Reporting Amy Rea
(First, I have some exciting news: my latest book, Backroads & Byways of Minnesota, is now available for sale at any fine bookstore near you!)
This weekend is Father’s Day in the U.S. Do your kids have something planned for Dad? Even if they do, here’s a nifty add-on that will bring months—and years—of father/child fun into both of their lives.
Dad’s Eye View by Michael Hartford is a compact but packed (read: easy to carry along) guide to doing fun things around the Twin Cities with your family. Reading through the review copy sent to me by the publisher, Minnesota Historical Society Press, one of the things that immediately impressed me is the depth of choices. There are some well-known options here (Minnesota Children’s Museum, Minnesota State Fair), but there are plenty of lesser-known attractions as well, including Hmongtown Marketplace and the Pavek Museum of Broadcasting. It’s a great mix of things you might know about, but haven’t thought about in a while, along with things that might be new to you. Perfect for exploring with your family!
Also note that for the first time, the MHS Press is offering a (free!) iPhone app in conjunction with Dad’s Eye View — just visit iTunes to download.
Hartford recently answered some questions for me about this book and his adventures while researching it, and offered tips for families planning outings.
Q. What inspired you to tackle this book?
A. Pam McClanahan, the MHS Press director, pitched the idea to me a few years ago. Since going on adventures and having fun with kids is something I do anyway — both as the father of twin boys and as a Cub Scout leader — the project was a perfect fit for me.
Q. How did you go about selecting the activities, and how much input did your own kids have?
A. I’m always trading ideas for adventures with friends, neighbors, and co-workers. I learned about the Pavek Museum, for example, when I was talking with a co-worker about Theremins; he had visited the Pavek a few weeks before and got to play their Theremin, so I knew I’d have to visit. And the outdoor activities came from the need to find places near home to burn off the boys’ excess energy (and meet a few Cub Scout requirements).
The boys were indispensable in selecting the places we visited; a lot of them are places that adults either don’t go to alone, or are far more interesting with kids along. They were also my barometer for measuring how interesting a place is: if it didn’t hold their interest, a place slipped down the “must include” list. After that, the editors at MHS Press worked really hard to whittle it down to 52 places.
Q. What was your favorite? What did your kids like best?
A. The History Center Museum is one of my favorite places: I love the “Open House” exhibit that walks you through the history of a St. Paul home from the 19th century to the end of the 20th, and the “Minnesota 150″ that’s like a cluttered attic of Minnesota memorabilia. The boys like the outdoor things: the Big Back Yard at the Science Museum is always a favorite; they can spend hours at the sand table, building canyons for the river to go through. And French Regional Park’s rope playground has been a family favorite.
Q. Any general tips for families planning outings around the Twin Cities?
A. I have three principles that I try to apply:
a) Have a Plan B, but expect to go with Plan Z. Before an outing I like to have all of the details, and have a pretty specific set of things to see and do, but I try to roll with the unplanned — if we run across something that we didn’t expect that turns out to be really cool, we’ll change the plan and save things for another day.
b) Listen to the experts: I’m always amazed at the knowledge that people will give away for free. On the Steamboat Minnetonka, for example, we learned how to use a stethoscope to monitor a steam engine; at the Jackson Street Roundhouse, we got to ride the turntable because the operator was really excited to show off his skills; and we know one of the Lake Como streetcar drivers from Scouts, and learned lots of details about running a streetcar that you won’t find in a guidebook. The people who run these sites are passionate about their subject, and talking to them is the best part of any adventure.
c) Know where the bathrooms, water fountains, and snack machines are: each of the locations in the book includes tips about where to take care of basic needs, and that’s been one of the most popular things about the book. I know from experience that the best adventure can be wrecked by overlooking these details.
Specifically to the Twin Cities, I’m a big advocate of not letting the weather get in the way. Although the “summer” section of the book has a lot of outdoor activities in it, many of these places make great winter outings too. The city, regional, and state parks are open year round, and offer things like skating, snowshoeing and cross country skiing, equipment provided free or cheap; braving the elements is an adventure in itself.
What else is happening in our state? Be sure to check out the 10 p.m. Sunday night WCCO newscasts, where you can learn more in the weekly segment, Finding Minnesota.