"Believe that you can do it, under any circumstances. Because if you believe you can, then you really will. That belief just keeps you searching for the answers, then pretty soon you get it."
– Wally "Famous" Amos
What a busy week we've had. On Monday morning, our Forest River warranty Manager called and told us that our dear Wendy was ready to be picked up so Steve and I packed and were on the road by 8:00 a.m. Our experience with Forest River throughout this entire warranty issue has been awesome. These people are truly focused on customer service and satisfaction. If any of you are thinking about buying an RV in the future, we both highly recommend Forest River products. The company is owned by Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway (he's not my favorite guy right now) and has maintained financial viability during a time when other RV manufacturers have sufferend tremendous losses or have gone bankrupt.
After we picked up Wendy, we had to unload the storage unit we rented and repack all of our stuff. Holy Cow it was hard to believe that all those boxes came out of a camper. I wish we would have taken a picture of the pile of empty boxes we had outside of our trailer because you would be shocked too. Anyway, with our house back in order, we proceeded to visit the National New York Central Railroad Museum in Elkhart, Indiana. What a great museum! They had numerous exhibits that were very interesting and informative. My favorite part of the museum was the entire room they had dedicated to a model railroad and a miniature city of Elkhart. They spared no expense in terms of attention to detail with this exhibit and I spent a lot of time watching the trains travel around this model city. Fun! One thing we found really cool was a model train made out of 421,000+ toothpicks. WOW! The artist's name is Terry Woodland and he is from Warsaw, Indiana. He also used 1.5 million toothpicks to build a full sized stagecoach that will be on display in Ripley's Believe it or Not Museum. Steve and I spent the rest of our time climbing around old rail cars that were parked outside in the lot next to the museum. We had a great time. Later that night we met up with some friends we met at a Forest River Owners Group camping trip we took last May. Steve and Dara live in Elkhart and it was nice to see them again.
The next day we shipped out and headed for Louisville, Kentucky. Steve and I both love this city. It's got a great downtown area but it's not so large that it is difficult to get around or find anything. On our first day we visited the Louisville Slugger Factory (no pictures allowed inside) and watched them make baseball bats. Up until 1980, it would take a master craftsman 30 minutes to make a bat from scratch. Now it takes only 30 seconds (due to the installation of mechanical lathes). The stamping and staining processes are still done by hand so there is still a lot of personal care applied to each bat, especially those made for the major leagues. The factory also has a really nice museum attached to it that we enjoyed. We had a bat made for my dad with "Sweet Lou" engraved on it. He will enjoy that very much. Then we visited the Frazier Historical Arms Museum which was right across the street from Louisville Slugger. Anyway, this museum was awesome. It is completely dedicated to arms, armories and related artifacts. While that may not sound interesting to you, the way they displayed these artifacts is what made the museum interesting. The timeframe covered is from medieval times through the presidency of Theodore Roosevelt. In addition to these displays, there was a temporary exhibit of the photography work of three artists who traveled through Kentucky in the 1970's entitled "Rough Road". The candid photos taken tell the story of rural Kentucky in an interesting and unique way. We loved this museum and highly recommend it. As a matter of fact, there are several museums in this area of downtown Louisville. If you visit the city, be sure and plan an entire day for Museum Row as the Science Museum and other museums are also on the two-three blocks in this area downtown.
One evening, we visited Louisville Slugger Stadium to do the pumpkin walk that was sponsored by "Dreams with Wings", a charitable organization who supports children and adults with autism and learning disabilities. The entire stadium was dedicated to a family event that begins with a trick or treat around the entire baseball field. Carved pumpkins were lined up along the baselines and warning track and parents and children were allowed to walk around the entire field, with stops here and there for trick or treating. Steve snapped pictures of the best pumpkins we saw. Some of them were really fun. A live band was playing music and the concession stands were open and selling food. The charity also made the largest pumpkin pie in Louisville, of which Steve and I shared a piece. It was a blast walking around and seeing the pumpkins and the kids all dressed up in their costumes. What a great idea they had with using that baseball field for this charitable event.
The next day, Steve and I headed to Churchill Downs and the Kentucky Derby Museum. This was something that I have wanted to do for the longest time and I was more than a little disappointed that we could not attend the Kentucky Derby this past May. So finally getting to see this piece of Americana was really cool for me. Did you know that the Kentucky Derby has been running continuously since 1875? It is the longest running sporting event in the country. The museum is dedicated to the race itself and had some really awesome exhibits. The two I found most interesting were the displays of the outrageous hats that some of the women wear to the actual Derby race. The other was the display of uniforms that the jockeys themselves wear. I could not get over how small they were. The museum also presents a 360 degree movie about the history of the race that we found very entertaining and informative. After touring the museum, Steve and I took a behind the scenes tour of Churchill Downs. We went to the infield and saw the track and grandstands from that perspective. We were most entertained by the dozen or so infield jails they have built half-way into the ground. Our tour guide told us that on the day of the race, at least three of those jails are completely filled with the drunks who are partying on the infield all day. The best was that there is a betting window in the jail so the "guests" could still place bets. Then we went back to where the barns are and where the horses themselves are kept. Each of the trainers has their own barn and set of stalls that they are encouraged to decorate. Our tour guide told us that the more they win, the grander the decorations become! Then we toured the official paddock where the horses are brought just before the race, we saw the winner's circle, and then visited a retired thoroughbred they keep on the premises. Additionally, there are 4 former Derby winning horses that are buried on the Kentucky Derby Museum property. Barbaro, who won the 2006 Derby and then died shortly thereafter from laminitis, is the only horse buried at Churchill Downs. There is a large sculpture of him over the grave.
Steve and I had lunch in the museum cafe. The menu included a Citation sandwich which caused Steve to wonder if breakfast offered Sea Biscuits and gravy... See what I have to put up with??? Sheeesh.. Funny man.
Following that, we visited the Marengo Cave in Marengo, Indiana (just north of Louisville). We toured this cave for about 70 minutes and saw some really beautiful stalagtites and stalagmites. The cavern itself is so large that the town of Marengo used it for community-wide dances as well as church services. The most incredibly cool part of the tour was Mirror Lake. The stillness of the surface of that lake creates an optical illusion that makes the water seem almost invisible. Very cool. Lastly, Steve and I visited the Falls of Ohio to see the fossil beds along the riverbank. This area contains one of the greatest collection of Devonian period fossils anywhere in the world and they exist right along the river. Very cool! Additionally, this area is where Lewis and Clark spent time training their men prior to their exploration of the West and the Louisiana Purchase territory. The story of their journey is very interesting and I highly recommend the book "Undaunted Courage" which tells of their adventures.
Ok, that's it for this week. Steve and I are heading off to church and then packing and moving to Lexington, Kentucky and a visit to the Bluegrass region and horse country. Talk to you next week, but between now and then, be good, stay safe, and count your blessings every day!
"Touch a thistle timidly, and it pricks you; grasp it boldly, and its spines crumble."
– Admiral William Halsey
This was a good quote for me this week. If you have been reading our posts on a regular basis, you know that this week was spent in Sycamore Illinois as I was attending what is called a "modular" class for my seminary studies. A modular class is a style of class where you do a lot of reading and prep work prior to attending class, sit in a classroom for 5 straight days, then read a lot more and write several papers. This past week was the classroom piece of that coursework and wow did it kick my butt. I haven't sat in a classroom for school in many many years and then to do it all day long discussing a subject matter that is very intellectually challenging exhausted me.
My class was Apologetics and World Religions which was fascinating. I learned about Hinduism, Bhuddism, Islam (including the Nation of Islam, which is not the same thing), and other worldviews or religions. Additionally, I studied apologetics, which is not what the name would imply. The word apologetics comes from the Greek word "apologia" which means "to give an answer". The purpose of apologetics in Christianity (or in any religion) is to be able to explain or define your faith. It is really a very intense Christianity 101. When I say "explain", I do not want you to think that it is my intent to get on a soapbox at the Daytona 500 and spew Scripture to passersby and become an "in your face" Christian. Quite the opposite, actually. The purpose of this class is to help me to answer questions like "If your God is a loving God, how did he allow something like 9/11 to happen?" See what I mean? That's a tough question to answer and now I have the tools that I need to be able to handle those types of situations in a more effective manner. Now you know why this was an intellectually challenging week for the old girl. Additionally, being an on-line student left me a bit nervous about what to expect from the other students in the class, etc. I must say, I was pleasantly surprised to see that I was not the only "old person" in the class. There were 5 other people there over the age of 50 who were also beginning their second careers like me. One guy just retired from the Army where he spent his career as a surgeon. He intends to become an Army Chaplain and get out into the field with the soldiers. Very commendable.
Ok, so on to Steve. The poor guy had time to himself finally. I am sure you can appreciate that the 24 x 7 atmosphere in which we live can push any marriage to its limits so I would dare say that Steve welcomed the 8 hours he had to himself the first couple of days. After that, we were extremely blessed with a visit from our daughter and her family. Jill, her husband Gary, and two of their three children -- Jeremiah and Kendra -- came to hang out with us for the balance of the week. What a joy it was to see family! We haven't been gone that long, but when you are used to seeing someone all the time, and then suddenly you don't see them at all, it can be a huge void in your life. The Peanut (as I call my granddaughter Kendra) told me on the phone that we have been gone so long that she turned 16 already -- so I would say the visit with them was very much needed. We had dinner together on Wednesday night and then Steve and the gang went to the planetarium the next day. I will say that they truly did not appreciate the Chicago traffic at all. It took them 2 hours to go 20 miles or so, which with an impatient 4-year-old in the car can make the trip even worse! Anyway, they had a great time and Steve has some nice pictures from that visit to the Planetarium. At the end of the day, we all met up at our camper and went fishing in the pond that was right in front of our campsite. We roasted marshmallows on our campfire and just talked and it was beautiful. They went home on Friday and we moved on to Goshen, Indiana when I was finished with school for the day, so once again, Steve and I are ALONE!!!!!!
Anyway, we are in Goshen to have some warranty work done on our travel trailer. We have to completely empty it of personal contents so we rented a storage unit and spent the weekend packing up our stuff. The warranty work will require that the entire side walls be removed and replaced and they are moving the axle back about 8 inches which may, or may not, require us to invest in a new truck due to the revised weight distribution the axle move will cause. We are not excited about this, but thankfully we didn't anticipate that this trip would be without hiccups. While our "Wendy" is being surgically enhanced, we will be staying at the cottage in Gladwin, Michigan (referred to as "at north" -- a phrase coined by my niece Bridget when she was very young). Several of my relatives also have cottages in the same area (it's a golf resort) so we will be visiting with them while we are there. I am not sure what we will do with so much extra square footage in the cottage since we are used to living in 300 square feet, but I am sure we will manage. It will be very strange, though, to be in a full-sized kitchen again.
While in Goshen, it wasn't all work. We did get a chance to visit the RV/Mobile Home Hall of Fame. This was a chance for us to spend some time looking at the history of the lifestyle that Steve and I have adopted. WOW was that cool! RV's have been around since 1913 and were actually starting to become luxurious around the 1930's (relatively speaking, of course). We had a great time walking through the display and would recommend the stop if you are ever headed to Chicago. It is right off the turnpike in Elkhart, Indiana.
Ok, that is all for now. Have a very blessed week and we'll write again soon!
"I don't want to get to the end of my life and find that I have just lived the length of it. I want to have lived the width of it as well."
– Diane Ackerman
Let me begin this post by admitting that both Steve and I were pleasantly surprised by our time in Wisconsin. It's not that we think the world revolves around Michigan exactly, but who knew Wisconsin was so interesting and pretty?
The landscape consists of rolling hills dotted with beautiful farms and their red barns along with trees in the midst of their color change glory. The sky all week has been a beautiful shade of blue and the sun blessed us with its presence the entire time we were here. What a marvelous visit we had.
Let me also say that Barbaboo is a nice place to hang out. Close enough to the Dells that you can reach anything over there in 15 minutes, but far enough away that you don't have to deal with all the tourist issues. Also, Baraboo is such a quaint little town. It has all the amenities that you'd want in a "big city" but most definitely a small town feel. The downtown area itself is surrounded by neighborhoods that boast beautifully maintained Craftsman, Victorian, and some post-modern architecture homes. What a delight it would be to leave your front door, walk a couple of blocks, and be at your favorite coffee shop or bookstore, or grocery store. That is Baraboo. Sadly, however, there is still the "winter" factor so there will not be any relocating to Wisconsin for Steve and I. Anyway, on to our adventures here.
Our first stop was the Circus World Museum. What an absolutely cool place that turned out to be. I must admit I was initially apprehensive because I find clowns to be a bit creepy, but my apprehension was quickly overcome by sheer delight. The museum itself consists of many buildings and a performance area that was used by the Ringling Brothers as their winter quarters. The first building we walked through housed a good number of posters that advertised the circus back from the 1800's forward. These posters were awesome and depicted different acts from the circus (like the human canon and the lion tamers) as well as the side shows.
They also had a number of diaramas demonstrating what the old-time circus (1850-1950) would have looked like which was totally cool. The circus itself, if you didn't already know this, was studied by the U.S. Army who wanted to learn how to pack and unpack in the most effective and efficient manner possible. Who better to learn from than a circus that loaded 100 rail cars full of people, animals, equipment and food, traveled for a day, unloaded and set up all that stuff for only a two-day show and then turn around and pack it all up again.
We toured through the old barns that housed all the various animals that were part of the circus, but the best part was the carriage house. This building was the size of a football stadium and it was filled with all the old cages and carriages that the Ringling Brothers used. These carriages were so ornately painted and absolutely gorgeous. Steve and I both commented on what a sight it must have been for these small towns to see these rail cars come into their rail stations and unload. There were pictures of parades that the circus had as they made their way from the rail station, through town, and onto the site where the circus was going to be. The crowds lining the streets were huge and you could see the excitement on everyone's faces. A bygone era to be sure but this little piece of Americana was so worth the time we spent there.
Apparently, in the summer, this circus museum has a mini-circus every day. The museum itself is open, of course, but they also have an entire area set up for animal performances all day long. There is a huge carousel too which I am sure plays that cool circus music. All in all it was an excellent experience and not a clown in sight all day.
Steve and I did some hiking this past week that just about killed us. Devil's Lake State Park is a beautiful place to visit and the hiking trails there are more challenging than they first appear. Steve and I took off thinking we'd have a nice leisurely 2 mile hike until we faced a wall of granite that was about 500 feet high. We scaled that wall in about a 1500 foot journey (so you can imagine it was a mostly vertical hike) and, after recovering from our mutual heart attacks, were rewarded for our perseverance with one of the most breathtaking sights we have seen so far. There are rock formations along the way that make the trip interesting but the one at the top - - "The Devil's Door" - - was incredible. Steve got some fantastic pictures so check those out in the gallery. In addition to enjoying the fantastic view, we also did some geocaching at the top of the hill. That was fun. The trip down the hill was not as easy as one would think, given the fact that you have gravity on your side on that leg of the journey. This portion of the hike was mostly straight down - - no switchbacks like on the way up and no place to stop and rest. I must say that was very hard on the knees and yes Matt (aka Chuck) it was much harder on the quads than going up! No matter, we did it and it was magnificent.
Have you ever had an experience where you expected something to be one thing and it turns out to be something completely surprising and delightful? Well that was The House on the Rock for us. We anticipated touring a home that was built into the side of a mountain by an architect by the name of Alex Jordan. Not much has been written about this man - - he's sort of "Howard Hughes-ish" in that regard so I cannot give you much information on him. So let me tell you, the house was interesting and beautiful, but it was his collection of weird stuff that made this trip cool. There were two huge buildings on the campus of this tourist attraction filled with collections of doll houses, dueling pistols, music boxes, suits of armor, pipe organs (a multi-story room devoted to just these), and the world's largest carousel. He also had an old-time street scene built with different little shops lining a cobblestone walkway. Totally cool and completely unexpected. Both Steve and I were speechless when we left the place. We experienced complete visual overload and if we had an entire day to explore the museum, we still could not have seen it all.
Our next adventure was a boat ride through the Upper Dells. What better way to spend the late afternoon than a two-hour cruise up the Wisconsin River looking at beautiful scenery. There are many rock formations that were formed from the water erosion over the sandstone cliffs that were interesting. The best part of the journey, however, was an area called "The Witches Gulch". In this portion of the river, the cliffs come very close together and create an almost tunnel-like area. Check out the gallery for some really cool pictures on this. Admittedly, the Wisconsin Dells area is totally about water parks and tourists. I would imagine that during the summer the city is jam-packed, much like International Drive in Orlando. I am not a big fan of that kind of chaos so I am happy that we came when the kids were in school!!!
Speaking of the Dells, Steve and I celebrated our 11th wedding anniversary with a wonderful dinner at a restaurant in the Dells called "Fields". We had a lovely meal and Steve presented me with some new "bling". Before we left for this trip, I put my wedding set in our safe deposit box as I felt a little nervous bringing it on our trip. Since then, however, I have felt a little "naked" without a ring as it seemed weird to not wear one after years of having it on my finger. Steve, however, remedied that for me and presented me with a beautiful solataire in white gold. What a gem of a man!
The remainder of the week was spent checking out cool stuff like an International Crane Refuge, an Army base that had several cool pieces of military equipment on display, visited the Ho-Chuck casino, and biking on an old rail line which contained cool tunnels through mountains. Steve has some nice pics from those adventures. We also visited a cheese factory and watched cheese being made. Steve purchased some sharp cheddar from that factory and made his world-famous Mac-and-Cheese with it. Yummy!! All in all, Wisconsin is a cool place to check out. It's prettier than we expected and a lot more to do than just water parks and Green Bay Packers!!!!
We leave today (10/9) and head to the Chicago area. I have school to deal with this week but Jill, Gary and the kids are coming to visit and hang with Steve and I, so that will be fun. YAHOO! Can't wait to see my grandkids!
Take care everyone! You'll hear from us again next week.
"Keep your eyes on the stars, and your feet on the ground."
– Theodore Roosevelt
I like this quote very much. To me it says - - keep dreaming but stay level headed. That's what Steve and I are doing right now so it seemed to fit for us. Anyway, it's good to write to you again. Since our last post, Steve and I have moved twice so let me get on to the details of this week's adventures.
We left our beloved state of Michigan the day after our visit to the Porcupine Mountains in Silver City. What a fantastic place that was. We began our visit there with a hike to three waterfalls at the western-most point of the park. These falls flow from the Presque Isle River toward Lake Superior. Very beautiful. What is it about the sound of moving water that is so peace-inducing? I don't know but the Nawadaha Falls were quite lovely. Steve crawled down to the very bottom and sat in a rock crevice to take some pictures of it. Thank God for life insurance!
From that hike we went on to Summit Peak and a rather challenging climb. First we had to traverse 1/2 mile up the side of the hill and then climb about 200 steps to the top of the observation tower (elevation 1958 feet), but boy was it worth the heavy breathing. The colors in Upper Michigan were well into their full glory when we made this journey so that provided us a spectacular show when we arrived at the top. Nice!
Our final stop at the Porkies was Lake of the Clouds along the Escarpment Trail. This stop was different from the other two in that it had sheer cliffs of black and red stone mixed with the beautiful fall colors and the green of the pine trees. The lake itself is man made and one mile long but only 15 feet deep. Again, the scenery is breathtaking and as I have said before, Michigan has much to be proud of in terms of its natural beauty. As I looked around from the top of the trail, the view reminded me of being in Yellowstone National Park - it was just that pristine and breathtaking.
There is just so much to do in this park, but these three hikes were all we had time for this day and it was just as well since the weather was headed into its cold and rainy phase.
The next day we packed up our "house" and said goodbye to Michigan. Our three weeks in the UP were truly a great time and again, if you have a chance to visit, please do. It is worth the trip.
We then traveled to Copper Falls State Park in Mellen, Wisconsin. The journey from Houghton to Mellen took us a little over 4 hours. Many peaks and valleys to cross on the way and the fall colors were spectacular. There were also a lot of cute little towns along the way (like Ironwood and Wakefield) that would have been fun to explore if we hadn't been pulling 34 feet of Wendy behind us. Anyway, we arrived at Copper Falls and were immediately taken aback at the beauty of our campsite. First of all, we were surrounded by trees of varying species and color. Secondly, the site was huge. For those of you who have camped, typical site width is about 30-45 feet. This was more like 100, which affords a ton of privacy.
What it does not afford, however, was any hint of cell service, internet service, or a sliver of open sky through the trees so that we could get a satellite hookup for our TV. HOLY COW! Again, our technology dependence slaps us in the face and to make matters worse, it rained nearly the entire time we were there. Thank God we like each other or that could have gotten ugly.
Anyway, despite the weather we had a great time. We finally spotted some wildlife! We saw four deer on the way in and then a mother and two babies one day while we hiked. They appeared to be the standard white-tail deer like we have in MIchigan except they were not the tannish-brown we are used to seeing. They were more of a brownish-gray which was odd to see. No males were present, of course, but the deer that we did see were very comfortable with people as three of them came about 10 feet from us on the trail.
Speaking of which, the hiking in Copper Falls was the best we've had so far. There are three falls within this state park and the trail around them is exceptionally well done. That is not to say it was without challenge, however. To get to the vistas of the three sets of falls you have to climb a lot of stairs but boy is it worth it. These falls and the forest setting they are in are so beautiful. The park provides really great boardwalks and overlooks from which to get spectacular pictures. Steve calls this week's pictures the "Screen Saver Edition" because the natural beauty we saw not only at Copper Falls but all week was too breathtaking for words. It was along this waterfall trail that we met the deer. That was a very nice experience because they hung around by us for a few minutes before moving on. That made up for our complete lack of moosage in Upper Michigan I would say. Anyway, while in this park we also climbed to the top of the observation tower, which was a complete disappointment. Needless to say, it was an observation tower so you know there are steps involved (about 100 or so) but when you got there, all you saw were tops of trees. It seems as though the Parks system built the tower a long time ago and then the trees grew up around it to the point that the tower has almost no views to see. Oh well, what do you do? Do you cut down trees to make the tower meaningful again, or do you add another level to the tower so that you can have a view from the top? Who knows. But the hike around the falls more than made up for that little disappointment. We stopped for ice cream and did a little geocaching in the park which was fun.
The next day was a severe wind storm and rain all day. As I mentioned earlier, our campsite was surrounded by trees. This ended up helping us out tremendously with the storm by blocking most of the wind for us. I had ventured out late in the afternoon to try and get a cell so that I could check the weather and when I got onto the road, the wind speed scared me a little. The gusts were huge but we never really felt any of that in our trailer which was good. We were, however, absolutely covered in wet leaves in the morning, which all had to be cleaned off before we packed up Wendy and moved to Baraboo. We knew the weather south was going to be sunny and warmer so we were anxious to get moving. We enjoyed our time at Copper Falls and recommend it if you are ever in the Ashland, Wisconsin area (which, by the way, is a VERY cool little city on the shores of Lake Superior).
Ok, that's it for this week. We will be in Baraboo exploring the Wisconsin Dells and surrounding area until Sunday October 9. Today (October 2) is our son, Stevie's 30th birthday. Tuesday (October 4) is our son-in-law Gary's birthday. We love you both very much and miss you like crazy! Happy Birthday boys!!!!
Take care everyone!