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.

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.

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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Fair Friends

Parks and Austin Families, August 3, 2012

I can’t explain how it happens but for the past few years we’ve found the Parks – or they’ve found us – in random locations around the State Fair.

Janice and I worked together at the church in Avilla for three years and Scott was one of those wonderful blessings in my life while I served in that pulpit.

When our we moved to Indy in 1999, our families didn’t keep in touch except for an occasional email from Janice to update me on the status of a church family or to share some good news about the church.

And yet, over the past three years, we have been blessed run into each other at the State Fair.  It isn’t planned and it is never in the same place.  But it is always a gift.  One year we saw them coming out of the Ball State pavilion.  One year it was near the grandstand.  This year, as we were walking away from the Pioneer Village (which we have not visited since our children were little) the Parks began yelling our names because they spotted us!

We were without kids this year and they were short one child but it gave us a wonderful opportunity to chat, catch up and prepare for the next year’s meeting.  Fifteen minutes with old friends:  Not nearly enough time but a blessing and a gift that was a highlight of my day.

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.

Visiting Holiday World – Body Image

A view of the Wave Pool at Holiday World.

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.

Summer Vacation 2011: DAY 3

Bear the Cat and Ben the Boy enjoy some quiet time.

 The last traveling day of our family vacation began with a leisurely morning drive down US Highway 40 to Centerville.  The stretch of highway that at one time ran from coast to coast now ensures that drivers have to slow to 30 mph every five minutes to see the small towns and antique shops along the way.

Once in Centerville, we stopped in several antique shops and malls, the biggest of these is the Webb Antique Mall.  Here you can find what ever it is you are looking for, except an accordion and a coffin.  For those things you have to travel back west to Cambrige City.  Let’s just say that the highlight of our day in Centerville was the cat Ben found in a Christmas shop at the edge of town.  This cat was HUGE and loved any attention.  The over-sized kitty was popular among locals as three little girls, hand in hand, walked up the steps to come visit the “kitty cat”.

Wilson Wines

We stopped into a local food mart and picked up some coleslaw and made our way to our final travel destination of the week – Wilson Wines.  Ben and Jonathan have affectionately dubbed this yearly visit as a trip to “Hillbilly Heaven”.

As mentioned earlier, our vacation planning ranked a trip to Wilson Wines as the second highest option for our week.  We all look forward to this.  Don (the 78 year old birthday boy) was offended that he ranked second behind ComedySportz.

It has become a yearly tradition to visit this out-of-the-way establishment in the middle of the cornfield.  I wrote about our experience last year in a blog entitled, “There’s More Than Corn…”.

This year our visit to the oasis in the middle of bean fields provided a cooler evening and a smaller group of family members. The crops have rotated from year to year and this year the focus was on Beans.

Ross and Don give it their best shot.

Another nice addition was the presence of my nephew, Ross.  Ross and Don share the same birth date and this was the first year that Ross joined us for the big day.

As expected at a winery, there are some people who enjoy the fruit of the vine more than others.  As we sang “Happy Birthday”, a woman sidled up beside me and wrapped her arm around my waste and whispered in my ear, “I thought I should come and sing with you all.  Wasn’t I suppose to be the one who jumps out of the cake?”

They are so friendly there.

Along with the meat on the grill, the green beans and corn, the 3-year-old Gouda and wine, we all shared in some fantastic carrot cake from Concannon’s.  This has to be some of the best cake I’ve ever eaten.

As mentioned last year, the beauty of Wilson Wines is the setting, the relaxed atmosphere and the family friendly (except for the cake woman) environment.  We played croquet, we blew bubbles, we sang along with the live music and we enjoyed ever minute.

Summer Vacation 2011: DAY 2

THURSDAY – Today’s agenda includes a visit to the IMA (Indianapolis Museum of Art) and ComedySportz (ranked #1 by all three members of the Vacation Planning Team).

We started the day by picking up Alex, Ben’s girlfriend.  Once everyone was loaded and ready to go, we drove to the IMA at the corner of Michigan and 38th street.

Ben and I had packed a picnic lunch and the four of us enjoyed fried chicken, 3-year Gouda and Oreo Cakesters under the shade of a tree in the Orchard on the grounds of the museum.

It was a wonderful day.  The sun was shining and the art was wonderful.  Unfortunately, there is very little I can show you on my blog concerning our time at the Museum.  They have enacted a new Photography Policy that prevents me from taking pictures for of the art or grounds for anything other than personal use.  There is even a ban on utilizing these photographs on websites.  However, I did not see anything concerning photography of their bathrooms and so I snapped this wonderful picture which I believe is reminiscent of the 1987 New York Urinal Movement located in up-state New York.  You will note the clean lines and disinfecting cakes surrounded by earth tone tile, Formica dividers (privy privacy partitions developed by Joe the Plumber in 1948).  While many believe bathrooms are utilitarian in nature, the IMA has recognized the artistic value of their facilities, which is much more than a system of pipes and fixtures installed in a building for the distribution of potable water and the removal of waterborne wastes. The history of the bathroom is fascinating:  Plumbing is usually distinguished from water and sewage systems, which serve a group of buildings or a city. Improvement in plumbing systems was very slow, with virtually no progress made from the time of the Roman system of aqueducts and lead pipes until the 19th century. Eventually the development of separate, underground water and sewage systems eliminated open sewage ditches. Present-day water pipes are usually made of steel, copper, brass, plastic, or other nontoxic material. A building’s waste-disposal system has two parts: the drainage system and the venting system. The drainage portion comprises pipes leading from various fixture drains to the central main, which is connected to the sewage system. The venting system consists of pipes leading from an air inlet (usually on the roof) to various points within the drainage system; by providing the circulation of air within the system, it protects the trap seals of fixtures from siphonage and back pressure.*

But, as I mentioned earlier, all other art and grounds are restricted from photographic presentation.  So I guess you will just have to go and see it for yourself.

We enjoyed a FANTASTIC dinner was at Bazbeaux’s Pizza and after a leisurely stroll down Mass Ave, we found ourselves at the FLYING CUPCAKE.  Alex bought a box of cupcakes for her family and Ben inhaled one as his dessert.  Anita and I split an orange cupcake and then we sat in the evening shade of a park until ComedySportz opened their doors.  Once inside, we laughed, sang and cheered our favorite teams until the night ended and they made us leave.

It was a perfect evening for a walk back to our car and we talked about our day as we strolled back downtown.

The drive home was uneventful but the conversation was stimulating as we made our way back to Noblesville and to drop off Alex and find our way home.

Summer Vacation 2011: DAY 1

 Vacation is off to a GREAT start.

We began our day-trips by driving to Kokomo, which everyone knows is the City of Firsts.  So we had our first meal while on vacation in the City of Firsts.  Ben loves Burger King (I think he just likes the hats).  I like Burger King.  Anita can tolerate Burger King.

We stopped at Burger King.

Our plan on DAY 1 is to visit the local Antique Malls and see if we can find any unusual items that other people are selling and we cannot do without.

I am constantly amazed at how many items sold in Antique Malls are really nothing more than ’70’s junk that someone didn’t have the sense to throw out.  Really, how many Star Wars figurines can any one guy own?

Despite all the junk, Ben found a great set of Batman comics from 1990 for $3.25 and I picked up a brass sun for decorating our back porch.  All in all it was quite a successful venture.

Our next stop on our journey was the Grissom Air Museum near Peru, Indiana.

This small but mighty plane museum was worth the $17 admission fee ($6 for adult and $5 for student).  Flight suits, plane engines, and ammunition lined the walls with small plaques explaining their history and purpose.  A real plane and helicopter cockpit completed the exhibit indoors but the exterior of the building is the section of the museum that I enjoyed most.

Parked in the lawn just beyond the gift shop are two-dozen planes of every shape and size.  Refueling ships to cargo transporters to fighter jets are located around the complex.  The information plaques offer just enough general information about the type of plane to pique your interest and some specific information about the museum’s plane to make you “ooh” and “aah”.  For instance, one jet was flown by President George W. Bush during his last flight as a fighter pilot.

After a leisurely dinner at Ruby Tuesday’s, we ended the evening by driving to Frankfort for a live show in the Red Barn Theatre.  We attended a recent performance of “The Shadow Box” a few weeks ago and were very impressed by the acting of our good friends, Chris and Jennie Otterman.  The Shadow Box in this play about life and death and making the most of each day.  It was spectacular.

The Red Barn is one of the few summer theaters left and, despite its high price, it is still a nice atmosphere and worth the drive.

Despite being billed as a comedy, tonight’s show, “Kosher Lutherans” dealt with serious topics (infertility, infidelity, teen pregnancy and bigotry just to name a few).  The play is written as a comedy, and I suppose it was an attempt at showing the humor still found in dark circumstances.  The actors were all younger than their characters and it showed in their performances.  When they were loud, they were very loud.  And they were loud a lot.  It was obvious that one actor’s inspiration was Gilbert Gottfried.  One woman must have watched several episodes of All in the Family because I could have sworn that she was an younger version of Edith Bunker.

It wasn’t a great play but it wasn’t terrible either.  Would I pay to see it again?  No.  Was I glad that I went tonight?  No.  Was I happy to be with my wife and son on vacation?  You know it.  I wouldn’t trade that for anything.

As we left the theater and entered the cool, perfect evening for the drive home, we all agreed that it had been a good day.  We started early and ended late and would soon be home to our own beds.  Nothing is better than vacationing in your own bed.  I highly recommend it.

VDP for the Masses

Summer vacation week has officially started for the Austin Family and this year’s experience is a little different than those in the past.  For instance, we are down to one child to join us on our summer experience.  In the past, we would have packed the van with three kids, 5 bikes, 2 tents and enough cooking equipment to process food for the 5th Infantry Division.

We would have loaded several days’ worth of food, rolled our sleeping bags and tucked away our bug spray.  Every corner of the van would have been filled with necessities for a week of fun family memories.

This year, the three remaining Austins (Ben, Anita and me) decided to stay close to home and see what Indiana has to offer.

I must say that we were very democratic about determining our destinations.  We began by making a list of anything and everything that might sound fun during our week off.  We listed everything from Caving to Canoing.  We listed Harry Potter, Swing Dancing, and Duck Pin Bowling.  We considered King’s Island and Holiday World.  We suggested hiking in the woods, Symphony on the Prairie and theater in a barn.

When it was all said and done, and all the possible ideas were exhausted, we reviewed the list and discussed the positive and negative aspects of each.  We observed any logistic aspects of the vacation destinations and then rated each item on a scale from 1 to 10 (ten being the best).  Each person rated the event.  Utilizing the Excel spreadsheet developed for the process, we then sorted the items according to the best average score.  As you can see, ComedySportz ranked highest, followed by my father-in-law’s birthday party and the Indianapolis Museum of Art. 

Page two of the spreadsheet provided a good place to develop a working schedule to optimize our events, geographic locations and approximate time required to make the most of our destinations.

I believe this new science of Vacation Development Planning (VDP for short) will be the wave of the future and am open for consultations to help your family plan their next week of vacation.  A small retainer fee is requested at the time you book your VDP session.

In the mean time, I’ll keep you up-to-date with our POF (Program of Events (also known as vacation)).