Wisconsin 2019


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Tuesday, September 17, 2019: All of this stuff ...
... managed to fit into our van. Hard to believe that two people need all of this for a five-day trip, but we had a family reunion to pack for.
Among the oddities packed were this freshly-labeled reunion organizer ...
... and these new acrylic brochure displays, just perfect for holding reunion information and show-and-tell items.

Wednesday, September 18, 2019: We dropped off Claire at her day program in the morning and hit the road. We always try to get a photo for our nephew as we drive past the Subaru plant near Lafayette, but this was the first time we actually got one that wasn't a blurry mess.
Instead of driving through Chicago, we cut through northwest Indiana. Tom was aware that this club catered to people who preferred that the sun fall on every part of their body.
Here's another sign for a clothing-optional resort.
Nothing classes up a car like a pair of pole dancer silhouettes.
We added this to our collection of crossing signs.
We headed to Mokena, Illinois, where we made a stop at Binny's. We haven't made it to every Binny's in the state of Illinois, but we're making great progress.
While we waited for store staff to gather up our purchase from the back, we enjoyed seeing what interesting things we could find on the shelves. This is Driftless Glen vodka, from the Driftless Region where Debbie's paternal ancestors are from. This distillery is in Baraboo, just down the road from the Wisconsin Dells where we'd be enjoying a family reunion in two days.
This Tommy Gun-shaped bottle was pretty amusing, but not enough to find a home for it in our bar.
What were we here for? What we're always here for - more Malört. But this time, we were stocking up on new Malört 6-packs of miniature bottles.
We crossed the mighty Des Plaines River on our way to Joliet, ...
... home of the last Rax restaurant in Illinois.
We ordered our food, and our sides were deep-fried to order. "Carl, I need onion rings." The sound system was playing 80s song classics, starting with "Sussudio" as we walked in.
Oh, yeah, baby, there's that famous Rax sunroom at the front of the restaurant, just as we remember from the days when Rax restaurants covered the Midwest.
Debbie got the mushroom melt and onion rings, while Tom opted for the Big Rax Deluxe. It was all just as tasty as we remembered.
The 80s goodness continued into the parking lot when we found this MR2 parked next to us. Debbie used to always go to Rax in Bloomington, Minnesota, with her friend Rich, who drove a shiny red 1985 MR2.
Behold the drive-through menu. Someone please open one of these in Indiana again, because we miss them.
A couple of hours later, we were welcomed into Wisconsin by one of the greatest state welcome signs ever (second to Minnesota, of course).
You know you're in Wisconsin when the Tommy Bartlett billboards start appearing.
We stopped in DeForest for some delicious Culver's frozen custard to go.
Pretty Wisconsin scenery.
We passed the Dells, ...
... and Castle Rock at Camp Douglas, ...
... and Bosshard Bogs at Tomah "Where the I Divides."
We took the left fork at Tomah and headed toward La Crosse, ...
... passing the land of Debbie's ancestors.
We turned right at the Mississippi River. Debbie's cousin lives somewhere up in those La Crosse hills.
Our destination was Trempealeau, for the first time ever, ...
... so we headed north on the Wisconsin side of the Great River Road.
We pulled into town at 5:00 PM.
Debbie's Aunt Carol had just moved to this cute little river town at the start of the summer.
We immediately hopped back into our car with Carol, because we had somewhere to be.
We passed this unusually-shaped church ...
... on our way to Elmaro Vineyard.
Elmaro is owned by a friend of Carol's. We were last here a year ago.
Here's the beautiful display behind the bar in the tasting room.
Tom and Debbie did a quick wine sampler while Carol bought a case of wine to bring to the reunion later in the week.
We each ordered a glass of wine and found a great spot on the patio.
We ordered a couple of plates of food to go with our glasses of wine and the beautiful view.
Next, we headed in for a brief tour guided by Carol, who helps out at the winery. This room has holes in the floor leading to tanks below, ...
... so that grapes can be shoveled into them to be magically made into wine.
Here's a huge container of grapes waiting their turn to be loaded into the tanks.
We headed downstairs ...
... to get a look at the winery operation.
Owner Lynita took a few minutes out of her very busy evening to tell us a little bit about the winery. Harvest time is the busiest season at the winery, and everyone works very long hours to process the ripened grapes.
Here are the tanks underneath the room that we had seen upstairs.
We got to peek in one of the storage rooms.
That's a pretty cask. Love that Elmaro logo.
Check out this cool display of past and present Elmaro wines.
We thought about buying a jar of the amazing fig sauce that was served with our cheese and crackers plate, but we didn't. Regrets, people. Regrets.
By 6:30, we were leaving the winery ...
... and heading to Beedles Restaurant and Pub, which is on the road to nearby Galesville.
It's a classic Wisconsin restaurant, ...
... but being right across the river from Minnesota, it needs to show loyalty to Minnesota teams as well, such as the Minnesota Wild. The Packers rule supreme, of course.
We had a wonderful dinner with a nice soup & salad bar, courtesy of Carol.
After dinner, we headed back to Trempealeau, where we got to see Lock and Dam 6 lit up at night on the Mississippi River.
Carol's new place is still a work in progress, ...
... but it contains some classics from her previous home in the Wisconsin Dells, including this fantastic wharf painting that Debbie has always liked.
We slept soundly.

Thursday, September 19, 2019: We were up and moving by 8:00 AM the next morning because we had some sightseeing to do before we headed out.
We drove through the main street of Trempealeau, ...
... and headed to the River Cafe ...
... for a delicious breakfast.
Mmmmm, French Toast and omelettes.
We passed a very cool treehouse on our way to ...
Lock and Dam 6.
There was a covered observation deck ...
... so we went up there to check out the sites. There's the dam, ...
... and there's the lock. I guess we're done here.
This map showed the Mississippi River as it traveled from the Twin Cities in Minnesota to St. Louis in Missouri. We had seen a lot of the Mississippi River this year, and we would be seeing a lot more in November when we headed to New Orleans.
We returned to the middle of town ...
... and got a look at this cool caboose, which moved into town in 2018 and now houses a cafe.
We parked down by the waterfront, where we could see the historic Trempealeau Hotel, ...
... and its outdoor performance/gathering area.
There are some brand-new monuments along the railroad tracks, ...
... including many, many tributes to James Reed, one of the area's founders. Here are two of them, ...
... and here's another.
Our timing was pretty great because a train came by during our stop.
The train roared by, generating its own wind. Whoa.
Next, we drove around the town a bit. Here's one of the bluffs that overlooks Trempealeau.
There are some gorgeous homes perched on the hills overlooking the Mississippi.
This one was our favorite.
Up high in that tree on the right is an eagle's nest. With easy hunting in the always-open water of the dam, this is the perfect place to raise an eaglet or two.
Back at Carol's, we got a look at the gigantic stump that remained after taking down the huge tree that used to be attached to it earlier in the year. That must have been a little stressful to remove!
We also got a demonstration of how her new shades work. We may have to get some of these for our home.
We got on the road and passed an Airstream. Ever since staying in one four months earlier, we notice them everywhere now.
We headed to Onalaska next. See the road in the distance on the right?
It's Schilling Road at the entrance to Apple Valley. Long ago, this entire valley belonged to Debbie's great-grandparents. Her grandfather sold off the land and created Apple Valley in the 1970s.
This large house used to be the original farmhouse where her grandparents lived, but it has been remodeled and enlarged several times over the years, so it no longer resembles the original home.
This is Apple Valley Park, home of several family gatherings way back when.
Schilling Road used to be the only road in the valley, but now there are others, including Apple Valley Road.
This home was always around when Debbie was growing up, but like the original farmhouse to its right, this has been remodeled and enlarged over the years too.
But the star of the show is the building hiding behind them both ...
... the original chicken coop, which was later turned into a home. Debbie's grandparents lived here for several decades and many family gatherings were held here. Like the other two buildings, this one is also being expanded and remodeled.
The really great thing about the chicken coop is that it is located on what used to be a short dirt road. It is now a paved road that was given the name of Goose Pond Court. Debbie's grandparents referred to themselves as Mother Goose and the Wild Gander, and to their home as the Goose Pond, so it is wonderful to see their nickname immortalized in a street sign.
Next, we headed over to Minnesota. Wisconsin thanked us for visiting. You're welcome, Wisconsin.
There's the beautiful Mississippi River again.
Right across the river from La Crosse is the Minnesota city of La Crescent.
We were clearly in Minnesota now.
La Crescent bills itself as the Apple Capital of Minnesota, and it's not hard to tell why.
Bauer's Market is one of the apple stores we passed, ...
... along with Longhorn Valley Apples ...
... and Hein Orchard.
We drove through scenic southern Minnesota, passing through adorable small towns like Hokah.
Meanwhile, it was Talk Like a Pirate Day at Orchard Software, where Debbie is still mentioned in the annual email that gets sent even though she retired over two years ago.
As we approached Spring Grove, we started to see the name Myrah, which was the very family we were here to visit. We had to turn the car around to get better shots of some of the signs.
Here's the sign outside of a farm that Debbie visited once or twice when she was a young girl.
This road was named after a Myrah in-law - the man who Debbie's father and stepmother each knew separately before they married and discovered the coincidence.
Debbie spotted this beautiful building immediately because of its Norwegian flag on the roof, and then saw that it was also named for the Myrah family. We learned later in the day that it is no longer owned by the Myrah family but that it has been well maintained by the current owners.
Welcome to Spring Grove!
This little community of 1,330 people revels in its Norwegian heritage.
The park in the middle of town has this adorable house titled Syttende Mai Hus, named for Norway's Independence Day on 17 (Syttende) May (Mai).
It was raining for a bit when we arrived in town, so our pictures of the cute downtown area didn't turn out as well as we had hoped.
Cute cute cute.
We headed straight to Spring Grove Soda to do a little shopping. If you've ever seen a craft soda display at a hardware or grocery store, chances are good that you've seen their products before.
We loaded up on a case of delicious soda in every flavor they sell: orange, orange cream, lemon sour, root beer, black cherry, strawberry, grape, cream soda, and rhu-berry.
We got see see some of the stacks of sodas that they bottle on a contract basis for other soda companies. Here is Cock'n Bull Ginger Beer in regular and diet.
Yes, this is an appropriate amount of soda to drive back to Indiana. We'll just put in the car next to the case of Malört and the case of Elmaro wine.
It was starting to clear up so we got more photos of downtown.
Here's a rural mural. Poetry, people.
If only we had more time to visit, we'd hit every Norwegian-themed location in town, ...
... including the Yah Sure You Betcha Shop, ...
... which is right across the street from Viking Park, home of the aforementioned Syttende Mai Hus, and this gazebo and Little Free Library.
On the other side of the park is the Spring Grove Creamery building, home of RockFilter Distillery, but more on that later.
Shortly before noon, we started down the road that leads to the Myrah home that we were here to visit. As a kid, Debbie's family came here most summers, and the most exciting part of the 2 1/2 hour drive from St. Paul was the last few minutes driving the country road that led from town to our Myrahs.
First, you take a hard left on the edge of town where the pavement ends.
These pictures mean nothing to anyone else other than Debbie and her brother, so scroll on by, casual reader.
At this point, our destination is barely visible in the distance.
We have a few other farms to maneuver around first. This is on the left side of the road, ...
... and this is on the right.
Just a few more minutes. Patience.
There it is: The Farm. When you're a city kid, The Farm is the only name you need to uniquely identify this place when discussing it with your family.
Let's zoom in a bit.
This is one of the two Myrah-owned organic farms that grow grain for RockFilter Distillery.
We're almost there - we just have to make it down the long driveway ...
... leading to Len and Janna's beautiful home. It's been remodeled and expanded over the years, so it was fun to see how it had changed.
Here's how it looked the first time Debbie visited in 1970, ...
... and the last time in 1991.
Len met us outside as we pulled up then Janna joined us. They told us about the renovations they made and gave us a tour. The home is absolutely gorgeous inside.
The grand piano still anchors the front part of the house, ...
... but it now stands in a much larger room.
This area used to be the small study where Debbie and Doug would sleep in their sleeping bags as kids.
It's not recognizable anymore except for the repainted bookshelves which immediately took Debbie right back.
The house now has a gorgeous attic designed just for their grandkids.
There's plenty of space to play, ...
... plus this great game that Tom remembered from his youth, ...
... and lots of sleeping spots for kids.
We didn't take any photos of the second floor other than this group of family photos which featured a photo of Ingunn, the Norwegian exchange student who was living with them in 1991.
This portrait of their daughter, Amy, dates back to when she was a Spring Grove Syttende Mai queen in her teens. Len told us a story about Debbie's Great Aunt Borghild attending the Syttende Mai celebration that year. Small world!
Janna fixed us a delicious lunch of sandwiches with all the fixings, ...
... followed by tasty chocolate cake. That homemade frosting was so good! And yes, in Minnesota, it is called frosting, not icing.
Time flew by and we needed to get going to the distillery, ...
... but Janna and Debbie got caught up looking at old photos.
Debbie had brought a printout of every Myrah-related photo she had, and Janna got out ancient photo albums from the 60s and 70s.
These photos were taken at Len and Janna's apartment in San Diego, which is where Janna met Debbie's mother Irene back in the 1960s. This was New Year's Eve, 1967, which also happened to be Irene's birthday.
Janna and Irene met at a Bible study group and realized that their husbands would get along well, beginning a friendship that lasted fifty years.
Sleepy five-year-old Debbie.
These photos are from the first visit to the farm in 1970 after the Myrahs moved to Minnesota. Debbie's family moved to Minnesota the very next year.
Here's Debbie family: Bob, Irene, Debbie, and Doug.
Here's Irene with Janna and baby Christian.
It was time to go so we got a couple of pictures of the family room that was part of the first major remodel of the home long ago.
Previously, the house ended where that railing is. Their remodel was the first time Debbie had ever seen a house transformed like that, and it is likely the reason she likes to add on to her own home now.
On our way out, Tom befriended one of the farm cats, which is a long-standing tradition in our family. Debbie's first pet cat came from this very farm in 1976.
We hopped into the van ...
... and got one last photo of The Farm Debbie remembered so well.
This pair of cows blocked the driveway so we crept along slowly, ...
... then we laughed loudly as they pushed through the fence to escape to the safety of their pasture.
A few minutes later, we met Len and Janna at RockFilter Distillery back in town.
The distillery is owned by their son, Christian, and both Len and Christian are featured on the distillery's website.
The tasting room is very cool, and features some really unique decorative touches. These bicycle-looking things came from a barn and were converted into rustic lights over the bar.
There was a great display of grains embedded into the bar top.
The distillery logo was hammered into the copper bar. Representing Christian's career as a Navy pilot are a pair of tailhooks ...
... which serve as the bar footrest.
Christian told us about the distillery and about the inspiration for the different spirits they make.
Most of their spirits features a label with a family member on it. These two are featured on the Giants of the Earth bourbon whiskey bottle which we had bought when we were in St. Paul a year earlier.
Next, Christian gave us a tour of the distillery.
So many shiny things!
Christian and Len showed us the different labels and told us which ancestor was which.
But check out that bottle on the left - that's Len himself, back in his Navy pilot days, on the Barrel Roll rye whiskey bottle.
Let's get a closer look at the label.
We can't resist a photo of a cask with a great logo on the end.
Here's the labeling space where each bottle is hand-labeled, numbered, and signed.
Christian's sweet dog waited patiently for one of us to play fetch with her.
Back in the bar, we did a little bit of tasting.
We had a sample of the Fence Jumper bourbon.
Rail Splitter bourbon is their newest release. It was named for Len's great-great grandfather who stares at you from the label.
The coaster in the photo above contains a fun little map of Spring Grove and other sites important to the RockFilter process.
We just had a few more minutes to sit and visit with Janna and Len before we had to head out. We bought a t-shirt and some bottles, including the one with Len's picture on it, of course.
We got a quick family photo ...
... before a tour group poured out of bus to visit the distillery.
We spent a few more minutes chatting in sunny Viking Park across the street before we had to say our goodbyes.
We passed all of the Myrah sites on our way out of town: the Myrah Farm, ...
... Myrah Road, ...
... and the other Myrah farm where Debbie visited Len's brother's family when she was a kid, because they had a trio of girls her age.
As we made our way back across the southeast corner of Minnesota, we noticed the trend of quilt-style squares used as decoration everywhere. Here's one, ...
... and here's one, ...
... and here's one. This one was part of a larger scene ...
... that is easily the prettiest picture we took on the whole trip.
Here's a store that appears to sell the mysterious quilt squares.
We crossed the Mississippi River again, ...
... and were welcomed back into Wisconsin.
We headed to the Wisconsin Dells, home of the the Mount Olympus theme park, ...
... which has now taken over many of the independent hotels on the main parkway, including our late, beloved Copa Cabana.
We had a nice dinner at the Del Bar, before checking into Baker's Sunset Bay Resort for the next three nights.

Friday, September 20, 2019: We were staying in a one-bedroom suite which gave us lots of room to stretch out.
For reasons unknown, we didn't photograph the other half of the suite, but here's the door that leads into that part. It was just a few feet from the reunion meeting room, which made it an ideal location for the weekend.
With a half day of free time before the reunion started, we headed to the Tommy Bartlett Exploratory.
Debbie's grandfather had helped out when the original Robot World facility was built here decades ago, and Debbie's uncle has been involved with the Tommy Bartlett company for even longer than that. Recently, the distinctive Robot World building was cleverly converted to a giant robot head, and it is now closed to the public.
Of course, a robot welcomed us to the facility.
There are lots of fun things to see inside. These cubes rotated, ...
... and featured mirrors on one side.
This dark display was very cool.
The pinpoint lights seemed to go on forever.
Best selfie ever?
This tribute to founder Tommy Bartlett used to reside in the old Robot World building, but now it is featured in the front Exploratory building.
Ditto for these guys.
The Exploratory is made up of several buildings, so we headed outside and followed the paths to the next one.
But first, we have to get a giant Adirondack chair photo. Note Debbie's excellent new RockFilter Distillery t-shirt.
Tom showed off his massive strength by lifting this car all by himself. Well, maybe he got a little help.
This is not an exit. This door used to lead to the Robot World building. Ahh, memories of Debbie's youth.
Here's a fun room! Being one of the first visitors that day, we had it all to ourselves, ...
... and it was the same for the next Exploratory building.
We rode bicycles to power up this neon display.
Through the magic of mirrors, Debbie hovered in space along with two copies of Tom's butt.
This sweet quilt was a gift to Tommy Bartlett from his staff on his 70th birthday many years earlier.
We tried unsuccessfully to recreate ...
... this photo of Jill taken 20 years earlier.
Between buildings is this fun attraction. Debbie got strapped into a safety harness ...
... and backed this bicycle out onto a cable suspended high above the ground. She wasn't too sure at first, ...
... but then she decided she liked it.
No, wait, this is the best selfie ever.
We had another whole building to explore all to ourselves. It's good to arrive at opening time during the off-season and to be very fast at moving through a museum.
Oooh, these exhibits are the best! Debbie filled the cone with sand and sent it flying to create this cool pattern.
Tom did the same. Here's his design starting out ...
... and here is the finished design. Science is so cool.
No, for real this time, this is the best selfie ever.
In the last building, a staff member showed us how to use a bow to vibrate sand on a plate.
Tom gave it a try, ...
... and this is the design that the vibrations created. Whoa.
This is the real reason we came to visit today: the MIR core module.
With a building devoted to all things MIR-related, this definitely counts as an air and space museum. It hardly counts as a vacation if we don't visit one, so here you go.
We visited shortly after it was installed in 1999, and it was great to get back to see it again. This is one of only three core modules built for Mir. One burned up on re-entry when Mir fell back to Earth and the other one remains in Russia.
At 43 feet long, it is huge. The interior is displayed at an angle as a reminder that this thing orbited in space without gravity.
This upside-down cosmonaut demonstrates.
It's a little disconcerting so this photo was taken to match the angle.
Tom used his phone to translate the Russian labels.
There were great displays outside the module.
Here's a giant arm attached to the module.
There was a nice display on the Mercury astronauts, ...
... pictured here.
Speaking of astronauts, here's Major Tom at your service.
We had lunch at River's Edge Pub and Grub.
Then we headed back to Baker's Sunset Bay Resort to get things set up for the reunion weekend. Our policy is to not post reunion photos so we'll just include a few of our immediate family.
Jill arrived with Kelly and Johnny in the afternoon and they immediately started playing with their cousins.
That evening, we had a tribute to Debbie's uncle. Here is Debbie thanking him for all of the Tommy Bartlett hats he gave her father over the years. Every time they would see each other, her dad would wear his rattiest hat so that his brother would give him a new one. The sheet Debbie is holding features pictures of Bob wearing nine of those hats, including the newest one he received shortly before his death in July, which is perched on Debbie's head here.
Debbie and her brother Doug have been taking photos of each other taking photos of each other for 25 years. I wonder if Doug will be receiving any sort of Christmas gift featuring those photos this year? Hmmmm. We'll have to wait and see.

Saturday, September 21, 2019: Doug brought along this treasure that hung in Debbie and Doug's childhood home for years. When their dad was laid off from Boeing in 1971 due to the cancellation of the supersonic transport project, their mom modified this Peanuts banner for his going-away party.
After Debbie and Doug's father's death, we decided to continue a family tradition of going to Sprecher's for lunch during the reunion.
Aunt Susan brought presents for Johnny and Kelly.
They each got a stuffed animal pencil set from Banff.
We all tried different flavors of Sprecher's awesome sodas.
Oh, my, that's a lot of German food. That spaetzle was incredibly delicious.
A good time was had by all.
The other part of the reunion that we can share are the family portraits. Here are Jill and her kids, ...
... Tom and Debbie, ...
... and the entire Bob Schilling family.

Sunday, September 22, 2019: After the reunion, we met for lunch with Jill and the kids on our way home.
We had a stop to make in Rockford on the way home. But first, here's a duck crossing!
We went to a 1:00 tour at Frank Lloyd Wright's Laurent House.
We spent the first 25 minutes of the tour in the carport listening to the history of the home.
We got to see FLW's drain pipes in action thanks to the rain.
A famous FLW red tile graced the wall right next to the front door.
We went inside and took a left to visit the bedroom and bathroom down this hallway.
Here's the bathroom to the left, ...
... and to the right.
The only portion of the house not on the main level was the utility space that was a half-level underground.
The Laurents were a family of four, and this was the daughter's room. Here's the view from the doorway, ...
... and to the right, ...
...and to the left.
Here's a cool lamp near the entryway.
Here's the first look of the impressive center of the house with a curved bank of windows facing the backyard ...
... and a kitchen and living room on the right.
Here's a closer look at the living room furniture ...
... and the classic FLW fireplace.
Here's the transition to the dining room, ...
... with indented windows that matched the daughter's bedroom windows.
If you peek out those windows, you can see the curvature of the rest of the house, which we'll see in a moment.
Here's the kitchen. The Laurents lived in the house from 1952 to 2012 and kept it in original condition as much as possible except for one FLW-designed expansion in the late 1950s.
We headed down the hallway ...
... stopping just before reaching the built-in couches. We entered the first door on the right, ...
... which was the son's bedroom.
It is connected by a door to ...
... a shared bathroom. Mr. Laurent was a paraplegic and this house was one of only a few wheelchair-accessible homes designed by Mr. Wright. Here, you can see some of the adjustments made for someone who only had upper-body strength.
A second door in the bathroom leads to the master bedroom. Mr. Laurent had a desk in here.
Here's the view of the other side of the bedroom.
A door led from the master bedroom to the curved hallway. The balcony outside was curved the other way, leaving room for a small garden between the house and balcony.
It was too wet to go outside so we finished up the tour here while sitting down. Debbie had picked up some sort of virus and was feeling very ill by now, so it was a huge relief when the tour (billed as an hour long) finally ended after nearly 90 minutes.

We hopped back in the car and Tom drove while Debbie slept. Debbie woke up briefly to see the Welcome to Indiana sign, then slept the rest of the way home.

** THE END **


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