Friday, December 27, 2013

Look who's walking

Madeline has been cruising for months.  For our non-baby savvy friends, this cruising does not refer to driving around slowly in a car or traveling by boat, but means she walks but only while holding on to things.  When we got to Minnesota she started taking a couple of steps at a time unaided, usually from one piece of furniture to the next.  She could walk, but wasn't willing to admit it or show off to anyone regardless of our encouragement.  We got to Maine and it was the same story, a couple steps here and there but nothing more.  Then one morning she let go of the fridge and took a couple of steps towards me, and as I slowly backed down the hallway she followed me all the way.  She has not looked back (and sometimes doesn't look ahead all that well either).

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

New England

When we left Albany we headed north.  As I mentioned in an earlier post I do not enjoy city driving so avoiding Boston was a big plus for this route.  It also gave us the chance to spend extra time in Vermont and New Hampshire and avoid the interstates for a while.  We started out heading for Burlington Vermont.  I have heard a lot of good things about Burlington but have never visited so we thought it would be a good addition to our continuing search for the next great place for us to live.
Free Ice Cream
Turned out our luck finally gave out weather wise with worsening snow and wind as we entered Vermont, so we headed into Rutland Vermont to find a motel for the night.  The motel was in the middle of a remodel, going from dump to newly painted dump, but we got a couple of good meals in town and a nice visit to the local library.  The next day the weather cleared so we continued to Burlington, had a good look around town, then continued east.  Anyone that knows me and the area around Burlington knows what comes next.  It would be ridiculous to visit this area without a stop at the Ben and Jerry's factory for a tour.  An ice cream factory tour, ice cream memorabilia, ice cream souvenirs, and free ice cream make for an experience that even Disney can't compete with.
Fun in the motel
By the time we were done the bad weather had caught up with us so we drove into Montpelier for the night and found a motel, this one much nicer than the night before.  The next morning it was snowing lightly when we left, but we decided to push on with the idea that we could stop if necessary and wait out the weather.  Our idea was to stay on highway 2 through Vermont, New Hampshire, and into Maine, again avoiding the interstates.  By the time we got into New Hampshire the weather worsened with more snow and wind but after checking the maps we didn't see any better routes so kept on towards Maine.  Soon after lunch the snow stopped and it was a relatively easy drive the rest of the day.  We stopped for a fun visit with Nicole's sister Cathy and her husband Cory who conveniently enough live right on route 2.  The next day we continued on to Auburn Maine where Nicole's parent live, and where we would be staying for the next couple weeks to celebrate Xmas and visit with her family.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Near Misses

Fun at the service plaza
We left Minnesota with a bit of trepidation.  I have made the drive from MN to Maine quit a few times, some of them just boring, some involved law enforcement personnel, and one involved several breakdowns culminating in abandoning my vehicle, but none of them were overly enjoyable.
I have never liked driving in big cities, and living in Sitka just reinforced this, so heading towards Chicago and then Boston was not a pleasant idea.  We toyed with the idea of going up to Duluth, across northern Wisconsin and the upper peninsula of Michigan, and then heading down and around the remaining great lakes just to avoid Chicago.  The weather forecast didn't look great for this area so we chose the more normal interstate route, and it was lucky we did.  The day after we left the Twin Cities they received 30+ inches of snow in and around Duluth.  We did not get out unscathed, as there was some residual weather further south and we ended up driving through snow and ice in central Wisconsin.  In a very un-Minnesotan move, as the driving conditions deteriorated I took the exit for Wisconsin Dells and found a motel.
This was going to be a big change in our travels for this portion of the trip.  Because we had to  drain the tanks and winterize the van in MN, we no longer had running water for washing, cooking or the toilet.  Up until now we had cooked most of our meals in the van and spent most of our nights in rest areas and truck stops to keep our travel expenses down.  We could still sleep in the van but cooking was problematic and the lack of a toilet was a real issue, so we would try to stay in the van when possible but planned on more nights in motels.
Breakfast in bed
The next morning we left Wisconsin Dells in heavy fog, which later turned to rain and then a rain and snow mix.  One of the headlights in the van burned out and the left turn signal stopped working as we pulled away from the motel, reminding me there were still some gremlins wandering the electrical system in the van.  After driving a bit the turn signal started working again, but later in the day as it started getting dark the fuse blew for all the lights and forced the issue of a stop for some repairs.  There is nothing quite like the fun of driving the interstate through Gary Indiana during rush hour in the pouring rain with no lights inside or out on the van.  Luckily I had fuses and the gas station we stopped at had the right replacement bulb for the headlight.
Just before this happened we were skirting Chicago and smack in the middle of one of my biggest pet-peeves of this drive: toll roads.  The fact that they call these interstates which should mean that they are maintained with my tax dollars, and then charge me to use them annoys me quite a bit.  Add to that the fact that they are some of the worst maintained roads in the country, or that they have stupid regulations like the fact that I pay more than a car in NY because my van is over seven feet high(?) and I go beyond annoyed and head towards being pissed.
Anyway, we made it through Chicago, and stopped for dinner at a truck stop in Indiana, where we decided to stay for the night.  The next day saw us on the Indiana toll road, eventually crossing over to the Ohio toll road.  For once, I wasn't quite as disappointed that we were on a toll road, because Ohio has something the others don't.  Like other toll roads, the Ohio turnpike has service plazas where you can get food and fuel without the hassle of exiting and reentering through the toll gates.  What Ohio also has are designated parking areas for RV's in some of their service plazas, complete with electrical hook-ups and tank dump stations.  This meant we could use the facilities in the van, so we picked one at the end of our driving day and settled in for the night.
At this point winter storm Cleon was rapidly catching up with us and we kept an extra eye on the weather reports at the service plaza.  Somehow the snow and ice missed us again that night, but the next morning it was expected to pass through Pennsylvania, right across our route on I-80.  We changed our plans and headed north when I-90 split off heading towards New York, stopping for the night at a motel in Rochester.  We lucked out here as well with Buffalo NY getting a foot of snow just after we passed through.
Snappy dressers
The next day saw us arriving in Albany, where we planned to stop for a few days and visit friends.  We proceeded to take advantage of being in a larger city by going out for Thai food, ordering delivery pizza, visiting a chocolate festival at the museum, and stopping at the local Costco-esque warehouse shopping place.  The stop was especially fun because Matt and Beth have a daughter, Cassidy, that is just a few months younger than Madeline, so she again had someone to play with during our stay.  Our second night in Albany had snow in the forecast, but when we awoke there was only a dusting, another near miss, so we decided to move while we could.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Feeling Minnesota

It seems like we have been driving for a long time.  Our travel days are relatively short, but there have been a lot of them since we left Seattle, with a few breaks when we stopped to visit friends.  Our plan for when we got to MN was to stop for a couple weeks, giving us a chance to visit with family and friends, celebrate Thanksgiving, and hopefully relax a bit.  We also had to take some time to winterize the van.  We had lucked out up to this point with below-freezing temperatures some nights but relatively mild days.  With a forecast for highs in the single digits we knew we had to drain the water tanks in the van and prep it for winter conditions.  We lucked out again for winterizing, my mom happened to have a full bottle of cheap vodka that we used for the water tank so we wouldn't have to deal with the taste of RV antifreeze when we start using the tanks again later in the trip.
We spent the majority of our Minnesota time at my mom's in Stillwater.  It was nice to have a bunch of room after being limited to the van for the past several weeks.  The space was a blessing for Madeline as she is just starting to walk, although she won't admit it and refuses to show off any time we ask.  Madeline also had her pick of about a thousand toys to play with, a bunch of new ones my mother bought for her along with most of the toys my brother and I had growing up.  Because she became enamored with horses during several of our stops earlier in the trip, we had to dig out the bouncy-horse for her to ride during our stay.  This horse was used by my aunt and uncle, then my brother and myself, and family friends after that, so it's over fifty years old with a LOT of miles on it, but again provided fun for a little one.  There was also an overwhelming assortment of Fisher-Price and Playskool stuff both new and old to choose from.
Madeline has a real love for books, and many of her books feature either farm animals or jungle animals, so we have been teaching her animal sounds and she's getting pretty good.  So far she has mastered the horse, dog, sheep, elephant, owl, fox, our favorite the bear, and her favorite the donkey.  We decided we would try to introduce her to the real thing so we took an afternoon and headed off to the zoo.  The local zoo doesn't have elephants, and the bears were hiding while we were there, but she knew what the foxes were, got the woof woof for the wolves, and I wasn't about to correct her for the donkey sounds when we saw the zebra.  Without the stripes we probably wouldn't know the difference either.
Uncle Jim, Aunt Pat and Madeline
For Thanksgiving we had dinner with my brother, my mom, and two of her siblings, Brett and Elizabeth.  It was a delicious, traditional meal with turkey and all the fixings, with Madeline sampling and rejecting pretty much everything.  She has become a bit of a picky eater with her tastes changing daily.  The day after Thanksgiving we headed south to Montgomery, MN to visit my dad's brother Jim and his wife Pat, along with several of their kids (more cousins) where we had a second Thanksgiving dinner.  While we were in Montgomery we also stopped by for another quick visit with Brett and Elizabeth, and got a chance to visit with my great-uncle and aunt, Paul and Nancy Vollmar.  Paul and Nancy ran a fishing resort in Ontario, Canada and our family would visit once or more each summer from when I was only a few years old all the way into high school.  Those trips probably had a lot to do with me developing a love of the water.
Along with family visits, we also got a chance to visit with friends and share a meal at Big 10.  Big 10 is a sub shop and pub on the U of MN campus that I pretty much lived at while I went to school there.  We had tried to go back for a visit last year at Xmas but they were closed, so it was nice to go get my fix while we were in the area.  We also made some time to get together with some of my mom's friends so she could show off her grand-daughter.  Unfortunately, this trip is teaching us that it is a lot harder to arrange socializing when you have a little one.  Trying to work around nap times, meal times and a bed time that occurs a bit too close to happy hour meant that we didn't get to see some of the folks we wanted to during our stay.  Hopefully for our next visit we will have figured out better ways to work around her schedule so we can see some of the people we missed.
On our scheduled day of departure there was the forecast for some wintery weather, and we decided to stay a day and deal with the snow there before getting on the road, but with more snow and very cold temps. forecast for later in the week we took our chances and headed out.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Czech List

Bohemian Samsonite

Most of my ancestors on both sides of my family came from Czechoslovakia.  My grandmother's generation thought it was a bad thing to claim you descended from gypsies, but anyone that knows me can verify that it would be a pretty safe bet in my case.  These days it's pretty hip to be "bohemian", but our family really never had a choice.  It's been the subject of many inside jokes, one of my favorites of which is our choice of luggage.  Packing for many of our weekend trips consisted of tossing a bunch of stuff in several paper grocery bags, and eventually we dubbed this "Bohemian Samsonite".  For our stay in Minnesota we continued on this theme for our check list of baby-proofing of my mom's house.
Bohemian Child Gate
Madeline is starting to walk, and kept making her way to the stairs to the second floor.  She navigates stairs fine, but we worried she might miss a step and tumble, so we wanted to at least slow her down so we could limit her ascents to times when we were within reach.  Our solution was anything but elegant, but it served its purpose for the short time we were visiting.   The same can be said for our cabinet locks.
Bohemian Cabinet Lock
If/when we ever get a house of our own we can do things right with some slightly more permanent solutions, but for now a (very) small bit of ingenuity kept things to a moderately safe level.