"Normal" Is A Dryer Setting

Parenting A Child On The Autism Spectrum


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Devil’s Kettle

We need the tonic of wildness. ~ Henry David Thoreau, Walden

Four times a year I slip out over my lunch hour to have my hair cut. This may not sound like much, but for me it is a wonderful indulgence. I go to Urban Village SalonSpa, which is nestled in the heart of Cathedral Hill. My hairdresser and I have been together for seven years, and she is the only person in the entire world who is capable of taming my fine, frizzy hair into layers of manageable waves.

Over the course of our relationship, my hairdresser and I have discussed several subjects, ranging from our mutual love of cats to new recipes we tried to how both of us grew up near farmland in the Midwestern United States. One topic she mentioned that I found particularly intriguing is a geological mystery tucked away near the northernmost part of Minnesota’s North Shore: Devil’s Kettle. In addition to seeing an amazing natural phenomenon, my hairdresser recommended this as a must-do on my next trip Up North due to rumors that this remote area was a gangster hideout in the 1920’s and 30’s.

Devil’s Kettle is a gigantic sinkhole located in Judge C.R. Magney State Park, Minnesota. Judge C.R. Magney State Park, located 14 miles northeast of Grand Marais on Highway 61, has the Brule River flowing through the middle of it. Over the course of 8 miles, the Brule River drops 800 feet, creating several waterfalls. At Devil’s Kettle, the Brule River forks at a rocky outcrop of rhyolite, creating side-by-side waterfalls. One half of the Brule empties into nearby Lake Superior. The other waterfall is where the intrigue begins – the river pours into the kettle but we have yet to determine where it comes out.

As curiosity is part of human nature, we like to try to explain what we do not understand. An abundant number of theories exist about Devil’s Kettle, including underground caves, rivers, fault lines, and hollow lava tubes. Each theory, however, fails the test of reason due to both lack of evidence and the geology of the area. Rather than copy what others have written before, I included some websites at the bottom of this post for additional reading about the how and why of this phenomenon.

Tim and I decided to have an adventure last August during our annual trip to Grand Marais, and we checked out Devil’s Kettle. Devil’s Kettle is about a 1.5 mile hike from the parking area at the park entrance, and there are signs along the path and places to rest. While the hike is not a long one, and the path is well-maintained, there are a couple of staircases along the way. Recommended items for the hike include trail shoes, mosquito repellent, a wide-brim hat, water, and sunscreen. We also do a tick check each time we finish hiking through the woods.

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When we were half a mile from Devil’s Kettle, we arrived at the Upper Falls. The Upper Falls is easily accessible from the hiking trail, and you can walk down on the rocks by the Brule River. Tim and I took video of the Upper Falls, several photographs, and climbed around on the rocks for a while. You can pull up the videos we took by clicking on each of the following three pictures.

Upper Falls

Click on the picture to see video of the Upper Falls.

When Tim and I hiked the last half mile to Devil’s Kettle, my favorite part was hearing the waterfalls before actually being able to see them. Devil’s Kettle can be viewed only from a lookout point at a distance from the waterfall, probably to prevent visitors from throwing objects into the sinkhole or falling in themselves. Devil’s Kettle was beautiful, mesmerizing, and large. How often in our lives do we have two waterfalls in a single line of vision? The water was flowing so quickly and with such force that I did find myself wondering where all of it goes.

Devil's Kettle

Click on the picture to see video of Devil’s Kettle.

We also took a close-up video of the double waterfall to see the split more clearly.

Devil's Kettle close up

Click on the picture to see Devil’s Kettle close-up.

Can’t get enough waterfalls? Mother Nature Network has a must-see list of 14 amazing waterfalls located all over the world. If you are in the northeast United States, Niagara Falls is definitely one to visit. Having been on both the Canadian and American sides of Niagara, while both are breathtaking, I tend to agree with the common opinion that the Canadian falls are the better ones to visit. Next on my list are Havasu Falls located in Grand Canyon National Park. My boyfriend suggested we go as part of a romantic Western getaway, and I can hardly wait. However, while he lived in Grand Marais for a few years after graduating from college, he has never explored north of the town. When I found this out I told him that we should put Devil’s Kettle on our list of places to go and have an adventure in our own backyard.

Here is additional reading for more information on the mystery of Devil’s Kettle:

I hope you have yourself a happy exploration!

 

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The Path By The Lake

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,

And sorry I could not travel both

And be one traveler, long I stood

And looked down one as far as I could

To where it bent in the undergrowth.

~ Robert Frost, The Road Not Taken

One of my friends lives his life so fall off the beaten path it’s not even funny. He grew up in Mexico City, made his way up to the United States as a young man, somehow ended up in Minnesota, married his long-time girlfriend when she lost her job and needed health insurance, and traveled to Kazakhstan after seeing the movie “Borat” and managed to get himself arrested. Where do I manage to meet these people? Work, of course. I ended up on a project that he was the Human Factor Specialist for, and we eventually discovered that I fit into his definition of friend. One afternoon he and his wife taught me how to make tomatillo sauce and gazpacho while downing cups of espresso (it can be done, however shakily from the caffeine), and we have stayed in touch off and on over the years. This man and his wife share common interests in traveling all over the world and meeting all sorts of people, which is what drew them together in the first place. Their home, which is a mansion on Summit Avenue in St. Paul, contains statues, skeletons, photographs, masks, and other souvenirs from their trips and also serves as a landing ground for a constant stream of international students. Each year on Grand Old Day, a street festival that most of St. Paul turns out for, they host a picnic in their back yard. This year it looked like this, and it was as fun as it looks:

Fun lives here.

People who diverge from what most of American society considers normal tend to really stand out. The coolest ones are the people, who like my married friend couple, are simply being true to themselves rather than deliberately trying to be noticed. I was talking to one of my coworkers yesterday about my recent career decision to move into Project Management, which is an unconventional decision for where I am in my company. The part I work in has two career paths: Technical and Managerial. As my coworker pointed out, when I was given the option of either staying on the technical career path or moving into a management position, I chose a path that went straight down between the two. I am forging new ground in my department, making my own way by doing what I have discovered I do well, and I am being met with opposition. Fortunately a solution exists. The product development parts of my company looooove Project Managers, so I am meeting with people in those groups to let them know my interest in moving over. My manager is supportive but sad to see me looking elsewhere because she loves having someone to manage her technology platforms, but she knows that I need to take the next step in my career.

The way I discovered my path-off-the-beaten-path was a simple but stretched out process. The more projects I work on at my company, the more I discover where I function best on a team. I also meet more people, and in meeting more people I become exposed to more opportunities. Very few of these opportunities are handed to me on a silver platter. What usually happens is that I notice something that other people either pass up or don’t fully investigate. I, being naturally curious, figure what is the worst that will happen and, once again, choose to deviate from the norm.

Where does this path lead to?

Where does this path lead?

Yesterday afternoon I decided to take some photos of the lake by my house when I got home from work. We have had a lot of rain in the Twin Cities, and this was a rare sunny afternoon. I started out by walking along my running route and came to a path built into the side of a small hill. I have passed this path hundreds of times before but never stopped to check it out. When I reached the top, I saw that someone had set up a bench in memory of one of their loved ones. When I sat on the bench, I had a beautiful view of the lake. I could have sat for hours in this silent, hidden, isolated spot that was literally across the street from my house.

The secluded spot I found.

The secluded spot I found.

Whomever the bench was dedicated to must have loved looking at the lake. I know I do. That is why I run by it. Right now it is covered in lily pads. Soon it will be filled with loons who call their loopy calls to each other when the sun is setting. In the fall it will be surrounded by trees with leaves of all colors, and in the winter it will be a sheet of ice. Taking the little path up the hill gave me a new view of the lake I see and adore every day. I had the opportunity to see it through someone else’s eyes, and the view was breathtaking. I was thankful for the fresh perspective and glad that I went off the path I already knew so well. It made me think that exploring new paths in life, wherever they may be, should be an adventure. You never know what you will find awaiting you, and it may be more wonderful than you imagined.

Here is what the lake looks like when you are sitting on the bench.

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I mentioned recipes for gazpacho and tomatillo sauce. Here they are, both perfect for a hot summer’s day. We usually cook chicken in the tomatillo sauce, and gazpacho is meant to be served chilled with toasted bread or croutons.

Gazpacho

  • 2 cups stale bread
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 2 pounds tomatoes
  • One cucumber
  • One jalapeño pepper
  • One green pepper
  • One onion
  • Red wine vinegar
  • ½ cup olive oil
  • One cup cold water, plus more for soaking

Cover the bread with water to soak. While bread is soaking, saute the garlic and onions in a little bit of olive oil. Transfer garlic and onions to a blender. Squeeze excess water from bread and put this in the blender too. Add tomatoes, cucumber, peppers, and vinegar. Process until smooth. Add olive oil in a slow stream while the processor is running until you make an emulsion. Add the cold water until the gazpacho reaches the consistency you want. Season with salt and pepper. Chill until ready to serve.

Tomatillo Sauce

  • 3 lbs tomatillos, cut into quarters
  • 9 serrano chiles
  • One onion
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • ½ cup cilantro
  • 1 tbsp. lime juice
  • 1 tbsp. olive oil
  • Salt

Sauté onion and garlic in large saucepan in olive oil until soft. Stir in quartered tomatillos, chiles, and one cup water. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium, cover and simmer for about 20 minutes or until tomatillos are softened. Remove from heat and cool. Transfer mixture to blender, add cilantro, lime juice and blend until smooth. Add salt to taste.


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The Graves

Life is not a dress rehearsal. ~ Rose Tremain

This week is predicted to be the last week of warm weather in our region before the cold begins to set in. We have already had some nips of fall weather, and mid-September the temperature taken at the Twin Cities International Airport tied the record low of 36oF from 1964. Temperatures climbed back up during the last two weeks of September, and last weekend was picture perfect, with brilliant blue skies and trees beginning to burst with fall color.

Willow River State Park

My son and I decided to go for what may be our last summery hike of the year on Sunday afternoon. The weather was warm enough for summer clothes, and as we headed out to Willow River State Park in Hudson, Wisconsin, we could not have hoped for a more beautiful day. We were both rather quiet on the drive out. I was still recovering from a busy workweek, and my son’s stress level is constitutively through the roof during the school year. We chose this park because it was a short drive from our house, we had not been there before, and several people have recently recommended it to me.

A view from the Willow Falls Trail.

After paying an admission fee of $10 for our car, we parked at the Nature Center and chose to hike along the Little Falls Lake. I immediately began to understand why so many people love this park. There is something for everyone in this preserve of approximately 3000 acres. The park has a beach, which is open in the summer, and by the beach is a playground. There is also a boat launch, several fairly private campgrounds, and miles of trails. The trails are clearly marked with colored posts, so as long as you have a map, you have to make an effort to get lost. Even though the park seems remote, drive a few miles south into Hudson and you are surrounded by modern conveniences such as gas stations and groceries.

Heading up to the graveyard.

We started on the Little Falls Trail which was paved, and when we came to the 300 Campground, we switched over to the Willow Falls Trail which was mostly unpaved. The Willow Falls Trail branches along the Willow River. If you continue to go east, you end up at Willow Falls. We were hiking in a circle for sake of time, and decided to head on the south branch instead. The south branch wound up a large hill and intersected with the Pioneer Trail. We saw a sign for a historic graveyard along the Pioneer Trail and decided to head over that way. We climbed up another hill until we reached the top, and went down a little path which came out to the gravesite.

The graves.

The graves were from the William Scott family, who were the first homesteaded settlers in the area in 1849. I was expecting markers of some sort, but none existed. I had been looking forward to learning more about this family who was so brave to start a new life in a new place, but there was no information. Just gentle bumps on the ground. If the site had not been fenced off, I would have walked right by it and never known that people were there. It was on top of a hill, peaceful, and quiet, surrounded by trees. My son and I stood there for a minute and counted six graves, all in various shapes and sizes, scattered haphazardly across the plot.

Heading back down.

Back on the trail, I looked from the graves to my son and watched him play with an orange and black fuzzy caterpillar before we started to head back down the hill to our car. During our afternoon hike, both of our stresses had melted away, and we were much more relaxed than before. I started to think about what is and is not important in life, and whether what I classify as important actually is important. I need to go to work,which takes away from time with my son, so I can give him a good life now. My son needs to get through school, which he dislikes, so he can have a good life as an adult. The challenge is maintaining balance in what we do with our lives, and making sure we enjoy life as we are living it.

When we returned home, I searched on the internet for more information about William Scott and his loved ones, but I found nothing. These people were important to somebody, once, and their family was probably at the heart of the budding Hudson community 150 years ago. I wondered what their lives were like, in the beautiful place where they chose to live. I wondered where they came from, and if they had been properly prepared for their first frigid winter of the area. I wondered what their daily stresses were in their lives, and hoped that overall they had been happy and content. I left Willow River State Park more mindful of how I live my life, and determined to not lose focus of the big picture of life, which encompasses friends, family, and loved ones foremost.


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Boulders

You can never make the world over to protect the ones you love so much. But you do not have to defend your having tried. ~ Joanne Greenberg, I Never Promised You A Rose Garden

I am trying to squeeze in as much time with my son as possible before the summer ends. Once school starts up the easygoing child I know inevitably transforms into a gargantuan ball of stress. As his mood changes, so does his appetite, his sleeping patterns, and how much time he starts spending in his room by himself. As he grows older, a lot of what we struggle with during the school year becomes easier, but there are also different challenges and expectations that come as well.

The start of our hiking trail.

We decided to explore the Wisconsin side of Interstate State Park this past weekend, located near picturesque Taylors Falls. The day was perfect weather, with low humidity, clear blue skies, and not too hot. Whenever we go to the Minnesota side, we look across the St. Croix River and see what looks like Wild Kingdom on the other shore. There are rocks begging to be scrambled across, and bluffs waiting for us to tromp up and down their peaks. My son was upset when we passed the turnoff for the Minnesota side of the park, but I told him we should try the other side. This was mostly because I actually missed the Minnesota turnoff and was too lazy to turn the car around and backtrack. He retorted that he didn’t want to try the other side, that he wanted to go where we usually go. I told him to keep an open mind, and if we don’t like the Wisconsin side, we can always hop back over to the Minnesota side and do our usual routine.

My son jumping for joy at the bottom.

After paying our entry fee, we drove through for a few minutes and decided to park near the Summit Rock Trail. My son wanted to climb down to the river first, so we hiked up to the top of the Dalles of the St. Croix. We started on gravelly trails which evolved into dirt paths covered with pine needles which then disappeared altogether. After climbing over boulders for a few minutes, the treeline cleared and we could see down the river for miles. I told my son I think I like the Wisconsin side of the park better, and he agreed. He vanished while I took a photo, and then I heard him calling to me from somewhere far away. When I finally located him, he was nothing more than a speck jumping up and down on the rocks by the river.

A spectacular view from the top of the Dalles.

I climbed down the boulders to join my son, and we sat on a flat rock for a while and watched the world go by. If you would rather enjoy the Dalles from a distance, you can catch a boat tour on the Taylors Falls Queen. The best part is how spending time in nature tends to bring people closer to each other. I have wondered how and why this happens, and I am not sure that anyone knows. The brain is a complex organ, and there is so much of it that we do not yet understand. My son and I did not do a lot of talking that afternoon. We weren’t even in the same places at the same time often since he was literally springing from one rock to another, but being together outdoors surrounded by greens, browns, and blues was time well spent.

Perched on a ledge watching the tour boat leave.

As we were hiking up to a different view of the St. Croix River, I told my son that if I was in a position to homeschool him, trips like these would make up a large portion of his science class. He told me that it would also count for his physical education class, and I laughed in agreement. The desire to shelter and protect my son from what he views as a confusing and unpredictable world becomes overwhelming at times. I am feeling that now with increasing intensity as another school year is starting in two short weeks. However, if I hide him away, how will he learn to walk his own path? To forge his own trail? To climb up and down the boulders life throws at him?

Part of what I struggle with, and I am guessing other parents do as well, in all sorts of child-raising situations, is the feeling that I am not doing enough for my son. I know this is not true, but there is a nagging voice in the back of my mind that rears its ugly head from time to time. That voice needs to stop because it makes me a worse parent for the wear. It makes me second guess my instincts at what is best for my son when instinct is all I have. As my son grows older, I see more and more that he does not want me to smooth the path before him. He does not want my interference. What he does want is my presence and my support as I watch him make his own way, the way I watched him climb over rock after rock by the river.