Search Results for: label/new things

New Things: Sleep In A Yurt

Each year on my birthday, I make a list of new things I want to try. Some are hard, some are easy and shockingly mundane. You can read about previous new things here.

Guys, I’ve reached that point in my life where I’m (slightly) less interested in sleeping on the ground.

Maybe I’m getting old or maybe I’m getting fancy, but the thought of zipping myself into a tent and sleeping on an air mattress is slowly beginning to lose its appeal. I’m not saying I’ll never camp again … but I am saying that I’d like 1:1 ratio of nights in a tent to nights at an Airbnb.That being said, I’m not quite ready to start dropping $300 a night on hotels or only staying at Best Westerns out by the airport. I want something one step up from a tent but still outdoorsy enough that I’ll return home pleasantly dirty and smelling slightly of woodsmoke and bugspray.

Where is this hallowed middle ground, friends? Where can I sleep in a bed but still get that self-congratulatory feeling of being all Paul Bunyon-y? 

Yurts, guys. Yurts are the answer to this age old question.

And what, pray tell, is a yurt? As defined by Wikipedia it’s a “a portable, bent dwelling structure traditionally used by nomads in the steppes of Central Asia as their home.” So basically – fancier than a tent, less fancy than a cabin.

In a word: perfect.

Here’s a True/False quiz to help you figure out if you should stay in a yurt: 

1. T/F Breakfasts taste best when prepared on a super old fashioned gas stove.2. T/F The lighting from Coleman lanterns is both flattering and nicely scented.

3. T/F Sleeping in a queen-sized sleeping bag on a futon with my partner is both fun and romantic!

4. T/F A total lack of cell phone signal, gps, and internet is awesome and freeing! No, this doesn’t not need to be Instagrammed!

5. T/F Seeing a mother moose on your half-mile walk back to where you parked the car is a great way to start the day.

6. T/F It’s pretty nice to have a little lake all to yourself.

7. T/F I enjoy boiling water to wash my dishes!

8. T/F Outhouses are grreeeat!

9. T/F Mosquitos and wood ticks are no big deal. Complaining is for wussies.

10. T/F Falling asleep to the sound of rain, 20 miles from the nearest town is lovely.

Did you answer true to most of these statements?  Then you should probably rent a yurt in northern Minnesota.

Have you ever stayed in a yurt? How do you feel about camping? 

P.S. 8 awesome things to cook over a campfire and How to be a happy, laidback traveler.

New Things: Take An Overnight Train Ride

Each year I make a list of new things I want to try. Some of shockingly mundane, some are quite challenging (to me, at least). You can read about past adventures here.

I’m one of those insufferable people who thinks train travel is ‘magical’.
Yes, I watched The Darjeeling Limited, like, eight times.
Yes, I want to take the Trans-Siberian.
Yes, I once had a very unpleasant food-poisoning experience on a train in India (but that hasn’t changed my feelings one bit).
So when I popped out to LA for a spontaneous meet up with Alex, it made ‘perfect sense’ that I end my trip with a 23-hour train ride to Portland. Was there any particular reason for me to go to Portland? No.
Unless by ‘reason’ you mean ‘want to.’
The Coast Starlight Train is a particularly well-equipped, nicely-maintained Amtrak train that runs daily from L.A. to Seattle. For $114 I got a one-way ticket from L.A. to Portland and the honor of sleeping in a (large, reclining, lots-of-leg-space-having) chair.
And, yes, at the risk of being predictable, it was fairly magical.
It’s lovely to slip through parts of the city that are far from the freeway, peering into people’s backyards, watching men take smoke breaks outside a factory, watching as the graffiti turns into suburbs. I loved passing through little farming towns at sunset, imagining what it would be like to grow up there and clickity clacking through super remote parts of Cascade mountains, while eating a black bean burger in the dining car and chatting with a nice couple from London.
Because the main intention of my trip was getting everything I needed into a carry-on and wearing L.A.-worthy clothes, I was not, perhaps, as prepared for my train adventure as I could have been. Be ye not so stupid as me.

Tips to make your overnight train ride (even more) awesome

1. Bring a pillow and blanket
Sleeper cars are car-razy expensive and the seats on Amtrak are reasonably comfortable. However, you’re not going to receive one of those sweet little packs that airlines sometimes hand out. So bring your best real-sized pillow, a fleece blanket, an eye mask, and ear plugs.
2. Pack a picnic
You can buy your meals on the train and you should buy at least one – it’s fun! But the quality of the meal for the price is a bit ‘meh.’ Over the course of 23 hours I had one real meal and a lot of Doritos and yogurt. Not my best work. So pack a bag of fruits, vegetables, and healthy snacks.
3. Put your ever-loving phone away
Amtrak famously does not have wifi but if you’ve got a data plan, you can access the web on the less-remote parts of the trip. But how about you don’t? That’s not what we’re here for.
4. Make friends!
I had some great conversations on my trip and met a pile of fascinating people. A 24-year-old WWOOFer (we discussed OKCupid at length), a pair of elderly British sisters, an 11-year-old boy who was visiting his mom for the summer, a 50-something couple who worked in education. When you eat in the dining car, you’ll be seated with strangers and, weird as it sounds, IT IS SO FUN.
5. Try to sit with another lady
If you’re traveling by yourself, know that there is no dividing armrest between the seats and come night time, it’s a bit awkward to be sleeping so close to an unknown dude. When I first boarded the train, I was seated next to a guy who was also going all the way to Portland. When the conductor took our tickets and realized we weren’t traveling together, she swapped our seats so I could sit next to another woman, which I really appreciated.
6. Dress and pack appropriately
If I’d been more on top of my game, I would have worn my go-to travel outfit (ballet flats, leggings, knit skirt, t-shirt, cardigan, big scarf) and packed my favorite travel stuff (makeup wipes, podcasts, book). Instead, I slept in jeans, wearing makeup. Gross. But you’re smarter than that, right?
Have you ever taken a really long train trip? Where? And share your train-specific travel tips with us!
P.S. Other New Things that I’ve tried: a police ridealong, writing to an inmate, energy healing.
My phone camera doesn’t quite capture the beauty of this stuff so I pulled some creative commons photos by (much more) talented photographers who have taken the same trip. Loco Steve // Rennett Stowe 

New Things: Swim With A Manatee

Every year I make a list of new things I want to try.  Some of them are easy, some are hard, some are shockingly mundane.  You can read about past shenanigans here.

Here is my list of favorite animals:
1. Otters
2. Prairie dogs
3. Manatees
(Cats aren’t on this list because they’re not so much a ‘favorite animal’ as an ‘overarching theme in my life/family member’.)

And once I discovered the Calming Manatee meme, it was all over. Life pretty much became a hunt for opportunities to encounter a cow of the sea and maaaaaybe touch his sweet whiskery face if he’d let me.  So when I started planning a trip to Mexico and discovered Xel-ha and their manatee swimming offerings – well, there were lots of emails written in all caps.Let us a take a moment to acknowledge that interacting with non-domesticated animals is not totally unproblematic. Swimming with a clever mammal who was raised in the wild and now lives in a swimming pool isn’t very nice, is it? So I spent a bit of time researching Xel-ha was relieved to discover that their manatees were rescues (or born in captivity from their rescued parents) and are part of research program about endangered animals in captivity. Of slightly less importance: THEIR NAMES ARE PUG NOSE AND LITTLE BEAN.

A list of awesome things about this experience:

* Learning that their names are Pug Nose and Little Bean (this bears repeating)
* Learning about their favorite foods and then feeding Little Bean broccoli and apples and feeling his sweet whiskery mouth on my hand
* Just generally looking at his little teddy bear face and imagining him saying calming things to me
* Shaking flippers with him
* Watching his little nose sniff at the surface of the water
* Patting his soft, algae covered back
* Swimming in his general vicinity and feeling zen and joyful.

In April, my dude and I are heading to Tampa for a conference and mermaids and we’re also hoping to kayak the Weeki Wachee river and see even mooooore manatees. Though I imagine those manatees won’t be named Little Bean.

Have you ever swum with manatees or anything interesting animal?  I’m bummed I missed swimming with dolphins in open water when I lived in New Zealand!

New Things: Swim In A Cenote

Each year I make a list of new things I want to try. Some are easy, some are difficult, some are so mundane you’ll think “Have you been living under a rock, Von Bargen?”  You can read about past adventures here.

Growing up on a lake in Minnesota, I spent approximately *90% of my childhood in the water. I canoed out to the nearest island, took a million years of swimming lessons, spent a lot of time throwing things in the water and then retrieving them.
So when I heard about the limestone swimming holes of the Yucatan I thought
a) “Hooray! A new body of water to swim in!”
b) (“But really it’s just a swimming hole, right?”)
You guys, cenotes are The Most Magical Swimming Holes That Have Ever HappenedThey’re insanely, unnervingly clear and deep and like something out of an 80’s movie involving adventures, and teenagers, and maybe a airplane crash on an island.
Technically, a cenote is “a natural pit, or sinkhole resulting from the collapse of limestone bedrock that exposes groundwater underneath.”  Realistically, they’re magic, all over the Yucatan peninsula, and cheap to visit.My friend and I showed up at Crystal Cenote outside of Tulum dorkily early and happily paid $7 to spend as much time as we wanted at two different cenotes. We padded down a short path to a swimming hole that looked like something from Goonies.

* Tall diving platform? Check.
* Rope swing? Check.
* Ropes strung across the hole so you can sit on them (or walk on them and pretend you’re a tightrope walker. You know. Hypothetically.)
* Smart little fox dog who leads you down the path and watches over you
* Water that’s so clear you’re not sure how deep it is and sort of have to give yourself a pep talk to jump in

We spent the next three hours as the only swimmers at the cenote, taking turns on the diving platform, and sitting on the ropes watching our shadows on the rocks beneath us.  Amazing. If you’re traveling through the Yucatan make sure you stop at a few!

Have you ever swum in a cenote?  And was it insanely magical?

* slight exaggeration

New Things: Sleep in a fish house

Each year I make a list of new things I want to try.  Some are easy, some are difficult, some are shockingly mundane.  You can read about past shenanigans here.


As I’ve probably mentioned about a million times on this blog, I’m a third generation Minnesotan of Scandinavian heritage. This means I’m blonde, I know how to layer in cold weather, I can make lots of dishes involving potatoes, and I’m decent at just about any activity involving water/ice/snow.
The state I call home boasts 10,000+ lakes and six months of winter. This means that much of the year those thousands of lakes are covered in ice and enterprising, brave souls drill holes through said ice to catch fish. Growing up on a lake in rural Minnesota means I knew how to set a hook from a young age and I spent many, many Saturdays playing Crazy Eights in my dad’s ice fishing house.
If you don’t know, a fish house is a little shanty that anglers sit in while they catch fish through holes in the ice.  There are removeable sections of floor so the anger can drill a hole through the ice, fish from the comfort of his house, cover the hole back up, and then stride around his house without dunking his/her foot in ice water.  Fish houses can be portable and made from canvas or fully insulated with beds, stoves, tables, and a functioning television. (They’re pretty much adult playhouses/forts but don’t tell my dad I said that.)
I’ve spent plenty of time ice fishing, but I’ve never spent the night in a fish house because, well, we’re not that fancy.  But when my old friend Matt offered to let me spend the night in one of the swanky fish houses he rents to clients, I thought I’d be remiss in my duty as a Minnesotan if I didn’t take him up on it.How swanky was this fish house?
* There were electric lights (powered by a hidden car battery)
* There was a two-burner stove (and cups/plates/silverware)
* There were four comfy beds
* Most importantly, there was a super effective, propane-fueled heater. Which was nice, since it got down to -22 the night we slept on Lake Bemidji

So what, exactly, do you do in a fishhouse for 10 hours?  Well, if you’re me, you
* Catch a fish and then feel really bad about it
* Put it in the ice bucket and then stress out about it

* Decide that the catfish minnow is cuter than all the other minnows
* Go on a gas station run so you can use their bathroom/buy Snyder’s honey mustard pretzels
* Ask your super sweet boyfriend if he’ll take the live minnows off the hooks because now you’re sad about them. Swim free little buddies!  I’m sorry we put hooks in you!
* Read portions of your business book aloud
* Drink creepy pre-packaged, crassly named shots
* Take the fish out of the ice bucket and put it back in the hole. Give it a pep talk. Get nervous it’s dead.
* Dump the live minnows down the hole because you’re now completely consumed with guilt.
* Put on your hat. Take off your boots.  You’re hot. Now you’re not hot enough.
* Take phone calls and text message from concerned parties. No, you’re not going to fall through the ice/freeze to death/asphyxiate.
* After all that fun, fall asleep by 10 pm.We woke up in a comfortably heated ice house to a gorgeous sunrise and shocking temperatures.  We ate some cereal for breakfast (we’d put the milk carton on the floor of the fish house and it stayed appropriately cool), bundled up, and started the long drive home.

All in all, an awesome adventure.  I’d totally sleep in the fish house again – but I’ll leave the fishing to someone else.

Have you ever gone ice fishing?  Or slept in a fish house?

New Things: Watch ‘Casablanca’

Each year on my birthday, I make a list of new things I want to try. Some are hard, some are easy, some are shockingly mundane.  You can read about previous adventures here.


Growing up, I didn’t particularly care about movies. I spent most of my time swimming, constructing weird tree forts, and writing stories about pioneer mice families.

As such, I’ve managed to reach adulthood without seeing, oh, most every movie.  I didn’t see Goonies till I was 21 (and that’s not a great age to see it for the first time), I’ve seen The Princess Bride once, and my only knowledge of Casablanca was based on all those times it was referenced on The Simpsons. But!  I am always on a quest to see if classics are Any Good, so a few months ago some girlfriends and I piled onto the couch, made some thematic food, and borrowed the DVD from the library.


In case you don’t know, Casablanca is a movie set during WWII in the largest city in Morocco. Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart) is an exiled American and former freedom fighter who now runs the most popular nightspot in town. The cynical lone wolf Blaine comes into the possession of two valuable letters of transit. When Nazi Major Strasser arrives in Casablanca, the sycophantic police Captain Renault does what he can to please him, including detaining a Czechoslovak underground leader Victor Laszlo. Much to Rick’s surprise, Lazslo arrives with Ilsa, Rick’s one-time love. Rick is very bitter towards Ilsa, who ran out on him in Paris, but when he learns she had good reason to, they plan to run off together again using the letters of transit.As you probably know, it’s a really good movie. The story is interesting, it’s well-acted, and you probably wouldn’t see the end coming – if it wasn’t completely embedded in pop culture at this point.Here are some observations we made while viewing Casablanca:

* The Rick/Ilsa age gap is, um, uncomfortable making. If we did the math right, his character is 16 years older than her.  And she was, like, 19 when they met?  Dude.  Leave it alone.

* Fedoras are painfully stylish.

* Mustaches makes you look dicey. File also under: DUR.

* You seem deep when you mumble/don’t open your mouth too much.

* White jackets are extremely underrated.  Dapper!  Interesting!

* Sometimes you need to love someone enough to leave them alone.  I’M LOOKING AT YOU, ILSA.

Have you seen Casablanca?  What’d you think?  What are some other classic movies that live up to the hype, in your opinion?