NOTE: IN ORDER TO BETTER SEE PHOTOS IN THEIR FULL 1600 PX. RESOLUTION, VIEW THEM IN THE ALBUM FORMAT BY CLICKING ON THE LEAD PHOTO OR ANY PHOTO IN THE POST. This is especially true for landscape shots. Thanks to Mark for the idea of adding this alert so the photos can be seen at their best!

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

My Dark Obsession

Are you ready to look into the dark corners of my soul? I'm a sick person. I am helpless with desire as I approach my destination. I travel all over to feed my dark obsession, distance is no deterrent.  Today I only had to go as far as Burlington, Wisconsin.

The curves of the glass display gleam under the soft lights. My eyes caress the array of colors, from lustrous creams to burnished mahoganies to satiny sables. The aroma is delectably decadent, the choices are endless, one is never enough.

Obsession? Addiction? Six of one, half a dozen of the other...and no, I do not want that hand picked box of chocolates gift wrapped, I'll be eating them all myself, thank you very much.

I've only eaten two (so far) today, but this shop definitely won't make my Top 3 list. A little heavy on the sugar, a little too safe with the flavoring. The 3 best specialty chocolate makers I've found so far:

1. Gail Ambrosius, Madison, Wisconsin - I cannot say enough good things about Gail Ambrosius chocolates. There are no words, but here's the ones Gail uses on her website, "Real chocolate is strong, earthy, fruity, floral … a whole world that unfolds on your palate. It’s the deepest, densest tropical jungle mixed with the refinement of Paris and the sheer wonder of childhood." Amen, Sister!

Gail only makes dark chocolate, so if you're into the milky stuff you're out of luck. You can find Gail’s chocolates at her store on Atwood Avenue and a number of wonderful shops and restaurants in the Madison area which are listed on her website. And if you can’t make it to Madison, you can shop online. But be prepared to pay extra to get that gorgeous chocolate to you in peak condition. No cutting corners with chocolates like these! My favorite is the tea inspired collection, especially the Earl Grey, but the gold brushed Buddhas are delightfully delicious as well.

 Chubby Chipmunk2. Chubby Chipmunk, Deadwood, South Dakota - I kid you not! I was a little unsure when we pulled up in front of this building on the edge of Deadwood, but the chocolates in here are worth the trip to Deadwood alone! All the confections were amazing, not just the truffles. After tasting the raspberry dark chocolate truffles I bought for my daughter I had to go back inside for more because there was no way those were making it home to her! Yum! Photo courtesy of Seriously Foodie.

3. Chocolat´, Galena, Illinois - I admit to stealing the photo below, but I paid for every sinful chocolate I've eaten there. When Wayne and I went to Galena we stumbled upon this shop. We bought $20 worth of fine chocolates...ate them all that night and went back the next day for more. He loved them, and he doesn't even have much of a sweet tooth. The shop is just beautiful, and Galena is not only a shopper's paradise, it has a lot of neat historical things to do as well. We were there in November to celebrate our anniversary without the crowds and toured a mansion, stayed at the historic DeSoto Hotel, and visited the home of Ulysses S. Grant as well. I've also been to Galena and taken the trolley tour in early summer and that was nice also.

Don't want to go to all that trouble of picking out chocolates at a specialty shop? There are great bars available at your local retailers. I'm partial to Chocolove, I about die when I lay my eyes on their crystallized ginger dark chocolate bar, available at Whole Foods and other fine markets. My second favorite is Lake Champlain, especially the coffee filled dark chocolate bar and the peppermint crunch bar. Check their website for retailer locations.  And last but not least, I never pass up the opportunity to drop in to World Market and pick up some dark chocolate with sea salt which is available in their stores only.

My advice? Own your obsession, feed your addiction...even sicknesses like mine are good in moderation!

Sunday, July 29, 2012

That's My Cory

On Friday our son Cory turned 20. How did that happen?

The first few months of his life was a whirlwind of exhaustion because Cory was a screamer! But in between the lusty howls of colic there were moments of sweetness, and he was definitely a charmer. His sister just adored him and was kissing on him all the time. That child was baptised in saliva! The colic passed, and Cory was on the move...walking by the time he was nine months old and into all kinds of trouble. One day I caught him climbing across the kitchen stove to try to get to something on top of the fridge. Yikes! It wasn't long before we had to buy him one of those kiddie leashes to keep track of him. Some of the Newfoundland relatives even called him the Energizer Bunny!  He would just go and go until he collapsed. We have a lot of pictures of him asleep because it was the only time he held still long enough for me to take them.

Yes, he was hard work...but so worth every exhausting minute! He had the most infectious laugh, and sometimes I felt sorry for him as Wayne tickled him yet again just to hear it. He loved his people and his pets fiercely, sometimes squeezing a little too tightly but he just couldn't help showing physically how much love he was feeling.

Enthusiastic would be the word I'd probably pick to best describe him when he was little.  Whatever he was interested in at the moment, he went after it with an intense energy and a focus that was amazing.  When he was a preschooler it was trains and dinosaurs.

Over the years the object of his fascination would change, but that focus would stay the same. He was as easily bored as he was amused, and some of my favorite memories are of how he would ham it up when he had enough of sitting around waiting for the excitement to begin.  Whenever he said or did those quirky things of his I just said, "That's my Cory!" I get the opportunity to still say it sometimes!

He was so kind and generous with others, and had a heart that was so easily bruised when the world was not as kind as he was. He loves everyone in his life, but he's always had a close relationship with his sister, something I was so grateful for since I was an only child and had heard so many other people's sibling stories that didn't turn out as sweetly as theirs did. I feel good knowing that they will have each other through their lives.

I was watching some home movies the other night with Cory and his girlfriend, and it's strange how your heart can be so sad for what is gone and so full of love and pride at the same time. He's all grown up now, and I'm so glad he's becoming as good a man as he was a boy, but in a way to me he'll always be that little boy who could make my heart melt and keep me going doing the incredibly hard but rewarding job of "mom".  Happy Birthday, Cory!

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Elmer's Car and Toy Museum

Looking for something different? We found it at Elmer's Car and Toy Museum in Fountain City, Wisconsin. Antique cars, racecars and trucks, Indian and Harley Davidson motorcycles, antique bicycles and a collection of over 500 pedal cars. Not enough for ya? They also have a collection of dolls and toys as well. We almost missed this opportunity by judging a book by its cover. The cover looked a little something like this.

And that's the nice photos! After taking turn after turn up the bluff to get to the place, you drive past Elmer's, er, junkyard to get to the museum. When we pulled up to the barns we drove right through the aisles of cars that were busy being claimed by the earth.  We were very hesitant, but with no other plans we paid our entrance fee and walked over to the barns.

Unfortunately, photography is not permitted inside the outbuildings, which is a shame because some of those cars would have been a delight to shoot! The extent of the collection is really remarkable, many cars with hardly any miles on them. Their website does have a few photos on it, so click their link if you're wondering whether it's worth your time. The workers are all knowledgeable and were happy to share information as we walked around.  I didn't get into the buildings that housed the toys and dolls due to air fresheners being used in them, but Wayne enjoyed them while I wandered the junkyard aisles looking for inspiration. I didn't do too badly....but I sure wish I'd been able to photograph that robin's egg blue Auburn I saw! The worker told us about the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Museum in Auburn, Indiana, so I'm going to try to work that into one of our trips out east because I checked and they do allow photography.  In the meantime, enjoy the rusty stuff...I know Diana will love it!

Friday, July 27, 2012

Winona National Bank

The most interesting building we saw while in Winona, Minnesota was the Winona National Bank which was recommended to us by the worker at Sole Sport when we stopped in to look for an oar tether for the kayak.

 When it was built in 1916 it was called Winona Savings Bank but became Winona National Bank shortly afterward. The entrance pillars are made of granite and were quarried in North Carolina. When we opened the front door I thought I'd somehow traveled to downtown Chicago!

When we started admiring the Diebold steel vault we ended up getting a tour from a bank employee. The Tinos Green marble is from Greece and the English Vein marble is from Italy. The reason why it looked like a building one might see in downtown Chicago is because the architect was George Maher, who moved to Chicago at the age of 13 to be an apprentice in the architectural firm of Bauer and Hill. At the time Chicago was becoming a center for innovation in architecture as it was being rebuilt from the fire of 1871. By 1887 Maher was working in the large and influential office of Joseph L. Silsbee where Frank Lloyd Wright  was among his co-workers.

After getting a brief tour of the vault we were encouraged to explore the bank on our own. We got a great view of the vault from the second floor landing, then moved on up to the third floor which held lots of surprises. The furniture upstairs is the original Prairie School influenced furniture and was renovated in 1991. The third floor also houses a collection of guns and trophies from the original owner's 1942 African safari, including a now extinct black rhino.

Every last detail was breathtaking, the marble,the Tiffany stained glass window, mahogany stair rail, decorative floor tiles, original working light fixtures and even the vent coverings and skylights. The best part was unlike a tour of an architectural wonder in Chicago, there were no crowds and you could wander around and enjoy the splendor while trying to imagine a time when such attention to detail mattered... and it was free, too! I hope we can find more gems like this in our future travels. If you know of any, please share!

Historic Winona

The first day we were camping we drove over to visit my dad at his campsite across the Minnesota border in Winona. It was his birthday the day before so we cooked up some steaks and brought along some cupcakes also.

While passing through Winona we noticed that there was some great architecture in town.
Winona only has a little over 27,000 people living there now, but used to be a center of industry due to its location on the Mississippi River. Growth in Winona was built on a railway and steamboat transportation system, lumber and wheat milling. In 1856 over 1,300 steamboats stopped at Winona. The Winona Railway Bridge was the second railway bridge to span the Mississippi and during the 1860s southern Minnesota was the greatest wheat producing region in the country and Winona was the main port for shipping Minnesota wheat. The Winona sawmills reached their peak production in 1892 when they produced over 160 million board feet (380,000 m³) annually and ranked eighth in production of lumber in the upper Midwest. During the late 1800's Winona was the place to be!

One of our stops was the Winona County History Center.  For a small museum there was lots to see.  While driving through town over the next few days we saw a lot of surprising things, so if you're passing through Winona stop and give it a closer look!

coffee cart from the Temperance Society ladies

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Trempealeau National Wildlife Refuge

We went over to Trempealeau National Wildlife Refuge twice on this vacation. The first time we rode our bikes from Perrot State Park on the Great River State Trail which goes right past the campground and directly to the NWR. It was a very level ride on a sandy former railroad bed and we were at the NWR after about 2 miles of riding.

The reserve has three major plant communities on the refuge: sand prairie, backwater marsh and hardwood forest. The 4 mile loop drive is also part of the Great River State Trail, so we just kept pedaling! They've had a little more rain this farther north and as a matter of fact it rained a couple of times while we were here, helping them continue to escape the drought that southern Wisconsin is experiencing along with a lot of the rest of the country. Very shortly after the above photo was taken I skidded to a halt on my bike because there was a bald eagle on a branch to the right. Of course I had put my camera away! We eyed each other for a minute or two and then he finally decided to take off. I've never been so close to one before, that sandy trail must have softened the sound of our approach! We also saw a doe with two fawns running ahead of us alongside the road before they finally crossed and took off into the woods, and of course wildflowers. Anyone know what this yellow one is? With my luck, I'm sure it's an unwanted invasive species!

Otherwise it was a quiet ride and halfway through the loop we stopped at the observation deck to try to see some birds out on the wetlands. We walked over to the ranger station to talk to John Currier, the ranger who would be leading a canoe trip on the refuge in the morning, to firm up our plans to participate in the group paddle.  As we finished our bike ride we kept an eye out for the road to the boat landing so we would know where to arrive at sunrise.

We were up at 5:00 am the next morning and at the boat dock by 5:30. There was a group of 28 expected, so the rangers had us and a few others who had arrived early launch our kayaks and head out into the water.  I was glad that we did, because we got to see the sun rise, while the ones who arrived later missed it because the sky clouded over by that time.

As the group assembled, I got quite a few stares. I was loaded up for anything....GoPro camera strapped to my forehead, Canon SLR slung around my neck and point & shoot clipped to my lifevest! We made a video of the trip, but it'll take me awhile to edit it and get it up on the blog. During the paddle we saw a couple of groups of pelicans fly over, learned a bit about the invasive purple loosestrife...and stuck very close to shore because of the threat of rain, which was a disappointment. I was hoping for a paddle through the Mississippi backwaters and we never left the main pool on the NWR! Still, it was nice until the rain started an hour later and we all headed in. The most exciting part of the morning after seeing the sunrise was seeing a mink cross the road as we were driving out of the refuge! We'd never seen one in the wild before. This is a nice little refuge, and if you like to paddle there is lots of water here to do it as long as you don't mind the sound of the trains which run alongside the river!

These campers from Texas were at our park, too - loved their mosquito netting outfits!