Ben and Elliott have been friends for more than 9 years. During that time they have played games, designed shirts, created music, and much more. They’ve changed from little boys to young men. Their friendship endures because of their many similarities but it thrives because of their many differences.
This past week we spent nine days together flying from Indianapolis to Houston and back. Along the way, the boys/men met mutual friends, played more games, explored and discovered new places, walked the streets of Houston, ate amazing meals and learned even more about one another.
I believe it will be a trip they will never forget. It was our goal to enjoy ourselves, experience new and exciting things, and connect with old friends. I think we accomplished our mission. In the words of Gary Sinise, playing Ken Mattingly in the Houston-based movie, Apollo 13, “It (was a) hell of a mission. One for the books.”
Ben and Elliott waiting for our first leg of the journey.
Our first steps in Houston.
Our first morning in Houston and Ben’s lounging, Elliott’s programming.
Posing for the Shot.
Tour schedule ready to begin.
Ben and Elliott saved this woman’s cane from the jaws of a massive crocodile!
After walking around the swamp, it was nice to take a break.
Near the fountain in the Museum center.
Stopping for a pose.
Elliott enjoys his morning Joe while waiting for the museum to open.
A picture perfect position.
Gazing at the grandeur of the MFAH.
Lunch never tasted so good.
Stopping for a moment of Zen.
Several evenings were spent enjoying the dice gave, Perudo.
Ben is dressed for the day at Space Center Houston.
The Saturn V Rocket was a high point of the day.
Ben in Profile.
The boys discover digital delight.
Ben in Outline.
Elliott in Outline
A VERY cold walk on the beach.
A view of the boys through the penguin tank.
Where I found them.
Elliott tries to keep his glasses from blowing off while riding on the ferry back to the mainland.
A good place to stop.
Most evenings, the computers were out and League of Legends dominated the hotel lobby.
Waiting for the plane from Houston.
A long week, late nights, and lots of site seeing caught up to them on the way home.
As a young boy, I had a strong desire to be an astronaut. There were two very important parts of the space program that had an impact on my desire: Tang and Space Ice Cream.
A visit to Space Center, Houston didn’t do anything to reduce that desire.
Standing in the gift shop, looking at cheesy t-shirts and coffee mugs, I came upon my muse and stood there, mouth agape. Row upon row of space ice cream stood there, taunting me; calling me to don a space helmet and do the moon walk.
I have a good life. My dog loves me. My family understands me. My job is challenging. My coworkers are entertaining. But, as I stood there, gazing at the sweets, I realized I would give it all up for the opportunity to drink the orangery, sugary Tang and eat that powdery, sugary ice cream and bounce along the lunar surface. And in that moment, I determined that I would look for the nearest astronaut recruiting station. There HAD to be one in this fun-house/museum.
But before I walked out of the gift shop, I realized I could just buy a pouch of the astronomic confection.
It’s that level of critical thinking of which NASA would have benefited. Thankfully for my dog and family, $6 kept me on the ground for now.
If you’ve ever visited a large, well-funded art gallery, you’ve had the opportunity to view amazing works from some of the most historic artists. If you are like me, you stand back a few feet and gaze at the masterpiece, taking in the colors, shapes and movement. But yesterday was different for me. While viewing great works at Houston Museum of Fine Art, I tried something different.
First, I stood back to get a sense of the artwork and its subject matter and scope. I took in the range of hues, the story and composition.
Then I stepped closer to the canvas in an effort to examine the different sections, the variety of styles and perform a detailed analysis of the work.
Finally, I moved in even closer (so close that the museum attendants asked me to step back). I poured over each stroke within an inch square, looking at the brush stroke directions, the weight of the artist’s hand, the width of the brush and the amazing variety of color and the layers that made this painting possible.
And I did that for painting after painting. I wanted to see the paintings from the artists’ point of view. I wanted to be in direct contact with the medium.
At the end of my journey through the expansive exhibit halls, I truly felt that I was in touch with the artist, the canvas, the purpose of the paint. And when I was done, I fully believed I understood the art and the artist in a way I’ve never understood before.
Growing up in Indiana, we have the privilege of beautiful state parks. They boast beautiful waterways, lovely walking trails and a wide variety of wildlife, including deer, squirrel, rabbits, fox and coyote. But even in the best parks, Indiana lacks something that Texas offers. Alligators, Ibis and Ahninga’s abound at Brazos Bend State Park. Thankfully, we were able to experience them all in just a few short minutes along the well-worn paths around one lake.
It was another great day in the park and I was thrilled to see the wild-life and even more thrilled to spend it with two quality guys.
This week will be one of those breaks as my son and his best friend and I travel to Houston, Texas for six days of fun.
We’ll see the Space Center (Thanks Katie). We’ll experience the Aquarium. We’ll be terrified by the traffic and thankful for green grass and flowers already blooming in March.
Most of all, my son and his friend will be thankful for their time with on-line friends seen face-to-face for the first time. That’s really the reason we are here in the deep south.
My joy is found in getting to spend time with two great young men for six warm, sunny days.
We all need a break from time to time. But the break doesn’t always require travel to distant places. In fact, there are times when the break can be as simple as finding a respite during the hectic day, discovering a quiet evening during our busy week, experiencing time with dear friends that renews and rejuvenates our souls, rekindles our spirits, refreshes our souls.
What will you do this week to enjoy a break? Will you attend a yoga class? Will you enjoy a cup of tea in a quiet corner of your house? Will you go for a short walk away from your desk? Pet a dog? Listen to a child laugh? Marvel at a sunrise or sunset?
Four years ago this week, I started my research job. And over the course of those four years I’ve been in hundreds of patient homes and done everything from asking simple questionnaires to performing ultrasounds of patient’s ankles. I’ve driven tens of thousands of miles from Muncie to Terre Haute and from Lafayette to North Vernon. And along those many miles I’ve witnessed every kind of wildlife: deer, coyotes, turkey and squirrels. I’ve also experienced every kind of weather: Everything from blizzards to blazing hot days. I’ve driven in thunderstorms and wind storms. I’ve watched the sun rise over the Hoosier horizon and enjoyed more than my fair share of fantastic sunsets.
In addition I’ve met every imaginable family pet and in the process I’ve been sniffed and humped by dogs as well as rubbed and bitten by cats.
Along with hours of driving, I suspect that I’ve eaten nearly 300 lbs of french fries, drank 50 gallons of diet coke and eaten the equivalent of two heifers. All of this happened in my car as I travel from one house to the next.
But my job is not just about driving and eating and viewing wildlife. It is about much more. In fact, occasionally we actually conduct research.
Over the course of the past few years, I’ve conducted more than 200 sleep studies in patient homes, nursing homes and hospitals. A primary aim of our research is to learn how many stroke patients have Obstructive Sleep Apnea. To that end, we perform in-home sleep studies on the research subjects.
A typical study begins when I arrive late in the evening, lay out my equipment and hook the subject up to wires, belts, sensors and probes. After two hours of pain-staking gluing and taping, each participant in our study looks like the backside of my 1979 home-made stereo system; wires sticking out in every direction!
Even though it is my favorite part of the job, it is also the part that I’m most anxious to end. I’m just a little tired of sleep studies (no pun intended). I’m not tired of hooking up the equipment, visiting the patients in their homes, or even the meals on the road. For me, the hardest part of the job is the odd hours I have to keep in order to complete the studies.
For instance, I have two sleep studies scheduled this week. The first is tonight and the second is on Thursday. Tonight’s study will begin at 7:30 pm. I’ll be done and out the patient’s door around 9:30. Tack on another 1/2 hour for driving and I’m done with my work day at 10:00 pm. But I’ll be back at the patient’s home tomorrow morning at 7:30 to pick up the equipment, upload the study to the scoring center and then cleaning the equipment to prepare for Thursday night.
And I do that twice this week.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I love my job. I enjoy the freedom of getting out of the office from time to time. On warm spring days I crank up the jams on my car stereo and cruise with the windows down as I drive the highways and byways of this beautiful state. I even enjoy a good cheeseburger from time to time. But if I’m honest, I’m looking forward to the day when the end of my shift on Tuesday isn’t so close to the start of my shift on Wednesday.
I suppose it will all end soon enough. By my calculations I have only 11 more months and another 60 studies until I’m done. That’s nothing. Right?
After putting in a hard eight-hour day, there is nothing I enjoy more than trying to kill two hours before a 7:00 p.m. meeting.
But earlier this week, I discovered that there is NO better place to kill those previously painful minutes than at the Chatham Tap in Fishers, Indiana.
So there I was, sitting in a quiet corner of the dining area, a Christmas tree aglow, oldies Christmas music playing at the perfect volume, a Black and Tan in one hand and a fork full of the best Ribeye Steak Salad in the other. To top it all off, the All Blacks Rugby Team was killing Wales.
After dinner, I ordered a coffee and wrote a little and watched the two teams scrum until my meeting was about to start. As I packed up my things, I left a big tip and assured myself that I would see this place again very soon.
We climbed into the car, started it up and then decided to head west. We didn’t know what we would see or how far we would go. We didn’t have an agenda other than spending the day together. And in the end, we did that very well.
We drove through Sheridan, Indiana and took State Road 47 out the other side. We hadn’t traveled more than 30 miles from Sheridan until we saw it. We knew we had to pull into this little town with the wonderful street signs and so our first stop was in Darlington. Honestly, there wasn’t a reason to visit this little burg other than we liked the name and the city signs. And honestly, once there, we determined that there isn’t much to the place beyond the street signs. It is an old village located along the Sugar Creek with old buildings and quaint homes. In many ways it reminded me of some of the scenes from the movie Hoosiers.
But on our way out of town we did see a sign for a covered bridge and, given that we are suckers for covered bridges, we followed the signs that led us to a beautiful structure in desperate need of paint. The Darlington Covered Bridge is a fantastic bridge in which the floor is made of wooden “bricks”.
Over the years, these bricks have been covered with asphalt but thankfully, much of the asphalt has worn away, leaving the bricks exposed and allowing the visitor to marvel at the original construction.
Completed and ready for traffic in 1868, this bridge still stands as a monument to craftsmanship and proper planning. The bridge was in full service up to a few years ago when they closed off the entrance and made it an attraction. Of course, modern materials and engineering provide a more reliable means of crossing Sugar Creek just a few yards away from this location but the history and the beauty of the bridge make it worth the visit.
Having grown up less than a quarter mile from the Emmetsville Covered Bridge in Randolph County, I have a love for the structures and this visit was the perfect start to our day together. We’d been on the road less than a half hour and already discovered one of Indiana’s great treasures.
Visit us again and see what else we discovered along our journey west!
I think Indiana is a beautiful state. From the amazing Dunes to the fantastic woods of Brown County to the cavernous and majestic trails that run through Turkey State Park, this state offers much to see within its boarders.
But what do I like most about this state I call home? Well, it would be the hills and valleys that roll throughout the region. They are almost always dotted with old family farms, grazing cattle, and a basketball hoop of some form or fashion.
These are not isolated to a small portion of the state. You can find these features in the every corner of the state; north, south, east and west. You can find them just outside the city limits of booming city of Indianapolis. They are everywhere from the eastern boarder of Randolph County to the western edge of Tippecanoe.
Indiana’s reputation for flat, open fields is well-deserved. There are plenty of corn and bean fields for anyone’s taste. But one doesn’t need to drive far to find a dramatic change of scenery.
Yes, I know that we don’t have towering mountains out our back door and the ocean breeze doesn’t blow in the fresh salt air. But Indiana offers plenty of its own beauty in every season and I’m so very happy to call it home.
Summer vacation is not just about where you go or what you see but who you share the time with. But that isn’t what today’s blog is about. Today, we only care about the places we went and the things we saw.
While on vacation last week, we went to two movies at the Portage 16 IMax. This is a very nice theater that offers free refills on your soda and 50 cent refills on your popcorn. The place is clean and very colorful. Of course the movies were over-priced and the snacks were even more expensive than the movies. But it’s a tradition for our family to see a movie during our summer holiday and so on Monday we viewed the newest Batman movie and on Friday we took in the latest Bourne film. To be honest, neither movie was fantastic but the experience itself was amazing…and here is why.
We were lucky enough during both visits to be assisted by a very lovely and energetic worker named Tyler. Tyler is a beautiful young lady who had a perpetual smile on her face and is happy to help you with anything you might need: Tyler helped us purchase tickets and politely invited us to visit the concession stand for our snacks. When the line became too long for popcorn, she stepped up to the plate and asked if she could help. During our second visit she sold us the tickets and then was assigned to take our tickets near the theater entrances.
And at EVERY duty she was assigned, Tyler had a smile on her face and a cheery voice to greet us.
You might not live near Portage but can I offer some advice? If you are ever in the neighborhood, stop by the theater to meet Tyler. You don’t even need to see a movie. It’s worth the price of admission just to see that smile.
Our vacation this past week was all about sun and fun…and food. We ate very well while were were away and there wasn’t a meal that disappointed.
Our first stop was the well-attended Popolano’s in Chesterton, Indiana. This wonderful restaurant provided fantastic Italian cuisine at a reasonable price. Seated on the patio, we enjoyed a perfect summer evening under the lights and received excellent service that was the perfect compliment to our food. The only disappointment to the meal was the cannoli that lacked substance.
In the mood for a little spice, we ventured into a menu that originated south of the boarder. El Salto did not disappoint! With its garlic roasted shrimp, perfect taco salads and salsa, this Chesterton option was everything we’d hoped it would be. Perhaps the best item on the menu was the re-fried beans. Made in the store, these beans offered a nutty, roasted flavor unlike any I’d ever tasted before. We left the table fully satisfied by the food, even if the server seemed to be less than enthused to be serving us.
The next outstanding meal was found in Chicago. Based on the recommendation of a 17 year old friend, we caught a taxi and made our way to Ann Sather on Belmont. Known for their Sweet Rolls, this Swedish diner had the most amazing breakfast. The rolls (2 for $3) were smothered in sugary goodness. In fact, by the end of the meal, everything was covered in powdered sugar glaze: the coffee mug, the silverware and our fingers! My Smoked Salmon and Eggs Benedict were unbelievable. There wasn’t a person at the table who left disappointed with their meal.
Our biggest, and most expensive meal of the trip occurred on the night of our 27th anniversary. We made a reservation for Cafe Bionda on State Street in Chicago. Let me just say that I’ve never had a better plate of Eggplant Parmesan. And this establishment wins, hands-down, the cannoli award. Throw in a glass of their Cabernet and it was the perfect meal.
Our final dinner together was a simple pizza from Pizza Hut. Carried out and eaten in our hotel room for a twenty-spot, the thin-crust vege with bread sticks and a small side salad was nothing short of beautiful. We watched the Olympics and enjoyed the quiet of the room during our last night together. It was a wonderful meal to end our wonderful vacation.
Just three hours from Indianapolis, the Indiana Dunes National Lake Shore is a must-see for anyone who wants to experience all of Indiana. The Dunes offer an amazing experience of beautiful sandy beaches, cold Lake Michigan water, hot sun and cool breezes.
From the top of the Dunes, one experiences a view that is unparallelled. Couples stop to steal a kiss in the fading light of day. Seniors pose for their portraits. Children run full speed down the shifting, sloping sands. It is a place for play. It is a place for reflection. It is a place of awe.
On the beach, children build sand castles and fly kites. In the crashing waves, little ones experience the power of nature and run laughing into the surf. Spread out on the hot summer sand, sun bathers soak up warm rays and darken their late-summer tans.
The trails around the dunes offer bird-watchers an unending list of wildlife to view.
The camp ground is filled to capacity with those who desire to be closer to nature.
The Nature Center provides guidebooks, trail maps and a volunteers ready to answer any questions.
The Dunes is a great place to visit and we’ll be back very soon, I’m sure.
When traveling to Chicago, you can get from one place to another in relative ease using any means of public transportation: Metra, South Shore Line, Taxi or Bus. But we like to walk.
Of course, we took advantage of all the available transportation options but hitting the streets on our feet gave us the best view.
We entered Chicago utilizing the South Shore Line from Chesterton, Dunes Park. It was an amazing ride that delivered us to Millennium Park and everything we wished to see. For $7.25 per person, one way, it was cheaper than finding parking for the day and much less headache.
A taxi dropped us off at a location but the RED Line took us back to the Aquarium and our feet took us nearly everywhere else.
With a fantastic thunder storm brewing, we were able to enjoy the wet, steamy streets of Chicago…up close and personal.
At the end of the day, we boarded the South Shore Line back to our starting point, just a few miles from the hotel.
We took a trip to Chicago this past week and made our way to the world-famous Shedd Aquarium. Can I just say, “Wow”?
Thanks. I’m glad I got this off my chest.
The Shedd Aquarium is an amazing place and if you hadn’t already guessed, it’s full of fish. But in August, before school starts, it is the wrong place to be on a sunny summer afternoon. Because it is also full of 20,000 people packed into this fish bowl. As a result, we waited in line for more than a 1/2 an hour just to get in the doors. Once at the ticket booth we found 37 different options and combinations for entry (thus the long line). We could get the basic, basic plus the movie, basic plus the jellies, the basic plus, the plus-is-more, the plus-is-more plus the jellies, etc. It took a scientific calculator just to figure out which option would work best for our group.
The Shedd is an amazing place and I highly recommend it…on a day in February when no one else is there. Save your pennies and spring for the Aquatic Show. It isn’t Sea World but it is fascinating to see the handlers work with the dolphins and beluga whales.
The central tank is my favorite place to see the fish. If you are lucky enough to be there when they feed the marine life, you are in for a real treat.
Several years ago my kids got me hooked on a video game called “Roller Coaster Tycoon“. I loved building fantastic rides and increasing the energy of the park by dropping in costumed characters and placing fountains at every corner. But I was never able to get the right ratio of trash cans and cleaning staff to the number of park guests which meant that riders threw up more, they complained about the state of the park and eventually, I my parks closed for lack of funds.
I doubt that this will ever happen at Holiday World. They have cleanliness down to a “T”. Everywhere you turn there are young men and women in blue shirts with their brooms and dust-bins at the ready. They are worker bees buzzing from one location to the next, sweeping up messes and emptying trash at a rapid rate. I watched two young men bus tables with energy and focus. Something I could never get my cleaning staff to do in Tycoon!
In the two days that we were in the park, I never saw ONE trash can overflowing, even at the busiest times of day. The only location where trash was on the ground was a poorly constructed holding area in the Mammoth water slide. There were no trash cans and people threw their paper cups into an opening between the rows.
Despite this one gap in design, there were more trash cans at more locations than I’ve ever seen in any other park. The staff were hard working and friendly, no matter what mess they were addressing at the time. It is no wonder that they’ve been named the #1 Cleanest Park for 11 straight years.
Now if I could only get them to help me with my video games and my own living room.
Of course, it is no surprise that I would write about food following my post about fat people and body image.
Holiday World does not disappoint when it comes to its food options. The park offers plenty of places to eat and many more places to get a drink on a hot summer day. Free soft drinks are found in any number of the Pepsi Oasis locations placed around the park and the only limit to how much you can drink is the line of people waiting their turn.
Whether you are visiting the Alamo in 4th of July Land or enjoying a giant pepperoni pizza in Splashin’ Safari, you won’t be disappointed by the food. Of course, you are trapped in a theme park that doesn’t allow picnics or food of your own so they have you right where they want you. A large pizza and bread sticks for 4 people will cost you $35 with tax but it does taste awfully good. Throw in the free drinks and you have a pretty good meal. But if you have four of these meals in two days, you’ve broken the budget.
Our last stop during our time at the park was the Plymouth Rock Cafe’ nestled in Thanksgiving Land. The facility is air conditioned and spacious with plenty of seating and great food. It isn’t really more than a large fellowship hall but the building provided a much needed respite from the heat and a fantastic meal. To say it was better than MCL and the Blue Plate Special doesn’t serve it justice. It was wonderful.
Ice cream, free soda (water and Gatorade is also on tap), pizza, hot dogs, chicken, Bar-B-Q, and snacks of every option are available at the park. You will not be disappointed with the food but might need to take out a small loan to afford it.
My family took a few days and drove to the southern tip of the state of Indiana to visit a “Theme Park”. For those of you unfamiliar with Kings’ Island, Six Flags, Cedar Point or Disney, let me introduce you to Indiana’s treasure: Holiday World.
You can get all the vital statistics about the park from other sources. I intend on illuminating the issues that matter most about the park. I will answer the questions you care about the most. For instance: What about the food? Will I feel comfortable in a swimsuit with Santa Claus standing next to me? Is it really the friendliest park? And many more.
But today we will begin with the issue that haunts me every time I slip on my swimming suit and wade into the water. Will people stare at my body? Now, I ask this question, NOT because I am a beauty worthy of gazing. In fact, my body image shifted about 35 years ago when my studying and desk work replaced my active life style and farm work. I went from a bean-pole of a guy to a guy who ate the entire bean pole and all the beans.
So slipping off my shirt and tucking in my muffin tops can be a little unnerving…until I visited Holiday World in the state that ranks 15th in the number of fat people. Some of the folks we met came from Missouri (ranking 11th) and Kentucky (currently ranked #5 in fattest people in the land). So my body image actually improved while I was paddling in the Wave Pool.
Oh, sure, there are beautiful young men and women with perfect tans strutting their slender bodies along the hot pavement, but I suspect they were all from Illinois (ranked 23rd in the nation). We all hated them.
The next time you are strolling through Charles de Gaulle, try wearing a belt buckle. In fact, pick up a World Wrestling Championship Buckle and strap it on. If you are more into subtle fashion, hang some extra-dangly earrings from your lobes.
Want to be more subtle? Keep on your shoes. Leave a dime in your right pants pocket. Eat Iron-Fortified Cereal. Then expect to be “felt up” just after walking though the metal detector. I can guarantee that unless you are Amish, you have something in or on your person that will set off the warning lights.
Of course, if you like being groped by a 300 lb French woman named Jean Pierre, then by all means, leave your watch on your arm, turn your head and cough.
We purchased the tickets on line, which was a good idea. This gave us an early start for the ride to the top of the arch without the hassle of waiting behind 100 people at the ticket kiosks.
If you’ve ever ridden to the top of the Arch, you know that it is a one of a kind experience. Riders stand in the stairwell underneath the north or south section of the arch, behind the metal bar (this phrase was repeated about 15 times while we waited…BEHIND the metal BAR). When the elevator-like doors open, you are looking into an egg-like pod that would have worked great for Mork from Ork. Five seats line the walls with a luminescent glow coming from behind the center seat. It’s tight quarters, as you can tell from the five people anxious to leave the space and into the stairwell and out into daylight.
The three off us waited our turn to enter the pod / elevator / egg as instructed (BEHIND the metal BAR) when two more people joined us and stood BEHIND the metal BAR. One was a little boy, about 10 years old. The other, I assume was his father.
The father positioned his son in front of us, which gave him first entry into the elevator pod. The father, a man about 6 foot, 2 inches tall, turned and reported with a smile, “I claim the middle seat.”
“Oh. Do you?” was my reply.
“I’m the tallest and the middle seat has the most leg room.” Well, then, please, by all means, take the entire pod.
As the we entered the elevated death ride, the tall guy climbed into his claimed seat. The rest of us squeezed in around him as he stretched out his legs. He smiled at us as we banged our heads into the low, curved ceiling of the tiny capsule. “Ya. That’s the other reason I take this seat.” He waved his hand above his head to illustrate the three inches of clearance. “More head room.”
My wife replied from her hunched over, fetal position, “This is a tight space, isn’t it?”
And then the man who claims things because he’s taller than everyone else said something I won’t forget, “Yes. We’re going to be Close Friends.”
I immediately took issue with his statement. Thankfully for everyone involved I only replied in my mind. My big boy filter was turned on when my synapses shouted, “Close? Yes. Friends? NEVER.”
Can I share a word of advice for those of you who claim the last bagel, the best seat, the better view, the easier way, the best shopping cart, the fastest lane, the ? Stop it. You’re acting like a child.
Jesus said, “The first shall be last and the last shall be first.” Of course, in this case it was true. He was first on but the LAST off of the death-ride-pod-thing.