Enjoying the Heartland with Family and Friends

Me & baby brother Al.

As we pushed farther into the Midwest, or what some know as the heartland of this country, we were hoping for some quality time with my youngest brother and family. We knew that with three very active children and two busy jobs, time would be limited, so we scheduled our visit accordingly. I was hoping that with the crazy schedule the kids have, we would at least get a glimpse of all three and a quick hug. As luck would have it, we got more than that. ūüôā

A small town in Illinois, population 1,500, is where our road trip took us, a town next door to where I grew up as a kid. Even back there I guess I had wanderlust as I spread my wings and flew west right out of high school, but seeing this community again, and the tight group of friends my brother’s family has, it is obvious that it’s been a great place for them to raise their family.

Even before we arrived we discovered that our niece Paige was scheduled to play in an out-of-town volleyball game, one of just a few sports she excels at. As luck would have it, it was not far from where we were so we made a detour and joined mother and grandmother in the bleachers to cheer her team on. The night was a disappointment for her team, with a very unusual loss for them, but we were grateful that we were able to see her play.

And our nephews, being boys through-and-through, showed us their skill on their dirt bikes. Our youngest nephew Blake had recently healed from a rather serious break due to a dirt bike accident, but as is often the case with the youth, he “got back on the horse” as soon as he healed. His older brother Seth did much the same thing when he had a scary dirt bike accident a few years ago.

Getting kids to sit still at all, much less when aunts and uncles visit, is a tough job, so we were grateful they took some time to slow down while we were passing through.

We had good weather until that weekend, when high winds came through, damaging their new pool, followed by another storm later that day, bringing rain/snow showers. Looks like no Indian summer this year.

While in Patagonia earlier this year, a couple of dear friends, as well as neighbors, moved back to Evanston, IL to be closer to family. We were saddened by the news so we knew that, if within striking distance of their new home, a visit would be on our agenda.

Most of our time in Evanston was spent just catching up on our lives, but our friends, Kent and Cookie, also agreed to be our personal tour guides of the lovely city they now call home.

One of the more memorable stops was to the Bah√°’√≠ Temple in Wilmette. The grounds were lovely, even this late in the year, and the architecture striking, but the Bah√°’√≠ vision was what resonated most of all, a vision of hope and healing.

‚ÄúAll peoples and nations are of one family, the children of one Father, and should be to one another as brothers and sisters.‚ÄĚ ¬† ~ ¬†Bah√°’u’ll√°h

As much as we enjoyed our visit with our friends, the four-legged member of their family, Petie, almost always steals the show, and this visit was no exception. I wondered if he would remember us after this long of an absence, but as soon as we walked into the door he jumped up on my leg, threw his head back and howled, a sure sign that he recognized us. Hugs to all three of our Evanston friends. We are grateful for your generosity.

Me and my buddy Petie.
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Summer Fun ~ Kid Style

Brother Al helping Blake with his swing
Brother Al helping Blake with his swing

No matter what your upbringing I suspect the kickoff of summer elicits memories of sun-drenched days, when nothing was more important that cramming as many outdoor activities as possible into your weeks before school bells began tolling once again.

Those summer childhood memories for me meant baseball, long bike rides with friends, barbecues complete with ¬†the sticky-sweet juiciness of¬†watermelon dripping down my face and arms, swimming, and waterskiing. ¬†Although I grew up in the midwest and was oblivious to the stunning coastlines with their massive expanses of sand and surf, we were not without our man-made beach where even on a cool cloudy day we could be found shivering at the water’s edge, waiting for direction from our swimming coach.

We took a respite from laboring on the farm and headed to my childhood stomping grounds, where my baby brother and his family still live, a great place to raise a family, but too small for this claustrophobic girl to stick around long after high school. ¬†However, there seemed no better way to ring in the summer than to participate in my nephew’s 9th birthday party, including a barbecue out at the beach.

Sunset rainbow
Sunset rainbow after the storm

As we headed west the skies opened up and the deluge began, threatening to spoil big party plans. ¬†As I sit here writing, I believe it has been 20 straight days since the rains appeared and this trend looks to continue for the next week. ¬†Fortunately, by mid-morning of Blake’s special day, the sun came out and we experienced sunny, beach-ready weather.

Vehicles laden with food, toys, and a new puppy, we headed to the beach prepared to celebrate a 9-year old’s highly anticipated day. ¬†As in most places revisited as an adult, this sandy bit of beach that we passed seemed much smaller than I remembered. ¬†Boating and waterskiing were to take the place of¬†sand between the toes on this day.

Visiting with family, playing games, reliving a small slice of days past through the eyes of children was a most relaxing way to spend a few days…priceless. ¬†At the end of this month we will head back to celebrate Seth’s 16th birthday. ¬†Mom and dad, how does it feel to have your firstborn getting behind the wheel of a car?!

Headline: Ghouls Spotted Around Gardner

It is Halloween week and scary movies and haunted houses are right up my alley, so we decided to join in the fun.  At the last minute the decision was made to go on a haunted hayrack ride in Custer Park, sponsored by the local fire department.  We heard from someone who lives in the area that this was not as scary as the haunted house in one of the surrounding towns and given that we had a 7-year old and a 9-year old in tow, this seemed to be the best choice.

Eight of us piled onto the hayrack for a one-mile ride out to a haunted barn, with ghouls and zombies popping up along the way. ¬†The youngest two in the family decided during the ride out into the country that the haunted barn was not for them and many tears ensued. ¬†When we arrived at our destination, everyone decided to take the plunge but unfortunately my brother and sister-in-law spent their time soothing frightened children as they wound their way through the pitch-black maze of 13 separate rooms in the barn. ¬†Terry and I led the way and I had to admit that it was well done and given my claustrophobic nature, feeling my way through a black maze with monsters and other creepy-looking creatures appearing at many of the turns was a little startling at times. ¬†The kids made it through and both decided it wasn’t so bad after all. ¬†Always easier to say this after the fact, isn’t it!

My friend Villa and I joined my brother and sister-in-law, Alan and Traci, for a Halloween party at one of the local pubs.  Terry offered to stay behind and babysit the kids.  Villa and I did not dress in costume but enjoyed watching everyone parade through the bar in their most creative Halloween garb. Costumes were judged at the end of the evening, and although I am biased, I believe my brother Alan  should have received the male prize.  So many of his friends did not even recognize him in costume!

Cruella Deville & The Joker, aka Traci & Alan
My brother, the Joker

This is one of those times when removing the “red eyes” in a photo just doesn’t make sense!

Terry had his own costume judging contest to deal with back at the house.  The oldest nephew Seth and niece Paige decided to paint their faces and be judged. What was a good uncle to do but declare the contest a tie!

Zombies Seth & Paige

Prior to the entire town turning into zombies and other creepy looking characters, we were able to visit the school where our niece Paige and nephew Blake attend, where they proudly showed us their classrooms.

Blake in second grade classroom
4th grader Paige
Me & Paige with the ghouls closing in
Blake in one of his more serious moods

On Halloween day the grade school kids participated in a parade, complete with costumes. Terry was able to snap a few shots of the kids as they strolled by.

"Scary Clown" Blake
"Clumsy Smurf" Paige

And the cutest of them all, Traci’s nephew Ty.

6-month old "monkey" Ty and "zookeeper" mom Angie

Halloween night and the kids are ready to hit the neighborhoods and get all “sugared up”. ¬†We learned it has been a tradition for the moms to get out the golf carts and take the little ones trick-or-treating so Villa and I hopped on to experience a neighbor’s haunted house (much toned down from the previous trip).

Girls Night Out? No, just Halloween in Gardner.

As we pulled away I remembered that I was in charge of making the soup for dinner that night. ¬†Since that wasn’t happening, I quickly ran back to instruct Terry to “make the soup”. ¬†Well, really that was all the instruction I gave him. ¬†His response was, “you’re kidding, right?”, to which I responded, “no, make the soup”, as I quickly ran back to the golf cart. Luckily he knew there was a recipe sitting in the kitchen and I had set aside the ingredients but that was all he had to go on. We didn’t know what to expect when we got back. ¬†We might be going out for pizza.

We arrived at the neighbor’s haunted house and luckily it was “kid rated” so no tears this time!

Traci & Blake

We arrived back at the house a short time later, and guess what, soup’s on! ¬†Nice job Terry!

Chicago, Chicago…

We have landed in Gardner, IL and have been able to park our rig right outside my brother’s house for the week. ¬†Since the closest campground is 35 miles away, we are thankful we do not have this daily commute. ¬†They live in a new subdivision at the end of the road so it is somewhat less obtrusive to have a 38′ rig in the neighborhood than it could be.

We had a few hours to spare one day so we decided to hop on the Amtrak in Joliet (about a 30 minute drive from where the family lives) to go to downtown Chicago.  The temperatures have dipped in this part of the country and the Windy City is well, windy, so it was a brisk day to walk.  We got some exercise in, spending 4 hours walking downtown, seeing some sights we had not seen for many a year or not at all.  Terry once worked for Harris Bank downtown so he was anxious to see how the area had changed.

Chicago Art Institute

As we headed towards Millennium Park we passed the renowned Chicago Art Institute.  It would have been nice to spend the afternoon pouring over the fabulous works of art inside but with just a new hours in the city, a quick photo was to be all we had time for.  Our focus was on exploring Millennium Park.

What was once an industrial wasteland in the heart of Grant Park, with unsightly railroad tracks and parking lots, has evolved into the most significant millennium project in the world, Millennium Park.  Work on this project began in October, 1997 and opened to ceremony in July, 2004, four years behind schedule.  Many feel that this 25-acre park with world-class art, music, architecture, and landscape designs was worth the wait.

The most prominent feature in the park is the stunning Jay Pritzker Pavilion, one of the most sophisticated outdoor concert venues of its kind in the U.S. ¬†It was designed by Frank Gehry, one of the world’s greatest living architects.

Cloud Gate, an interactive sculpture that sits in the center of the park, was designed by Anish Kapoor, providing distorted views of those peering into her depths.

Crown Fountain, brainchild of Jaume Plensa, is a 50-foot block tower of flowing water (no water on this day), depicting the faces of 1000 different Chicagoans.

On a warm sunny day it would be delightful to wander Lurie Garden and the abstract sculptures in the Boeing Galleries but with just a few hours in the city, we had to be selective.

One of the sculptures of the Boeing Galleries

What would a visit to the Windy City be without a photo of Marilyn Monroe in her infamous subway-grate pose?

Seward Johnson, New Jersey based artist known for his gigantic pop art icons displayed in public spaces, created this 26-foot statue that is prominently featured in Pioneer Court, along Michigan Avenue.  It will be on display here until spring 2012.

Unfortunately, it was time to head back to the train depot.  Along the way Terry got in a few photos that I have posted below.

Chicago skyline and fall colors from Jay Pritzker Pavilion
Lovely little downtown park
Chicago River view
Chicago Board of Trade
Wrigley Building

Chain O’ Lakes State Park ~ Spring Grove, IL

Since we purchased our rig in Antioch, IL, we decided to spend some time nearby, familiarizing ourselves with the systems. ¬†It seems appropriate that we should begin this new adventure in the midwest, as Terry and I both grew up in this area, me in Illinois and Terry in Ohio. ¬†Jay and Beth were kind enough to spend some time with us, answering questions, which I suspect would not occur with just anyone selling their RV. ¬†They recommended Chain O’ Lakes State Park, and it did not disappoint.

For novices such as ourselves, there were many sites with ample space to back a 38 foot rig into and the sites were separated enough that we did not feel we were sitting on top of our neighbors.  The sites were neat and clean and heavily wooded, making for a very lovely stay.  The amenities in the park were many:  lot of lakes, great hiking trails, boating, canoe rentals, horse rentals, and fishing, just to name a few.

We came across a couple of birders while out hiking one day, who pointed out the elusive green heron to us, not readily seen and commonly referred to as “shypoke”. ¬†It was a great treat for us.

Our friends, Bob and Jan, whom we met in Ajijic, Mexico, live just up the highway in Rockford, IL, so we spent a couple of days with them and they generously showed us their home town, as well as Lake Geneva, WI, a charming town with a great lake front.

Bob & Jan

Time to head down the road to Iowa!