A State Fair To Remember

There is nothing more enjoyable than a visit to the State Fair.  This year’s trip was later in the run but it wasn’t any less enjoyable.  We saw all the sites and tried most of the food and were pleased by every minute of the day.

The Gift of a Friend

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.

Never Enough Space Food

Hundreds of space ice cream packets line the shelves of Space Center, Houston.
Hundreds of space ice cream packets line the shelves of Space Center, Houston.

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.

The Detail of the Brush

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIf 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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFirst, 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.

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFinally, 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.

A Great Day, Once Again

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.

The Start of Something Good

Houston Sunrise 2013.03.31Every so often you need a break.

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?

What will you do for a break?

 

Winter Wonderland

For those of you in the midst of the snow storm, these will be of no interest.  For those of you in warmer climates, these might give you an idea of the fun we are having in Indiana.

My Last Day Off

The view from my new desk location. I love it.

This is my tenth straight day away from the office and to be honest, I really don’t want to go back.  This is the last day of my Thanksgiving Break and I am just not ready to get in the car and drive back down town for work.

But I know that my Christmas Break is just around the corner and I will have another opportunity to another long vacation.  So between now and then, I’ll suffer through the 15 days of work that await me.

The good news is that this time off hasn’t been wasted.  In the 10 days I’ve enjoyed at home, I’ve experienced much rest and rejuvenation.  I’ve filled my days with reading and writing.  I’ve spent quality time with family and friends.  I’ve cooked up a storm:  Everything from banana bread to beef bourguignon, roasted chickens and mashed potatoes, stirred soups and tossed salads.

I’ve walked with my wife and chilled with my children.

I’ve watched West Wing and also witnessed Sandhill Cranes on the wing.

In short, this has been the perfect break.

Heading West, Part One

Another beautiful Indiana sunrise.

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.

Stopping for a snapshot in front of the Darlington Covered Bridge.

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”.

A view of Sugar Creek from the entrance of the Darlington Covered Bridge.

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.

Cross-cut boards make the wooden “bricks” of this amazing bridge.

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.

The Darlington Covered Bridge

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!

Oh The Places You Go

Ben and Anita enjoy the trip.

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.

Here’s the list of where we went and what we saw.

1. The Dunes.

2. Chicago.

3. The Bean.

4. Big Legs.

5. Soldier Field.

6. Shedd Aquarium.

7. A Light House.

8. A Junk Shop.

9. The Nina and The Pinta.

10. The Light House.

11. Millennium Park.

It really was a great time.

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It’s Who You Know

Catching a movie is an Austin Vacation Tradition!

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.

Tyler: Winner of the Best Smile of Portage.

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.

Eating our Way Through Vacation

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.

Doing the Dunes

Digging in and letting go, the Dunes are a great place to relax.

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.

You’ll never know what you might find washed up on the beaches.

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.

A perfect place for all ages!

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.

A quiet stroll along a sandy path.

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.

Relaxing or playing hard, the Dunes are the perfect place for both.

The Dunes is a great place to visit and we’ll be back very soon, I’m sure.

 

Walking Chicago

Waiting for the South Shore Line to Chicago.

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.

The rain added to the beauty of the busy city streets.

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.

Always follow traffic signs.

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.

Riding home.

It was a great day.

A Visit to the Shedd

A poisonous frog poses for a perfect picture.

We took a trip to Chicago this past week and made our way to the world-famous Shedd Aquarium.  Can I just say, “Wow”?

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.

The Junk Shop

Every so often you stumble into a place that it beyond description.  The Junk Shop is one of those places.

Accurately named, this hodgepodge of junk is worth visiting if you can just make your way through the narrow aisles without being buried alive in a sudden shift and avalanche of toys, books, nicknacks, hardware and tools.  The outside of the building has a fortress of old mowers, doors, duct-work, washing machines, and augers.  If you are looking for it, they have it. Whether it works or not is another story.

The Junk Shop is located just off Highway 12, near Mount Baldy in Michigan City.  The owner is friendly and I thoroughly enjoyed talking with him.  He explained that he started with a trash removal business but started gathering the good stuff that people were throwing out and soon filled the massive pole barn with his findings.  It wasn’t long before he got out of the trash business in order to keep up with his junk business.  As they say, “One many’s trash is another man’s treasure”.

Cow Milking isn’t JUST for Old People

Grazing cattle in southern Indiana, October 2009.

I take offense to the The Indy Channel’s article about the State Fair. Written by some anonymous hack, the post refers to a new character in “Cow Town” who doesn’t seem to understand that we live in Indiana and being a rural state, some people still live on farms.

Cactus Farrell is quoted as saying, “you get to milk a cow by hand the old-fashioned way — how grandma and grandpa used to do.”

I have news for you, Cactus.  I’m not a grandpa and I milked cows by hand for many, MANY years.  I was so adept at milking that I could shoot a fly off the wall at 40 paces!  (It was really more like 6 feet but I’m not telling Cactus that.)

Cow milking was our bread and butter.  Literally.  Day and night we would milk the cow (we only had one).  That milk was allowed to sit and the cream would rise to the top. Skim off the cream, hand churn the wonderful fatty substance and soon we had butter.  Take that same fantastic milk fat and add sugar and flavoring and we could just as easily get ice cream.  Pour it straight over Sugar Smacks or Cap’n Crunch in the morning and you have yourself quite a dandy breakfast.

I’m not sure why my cholesterol is high.

But back to the point of this blog:  Cactus and Anonymous Writer have it all wrong.  Milking isn’t just for Grandpa in the Olden Days!  And if I hear this come from Cactus’ lips today, I just might have to take him behind the wood shed and teach him some manners.

Visiting Holiday World – Keeping it Clean

Everyone loves Santa and Holiday World!

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.

Visiting Holiday World – Food & Drink

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.