Monday, December 31, 2012

Snowy Christmas in Wisconsin with new friends and old

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This Christmas is different.
We have no immediate family or relatives to share it with.
It is not hot like Australia - it is cold - way cold, and snowing.
Yeah!  We have so hoped for this.
Christmas Eve is spent with our long time friends, and also new friends.
It is fun as they play games whilst dinner is getting ready to be served.

Dinner is fantastic!
They have horses, and love John Wayne.
They have a fabulous home, and lovely friends who have visited Australia,
so there is lots to talk about.

It is a late night and we head home to get ready for Santa's visit.
My son puts out egg nog, home-made shortbread biscuits, and egg nog.
Off we go to bed.
People are secretly sneaking around up and down stairs.  
Stockings are being filled, and gifts are appearing under the tree.

I am woken by a very excited by who dashes up to see if Santa has been.
The evidence is there!  Wow that carrot has sure been eaten.

And the stockings are full.

There is a very excited seven year old boy as he waits for the gifts to be distributed.

My stocking has fake moustaches.
These are a lot of fun!

I am also given Wisconsin socks and a Packers Football top.
It is funny, as I have been going on for days about what a horrible green colour they have. 
But I get a great soft long sleeve top, and I really do love it!

Alas, most presents I buy for my son are faulty.
The DS games are region locked and don't work.
The Reece's headphones from Hershey only work one side.
The magic light up thumbs from FAO Schwartz in New York - only one lights up.
I feel so sorry for him.
So my friend has an idea.
She fills water bottles with food colouring mix, 
and he goes out to snow to write a "welcome" message.

We head in to get ready for the Christmas dinner.
My son has selected a new sweater / jumper we purchase din Arizona.
He wants to look like one of the kids of an American movie -
kind of a "Home Alone" look I think.
He looks great - it was a clearance item for $7, 
and seeing he is only wearing it one day I am pretty thrilled.

Now our friends have decided to "live on the edge".
He is trying a deep friend turkey.
The brand is "Jennie" so she is named and referred to all day.
As he lowers her in the boiling oil we all stand and hold our breath.

"Jennie" is a huge success.
She is moist, not oily, or dry, or tough - really yummy.

Dinner is pretty marvellous.
It is nice not to be alone in a hotel room some-where.
I do wonder where we will be this time next year.

As I look out at the snow I feel very happy.
This really is a Christmas to remember.
Thank you to all here who made it so special.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

We arrive in a white winter wonderland - Wisconsin, USA

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We have been invited to spend the Christmas 
with a friend I have known for over 28 years.
We first met when I did Youth With A Mission in Oregon, USA when I was 21.
Then I returned a few years later to be their bridesmaid.
We lost contact. They had kids - grown up and flown the nest now.
Where for me, my son is still young - at seven years old.
They have collected us from a Milwaukee and driven us a few hours to their home.
It is wonderful just to stop. To be. To feel a home.
To see the Christmas lights and to have driven through the snow to get here.

I awake the next day and look out to see a white winter wonderland
out of my bedroom window.
Do not laugh, but we have the tiniest of hot water bottles 
- purchased at Big W back home, and it is now my toes new best friend.

As I sit and type this in their lovely home, my feet rest on it!
The sun is shining, and the snow is just so beautiful - like a carpet.

She decides we need a hike.
So she drives us up to Rib Mountain.
I had asked if I needed waterproof pants, and she had said no.
Well let me tell you, we didn't just hike to the top of the observation tower.
No, we went on a real mountain hike - following the markers.

You can just see my son below.
We hike for a good while.
My boots are really designed for casual wear.
They now decide to leak at the seams.
My toes begin to burn and ache.
The pain is so bad.

My son falls down, and as I try to pick him up, he pulls me in.
We eat snow, and play.
I stomp back to the van trying to get the blood moving in my feet.

We head into town for hot chocolate and there is a fire.
I only get a little blister on my big toes - they think I am wimpy!

Next day we get to explore the gorgeous shops.
We visit Evolutions in the photograph - it is floors and rooms of glory!
We then go to a lovely store named Hazel Home.
The lovely owner Bill gives me a wooden nutcracker decoration.
He is on Third Street in Wisconsin - it is a great store with an arty feel to it.
I feel the Christmas spirit.
It is now Christmas Eve.
It feels fantastic - it is so pretty, and I can feel the memory bank filling!

We head back to their lovely home.
My son has wanted to try to snow shovel and plough.
He has a great time, and gets the hang of it.
It is nice to see him bond with a male - too few have crossed his path til now.

They head out to learn the snow blower.
I watch from the window with pride.
He is taught the levers etc, and off he goes.
I watch him go up and down the driveway - he is loving it.

And so is the dog.

He does quit before the job is finished.
He is covered in snow.
He has a cracked lip from the cold.
But he has achieved.
It is the first time I have seen him freezing.
Up til now he seems to have been immune to the cold.
The fights have been on to make him even wear his jacket.
Tonight he is thankful for a hot shower.
And a warm home with our friends.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Heading for snow - beating the blizzard in mid-west USA

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We have a bit of a rough time finding accommodation last night.
We find nearly all the motels are "Closed for the Season".
We find one, but it has no wifi.  This repeats itself!
We find the next and it is expensive.
The heated pool is not hot, and there is no breakfast included.
I don't mind paying a bit more if it has extras like breakfast and coffee,
but I do carry supplies for the more budget places I prefer.
We have actually changed states 3 times in an hour.
One nice guy tells us where to head back to find chain motels.
Grrr - I am so over chain motels in USA.
But we manage to end up in New Buffalo.
There is a nice motel with a small single story B grade one on the side.
They seem to be managing it for the owner ?
We arrange a cash deal.
The nice lady loads us up with free hot chocolates - much to my son's delight.
She informs us to stay (literally across the car park), and us the wifi will work 
off the main hotel if we select the room opposite.
Breakfast is not included but she tells us to come and use the coffee etc in the main foyer.
For $50 it is actually a lovely warm room (dodgy door lock),
and has a kitchenette area and bathroom.
Main thing is it is clean.
It is starting to rain hard.
We head across the road to Jimmy's Bar and Grille where wine is half price on Wednesdays 
- yeah!
There is a lovely fireplace and lounge chairs, where my son promptly parks himself 
with a soda and gets to laying his iPod or DS.
I sit up at the bar and have a couple nice conversations with the locals.
Everyone tells me I must leave early for Chicago.
The snow storm is categorised as a blizzard.
Schools and shops are closing for the day - yipes.
So we head off early and I jump on the internet.
A myriad of Facebook messages are there from concerned friends in USA.
I decide to take the hire car back a day early.
I never book hotels on-line as I have had such a bad run in the past.
But I find a super special and the nick this time I had better just get there.
Next morning I am up at 5.30 am.
Little did I know we would gain 1 hour as we are sitting on the border.
So it is really only 4.30 am.
The fog and weather is pretty bad by the time we head off.

I have to drive two hours past Chicago to drop the car off.
My friends will be picking us up from there the next day.
We end up with a fab deal at the Radisson.
It is a lovely huge room.
As the snow starts to fall, my son lies in bed watching both that and the TV.
He hops up occasionally for a little 'snow dance' of excitement.

We sort the room out and are in and unpacked before lunch-time.
The hotels runs a free shuttle to the airport.
So we can drop the car back there, and get a ride.
It all works out perfectly.
It has a lovely indoor heated pool and whirlpool.
It is nice to relax for the afternoon.
The rental car gives me a free day rental, so I decide we will have a nice dinner.
Tomorrow we are off to spend Christmas with my friends.
I was her bridesmaid over 25 years ago in Canada.
We have re-connected with Facebook.
It is going to be lovely to have a white Christmas.
I am probably going to take a few days off blogging whilst with them.
Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year to all my blog readers.
Thanks for your support and encouragement too.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Back roads of USA are fun in the mid-west

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Today we have yucky weather, but we aim to drive through some little towns.
We out the GPS on 'avoid motorways'.
We have a great map book from a friend, and decide to today is 
"funny names of towns day".
Remember it is freezing, and my son is seven, 
so he refuses to leave the vehicle to help with photographs.
Some are taken through the window of the car.
Our first town is "Assumption".

We drive onto a few really back lane roads.
We find this cute little garage.

Our next town is "Prattville".
We often call people "prats" so we like this one.

Next is "Frontier" - like the wild frontier.
It almost is.

We love this barn.  
It is covered in bicycles and licence plates etc.
There is way more on the fence and in the yard.
I would so have loved to take a peek inside.
We love the unusual.

Next town is "Montgomery".
Not so unusual, but what it is known as is - "Frogeye".

We head in and talk to the post office lady.
She sends us to Camden.
I want Amish again.
These are different style of Amish and are also some Mennonites.
We see wagon surfing for the boys, 
and also kids screaming along on an open seat pulled by a Shetland pony.

We have been told the main street has an Amish Bakery.
We couldn't find that, but we found this one at the side of the farm.
This was like heaven.
We talked with the dad, and then slowly - one by one some of the eleven kids came out.
They do the chores, and the baking. 
They have their own school.  I could see the girls sewing.
The bakery was so cheap, and the food variety was incredible.

We drive off with a box full of food to take for Christmas - smells so good!
We go via more lakes - it is so pretty, and quiet.

We head into a little town I could have stayed at.
It has its own version of 12 days of Christmas in the park.
It has a fab looking Italian Restaurant - I can smell it!

My son enjoys the playground, and then I realise how far we have yet to go.

We drive towards Shipshewana, Indiana.
The wagons are different for the Amish from Pennsylvania.

The ladies wear bonnets and dress with more style.

The visitor centre has free yummy coffee.
It also has Christmas Decorations to make for free.
My son loves this.
He also hears about an Amish Toy store.

We head off and spend 1 hour in an Amish Hardware - it has so much fun stuff.
It has external house decorations.
All the Amish place metal stars on their barns and houses and I want to buy one.
Yeah - I get it!
We then go to Owl Toy Maker - along some Country Lanes again for this.
His workshop - all wooden toys made here -  is next to the house.
My son gets a great tricky box with a spider.  It is fun.
I love the washing all flapping in the breeze,
and the way the trousers are all hung with the big pockets out like elephant ears.

We then go to a Car wreckers as we want to add to our collection of licence plates.
He gives us 4 for free - yeah!
He was so friendly and rings his brother to tell us where to head for a covered bridge.
I love my covered bridges.
We find a little pizza shop and get it for $5 - a good driving snack.

We then find the oldest and longest covered bridge - I think this only for Michigan.
We are weaving in and out of states.
My son likes to pretend he is driving.

Now we head to find a motel in Indiana by the lakes.
But we are sent back to Michigan for the night.
We find a great little motel next to a chain motel for 1/2 the price.
The wi-fi works off the chain motel.
There is a great bar and grille with a fireplace across the road.
We head there and chat to a few nice locals.
I have learnt very few people in the mid-west travel.
Don't bother asking what is to see in the next town.
Or which town there is to go to, to find something to see.
Most take a highway if there need to go some-where.
Or they stay local.
Very few travel.  They are loyal to their area.
My son trying to have his finger in another state from his body!

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Sandusky, Marblehead and Toledo Zoo - travelling around the lake

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We left Sandusky and headed around the coast of the lakes.
I wanted to see Marblehead Lighthouse.
That and the cottage next door was decorated so prettily for Christmas.
But as usual, all was closed for the season.

Check out the wreath on the door.

We are leaving Ohio - I am sad.
I love the barns and area.

We head in to Toledo around lunch time.
We get the rudest Indian Motel owner yet.
I so do not want to stay, so we spend the next 3 hours checking out other hotels.
In the end, I decide it is the best value for money and we go back.
He refuses to let me use the bath, or provide a plug.
My son does some school work and then we get ready to go to the zoo.
Tonight they have Lights before Christmas.
We are told to get there before it gets dark.
But schoolwork makes us late.
Alas, we find out most animals are put away.

It is still pretty cheap to get in - $20 for us both.
$1 for rides, like this big rocking horse.
Not as big as Gumeracha - to any South Australians!

My son loves the secret passage way in the early learning centre.
I actually freaked out when he didn't come back.
Discovered it lead to another room.
I wish I had that as a child.

We head in and learn how to make spiders webs.
This lovely lady teaches us all about ants - I learnt lots.

We head of to find the elephant who is named the same as my son.
We visit Santa, and see a model railway and have fun.

We ride a train fro $1 - the park is split in 2 across a main road.
Don't miss this if you go.

The main reason we come is to see the snow globe and play in it.
Unfortunately they have technical problems.
The couple before us proposed and he was left holding the ring for 10 minutes.
But we get in and they won't let us play with the fake snow.
It is running low.
We still have a bit of fun.
This photo is not so good as we had to pay for a photograph.
So this is a photo of a photo - they wouldn't let us use our camera.
We head back to the motel.
It had been a lot of fun.  Prices were good.
Hot chocolate was excellent!
A good night - except I forgot the suburb the motel is in.
I walk all around the car park and no-one is from Toledo.
It took a while - but we found the suburb starting with "M".
We head home via the Christmas house displays.
I feel for this small town.
It was a good effort - and the Lights before Christmas are pretty great we think.