Tuesday, December 26, 2023

A Trip to the Motor City

Holidays are wonderful times to get together with families, especially if you don't have to fly! Sparky's sister lives near Detroit, so off we went for a quick trip to the Detroit area close to Christmas. It's about a 3.5 hour drive from Elkhart, and we needed to put a few highway miles on our baby Bronco to "break in" the engine. Guess that's still a thing--vary your driving speeds the first thousand miles. We definitely have been doing that!

We went to Belle Isle Island, a 982 acre island park that is 2.5 miles long, in Detroit, developed in the late 19th century. Belle Isle, also known as the "Jewel of Detroit", is the main island with several surrounding islets. You can walk or bike all around the island which would be 5.4 miles. One third of the island is a natural wooded area. Of course, it's surrounded by water, with 7 miles of shoreline. There are three lakes on the island, and 230 acres of forested wetlands. You can rent kayaks there, picnic, fish, swim and visit all the wonderful resources. There's an aquarium there, which is ranked among the top ten aquariums in the country by visitors, a gorgeous memorial fountain, a beautiful conservatory that is under renovation, a nature center, and the Dossin Great Lakes Museum, which we visited today. That's the Edmund Fitzgerald anchor Eldy is standing in front of outside the museum.
Eldy in front of the Edmund Anchor

The museum was very cool. The museum is all about the steamships that have traversed the Detroit River from the early days and the boating history associated with the Detroit River.

When first entering the museum walkway coming in, you see the Miss Pepsi hydroplane racing boat. It's about 36 feet long and about 9 feet wide, and ran on 230 gallons of jet fuel. It was built in the late forties and retired from a successful racing career in 1952 because no one could challenge it. It was the fastest hydroplane on the Detroit River during its time. No wonder, as Detroit's expertise in engines and motors was legendary.

The Gothic Room

As you continue on into the museum, the most beautiful oak carved entry room awaits. This is part of the Gothic Room, a smoking room from the City of Detroit III steamship. The steamship was a side wheel steamer, one of the largest sidewheel steamers on the Great Lakes and at the time it was built and launched, the largest in the world. The Gothic room had intricate English oak carvings and was located on the top deck of the ship. There was plush leather upholstery, leaded glass windows, and a pipe organ for entertainment. The ship also had a winery on board, a palm tree court, and salons. These luxury steamers were the forerunners of today's cruise ships. The ship ran between Detroit and Cleveland, or Detroit and Buffalo. Nothing but the finest china, crystal, and accommodations for passengers who wanted a luxurious cruise during the early 1900's.

The museum had a pilot house where you could try your hand at navigating a freighter past buoys to dock it. That sounded like fun! The video said Sparky crashed into a buoy, but she swears she never hit anything! (That's what she said about the dent in the truck, says Eldy.) There were many more wonderful exhibits. Sparky loved the freighter horn area, where you could push a button, and hear all the different signals that a freighter uses while navigating the river. Love the sound of those horns!
The museum was small and easily walkable, but interesting and informative. There was a sizable section devoted to microplastics and how damaging they are to people and the environment. Even beer has microplastics in them, sad to say.

While in the Detroit area, we visited the Motor City Brewing Works, a brewery and grill. It had the most fantastic pizza and salad, and Eldy loved his tavern brewed Witt beer that he had. The salad had fresh mozzarella on it. Yum!
We also drove around downtown Detroit a little bit. We viewed the Brush Park district where opulent old homes at the turn of the century are being renovated and restored to their former glory. This area used to be called the "Little Paris of the Midwest" in its heyday. We didn't get any photos, because it was such a dreary day. But here is one from the internet of one of the more famous ones--the Ransom Gillis house, which has been restored.
Our brief Michigan holiday was over too soon...then it was back to Indiana to share Christmas Eve with Eldy's son and his family.  Here are the Three Musketeers-- (Sparky's brother-in-law, sister, and Eldy) at the brewery:

Back in Indiana.....Eldy's son's family...

From our family to yours...may the coming New Year bless you with good health and good tidings....
                                     Sparky and Eldo

Thursday, December 7, 2023

SOLD! Time for a New Ride.....

After waiting and waiting for repairs to be done to our rig, we decided to sell our truck or trade it in and then sell our RV. We are not going to be RVing any longer for quite awhile, but when we do, it will be in a smaller rig IF we head back out on the road, or decide to be snowbirds. It's been tough driving around down in a big dually, finding big enough parking spaces, and finding decent diesel prices which are currently hovering around 3.99 here in northern Indiana. Oil changes on this behemoth are over 300.00 each time, in addition to extra expensive parts when they are needed, so we thought it was a good time to jump in on a trade. Car dealers are having to get many used cars from auctions, and are not getting very many trade in vehicles, so Eldy did his research, we did our due diligence on driving some different SUV's, and here is what we settled on:

We traded our truck in for a 2023 Bronco Sport, the Outer Banks trim model. Owners affectionately call it the "Baby Bronco."  It's got some great safety features, some awesome new technology in it, and the ride is amazingly smooth for a truck type/sport vehicle chassis. 

We have a built in phone charging pad. We have heated seats and steering wheel which is so nice for our aging bodies! We have a terrific sound system in it. We have adaptive cruise control which slows down the car if the car in front of you slows down.  Lane assist, lane centering, what's not to like? Especially if you have a tendency to wander a wee bit from side to side while driving. (Just like Sparky is starting to do on her own feet when walking! lol...) There are lots of safety features and interesting technologies that are going to take us a bit of time to figure out. The inside is steel blue and gray, a really pretty combination. We are going to put a hitch on it, so Sparky can transport her bike.

What about our RV, you might be wondering? We have put it up for sale. It's just too big for us now and with getting older, we need something smaller and easier to travel in and for shorter periods of time. The repair shop did an AMAZING job on the body work. It looks like a brand new rig!

Hopefully, down the road, we will look at a class C, which is a smaller recreational vehicle. With a class C, you don't have to tow a car behind unless you want to. We would take off for the worst of the winter months in the midwest, heading towards the south and west, and then return back to Indiana for the spring, summer and fall. We shall see.....

In the meantime, Sparky went to Houston for a quick trip over Thanksgiving, passing through O'Hare Airport on the way. Sparky loves airports, and they are getting more and more interesting with art work and architecture, to enjoy your temporary stay, IF you are not in a hurry to get somewhere! This C terminal at O'Hare is so cool!

There are also beautifully designed walkways with artwork. This one had a park bench shaped like a guitar along the side further back.

Eldy had Thanksgiving with his family, but didn't take any photos. Phooey! 

Back to Houston....Sparky's grandson is now almost as tall as Sparky, and he loves playing basketball. He's quite the reader, too, and when we last talked, he was recommending books for Sparky to read. (Robert Louis Stevenson's The Strange Case of Dr, Jekyll and Mr. Hyde). We went to a fun arcade place and played a variety of fun games. Sparky's favorite was air hockey. She was ahead 4-1, then got slammed by her grandson and ended up losing. Guess he let her win the first few as he didn't want to shut her out completely right away, he said, haha.

It was 40 degrees in Houston that day!

The visit was over too soon, and it was back to school after the weekend.  Bye-bye Houston, TX for now....
Boots made for walking-Houston airport

And back to Indiana....Sparky has been super busy subbing and really loving it. She only will do grades K-4, but even kindergarten is getting tough. The kids really have a hard time sitting still at that age, and there isn't enough physical activity to help their little bodies settle down for awhile. It's much more academically oriented and quite a few are just not ready for that yet. Sparky sees a lot more emotional difficulties in the primary grades--kids are very stressed these days, and teaching is much more difficult than it used to be. Teachers are seeing a lot more emotional outbursts, anger issues, inability to focus issues, and many are quitting the field due to micromanagement of teaching practices. Teachers can't teach the way they'd like to teach any more. Tests, tests, more tests.....There's no room for creativity, no time in the day for it, but the really talented and gifted teachers manage to get a little imagination and wonder into the day despite that. 

Sparky was in a second grade classroom last week and the kids were required to listen to a video all about the War of 1812, and expected to understand how it occurred, and what led up to it. The instructional vocabulary was way above their heads, and there were maybe two students who actually had somewhat of an idea about politics and the direction the country was headed at that time. That was the main focus of the reading program curriculum---history. Times most certainly have changed! In other schools there is a heavy emphasis on phonics, which Sparky has always advocated for, so everywhere she goes, she sees different aspects of education, and she finds that very interesting. Part of the allure of subbing, besides trying to make a difference with kids, is that Sparky loves the interaction with the kids and being called "Mrs. Sparkles" or "Mrs. Sprinkles" often. So she will keep subbing until the day she no longer can or somebody gently suggests, "Have you thought about volunteering at the local food bank?" Haha...

Blog posts may be coming fewer these days, but we will stay in touch. Thank you so much for following us along in our journey and if you are still interested in reading, we appreciate that even more as our lives keep changing and moving in a different direction. 

Bye for now.....Sparky and Eldo

Saturday, October 28, 2023

Life is One Long Ride, Enjoy the Journey

Sparky LOVES riding her bike, as anyone who follows our blog knows. This post is yet another tribute to one of the nicest bike trails in the US, the Pumpkinvine Bike Trail leading out of Goshen, IN to Shipshewanna, with some other trail spurs along the way. Even though it is not a Rails-to-Trails, it's a beautiful paved path most of the way. Because some day Sparky is going to be too old to ride, she wanted to make another post about riding the Pumpkinvine in late October so she can look back on these photos and reminisce about the different seasons on the trail....Here is what she saw on her 16 miles today from Goshen to Middlebury and back.

Less than two weeks ago, the trail was a canopy of mostly green leaves. Now, it's all shades of yellows, browns and oranges. The trees changed so fast!

Riding the trail, the carpet of leaves on the ground would change from a swath of yellow.....
To browns in another section, then oranges, and reds yet in another section of the trail, even a swath of green.....

The flaming sumac are predominate on the trail now. With many of the trees having shed their leaves, the sumac really stand out.

The farmers have harvested their corn but the soybeans are still standing....
There was a section of trail that had raindrops still glistening on the leaves, the patterns were cool! No matter how she tried, she couldn't capture the sparkle of the dew drops, when looking at them without the camera phone, they looked like rhinestones on the leaves. Through the lens, ordinary raindrops. Nature is so beautiful, especially on this trail. Even decaying leaves (at left) look cool.
Not only are there the usual fall colors, there was a small shrub or bush that was PINK!
If you're been following us, you might remember Rocky the Trail Snake? Someone with a little whimsy started a painted rock snake with a head and about three rocks way back in the early summer. They posted a sign about adding to him with a link to a FB group for him. "Rocky" has grown to a length of over 160 rocks by now and is about 26 feet along at the side of the trail off on the berm. He has been lovingly attended to by someone sweeping away the fall leaves so you can see how he's grown. Here is a section of the newest rocks. People are so clever with painting them!
Somebody added a really big rock with a Halloween theme painted on it, two ghouls with "return of the living" painted on it.

Soon Rocky will be hibernating but it has been fascinating to see his growth and the participation of the riders and walkers along the trail, as they added cool additions to his tail.

Another cool thing about the trail is they have regular events and others scheduled to use the trail. There is a running race this weekend, Sparky saw some runners on the trail today getting their mileage.

We are really enjoying fall's beauty... A big cold front is coming in soon...Highs in the FORTIES, lows in the twenties and thirties for the next two weeks. We are ready. Bought an ice scraper, Sparky bought her boots and we are stocking up on fall and winter clothing. That's something we really didn't need while we were traveling out on the road, following the sun and staying where it was warm most of the time.

Sparky will probably change her tune when the first icy sleet comes to Elkhart, IN, but she has lots of crafting projects ready to go for those bad weather days, and she is subbing a LOT, keeping very busy. Eldo is doing lots and lots of research about all kinds of things. 

The latest on the rig is it has been painted, but a part is still on hold! Probably another couple of weeks before we can pick it up. We are having it winterized and not traveling anywhere at this point in time, we are going to settle in for the season.

We know we won't have any travel stories for awhile, but occasionally, we will venture out of Elkhart and will keep you posted. Thanks for reading and staying with us, if you are! 

Sunday, October 15, 2023

Keeping Busy...It's Fall, Y'all!

Sparky loves fall....It's her favorite season. Not Eldo's,  because he knows winter is coming and he hates it that we have to now spend it in northern Indiana. Spoiler alert! Sparky loves winter, too..She's probably going to see if she can cross country ski this winter. Maybe on the Pumpkinvine Bike Trail! Speaking of the Pumpkinvine, the trail is still pretty green, even for mid October, but it's changing.

We are still waiting to hear about our rig, it should be done any day now. They are waiting on one more part and then they will paint it...So we've kept busy doing a few cool things..Sparky took the architectural boat tour in Chicago. Eldo has a pinched nerve in his back, so he stayed in Elkhart.

Sparky went with her best friend of 40+ years, Jeannie Garrett. We started out from the South Shore Railroad Station at the South Bend Airport. Fare is 7.00 one way for seniors. When we met up, we discovered that we were both wearing black hoodie sweaters! We might as well ave been twins, lol.

The trip is not without hassles, even though it is inexpensive to get to downtown Chicago. Because new and old tracks are being renovated, or rebuilt, or relocated (not sure which) you get off the train in Michigan City, IN, ride a chartered bus to the railroad station in Gary, then hop back on the train the rest of the way to Chicago. The chartered buses (provided by the South Shore) are nice but cramped seating. Seats are plusher than airplane seating, but jammed really close together sideways and front to back. Good thing it's less than an hour ride to get to the train station! Lots of stairs up and down at the railroad stations, just in case anybody with questionable knees wants to know.

We got to Chicago and boarded the boat for a 90 minute tour of the Chicago River architecture. (Fare was 57.00 each. There are several boat tours available on the river and some for a little less. They are all pretty similar but the one sponsored by the Chicago Architectural Society seems to be the most popular.) 

This tour is so amazing, that many locals do it more than one time. You see all the cool architecture from 20 feet down below the street level on a boat by traveling all three branches of the Chicago River. Chicago is home to four different architectural schools and has one of the most diverse and largest collections of skyscrapers in the world. There are many architectural styles and architects reflected in the city's skyline, from Gothic Revival, Brutalism (a 1950's-1960's style that is massive, blocky, has rough surfaces, and uses a lot of concrete) to Post Modern.

Jeannie (the other Jeannie), has been on the tour twice already. That's how great it is, each guide always has a few other stories to tell and she always learns something new on the tour. It was really great! A beautiful day, in the low eighties, the tall skyscrapers give you a little bit of shade now and then, and the wonderful stories of the styles, the buildings and the stories of the architects visions keep you captivated. The Great Chicago Fire was the catalyst for new fire codes and new ideas which brought architects from all over the world to the Windy City. Architects' work from Daniel Burnham, Louis Sullivan, Mies van Der Rohe, Jeanne Gang, and many more grace the city's skyline.

You learn a LOT of cool things! Sparky didn't know that because of raw sewage and pollution dumping into the Chicago River, polluting the city's source of drinking water from Lake Michigan, city residents became very ill with typhoid, cholera and other waterborne illnesses. As a result, engineers came up with a plan to reverse the water flow from Lake Michigan BACKWARDS towards the Mississippi River in the early 1900's. On to the buildings!

333 Wacker Drive--Curves on the river side with alternating stripes of blue and green glass--blue for the sky, green for the grass....then the traditional rectangular shape on the street side. This building was featured in the movie, "Ferris Bueller's Day Off", where Ferris's dad worked, and the exterior was featured in the movie, "Batwoman".

150 North Riverside--2017--a really interesting building, nicknamed "the pencil".

This skyscraper was built on a site that was only 39 feet wide because of railroad tracks, city easements and Riverwalk requirements. They squeezed a 1.5 million square foot building onto the compact site by starting narrow at the bottom and widening at the top with a massive concrete "spine" that holds the elevator core. Caissons were drilled more than 110 feet below the surface. Vertical metal fins help cool the building. Because of the strong winds that buffet high skyscrapers, there has to be a way to mitigate the wind. Hidden in the upper floors are giant water tanks containing 160,000 gallons of water. The water sloshes around in the opposite direction of the wind which reduces sway.

Marina City Towers-1962--the "Corncob" Towers...There is a second one right beside the first. It's a city within a city...The scalloped balconies give a very distinct look to these residential palaces. When it was built, it was designed to have everything you could possibly want to have within your reach--a theater, swimming pool, bowling alley, ice rink, stores, restaurants, and a private marina that never freezes if you live there and have a boat.

Sears/now the Willis Tower-1973, formerly the tallest tower in the world for about 20 years. The design for the tower came from a package of cigarettes and how they are bundled inside the package. So the building's inner core is based on a bundled tube design.

Sears/Willis Tower on the left

It contains 43,000 miles of telephone cable. (!) Six roof mounted robotic window washing machines clean 16,100 windows. The building is designed to sway up to 3 feet and has the world famous Sky Deck Observation Center, the highest public viewing center in the United States. On a clear day you can see four states.

300 S Wacker Drive--1970's--"You are right here"...at the red rectangle. As you ride along the river, you pass this building that has a 400 foot tall map showing your exact location marked by a red rectangle as you pass by. The red rectangle lights up at night.

The NBC Tower--1989 The Art Deco style with flying buttresses...

NBC Tower
Going under several of Chicago's famous bridges, was almost as cool as seeing the buildings above!

The Aqua Tower--2010 designed by Chicago architect Jeanne Gang. It has the look of terrestrial (land) topography (the natural and physical features of an area). It resembles hills and valleys. Each balcony is designed to maximize the sunlight and views of the surrounding area and mimics limestone formations in the Great Lakes region. It has one of the city's largest "green" roofs with a water efficient irrigation system. Sparky missed taking a photo, so this one is courtesy of the internet.

St. Regis
One of the most beautiful skyscrapers (in Sparky's opinion) was the St Regis Chicago--2020, formerly the Vista. It is 1,198 feet tall, the tallest structure in the world designed by a woman,  Jeanne Gang. It is three towers connected in a step like structure and has 6 different shades of glass. This building set is unique in shape (called a truncated pyramid) and that it has three "blow through" floors of uninhabited space that allow winds to pass through to reduce sway in addition to six water tanks containing 400,000 gallons of water to counteract the movement of the wind.

One of Sparky's favorites was the Tribune Tower. This is a beautiful building that was the result of a contest back in 1922 with a 100,000 dollar prize, to be built in the Gothic Revival style. It has an octagonal tower rising to a crown with a three story arched entryway. The entryway has depictions of Aesop's fables and 150 small remnants of stones and/or materials from buildings around the world that are encased into the concrete walls on the outside of the building. Examples are the Taj Mahal, the Great Pyramid, petrified wood from the Redwoods National Park and many more. Home to The Chicago Tribune for many years, it has now been turned into residential condos. The view from the river is the view of the entire building. The closeup is from walking to the Tribune Tower just a short distance away from the boat dock where we disembarked.
Tribune Tower entryway
Once we got off the boat, we decided to walk just a few blocks to the American Girl Doll Store. Jeannie's granddaughters had several dolls as they were growing up, and Jeannie has sewn lots of clothes for them. The store was pretty amazing, if you are an American Girl doll aficionado. They even have a HAIR SALON to style your American Girl doll's hair. They had FIVE stylists ready, willing, and able to help you with your doll's hair.

American Girl dolls, 18", run close to one hundred dollars and more. They represent periods in history for certain models and are well researched and relatable, and so they are VERY popular with little girls. This American Girl doll at left, is a special holiday addition and was selling for over 300.00!

If you have to go to the ladies' room while you are at the doll store, they even provide a special doll hook IN THE STALL for you to hang your doll on while you take care of business. Geesh!
After walking a few city blocks back and forth and having been in the sun all day long, we were tired, so off we headed back to the South Shore train station for our train/bus/train trek home to South Bend and for Sparky, on to Elkhart.

It was a fabulous day, not a cloud in the sky. 

Sparky has seen Chicago many times during her time growing up in the 50's and 60's, traveling by train to downtown from the suburbs, but never had she seen Chicago from the river perspective. With that, she will leave you with this take on Chicago architecture....Looking up at the Tribune Tower.  Bye for now.......