are certain compliments that, by their nature, are suspect. The kind of
compliment where you have
to look carefully at the person to see if an upper lip is twitching in an
attempt to keep a smile from breaking across their face. Complements
like "that meal was so good, I can't wait to floss just to taste it
I say all that just to
point out that what follows is NOT that kind of statement.
I enjoyed our driving
vacation to Minnesota with the kids.
I know, you're
thinking two kids, cramped space, driving for four to six hours on an
average day, day after day, for two weeks. You're thinking National
Lampoon's "Vacation," except without Christie Brinkely
maybe. Fighting kids, yelling parents, fury building until it
explodes like a tidal wave across a major league baseball field built in
the middle of a cornfield so they will come. OK, that analogy
was a stretch, but we've seen a LOT of cornfields in the past two weeks
and somehow the idea of them getting hit by a tidal wave is appealing to
me. I have no idea where the baseball field came from though.
thinking DISASSTER, unless you're good at spelling, in which case you're
thinking "Dave needs to use a spell checker."
And, OK, I'd be lying
if I didn't say there was a certain amount of yelling and fighting and
general tension and the occasional desire to beat the children senseless. But in general, it really was a great
part of this was our traveling entertainment center. The
9" TV with build in DVD, along with a 300 watt power inverter,
a Nintendo, two controllers, one gameboy, two gameboy advances,
thirty six hours of DVDs, eight nintendo games, more gameboy games
than I can count, and, of course, the laptop, kept the kids
entertained. And, after listening to Link, the
hero of the Nintendo game "Majora's Mask," hack an enemy
with the characteristic 'ching' of metal on metal, ten times a
minute, three to four hundred minutes a day, for two weeks almost
continuously, I began to realize that
there are secretly encoded MESSAGES in the sound. If you
listen carefully, you can hear the voices. I'm pretty sure
they are telling me that all the pots and pans in our house are
possessed by evil demons and must be destroyed, but I'm still
working on it.
first stop was Ithaca, NY, where we visited with Eric and Cathy Haines
for two days. Cathy's parents were there the first day,
when we arrived rather late in the day, but left that evening.
After hours of driving we were happy to just sit outside, have
dinner, catch up on recent events, and the like. The next day
we visited the the Imogene Powers Johnson Center for Birds and
Biodiversity (at Cornell), a vineyard, and the Science Center. The
bird center included a hike through several acres of woods with a
guide identifying forty seven different kinds of birds that can be
found there. We found some ducks. And a turtle.
And a snail. We did hear a lot of birds, though. Unless
that was other bird watchers trying desperately to attract
some of the birds with simulated calls.
Haines Family, Eric, Cathy, Ryan (12) and Evan (10).
Powers Johnson Center. This was pretty cool, actually.
They had several viewing areas with high powered scopes to watch
birds with, looking over a lake in one direction and a set of bird
feeders in the other. Here we are all trying to see a
hummingbird up close and personal.
Wine tasting at
the vineyard. The wines varied from "Hideously
kinky" to "Eau de Toilette." I liked some of the
descriptions, like the wine that was particularly good with
"aggressively spiced foods." That's my idea of emphasizing
the positive when trying to market yourself. I suggested they
add "capable of stripping old paint off doors in seconds"
but it didn't go over well.
Science Center... also a lot of fun, a very "hands on"
kind of place. They had a variation on the "musical
staircase" theme, a computer generated set of panels hanging in
air that you could see superimposed over a real time video feed of a
stairwell on the computer monitor. Touching them made a
sound. Watching people running up and down stairs, waving to
"hit" the panels, was hysterical... or so Kate tells me, I
was too busy doing it.
was actually a short stop on the way out of Ithaca... very cool
next stop was Niagara Falls. First we walked around
a bit in the rain and got wet. Then we took the Maid of
the Mist boat tour (the US side, actually, despite the Canadian flag
on the picture) and got very wet. Then we did the Cave of the
Winds walk (our motto, "there really isn't a cave, but we don't
tell you that until after you've paid and taken the elevator down
175 feet and can't get your money back") and, wearing the
ponchos they gave us, might as well have taken a bath in our
clothes. In cold water. When we reached the pinnacle of
wind and wet, the "hurricane deck," Will, being the
sensible ten year old he is, danced around with his arms
outstretched, howling at the top of his lungs and laughing
maniacally. I'm a little worried about that boy.
stop, Dearborn, Michigan, home of the Ford Motor Company. We
visited Greenfield Village, where Henry Ford kept his building
collection. It's nice to know that, no matter how stinkin',
filthy rich you
get, there's always something inappropriately expensive you can
collect. In this case, it was buildings, like the original
Menlo Park research facility of Thomas Edison, which was moved piece
by piece and rebuilt just as carefully, preserving most of the
interior furnishings and/or equipment (the building shown here is
not the Menlo Park facility by the way, it's a different Edison building).
That was only a few of the hundreds of authentic (and a few
reproduced) buildings, cars, trains, and other landmarks
transplanted to the mythical village of Greenfield.
village is also home to more than a hundred model T's, most
authentic but also including six built from the original
specifications three years ago. We rode in one... didn't get
enough driving going cross country so we decided to get a little
stop, Chicago. Chi-town. You know, it's funny, but I've
flown through it before but never really thought about the fact that
it's situated on one of the great lakes. They've taken a
big part of the shore line and turned it into a giant part with lots
of cultural (read "expensive") attractions.
One of those was
the Field Museum, a sort-of Museum of Natural History. We were
planning on going there but ended up at the Shedd Aquarium
instead, as the kids can never see enough fish, unless we buy a
family season pass to the NE Aquarium, whereupon fish become as
interesting as dirt. It was
worth the stop just for the view of the Chicago skyline across a
portion of Lake Michigan. But the Shedd was nice
too. We saw fish, penguins, fish, a dolphin show, fish,
seahorses, fish, a shark exhibit, fish, fish and fish.
overnight with Cyndi Spudic, Kate's cousin, and her children, Chris
(12) and David (10). Greg, Cyndi's husband, was out of town on
recipe for simulating driving through the Midwest: Tip your
car over on it's side. Attach stalks of corn (ears included)
to a tire. Spin it constantly and watch stalks until no longer
capable of stopping yourself from grabbing a large ear of corn and
attempting to beat yourself senseless with it.
overwhelming number of corn fields we passed, we were getting
close at this point. We could tell we were in Minnesota when
"splat," "splat" of bugs hitting the
windshield became almost continuous. It was time to visit Uncle Tom's Cabin on
the banks of the mighty Mississippi. Uncle Tom = the brother
that Janet, Kate's Mom, and Doris, Janet's sister, pushed down the
stairs in a box one time, and stuck a fork in his head another
time. Despite that, Janet and her husband Bill Garber met us
there. I noticed Tom hid all the forks.
Garber. I checked for tine marks in his forehead but he seemed
"the fork" Garber... what's she hiding in her
pocket? Could it be a fork?
out the local graveyard
miraculous squirrel proof birdfeeder
A typical Windom
kind of pastoral farm. The landscape was dotted with
them. In between miles of cornfields.
next two days were spent in Windom, Minnesota at the reunion, which,
for those uninterested in anything else or with slow connections, have been put on the reunion
is a representative set of photos of the people who came.
This was a lot of fun, particularly for the kids, who spent much of
the time out on Fish Lake in Uncle Dan's boat, knee boarding, while
the adults (present company excluded) went to see graveyards and old
homesteads. We also did the local public pool with the twenty
foot or so high diving board, which I and the kids went for
immediately. There was also croquet and bocce ball for the
young at heart at the Remund house.
Windom behind, we headed north, along the Michigan peninsula, aka
the "Road Kill Capital of the World." After seeing
four different dead deer lying on the side of the road (and you had
to figure a lot more that someone had actually removed), I had to
conclude that the only sensible driving vehicle to use in the area
after dark was a Bradley APC or something else with serious
quantities of armor. Either that or plan on doing body work on your truck
or car every couple of weeks. In any case, we were
in the serious-driving part of the trip, and only stopped long enough in
Marinette, MI long enough to take this picture, sleep, and move on
to Sault Ste. Marie, on the United States / Canada Border.
actually traveled through Canada (our motto: take advantage of
the $1 US / $1.40 Can. exchange rate to buy items marked up by 150%)
going from Niagara Falls to Dearborn, but just drove through. This was to
be our first overnight excursion into the country. But first,
we stopped on the US side and did a boat tour of the famous Soo
Locks that I'd never heard of before. Again, this was really
cooler than it sounds (oh, boy, a chance to rise 21 feet in fifteen
minutes!!! that's almost as fast as crops grow!!!) as the locks were
actually pretty interesting, we saw a lot
of freighters (ok, they don't blow things up like warships, but they are
BIG), industrial sites (well, they might blow up, you never
know), and general sites of interest on the US and Canadian side.
we drove to the Canadian side, where the kids did something they
really wanted... see "Spy Kids 3D" in the movie theater
while Kate and I dined on an outdoor patio on the waterfront and
watched the ships go by.
Canada, land of wide, empty spaces, long freight trains, and bad
coffee. We left Sault Ste. Marie in the morning and headed to
North Bay, stopping at the Science Center / Centre Des Sciences on
Lake Ramsey in Sudbury, Ontario. The use of dual-lingual signs, along with the use
of metric based speed limits (motto: You WISH the speed limit
was 100 MPH) really made you feel like you were in a different
country, almost as much as being in Minnesota.
center was built directly into a glacier-carved rock hill
overlooking the lake, and as a result the architecture was strange
but really interesting. The kids loved the animatronic dinos,
the butterfly exhibit, the build-your-own racecar exhibit, and
the flying squirrel show.
on the list was Montreal, but we stopped at another museum on the
way, the Musee Canadien de la Nature. Also cool. At
this point, you're probably thinking we've visited every major
museum in Canada, but we really just scratched the
surface. Over 48% of Canadian taxes go to funding
museums, which can be found in towns with populations numbering less
than the outside temperature. In January.
Will gets to
play with Uranium, a fun activity because you get to push a lot of
buttons. Brie tries her hand at conning a deep sea
of cool rocks... and the building
then, our final stop. Montreal, the socio-political-cultural
(and everything else-able) center of
French speaking Quebec. (our motto: We will grudgingly print
English instructions on the subway but only for life-threatening
emergencies and even then only in small, ugly fonts).
It was almost
funny, having come through the English-centric part of Canada and
seeing everything printed in French and English, to get to Quebec
and see spray paint over anything that might be construed as an
English phrase. Restaurants in particular were difficult, as
my French is a little rusty, and they had some odd foods, like
"Panini Ser La Mar," literally "pan seared master of
the female horse." I think.
And they are
VERY big sticklers on accent; I tried to blend in with my best
"Hasta La Vista, Baby," but finally gave up and just used
My favorite meal
in Montreal was at this hole-in-the-wall sandwich shop in old town.
Feta cheese and tomato sandwiches with secret herbs ... yum.
house, which we were in almost five minutes before a security guard
had to go chasing after Will for entering a forbidden area
favorite part of the entire trip was renting a set of bicycles and
biking up Mont Royal, which overlooks Montreal. It was a
significant climb but the bikeway was wide and looped around a lot
to keep the grade from getting too steep.
We stayed in
Montreal two nights, then headed back home.
to finish out the month, we go back to the beginning. I
started with the vacation, but we did a few other things earlier
during the month as well, like the Thoreau Camp Fair (center and
lower center and right), Brie's birthday with the hand-made (by
Kate) necklace from a crystal Brie really liked (right), and playing
in my brother's pool with cousins and friends (lower left).