Daytrip: Vermont Cheese Quest

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It really could not have been a more perfect day when we set out on the road for the drive north to Quechee, Vermont. Over the year we’ve lived here, we have discussed heading up that way to visit the Ben & Jerry’s headquarters or the Cabot Creamery. Coordinating our schedules and figuring out dogsitters proved a little difficult. My husband has a second job. I work nights and sometimes weekends. Do we leave the kid at home? And that’s kind of unfair to her, right? Luckily, someone told us about a smaller Cabot Creamery Store in an old antique mall located just across the state line. When I mapped it out, I noticed the creamery is only a short drive from an old, famous bookshop I have always wanted to visit, which is only a short drive from a brewery my husband has always wanted to try.

We made a day of it. Our Cheese Quest turned into a Bookstore Quest, a Brewery Quest, and a Llama Quest (how often do you get to participate in one of those?). That we happened upon the deepest gorge in Vermont was simply a delightful surprise. The kind of surprise that makes road trips like this one so much fun.

Our first stop took us past Quechee to a small town called Woodstock, home to the Yankee Bookshop. This quaint little store has been in business since 1935 and serves as the oldest continuously operating bookshop in Vermont. I’ve been on a kick lately to visit all the New England bookstores I’d heard about when I was a non-resident. It’s a worthy goal: shop local, go home with a book. It’s a win/win if you ask me.

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Next we were off to Long Trail Brewing Company. We drank good beer, ate mediocre food, and waded in the adjacent river that has such a difficult name for me to remember that I often have to Google it (the Ottauquechee River!). Here is where we also met up with our friend, Rob. Rob went to school with my husband and me back in the early 1990s in Prince George’s County, Maryland. Rob and I didn’t speak much in high school. Matt and Rob never spoke at all. Yet we each acknowledge how our hellish high school experiences have bonded us for the long haul (one day I may expand on the trauma of our high school years). And here we are, visiting each other as often as we can. When we first moved to New Hampshire last summer, Rob was our first overnight guest! We hadn’t seen each other in nearly 25 years but stayed up into the early morning hours catching up. There is much to be said for shared experiences, good and bad, that make the unlikeliest of friends.

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After lunch at the brewery, we said our goodbyes to Rob and headed back toward Quechee and the New Hampshire border. But I wanted to make a quick stop near a bridge we’d crossed that traveled directly over the deepest gorge I’ve seen east of the Mississippi. It’s 165 feet deep and spans over that river I can never remember the name of unless I Google it (the Ottauquechee River!). It turns out it’s part of Quechee State Park, but there are parking areas available off the highway. From there visitors can walk across the gorge on Route 4 via pedestrian bridge. There is protective fencing, no doubt erected to prevent attempts at suicide, but the view across the gorge is incredible. One can even see, if facing north, a small sandy beach where visitors have hiked into. It was very brief stop but enough to satiate my want of more nature touristing.

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That someone who originally told me about the Cabot Creamery Shop had also supplied me with cash and her personal cheese shopping list (it was the least we could do since she’s the one who pointed us in the right direction). It was like Cheese Mecca, you guys. DO YOU KNOW HOW MANY CHEESE SAMPLES A HUMAN CAN SAMPLE BEFORE THEY JUST BECOME SICK FROM ALL THE CHEESE SAMPLING? I nearly crossed that line on my second trip around the sample table. There are cheddar samples (do you know how many varieties of Cabot cheddars there are? NO YOU DO NOT. Trust me.), a bazillion and a half other hard cheese samples, spreadable cheese samples, and mustards. Yes, MUSTARDS. With crackers and pretzels. It’s like lunch. Go hungry. Leave happy. Or sick. Happily sick.

I can’t remember how much money we actually spent but I do remember we had to do math. Like If we buy all this cheese will we have enough money to pay the mortgage? kind of math. And yes, we did buy all this cheese. We’re still eating it – two months later. We bought it all because there are varieties in the Cabot Creamery shop that are not sold in the grocery store. And because I SAMPLED MYSELF TO NEAR DEATH so I knew all the cheeses I wanted. I literally kept a rating scorecard on my iPhone, calculated the results of each, and proceeded from there. The winners: Orne Cheddar, Vintage Cheddar, and the spreadable Port Wine. Also, Cabot cheddars are lactose free so KNOCK YOURSELVES OUT, lactose sickos. You’ll be fine.

And finally, Llama Quest! Elle often suffers from Cabin Fever like her mother, and often begs to go somewhere. She joined us on this road trip simply because I promised there would be llamas (strangely, she wasn’t impressed with the promise of cheese). AND THERE WERE LLAMAS. We didn’t get a chance to spend a lot of time with them, but Elle’s goal for the day was to pet a llama. And we made that happen because WE ARE NICE PARENTS.

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The first time I traveled through Vermont was to come to New Hampshire on a house hunt. The second time I traveled through Vermont was to permanently move to New Hampshire after said house hunt. I hated it both times. Southern Vermont has a lot of closed in spaces. Too many trees blinding the view, the sky, the oncoming traffic around all those sharp curves. But this Vermont was a different Vermont. Of course there were mountains and trees and lots of oncoming traffic. There were also vistas, and open spaces, and views of the sky. It was simply beautiful. Vermont and I are friends now.

Daytrip: Grocery Store

Someone recently said to me, “I love how you go on so many adventures!” And I wondered to myself, “Are those really adventures? Are they adventurous enough to be called adventures? Am adventurous enough to actually go on adventures?”

The answer is YES. I’m not looking to scale Mount Everest. I’m not preparing a continental trek along the Appalachian Trail. I mean, I haven’t even visited Boston yet. But sometimes when I wake up and I realize the weather is only going to be good for another two months, three months tops, I am motivated to leave my house and drive due north for nearly two hours with no other purpose in mind but to find a new grocery store and reward myself with Starbucks.

That’s what I did one morning. I had a grocery list a mile long, and I couldn’t fathom going to the same grocery store that I always go to, again. And because I reward myself with a Starbucks latte after nearly every grocery run, I couldn’t fathom going to the same Starbucks that I always go to, again.

So the kiddo and I decided to drive to Conway, New Hampshire. It’s a town we’d never been to before. We saw mountains we’d never seen before and order from a Starbucks we’d never ordered from before. The trek up north led us to venture into Fryeburg, Maine, just over the state line, back into New Hampshire, and around the entirety of Lake Winnipesaukee. We visited the towns of Tamworth and Meredith, where I found the famous Archie statue (yes, from the Archie comics!). We stopped for a short hike around Chocorua Lake. We trespassed onto farm property in rural Maine, found a Ben & Jerry’s back in New Hampshire, and finally hit up a grocery store. We drove past the iconic Weirs Beach sign on our way home, seven hours after we’d left the house.

I get antsy. I love my house and I love my little town, but I’m realizing how holed up I’ll be in a few short months when winter sets in. And I am starting to believe that I had always relied on our next cross-country move as my source of adventure. Well, we’re not moving anymore. We are here. And that just makes it harder for me not to be there, wherever there is.

So I take daytrips. I drive aimlessly and stop to look at the scenery. I go to Maine. I go to the mountains. I go to Vermont. I find a lake and I stare at it. My family often comes with me on these road trips. We visit famous indie bookshops. We buy local cheese. We drink local beer (well, Matt does). And we marvel at how beautiful it is here and say we need to do this more often. 

And with that, here’s a photographic record of my day out getting groceries and Starbucks.

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Fall, so far.

Fall is most definitely here.

I could tell even a few weeks ago when the sunlight was a little different, never mind that we still had a day or two in the high 80s. The ferns and tall grasses have turned burgundy and gold. Nights are chillier, too. The flannel sheets went on the bed today in preparation for what’s to come. They say it’s going to be a brutal winter, whoever they are.

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So here I am thinking back on the last three months of our lives in New Hampshire. These were good months if you prefer summer over winter. For some, summer was just as brutal as the winter we’re getting ready to supposedly endure. More than a handful of days in the mid- to high-90s were absolutely miserable. Remember, most of us up here don’t have air conditioning. This includes schools, libraries, state government buildings, etc. It was a rough summer. Even I, who used to brag about my Florida blood and superhuman abilities to withstand 100+ degree heat and humidity, broke down a couple of times.

That heat, though, and the unusually heavy downpours we had throughout the summer gave to me some of the best vegetables I’ve grown in years. In two years, to be exact. My backyard in Northeast Ohio was too damp and too shady to even grow more than a handful of cherry tomatoes (Did I even manage that? I can’t remember!). The sun beats down on my front porch garden in New Hampshire which, in turn, provided us with delicious Early Girl and Indigo Rose tomatoes. The zucchini was overtaken by bores (I was glad to hear others suffered the same fate and that it wasn’t just me), my pole runner beans are still going strong, and my snack pepper plant yielded only four. But that’s four more than I grew in two seasons in Ohio. And…and!…I planted some of this stuff as seed in mid-July!

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Being the flatlander that I am at heart, I still find myself closed off a bit from the outside world (or maybe that has something to do with the fact that I live 25 minutes from the nearest decent-sized town). The lakes that dot the region are a nice break from all the trees and steep hills that crowd in close to the road. I’ve pulled over a few times on my way to and from work to take in the view at Rollins Pond and Alton Bay on the south end of Lake Winnipesaukee, near where I live. I’ve also had some time to just enjoy the scenery around here. It is exactly as beautiful as you’ve been told.

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A few weeks ago, my brother convinced me to join him on a short hike. His goal that day was to get to the top of Mount Major, an easy day hike for most people. But I haven’t been hiking in years. I walk easily through parks and trails, but the last mountain I walked up was at least 10 years ago, and even that was on a paved trail. These mountain trails in New Hampshire involve climbing over rocks, dodging timber rattlesnakes and tree roots, and wearing out my lungs for no reason that they deserve. So I made a deal with my brother: Every month, he and I will pick a trail and hike it. These hikes will increase in difficulty and we cannot stop hiking even in the winter months. This deal is so serious that I made him – my younger brother who just turned 34 – pinky swear. But who are we kidding? We all know it’s me who’s going to need to be convinced to hike a mountain in the winter.

Our first hike was more of a walk. Actually, it was totally a walk. I asked him to take it easy on me on our inaugural hike, and then I chose a trail that was so ridiculously easy that even I felt like I had cheated. Unknowingly, of course. I offered up a second walk through a state forest preserve near the top of the mountain on which I live. There was a steep incline towards the end, giving me a fair idea of what I was getting myself into. We completed both of our walks in the woods within a matter of two hours or so. Then my brother grabbed some snacks and headed out to hike Mount Major. Last weekend he hiked up two mountains in a single day! I’ll get there. One day. Until then, we’re taking it one month, one hike, at a time. Next month we’re driving out to York, Maine to hike up Mount Agamenticus. That I can spell and pronounce the name of that mountain is probably more impressive than the moment I reach the top of it. I scheduled this hike for my birthday weekend. On purpose. Accountability. ‘Cause I need to be motivated to go outside, to be outside, even when it’s not summer.

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Here’s a shot from our walk through the woods on a nearby trail, just as the wild goldenrod was at its most golden.

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On being adventurous…

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Sometimes an opportunity just falls into your lap. And sometimes it involves the perfect place, the perfect people, and, if you’re really lucky, perfect timing. This actually happened to us recently. All of this is subjective, of course, because anyone who has ever made a long-distance move knows that once the hard stuff is over, once the greatest challenges of them all have been dealt with – the long-haul drive, the home buying process, establishing a new routine -, it becomes easier to look back and say Well, that wasn’t so bad, was it?

We’re moving again. This makes the second move in as many years. It’s not so bad. Really.

It was our first date night in months, our only plans were to try a new restaurant and watch a ballgame. My husband got the call right after we got into downtown. An offer to work in one of his favorite parts of the country. I high-fived him in the parking lot. The wait was over.

We had been discussing it for a few weeks, about how surreal it would be if this actually happened, and, in all honestly, if we were doing the right thing. Careful not to get too optimistic, and careful not to mention it to anyone at all. Because what if it didn’t happen? No sense in getting our hopes up.

But there we were, minutes after learning the news, celebrating at Mabel’s BBQ, making plans to make more plans, and calling everyone who had been in on it with us since the beginning. I called my mom and dad, and he called his. We called our daughter. He called his best friend, who lives there. I called my younger brother, who also lives there.

There? New Hampshire.

Within an hour we were at a Cleveland Indians game. No, we had no idea that we’d be celebrating our big news with tens of thousands of Tribe fans, but all week I’d been hoping we would. And Andrew Miller, a closing pitcher I affectionately nicknamed Legs during the 2016 World Series, made a brief appearance on the field. We went home happy, looking forward to the summer. Cleveland is an incredible city. I’m confident we embraced Cleveland as much as Cleveland embraced us.

By the way, our house sold in five days. Forward momentum. Timing. No time to worry about this half of the story. Keep moving on to the other half. It’s there. In time it will all come together. The to-do list is wrapping up quite nicely.

Throughout my life I have never considered myself much of an adventurer. However, I’m reconsidering. This is what my childhood has prepared me for. The packing. The moving. The unknown. The newness. The leaving. The going. The arriving. The ability to do this. This thing I seem to always be doing. The adventure. My initial thought being Why not? when asked Should we move there? In most cases, it doesn’t matter where there actually is.

Next week, Matt and I will make the drive to Concord, drop a truckload of boxes into storage, and find a house. It will be my first time to New England.

Indie Bookstore Day 2017

Last month I rallied up the family for a literary adventure through Cleveland. I had recently heard about Independent Bookstore Day, which is celebrated annually on the last Saturday of April, and I thought it would be a fun way for us to see some of the city while we supported local businesses. Since I was finishing up a final assignment on this particular Saturday, we didn’t have a lot of time. Otherwise we would have hit up more than just the two stores we visited.

Our first stop was Loganberry Books in the Larchmere neighborhood of Cleveland. Right away I knew I was going to love this place. I mean, just take a look at the mural that’s painted on the side of their building. It pretty much gives you an idea of how seriously they take their books.

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Once inside, it’s easy to see how Loganberry Books serves as a community anchor. Not only does it extend back and feature a fair amount of new and used books of every genre, but there are other rooms off to the side for author signings and art exhibits. They even have live music events.

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And in the back room, the Lit Arts room, is a bookstore cat. His name is Otis. He really didn’t seem to care that so many people were hovering around, and why would he? He’s used to it. But the day was especially drizzly and gray, and the cat bed was warm. The cat bed was electric! (I have something similar. I have an electric heated mattress cover.) I left Loganberry with two books: Trace: Memory, History, Race, and the American Land by Lauret Savoy and Nancy Isenberg’s White Trash: The 400-Year Untold Story of Class in America.

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Our second stop was to Appletree Books in Cleveland Heights. It’s a much smaller bookshop, but it still felt very much like a bookshop. The owner seemed very excited to meet and greet everyone who came inside, and was super helpful in locating for me a copy of American War by Omar El Akkad.

The walls of Appletree are papered in book pages. And then there’s the staircase…

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After our short tour of Cleveland area bookstores, we found a soul food restaurant on Shaker Square, splurged on some shrimp po’ boy sliders and red Kool-aid (that’s how it’s listed on the menu: red or purple Kool-aid).

And then we returned home so I could finish a paper on the role smallpox played in the founding of America. I submitted it the following day and received a note from my professor urging me to consider the topic as my master’s thesis. I chose another topic, though, which I’m excited to share here on this blog once I get everything approved. And so it seems I’m committed to one final paper before I graduate, before I can finally get around to reading those three books I just bought.

Believe me, I’m looking forward to it. And I’m looking forward to Independent Bookstore Day 2018. For now, I’ll leave you with a closer look at that beautiful book mural.

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Go West!

We took a vacation. Like, a real vacation. And by real I mean there were no relatives to visit and no friends to catch up with, which has been the basis of all our other vacations. This time, though, the three of us piled into our van and headed west to visit places we’d never seen and to be surrounded by people we didn’t know. Do you remember my excitement at crossing the Mississippi River pretty much every single time I cross the Mississippi River? Well, last month I crossed the Rio Grande. TWICE! It was just as exciting, even though the river was barely a trickle in the dry New Mexico landscape.

As you’ve probably noticed, I haven’t posted in quite a while. An 8-week condensed graduate class on the History of the American West pretty much took up any desire I’ve had to write anything for the last two months. I was clever enough to make sure this class and our trip to the Rockies happened at the same time. Why? Because I have never in my life had a desire to go west. I just figured I’d read about something interesting in one of my textbooks that would get me excited. And it worked. Partly through New Mexico I saw a sign for the Chisholm Trail and didn’t shut up about its namesake and history for a good twenty minutes.

We spent our first night in Santa Fe. The town closes up pretty early, which surprised me since it’s both a booming arts community and historical tourist destination. After a quick dinner downtown and a stop at a local bookstore, the three of us went back to our hotel to binge on HGTV. We don’t have cable at home so this HGTV thing turned out to be a heavy theme on our family vacation.

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We headed north the next morning, toward Colorado and Great Sand Dunes National Park. I don’t remember how I discovered this place even exists but the NPS website photographs are incredible! Basically, there are these gigantic sand dunes that sit right at the base of the Rocky Mountains near a town called Mosca. The elevation change from 1,200 feet above sea level in Oklahoma City to over 6,000 feet in Santa Fe had made us all tired and headachy. Even though visiting the Great Sand Dunes was my idea, I was starting to second-guess this side stop. My husband insisted, though, and thank goodness he did. It is really one of the coolest things I have even seen – the tallest sand dune is currently 699 feet high. Visitors can walk to the top and head back down the dunes…on sleds! Of course, walking from the parking lot to the visitors’ center was difficult enough because there is NO OXYGEN up there so I commend anyone who makes it ten feet up the dunes.

Great Sand Dunes National Park

Great Sand Dunes National Park

Great Sand Dunes National Park

Great Sand Dunes National Park

We rented a cabin in the tiny Colorado town of Twin Lakes. Our view was spectacular! We spent the first two days learning how to breathe (again, no oxygen!) and cursing ourselves every time we had to go up and down the stairs. Even turning over in bed left us winded. Since moving our bodies was such an uncomfortable thing to do, we tried not to do it. And this is where HGTV comes in. Like, HEAVILY.

We skied on day 3. It wasn’t a complete fail, but tempers flared and tears were shed. It’s probably best that I do not go into detail. Was it fun? After a while it was, and only for two of us. Will we do it again? Er…maybe the two of us who had fun will do it again, but skiing is an expensive sport. Why? And all the layers! When you’re that close to the sun, and the UV index is off the charts, the fewer clothes, the better. At least that’s what my mountain-top panic attack said. But, no details.

On most days the deer visited our cabin while we acclimatized to the thin air. We found a restaurant/brewery in nearby Buena Vista that we really, really loved. The town of Leadville, just north of the cabin, is full of all kinds of mining history. I convinced the family to humor me and we hit up the National Mining Hall of Fame & Museum. It was so interesting! And practically the only thing open in town…well, that and a Safeway grocery store. So Leadville was a bit disappointing, especially when one considers how much history could be shared in the off-season. (I hate that term.)

Twin Lakes, CO

Twin Lakes, CO

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By the time we figured out how to breathe without oxygen, it was time to head home. I had been arguing for the Santa Fe route again, since we’d had no time at all to tour the town. My husband was arguing for Denver, though. Elle sided with him and, since I was outnumbered, we went to Denver after our 5-day stay in the mountain top cabin. Denver is really, really cool! Breweries everywhere, it seems, and the landscape is such a contrast within the city itself. To the west are the Rockies and to the east is nothing but flatness. It was a nice change to see flatness. For me, anyway.

I have no photos of Denver, unfortunately. Our short time there consisted of walking to Steuben’s for dinner (where I enjoyed the most delicious macaroni and cheese, hands down) and driving to a brewery downtown. There was more HGTV, but then we decided to spice up our television viewing by watching a spin-off of What Not to Wear called Love, Lust, or Run. When you don’t have cable, hotel television binging is always allowed as part of the vacation experience.

The next day we drove through Kansas. Everything you’ve ever heard about Kansas is probably true. There are no trees in Kansas but the speed limit is, like, 75 mph on the interstate, so that kind of makes up for it. Gets you out of Kansas a lot faster, I guess?

By the time we made it home Oklahoma City was in bloom and I had one week to research and write a 12-page paper on the history of the American bison. I wrote it in three days. Then, I think, I slept for two more. I decided to take a month off from school and it’s done wonders for my mental health. My family thinks I’m a nicer person when I’m not in school and they enjoy the fact that I’m cooking again. In fact, I woke up this morning and made blueberry pancakes then turned around and baked a bourbon bread pudding with homemade caramel sauce.

Free time is fun. Speaking of which, here’s what I’m up to book-wise:

What I’ve read:

The Martian by Andy Weir: One of the most enjoyable books I’ve ever read. There’s a lot of space-science and technology talk, but don’t let that get in the way. It’s one of the few books that’s made me laugh out loud. You’ll be recommending this one to all your friends, too.

The Returned by Jason Mott: I just finished this one last night and I was sad to let these characters go. However, if you’re familiar with the French version of the television series, the characters and plot are quite different from the book’s, but not so much that it distracts. It’s more like another version of a great, great story. The American version, though, is not streaming on Hulu or Netflix or anything else, so I don’t know how closely it follows Mott’s book. Read it, though.

The Bear by Claire Cameron: I listened to this on audio while traveling. The story is told from the point of view of a child. It’s…okay. It’s not Room, but good enough. And it’s always interesting (I think) to try to see a story from a perspective outside of the norm. I recently discovered a book about the Battle of Appomattox told from the perspective of a rabbit. I’m not sure how I feel about that one, but it’s getting decent reviews.

I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai: Malala spends little time talking about the event that led to her becoming a household name, and more time sharing the history of Pakistan and her family. It’s a beautiful story.

What I’m reading:

Redeployment by Phil Klay: I’m taking in this collection of essays little by little. It’s overwhelming, the sadness. Everyone I’ve told about this book has been warned about the language and the violence. It’s a part of war. But I’ve also mentioned that I believe anyone who is considering enlisting in military service should read this book, just so they’re aware of what they’re getting into. I read maybe one essay every few days. I can’t do more than that in one sitting.

There Once Was a Woman Who Tried to Kill Her Neighbor’s Baby by Ludmilla Petrushevskaya: Don’t let the title throw you off. There is a short story included that is about that very thing, a woman who tries to kill her neighbor’s baby, but it’s only a few pages long. It’s a good story, as are all the others I’ve read so far. If you like dark fairy tales and otherwordly characters or parallel universes, this is the short story collection for you.

A Tour of the Midwest: Part Five

looking over Chicago

For this vacation we had an actual agenda, and we followed it quite well. Most of our days in Wisconsin were left open so that we could reunite with family members or head off on spontaneous day trips. Chicago, on the other hand, was a well-planned and, I might add, a well-executed adventure in timing. My husband should be a travel agent.

The plan was to visit five major Chicago attractions in just three days. We managed to get through only four. Part of the trick of timing is to shell out ridiculous amounts of money for meals from museum cafes. A Cuban sandwich is never worth $12, but sometimes convenience is.

DAY ONE:

Museum of Science & Industry

We left Little Cedar Lake at 8am and headed straight to the Museum of Science & Industry. This really was our first stop, before we’d even checked in at the hotel. It’s a great museum to take kids since it encourages hands-on interaction. This, by the way, is also one of its drawbacks. Chaos aside, all of us managed to find something we enjoyed. Elle almost signed herself up for a dissection class (she’s into forensics and anatomy) but backed out when she learned they would be dissecting a cow’s eyeball (the one body part that makes her squeamish). Matt was excited to tour the U-505, a German u-boat captured by the US Navy in 1944. It has quite the storied history. However, while our CityPASS museum tickets allowed us a free guided tour aboard the U-505, the tours were all completely full by mid-morning. There was never any indication given to us that this could happen, or that we even had to sign up for the tour. Shame on you, museum staff. You disappointed us here, and I’m sure many other folks were disappointed, too. For this reason, we gave the Museum of Science & Industry two fat thumbs down.

U-505 @ Chicago Museum of Science & Technology

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After checking into our hotel we had dinner at an Italian restaurant where a strange man, apparently a regular, proceeded to engage us in conversation with a set of plastic eyeballs he used to puppetize his right hand. He was originally from Tulsa, and a retired librarian. And odd. He was very, very odd, but he gave us some great recommendations.

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DAY TWO:

Field Museum

Oh, Field Museum, how fantastic are you!?!?! I could have spent all day, nay ALL WEEK!, in this place. There are dinosaurs (hello, Sue!), minerals and gems, birds from around the world, Egyptian tombs and child mummies, and a Maori hut! Can you believe I actually agreed to pass on the Plants of the World exhibit because we were running out of time? Now I have to go back.

Field Museum

Field Museum

Field Museum - Sue the T-Rex

Maori hut @ Field Museum

Maori hut @ Field Museum

That Maori hut blew my mind. I’d spent so many months last year writing my thesis on the American narrative and our culture of national and personal memory. Part of my thesis compared other cultures’ earliest personal memories based on what parts of the world the children were raised. Yes, I know this rant is a bit off-topic, but it explains why I was so enamored of this structure. Americans and other westerners are from very individual-based cultures and recall first memories from around the age of four. Asian-based cultures, many of which reflect nationalism, avoid individualism which reflects in a person’s first personal memory much later in childhood, usually around the age of six. The Maori tribe of New Zealand maintains a culture that prizes personal family history above all else, and they often recall memories from the age of two. TWO! And here I was standing in a still-used meeting house? Whoa.

Finally, my thesis research can be used to inform someone other than my thesis advisory board! And now back to our regularly scheduled touristing…

Shedd Aquarium

The Shedd Aquarium is another favorite of ours! There was a dolphin and beluga show (which a staff member graciously let us see for free), penguins, playful sea lions and river otters, etc. Really, it’s the same thing you see at any aquarium around the country, but this one was near perfection. Again we had lunch in the cafe, with a gorgeous view of Lake Michigan. A beluga whale talked to us, and a sea lion was also quite the conversationalist. One of the coolest things was the shark fetus!

Shedd Aquarium

at Shedd Aquarium

at Shedd Aquarium

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Dinner? A Chicago-style deep dish pizza from Gino’s East, delivered to our hotel room because I’m lazy.

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DAY THREE:

Willis Tower

Most people know this as the Sears Tower (and some refuse to call it by its new name). Willis Tower’s Skydeck was going to be my biggest challenge, or so I thought. I’d already had to back out of climbing to the top of Oklahoma City’s Skytrail and that’s only 8 stories. The Skydeck is 103 stories. The only way to get there is to be crammed into an elevator with about 30 other people for a 60-second ride to the top. It’s not a quick trip down either, so I knew if I was going to panic that I’d have to do it in a very controlled way. BUT I HAD TO MAKE IT TO THE TOP. PERSONAL CHALLENGE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Let’s back up an hour or so to my first ride on Chicago’s L train. I’m a fairly seasoned DC Metro veteran, yet it dawned on me that the Metro is a much smoother ride than the L train. The fastest way from our hotel to Willis Tower was via the subway. That little nagging voice in the back of my head that kept saying Willis Tower Willis Tower Willis Tower clearly had no idea what riding the L train was like. I rode the train out of necessity, but I don’t ever want to do it again.

Willis Tower? No problem. Except I have to touch a wall, or a human being, on the elevator, and it doesn’t matter to me if I know who you are. It might matter to you, but I was lucky enough to ride up and down with a bunch of strangers who didn’t care. Another hint – bring gum, to pop your ears. I felt like I was yelling the whole time because I couldn’t hear anything.

The view is absolutely incredible, though.

Willis Tower

Willis Tower

Willis Tower Skydeck

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Willis Tower skydeck

By the time we made it down to solid ground again, we were all exhausted. Matt’s plan was for us to hit up the Goose Island Brewery, accessible via another line on the L train. All above-ground, this ride was easier for me to deal with. But after walking block after block from the train station, deeper into an obviously industrial side of town, it was learned that the brewery is simply that – a brewery. No restaurant, no tasting room, nothing.

Remember the crap my family gave me about Ella’s Deli in Madison, Wisconsin? This is where Matt and I called it Even Stevens, pretty much while we were standing in front of a property filled with shipping and storage containers. Notice THERE IS NO RESTAURANT. But there was plenty of whine…we were hangry, and tired, and hot, and hangry (again).

That's not a restaurant...wrong side of town.

In lieu of the Adler Planetarium, attraction #5, we decided that shopping at Ulta for makeup would put us girls in a better mental state. And it worked. A few hours earlier I had snapped while eating a French dip in the Eleven City Diner, which we’d found after a train ride back into downtown from Goose Island Brewery. There were tears. There were apologies. There were new plans, most of which involved retail therapy and heading back to the hotel to binge on cable television.

I don’t want to rehash the hellish experience that was my $28 pasta takeout from the hotel restaurant that evening, so instead I’ll leave you with more photographs from Chicago. It’s a city I’m happy to have visited, but I’m happier to be home in Oklahoma City.

downtown Chicago

Chicago porches

hotel view

Field Museum

L train

Soldier Field, bah.

hotel bar at Public

Chicago lakefront buildings

Chicago Theater

downtown Chicago

A Tour of the Midwest: Part Four

We are Green Bay Packers fans. That fact is one of the first things people learn about me or my family. Politics and religious beliefs can be overlooked within our clan. It’s where your loyalty lies within the NFL that matters. For example, before Matt and I were married he claimed no loyalty to any team. He isn’t much of a sports guy. But then he joined my family in South Carolina for the holidays while we were still dating and woke up to find his very own Cheesehead under the Christmas tree.

He’s a fan now, too.

When he and I were planning our trip to Wisconsin, I told him, “There is no way I can be that close to Mecca and not visit!” If you’re a Cheesehead, you understand that Mecca means Lambeau Field. If you’re not a Cheesehead, well…

Matt, Elle, and I headed to Green Bay on Sunday afternoon and checked into our hotel, the Tundra Lodge. It has a waterpark inside! We took a few relaxing trips on the lazy river and spent some time outside in the giant hot tub. Later we decided to go to a local brewery for dinner.

Titletown Brewery

Titletown Brewery

Titletown Brewery is now a brewery and restaurant, but it used to be the Chicago and North Western Train Depot. For forty years the Packers used this station to travel back and forth for away games in Chicago and Milwaukee. It is located next to the Fox River in downtown Green Bay, and across the street is the Neville Public Museum.

If you go there to eat, I highly recommend the cucumber salad. Matt recommends the poutine. They also make their own root beer with an old family recipe. It comes highly recommended by Elle, who I sometimes think is a root beer connoisseur.

Moving on past a horrible night’s sleep (preceded, however, by hours and hours of CABLE TELEVISION!) (which we obviously don’t get at home or I wouldn’t be so excited about it), the three of us checked out of the hotel and went straight to Lambeau Field. With tour tickets in hand, we waited while the family drove up from West Bend then we all had lunch at Curly’s Pub. There was more poutine and even more fried cheese curds and hamburgers with the Packers “G” grilled into the buns.

And then…

Lambeau Field

It was so cool to visit this place with my family – my parents from Florida, my aunt and uncle from West Bend, my husband and kiddo from Oklahoma City. I only wish my brothers could’ve been there. I mean, we all saw the world’s biggest G together! Family memories, man. Family memories.

Lambeau Field - the biggest G in the world

Lambeau Field

There was so much to take in – over 90 minutes straight of Lambeau history. Our tour guide was just a kid when he sat down on the bleacher seats during the infamous Ice Bowl but he told me that even employees don’t get special perks to attend games.You can add your name to the season tickets waiting list but it’ll be about 14,000 years (yes, fourteen thousand years) before you get called up.

Lambeau Field

Lambeau Field

That patch of concrete is a significant part of the Green Bay Packers history. It has been moved from each stadium the Packers have called their home field to finally land here at Lambeau. That means every single Green Bay Packer has run across this exact concrete patch since the team played its first game.

Lambeau Field

You should be here!

Lambeau Field

Lambeau Field

The Brett Favre situation is still discussed, though I think without so many hard feelings. Reggie White is the last Green Bay Packer to retire his number here. Favre is expected to retire his number here, too. In fact, the rumor is he’ll do it before the year is out. And wouldn’t that be a good pair of names to see next to each other again? Reggie White and Brett Favre, together again at Lambeau Field.

Exhausted from walking and from spending so much money in the Pro Shop (Dog collars! Coffee mugs! Children’s books written by Donald Driver!), we all went our separate ways. I said goodbye to my parents that evening and our little family of three packed up for the trip to Chicago the next morning.

 

A Tour of the Midwest: Part Three

A few months ago I listened to the Laverne & Shirley theme song a ridiculous number of times. That song, and the whole show, really, help keep vivid a memory I have of touring my first brewery in Milwaukee, which was the Pabst Brewery. I was young, too young to enjoy the samples of free beer at the end of the tour, but I remember watching the bottles fly past me on the assembly line. There were high hopes that a glove would stow itself away on the neck of one of those bottles and wave to me as it made its way out into the world, a la Laverne & Shirley.

Everything I just mentioned is important to me for these reasons:

1. The glove on the bottleneck never appeared. Disappointing, but life goes on.
2. The next time I took a brewery tour I was of legal age, but then I was too pregnant to enjoy the free samples of beer at the end.
3. While in Milwaukee this month, we had lunch at Lakefront Brewery but decided to skip the tour. Later in the week, while standing in the atrium of Lambeau Field, a gentleman struck up a conversation with my husband about Lakefront Brewery and mentioned the tour. “Oh, it’s one of the best in the city. They have the whole group sing the theme song from Laverne & Shirley at the end!” OH MY GOD. WHY DID WE NOT TAKE THE TOUR!?!?!?!

So, here. Just because.

MILWAUKEE

We didn’t plan too much of our day around Milwaukee. Matt and I had three goals. Visit the Pabst Brewery gift store. Eat lunch at a brewery. Dip our toes into Lake Michigan (okay, that one was my goal).

The Pabst Brewery was fairly easy to find. I mean, you kind of drive into the area like it’s a subdivision or the town’s historic district, with signs a’blazin’: YOU ARE HERE!

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Lakefront Brewery is situated in the middle of a what looks like a condominium farm. A former industrial area? Probably. At least that was my guess after finding the nearby train bridge had been turned into a pedestrian walk-through. And there was thistle, just like here in Oklahoma!

It’s beautiful there. I like how the wild things are very obviously trying to take the area back, and I especially like how the people around here let it.

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Lakefront Brewery

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After a lunch of polish sausage on a stick and fried cheese curds, we headed toward Lake Michigan via Brady Street and the rich neighborhoods of the lakeshore. There was a beach volleyball tournament going on which involved a national championship. Naturally this left us with nowhere to park. And here is where we leave Milwaukee.

PORT WASHINGTON

Forgive me, BUT MY GAWD THIS IS ONE OF THE CUTEST TOWNS I HAVE EVER SEEN! Our timing is impeccable seeing as we Oklahomans rolled into this quaint little town at the exact moment they were testing their tornado sirens. Was it noon? Yep. Was it Saturday? Yep. We know the drill.

The sky was a bit overcast when we got into Port Washington, but the air was not cold (believe me, I’m just as surprised as you are that I didn’t freeze in the 70 degree weather). We spotted a Duluth Trading Company shop at the port. Matt needed pants. I needed a hat with a strap. Elle needed socks. So we shopped.

Just across from this small strip of stores is the harbor and marina. Next door was some kind of fishing derby. And there were two walkways that led visitors to separate lighthouses. We chose the one that warned of slippery rocks, a sign blaring DO NOT ENTER in red (to convey seriousness, always use red), and joined the throngs of other trespassers. It was probably the most dangerous thing I’ve done this century.

Even if I’d fallen in, it would have been worth it (I spotted the lifesaver rings way before I stepped foot on that breakwater – those of us riddled with anxiety are always prepared). The sky even cleared for us.

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Port Washington marina

Lake Michigan

Lake Michigan

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Lake Michigan

Lake Michigan

Did I get to dip my toe into Lake Michigan? No. I’m actually okay with this. That water is COLD. This time I chose to stay dry and warm.

Next up: Our family’s pilgrimage to Mecca.

A Tour of the Midwest: Part Two

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Our first night at Little Cedar Lake started late. We pulled in around 9:30 Wednesday evening, said hello to our hosts for the week (my cousin Debbie and her fiance, Mike), and went to unpacking the van straight away so we could get to the business of sleeping. For months I had been looking forward to “glamping” in one of my cousin’s two glampers. Oh, the fresh air, and the sounds of nighttime! Who was I kidding? I gave up after a few hours and went inside to take over the couch.

I woke up refreshed, as if I’d slept a full 8 hours (which NEVER happens). And with the sun shining so brightly outside, I actually wondered if I had slept in too late. When I checked the time it wasn’t yet 6 o’clock. IN THE MORNING. Northern latitudes – you play mean tricks! I immediately thought of all those nights as a kid in Upper Michigan when I could play outside until it was 10 o’clock at night. The sun comes up at four a.m. during some parts of the year. Then a delightful thought sprang into my mind – GO BACK TO BED. IT’S TOO EARLY. Before I fell back to sleep, I took this photograph so I could remember not only the view I had each day, but also what early morning looks like up north.

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We spent most of our days on the lake. There was fishing. There was boating. There were July Fourth fireworks coming from every direction. There was family reunion-ing. I finally met my cousin’s son, born only two months after my own daughter. He is autistic but he held my hand when we said goodbye to each other. I’ll remember that forever.

Little Cedar Lake

Little Cedar Lake

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I took some time to introvert in the glamper – to read, to nap, to listen to the birds.

Little Cedar Lake

Little Cedar Lake

Little Cedar Lake

The weather was near-perfect everyday. Having adapted to Oklahoma’s dry heat from Florida’s humidity, I worried Wisconsin would chill me to the bone. I believed in this fact so hard that I actually packed winter clothing. Silly of me, really. It turns out the heaviest thing I ever wore was a flannel, so quick was I to tap into my once-northern blood.

Though I’d never been to Little Cedar Lake before this, the surrounding towns played a huge part in my growing up. My parents brought us to visit this side of the family often – we only lived five hours away when I was a kid – and we’d established traditions. My childhood is here. At the farmhouse, at the Jackson Motel, at the Everly House, at Jim’s Bakery (now Jim’s Place), in the cornfield where, decades ago, my cousin and his friends showed me where they stashed their booze.

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Sometimes we ventured away from Little Cedar Lake. There were day trips to see the old Pabst Brewery in Milwaukee and other drives north to Port Washington and Green Bay. But we always returned to Little Cedar Lake in time for the sunset.

We can’t wait to get back.

Little Cedar Lake

Little Cedar Lake

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Next stop: Port Washington and Milwaukee. Or, as I like to call it, Milwhoa (like Joey from Blossom – I can’t help it).