GGFCVB, Travel

Teacher Getaway: Grand Forks Edition

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Earlier this month I had the opportunity to travel to Grand Forks for a teacher conference and my friends at the Greater Grand Forks Convention and Visitors Bureau hosted quite the lovely stay. I was excited to get away for a couple of days because as of September my life will become extremely busy, and to also learn new and innovative forms of education from other educators.

Continue reading “Teacher Getaway: Grand Forks Edition”

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GGFCVB, Reviews, Travel

Grand Forks Getaway: Spring Break Edition

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With just a few short weeks left as a university student before graduating next month, I decided that I needed a break! I knew there was one place I had to runaway to and my friends at the Greater Grand Forks Convention and Visitors Bureau made it happen! They played lovely hosts to an amazing stay and made sure that I experienced comfort and fun!

We arrived in the afternoon last Monday and checked in to the amazing SpringHill Suites by Marriott, located on S42nd Street. From the first night, to the very last, our stay was cozy, comfortable and quite enjoyable. The hotel was booked from the get-go with families on Spring Break (a few from Manitoba), and a convention/meeting; you didn’t have to go far to get a hello or good day from a fellow guest. The front desk staff and housekeeping made sure that we were comfortable throughout the stay and I cannot say enough about the wonderful housekeeping staff… they work extremely hard and sometimes, housekeeping goes unnoticed without recognition; if we needed extra towels or toiletries… they were happy to help us out.

Breakfast was delicious and there was something different each day with the hot items – scrambled eggs, bacon, sausages, biscuits and gravy; along with the pastries, bagels, cold and hot cereals, juice and fruit, there was something for everyone. Freshly brewed coffee (along with hot water for tea) was available all day; a quaint Marketplace was available in the lobby with snacks and microwave dinners if you were feeling peckish for a late night snack, all at a reasonable price. The hotel also features a business center, 24-hour gym room and a pool (set hours). One lovely feature is an outdoor patio with fireplace. While the fireplace does not get turned on until May, the manager was able to turn it on during our stay as Grand Forks experienced lovely weather. Even the day it snowed briefly, was windy and chilly, it was nice to sit by the fire and warm up.

The room was large and well laid out. For those who are always fighting over who gets to use the bathroom, here’s a surprise – the toilet and shower area are separate! This is a great feature for when one requires the other; the shower room has a large mirror where the center is fog free! The view from our suite was amazing – North Dakota sunsets are absolutely gorgeous! I enjoyed looking out the window each night and watching the sun set. The room we stayed in included a mini “bar” area with a microwave and mini fridge, including a “living room” area with a sofa and desk (with wired internet capabilities). I cannot forget to mention how comfy and cozy the beds are! Marriott lives by their “coziest beds” slogan and it’s true! You will definitely have the most restful sleep.

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Dining Out

When we used to stay in Grand Forks, we rarely ate out as our cousin would always make sure we were fed. While we did have lunch out here and there, we always ate at her house when we stayed with her. Now that they’ve moved and we stay in hotels, we like to find different places to dine at (or take out). There was the stop at Paradiso; this night we decided on take out. I ordered the usual Combo Magnifico and my sister ordered barbecue takeout from Wild Hog Smokehouse Bar & Grill (the large order of ribs gave us leftovers for another evening dining in our hotel room). A lunch stop at Jimmy John’s allowed me to try this establishment for the first time and just like the commercial states, they are pretty darn fast! I ordered a #4 (Turkey Tom sans cheese) with a side of kettle cooked potato chips. Our first night we dined at The Blue Moose Bar & Grill in East Grand Forks (always a must for us), and our last night we dined at Ground Round for a delicious steak and potato dinner. When we chose to eat in our hotel room, Hugo’s Supermarket provided sides to accompany the main dish. During our day visit to Fargo, we ate lunch at Applebees and picked up a Limeade from Sonic. Of course, no trip is successful until we made a stop at IHOP (I have issues making pancakes – i.e. I can’t.). Their blueberry pancakes are always deliciously fluffy.

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Shopping

We shopped until we dropped, both in Grand Forks and Fargo. In Grand Forks we had to make a stop at Target (on several occasions) now that Target is closing up shop in Canada. Clothing was purchased there, Walmart, Dakota Boys & Girls Ranch, Gordmans and Scheels. In Fargo I purchased runners from Shoe Carnival, one of the top items for me to purchase. The mall provides shoppers with great retail establishments – Bath & Body Works, Macy’s, JC Penny; Hot Topic, Claire’s, dressbarn, and Yankee Candle just to name a few. If you’re looking for unique shopping experiences, downtown is a huge suggestion!

Downtown Grand Forks

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If there is one place in Grand Forks I must visit, it is definitely downtown. I absolutely love it downtown – from the old brick buildings, unique stores and the town square (stop in at the Farmer’s Market when in season), downtown is the place to be even if you enjoy just taking walks like I do. Downtown Grand Forks is home to many dining establishments such as The Toasted Frog, Rhombus Guys Pizza, Brick & Barley; shops that include True Colors, Kittsona (Lifestyle on Kittson & S 3rd; Clothing on DeMers & S 4th), Badman Designs and Waterfront Kitchen & Bath, downtown has something for every body outside your typical mall filled with chain establishments.

I do have favourites downtown – Widman’s Candy Shop and Dakota Harvest Bakers. When you enter Widman’s and Dakota Harvest, you’re hit by the most delicious scents that your olfactories can handle. Chocolate and sweets immediately take you back to your childhood; Widman’s is an old-fashioned candy shop with many delectable sweet treats. From their famous Chippers (chocolate covered potato chips), salt water taffy (another favourite of mine and it’s ALWAYS from here), and various jellied candies or chocolate anything you can think of dipped, Widman’s is a DEFINITELY stop when you’re downtown. Ask for sample from the counter – suggestion… chocolate covered dill pickle (YES, you will be surprised) or chocolate covered s’more.

Dakota Harvest Bakers reminds me of the bakery in my grandma’s hometown of Neepawa, Manitoba but on a much larger scale. You can smell the cookies, bread and pastries as soon as you enter and it is always busy… always. Their breakfast and lunch items rotate weekly, so be sure to check their website before going. The week I was there I was able to enjoy a very delicious California Express vegetarian sandwich with a side of their kettle cooked potato chips. I also picked up a Monster Peanut Butter cookie to share with my sister. Just a note – their peak time is over the noon hour when those who work downtown (or the kids from Central High School) get out for lunch. Plan accordingly or patiently wait during this time.

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A lovely week spent in Grand Forks was well deserved and needed after the last couple of months. It was a great mental break so I could prepare for finals in the next few weeks, before life becomes consumed by studying. Anytime that you can get away from life is always a good thing. I am appreciative and thankful for the time spent in Grand Forks, and like always, I will be back shortly.

Grand Forks is located 2.5 hours south of Winnipeg, right off of Interstate-29.

The Greater Grand Forks Convention and Visitors Bureau hosted my stay during March 30-April 3, 2015. The opinions expressed in this post are mine.

GGFCVB, Reviews, Travel

Elizabeth Smart: In Her Own Words

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“Never let your past dictate your future.” – Elizabeth Smart

On 5 June 2002, America and the world became enveloped by the kidnapping of then 14-year old Elizabeth Smart, when she was abducted from her Salt Lake City, Utah home. For nine grueling months, Elizabeth was held captive in the mountains not far from her home (traveling to California during the winter); raped on multiple occasions, tethered to a tree and threatened with death if she tried to escape. She was brought home March 2003 when Elizabeth and her captors returned to Utah, and eventually rescued by Salt Lake City police. Since her abduction Elizabeth has talked about her ordeal at a number of lectures, established the Elizabeth Smart Foundation, publishing a New York Times Best Seller, “My Story”; advocating for the Amber Alert System and pushing for numerous laws and legislation on child abduction.

I was a first year Criminology student when Elizabeth was kidnapped. I became interested in the case, following it daily even upon her return. Years later, I would closely watch the trial of her abductors. It was fascinating to discover that she was held captive only five miles from her own home (it is common for kidnappers to hide abductees not far from where they live), and she could see her house from where she was held. Elizabeth’s case was one of the reasons why I studied behavioral/criminal psychology.

When I found out that she would be speaking at the University of North Dakota on March 30, I immediately planned a trip to see her speak. Her courage to speak after the harrowing experience she had lived through speaks to her amazing character. Thanks to the Greater Grand Forks Convention and Visitors Bureau, I was guaranteed a seat to see her speak. Elizabeth spoke to a packed house at the Chester Fritz Auditorium on campus, a lectureship series hosted by the Delta Gamma Foundation/Everson Family Lectureship in Values and Ethics; those arriving as the lecture began had to be turned away or sat quietly in the lobby listening to her words.

Elizabeth began the lecture by describing her life leading up to the kidnapping – being an awkward, shy teenager who regularly played the harp at relatives weddings; most of the time, reluctantly. She would begin high school in the fall of the year she was abducted. She recounted the night of he kidnapping – she was sound asleep in her bedroom, with her sister sleeping next to her, dreaming about what her first day of high school would be like – when suddenly, she was jolted from her dream to hear the words, “I have a knife at your throat, if you scream, I will kill you.” She said that she thought it was apart of her dream and when she finally woke, she was startled and shocked… she did not know how to react. There, standing over her, was an oddly dressed haggard man holding a knife to her throat, instructing her to get out of bed and to follow him. If she did not comply, he would kill her sister in front of her. Scared, and believing that he had already killed her parents and other siblings, she complied.

As she went on, she talked about how they finally crossed the street when her captor and herself noticed a car coming down the street. She surely thought that it was the getaway car. Panicked, they huddled behind bushes, and to her dismay, the car passing was a police car… on its nightly rounds. She desperately wanted to scream for help, but was threatened by the man. Elizabeth begged the man to just kill her now and get it over with, so that her parents knew that she did not run away and that she was indeed kidnapped. That was when he turned to her and said, “I am not going to rape or kill you… yet.” The words echoed through the auditorium to gasps of horror from the audience.

Elizabeth continued to briefly talk about what the day to day life was like being held captive. The daily rapes and being chained to tree; being violated and feeling like she had nothing to live for.

But she did. Elizabeth discussed how her belief and faith in her God kept her going, including the unconditional love she knew her parents would still have and knowing that they were looking for her. Her thoughts were correct when her captor returned from a trip in town, showing her a missing flyer. She would then go on to discuss being found. She ultimately convinced her captors to return to Utah, after moving to California for the winter. It was upon her return that three by-standards contacted police to report something strange; it was then, where immediately, police found her with her captors. She told us how reluctant she was, at first, to tell police who she really was in fear of her captors. When the police officer told her that her parents were looking for her and wanted her home safe, it was then when Elizabeth admitted who she really was and was safely returned home that night (after a long night of debriefing).

After recounting her ordeal, Elizabeth discussed how she was able to move on with her life. The only thing she wanted to do, upon returning home, was to return to her normalcy and routine – start high school and be a teenager again. After a while, she finally did. She also shared that speaking about her abduction and sharing her faith in her God is what has helped her through all these years. She shared with us one piece of advice her mother gave her, the night she returned home – “No matter how many bad days, weeks or months, you have gone through… God will reward you with good things soon for all the times you have missed them.” Those poignant words resonated with me. I am not a big believer in God, nor do I believe in organized religion; however, I do believe that no matter how many bad things or days you’ve experienced, if you keep believing, good things will happen.

Elizabeth shares her ordeal to help those who have experienced the same thing – in hopes that her story of survival will help them heal and have the courage to move on with their life. Reflecting on her own words of encouragement, Elizabeth talked about how she was able to move on – finishing high school and graduating from Brigham Young University, bravely testifying against her captors; completing a Mission in Paris, meeting and marrying her husband, and giving birth to her first child. She pointed out that there are days when it is difficult, but she immediately makes herself think of all the good that have come from this, and how her life has changed positively since then. She briefly discussed her foundation and the projects that have stemmed from that, especially Operation Underground Railroad – an organization helping to remove children from slavery/trafficking/sex trade around the world and reuniting them with their families.

Her words are inspiring and moving. I was blessed and honored to have the opportunity to see her speak. Elizabeth Smart is a brave woman, who used her faith, love of her God and family to survive and overcome the horrific monstrosities that she experienced. If you would like to know more about her ordeal in her own words, her book “My Story”, is available for purchase.

The Greater Grand Forks Convention & Visitors Bureau hosted a Spring Break stay while in Grand Forks. The opinions in this post are mine.