Warning: Exhaustion Likely

55510076290__39E68423-71BE-4A66-AE1C-A09CD9EF052CMy wise friend Erin once told me something I’ll not forget, “There’s a difference between a Vacation and a Family Trip.” What you’re about to experience is something I would emphatically NOT call a vacation…

DAY ONE: Travel.

We flew from Burbank to Phoenix to Minneapolis, thinking that a stopover would be a good idea to stretch little legs on the way there. Pretty uneventful with just a couple of exceptions:

  1. A cute little girl manicure in an airport (Zoe chose some spring colors, Ella chose BLACK one one hand, blue on the other…)
  2. Cattle call boarding twice on Southwest. This boarding may seem (or even be) faster, but finding 4 seats for a family creates a little stress.
  3. This example of what an awesome mom I am for little girls (yes, I did that):


For our family trip, we stayed with Bart’s long-time friends, Nancy & Rob, who’s beautiful daughters are both out of the house (lucky for us!). We took this great picture in their backyard, and they were wonderful hosts. In fact, they greeted us with welcome gifts for our children, then Nancy helped us with laundry, preparing for our days out and generally keeping us sane. Here they are with our kids and their super dog, Sydney:


DAY TWO: Family Reunion

Though August is squarely in “mosquito” (and humidity) season in Minnesota, Bart’s sister Andrea was able to make it in from Austin with her family – and her brother Greg from Portland with his! My husband, who often gets little credit for his communication skills, mastered a jam-packed family week which kicked off with brunch with his immediate family (18 people!), followed by a larger family reunion at his cousin Katy & Mac’s lovely house.

With aunts, uncles and cousins everywhere (around 45 people), we enjoyed sun, fun and BBQ, with the kids running around like they’d never been around kids before. There’s something special about cousins (and family) that brings that out in kids. Bart also booked a photographer to come out for 2 hours and take photos. See? He’s brilliant.

These are NOT the professional ones, but here are a few I shot over his shoulder:


And here’s one that WAS from the photographer with the whole group squished in:


And here’s my favorite – Bart’s mother (center) with her two sisters, Ann & Mary:


Yeah, that was just Day Two…

DAY THREE: Volleyball and Valley Fair

On Monday morning, the girls and I got to witness ALL 5 JOHNSON CHILDREN playing volleyball with their dad (who plays 3 times a week and even competes!). While two of the children still play somewhat regularly, this volleyball family hadn’t played together in years – yet they still managed to win 2 games!


After volleyball we all (yep, 18 of us) headed over to Valley Fair, an amusement / water park with fun for all ages! We lucked out with a sunny day, and while brother-in-law Ben and I rode the kiddie rides with Ella and Signe (3 & 4), Bart and Zoe braved the rollercoasters with the big kids. In fact, Zoe is now in love with coasters and wanted to keep riding.

There was also a “Dinosaur Park” trail with animatronic dinosaurs. If you must go to an amusement part, there’s plenty at this one to “amuse”. It was at this park that Zoe and Ella found their new buddies from our group: Lola (9) and Signe (4), who they would ask about for pretty much the rest of the trip.

Don’t panic, Mom. As you can tell from Zoe’s “seriously, Mom?” expression, that dinosaur behind her was not real.

We wrapped up the day with burger at the “best burger place in the Twin Cities”, Lion’s Tap. They literally have pretty much burgers (and fries) on the menu. It’s a classic.

DAY FOUR: The Lake

For another fun-filled day, we headed (15 of us) to Lake Waconia, where Bart’s friend Joe’s family has a lake house they loaned us for the day. We went out in kayaks and paddle boards and ordered pizza from a local pizza shop called “Unhinged” (is that a good or bad name, who knows?). The pizza was good.

Our little backyard models took a moment to share cuteness overload:

IMG_0615IMG_0627After our day at the lake, we headed to a hipster brewery called Surly Brewing Co., where showing up and hoping for seating for a slightly different group of 19 (we lost a few and gained a few) turned out to be an hour plus wait. I’ll say that getting to spend time with family was worth it – and the food was pretty good, too ;)

DAY FIVE: The Bell Museum

After another morning with a partial Johnson volleyball crew, we headed to the Bell Museum, a natural history museum on the University of Minnesota campus. They also had a planetarium there with a “cosmic show” that centered on a boy in Minnesota, the history of the universe, and then was followed by what you can see in the Minnesota sky.

There was also a hands-on section where you could touch all sorts of things, including animal pelts, building blocks, bones and even a snake.


That night we had a very nice dinner with Rob and Nancy near the marina, out on a patio with adult beverages (not for the kids) and delicious food. As you may guess this was one of the highlights for a mom who does not get excited about amusement parks…

DAY SIX: The Science Museum of Minnesota

Not to be slowed down even for a second, the following day we checked out the Science Museum of Minnesota, and I swear we could have spent 4 days there and not experienced all there was to see! I happen to LIKE science centers, and this one had a lab area where kids could perform experiments – we looked at our cheek cells under a microscope and created a “fake DNA chain” with common household ingredients.


There were so many things to touch and see and learn it was almost overwhelming. They also had “classes” running in the center of the space (near the cafe, of course) where you could learn how things like bones and optical illusions worked.

That evening we attended an impromptu BBQ at the house of one of Bart’s college friends, with a group of people he hadn’t seen in years. Wow, that guy can really squeeze every second out of a “family trip”, no? Oh, and that night I walked away with 28 mosquito bites – my first of the trip.

DAY SEVEN: Carver County Fair

Don’t worry, while on the 8th day we didn’t “rest” we DID fly home, so your journey (and mine) is almost done! On our final day in Minnesota we checked out the Carver County Fair, with an “all you can drink!” milk stand, a mascot cow named Tippy (no joke) and real-life Dairy Princesses:


Zoe met a llama named Zoe:


And it was almost impossible to get her and Ella out of the llama tent feeding them corn husks… Fortunately (or unfortunately) the call of the most dangerous carnie rides on the planet was strong. My fearless daughter rode that spaceship thing that uses g-force to suck you against the walls, a ride called “the zipper” which spun around and allowed you to rock your own “container”, a swinging pirate ship and a “tower of terror” ride that drags you up then drops you fast.

As with most county fairs, the ride operators were young and/or uninterested, barely engaging with people and seemingly unconcerned about the potential risks of their rickety equipment. At least Valley Fair rides MUST get checked out regularly and are tested all year long, right?

Anyway, Zoe also ran around in a bubble on water… Good news? It was fun. But just so you know, it’s apparently hot in there – and it’s really hard to stay upright:


Fun was had by all.


That night we had dinner with our friends Devon and Liz at their lovely house in Edina, and Zoe and Ella got to play with MORE kids their ages. Between a trampoline in the backyard and a dress-up room downstairs, I’m surprised we got them out of there.

We flew home on Saturday, landing around noon local time.

I’m going to be honest. I need a vacation from my vacation.

Which is why you can imagine the joy I felt to realize that my saint of a husband had also booked us to go to DISNEYLAND on Sunday (the following day) with our friends. Yes, Disneyland. But that’s another post for another time.

I will share with you a mistake I made, in case it helps you: When I realized how MANY people we were going to be coordinating with Minnesota, I started a Google doc and cavalierly asked Bart to decide IN ADVANCE what we were doing, knowing we’d need to be flexible but at least we’d have a plan. Last minute group consensus drives me nuts.

The above is how that turned out – a nonstop, action-packed adventure. Careful what you wish for… I’ll choose to be grateful that we have the ability to travel and family and friends who actually want to spend time with us. Namaste.

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