July 2003 - of family vacations, reunions, and stuff like that

There 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 again."  

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.

Anyway, you're 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 vacation. 

A big 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.
Our 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.

The Haines Family, Eric, Cathy, Ryan (12) and Evan (10).

The Imogene 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.

The 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.

This was actually a short stop on the way out of Ithaca... very cool waterfall.

Our 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.

Next 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.  

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 extra here.

Next 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. 

We stayed overnight with Cyndi Spudic, Kate's cousin, and her children, Chris (12) and David (10).  Greg, Cyndi's husband, was out of town on Business. 

Brie and Chris

Kate and Cyndi

Will and David

Dave's 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.

Despite the overwhelming number of corn fields we passed, we were getting close at this point.  We could tell we were in Minnesota when the "splat," "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.

Bill Garber.  I checked for tine marks in his forehead but he seemed clean.

Janet "the fork" Garber... what's she hiding in her pocket?  Could it be a fork?  


Checking out the local graveyard

My favorite grave

Tom's miraculous squirrel proof birdfeeder

A typical Windom kind of pastoral farm.  The landscape was dotted with them.  In between miles of cornfields.

The 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 page, which 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.  


Leaving 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.  

We'd 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.  

Afterwards 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, oh 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.  

The 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.

Next 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 submersible.  


Lots of cool rocks... and the building

And 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 English.

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.

The government house, which we were in almost five minutes before a security guard had to go chasing after Will for entering a forbidden area

My 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. 

And, 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).