Today’s version included fresh herbs from my garden and 2 pounds of bone-in chicken breasts. Yum.
Today’s version included fresh herbs from my garden and 2 pounds of bone-in chicken breasts. Yum.
Every year, the Minnesota State Fair calls all comers to visit, eat, play, talk politics, and view the best of the best of the farm-produced animals, produce, crops, and goods available in the State. The event happens at the end of August, culminating in Labor Day, and for some, it’s an event not to be missed.
I first went to the fair almost twenty years ago, when I was working on my doctorate at the University of Minnesota. My husband and I lived in a tiny apartment in a complex right next to the grounds, and complex residents received free tickets to the fair to compensate for the hassle we faced during the season just getting in and out of our driveway. So, we went.
It’s become a bit of a tradition, ever since.
We haven’t been in the last few years, because it just hasn’t been possible for one reason or another, but we found that we had a free Saturday during the fair, with weather projected to be utterly gorgeous. We bundled up our preschoolers and headed to the Twin Cities early, to try and beat the “big” crowd, which was futile, as everyone else had the same idea.
We’ve learned a few things in our time going to the fair. First, never park next to the grounds. On truly beautiful days, those lots fill up fast, can cost quite a bit, and can be difficult to navigate to and from. Our preference is to park in an express park-and-ride lot and take the express bus right to the main gates. It’s cheaper, more convenient, and we don’t have to deal with fair traffic. This year, we parked at the Mall of America express lot across from the East Parking Garage.
I bought our transit tickets on the Metro Transit app, showed them to the friendly Metro Transit staff, and on we hopped–two adults and two preschoolers for $10, round trip. (Next year, the same trip will cost us $20 as the girls will be too old for the under five discount.)
The bus took us directly to the main entrance and Transit Hub at the back of one of the University of Minnesota St. Paul Campus parking lots. There, we could purchase tickets on site. We opted to buy ours online, and present the bar code for scanning on my phone to gain entrance to the grounds. Once inside, we headed directly for the West End Market, perched at that entrance.
The West End Market used to be Heritage Square, and traces of that history remain in a newer building that offers a displays and exhibits about the fair’s history and the art that surrounds the newer open-air stalls with goods that speak to Minnesota’s past. I stopped at the Watkins booth for vanilla extract, a staple in my kitchen. Matt took the girls to the shaved ice cart for two enormous confections that we all shared before girding our loins to head toward the Midway.
Because it was a beautiful Saturday at the fair, the crowds were challenging to navigate. I’ve seen, in the past, crowds so thick it would be easy to body surf through them. We managed, though, scooping up a bucket of fresh french fries, taking a turn at a feat-of-strength game booth, and viewing horses. We followed one lone sheep on a leash up Judson Avenue toward the international market, another favorite stop, and made use of the restrooms next to it.
(Restrooms at the fair are another big story. Fun fact: It was coverage of the 1911 Minnesota State Fair that led me to the work that would define how I approached my dissertation and later book: The Farmer’s Wife magazine. A reporter asked the editor of the Farmer’s Wife about the new restrooms on Machinery Hill at the fair, which were meant to offer farm women a respite from their corsets and other accoutrements. They were well-received.)
In recent years, big, well-maintained facilities have been added near the big market places to supplement existing restrooms, and while there will still lines on the women’s sides, the addition of family restrooms made it much easier to get in and out with two little girls who had to go, like, right now.
At the International Market, Matt took the ladies around the booths while I held a spot in the benches in front of the stage, which featured music by Papa Shalifa in the style of the Caribbean. We listened for a while, dancing, until we needed to escape the crowd and head toward the street to find some lunch.
We bought fresh, piping hot corn dogs from a truck on the corner, and turned up the road to find a spot on a bench facing the street outside the main food building. We ate our corn dogs, drank our bottled water, and played with the new toys the girls had won at the strength booth. We watched the crowds, and I headed into the food building to get another fair favorite: deep-fried cheese curds.
The line for the curds stretched out the doors on both sides of the building, but it went very quickly. The booth is popular enough that the staff there have the procedure down. Present cash only at the window, get your ticket, then move down the counter where someone will take your ticket and hand you your curds. I got a bucket. It was a theme, OK? And we ate them all.
Keeping our spot on the street became important when we realized the daily 2 p.m. parade was about to start. The girls clapped and waved at the bands, the farm and community princesses, the funny floats, and the Shriner’s cars. We loved watching the crowds go by.
After the parade, we ambled up another block and over to see some more of the booths, the food, and the fun. We watched people slide down the giant slide for a minute, then looked through the merchant booths in the grandstand. We took a break, then, hanging out in the shade under the grandstand and trying to decide if we were up for doing anything else at the fair.
We decided we had to do one more thing: Get a bucket of chocolate chip cookies from Sweet Martha’s, a fair tradition that goes really well with the ice cold milk they also sell. We munched as we made our way out the same way we came in, taking the bus back to our car.
If you really want to do the entire fair, you’ll need to go more than once. That said, we managed to eat all the fair food we were craving, see a show, catch the parade, see some animals, go shopping, and enjoy the sunshine, so we felt accomplished. If you want to go, the fair runs through Labor Day. Our girls weren’t interested in the rides, but they have those, too. Have fun!
Have you ever traveled with preschoolers?
It’s an adventure.
Last week, I attended my annual discipline’s convention, AEJMC, this year held in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. I’m a member of the History Division’s leadership team, and I presented an award, judged a paper competition, and attended panels and presentations with new research in the field.
I also brought along my husband and youngest two children, both of whom are now 4. I was not alone. Colleagues with children often make the trip, as AEJMC’s convention always falls in the first two weeks of August, when many summer camps and plans are complete and school has not yet started. It gives families an opportunity for a last getaway before our calendars fill up.
In our case, it also gave our youngest an opportunity for multiple travel firsts, and we made a game of it for our younger adventurers.
First number one: Riding in an airplane.
We flew Air Canada, which is a remarkably family friendly airline. We four ended up in a row, two seats on either side of the aisle. I tucked C in by the window on my side and A sat by the window on the other side, with my husband next to her. Ahead of our trip, we packed each of them a backpack with a change of clothes, a Mifold car seat (just in case), LeapPads, and snacks. Our ladies put on their earphones and watched Mickey Mouse on the back of the seats in front of them; they thought it was a treat! We learned about how we stay buckled on a plane, but we can unbuckle if the seat belt light is off, if necessary.
C borrowed my phone to look out her window, because she was too short to see out without an extra angle. She thought the clouds were neat.
First number two: Riding on a train
A was super excited to ride a real train for the first time. We’d been on small train rides before, at amusement parks, the zoo, and a museum, but this would be the first time we took a train to actually go somewhere. We’d learned that the Union-Pearson Express train would take us directly from the airport to downtown Toronto, within blocks of our hotel, for about $10 U.S. per adult. Children under 12 ride free, which seemed like a good bargain for us. It was fast, easy, and the girls enjoyed watching the city go by “fast”.
Once at Union Station, we went outside, planning to catch a cab. We couldn’t find a taxi stand, and ended up walking the few blocks to our hotel instead. That turned out to be a good thing, as we all had the wiggles from sitting still for so long.
Our hotel had a great pool, and we spent some time in it after we found a very late lunch/early dinner underground at a Food Court that is part of the PATH system in Toronto. PATH is essentially an underground walking trail that links much of the downtown area and helps prevent having to walk outside in bad weather.
On our second day, we had first number three: Riding on a subway.
We took the subway to the Museum stop, and we headed above ground to visit the Royal Ontario Museum. Friendly museum staff directed us to the second level, which they claimed was the most popular with small children. We found that to be the case; the girls loved the dinosaurs, the children’s gallery with numerous hands-on activities, the bat cave, and the birds.
In early afternoon, we headed to the familiar Golden Arches across from the Museum for a late lunch, then took a walk around the outside of the Museum, getting ice cream cones from a truck and watching the pigeons. Eventually, we made our way back toward our hotel, and spent more time in the pool.
I was tied up with numerous conference activities on our third day, but the PATH allowed my husband to take the girls to Eaton Center, a large shopping mall that held a Disney Store as well as fountains and other fun things to see.
On our last day, the girls had first number four: Riding in a taxi.
The Mifold car seats are brilliant. They fold down into a compact rectangle that is lightweight and can easily be stowed in a backpack, but they are fully compliant with U.S. and Canadian federal safety standards. I unfolded ours, buckled the girls in, and we took a short cab ride to Roundhouse Park, which is the area right by the CN Tower, Ripley’s Aquarium, and the Railway Museum.
The Museum wasn’t yet open when we got there, but we walked around the plaza by the fountain, ate cotton candy, and eventually made our way back to Union Station to take the train back to the airport for our return trip.
When asked, the girls said their favorite part of the trip was “everything,” though A really liked the train, both liked the pool, and C really liked the plane. All in all, it was a successful first big travel adventure for all.