Stumbling into Toon Town

One of the best parts of living in new place is the Stumble. It’s when you happen upon something so unexpected, so foreign and so memorable, you couldn’t have planned it, even if you tried. Last Saturday, we did an epic Stumble, right into the middle of Toon Walk.

Just chillin' with our Homies.

Just chillin’ with our Homies.

Part dream-state, part furry convention, part kids’ fest, the Toon Walk features more than 200 mascots, dozens of costumed fans, a few marching bands and hundreds of kids in various states of glee and/or terror. We arrived as they were lining up for the grand march through the streets of Old Town, but hunger got the best of us, so we decided to seek out some Nuremberg Bratwurst and then circle back.

I'm not sure what they were discussing, but it's clear that the walrus was nervous about it.

I’m not sure what they were discussing, but it’s clear that the walrus was nervous about it.

When we caught up with the gaggle of toons, they were hosting a dance party on a stage in the middle of the street. We camped out near the stage, allowing us an up-close view as the mascots (led by neon-vested handlers) made their way right past us—and handing out swag as they went by. While the biggies like Mickey Mouse, Snoopy, The Chipmunks, Super Mario and Homer Simpson were represented, this was clearly a very inclusive Toon Walk. We also saw a lion wearing a t-shirt for the local pharmacy, a lighthouse (?) and a fire hydrant.

This is the musical group Four Lucky Charms. They must be somewhat of a big deal, since the people with big cameras were following them around. But not too big of a deal, since the crowd didn't seem to really notice.

According to a quick Google search, this is the musical group Four Lucky Charms. They must be somewhat of a big deal, since the people with big cameras were following them around. But not too big of a deal, since the crowd didn’t seem to really notice.

I think this is the I Love Germany mascot? I was hoping he/she would hand out beer or pretzels to the crowd, but sadly, no.

I think this is the I Love Germany mascot? I was hoping he/she would hand out beer or pretzels to the crowd, but sadly, no.

A sample of the free stuff handed out by the mascots. Playmobil figures, cookies area maps and beef jerky!

A sample of the free stuff handed out by the mascots. Playmobil figures, chocolates, cookies, area maps and beef jerky. Score!

Weird, wonderful and wacky. Just another day in Germany.

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The everyday exotic: a stop at IKEA

After a rainy day doing inside things, we jumped on the train for a change of pace…but ended up somewhere very familiar: IKEA. Lame place to spend time during a European vacation. Maybe, but we had a pretty good time for reasons that are not available in the American IKEA.

IKEA chairs in Switzerland

The familiar “wall of chairs” greeted us as we took the escalator upstairs.

We thought it would also be an opportunity to pick us a few small items for the flat: toys, washcloths (not common in Europe) and maybe some things from the grocery. We figured while we were there, E could play and burn some energy and we could have an inexpensive dinner as well.

IKEA children's department

Setting up for a proper IKEA picnic.

It seems many families had the same idea. E spent about 30 minutes just playing with the pretend kitchens and workbenches. Other kids also drifted in, and soon there was a full-blown toddler pretend picnic, with E pouring everyone many cups of coffee and other kids making sandwiches.

While all that was happening, Ken had wandered away in search of other items. I knew something unusual had happened when he returned 20 minutes later SMILING. This man, (and usually me, for that matter) never has a smile while at IKEA. What was going on? Then I saw it: in his hand, was a beer. “I stopped at the snack bar, ” he told me excitedly. “They had a deal. I got two hot dogs and this beer for 4 Swiss Francs!”

IKEA beer

Now THIS could improve the shopping experience.

IKEA has beer? “They have wine too,” he told me, “in the restaurant.” We headed over to see this wonderment of civilized living and found a restaurant full of relaxed parents, happy children and organic food.

IKEA restaurant

Beer? Wine? Energy drinks? Everything a person needs to make it through a trip to IKEA.

So yes, we didn’t really immerse ourselves in Swiss culture this day. But while we were shopping, the rain stopped. We had a tasty, inexpensive meal, and in typical Swiss fashion, we did find ourselves next to a farm field and grazing cows–even next to an IKEA.

 

You gotta roll with it

Sometimes the best memories come from those times when you decide to give up making plans and just let the day happen.

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Ready to hit the trail.

With the husband out of town and the bigger kid not around, E and I had Memorial Day to ourselves. The weather was scheduled to be rain-free for most of the day, so I decided that a bike ride was in order. Our hand-me-down bike trailer was already hooked up and ready to roll, so I consulted the Trail map and decided a simple out-and-back bike ride on the Cedar Lake Trail would be a good morning activity.

The bike trails of the Twin Cities are legendary for their ease, proximity and extensiveness across the metro area. The Cedar Lake Trail has the added draw of the lovely Depot Coffee House, where bikers and neighborhood folks gather before, during or after their ride.

Cedar Lake bike trail

Paved and shady. A great bike trail for hauling kids!

So on my ancient, broke-ass Schwinn and hauling 50 pounds behind me, we set off. I didn’t realize how much that extra weight and limited gears would slow me down, but we weren’t trying for time. And the more deliberate place forced me to slow down and really have a chance to observe where I was.

As we entered the trail near the NordicWare factory, a pair of geese and their goslings greeted us. It looked like they had set up a nest somewhere next to the factory. (Maybe they get free bundt cake?)

Geese outside the NordicWare factory

Our escorts for a portion of our bike ride.

One of the parts of urban trail bike riding that I like best is the chance to see a familiar place in a whole new way. We biked over Minnehaha creek, next to St. Louis Park’s beehive monuments (which I’ve always wondered about when I pass them on the highway) and through wooded areas I never knew existed. The trail was full of other bikers, runners and Rollerbladers, but never felt crowded.

Returning from our half-way point, I noticed that all the bikers were smiling at me. “Isn’t it nice that bike riding puts everyone in a good mood,” I thought. Nope, they were bemused by E in the trailer. The fresh air and gentle movement had put him to sleep and he was curled around the harness and slumped over, snoring.

He woke up as we entered Wolfe Park. We pulled in to the playground—they have equipment for both big kids and pint-size versions for toddlers. He played for a bit, but then heard music….We had stumbled upon the Memorial Day concert. E and I sat on the grassy steps and listened to the St. Louis Park community band play a variety of patriotic songs and a medley of Lerner and Lowe. E loved it and sat still, just watching the band and listening for about 20 minutes.

Memorial Day concert

Giant baby eats community band! Film at 11.

Note to self: More community concerts. I’m sure if I had tried to plan it as a specific outing it wouldn’t have been nearly so special. But because it was pure happenstance that brought us there, we could enjoy it for as long as E’s attention allowed and then move on to the next thing with no pressure.

All in all, a great way to kick-off summer.

St. Louis Park community band

The coolest chicks are always drummers.

All photos by egkralick

Super scoops: The Neighborhood Ice Cream Shoppe

sample of ice cream flavors at Edina ice cream parlor

Choices for both the old-school and the adventurous.

“Eat it like you stole it, dude!”

That’s what the Husband told a kid sitting on a bench outside the ice cream parlor as we made our way inside. The kid was already covered from nose to chin in blue drips (the Superman flavor, would be my guess). They came inside later and his mom told us that clearly we had given their family a new catch-phrase, since she had now heard it about 20 times in the last 10 minutes.

Spreading joy, that’s what we do. 😉

Always on the lookout for easy, jump-on-the-bike-and-go outings, we ventured away from the Dairy Queen just a few blocks from our house and headed to a quiet corner of Edina, Minnesota to grab a cone at The Neighborhood Ice Cream Shoppe. Any place that spells “shop” with two p’s and an e is suspect, but when ice cream is involved, I’m willing to overlook it.

While the Twin Cities is full of amazing ice cream places (and Izzy’s will always be my go-to for when I want the exceptional) sometimes you just need the basics, with prices to match.

Sandwiched between a Pappagallo store (?) and a dry cleaner, this ice cream shop has a surprisingly large selection of Cedar Crest ice cream, a few frozen yogurts and sorbets and sherbets. They also have pint-size tables and chairs, benches outside and a fast-moving line—perfect for the neighborhood families who stop in after dinner or on their way home from sports practices. Oddly and yet kid of awesomely, you can also get Heggie’s pizza here, so really, a cheaper date night could not be had anywhere else.

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You’d be hard-pressed to spend more than $3 for a cone, as the single scoop is quite generous. I got a single kiddie cone for $2 and it was plenty. I LOVE places that allow adults to order the kid size. It’s also located on a road that has a dedicated bike lane, so you can off-set the calories with your travel. Perfect combination, in my book.

ice cream cone

The secret to toddler-ice-cream-cone success? The sample spoon!

 

The in-town small town

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Photo from thebirdtown.com

Last weekend I ran a race in Robbinsdale, Minnesota. Considered a first-ring suburb of Minneapolis, I had never really spent any time there (I grew up in another first-ring suburb. Hey Roseville!) so it was at the invitation of a co-worker that a few of us signed up for the Birdtown 8K.

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Friends and finishers of the Birdtown 8K

It turned into quite the eye-opener for me. Not only did the mayor run the race–in a kilt, which he promised to do if a certain number of runners signed up–but everywhere you turned you heard the excited greetings of friends and neighbors bumping into each other. It seems like everyone knew everyone else and there was a real feeling of community support that, unlike other, bigger suburbs, wasn’t united solely by kids’ sports.

The race was fun, the day was beautiful, (And the co-worker-hosted after-party? Stellar. Apparently the carrot I’m willing to run for is the promise of pastries and a Bloody Mary bar.) and I got to explore a bit of Robbinsdale. The race toured around two lakes and their parks as well as main street.

That’s the kicker. Robbinsdale has a wonderful, small-town feel main street. Something my hometown sorely lacked. Because the town was established in its own right before the post-WWII sprawl and housing boom, it maintains the character of the past. And the community has clearly embraced it. Anchored by some very popular, very progressive restaurants like Travail and Pig Ate My Pizza, it seems that Robbinsdale could be the new sleeper destination for hipsters ready to put down roots and have families.