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Quote of the Day

Peanut, "Wow, mom, now we can say we've been to all 50 states! What are we gonna do next?"

31 July 2008

Illinois – State #18

Argh. We weren’t properly welcomed! Can you believe the Welcome to Illinois sign is nowhere to be found? I’ll have to figure something out.

An afternoon in one of my favorite cities is priceless. Top it off that we're staying in a very swank hotel. This is certainly not the norm! Whoever said this place was a kid-friendly hotel was out of their mind!

Can you say pizza? We met the nicest couple at dinner (from Champagne, IL) and they patiently listened to all the details of our trip. Peanut and Little Man just get on a roll with perfect strangers! Their enthusiasm is infectious.

Can you say Art? Architecture? I taught the kids that nearly everywhere you turn in Chicago, there’s a cool building poking out from behind saying peek-a-boo. So they started looking around and recognizing all the incredible buildings this city has to offer. Now, there's the Millenium Park, too!

Illinois License Plate

A Tomcat Kind of Rant

I had Niece climb into a river in South Bend to get some Indiana dirt. When we got back, Thomas showed me a sign leaning at about 60 degrees and sheepishly said he’d backed into it. I told him to get a picture and later when I was going through them I noticed that my bumper is totally crunched!

He goes, “I told you I did it. You know, if you hadn’t asked me to pull over in a no parking zone, while you went down into some river searching for dirt, where I was worrying about you, with 10 little people between me and the back window, which I can’t even see through because you’ve written all over it in shoe polish, and with the Flag song blaring in my ear…I might have missed the sign! But, there you go!”

I was just rolling in my seat. One could definitely see it this way...

Indiana – State #17

Little Man is begging to pick an ear of corn and some wheat. Niece is figuring out how to get out of Texas and back into school. I’m trying to find something interesting to do in Indiana. Keep in mind I’ve been working on this for months and I’ve come up with nothing. Factories and farms.

We’ve settled for a drive through the Notre Dame campus and lunch. The campus bored us to tears but lunch fue una sorpresa! Stopping at “El Paraiso Produce” in our continuous search for fiber, there was a restaurant attached to the grocery. Traditional Mexican fare at it’s best – to include coke without the high fructose corn syrup – and no one who spoke English. A real delight here in South Bend, Indiana.

The kids and I went into the grocery store searching for chicharron and coke in a bottle without high fructose corn syrup. We also happened outrageously sized marshmallows found in any Mexican tienda for 25 cents. I wouldn’t let the kids buy the bag, but they got over it pretty quickly.

When I walked back into the restaurant, Tomcat was missing an ear. It had been talked right off by this big man with a Hitler mustache. Apparently he used to be in the Mexican drug cartel, but had since found a better path. Tomcat said he was trying hard to bring him into his ministry – maybe he thought we could preach his word as we travel?

Indiana License Plate

Kalamazoo, MI

I ran into the post office to mail some post cards and when I came out there was a guy hovering around our car. He told us he was from Kalamazoo (LOVE that name!), held up his “mitten hand” and pointed somewhere south of his ring finger. He said we should really see it if we could.

Considering this on our way back to the cabin we decided to go for it. Putting on our best hustle moves, we packed up and left a day early for the mainland.

Here’s the exciting part about this decision: we’ll have seen all 5 of the Great Lakes when we’re done with the states!

The bridge connecting the U.P. to the mainland is called the Big Mack. It was built on schedule and within budget and is still considered an engineering masterpiece. It’s 4 miles long, the longest single truss suspension bridge in the world. Dagne Taggart would be proud. What a beauty with the sun setting over Lake Michigan to the West and glimmering Lake Huron to the East. We really wanted to spend the night here to have an entire day to explore Mackinaw Island, but alas Indiana calls!

Driving in the wee hours with wee ones is a little less reminiscent of the old days when we were enamored with stories like On the Road. At 1am, the kids still weren’t asleep and Doodle was clamboring all over everyone like in the old days before seat belts. You can imagine the scene. In fact, I’d bet it’s much more in line with the outside world’s expectations of this trip. Truly, it hasn’t been a nightmare and the kids have been amazing, curious travelers. This night, however, was a departure from the norm. Niece worked her tail off in the backseat keeping Doodle strapped in. We put on some mellow Chris Isaak and Niece showed Doodle her favorite pictures on her cell phone: Missy dog drinking out of the toilet and baby cousin blowing out her birthday candles. When the phone ran out of juice, Doodle ran out of tears and finally drifted off. I’d like to say she was buckled, but when we arrived at a hotel in Kalamazoo, I saw she was peacefully sprawled across her car seat and her big sister.

Ontonagon, MI

The main street of Ontonagon is lined with flags and Doodle kept saying, “The U.S. flag!” over and over until finally Tomcat blurted out, “This town sure loves their country. I bet there’re more flags per capita here than anywhere else!”

Asking where we should go for breakfast, I was told in an unrecognizable accent, “Jusup on’lefit sls.” “I’m sorry, where?” Again, ““Jusup on’lefit sls.” I’m pretty good at this stuff actually and I repeated, “Up on the left at a place called Sales?” The guy looked at me funny and said, “No, Syls: s-y-l-s.” As if I was supposed to have heard that before!

We went for ice-cream and a
latte at Connie’s where we met a boy around Niece’s age. I asked him if they had Internet access and he said, “Well, there’s a computer here but I’d need to plug it in. Actually, I don’t even know how to turn it on.” We all just stared at him and he goes, “So where you live…you just walk to someplace…and then your computer works?” “Yep, pretty much.” He goes, “Yeah, it’s not like that here.”

So, I launch into my favorite question, “What state would you like to see that you’ve never been?” He thought a minute, when his face lit up, “Texas!” A shocked groan from Niece! He goes, “You know all the cowboys and stuff. Do you really wear cowboy boots down there?” I was thinking the guys in the pick-up from last night look more like Texans than my niece!

The laughter didn’t stop there. This kid was just so innocent, you couldn’t help but love him. I asked if he’d actually been anywhere before and he said, “Yeah, I went to Florida once. There were a lot of Mexicans. Not that I’m racist or anything [we believe you!], it’s just that I’d never seen one before. We don’t have any here. Black people either. Except one just moved in.”

In need of a home-cooked meal, we found ourselves in the local grocery store. It was like stepping back in time. Aqua Net hair spray and Flex shampoo lined the first aisle. Head cheese, fresh bologna, fruit cocktail and canned Parmesan were plentiful, but our idea of food? Not so much. Asking if they had any butter, I followed their finger to a large package of Lard. No thanks. Despite all this, we had a really nice dinner back at the cabin followed by a fire on the beach, and S’mores.

Happy, happy children every single one of us!

Shores of Lake Superior

The last time I was walking in this sand, I couldn’t believe I’d ended up here by accident, ticking Michigan off my list. I distinctly remember the colored foliage and finding a woman walking along who told me there were cabins for rent. “It’s something people up here do”, she explained. Immediately I made a mental note that when I have some money (I traveled with little more than gas money in those days) and a family, I’d come visit this place again. Now, here we are and again, the magnitude of this lake leaves me dumbfounded.

The kids went wild for 2 days in the water while we sat on shore and got eaten alive by flies. Apparently, they come in on the wind and blow out with it, too. Getting up our nerve, we adult scaredy-cats joined them, freezing to the bone for a few minutes before settling in and riding the waves. What a difference, being nailed by a fresh water wave! Salt-free, chlorine-free, creepy-crawly-grabby things-free water! And the shore is smothered with my favorite rocks (tiny, smooth, black, oval shaped). This lake is easy to love!

Michigan - State #16


We're in the Upper Penninsula of Michigan! It's dark now, but we were able to glimpse the most superior lake we've ever seen before the sun went down. The bummer is that the sun went down -- before we found our cabin -- so now we're lost.

Luckily these young men in a gas station chatted us up and offered to show us the way. It appears that people all over the Midwest are wonderfully helpful. Their mothers would be proud.

Scott's Superior Inn has 2 cabins right on the shores of Lake Superior and we have one of them. Lucky, lucky us. We were all preparing to go for a swim in the big lake that acts like a little ocean, when Doodle and Niece appeared with a bouquet of wild flowers!

We're here 3 nights and I can tell this is going to be swell!

Wisconsin - State #15

I remember Duluth, MN smelling like wet cardboard. A lady told me there’s a paper mill in another town and depending on the wind, you can smell it in Duluth. No winds today apparently.

We’ve crossed the bridge into Wisconsin, but we’re not spending any time here right now. We’ll be meeting my sister and her husband, who live in Milwaukee, down at the Jelly Belly Factory this weekend.

We did pull over at a campsite so I could get some dirt though. I followed the trail to the Mule River and saw a group of dripping wet teenage boys on a little bridge. I asked them if there was any sand around here and they nodded, “Sure, but it’s under the bridge.” I asked if any of them would mind getting some for me. The smallest of the group said, “I’ll go!” I handed him my bottle and he surprised the hell out of me by climbing onto the wall and jumping in the river! True to his promise, he dove down, and filled up my bottle. I told his friends about our trip and when he emerged from the river, they all shouted at him, “Hey, she’s putting this on the internet! You’re going to be famous!”

Thank you, Jumper Boy, for jumping off a bridge for a stranger in need of some Wisconsin dirt!

Moose Lake

One last stop to a candy store before taking off! Have I mentioned that we eat candy on road trips? I mean we eat it more than "in moderation." I let them try things they've never had and the little bags are a big thrill. Sour cherry balls rank #1 and shoestring licorice #2.

Driving North to Duluth confirmed two things. First, Minnesota roads are jammed with cars (compared to the rest of our trip). Second, the beautiful view is continually obscured by imposing billboards. Unlike Texas, where billboards sell boobs, boots and whiskey, these were preachy. There were plenty of pro-obesity buffet ads, Lynard Skynard concert locales, and addiction help lines. The Pro-life sector seemed to own the majority, however, which meant a fair share of fetuses stared back at us en route to Moose Lake. Nice.

Minnesota is the “Land of 10,000 Lakes” so it was imperative that we visit one. I needed dirt anyway. Moose Lake was a warm, grassy spot with just a few families picnicking and playing in the water. We all got our feet wet and soon enough Peanut was missing. Walking around a bend, through the murky marsh, I found her staring into her camera. She was purely delighted having just found a frog!

Niece's MN Post

I’m amazed at the stark contrast going from Stanton, ND – the most rural place I’ve been, where I had to climb up a cliff just to get cell service. Now, 8 hours later, I’m in the middle of the most urban place I’ve ever been, nestled in the heart of Minneapolis. It’s so fascinating how connected the city is with all the skybridges (Peanut counted something like 75 skybridges!) so the winters must be pretty bad here.

I also noticed that the billboards really bug me. I like how CurlyTop explained it to her kids. “They’re just advertisements that we’re being forced to look at even if we aren’t interested in those things. They’re stuck in our minds anyway, and that’s what they want.”

The Sculpture Park was beautiful and massive! (I didn’t even know they had a Sculpture Park in Houston, where I live, and now I’m going to have to check it out.) One of my favorites was the Octopus by Alexander Calder and the Spoon. When the family was playing miniature golf (a really cool concept for educating the public on environmental issues), I wanted to go back to the sculptures, thinking I must have missed some. The art really impressed me and the flower gardens were so beautiful.

I saw a lot of diversity in Minneapolis, even more than in Houston. Like I saw this cross-dresser all done up in a beautiful long gown and heels, but with a long beard! There were a lot of interracial and same-sex couples around, too. And there were these cool dark squirrels in the park, today. I’ve never seen those before!

But this city is living in some sort of weird fear. Tomcat went into the new library and they wouldn’t let him take any pictures. He said, “You’re kidding me! This is a public place.” The cop said, “Sorry, due to terrorist concerns there can be no photography.” And there were signs like “We ban guns in our restaurant.” Lots of weird things like that.

At the Mall of America I somehow convinced Peanut to go on this scary Spongebob ride. I knew it was going to be a rough one when we got in the seats and she disappeared into the massive bar of protection. At the beginning of the ride it went straight up – completely vertical – and she looked up at me and said, “I don’t liiike this!” She had no idea what was coming her way. After we crested the top, we careened down one of the fastest and jerkiest rides I’ve ever been on. I liked it, but I could tell Peanut was very uneasy. I felt terrible because I knew exactly how she felt; I remember my dad doing the same thing to me at Astroworld. She was pretty brave though.

It’s been a really long time since I’ve had a song stuck in my head this long, too. “E Eats Everything….

Mall of America

Legoland was Little Man’s destination of choice. Even as he played a perfect Farmer Boy in North Dakota, he’d suddenly blurt out, “The day after tomorrow is Legoland!!” We were all excited about the indoor roller coaster, too. As it turned out Legoland was smaller than we’d imagined, and the Nickelodian Adventure Park blew us away. Who knew there could be so many thrilling roller coasters in the middle of a mall? The entire experience is “Legoland” to them.

In the Lego shop we got some souvenirs for our neighbors and ourselves. Tomcat chose a Princess Leia slave girl key-chain for me (irony duly noted if you read the previous post). I chose a Death Star luggage charm for him. I also got a rubber Lego cake pan with a promise to make a cake the minute we return home. Niece got the cutest R2D2 key-chain. Doodle surprised us all by choosing a pink Lego. Little Man chose 2 little kits (a space ship and a street sweeper) and Peanut wanted a gold Lego – free with a $75 purchase. I was shocked to find we surpassed that number with no effort at all! Darn tourist traps!

We were faced with incredulous stares as my kids asked who such and such characters were. They know who Dora is because we have a couple of books but that’s about it! Doodle was too short to go on the roller coasters, so while the others went, I took her to some little rides. We all met up afterwards and did the Log Ride together – clearly the best one out there. It was SO much fun. We agreed every one could choose one more ride before leaving for Wisconsin. Little Man and I went on the roller coaster he’d already been on, and I was thoroughly sick afterwards. Man, I’m getting old! Doodle took her dad on her favorite hot air balloon ride. And Niece and Peanut went on a ride that scared my baby girl to death.

Something we need to shake off

We met our first asshole of the trip. At the Sculpture Garden, there was a white man speaking Chinese to his 2 children and allowing them to climb all over the enormous sculptures. Never mind the “Don’t climb on the sculptures” signs posted everywhere. Well, our kids saw this and wanted to climb. I quietly said, “We’re going to respect the artists and not climb on their art.” Doodle then screamed, “But dose dirls are timbing!” The man noticed us and I said, “Well, they’re on a different program than us.” The man looked over, pointing to his kids and said, “Aah, they’re just a couple of idiots!”

We all stared at him and I retorted, “What an awful thing to say!” He gave me a ‘whatever’ look and we all walked off kind of shaken.

I immediately told Niece about our experience teaching English in South Korea many moons ago. While we enjoyed getting to know most of the American/Canadian expat “sang-seh-nihm” (Korean word for “teacher”), there were the few expat a-hole males there, who were on a mission to find a submissive Asian woman, and then proceed to boss her around for the rest of her life. I heard the guy utter all of one sentence and I would have bet $1,000 bucks he was one of said a-holes.

27 July 2008

Minnesota -- State #14

Eight hours later we arrived in Minneapolis. We literally had to hike through a marsh to get to the welcome sign and rather than complain, the kids were thrilled to finally get their hands on some cattails. The real thrill, however, was that Tomcat was waiting for us!

I thought Doodle was going to combust in her seat. He’d arrived a couple of hours earlier, checked us into our hotel, and then met us at the Sculpture Garden. Peanut has a postcard with “Spoonbridge and Cherry” from my first visit here when she was wee. My friend who first brought me here still lives here, but is out of town right now. Pits! This is one of my favorite art locales – home to two Calder pieces – and I adore Alexander Calder.

Across the street was “Walker on the Green” a really small, kid-friendly and not overwhelming Miniature Golf. I highly recommend this for any of you with budding environmentalists. So clever and effective, these artists!

Night was falling as we reached our hotel. Peanut was grumpy when we arrived because she wasn't finished counting all the skywalks!

Don'cha Know?

Don'cha know I got a ticket for real this time? Heading down Hwy 94, toward Bismarck, these new speed limit signs emerged. "We can go 75mph now!" So we got moving and I started telling Niece about how I took off for Albany, NY when I was her age to escape Texas and see all 50 states (my first round). Here's how I got set up:

I drove a U-Haul with Elliott, my cat, and went straight to University at Albany to see if I could find an apartment. Sure enough I met a girl and we paired up. She was fascinated by my independence (and all my stuff). To get the apartment, I had to have a job, which I didn't. So I kind of convinced the landlord that I was getting a job at The Bagel Baron down the street. Got the apartment, now I had to get the job. The next morning, I walked down there and it was like no place I'd ever been -- was it a kosher deli? But the owner was surely Italian? Walking up to the deli case full of meat (how many types of pastrami can there be?) I asked these big guys in aprons if they were hiring. First they wanted to know where I was from. (The cowboy boots, cut-off shorts and tie-dye t-shirt gave them a clue I wasn't from around there.) Then they said that they only hired people who sang. So, I belted out the first song I could think of, The Ship Titanic, to the amazement of all standing in line for the restaurant and deli case. Ha ha! I'm so funny. Ha! Ha! Niece and I were laughing away until I looked up to see a flashing rainbow in my rear-view mirror!!!

North Dakota trooper #2 had apparently been trying to get my attention for the past 3 miles. Whoops. He, too, was extremely pleasant even as he delivered the news that I was going 26 miles over the speed limit. Somehow I'd ventured into a 60mph zone (I told you N.D. has all these zone switches!) and I was going 86mph. Peanut was imploring me for details on the subject. "Will you get a ticket this time? How fast were you going last time? Just 7 miles over and he gave you a warning? Will this one be nice, too? But you were going a LOT faster this time!" He was exceptionally nice and dropped my speed to 80mph so my ticket was $35 less. This time I asked if I could take a picture of him and he said, "For your blog?" Affirmative. He said he'd already written down the address!

Mr. North Dakota trooper #2, are you reading this? Thanks for being so nice -- I know the ticket was very much deserved.

Wisconsin License Plate

Peanut's N.D. Post

Peanut's post about North Dakota in her own words:

When we went to North Dakota we had to drive such a long way and on the way we saw this lightening. It just kept flashing across the sky. I wanted to get a picture of it but I couldn’t. There was a really nice Police Man and mom almost got a ticket but he just warned us not to drive so fast. All the people are so nice in North Dakota.

We got to stay in this really nice house. It's a Lodge or you can call it a B&B. They gave us a really nice dinner and even cleared our spaces for us! But me and Little Man and Doodle are used to clearing our own spaces at home and the people here were so surprised when we kept doing that! They served us cereal and waffles with choke cherry syrup. They have to pick TONS of berries just to get a little bit of syrup. I liked it only in moderation for dipping. They also gave us pizza and mac’n’cheese
and cereal and they even had to drive 15 miles to town to get some apples for us but they had to drive to town anyway so it was okay. In North Dakota they don’t really eat fruits or vegetables very much.

We went on this golf cart drive and it was really hot. I feel that it is VERY hot and it’s fun and when I ride in a golf cart dust blows in my eyes so I have to squint my eyes. We went down this real cliff and got to climb this big mountain of dirt, but it was really steep and high and slippery. I climbed up it with no complaints. Mom never lets me do anything dangerous and I finally got to. We saw where the river used to be, but now there’s a dam so it’s far away now. Then we went on another tour and we went through this HUGE sprinkler that was more than 15 feet! It was really for watering the crops, but it seemed to be watering us in our golf cart! Then we went on another ride and we went to that river, the Missouri River, and it was completely covered with coal on the bottom. Some were huge and some were tiny. I got to bring some home.

One of my favorite things is this girl kitty named Bubbles. She’s 9 years old, and really lovey and when you pick her up she purrs.
And there’s a tire swing, but the tire is carved out so it’s different. It’s hanging from a big tree. And they had a real -live gecko!

We went to this festival about the Native Americans here. They're called Hidatsa. There were all these animal skins with noses on them and we could try them on. Here are some of the names: bison, skunk, muskrat, black bear, wolf, beaver. They used all the parts of the buffalo because they were really respectful of animals. They used the hooves as a doorbell! They hung them all together on a leather string so it’d jingle when you moved it. They used buffalo skins for blankets and for these round boats. They’d go steal enemy horses so when the enemies wanted to come attack their tribes they couldn’t because they wouldn’t have any horses.

Besides hitting buffalo with bows and arrows or spears they also had this trick. One person would wear a buffalo skin and hide atop a cliff. The other tribesmen went around and started aiming at the buffalo with their spears. The scared buffalo would run toward the man wearing a buffalo skin to escape with his friend. The dressed up guy went and hid quickly and the buffalo thought he had run ahead, so he kept running and went right over the cliff and then broke all his legs. And that was a great trick they used.

We earned another Junior Ranger Badge. I’ve earned 4: Glacier Bay National Park, Kenai Fjords National Park, Glacier National Park and now the Knife River National Park.

I love my dad and tomorrow I get to see him after a long, long drive!