Winter & Brunswick, Maine

I decided to board an Amtrak train to Brunswick, Maine. This was months ago, just when New England seemed to be at the peak of an already long and cold winter. There was an opportunity to tour one of the most elite colleges in the country. We’d heard things about this place: the campus is small but charming, the food is phenomenal, there’s an Arctic museum on the grounds. And because we all seemed to be suffering from cabin fever, we booked a hotel across the street from the school and called it our Winter 2019 Family Vacation.

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Matt decided to drive to Brunswick where he would meet us at the station while Elle and I hopped on board the northbound Downeaster express. The route took us through Old Orchard Beach, Portland, alongside the L.L. Bean flagship store in Freeport, and along the coast. From our huge windows we saw Ferris wheels, frozen rivers, and the ocean. It spit us out right in the center of downtown Brunswick. Admittedly, Brunswick is small. And it was cold. Not Brunswick’s fault. But the town’s smallness was much appreciated by those of us traveling on foot. Not so far to go to get to where you’re going.

The college tour was cold, of course. Led by a sophomore government major in a miniskirt. She’s from Montana and therefore immune to winters. And I, while not even close to being immune to winters, am starting to find all things beautiful in these icy cold climates. I dream of visiting Newfoundland and consider risking seasickness in order to seek out puffin colonies on the North Atlantic coast. Iceberg spotting from Twilingate. Sighting auroras from the shores of the Labrador Sea. Eating a proper Scotch egg made by a Nova Scotian. These kinds of things.

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Yet the closest I’ve been to any of these places is Brunswick. Our feet were frozen and raw from the walk around town. I got to touch a narwhal tusk. We ate delicious food.

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Back in 2016 Malcolm Gladwell trashed Bowdoin College for spending more money on their dining services (they consistently rank #1 in best college food) than on providing financial aid packages for low-income students. It’s an unfair assessment on how Bowdoin spends their endowment and generates funding for its stellar dining options. And would you know we opted not to eat at the college. Why? Because we’re a bunch of idiots and we just wanted to go home after a long, cold day on campus. Tired, cold idiots. Nobody thinks rationally when they’re tired and cold.

The good news is Elle graduated an entire year early, so the chances that we’ll get to take another tour around Bowdoin are good.  I’m totally going to eat on campus and I’m totally only taking another tour during the non-winter months.

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We drove home together the very next day. The Amtrak train ride to Brunswick was a practice run of sorts. We’d just recently found out my brother was getting married in Orlando in April. My husband wasn’t sure he’d be able to go, conflicting schedules and all. And I certainly wasn’t going to drive from New England to Central Florida without him. Flying? Out of the question.

That’s next…

Road Trip through the Dirty South

Winter in Northeast Ohio had taken its toll on me, as I knew it would. Though this winter was, in hindsight, considered mild, it still left me feeling unmotivated, closed in, and cold. Always cold. Luckily I had the forethought to plan a trip to Florida during spring break.

My daughter and I left early on a Friday morning and didn’t return until two Sundays later. In those nine days I drove through Ohio, West Virginia, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida. And that was just one way. Coming home, we added Maryland and Pennsylvania to the list. Nine states in nine days. It was as exhausting as it sounds.

What was really great about this trip was that I had never made this particular drive before. I had never been through southern Ohio, and it was my first time in West Virginia. Every highway, every vista, every overlook was new to me, at least until we reached Charlotte, North Carolina. Then, as one would expect, I was home. Still hundreds of miles from my actual home, but home in the sense that I didn’t have to wear a coat in the middle of March, and sweet tea is a restaurant staple. I saw a palm tree. I needed nothing more.

In Charlotte, we visited with one of my best friends and her daughter, to whom I inadvertently spilled the beans that Santa isn’t real. (Shit. Sorry, D.) Another friend and his family stopped by our hotel room for a few hours. I hadn’t seen him in at least six years, and I finally met his wife and children. The little ones played in the hotel pool while we grownups snitched to hotel management on a group of reckless teenagers. (Boy, have the times changed. It feels like not too long ago that group of reckless teenagers used to be us. And then I became hotel management.)

In Jacksonville, we spent time with the entire family, including my parents, my brothers, and the dogs. There are always dogs. Nick flew in from New Hampshire. Brian drove up from Orlando. We met the girlfriend, watched Hell or High Water, reunited with friends from the neighborhood, got sunburned at the zoo, and spent a day at the beach. The water was freezing, but I didn’t mind. I only needed the sun and the sound of the waves.

In Charlottesville, I purposely booked a hotel designed after the German Tudor style. We spent the entire afternoon with one of my oldest friends and his wife touring Monticello and Jefferson’s gardens. (I purchased seed packets from the Monticello garden and, at this very moment, my nasturtium is starting to come through the soil. Minicello may be on hold, but my desire to grow Jefferson-approved flowers will not be quashed.) My intention while in Charlottesville was to visit James Madison’s house, as well, and maybe take a foot tour of University of Virginia, but by this point I was exhausted. That we stayed up sharing stories until well past our bedtimes (ahem…10pm) only made things worse. But, oh…the stories. And my daughter learned so much about me over dinner. Ha!

In Harper’s Ferry, our last stop before heading back to Cleveland, we spent the night with another of my closest friends at her parents’ home in the mountains. Again, I had every intention on visiting downtown, or at least taking in some of the historic sites around Harper’s Ferry, but I could barely muster the energy to stay awake at this point. I even had to insist we stay in to eat dinner because another minute in the car would have been the end of me! I’m so glad I made this stop, though, and I feel like my road trip would have been incomplete without seeing them. And now our kids are the same age we were when we met. What?

How does time fly so quickly? Where did it go? This trip, for me, was more about the people than the places. I know time cannot be reclaimed, but please…let’s not wait too long before we do it all over again. In new cities. In new places. Just like we always do. Just like we did. To see my family and my oldest friends –  sometimes I need nothing more.

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Great Lakes Magic

A friend and fellow blogger recently got in touch with me and asked, “Where ya been? You haven’t posted since April!” Mostly I’ve been nowhere, or right here, in the same spot I’m always in. There has been little excitement so, therefore, there has been little to share.

I take that back. But, honestly, the exciting stuff didn’t happen until recently.

For a few days back in early June, I was in Cleveland. We all were in Cleveland. A job interview for my husband morphed into a family vacation of sorts. The kind of family vacation where the husband goes to his job interview while the kid and I binge-watch Keeping Up With the Kardashians and Teen Mom OG in the hotel room, because we love our trash TV.

During pockets of free time, we visited downtown Chagrin Falls (where one independent bookseller proceeded to sing the first few lines from the title song from Oklahoma! to make me feel welcome) and visited a few homes for sale in the villages of Kirtland, Chardon, Chagrin Falls, and Solon. We like to be prepared, and the idea of having to rush a cross-country move with four large dogs and a teenager beginning high school motivated us to get our options in line ASAP. That is if the opportunity to move there was presented.

The first thought that crossed my mind was How are you going to deal with winter, Dena? You’re a big baby. Let it be known that I spent a total of 9 years of my childhood in the Great Lakes region, digging out of 8-foot snowdrifts, climbing trees, avoiding black bears in the woods, and dipping my little-kid toes into the icy cold waters of Lake Michigan and Lake Superior. Northeast Ohio has birches and blue spruce, rocky hills and waterfalls, black bears and chipmunks, and ridiculously friendly people who talk like me. Maybe there in Cleveland, I thought, I wouldn’t sound so funny to everyone else. My accent wouldn’t be an accent. It’s just how people talk up there.

One thing I had to do before we returned to Oklahoma, however, was dip my now-grownup toes into the icy cold waters of Lake Erie. This would put my HOMES checklist at over half! My mother insists I can also count Lake Huron as an early Great Lake encounter, but I don’t remember it so I don’t feel like that’s a fair statement. If I made it to Lake Erie during this trip I would only have two Great Lakes left in order to completely knock out my toe-dipping adventures: Huron and Ontario. But what if we didn’t return? What if this was my only chance with Lake Erie?

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So we headed out on our last night in town to find a spot for some toe-dipping. The water was too cold for toe-dipping, so I opted to rest my hands in it instead. And for about an hour, the family just enjoyed being…well, just being. We talked about fishing for lake trout and exploring local breweries, about the Cleveland Indians and how summers feel more humane there. We walked back and forth along the beach and picked through the shore’s smoothed rocks to find a few favorites to bring home.

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When I got back to Oklahoma City, I immediately placed my Lake Erie rocks in with one of my favorite potted plants. We have an interesting collection of Oklahoma rose rock and other unique pieces of stone in and around the garden and it seemed the right spot for these rocks to be.

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Each time I went outside to weed around the basil or pick the snap peas, I would venture over to my lobelia and lemon thyme, pick up a Lake Erie rock, and rub it with my thumb and forefinger. I wished on it. I talked to it. I treated it like it was a talisman that held some sort of Great Lakes magic. And, guys, it must have worked.

We are moving to Cleveland next month.

 

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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Twin Lakes, CO

 

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).

A Tour of the Midwest: Part One

We’ve just returned from a 10-day vacation around parts of the Midwest. It went by too quickly, yet at the same time I was thrilled to pull into our driveway last night, unpack, and crawl into my own bed. Normal life resumes. The 13-hour drive from Chicago treated us much better than the 20-hour drive from North Florida last summer (a torturous haul I wouldn’t recommend to anyone).

During our short stay in Northern Wisconsin, I considered having the family drive a few extra hours north to Upper Michigan where my would-have-been high school reunion was taking place. Late last year I was invited to attend, even though I had moved away from this tiny Michigan town when I was twelve years old. Keeping in mind all the other hours we would be car-bound led me to stay put. A good decision, I think.

How do I recap this vacation? We visited eight cities – some of them were big, most of them were small, and two of them were Springfields. Missouri has the most beautiful roadside wildflowers; Illinois has the most boring landscape. Lake Michigan has cliffs and seaspray and it is breathtaking. And, for just a little while, I felt like I was on top of the world.

So, how do I recap this vacation? Place by place! Or segment by segment, really. The distance between Oklahoma City, Oklahoma and Green Bay, Wisconsin is approximately 976 miles. We made a few stops in between.

*****

SPRINGFIELD, ILLINOIS

We actually spent the first night in Springfield, Missouri, with my in-laws and had breakfast there. We made a spontaneous stop in Springfield, Illinois because of my Abraham Lincoln-mania and had a convenient lunch there. My husband is the one who pointed out our “eating in Springfields” trend that day. Dinner was not in a Springfield, sadly. But hey, IT’S ABRAHAM LINCOLN’S HOUSE, Y’ALL!

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I am starting my master’s degree in American history next month, so what kind of student would I be if I let this opportunity pass me by? We took the tour of Lincoln’s house and learned a lot. Too much for me to retain. What I do remember is this: the top photo is of the renovated house. Lincoln bought the home as a one-story building that had only a few rooms. As his fortune grew, so did his house. The kitchen, pictured above, ended up being a favorite of Mary Todd’s. When Abe was elected and readying the family for a move into the White House, she begged him to allow her to bring this stove. It was top of the line back then. Her husband assured her the White House was adequately equipped with a functioning stove and she finally agreed to drop the subject.

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The bedroom featured above belonged to one of the boys, though I never did catch which one. Truthfully, this was my favorite room (besides the nanny’s). It was the only one I can remember that didn’t feature gaudy wallpaper and a blindingly hideous curtain fabric (again, besides the nanny’s). I’m not knowledgeable enough in historic preservation to decide if that’s the fault of the Lincolns or historical interpreters. The photograph of the house is purely for tourist purposes: it is the most popular angle from which to capture a shot.

This photo featured below was a happy accident that led me to find my own personal connection to Lincoln. The reason for this trip to Wisconsin was to visit with my mother’s side of the family, half of whom are Hamlins. And yes, it turns out they are related to Hannibal Hamlin, Lincoln’s VP. HISTORY NERD SCORE! Another Hamlin-esque note of interest: Hannibal Hamlin’s son, Charles, was at the Ford’s Theater the night Lincoln was assassinated. When you think about how many presidential assassinations Lincoln’s son, Robert, witnessed, it makes you wonder how much smaller the political world was back then. Or is that just me?

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MADISON, WISCONSIN

I take full responsibility for this slip-up. Here’s the thing: my daughter’s nickname is Ella and I have known for years about Ella’s Deli in Madison. I’ve been instructed, for my daughter’s sake, to visit Ella’s Deli one day. So the family agreed to drive nearly 90 minutes off our travel route to have dinner at Ella’s Deli. How could we not? WE WERE SO CLOSE! And be sure to try the noodle kugel!!! (whatever the hell that is)

Ella's Diner - Madison

Ella's Deli - Madison (noodle kugel!)

I’m still trying to process this experience. It was an alarming super-sensory adventure. The menu itself is 20 pages long, often featuring the same dish multiple times but it SO MANY DIFFERENT FONTS AND COLORS!!!!!!!!! There were trains making the rounds near the ceiling and mechanical toys flying above our heads. Near our table was an Elvis the Pelvis who sprung out of the wall like a cuckoo bird. Above my husband was a pantiless Betty Boop doll (who’d seen better days) swinging lazily on a swing. It was some creepy, overwhelming shit.

We watched more than one kid lick the windows all while a little girl sitting behind me coughed and sniffled daintily just inches from my hair. It was disturbing to realize the dried…er, stuff (?) on the menu might not be food at all and was probably months-old kid boogers. Ella, my Ella, hilariously declared that she would wait out the next 72 hours to see if she’d caught a virus. The whole family was concerned. (Note: WE ARE FINE! Our next virus watch wouldn’t hit us again until I accidentally stuck my finger in my mouth after touching a Chicago subway rail. Ewww.) Check out the website and decide for yourself, unless your eyes explode from this visual circus, if you’d like to visit one day. Don’t forget the Excedrin.

As for the noodle kugel – I still don’t know what the hell it is, but up there is a picture of it. It wasn’t necessarily awful, instead I found it to be surprisingly edible. Imagine your mom’s creamy homemade macaroni and cheese, baked to a tender crisp on top, and sprinkled with…cinnamon? And dipped in sour cream? I ate it because I was hungry but I don’t ever want to eat it again, that’s for sure.

(I took the hit for making my family suffer through Ella’s Deli but things evened out later during our trip when my husband suggested we take the L train in Chicago to some brewery restaurant that didn’t exist and had us walking around for blocks in the industrial part of the city.)

Next stop: Little Cedar Lake

Garden Progress – Week 6

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snap peas

black magic petunias

hot peppers

lime mint

hypoestes pot

As you can see, the garden is doing exactly what it’s supposed to do. The peas, peppers, and tomatoes are starting to produce, and I have blossoms on the squash and the cucumbers. I have even managed to bring back to life that bacopa I was getting really worried about. I still don’t know what I did right, but I took some advice from the local nursery and transferred it into a larger pot THEN sat it in a birdbath so it has constant access to water.

The weather here seems to be much milder than it was last year at this time. So far in May, we have had no tornado-producing storms roll through. This is good news for more than the obvious reason: I also have yet to clean the basement. I like to think of myself as a reliably panicky person, someone who is prone to prepare for the preparations, but with each passing day of sunshine (and subsequent drought conditions) I find myself becoming complacent. And lazy. Mostly lazy (I hate hauling that damn vacuum up those basement stairs).

After school lets out for the summer, Matt and I will be driving our daughter to Missouri where she will hitch a ride with one set of grandparents to be dropped off with another set of grandparents in Florida for a month or so. It’s quite possible that Elle will avoid any tornadoes in Oklahoma, even though she’ll end up in the dead center of hurricane alley for the early part of the Atlantic storm season.

We won’t mention the recent shark attack in Jacksonville Beach. Or that Katherine and Mary Lee, the Great Whites, have been spotted mere yards off Jacksonville’s coast. While I know deep down where logic lives that the worst thing to happen to my kid is probably going to be some carsickness and a sunburn, I just can’t help but worry.