Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Wisconsin

Here we are in Kenosha, which is dubbed by Wikipedia "The Gateway to Wisconsin." We're standing next to a Chicago Bear, hung if effigy:
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Here is a picture I took in a mirror, I take lots of pictures in mirrors:
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And here we are in front of the Cheese Castle in Kenosha, where they sell cheese and cheese curd in a wide variety of flavors like peppercorn ranch, dill and garlic and even chocolate. Who knew you could do so much with cheese?
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Frances, after learning that the brat she'd just eaten was boiled in beer. (j/k)
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Who put a cow in a gift shop?
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We love Wisconsin! And we say that not just because Suzanne's sister lives there with her husband and their two adorable children. How can anybody not love a state where you can buy fresh cheese curds in a gas station mini-mart? How can anybody not love a state where they have whole restaurants devoted exclusively to serving brats?
We also like Wisconsin because our annual sojourn from Michigan to Wisconsin also allows us access to many wonderful outlet shops, especially those located at Michigan City, Indiana; Gurney Mills, Illinois; and Oshkosh, Wisconsin. I think I buy most of my clothes for the year at the outlets in Oshkosh. The Izod outlet was going out of business, so I had an especially fun time there where everything was 60% off already-reduced prices. Then there was Eddie Bauer, Jansport, Wilson's Leather, which was having liquidation sales, where I was able to pick up an all black wool pea coat for a song... so, like I said, we look forward to our annual sojourn to Wisconsin. And this time, we also were able to reap the benefits of the Children's Place and Oshkosh B'gosh outlets, shopping for you-know-who.
Anyway, that being said, it was a special trip because Frances was able to celebrate her cousin Morgan's fourth birthday with her, at a Princess Party held at the YMCA in Appleton. Frances didn't have enough hair for a tiara, but she got an excuse to wear a poufy polka dot dress...
Here is a picture of Morgan opening her birthday presents:
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And here is Mo, all dressed up in her princess gear:
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Here is Morgan, surveying her pink birthday cake:
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Here is a picture of Frances and her cousin Morgan, in matching dresses:
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Here is Morgan with Auntie Suzanne, and Frances with Auntie Char:
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Monday, March 9, 2009

A weekend trip

Last year I had a whole week off for spring break, and I was able to go to New York and visit people and get much-needed a change of scenery. This year I was not so lucky. GVSU had spring break last week, and MSU has spring break this week, so this year I get two half-breaks, and because of that, any real travel was out of the question.
We did, however, take some time and head up north to visit Suzanne's grandparents in Indian River, Michigan. Its three hours north of Grand Rapids, above the 45th parallel, and I think we last visited Suzanne's grandparents in 2002 (it was in that short stretch of time after our wedding and before my mother died and before we bought our house--we had just put in an offer on a house, which was the one we didn't get... we loved that house...) Anyway, so we brought Frances up to Indian River to meet her great grandparents. It went well.
Now, Michigan is divided into two peninsulas, and I think Suzanne and I both can count on one hand, the nights we've spent in the upper Peninsula. We're what the "Yoopers" (people from the Upper Peninsula or "U.P") call "Trolls" (because we live below the bridge, like trolls). So we decided to drive over the Mackinac Bridge and spend the night in St. Ignace. One thing different about northern Michigan is that the weather there is much colder than it is in central Michigan, where we live. Suzanne's grandparents' yard was still covered in multiple feet of snow. Lake Michigan and Lake Huron were completely frozen over. When we drove up into the upper peninsula, (which is even colder than northern lower Michigan) and were looking for a hotel, we were surprised to see how many hotels, shops and restaurants had just closed down for the winter--their parking lots were not plowed, they were banked and buried with snow. The same can be said for roads... if the roads are accessed mainly by tourists and summer people, they don't bother plowing them. Snow mobiles access the area, but cars don't. We wound up staying in the Days Inn in St. Ignace, and got a room which would have, during the peak tourist season, been prime because it was on the beach with gorgeous views of Lake Huron. But in early March, it was frozen and snow covered, and we had a balcony looking out over frozen desolation.
We also had a misadventure. Troll tourist that I am, I just had to take a picture of us with the big Mackinac Bridge in the background, so I drove into this plowed area which was designated as a tourist photo spot. Fine and good. Anyway...it was only plowed to a certain extent, and I don't like having to drive in reverse for any length of time, so I thought I would drive down the Boulevard, which borders Lake Michigan and accesses summer cottages, to find a place where I could turn around. I think I assumed there would be a plowed driveway where I could turn around. The Boulevard, however, was not plowed, though snow mobilers had been on it and packed it down to some extent. It LOOKED like I could handle the road, but as I drove down it, I quickly realized that I had no business driving my car over that terrain. I attempted to turn around in the road, and that was where I made my mistake. I got stuck. Very stuck. And I didn't have a snow shovel with me, because there is no snow left in my part of Michigan. So I had to call a tow truck (thank God I had my cellphone with me, and thank God Sprint has towers up there) and wait for them to tow us out. Frances slept through the whole thing--even the tow, which was effected by a yooper in a rusted out mid nineties Jeep Cherokee, who had a chain and a toe strap and a trailer hitch, and who unceremoniously dragged us out of the snow and charged us $125 for the service because it was a Sunday. We were soon on our way, and we made it back to Indian River in time to have lunch with the grandparents, and then we drove back down to Grand Rapids through a humdinger of a snow storm, which turned to rain about 30 miles north of Grand Rapids, but which, Grandma reported in her email to me this morning, dumped another 12 inches of snow on the folks up north. Ugh.
These days, Suzanne and I spend a lot of time thinking about expatriating to teach English someplace that doesn't have winter...or at least not Michigan winter.
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Here is Frances, patiently sitting in the chair in the hotel room on Sunday morning, watching us pack our stuff back up, probably wondering why we're not paying attention to her.
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Here I am with Frances in the hotel room, with our view of frozen, snow-covered Lake Huron in the background.
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Here is one of the pictures of us with the Mackinac Bridge in the distance. We are on the west side of the bridge, with frozen, snow-covered Lake Michigan in the distance behind us. Frances is moments away from going down from her nap, and this was taken moments before we got stuck on the Boulevard, because I mistook snow-mobile tracks for tire tracks and thought I could drive on the road....
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And this is my poor car, stuck on Boulevard. Frances was sound asleep in her car seat, and slept through the whole thing.
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Here is Suzanne and Frances with Grandpa and Grandma.
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And last but not least, Suzanne's Grandfather, in front of the snow piles in front of his house, no doubt wondering what got into Suzanne when she married this silly husband who photographs old piles of snow...

Sunday, March 1, 2009

At dinner with the family...






We had a nice dinner at Brann's with my relatives--my cousin Michelle and her husband Matt came in from Ohio, and it was great being able to see them, along with everyone else. I decided to test the limits of my new digital camera, and learned that using the ISO 1600 setting with no flash makes the pictures very grainy. I was warned about this, but I've now learned my lesson. Anyway, I used Picassa to tweak the pictures, and using the "filtered black and white" setting and applying a red filter minimized the grain in the pictures.