Monday, April 27, 2009

Postcards from Iowa

We just got back from a weekend trip to western Iowa. I’m sure you’re wondering why we went to Iowa… You’re not alone, about six hours into the drive I was asking that myself.

Anne: “Refresh my memory, why are we here again?”

John: “Damned if I know.”

The only one who really knew why we were there was my oldest daughter Alexi, but we’ll get to that later…

A lot of people believe that most of the mid-west looks the same. Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, and Indiana are all farming states, but you’ll have to trust me here: that’s where the resemblance stops.

I’ll be the first to admit that southern Wisconsin is not going to win any awards for beautiful scenery, and southeastern Wisconsin can be pretty darn flat. It is nowhere near as flat and featureless as Iowa though. You don’t have to take my word for it, I have photographic evidence.





These pictures were taken about 2 hours apart, about an hour away from the Mississippi river into each state. Now, John says he doesn’t see any difference (city boy), but he’s clearly blind.

Think it’s a fluke? Here’s more photographic evidence.

Iowa with it’s lovely flat featureless landscape of mud, with the occasional tree and/or house breaking it up every ten miles or so:


Wisconsin with rolling hills, patches of grass and forests of trees:


I can imagine that during the summer when the fields are filled with corn that it’s just as boring to drive though Iowa as it is in the spring when the fields are filled with mud.

No offense to any of my readers who may live in Iowa. I understand that it’s a lovely place to grow up. The crime rates are so low as to be almost non-existent (probably because you can go weeks without seeing another person), which makes it a perfect place to raise a family. However, I would like to state for the record that secluded doesn’t always mean safe. Ed Gien lived in the middle of nowhere too. Personally, I like knowing that the neighbors can hear me scream if the occasion arises. Call me crazy.

So anyway, after driving for eight hours, we arrived in the picturesque village of Storm Lake. It sits on the edge of Iowa’s fourth largest lake, which, living next to lake Michigan as I do, I would normally call a pond. We stumbled out of the van, eager to get into the hotel and stretch out our stiff muscles, and were greeted by a stench so bad we all immediately started gagging. We did find a slight respite from the smell inside the hotel room, but it was such a pervasive reek that it almost felt as if it invaded one’s pores on a cellular level. There was no real escape.

In trying to describe the smell I think Alexi did it best when she said it smelled like “rancid bacon set on fire along with someone’s smelly gym socks that had been vomited on.”

Yup, it was that yummy.

We had checked into the hotel before actually arriving, it was past midnight in a town that goes to sleep at 9:00 pm, so we were stuck there for the night. I had dreams of falling into a vat of rotting bacon fat as I slept; it wasn’t pleasant.

We checked out as soon as possible the next morning and learned that the hotel backed up against a meat rendering plant. When the wind blows from the north it makes the hotel nearly uninhabitable. We happened to roll into town on one of those lucky days.

Aren’t we just special?

Now I know I sound pretty snarky, but the truth is that we all got a good laugh over it, and we’ll probably be talking about it for the rest of our lives. Or at least anytime we eat bacon together as a family. The perfect moments in life loose clarity over time, but the bad ones seem to stick with you forever. You may as well get some laughs about it so that the remembering isn’t quite so miserable, right? So we laughed, we joked, we teased, and John and Alexi made sure to order bacon at lunch the next day just to make the rest of us gag.

I’m noticing my post is getting pretty long here, so I think I’ll divide it up into two and you’ll have to learn the reason we were there in the next installment. I will leave you with a few more pictures from our drive though.

When you go from Wisconsin to Iowa you cross over the Mississippi river, which Tiana and Jenna were really excited about. Tiana made sure I snapped some pictures (even though it was cloudy and raining, not ideal for photography) so that she could blog about it later.


CJ was not as impressed as his younger siblings.


Here’s a picture of one of the bluffs that border the Mississippi on the Wisconsin side.


When I was a kid we used to travel to the northern part of the state a lot where the bluffs are majestic and beautiful. Some have lookouts where you can go take in an unparalleled view of the river, which goes on for miles. The bluffs in the southern part of the state are much smaller, but still rather pretty.

About twenty miles after crossing from Iowa into Wisconsin, on the south side of Hwy 11, we found these cool sculptures in a field.



Jenna thought they were real fossils, and no amount of talking would convince her otherwise. They were pretty cool though, enough so that we pulled over to get a better look at them.

Later on in the drive we came across this, which has to be the saddest industrial park I’ve ever seen.


That’s right, the industrial park is a farm, complete with plowed fields, not a real building in sight. Welcome to the Midwest, our industry is your food. :)

I’ll be back later with the rest of the story, until then…


Monday, April 6, 2009

Hedgehog Photo Shoot

I woke up Zathras early today thinking that he might be more inclined to sit still for some pictures if he was tired.  That lasted for about thirty seconds, and then he was running all over the place, chasing after Duff, and generally trying to make my job difficult.

I did get a couple of cute shots though.  :D



This is from when he first woke up.  He was grumpy, so he had his quills sticking up a bit on his forehead.  When he does that he looks an awful lot like his namesake:

See?!?  I told you he looked like a Zathras!


Here’s some playtime on the carpet.  His nose is blurry because he was running right at me.  I think he was hoping to get a sniff and maybe a chew on my lens.


Here I gave him a treat, hoping to get him to sit still for a picture.  He did stay still for a minute, but now he looks like he’s snarling.

Ok, maybe if I throw a blanket on the floor he’ll burrow around in it and I’ll get some good shots.


Nope didn’t work, he stayed still long enough for me to drop him and click the shutter, then he ditched the blanket to go running after the cat again.

Oh well…  He’s still cute, even if he doesn’t make a good model.