In the Meantime…

With the last post everything is nearly back in real time. Since returning from the trip, I relentlessly buckled down to finish my Master of Arts in Teaching degree. Mission accomplished. Other than that, it has been getting ready for the new school year, which rapidly approaches. This should explaining The Scarlet Letter in the Reading section. Also interesting is the fact that the one year anniversary of my move to New England has come and gone. Time really flies.

All that aside, with the last breath of summer upon us, Ali and I are taking a holiday and heading for Nova Scotia. Of course we will document the whole trip, complete with pictures, so everyone can see how beautiful the place is. So, in the meantime catch up on all the goings on that you may have missed.

While none of this seemed appropriate to drop in the earlier post, I wanted to also mention that today is my mother’s birthday. So, happy birthday Mom! Here’s hoping your day is a fantastic one!

From MA to IL: Last Activities and Return

Once we got back to the Chicago area, from our sojourn west, it seemed like we were headed back to the Bay State before we knew it. This trip more than any previous one seemed to elapse at a quicker clip on the chronograph. There were only a few days to squeeze in as much family and friends as possible. Ali always has a trip calendar to lock in various activities to their respective time slots to protect them from the encroachment of creeping claims. I tend to be more freewheeling and just try to maximize the time and see as many people as I can. Nevertheless, it always seems as though there is never enough time.

One of the more fun visits one the last part of the trip was visiting my cousin Jen and her family. The two boys are like a couple of little puppies, always into something and needing a close eye to ward off mischief. They are not particularly mischievous, it is more a product of their age, but they do always need an audience. They are great kids, cute as can be, extremely well behaved, and more fun than a barrel of monkeys. Alas, I was not equipped with a couple of miniature cars, as I always have been when I visit, but they didn’t seem to mind. After venturing to the North Side, Ali and I took everyone out for ice cream. Afterwards, we wandered through nature preserve in their neighborhood to run those rugrats around a bit and enjoy the great weather. Those boys are endlessly entertaining.

Photo: Jen's Boys

Photo: Joseph with His Stick Photo: Sean with His Stick

I have to say that my cousin Jen is the premier example of Supermom! She handles their minivan like a professional livery, adding and removing seats in seconds, making sure those boys are secured, and navigating through the city with ease. Aside from that, she is a trained gourmet chef and pretty cute to boot. Even Ali admits she sets a pretty high bar. We were even fortunate enough to see her husband and father of the cuties, Dean, before we had to split. Visiting my cousin Jen and her family is one of the things I miss most not living in the area anymore. Aside from getting to rassle with the boys, every time I visited, she would always feed me something spectacular, whether it took her ten minutes or two hours.

Photo: Jen and Me

Within a day or so it was time to pack the rented SUV and aim her east for the return. Of course before leaving Ali and Keri were booked to run a family event road race, as evidenced by the photo (Keri came up ill, which prevented her participation). As yet, I have managed to generally avoid this perennial family fun, but I am suspecting that it may soon catch up with me. This time I was able to take advantage of the time and visit some other people.

Photo: Mitch, Ali, and Suzy

As always I wish that I would have had a chance to see a more people, or spend more time with those we did get to visit. So many people and places and so little time always conspire to stymie us, separately and combined. Before you know it we are red-eyeing it back to Boston behind the wheel of a large automobile. So to all those we missed this trip, we’ll be back. And if you want to ensure a visit, you can contact Ali and lock-up a time slot on her master calendar. It will work regardless of who you want to see, she thinks she’s the boss of me anyway. Since our return, I have dubbed her “la maistra de la botega” (the boss of the shop – Italian). But she is the certainly the best boss I have ever had.

From MA to IL: Then to South Dakota and Back Part 3

The last installment of our South Dakota trilogy presents one of those rarified sites for which all passersby must find a reason to stop. America is the grand bastion of the roadside attraction and thus far the one we happened upon in Southern Minnesota clearly ranks in the royal court of kitsch. I leave it to you to decide which crown to bestow. Having revealed this destination even before the trip, it should come as no surprise that this exotic site is none other than the Spam Museum, located in Ausitn, MN.

Photo: Spam Museum

A virtual monument to that uniquely American can of swine-meat, the Spam museum chronicles the rise of the Hormel company from small, local butchery to global food supplier. All the while the blue and gold of the irrepressible Spam can are everywhere. The can itself becomes not only an ingredient of art, but art itself. Everywhere you walk the distinctly shaped container in ever-present. It really is quite astonishing! From the enormous wall of Spam, to the long and winding, twin-level conveyer belt of moving Spam, to the passage into the heart of Spam history, the can is there. Words do not adequately describe the place, which is why I have so many pictures.

Photo: Spam Art

Photo: Spam Art - A Close-up

It really is impossible to fathom the level of detail Hormel has gone to celebrating its trademark product (I mean they also make Dinty Moore products, but who the hell eats that!). There is a movie theater, profiling a quartet of Spam Singers, a university student who has worn a Spam t-shirt everyday for five years running, and a profile of the Spammobile. Few products of any kind engender such a fanaticism, Apple is the only one that immediately comes to mind. Everyone knows at least one Apple freak, which I am occasionally accused of being; but I have yet to go on the Apple geek cruise! Nevertheless, this is not far from the kind of phenomenon we are talking about here.

Photo: Wall of Spam Photo: Spam Conveyer

The décor really was impressive. Just beyond the Spamburger that floats above your head, as you walk down one hallway, is a completely gold colored modern sofa, complete with flanking blue chairs that match. This is adjacent to the enormous spatula below. Each area had a theme too. One commemorates the role Spam played in feeding Our Boys in Europe, during World War II. There is a room that hosts a digital quiz show, dedicated to the salty treat. Plus, how can you not appreciate a place that even has a sense of humor about its own salaciousness, for there is even an area where you can watch the classic Monty Python skit in perpetuity. And don’t worry, the new Broadway musical is not without representation. The whole place is thoroughly entertaining and you cannot get through the place without being offered a Spample at least three times.

Photo: Keri with Spample

Photo: Spam Can Entrance Photo: Spamburger

Let me reiterate what my beloved said upon our exit, “That place is a work of pure marketing genius!” She could not have been more accurate. You see the museum itself is free, but they have taken a page from Disney, as the whole experience finds you smack dab in the middle of a gift shop with more Spam paraphernalia than you can possibly imagine. Apparel is only the beginning of the offerings, and there are many options in that category, indeed. Magnets, recipe books (Who knew all the uses of that can’s contents?), pens, mouse pads, sports balls, slicers, even Spam Singles are all available at relatively reasonable prices. They don’t need to charge anything for the experience, they must bilk something in the range of $40.00 from every patron, ourselves included. Have no fear, if you crave the Spam symbol to adorn your clothing, your desk, your home, there is a catalog available, as well as online access. However, you might think of joining the fan club (No foolin’!).

Photo: Fred and Ali with Giant Spatula

So please, enjoy Spam and all other associated propaganda. And if you ever find yourself on Spam Boulevard do stop in the museum, the laughs alone will make it worthwhile.

Photo: Spam Quiz Show Room Photo: Spam Boulevard and Museum Signs

I leave you, Spam lover or not, with this jingle:
Spam, Spam, Spam, Spam
Hormel’s new miracle meat in a can
Saves time, tastes fine,
To eat something grand ask for Spam

From MA to IL: Then to South Dakota and Back Part 2

From Sioux Falls, we continued westward to Mitchell, just east of our final destination. While some of you may know Mitchell is famous for one thing. It is the Mecca for Prairie Gold, otherwise known as the Corn Palace, a must see for any travelers in the area. You just don’t get higher on the Americana kitsch scale than this World’s Largest Bird Feeder.

The palace is the anchor to an entire tourist industry in Mitchell that radiates down the main thoroughfare of Mitchell. Arriving in town, we left the cool cabin of our SUV to be greeted by the chest-kicking 100-plus heat of a sunny evening on the Great Plains. Unfortunately the monument of maize was in the process of being revamped, as the exterior design is revisited annually. However, that did not really affect the quality of the photos. So get a load of these.

Photo: Corn Palace Marquee

Photo: Corn Palace Mural v.1

Photo: Corn Palace Mural v.2

Photo: Corn Palace Mural v.3

Photo: Corn Palace Mural v.4

Photo: Corn Palace Corner

To think that the entire building is covered with intricately selected and cut corn. It really is a quite an extraordinary site. It also should give hope to all the macaroni artists still left in all of us.

Along the hard streets of Mitchell, as we searched for grub, Keri found herself a real wiener with which she could spend some quality time. In fact, once this charming frank got hold of her, it was rather hard to pry the two apart. Once we informed him of our collective hunger, however, he quickly acquiesced. It was at that point that our expedition brought us to possibly the worst Mexican restaurant in which I have ever had the misfortune to dine. We should have taken our cue from the roadside statuary, which was a gringo (John Wayne adorned in blasphemous attire) masquerading as a bandito. As it was Los Sombreros was a hat filled room masquerading as a restaurant. If you are ever in the area, avoid it. The staff is a little kooky to boot.

Photo: Keri and the Wiener

Photo: Me and the Mexican Duke

From Mitchell we were only about an hour or so away from the place Grandma calls home, so back into the truck we piled to drive off the meal that was both terrible and tasteless. Before we knew it, we were at the old school house. You see, Grandma lives in an old country school, in the middle of nowhere, class long having been dismissed. It is actually quite cool, really. Ali’s late grandfather did quite a number on the place, giving it a whole lot of style and character on the inside. As anyone can imagine, Grandma was delighted to have company.

Photo: The Old Schoolhouse

So between trips to Chamberlain and games of Scrabble, we managed to enjoy ourselves despite any difficulties. Although I have to say, there isn’t a whole lot going on in Grandma’s neighborhood. Nevertheless, you can literally see for miles and watching a storm roll in across the Great Plains is a breathtaking sight no matter what else is happening. There is a kind of desolate beauty to that hard, hard land, and even a loveliness even in that desolation. The remnants of long gone neighbors amidst the vast openness can attest. Although, I have to say that I was far more partial to the terrain of the Missouri River Valley, a little further west, out Chamberlain way.

Photo: Abondoned House

Chamberlain is the home of Al’s Oasis, a rather decent restaurant and roadside attraction of sorts in its own right. Serving up buffalo burgers and all manner of beef, we took Grandma out that way for quality meal and even better desserts. Speaking of buffalo, Al’s hosts some of the largest in the area. Below, Keri poses with the enormous bison for the amusement of all.

Photo: Al's Oasis Sign

Photo: Al's Oasis Storefront

Photo: Keri with Buffalo

In addition, Chamberlain also is home to the Akta Lakota Museum at St. Joseph’s Indian School. Lakota essentially means Sioux, for the uninitiated. Considering my fascination with things Native American, this was the coolest place we visited on the short jaunt. I wish I had pictures, but due to copyright restrictions I wasn’t allowed to shoot much. However, it was a really great museum, full of all kinds of absorbing information; although I wish all museums would get rid of the life-like mannequins and just use faceless ones. Better still it is right on the banks of the Big Muddy River, as the Lakota refer to the Missouri, which was land I found far more stunning.

Photo: Akta Lakota Museum Sign

Photo: Lakota Sculpture Photo: Missouri River

Photo: Missouri River Valley

Before we knew it we were up at the crack of dawn and preparing to head back to Chicago. Prior to our departure we were treated to a magnificent sunrise, clearly visible from the back of the old school house. Then the girls gave Grandma a squeeze, we thanked her for her hospitality, and we were off.

Photo: Sunrise on the Great Plains

Photo: Ali, Marion, and Keri

On the return, the trail of Americana kitsch would lead us to a magnificent monument dedicated to a cultural icon. It was so amusing it simply demanded its own dedicated posting. Check back soon.

From MA to IL: Then to South Dakota and Back Part 1

After a week of fairly constant activity, we three again packed into our rented SUV and journeyed even further west into the heart of the country. The goal was for me to meet Ali’s grandmother. Since you can never really tell how many trips one might make to South Dakota and Marion isn’t getting any younger, Ali really wanted me to meet the matriarch of her mother’s family and only living grandparent. So westward we went and we brought along a healthy dose of humor, as well.

The trip out there is not without interest, albeit it is a long ride. Most of the ride is through upper Midwest farm country, which is not terribly exciting, except for the fact that the land rolls quite a bit more than say Illinois or Indiana. However, we couldn’t miss some of the roadside attractions, such as the one in Blue Earth, Minnesota. While it is getting harder to see from the highway, the Jolly Green Giant proudly stands, surveying the wide open landscape. To the left is a view through the adjacent trees of the Dairy Queen we stopped at for refreshment; while the right photo gives you a bit more sense of the size. That is a little girl in the foreground. For a better sense of scale visit this newfound, glorious site. Below is a picture of the girls, flanking the pedestal.

Photo: Jolly Green Giant - Trees Photo: Jolly Green Giant - Long Shot

Photo: Ali and Keri at Jolly Green Giant Pedastal

From the ironically green sights of Blue Earth, we continued into South Dakota. Having never been in this particular locale, I made sure we stopped in Sioux Falls, to see what the place had to offer. Surprisingly, Sioux Falls was not without appeal, at least to me. I will admit the place seemed practically empty on a Saturday afternoon, but it was about 100 degrees outside. So who could blame the natives for staying in cooler climes. There were some beautiful buildings in the Old Courthouse & Warehouse District of the city, including the old theatre.

Photo: Sioux Falls Courthouse and Tower Photo: Sioux Falls Courthouse and Tower - Side Shot

Photo: Orpheum Theatre

Most impressive was the Cathedral Historic District, that sits on a high ridge looming, in Catholic austerity, upon the Downtown Historic District. It was an impressive site and even more impressive building. I have to confess a personal fascination with the power and beauty of the Catholic cathedral, with all their command and contradictions. It is also in what once was the prime residential neighborhood, with some magnificent old palaces. The photos don’t quite do this area justice.

Photo: St. Joseph Cathedral Photo: Sioux Falls Courthouse and Tower - Side Shot

Photo: Pettigrew Mansion

Perhaps more interesting than anything was the number of public sculptures on display in the city. This wild boar was a rather intimidating dedication to the once local game. However, it was the incongruous placement of a Michelangelo replica, in Fawick Park, that was perhaps the most strangely interesting. I have to say I am not entirely sure why it is there, looking askance of the banks of the Big Sioux River that cuts its way through the city. Nevertheless, it is pretty awesome and may be the closest many Americans ever get to seeing the real thing. Although, for some larks, get a load of what the Convention and Visitors Bureau has to say about it. For all its splendor, it sounds like David might be the city’s insufferable step-child.

Photo: Wild Boar Sculpture

Photo: David Replica - Long Shot Photo: David Replica - Medium Shot

Still more to come and we haven’t arrived at Grandma’s house yet.

From MA to IL – Primary Destination Glen Ellyn

Delayed but nevertheless pressing on, here is the continuation of our trip out West, as the New England locals confusingly claim. I don’t know about the rest of you, but out West has the suggestion of California to me. We were just heading to Illinois. Also, apologies for the delay, as I was driven to finish class work for my last graduate class. As I write this, I am overjoyed to announce that I have completed all the requirements for my Master of Arts in Teaching degree, finally. As Stan Lee would say, “Excelsior!”

Picking up where I last left off, we arrived in Chicago for our first week, filled with family demands and some fun. I was a bit hamstrung trying to hammer out various writings for the aforementioned classes, but the girls were off and running straight away. Within days we were graced with the new Terwedow arrival, as Ali’s brother Henry and his wife Mona proudly displayed a three-week old Zoë, still fresh and pink from the womb. The viewing of the baby also coincided with Keri’s birthday, Chicago-style. The old girl took the additional year in stride, albeit with the help of heavy reliance on her compadre Sangria, as can be seen in the lower right corner of the frame below. Older brother Henry got into the birthday celebration act too, but no doubt to his satisfaction no documentation of his festivities were fit to print.

Photo: Baby Zoe Photo: Keri with Birthday Cake

It is always a joy to see the other two of the brood, the corn silk kids, Caitlin and Carl. The precocious tandems are always thoroughly entertaining to me. During the course of the evening, they were treated to a bat sighting in the backyard, as well as plenty of cake.

Photo: Caitlin and Carl

Of course with the appearance of new people, the customary retrieval of photo albums was performed. This family ritual proved to be most enlightening. An absolutely fascinating byproduct was the discovery that Zoë and her Aunt Ali proved to be infant doppelganger, as evidenced by the picture below. This was much to the chagrin and consternation of Ali’s brother and father of the newborn, Henry. But the picture speaks for itself!

Photo: Ali and Zoe

By the end of the week all three of us, Keri, Ali, and myself made preparations for yet another road trip deeper into the heart of the nation. We would be packing up and heading for Indian Territory, otherwise known as South Dakota. Stay tuned.