Christmas was in the air all over Minnesota, even if the snow was not. It looked more like Easter when we got off the plane, brown and dead and ugly. We consoled ourselves that it's all really more about seeing loved ones and having fun, not cavorting about in a sparkling winter wonderland. But still.
Right out of the gate (after a quick polish at The Brow Studio. Thanks, Brook!) we headed off to meet Tonja at the Swedish Institute in Minneapolis, where the halls were all decked in each Scandinavian country's traditional manner. It was all just beautiful, and educational too.
We did not say no to more glögg, and it was even nice enough out that you could enjoy it on a hay bale outside next to the fire and the Sami style teepee.
Zooming off from there to a lovely round of pre-game drinks at the St. Paul Hotel, we warmed up before the stroll across the all lit up Rice Park to the Excel Center for the Minnesota Wild game.
The Wild were not to be victorious this night, but I saw old friends, made new ones, cheered for the home team, and generally just felt thrilled to be home.
Last minute shopping meant that we had to brave the insane Mall of America on Christmas Eve day, but that complete mayhem was soon forgotten, in the peace of a candle lit Mindekirken for "Silent Night" at the Christmas Eve service. All was calm. All was bright.
As was Christmas Day, when we did not wake up to a blanket of fresh snow, like we'd hoped. Instead, we had sunshine and no real need for jackets as headed out for Christmas Day church at Nokomis Heights.
No Lutheran Christmas is really complete without the trip to the church basement to indulge in all the beautiful baking the congregants prepare for the Christmas coffee. They take it very seriously.
The big event for Christmas Day is the annual gathering of the Hendricksons and friends. It is looked forward to all year long, with friends, family, food and fun all day long. It's always good to see how the kids have grown bigger, and how we've all grown in our own ways.
This year Santa was played by Danny Hendrickson, and the kids got all riled up, wondering both what he brought them, and who he really was.
His daughter Grace pulled off the beard, and the jig was up, but the kids were delighted anyway.
All day long we laughed, drank, ate and had great conversations with great people. We had the annual speech that I beg for by Larry Hendrickson, reminding us all what it's all about.
Even the kids sit and listen quietly (or may have been on devices, but it was quiet). Between Jane, Marilyn and Christine ... we could all learn a lot. So much wisdom, kindness and generosity exudes from them, it's nice to just sit and hope some rubs off on you.
It was extra-special to have my brother, Paul back in Minnesota with us this year, and Mom was pretty much beaming the whole time at having her kids all back home with her again. VERY special.
We checked out the new Co-op in Richfield, where Paul found the very best hat ever. He was a huge hit with the ladies at Ingebretsen's, our pilgrimage stop for more lefse and stuff the day after Christmas.
Paul and the wooden Viking inside shared a moment, all to the delight of the staff.
We finally made it to Matt's Bar for Jucy Lucys, where my Dad used to go back in the day to get burgers for him and my Mom. People still love it, as evidenced by the fact that we had to stand outside and wait in line for almost an hour. Worth it? Yes. Mostly for the time with mom and brother, but the burger was swell too.
Then it was back to Richfield for the 40th birthday blowout of Danny Hendrickson (Santa) at Fireside Pizza. It was jam-packed with Spartans young and old, all ready to toast their friend and celebrate with the people we all grew up with. It was a riot.
As the reveling carried on, someone in the crowd told me to look outside. It was practically a blizzard outside, a day late, but all the more welcome! I'd spent the whole previous day lamenting the lack of a White Christmas, so Darby knew how happy I was.
Even though everyone made a big deal that I got to have my snow, I could tell they were all happy about it too, as much as they do protest. It's so pretty with fresh snow, you have to love it. (OK, at first).
After an entire night of snowfall, the next morning was so bright and beautiful, you really did need to wear shades. And go directly to Wood Lake.
The grounds of nature preserve were pristine, untouched, sparkling white diamonds everywhere. As we walked deeper into the woods, we'd pass by cross country skiers with rosy cheeks and wide grins. This was the kind of day that they live for.
This was probably my most Richfield trip back in a long time ... locations, people, activities ... all of them mostly centered around my hometown ... "The Urban Hometown," as the new sign reads. One night we went out to the new gastropub in Richfield (a gastropub in Richfield!), Lyn 65, and had a great time catching up with Richfield classmates.
Then my friend Boyd had his birthday pub crawl, and I went to more places in town I'd never been, the American Legion and Frenchman's! Never. Been. The Legion was classic, old couples all dressed up to go dancing on a Saturday night, still the feel of a holiday party in the air. And Frenchman's was ... Frenchman's. A classic dive. Paul and I walked home under the bright stars, declining a ride, as Paul said, "No thanks, Carol and I are Adventurers." Perfect.
More meals, more visits, more drinks, more reunions ... so many I didn't always get photos. Beautiful times were spent with the Meyer Family, my high school girls, the Barachs, Tonja, and we were so happy to see the family we lived next door to all my childhood, the Kusunokis. We exchanged stories and I was happy to bring cherry chip cookies to Pearl, who is the original maker of the now-classic cookie.
Then it was time for more hockey, with a Richfield Spartan game, under new head coach, our friend Shuter (Dave Shute)! Alas, they didn't win either, but not for lack of alumni yelling.
Post-game, it was nice to have a little more cozying up by the fire time with friends ...
In years past, it's been all about running around and seeing as many people as possible. This time it was really all about Mom, and spending as much time with her as possible. The solution then, is to bring Mom along for all the running around and seeing as many people as WE can. We did pretty good, huh, Mom?
There was a very rare and special gathering of the Gronner Bowling League. I'm happy to report I almost beat both of my brothers. I didn't, but still. They've got skills.
It was time to leave just as the thermometers dipped below zero - and that was not planned.
The last morning we went to Minnehaha Falls to see if it had frozen, and though it was still running, that princess Elsa would've been right at home.
BRRRRR! It was bracing. And exhilarating. And I loved every second of it.
After a farewell spin around the city lakes, and another happy hour laughing and making plans for the new year, it was time to head back to Venice.
But when I got back to Venice, we had our own Winter Wonderland!
It was pretty lame when compared to the Great White North, but it's nice that they do something for the kids in winter if they can't get out to the mountains for the real deal. And you can't be mad at this kind of winter at all once Christmas is over.
The kind of winter that lets you walk barefoot in the sand on the last day of the year. That lets you toast the new year on the first day on your balcony. In your t-shirt.
But the best part of the winter is really gathering with loved ones and having a break, no matter what it's doing outside. To recharge your batteries, touch your roots, count your many blessings, and plan for a new year of adventuring!
Thank you, thank you to everyone who made me smile over the holidays, in both homes. You are the wonder.
Happiest New Year to All!