11 January 2014

The End of a Vacation

I have to get this finished or I will have forgotten the important little details. I’m afraid I have already forgotten so many. Besides I keep getting off onto other tangents I want to write about.

I believe we had reached the weekend. Mom was off work again. We did some thrift store shopping found lots of beautiful clothes and would have bought much more if we hadn’t had to worry about getting it all onto the train. We hit a china buffet for lunch. It was delicious, you could pick your own ingredients and have them cook it or choose from the normal old buffet. It is definitely diet time now that we are home, so why do I get so made when ever a usually sweet husband mentions the D word?

After lunch the husband escaped back to the house with my father to do manly things and we women went riding. This time the sun was out and the weather nice, the goblin child got to ride with mom on Smoke. We bundled her up toasty warm, except, as my grandmother was quick to note, for gloves. She always takes them off, I always forget.

Anyway, we had a nice jaunt around the hay field. It feels kind of weird, but nice, to be back riding around the same hay field I rode so many times clear back to middle school. It’s really amazing that one horse at least is still there from way back then. I thought she was old at that time, now she looks ancient.

Sunday came to soon and it was time to catch our train. We spent the morning packing and triple checking to make sure we didn’t forget anything. It didn’t work I hadn’t been on the train long when I realized I had forgotten one of my favorite Christmas presents. Mom got me a Chao chocolate bar with pop rocks and chilli and I left it there. On the bright side I don’t think anyone will eat it while I’m gone.

We left for the train station in two vehicles again. Mom watches Sabbath every Sunday so he got to come along, but we needed to fit two car seats. The men rode in dads pickup, while us women followed behind with the children. It had been raining a freezing drizzle all morning and Sabbaths loving mother was a bit concerned about him being out and about in it. Wise woman. The roads weren’t bad though, luckily.

It was eerily similar to our last train catching adventure all we needed was a bad wreck to make them completely alike. We got it right off the bat, or nearly did, thankfully. As dad pulled out on to the main road, with a green light that had been green for quite a while, a little red ford pickup came flying down the hill, ran the long time red light and missed dads pickup somehow and only by a hair, as dad slammed on the brakes. We watched with our hearts in out throats, seeing the pickup coming before dad did and knowing they were going to hit. I still swear dad was in the same lane as the idiot and God warped the laws of physics for that moment so they some how missed each other. Once again a great way to start a trip.

We caught the train in the cold wet weather and were very glad not to be driving as it sped on through the snow. Supper that night was a grand affair as we again enjoyed meals included with our ticket, Twenty five dollar a plate steak isn’t usually in our food budget. We added desert and contemplated a glass of wine, it is unfortunate, at times like these, not to drink. Back in our room for the night I once again shared a bunk with the child as we attempted to sleep. She slept at least and I stayed awake to watch as we pulled into Nebraska.

I was thinking about the trip my brother and I made down this same path and wishing it was light so I could see my childhood home. I love the unusual point of view allowed from a train. Instead of the shiny front sides you see the hidden dilapidated back sides. Peoples back yards, the bad parts of town. I decided to become a bum and dwell in the forested space along the track. Those open empty places in the middle of city where nothing seems to be. I realized that the train is the lowest level and exactly how high the interstate overpasses are that we are so used to zipping across.

The train station in Omaha was nothing like I remembered. I thought we got off inside? In a grand old nearly empty train station left over from the railroads heydays many years before? Instead the people came out of a little seventies style building and got on out in the open just like every other stop. We slept a little, I know I napped all the way from Omaha to Lincoln, and finally arrived at our stop. The very nice conductor helped us get all of our luggage off, that just left getting it clear to the car. The car was still there by the way, none of my nightmares about it being towed had come true.

And best of all it started, at fifteen or twenty degrees, at four in the morning, after being parked for a week the good old Buick fired right up. All that was left was to drive home with out falling asleep. Which we managed, the trip went amazingly fast without blinding snow. It was a fun trip and a great adventure I hope we can do it again some day, maybe that tour of new england we talked about.

The timing was perfect, shortly after returning home they started to get snow, and more snow and cold. It was strangely enjoyable to see our train in the news after it hit a twelve foot snow bank in the middle of IL and was stuck there. I’m just glad it wasn’t while we were on it.

10 January 2014

We Interrupt this Scintillating Accounting of our Vacation for a Little Local Excitement

So maybe life around here isn’t very exciting but we like it that way. It’s the little adventures that make life invigorating, getting taken by a mean ol’ cow, sticking the pick up or braving a blizzard, we really could do with out the big things.

Yesterday our “trusty” news source Panhandlepost reported a police chase and parties fleeing on foot. Nobody seems to really know whats going on. Local residents were warned to beware. Personally I would hate to encounter a local resident if I was running through his property, most are armed and ready to shoot an offending coyote or stranger looking suspicious. Very little more information was offered except an update to say they were calling off the search for the night.

This morning they released a name and picture apparently the fugitives are getting closer to us but are still thought to be afoot (here). That is interesting considering almost every farm vehicle is parked with keys in the ignition. I have nothing interesting to add to the story not a drop of personal involvement and so nothing more to offer except one question.

What does one do on foot, on the edge of the sandhills in the winter?

There is a long way to go before reaching a town. That town is so small the people at the gas stations know everybody and has their picture, it would be hard not to be recognized. If they could get any phone reception I guess they could call for a ride. Then what? Walk back to a highway? Make that the highway, unless they get a lot further north there is only one. They could try to give directions to what ever dirt road they are on, road signs can be few and far between.

They could steal one of the many farm vehicles parked, with the keys in them, in a farm yard. A farm yard most likely containing a large, and probably unfriendly to strangers, dog. Even if it’s friendly it’s guarantied to bark thus bringing out the resident, armed and grouchy about being woke up.

While we are so much warmer than a large portion of the country it isn’t warm. Did they hole up somewhere and sleep last night? Would they risk a fire or keep walking to stay warm? Oh well, I guess I can only hope not to get a chance to ask. They were much closer when last seen so maybe we should start to worry a little.

9 January 2014

My Brother the Tour Guide

After Christmas mom had to go back to work. We were left to fend for our selves with nothing to entertain us. So Justin stepped up to the plate. Actually he loves to plan outings. He is the one that plans any vacation, and he finds the coolest things to do. He found the jeeps to rent in Colorado. We had a blast four-wheeling through the mountains. It was just like the song.

But that is beside the point except that once again he went above and beyond the call of duty to find fun things to do. On Thursday we headed into the city, or at least close enough to it for us. We went to Brookfield Zoo. It was cold out and hot in the buildings, hardly any people were out and it was free, it was awesome. The Goblin Child was excited to see some of the animals we had been talking about, the bears that hold their paws up and say grrrr! Zebras and giraffes, mostly a big white bird, she saw it and said bawk! As I tried to explain that chickens say bawk, birds say chirp or tweet, we haven’t decided for sure yet, the big white bird said “Bawk!” We sat and looked and “Bawk”ed at it for a long time. Justin and Stephani had came very well prepared bringing strollers and blankets for all.

As it grew dark the lights came on. It was dazzling in the evening chill. The beautiful old brick buildings and tree lined walks all decked out for Christmas. The crowds grew and carolers came out to entertain. We made one last stop at the children’s zoo, an indoor interactive play ground for the children. They ran about for a bit and we got to see and pet a chicken, very exciting I guess, apparently she never gets to do that at home. Then with us adults being utterly exhausted we made a quick stroll through more lights and headed home to meet mom for supper at, my favorite, Portillo’s . I used to eat there almost every day before I moved away.

The next day mom got up and went to work even earlier than usual, I think she left by four, so she could get done in time to join us for lunch and the afternoons entertainment. We picked her up, leaving her car behind in a parking lot, we already had to take two vehicles to fit all the car seats, three seemed a bit extreme.  Heading north we made Hu Hots in time for lunch. It was my brothers special birthday lunch, Happy Birthday Justin!

After stuffing our faces until it was uncertain whether we would ever be able to move again, we went to the museums. I don’t even know the name of them which is very sad. They sat right on Lake Michigan, two years ago when we tried to go see them they were closed and we spent lots of very cold but fun time walking on the beach. This year they were open and with the children we decided to forgo the water. The first had a big model train set up just inside the door and half our group never made it past there. The rest of us enjoyed looking at fossils and art and I can’t even remember what else, but it was fun.

The second museum looked very un-child friendly when we walked in. It was a civil war museum and you had to pay to do part of it, we of course opted for the free parts. On the ground floor was a very haunting memorial to all the American wars. A dark room with stars twinkling overhead and soldiers from all eras around a campfire. Upstairs was the typical museum and a great library with legos for the kids to play with even costumes to try on. I’m afraid that Stephani and I enjoyed that far more than the children. The end of the building was all glass to admire the view of the water from. We watched from there for the trolly to come so we could catch it for a ride.

When it came around the corner we raced to meet it in time and enjoyed a ride around the town on a real old fashioned trolly. It was bright yellow  and fun, if The Goblin Child hadn’t been so completely exhausted it would have been tempting to go a couple of rounds. After that we headed home, all of us being wore out. Mom, dad, Goblin Child and I went to get moms car and the others took a more scenic and hopefully less traffic rout through Wisconsin and down through Richmond Il. They did get home first if not by much and ordered us all pizza from Lou Malnati’s. It was delicious. If I keep mentioning food it’s only because that’s the whole point of most vacations, perfectly normal right? Thinking about it now is making me very hungry.

6 January 2014

Merry Christmas

I figure it’s better to say it late than never. That is also my stance on Christmas cards, The last batch will be in the mail soon, I promise. We kind of ran out of envelopes and time.

Mostly though I am referring to Christmas itself.

We were awoken by the sound of stampeding hooves above our heads. Or possibly a very excited twoish year old excited about opening his presents. We rolled out of our nice comfy air mattress, after a full nights sleep, and prepared to go above stairs.

Mom had breakfast cooking on the stove, Justin was working to keep Sabbath from opening his presents. We leaped into the foray. Paper flew every which way as we tore into gifts. Sabbath had carefully chosen a bottle of Mountain Dew for his father, beautiful perfume for his mother, and m&m’s for Elly. We opened presents for hours it seemed. The Goblin Child was surprisingly reluctant to rip wrapping paper to shreds. I thought that would have been right up her ally.

Mom and Dad’s house is the perfect Christmas house. It is a beautiful house anytime, only slightly newer than my brothers, nineteen seventeen or maybe nineteen o seven, somewhere around there. They have worked hard at bringing out its character and inner beauty, now, all decorated for Christmas it really shines.

Once done with presents we went back to breakfast. This being one of the few time when mom cooks, she was not only cooking but making us her world famous pancakes. If they aren’t quite world famous they should be. She spreads them thin and with the help of lots of butter and syrup she grills them extra crisp, then folding them in half, fills the center with chocolate chips. Words can not begin to describe the heavenly taste. Of course if we had them more than once a year we would be dead form all the yummy ingredients.

So full we could barely move from a delicious breakfast and exhausted from the excitement I really can’t remember the rest of the morning but I know that at some point we headed for the barn. I hadn’t gotten to see the new horse yet and couldn’t wait. My poor, long suffering husband came along to watch the child and they waited in the heated tack room while we rode. Except for a brief ride with grandma, for the child, not the husband. We did not make use of the beautiful new riding helmet she got for Christmas but fortunately no one fell off so it was hardly needed for this ride at least. We will make good use of it as she gets older and we can ride more.

It started snowing on the drive out and we bravely ventured forth into the rapidly increasing snow for our ride. Indie proved to be just as nice as I had heard. He went along happily if not as speedily as is his usual. We can blame that on the deep snow already on the ground making it hard for them to walk. We enjoyed dashing through the snow and made two laps around the hay field before heading in. The snow was starting to accumulate by then but we didn’t let that deter us from taking a wending rout home so we could see the deer.

Mom boards the horses on the outskirts of Bull Valley an absolutely gorgeous, something, I’m not sure what to call it, not a town just an area containing acreages and horse properties with big beautiful barns and pastures flecked with jumps. The houses are old, big and grand. We drove through the tree lined streets in the softly falling snow. Christmas lights were on shining in the wintery gloaming. The best of all was a pasture inhabited by lit reindeer. The lay on hill sides and leaped though trees, they were even jumping over the road. We slowed and gawked in awe.

If I mention mom’s pancakes I can’t leave out dad’s stew, we dinned on it that night and many others. It was spectacular and filling on the cold winter days. He has become quite the cook.

5 January 2014

Christmas Eve

The child slept beautifully, we got to sleep in and catch up a little on sleep, oh wait no, that’s not what happened at all.

Did you know it’s harder for a tired child to sleep than a well rested one? It’s something I have learned well over the last year. The Goblin Child was so tired and in a new environment that she could hardly sleep at all. We gave up on the crib altogether. I do not like sleeping with the child in our bed but it was proving to be the only option. That way when she woke up every hour screaming at least she had been asleep for a little bit in between.

She woke up bright and early the next morning and I got up with her so at least one of us could get a little rest. It was so nice to just hang out and visit with my family. Mom had to work but dad was there and my brother and his family came over. After that we went over and finally saw my brothers new house.

It was so exciting they bought it over a year ago and I hadn’t seen it yet except in pictures. It is an old, old Victorian built in eighteen eighty six, it was in very bad shape. It had been repossessed and fairly trashed before they got it, but it was quite affordable with some beautiful points. He has been slaving over it ever since. He and my dad worked hard to refinish the hard wood floors, tear down ceilings, put up dry wall and fix plumbing. The beautiful old house is really starting to shine again.

Mom called while we were admiring and ordered us to stop by Tractor Supply and check out the boots they had on sale. My brother found a pair, we found my husbands preferred style for quite cheap and while looking for a pair in my size the sales lady discovered that the boots my sister-in-law and I were looking at were on sale for four dollars and twelve dollars respectively. My opinion of them went from so so to love, instantly, and we all got new boots for Christmas.

That night we got to attend the Christmas program at the church school where my brother works. If Willow Creek was Trans Siberian then Willow Creek North Shore was The Piano Guys. They opened with, or at least the first one we saw having arrived a little late was,  Carol of the Bells. The band was scaled back considerably form Willow Creek, it only added to the performance. There was a man on the drums, a guy rocking the keyboard and a woman who stole the show on the cello. Of course I could be prejudiced since it is one of my favorite instruments.  The night before we had a grand view from high up on the balcony, that night we sat in the second row.

After the great show we retrieved The Goblin Child from Promise Land only to find that she had found her first love. She had fallen asleep in a chair with a darling boy, a little old for her, maybe six. He sat still the whole night patiently letting her sleep. We took her and Sabbath to the cafeteria to decorate cookies and they found each other again. She was fascinated by him and he was happy to play with her. They and some other children ran laps, in a very well behaved manner of course. She really wanted him to pick her up, he wasn’t really all that much bigger than her. The time finally came when we had to pry them apart. He was very sad to hear that we were only visiting and she wouldn’t be there to play again.

The celebration wasn’t over yet, we went home and let the kids open one present each. The kids included my brother and sister-in-law. My husband and I abstained, we were able to contain our enthusiasm for one more night.

That night we got the best Christmas present of all, the child slept.


1 January 2014


We awoke the next morning, I use the term loosely I’m not sure there was much sleep, somewhere in Iowa. Our stewardess? (whatever they are called on trains) kicked us out of the room so she could convert the beds to seats. After spending the night sleeping with our suitcases she informed us that not only could they be stored downstairs on some shelves but that we had to get them moved there.

The child and I went to find the dining car while my pack horse husband hauled luggage. It was our first taste of communal dining. I saw an empty table so I sat down. The waitress looked at me and I could tell from her malevolent glare that I had done something wrong. She was a wizened little thing wearing a rather unlikely Christmas elf hat. Apparently trying for a little Christmas spirit? Mostly the juxtaposition was startling. She demanded to know how many were in my party was it just me and the child? When I told her we were waiting for another she allowed me to keep my seat but quickly ushered a man into the booth across from me. I was a bit startled, unused as I am to eating with strange men.

When my husband returned, also surprised to find me dining with a stranger, we looked over the menu quickly deciding to split a nine dollar plate of pancakes. The poor unhappy waitress reiterated that the meals came with our room and we decided we could be much more liberal in our choices. By lunch we had the whole thing down and ate with out so much as a scowl from our server.

Iowa is a beautiful state with rolling hills and groves of oak trees, Illinois much the same and it was nice to be able to look out and enjoy the view with out having to drive. Unfortunately the train didn’t lull the child to sleep the same way a car ride does. Even without that pleasant trait there is something about a train, the muted roar of the engines as the steel wheels grind along the tracks. With each bump and sway a fear that this is the time the bounce will be to hard sending us hurtling off the track. It is a complete disconnect with the world outside this metal and glass universe in which we are temporary inhabitants.

As our destination drew nearer, and estimated time of arrival became later our contentment with our situation diminished slightly. We were supposed to arrive at one forty three, I love the exactness of their predictions. The train pulled in a good hour and a half late. My dad picked us up and we rushed home to get ready for our evening out.

Mom had reserved tickets for us at the six o’clock performance of Willow Creeks Christmas program. We should have had plenty of time to spare, as it was we arrived right on time slightly freshened but still a bit grimy from the train ride. The Christmas program is always a highlight of the trip for me, they do it up big. The opened very Trans-Siberian Orchestra like. A huge light show and very drum based.

Not very church like you think? Nonsense.


It was a very interesting rethinking of the three wise men, how could you tell that story without a drummer boy and the guiding star. They made a great video that played on the big screens interspersed with their spectacular music. In this remake the wise men were nineteenth century scientists and astronomers.  We sat in the top balcony, there are two. The rails were hung with swags of greenery and white lights it is huge and beautiful.

We checked the Goblin Child into promise land, other wise known as children’s church or sabbath school depending on the church, usually she loves it. I think she did here too, or would have if she she had gotten any sleep at all in the last twenty four hours. We got to experience having her number flashed up on the screen, that’s the way they call parents to come get their children when they are having problems. Rushing as fast as we could from clear upstairs to clear downstairs we found her finishing a crying spell but mostly happy. When I took her from the lady who was holding her she leaned in for a cuddle then wanted to go back to the lady. So much for wanting her mother.

I wanted to take pictures of everything but as soon as we walked in the church door my phone died.