Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Two Zoos

When we left Moline, we finally drove to one of the four states on our trip we hadn’t been in before, South Dakota. Family time over, adventure time begun (although being with my family can be something of an adventure). Tuesday we drove across Iowa to Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

We were only spending one night in Sioux Falls, but we left early enough to get there around three P.M., so while John drove I searched the tour guide for things we could do in an afternoon. The Great Plains Zoo and Delbridge Museum of Natural History sounded like a good choice. It was near our hotel, it would let us do a lot of walking in the fresh air after being cooped up for hours in the car, and we could probably get in for free.

For years, John has had an annual membership to the Baton Rouge Zoo, that allows us unlimited visits. Many zoos around the country have reciprocal agreements to honor each other’s zoo membership, and as we found out on a trip to the Honolulu Zoo, even the ones that don’t have formal ties might let you in free anyway. The Great Plains Zoo is part of a reciprocal zoo agreement with our zoo, so in we went for free. 

Even if we had had to pay the admission price, it would have been well worth it. The zoo has some amazing exhibits, including a small herd of black rhinos in a large, naturalistic enclosure, and some rare Japanese macaques (snow monkeys), which I was not able to get a picture of. Here is a sample of the pictures I did get:

This fellow looks familiar


Galapagos Tortoise

Just like in our zoo at home, peacocks roam free.

Entrance to the rhino exhibit

Black rhino, also known as hook-lipped rhino

All the trees have been browsed to the same height.

African Yellow Tortoise. One of his habitat mates was courting a female at the back of the habitat.

The John Ball Zoo in Grand Rapids, Michigan is a smaller zoo with smaller animals, but it also has nicely laid out play areas for children and is in a stunning physical setting. We got in there for free, too, but again, it would have been worth it to pay admission.

Statue at Zoo Entrance

Golden Eagles


Brown Bear



The quotation on the bench is from The Giving Tree.

Wallaby with baby

Wallaby with baby

John figures our savings not paying admission to the zoos on this trip paid for his membership for the year. That is something to consider if you have a local zoo and do a lot of vacation traveling. Someday when you are on the road and your pocket cash is disappearing fast, that membership might give you something to do for an afternoon at no additional cost.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Oh, Brother

Our first stop after the wedding was Moline, Illinois, where my older brother lives. When we had been planning our route from Michigan to Rapid City on a map, my husband noticed that we would be in the vicinity of  Moline, and suggested we spend a few nights there so we could visit with him. “We’re going to see him at the wedding”, I pointed out, but John, the southerner in the family, felt like it would be rude to pass by without visiting. 

Frank, as it turned out, had a trip of his own in the works, and was leaving on Wednesday, but we assured him we’d be out of his hair by Tuesday. 

While in Moline, we visited the Putnam Museum in Davenport, Iowa, just across the Mississippi River from Moline. Like many small town museums, it has a little bit of this and a little bit of that. Here are some pictures:


Fossilized turtle shell

If it's a War Eagle, why isn't it in Auburn?

Mastodon Molar

I forget what this pump is for.

Crocheted Coral Reef

Detail of the reef

After we saw the museum, we went back to Moline to take the water taxi. The water taxi is an actual taxi that takes you from the casino across the river to Davenport, to downtown Moline and back to the casino, but we didn’t get out at any of the stops, just saw the sights as we cruised along. When we got to the casino stop, we found out that the schedule had been altered because one pilot didn’t show up, and we had 45 minutes before the next one. It was also lunch time. “There’s a guy who sells bratwurst out of a cart further up the river”, my brother said. That was all I needed to hear. It turns out he also sells hot dogs, chips, drinks and cookies. I had a brat and some chips with a diet drink (yeah, I know), and the man gave me his last pack of cookies. It must be my acquired Southern charm.

Mississippi River Bridge

Davenport, Iowa

Davenport, Iowa

You may notice there are no levees on the Davenport side of the river. Frank explained that the river curves downstream from Rock Island and Davenport. The fear is that adding a levee to the Iowa side of the river would cause floodwaters to be funneled between the two cities onto the farmland at that point, causing erosion.

The next day we were up bright and early to travel to Sioux Falls, South Dakota. That was the stop where we saw the first of the two zoos.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Phone Tag Is Murder

I think it’s safe to say that most people don’t come home from vacation and find that the sheriff’s department has been trying to serve a subpoena on them.

Specifically, what my husband found was a card from a deputy sheriff in the Judicial Process Department of the Sheriff’s Office with a note on it that said, “Dr. Coleslaw. Call me” and a cell phone number.

My actual last name is extremely uncommon. We think it’s a misspelling of an Italian word that itself is not a common name, although more common than mine. I’ve met maybe one person with that last name, and the only people I know with my last name are related to me by birth or marriage. That’s one reason I’ve kept the name through two marriages.

So despite the wrong title, I assumed that whatever papers were being served were for me, but since we arrived home at dinnertime Saturday, I decided calling the deputy could wait until this morning.

I called soon after I brought the cats home from the vet’s office, where they had been boarding. I reached a voicemail message that asked for my name, number, and address, which I gave. I had to run two more quick errands, but was home for the rest of the day, expecting a call, if not a knock on the door. I did get calls: from the salesman telling me our new sofa is ready for delivery, and from my husband checking in on my day, but no deputy. I called again around three, got the same voicemail, and left my information again. I got another call from my husband, checking in to see if I’d heard anything and to pass along some work related news, but no deputy. I noticed numbers for the sheriff’s office on the card and called one of them. After some back and forth with the receptionist, I was switched to a man, maybe a supervisor, in the Judicial Process office who kept calling me “hon” and assured me that he would have the deputy call me. “Hon” also informed me that I was being served with a subpoena in a court case.

Shortly thereafter, the deputy called, and apologized for not calling earlier. The department has been having trouble with their phones. He didn’t have the subpoena handy, because after three tries to deliver it, while I was on the road, he sent it back to the court, as is protocol. As he remembered, however, I was being subpoenaed to testify in a murder case. “You’re a doctor, right?” he asked. 

I explained that not only am I not a doctor, but that I do not have any first hand information of any murder case and cannot imagine why anyone would solicit my testimony. The deputy decided that I was not the person the subpoena was meant for and said that if it was reissued, he would send it back with an explanation that that person does not live at my address.Then he asked, “Do you know a doctor with your last name?”

“I don’t know anyone else in the state of Louisiana with my last name,” I told him. 

So the issue seems to be resolved, as far as my participation, anyway. I hope that if they need this person’s testimony, he or she can be found. It occurred to me after I hung up that perhaps the doctor’s name is the Italian word that my father always believed our family name was derived from. I thought about calling the deputy back, but since he no longer had the subpoena, I wasn’t sure it was necessary.

Besides, they’re the investigators. I’ll let them figure it out.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

So, The Wedding

Our vacation started with a family wedding. My sister’s older son, Joey, was getting married in Michigan. The bride’s family is from Michigan, and he proposed to his wife-to-be in Michigan on their way home from another family wedding. The venue they chose was charming, but on the opposite side of the state from where the bride’s family lives. For weeks before the wedding, and after I arrived, I got to hear about how the 60, 100, 125, 150 guests would not fit inside the hall for dinner and how the bride’s family was renting a tent, how the plans for the rehearsal dinner kept changing without my sister ever being notified, how the plans for cocktail hour did not include any lactose-free options, and how, “I have the boy! How did I get involved in all this?” from my sister.

My sister is funny. She really is a sunny natured extrovert, but she has a dramatic streak. I on the other hand, am a fretful introvert with a deceptively calm, organized exterior. If you met us, you would think that I am the calm one and that she is the one perpetually filled with anxiety, but appearances are deceiving. So as I listened and attempted to soothe her, I realized that actually, she and the wedding were both going to be fine.

And so it was. The rehearsal dinner was finally held outdoors on the patio of a local pub, with delicious food and room for the child members of the wedding party to run around and play. The hall had enough seating for all the guests, and later served for dancing, and the weather was perfect for the delicious (and plentiful) dinner under the tent and the lawn games the bride’s mother had planned. The bride was beautiful, the groom was beaming, my sister and her husband danced every dance, and I never did learn who won the lawn games. 

(Most of the pictures I took are of the wedding party and guests and I don't want to post them here without the consent of those pictured. These seem safe enough.)

Unity candles

The dinner tent

Really cute wedding guest I got to dance with

It was mandatory to wear safety helmets while playing Giant Jenga

The wedding venue had a beautiful view of the lake.

The bride and groom held a balloon launch in honor of my late cousin Al.

Traveler's Tales

Part of the fun of a vacation is telling about it when you get home. Yet, “We went there, we had a nice time, here are our pictures” is usually a recipe for stupefied boredom on the part of the listeners. The best traveller’s tales always seem to involve something that went wrong: when you ask the villagers the way to your host’s castle, they cross themselves and mumble, and your host has a strange aversion to daylight;  you come back from a long journey with tales of giants twelve times the size of a man and sheep the size of mice and everyone believes you have gone mad; you go off to hunt a whale and the whale wins; you get to Mordor with the ring and the gates are locked and guarded; you go down from Jerusalem to Jericho and you are set upon by thieves and left for dead until a stranger befriends you; you come home from war and your wife is fending off suitors, your son is a grown man with a beard, and everyone thinks you are dead; you hastily get on a boat to avoid being sent to Nineveh and after a contretemps with some sailors and a disgusting encounter with a huge fish, you finally find safety - in Nineveh. Those are the compelling and oft told stories.

I may not have told the story of the trip to Hungary on which our luggage got lost both coming and going. On the bright side, I did learn a new Hungarian word, divat (fashion), as I shopped for a few new things to wear. Coming home, one of our suitcases, bought in Hungary to bring home gifts from our hosts, turned up well over a month later, with a torn strap and a mysteriously missing Christmas ornament I had bought at a tidy sum as a souvenir. 

John and I swore never to travel on Lackadaisical Airlines again, but I didn’t have any control over the reservations made for me on a business trip to Miami a year later. The three of us from the speech department went there for the ASHA convention. When we arrived at our hotel, one of my companions discovered she had lost her purse, and went back to the airport to look for it. So I was a little distracted as we checked in and did not notice that the hotel listed our departure date as a day later then it actually was.  We checked out early the day we did leave, in time to get to the airport so my now ID-less colleague could go through extra security clearance, but the front desk was still crowded. I noticed something odd about the receipt, but with all the people at the desk there was no time to go back and ask questions.

When I got home, I found a charge on my credit card account for an extra night. I called the hotel, expecting a quick resolution to the problem, but they insisted I fax a copy of the receipt, and then told me the receipt showed I had paid for the first four nights of my stay, but not that I hadn’t stayed another night. The front desk clerk checked with housekeeping and housekeeping said the room had been occupied that night. I knew we were all back in Louisiana by then, so the only way that room could have been occupied is if the hotel had rented the room out again, and they would only have done that if they knew we were gone. At this point I went from thinking the charge was a mere oversight to thinking I was dealing with something more sinister. As a last resort, I called Lackadaisical Airlines to find out if there was any way I could get proof that I had flown from Miami to Baton Rouge on the day I said I had. Lackadaisical Airlines came through, even though it wasn’t really their problem, and won themselves back into my good graces. I was told how to print PDF’s of all of our boarding passes from their websites, and I faxed them to the hotel (only to be told that the only person who could reverse the charges wouldn’t be back for three days.)

If you ever go to Miami, don’t stay at the Wyndham Hotel. No reason, just saying.

This vacation should be the most fascinating one I ever took. From the missed flight that led to us looking for a beach cottage in the woods in the dead of night to the cryptic message left for me on my front door by a process server, found when we got back, it was chock full of disaster adventure. I may tell one or two of those tales, like the one about the hailstorms. Mostly, though, my traveler’s tales will sound like, ““We went there, we had a nice time, here are our pictures.” Many, many, many pictures.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Go With God

"God bless you on your journey," the young man at the airport said as we walked off to our gate.

We had been eating dinner with the young man (let's call him Chris) at the food court in the Atlanta airport because the other tables were all taken and he was the only person at his. Not only did he immediately reply yes when we asked if we could sit with him, he engaged us in conversation as well. It turned out that Chris was on his way home to Alabama from an orphanage in Honduras. "Mission trip", I immediately thought, and sure enough, his next words were, "I heard about it through my church." Chris had spent a month at the orphanage doing handyman jobs, while other volunteers came and went "playing with the kids".

As I told Chris, I worked for 36 years at a non-profit rehabilitation center for children, and what I know about volunteers is that they all want to play with the kids, not do the chores like cleaning mats and toys that aren't glamorous but are necessary. So, I added, I respected him for being willing to do the chores he did.

"That's nothing," he said. "The first week I was there, I cut the grass with this thing like a weed eater. The Lord was really working on me then."

Reading this dialog, I'm sure it sounds like Chris was the kind of believer who welcomed us to his table to ask us about our relationship with Jesus and urge us to pray the sinner's prayer with him, but not so. Most of our conversation from then on was about his studying at Auburn to become a civil engineer. Since John is a civil engineer, they had a lot to talk about: math and physics classes and how hard they are, when to take the FE Exam, what kinds of things civil engineers do. So I didn't tune back in until we were getting up to go catch our flight, and Chris wished us God's blessing on our trip. I thanked him sincerely. I don't know why it is that the kind of thing that usually makes my teeth grit coming from other people sounded different coming from Chris, but it did.

The reason we were in the Atlanta airport, and at dinner time at that, didn't suggest God's blessing on our trip, more like maybe he was working on us. We had arrived at the Baton Rouge airport at 6 that morning to catch a flight to Memphis, another one to Minneapolis, and a final flight to Grand Rapids Michigan. We were to arrive there at 5 PM and then drive another two hours or so to my sister's rented beach house in Elberta, Michigan, where my older nephew's wedding would take place two days later. Due to storms in the east, however, the crew that pre-flights the plane in Baton Rouge arrived late, we missed our connection to Minneapolis, and spent four hours waiting for a flight to Atlanta and then another two waiting for a flight to Grand Rapids that arrived a little after 10:30 PM. I spent the waiting hours frantically trying to contact my sister, who had no phone service at the lake house, but fortunately checked her voicemail, emails, and Facebook messages while running errands.

"I don't know how you are going to find us," she said. "It's dark here and we have no phone service." She emailed us directions anyway. We had our GPS device and her directions. How hard could it be?

When we finally found Hummingbird Lane at 2:15 AM, we realized what the problem was. There were about half a dozen cabins scattered throughout the site, and it was pitch black, making it difficult to match the description (a tan chalet) to the buildings. Finally we decided to go back to the main road, look for a motel, and look again in the morning. John turned the car around and drove back down the gravel road, our headlights catching a sign on a tree. "What was that address?" he asked. I checked the saved email. The address matched the one on the sign. I went to the door and as I tried to key the password into the lockbox that held the key, my other nephew, Anthony, opened the door. "I thought I heard someone out here."

In the morning my sister was surprised to see us. "Al had trouble finding it in the daylight." 

"We did too, at first." I didn't mention the young man at the airport and his prayers, even though that kind of story would have delighted my sister.

But when we left two days later, as Anthony got ready to catch his flight back home and then to Hawaii, where he is stationed in the military, I wished him Vaya con Dios*.

Go with God.

*A song with that title was popular in my youth, but the phrase itself is archaic among native speakers of Spanish, according to my internet research. 

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Nine States, Four Presidents, Three Hailstorms, Two Zoos and a Wedding

As I wrote in my last post, I had a wedding to attend. I may not have mentioned that the wedding was in Michigan, the bride's home state. Since we were flying all the way up there anyway, it seemed logical to combine the wedding and our summer vacation in one trip. We had some options: stay the whole week with my sister's family at their rented beach house, attend the wedding and then tool around Michigan and nearby Canada, or drive out further west after the wedding and see Mount Rushmore, and incidentally visit four states I've never been to. We decided on Mount Rushmore. 

The Mount Rushmore trip I had always planned in my mind consisted of us flying to Minneapolis, driving up to Lake Itasca to spend five days or so, then driving through North Dakota to Rapid City,  South Dakota and then back to Minneapolis to fly home. The name Itasca is not derived from a Native American language. It is from Latin, veritas caput, the "true head" (source) of the Mississippi River. Since we were beginning our trip in Michigan, we had to do it a little differently. The day after the wedding, we drove from Michigan through Indiana to visit my brother in Moline, Illinois, then through Iowa to South Dakota, north to North Dakota, and back east along Interstate 94 to Minneapolis, Minnesota; Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and finally back to Grand Rapids, Michigan to fly home. The longest stop on our trip was the four days we spent in Rapid City, seeing not only Mount Rushmore, but also the nearby Chief Crazy Horse Memorial, the Devil's Tower just over the border in Wyoming, the town of Deadwood, the Mammoth Site, an actual paleontological dig where mammoth bones and tusks can be seen in situ, and the Air and Space Museum at Ellsworth Air Force Base, where we got to go down into an old missile silo. Naturally I will have much to say about these adventures in posts to come (with pictures, many pictures). At the moment I just want to add that the shoes I bought for the wedding worked perfectly - no pinched toes or aching arches, and that two weeks is about my limit for being away from home. I wish I could just tap those non-ruby wedding slippers together and be back in Baton Rouge right now, instead of heading to the airport to catch a plane tomorrow.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Break In

One of the advantages of having to wear big, klutzy looking athletic shoes all the time is that I have forgotten the whole concept of breaking in shoes.  Even my somewhat dressier shoes, the Aravon black Mary Janes, SAS oxfords, and Orthaheel sandals, have roomy enough toe boxes (obviously, in the case of the sandals, no toe boxes) that they don’t pinch anywhere. 

I am going to a wedding, however, and to add to the fun, the reception is indoor-outdoor and lawn games have been mentioned. The dress I plan to wear, a coral colored shift that was my Easter dress from two years ago, will look odd with black Mary Jane’s, cordovan oxfords, and especially with my athletic shoes. It goes with the Orthaheel sandals, which I had planned to wear until the mention of lawn games. Being outdoors on an irregular surface requires a little more support than a pair of sandals whose straps seal with Velcro can supply.  So I looked for another pair of  Mary Jane’s in a summery color.

And looked, and looked, and looked. I found shoes in the color I liked, with flat skinny soles and no way to put an orthotic insert inside. I found others, with two and a half inch heels, guaranteed to put the maximum pressure on my arthritic joint. I found a pair or two for $200-$300, but they couldn’t be found locally and tried on.

So I finally decided on a pair of Sketchers, basically a pair of skimmers but with athetic style crepe rubber soles, for absorbing shocks and giving me better traction; a criss-cross adjustable strap to keep them on my feet; and a removable insole so that I could insert an off-the-shelf arch support that is not as good as my custom one but good enough for a few hours dining, dancing, and cheering on the other guests who play lawn games. They were on sale at the outlet store, too, which is good because I may not wear them more than once.

This isn't the exact model, but very similar. The ones I have are the same design, but made of suede with satin ribbon criss-crossing on the toes.

Unlike the the Aravon black Mary Janes and SAS oxfords, however, these shoes have shallow toe boxes. The width fits just fine, is maybe even a little wide, but the straps deal with that problem. The depth is where the shoes are somewhat lacking. So I have been spending the last few days breaking them in. I’ve spent an hour or so each morning and afternoon walking around the house in them or standing to do ironing, and sometimes just sitting and wiggling my toes. It seems to be working well. I haven’t felt foot pain other than cramped toes while wearing the shoes or after I switch out of them. The toes  are loosening up. It’s only the left shoe that is bothersome anyway. My big toe on the right is shortened slightly due to the joint transplant I had so I have more room over there. I am convinced they will work out well for the wedding, and really, they look much better than my usual footwear.

After the wedding, though, they will get tucked back in their box for a long retirement, possibly to get hauled out for a Christmas party depending on what I find to wear. For me, they simply aren’t suitable for my activities of daily living. But for one evening, I think they are going to work.