With a multitude of summer festivals around the area, it is conceivable to think that if I had allowed my children the freedom to partake in each festival we attended I would be flat out broke.

With a multitude of summer festivals around the area, it is conceivable to think that if I had allowed my children the freedom to partake in each festival we attended I would be flat out broke.

Instead of looking at the summer as an opportunity to cram as many expensive activities in as possible, I became more choosy this year.

This being my first year at the Herald-Dispatch, and knowing the Brown County Free Fair is of great importance to Sleepy Eye and the surrounding communities, I promised the kids the fair was going to be our one big expensive outing.

For once I didn’t disappoint on a promise and we ate, drank and were merry to the tune of about $100.

All-in-all, the time and money was well spent and it turned out to be an educational experience for all of us concerned.

Fairs and town festivals are something of an anomaly to my northwoods raised children. The Canada/U.S. border town of International Falls is about as remote as Death Valley. The nearest town (besides Fort Frances, Ontario, Canada, which is straight across Rainy River), in any direction is at least an hour drive.

Our festivals and fairs are drastically different than what a typical festival involves in the border towns.

The northwoods celebrate seasons–hunting, fishing, blueberries. The only “thrills” you receive at those festivals are being named the winner of a wild game cook-off or winning a weekend at a fishing camp.

I could tell as I prepared them for what to expect at the Brown County Free Fair, they had no idea.

We tried the 4-H buildings, but they couldn’t quite grasp the concept of showing animals at the fair. In International Falls if it moves, you shoot it and eat it–not bring it to the fair.

I decided to go right into something we are all familiar with–food.

Our first stop was at the Dairy Producers milk shake wagon outside of the 4-H barns. Of course no one could agree on one flavor and sharing anything with your mom when you are a 12-year-old male is apparently completely out of any scope of reality.

When I suggested to Maddie that a small children’s size may be more appropriate for her age and stomach capacity, you would have thought I just told her the tooth fairy is make believe.

Three large shakes were ordered as we leisurely resumed our walk across the grounds. Not far from the Dairy Producers stand was a game with a fast-talking carnival worker.

“Hi girlie!” he flirted with Maddie. “You look like you want to play some games!” 

“I do!!” Maddie shouted excitedly like the man has just read her mind.

“Well, tell your Mom it’s three throws for $5.” 

I handed him a $20 bill and he proceeded to hand Maddie 12 darts. She fired off four of them in succession before I had to chance to swallow my ice cream and explain that I was expecting $15 back in change.

Since she had already thrown one more dart than I had technically paid for, I was forced to take only $10 in change in exchange for the smallest stuffed animal prize I have ever seen.

Fifteen minutes after arriving at the fair, I was already $30 down.

“Kids, we have to slow down,” I cautioned them. “We have to make sure we have enough money to go to the Demolition Derby in the Grandstand tonight.” 

Occasionally throughout the day I would utter those words as we bought and consumed more food, drink and souvenirs.

When at last it seemed our time at the fair was winding down, I got in line to buy tickets for the derby. I felt a tug at my elbow before purchasing the tickets.

“But Mom,” Maddie said with a pleading sound in her voice. “You said we have to save enough money to go to the deli in the Grand Canyon. When are we going to go there?” 

I was perplexed.

“Maddie, we are going to a derby, not a deli,” Mason explained, sounding somewhat exasperated. “And the grand stand is the place the derby is held.”

“Ooooohhhhhhhhh....” Maddie and I exclaimed in unison.

To my complete and utter surprise, Maddie loved the derby, while Mason was bored to tears.

I can already hear Maddie telling her third grade teacher this fall that she took a trip with her mom to watch a deli at the Grand Canyon in New Ulm, Minn.