Tippecanoe and Tyler Too!

Whew! It has been a whirlwind of moving activity since my last entry. Our project ended in Rockford, Illinois and it was time to say “so long” to a wonderful hotel staff and several good friends made along the way. After a very brief time at home in Florida, the road called us once again. I guess I should say, the “job” called us once again. It was difficult to say goodbye to our families that we had just had a taste of spending time with but off we went toward a new adventure.

Now we are in Tyler, Texas, the rose capital of the world! I feel like I have been to  Tippecanoe’s town and every other city from the Midwest to Florida and back to Texas. I never thought I would say that I was tired of traveling but as the trip to Tennessee next week to visit family for Thanksgiving looms ever closer, I must say that staying in one place for a while is sounding very comforting. Can I please just be “bored” for a time.

Texas is a state I never thought I would live in but it holds the promise of much to see and do. There are new restaurants to find and cultures to experience and new friends to add to my list of many. We are grateful to have found work in the land of opportunity. There seems to be less of a job shortage in the great state of Texas.

So stay tuned for some down home tales from my waltzes across Texas.

If I could bottle that fragrance….

The fragrance that wafts through the grounds and parking lot of the eye catching  Edwards Apple Orchard in the farmlands in northeast Illinois is indescribable. It is the delicious filling of the air with the combination of apples, spices and hot oil that can only be that of fresh donuts.

Almost 9:00 a.m. and the line has formed.

Folks come from miles around to grab one of these beauties fresh from the vats.

We had heard that visiting the Edwards Orchard was a must before we left Illinois. We took the advice of the locals and weren’t a bit sorry. The hype of the place was not overdone. We waited in line for them to open at 9:00 a.m. on a Saturday. We then made our way into the barn structure that is part store, part museum and Big part delectable zone! We followed the crowd to…..yep you guessed it. The line was for the warm donuts. “Just get one honey, not the half dozen.” Our attempt to savor and enjoy just one donut was futile. We looked at each other after finishing the last crumb of the first one and headed back to the counter for another.

We then browsed through the gift store, sampled the homemade jams and dips and encouraged each other to NOT buy one of everything. We purchased some apple butter and of course some fresh apples found in the many barrels in the barn. 

The picturesque scenes of those barns and silos, fall flowers, horse drawn wagon and apple trees are the stuff of post cards and calendars. I wanted to drink it all in and keep it close in my memory as I know my time in the Midwest is drawing to a close. The melt in your mouth warm apple cider donuts, crisp cool weather and quality time with my husband made for a perfect Saturday morning.

The heart of dairy farm country has indeed captured MINE.

Barley & Hops, this place was tops!

One of the cities that is within a 90 minute drive from our hotel is Milwaukee, Wisconsin. I had flown into Milwaukee once and driven quickly out of it. That was the sum total of my adventures in the fair city. To visit Milwaukee on one of the best July days was a one day highlight of my summer.

We started out at the Miller Brewery. I didn’t have any idea what I was in for. It was a great mix of history, manufacturing and olfactory experiences. To add to the significance for me was the fact that Mr. Miller began his brewery exactly 100 years before my birth. They were probably whooping it up pretty big celebrating that year on my birthday and their 100th anniversary.

Our day involved lots of walking and smelling of mash and wort and other funny words that produced an odor that permeated the east side of Milwaukee. The folks around don’t mind I’m sure since the Miller Brewing Company employs 700 people and covers 82 acres of real estate in downtown Milwaukee. The one fact that impressed me the most was that a machine can fill 2000 cans in one minute! Now THAT my friends is automation!

After our tour and trip into the Caves of the place where Fred Miller kept his beer cold with ice harvested from nearby Lake Michigan. The dark, dank odor of oldness was pretty strong there but the visual delight of Miller himself explaining it all thanks to laser lights and high tech sound made me forget my nose for the moment. “If those walls could talk” came to mind as I pictured the 1000s of barrels of beer that would have been stacked up over the years and the many hands that placed them there.

If the political scene is getting to you, a trip to Wisconsin that DOESN’T involve politics may be just the treat you are looking for.

Survival List for Extended Stays, Part two

My Survival Guide was getting rather lengthy so I divided it into two blog posts. This is  part two.

The fourth item on the survival list is a travel size spray bottle of disinfectant. Even if your room has been sanitized by housekeeping, having your own disinfectant for light switches, toilet handles, shower heads, TV remotes, desk phones and other areas that may be overlooked by housekeeping will give you peace of mind. This is especially important during cold and flu season.

The fifth item is for the car. If your windows aren’t tinted dark enough or you tend to be the driver or passenger that seems to draw the SUN side of the car straw on each and every trip, you will love this one. (this could also be used on a room window)  Go to the baby department of any big box store and look for the “White Hot Cling Shade” by Munchkin. It is cheap, can be cut into smaller pieces with simple scissors, needs no hardware of any kind. It doesn’t have Spiderman or Winnie the Pooh on it so don’t worry about that.  It is simply a “cling” that sticks to your window. It is worth its weight in gold. You can cut them in smaller pieces and even double them for extra sun protection. By cutting them into smaller sizes you can improve visibility for the driver by not covering a large portion of the window at any one time. I really wish I had discovered these years ago!

The next item is a small alarm clock about 3 1/2 inches long and 3 inches deep. It’s made by Sharp.  That may not seem like a great find to you but I don’t like to have a clock with big green or red letters shining in my face all night. I found a small battery operated digital clock that only lights up when you engage the button on the top! You can have this right by your face on the nightstand and it only works when you need it too. It is very portable so it easily goes with you wherever you go. The added benefit is that during daylight hours it provides an additional clock in your room since most hotels don’t have wall clocks.

The last but not least survival item is ear plugs. I have tried several types and the ones that work the best for me are “Hearos”. They are cheap and most big box stores sell them. They don’t help with the vibrating thuds of doors slamming but they are great for voice and music sounds. They can mean the difference between some sleep and no sleep at all.

“Survival” sounds like a pretty dismal word but when your world has been altered and life as you used to know it is gone for the time being, just having a few items in your “tool box” can make your stay more comfortable and that can be VERY beneficial.

Survival List for Extended Stays, Part one.

There are a few things that are invaluable when you are going to be out of your home for an extended period of time. This applies whether you are going on a long cruise, staying with relatives or enjoying a timeshare or hotel.

The first must have is a collapsible stool. These can be purchased various places like the  Bed, Bath and Beyond stores. They are small, take up little space but can be used for many many purposes (hanging darkening curtain, sitting on to put away items in low cabinets, as a small table for drinks, storing things in high cabinet or closet shelf, as a footstool for short legged folks).

The second must have, is a roll of black electrical tape that can be purchased for under $2 and is worth its weight in (black) gold. It can be used to blot out those annoying LEDs that can add to your sleepless nights. Place a small piece over the green, red or blinking lights that come from electronic devices, smoke detectors and even the microwave oven. It can also be placed around cracks in a exit door that lets in too much security lighting. It goes on easily and comes off just as well, leaving no sticky residue.

The third item that is very helpful is Command removable hooks. They truly do live up to their advertising. They go on with little trouble and pull off by slowly pulling the tab at the bottom. The hooks can be used in a variety of ways. They can be used to hang a blanket, curtain, or comforter over an entry door that lets in too much light or smoke. This can also be a barrier against noise in the hallway or adjacent rooms. They can be used too for extra storage to hang caps, scarves, towels etc.

Being away from your usual comfortable or even NOT so comfortable surroundings can take a toll on your psyche. Humans tend to be creatures of habit, well creatures tend to be creatures of habit too but that’s another blog entry. One of the things I miss the most about living in a hotel is the lack of television options. The list of cable channels available to a spoiled TV watcher are quite limited. The schedule of the television shows that are acceptable do not often coincide with a convenient time to watch them. Satellite TV is not available nor even an option at one’s personal expense as an add on feature (benefit) to hotel residency.

But VOILA! There is a way to have your personal DVR “channeled” to your hotel room. Now I wouldn’t exactly categorize this as a survival item but it definitely has value for the long term visit. Check this out……http://www.dvrplayground.com/article/15414/Have-Slingbox–Will-Travel/

I’m going to try this. It’s cheaper than a plane ticket to fly home and catch up on your favorite shows. Stay tuned for the second part of the Survival Guide for extended stays. Be sure to forward this blog to anyone you know who may need it! I sure wish I had had this information available when I was packing.

Those four little words he never wanted to say…..

“Her mother and I” …..I listened intently as my son’s father-in-law to be talked about how many years he thought about saying those words and how much he never wanted to say them.  In the end, however, we must let go of those precious gifts that we are given. We have been given stewardship of them only, not ownership as Mr. Dunn also knows. When you have three children but one daughter, it is likely even more difficult to give her over to another man to care for her and her future.

Having your children marry evokes so many emotions. You are hopefully happy, proud, melancholy, excited, anxious, grieving and usually stressed. You have out of town guests to see and enjoy and too many happy moments to take in when you would love to spread out all of that conversation and merry making over a longer stretch of time to fully embrace it all.

My son recently married a wonderful young woman whom I am proud to think of as another daughter. I’ve been praying for her since she was born even though I didn’t meet her until 19 years later. It was a great pay off though.

Now the bride’s father can say “My three sons” with a smile and that peace that comes with knowing that a wedding took place that was ordained by The Father of us all.

A town, a lake, another state….

When we talk to the locals about places we don’t want to miss while visiting the Midwest, the one destination that continually comes up in conversation is Lake Geneva.  The town within walking distance bears the same name. The first time we heard about it was in relation to snow mobile races. We didn’t make it for that but thankfully the call to return to our home in Florida was delayed long enough for us to enjoy some of the summer offerings that the region has to offer.

We were not prepared however, for the beauty and ambiance of Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. Oh my, the sights, the unique culture and the clear water of the lake were a treat like none other that we had experienced here. Being from central Florida, we are accustomed to springs and clean rivers. We are happy to say that we found a whole lake that looked fresh and unpolluted in Wisconsin.

Our favorite aspect of Lake Geneva was being able to walk around the shoreline of the lake, literally walking on the private lawns and lake fronts of residents who not only PERMIT it but actually encourage the public usage in order to enjoy the beauty the lake shore provides. There are walkways and decorative fences and fountains and stepping stones….a virtual smorgasbord of tempting sights for the eyes. Thank you Lake Geneva residents for allowing us the privilege of seeing your beautiful estates from the back and your breathtaking scenery from the lake shore. May we tourists never abuse the privilege by vandalizing or littering your property that you so graciously offer. We can’t wait to go back!

What a heart, our Heartland Has

I had never seen so many working ladders in one room!

How many people does it take to transform two public schools in just a couple weeks time? 100s I can tell you. It takes a lot of time, talent, planning and most of all MONEY to make the most positive impact on a public school imaginable.

From the playground to the driveway from the gym to the classrooms the painting and dry walling, all transforming a dingy old tired school into a haven of brightness and shine! You would have to see it for yourself to believe that it could happen so remarkably. I’m proud to have been even the tiniest part of such an undertaking. I will not soon forget the experience of seeing a church come together to help out a public school. One that likely few members of the church even attend. But that is not important, however. What IS important is the impact that those upgrades can make on the youngest, most vulnerable members of the Rockford community. Heartland Church of Rockford, Illinois spends two weeks each summer changing lives in the public sector. The elementary children that can be easily forgotten in a town that has been stricken with some of the highest unemployment rates in the state. A school that sits fairly closely to the crime capital of the town but a school now that those children can be proud to attend in the fall. It’s a place that they can look forward to carrying their backpacks into. They may not know who Heartland church is but they will know that somewhere a lot of regular folks came in and made their school a really nice place to learn.

They may never know that folks came from as far away as Oregon to help with the project or that some people were injured or that some took time off from their real jobs to be a part of their success story but the children will know deep down that someone somewhere cares about them. When they look at new books in their new library or swing on a freshly painted swing, it will make them smile inside.

Heartland Church, YOU Rock!

A true Bread Harvest

There is probably no other food on earth that is eaten more than bread. Whether it is tortillas or pitas or just good ol’ American Wonder Bread, bread is a daily staple in most diets. So there is bread and then there is GREAT HARVEST BREAD COMPANY!

I had only been in Rockford for a couple weeks before someone told me about this wonderful place and drew me a map of how to get there. I didn’t get to go right away because….well good bread can be purchased at any high end grocery store and besides I had already found Panera. Then a friend from Florida who lives here half the year picked me up at my hotel and took me on a tour of the city. The second place she took me was to the Great Harvest Bread Company. We looked in the window as she described the amazing fragrances and delicacies that awaited me TOMORROW because we were there on Monday and the place was closed. So I tucked it away for another time but did not go back.

Then I reconnected with Weight Watchers in Rockford and the desire to seek out a luscious high points+ food item was no longer with me. But after a few months my attention was once again brought to the Great Harvest Bread store. I finally succumbed and stopped by and oh my! It is unlike any other bakery or bread place I’ve ever visited. They have real “bakers” who mix and knead the bread by hand and you can stand and watch them.They use interesting wholesome ingredients and bake each item with pride. The staff greets you with a warm smile…….

The breads shown here are for sampling!!!

and an offer of a sample of one of the delicious mouth watering jewels that was baked just an hour or so ago. There is a large bowl of real butter and a knife just begging to be spread on the fresh delicacy. Oh and when I say “sample” I really mean a nice generous HUNK of yumminess to try.

If you ever get to Rockford, Illinois and it’s not a Monday, you must do yourself the favor of visiting the Great Harvest Bread Company on North Alpine Road. Your view of bread will never be the same!

Sights you won’t see in Florida

Having been a southern girl for most of my life, there are some things that I haven’t seen much. I also have not traveled the country extensively as many of my peers have done. So I find certain sights quite noteworthy or at least worthy of a second glance. Chipmunks are one little creature that do not naturally inhabit the state of Florida.(okay they are in the panhandle but that’s really southern Alabama) So they are a treat to the eyes as they quickly scurry about. I was happy to find one open to being photographed at the Anderson Japanese Gardens. They are accustomed to having folks around their trees I guess.

Chipmunks,always adorable, but more so when you don’t see them often.

Another would be that fire hydrants here are designated with a flag. Now if I had only been in Illinois in the summer,  I would be completely befuddled as to why the firemen wouldn’t be able to see a big yellow fire hydrant on the side of the road and would need a flag to find it. I know that old people tape a flower to their antenna occasionally to find their car in the parking lot but firemen on duty, hunting down a fire hydrant? Ah but since I was here in the winter months and snow season and saw many mishaps and misjudging as to where streets and driveways had gone, I know that flag is to indicate the presence of a fire hydrant.

“Here lies a fire hydrant.”

Another picture that you won’t find in a Florida photo is one of lilacs. The fragrance of lilacs brings back memories of being a little girl in western Pennsylvania. We had them in our yard and when we would play Red Rover and run to the end of the yard, we would run right into the fragrant, colorful lilac bushes. I don’t recall seeing them blooming since then until my extended visit to Illinois. They are in fact, so prevalent here that they trim them up and toss away the blooms with little regard for their value, to us, at least.
Now, let’s talk about food. The Midwest isn’t called America’s Breadbasket for nothing. The opportunities for eating scrumptious food are endless. The downside is that Rockford has been given the dubious title of 4th most obese metropolitan area in the U.S. But let’s not talk about that right now. I know that we have bakeries and eateries in the south that conjure up mouth watering memories but none that compare to what I have seen here. (except for my LaMarrs Donuts in Oxford, Alabama!) Bread, rolls, danish, Swedish pancakes and let’s not forget world famous Chicago Pizza! I’ve used tremendous restraint in limiting my indulgences but I had to have a photo to take home with me. Yes, I DO love my carbs!  So thank you Midwest for making my sweet roll dreams come true.