of raising a family so far from home. The infirmary is an especially informative place to visit, although the medicine and dentistry practiced then may seem a tad gruesome! Few things are better for reinforcing good teeth-brushing habits than the display of tools used for extraction.
Watching the soldiers drill and fire the cannon is a highlight, and it might be a way to bring perspective if there is a fascination with guns at your house. Marching in formation takes practice, and rifle drills require a great deal of concentration.
Sometimes fur traders and other characters drop by. On rainy afternoons, they have been known to invite oddly attired strangers (a.k.a. fort visitors) under their shelter to share a hot meal and hear a story or two. Pig's Eye himself has even appeared!
While Fort Snelling offers regularly scheduled family events, games, dances, and even archeological digs, it's also a place where you can spend a "there's nothing to do" afternoon by simply drinking in the atmosphere, climbing the towers, and enjoying the scenery.
Best Place to Find a Family Pet
Animal Humane Society of Golden Valley
845 N. Meadow Lane
(Highway 55 and Meadow Lane)
"What's that, Lassie?"
Arf, arf, arf, arf, arf!
"Timmy fell down the well? Again?"
There was a time when every kid wanted a collie. And dalmations were the rage for a while. But they, like all purebred dogs and cats, are breeds with specific strengths and needs. If, after researching the pedigree, there is only one kind of animal that will make you and the family happy, by all means locate a reputable breeder and invite a special friend into your home.
But if you are looking for a simple and all-encompassing family pet, go to the Animal Humane Society in Golden Valley. The third largest humane society in the nation, they receive 23,000 animals each year. Here, guided by staff and volunteers who can help you match your needs with an animal's temperament, you can adopt a companion who will never forget that you chose them above all the others. (And don't worry about the fate of all those others; they have a place to stay until the right match is made.)
With the feel of the happiest pet store around, the Humane Society of Golden Valley allows children to scratch ears and rub noses--not particularly hygienic, but almost inevitable--with all those who wag and purr. Visitation rooms provide a quiet spot away from distractions to see if the fit is right. Some animals are attracted to children, some prefer the company of adults. Some play, some cuddle, some do a bit of each. Doing a bit of homework will help you find just the right pet for your family, so take the time to read up on selection and care. Some books that might help include The Perfect Match: A Dog Buyer's Guide by Chris Walkowicz, The Right Dog for You by Daniel S. Tortora, and The Complete Cat Book by Richard H. Gebhardt.
Health certificates and adoption agreements help ensure everyone's future happiness, including financial assistance with the required spaying or neutering process. Animals have all shots except rabies, and all are implanted with microchips, helping to ensure that lost animals will be returned safely home. And there are supplies for sale so the new furry family member can go straight home with you to begin the process of becoming part of the gang. Adoption hours: Mon.-Fri. 11 a.m.-9 p.m.; Sat. 9:30 a.m.-6 p.m. Sun. 11 a.m.-5 p.m.
Best Place to Dream Big Dreams
Along Post Road
There are those children and adults who just love watching planes take off and land. Take the Post Road exit off Highway 5, follow the road around to the clearing at the side of the runway, and pull over with the other dreamers to watch the air traffic come and go. Bring a book from the library to help identify the different types of aircraft that venture through the Minneapolis/St. Paul International Airport every day. Northwest Airlines' equipment includes the DC-9 (two engines mounted on the tail), DC-10 (one engine under each wing and one on the tail), 727 (three engines on the tail), 757 (one under each wing), A-320 (one engine under each wing, shorter than the 757) and the 747 (two engines under each wing). Fridays and Sundays, various military aircraft on cross-country trips journey through regularly. And once in a great while, a Russian cargo plane flies in!
General aviation books come to life when you're sitting at the end of a runway. And stories about the Wright brothers, Amelia Earhart, Charles Lindbergh, and Chuck Yeager provide a tremendous opportunity to examine what determination, courage, and dreams can accomplish.
Or forget about books and instead unpack everyone's imagination. Where would we like to go? Where are the people in our lives from? What don't we want to miss in this whole wide world? Are there any destinations we've never dared mention? Even if no actual trip takes place, there is satisfaction in making the journey to the world of possibilities together.
Child Life Professionals
Even the most compassionate nurses and doctors don't always have the time to explain medical terminology and techniques at a child-friendly pace. Next time a child in the family is being prepared for an unfamiliar medical procedure at the hospital, ask if they have any child life professionals available. They have training and expertise in how to help children understand why something needs to be done and how it is likely to happen. Working as part of the medical team, a child life professional uses tools and guides to help a child gain mastery of a situation through preparation. When the process is understood, it becomes less threatening. Knowing what things might look, sound, and even smell like allows a child to move through a procedure with confidence.
If the medical intervention necessary is substantial, child life professionals can help families to assess the patient's emotional needs and to process the information over the long term. Fostering normal development in restrictive situations, child life workers believe that a kid is still a kid, no matter what is going on. Siblings and parents all benefit from the assistance, and the patient is afforded as positive an experience as possible.
This is still one of the most economical and fun ways to furnish a family. There's the random way of approaching garage sales that is perfectly acceptable and may well meet all the family's bargain-hunting and acquisition needs. You glance at the paper, notice a sign on a street corner, or follow the crowds to a busy driveway and saunter around, seeing if anything strikes your fancy. Sometimes you leave empty-handed, sometimes the trunk is full.
There is also the professional method. With the techniques of the experts--those folks who are always on sight as soon as the cash box is opened--homes can get furnished, children outfitted, and play rooms filled with four seasons worth of recreational equipment:
1. Make a list. Keep an ongoing list of the families needs and wants on hand in the car, so you always have a starting-off place. Going in without some sort of plan can be overwhelming, and you might overlook something long desired but obscure.
2. Be prepared. Use a large cloth bag for carrying smaller items. Make notes of dimension requirements for the large pieces you seek. Bring along a measuring tape (Is that dresser really going to fit in the corner of the baby's room?), bungee cords and blankets for hauling newfound treasures home, and a notepad and pen--which come in especially handy if you have to leave something to be picked up later and need to know the address. (People have forgotten from where they purchased practically new loveseats. No kidding.)
3. Have a plan. Highlight the sales you want to check out in the classified section and cross them off with pen as you go. Use a map to plan a route, but feel free to be sidetracked by unlisted sales that pop up by surprise.
4. Don't be afraid to take the kids. They can do shopping themselves, and it won't take long for them to learn that a dollar buys more in this venue than retail. They may also learn how to postpone purchasing gratification in order to find the right item at the right price. Children's clothes are also garage-sale staples and can stretch a budget immeasurably; how nice to have a spare pair of snow pants during a cold and soggy Minnesota winter!
Some tips from one who knows: The richer looking the house, the higher the prices tend to be. Thursdays are terrific days for prime shopping, but if you work during the day, take heart. Go before work or during lunch. Perhaps even with work associates. If there's an item you want that seems overpriced, try waiting. Bargaining is very effective as the day draws to a close. Even if there are Saturday sales in Friday's paper, grab a Saturday paper before you go. Some sellers don't make the newspaper deadline, and don't get listed until the day of the sale. Learn the intersections where people regularly hang posters. Be sure to cruise by early in day to note addresses.
And for the Aesthetic Garage Sale Experience...go the annual Crocus Hill neighborhood sale. The homes are beautiful, the alleys lovely, and the bargains plentiful.
Best Photo Shop
909 Hennepin Ave.
Besides regular film developing, the professionals at Pro Color can do magic things with treasured family photos. Bring them those worn and fading snapshots of grandparents marking milestones, and they can reproduce, enlarge, and preserve memories.
That picture of Granddad holding his tenth-birthday cake, including his mother's notation along the border, deserves a new life, enlarged and freshly framed. Mom and Dad's wedding portrait can be enlarged to poster size and signed by all the children and grandchildren in gold pen for a fiftieth-anniversary present. Collect pictures of family members as babies...or on their first day of school...or performing in a recital or play...or at graduation, and create a record that will inspire recollections, stories, and laughter for everyone.
Children are endlessly fascinated by a likeness of their grandparents, aunts and uncles, and especially their own parents as children. Create a photo album or dedicate an entire wall to those images and reassure them that everyone was young once. Awkward stages do pass eventually.
Best Renovation of a Museum
Bakken Electricity Museum
36th Street and
West Calhoun Parkway
The Bakken is back! Following a renovation project, the museum is ready to once again receive visitors in a welcoming, hands-on environment. The facility is a stunning Tudor mansion, complete with gardens and a great room. Exhibits about magnetism, batteries, electric fish, and static invite examination and exploration. Children find it hard to resist the straightforward experiments that help explain how the world works. Cards are scattered throughout for collection and general information gathering. And the gift shop contains a number of moderately priced items that can help take the experience home. There are children's programs year-round for individuals and groups.
Best Spring Fling
Heart of the Beast Mayday Parade and Celebration
There's something very special about the way the Heart of the Beast Puppet Theater has taught us to welcome spring. In what one participant calls "the only true anarchy that works," the people who come together to plan the event learn that they have the power, the talent, the ability, and the call to banish winter and create the most joyous of festivals. To be sure, it is possible to just show up for the parade and the party, but to get the most out of the event, a family might want to take the rare opportunity to create a bit of whimsy together.
Beginning in late winter and running both days and evenings each week, workshops are hosted by the professional and volunteer staff of In the Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theater. During these workshops, anyone--families or individuals--may wander in and be directed to become a member of a construction unit, where they will be guided through the processes of frame construction, papier-mâché layering, and painting. Unit members make plans for the masks and costumes they will wear to march in the parade.
The first Sunday of May, participants meet and begin marching with their creations from 27th and Bloomington to Powderhorn Park. After the Sun is brought back over the lake, the festival begins. There is music, food, dancing, canoe rides, and the sort of cultural exchange that can only happen when people celebrate together.
Best Water Tricks
Jumping Water Fountain
651 Nicollet Mall
Most children enjoy a saunter around the skyways now and again. There's something exciting about walking over the street and watching the cars, buses, and taxis zip along in a steady stream beneath their feet.
And if you find yourself looking for something to do in the skyways of downtown Minneapolis, make your way to the fountain in front of Neiman Marcus. This unique feat of engineering and art began leaping about in 1991, and it has amused and fascinated passersby ever since. There are times, now and then, when it requires an adjustment and isn't running. But this matchless water work by Wet Design of California is something every child, young and old, should visit a few times, just for the fun of it. Indulge your inner child and ooh and aah with the young ones.
Best Family Restaurant
The Malt Shop
Snelling Avenue and I-94
50th Street and Bryant Avenue South Minneapolis
Simplicity and dependability are two vital attributes for a family restaurant. The Malt Shop offers these, and it has outstanding ice cream to boot. Oh happy day!
While the place has the look of a typical burger joint, the menu is varied and interesting, offering vegetarian entrées, sophisticated soups, and hearty stews--great for when you want a more fulfilling grown-up dining experience. The burgers are reliable and reasonably priced, the sandwiches a gratifying mix of classic combinations and unique variations.
And then there's the ice cream. Malts and shakes that boast fresh fruit in season and flavors like hot fudge, coconut, pumpkin, butterscotch, and peanut butter. Add-ins include classic candy as well as the likes of figs and bananas or cookies and cream.
Relax, savor, enjoy...you can't go wrong.
Best Park in Minneapolis
Theodore Wirth Park
Theodore Wirth Parkway between
I-394 and Golden Valley Road
There's a treasure in Minneapolis. This 957 acres of woods, hills, marsh, and gardens is an easy place to go exploring together and enjoy the quiet sounds and the green smells. Venture down to the bog, and watch little feet scamper along the pathway. See why bogs are mysterious and romantic, and why they appear so often in stories about fairies, elves, and gnomes. It's a magical place, and when life seems a little extra hard, perhaps a bog walk could ease a troubled soul.
The Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden and Bird Sanctuary feels like a secret and wonderful place as well. The wild flowers are all identified by plaques, but finding them all still requires careful detective. Additionally, there are picnic and swimming areas for warm weather, and a golf course as well as places that are just right for tubing, skiing, and sledding when the snow comes.
Best Park in St. Paul
Como Park, Pavilion, Zoo, and Conservatory
Midway Parkway between
Lexington and Hamline avenues
There's a treasure in St. Paul. Under the all-encompassing name Como Park, you can find trails for biking or in-line skating, a lake with canoes and paddleboats to rent, gardens, and a golf course. At the Pavilion you can find a concessions stand to indulge an appetite, recreational equipment to rent, and concerts and plays to watch from Memorial Day through Labor Day. Admission to the zoo is free, and its small scale makes it easier for young children to find animals and a great deal of fun for everyone to watch them. The monkeys never fail to amuse. And when it seems that winter will never end, come to the conservatory and smell the fresh and fragrant flowers.
Best Local Fun on Wheels
Buses to the Downtowns
MTC info line: (612)341-4287
At some time, perhaps the next time you have something to go to in one of the downtowns, try taking the bus. Of course, neither St. Paul nor Minneapolis have to be the destinations; riding the bus around a busy city can be exciting in itself.
It might also be a fine alternative to parking garages and traffic jams. Instead of investing time and energy finding, entering, and exiting parking garages, see how efficient a stroll from the bus stop can be.
The bus ride can also be a good way to unwind from big events and ward off big fun letdown. A bus ride can soothe frazzled post-event nerves, and gently bring the outing to an end. The turmoil of a parking garage has set many a young child, and overtaxed parent, past the brink. Take it easy. Take the bus.
Best Butcher Shop
Meats and Deli
4307 Upton Ave. S.
For those who have tasted the difference a fresh, organic turkey can make on Thanksgiving, there is no going back; the flavor and tenderness cannot be replicated by frozen birds. Besides, how many of us have spent the frantic early hours of that fourth Thursday in November trying to speed up the thawing process?
The service and quality at Linden Hills Meats is outstanding year-round, but at holiday time everything is exceptional. With humor and professionalism, the staff offer suggestions, give guidance, and make shopping a pleasure.
Best Place to Tickle Your Nose
674 Grand Ave.
Relish the aromas that permeate the shop, and witness your child's sense of smell become highly advanced and deliciously developed. Renowned for their cinnamon, Penzey's seeks to provide the highest quality of spices available by traveling all around the world. Grinding and blending are done on the premises, and buyers, especially children, are encouraged to learn an appreciation for the difference freshness and quality can make.
The vanilla sugar is especially wonderful when used to make cocoa from scratch; the cinnamon can "transform French toast" and the barbecue spice rub has won fans around the country.
Gift boxes are available, as is a catalog. Look for the recipes.
Best Ethnic Restaurant
Gasthof zur Gemütlichkeit
2300 University Ave. NE
Sometimes walking into a restaurant is like crashing a great party. And few parties are better than the ones with accordions.
At the Gasthof, the beer is cold, the portions huge, the atmosphere friendly, and the singing loud. Standing outside, you're just a family in a parking lot in northeast Minneapolis, but once inside, you are in Bavaria. The world falls away, and you are swept to a place where dining out is a joyous group experience. The wood carving, the lederhosen, the jovial faces, and the staff's authentic costumes begin the transformation, while the food and music complete the process.
Come prepared to eat, laugh, and sing. You may even have the opportunity to dance. Tables are large, sturdy, and very child-friendly. Services is efficient, funny, and helpful.
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you’ll never miss City Pages' biggest stories.