Sunday, April 12, 2015

Minnesota Trip 2015 - Days One through Four

Day 1 – Denver to Omaha

Had an uneventful trip to Omaha up I-80. Nothing special. Ran in and out of sprinkles, and it was cloudy all the way. Checked in to the Hawthorn Suites just off I-80 on 72nd. Not a bad place, but they said they were remodeling and we got one of the newly remodeled rooms. Not bad, but obviously done in a hurry by a contractor who was not only the low bidder but promised to do it on a schedule. Many things done half-assed. The kitchen was pretty sparsely equipped, but the room did have a decent bed.

We had dinner with ESM's folks at Olive Garden. Dinner was good and it was nice to see the two of them. After dinner we went back to their house and dropped off the stuff we brought for them. We brought ESM’s old Android tablet for her mom, and I got her hooked up with a Google account and showed her how to use it. We’ll see how she gets along. We also brought her a birthday present, which was a stationary bike pedal exerciser. She can use it while she is sitting and it shouldn’t put any pressure on her knees. We had a short, but nice, visit with them.

Day 2 – Omaha to Minneapolis

The next morning we got up and went to the hotel’s hot breakfast. Typical hot breakfast fair, although they had small breakfast burritos with eggs and sausage that were pretty tasty. After breakfast we prepped salads for the road, packed the rental car, an almost brand new 2015 Chevy Traverse LTZ AWD, and headed off towards Minneapolis.

It was not the most relaxing trip I have ever taken. I-80 was foggy most of the way to Des Moines. We kept seeing the many wind generators along I-80 come looming out of the fog. It was a bit disconcerting at times!

We saw signs for a Danish American Museum in Elk Horn, IA advertised on a billboard and decided to stop. What a neat museum! I had no idea such a place existed, especially in Iowa! Since my four-times great grandfather on my dad’s side came to this country from Denmark, that side of the family has always identified strongly with our Danish heritage. It was neat to see the museum’s collection of Danish artifacts, everything from diaries and photos, to samples of handicrafts and dishes, to the trunks they used to transport their belongings. Very cool. We watched a short video of an interview with a man from the area whose father immigrated in the early 1900s to Iowa. Made me tear up a bit, as his memories of his dad reminded me of my grandfather. They both had a very can-do attitude and spirit. I could see many parallels.

Before stopping in the gift shop to purchase a few souvenirs, we got to see a grand piano that Victor Borge donated to the museum. It was his personal instrument that came with him from Copenhagen when he was a young man, to the Virgin Islands and finally to the US. It was damaged in Hurricane Hugo, and has been restored. What a neat piece of history to find in the middle of small-town Iowa!

We then left the museum and headed back to I-80. By the time we reached Des Moines, we were both hungry and decided to stop for lunch. We ate in a pizza place called The Taste of New York Pizzeria. We both had meatball calzones that were indeed tasty, with good sauce! And the garlic knots will very definitely keep the vampires away!

We got back on the road and turned north on I-35 to head for Minneapolis. The drizzle we had been playing tag with all day started getting heavier. About 100 miles from Minneapolis, it became real rain that at times was so heavy the windshield wipers on high would not clear it off sufficiently. Then the temperature dropped, and the rain turned to snow. Snowflakes so big you could see them very clearly falling in front of you at 65MPH, and which made a splat on the window as big as a half-dollar! And here we are without our winter coats…oops!

As we rolled into Minneapolis, the snow changed back to rain but it was still coming down fairly hard. With the help of the GPS in the car, we located the hotel and got checked in. We were booked at the Residence Inn, in a southern Minneapolis suburb called Edina. After stowing our gear in the room, we decided that a shopping trip for booze and a jacket for ESM were in order. I had thrown one light jacket in before leaving, but forgot to get mine. So, we went out and found a liquor store, then went to a Super Target in the same area. ESM went in and bought a green and gray sweatshirt with a hood for her, and a nice umbrella big enough for both of us to fit under. We came back to the room, collapsed with a beer, watched a little TV and went to bed.

Day 3 – The Pre-sale

We woke up the next morning to more cloudy, rainy, snowy weather. However, the weather report said that it would be clearing by noon and by 5pm it would be sunny and 50 degrees. Well, we’ll see…  We went down to try this hotel’s hot breakfast, which was edible but disappointing. We decided to try somewhere else for breakfast tomorrow, even though the hotel breakfast was complimentary.

After breakfast, we decided to make a run to the location where the fabric garage sale was going to be held, so we could see the route and the parking in the light of day. After about an 11 mile trip across Minneapolis, we found the University of Minnesota Re-Use warehouse, the site of that night’s pre-sale. The route looked like it might be interesting at rush-hour, but didn’t seem to be too bad. We parked in the parking lot across from the building, and said, “Ok, now what…”

It did not take long to decide our next stop should be Duluth Trading Company. We’ve been customers online for a while, and have been looking forward to seeing their flagship store in Bloomington for some time. ESM was a bit disappointed that the store was rather normal looking, and in a strip mall. Not what she expected. However, we had a good time trying on stuff that we have only seen in their catalogs. We ended up getting a large bag of stuff; pants, shirts, frilly unmentionables, hats, and various other items. And we now know what stuff fits, and more importantly what stuff does not. Makes ordering online easier!

After shopping, we walked out into the bright sunshine and better than 50 degrees! Nice! After getting in the car, we decided it was time for lunch. Cortana on my phone recommended a place called the Twin Cities Grill, and after a quick chat with the GPS we were off. Turns out the restaurant was in the Mall of America, someplace I wanted to see anyway! So, we parked in the humongous parking garage (5th level, called Nevada, Row C, Section 12) and headed in through Macys.

I had heard the stories about MOA and how huge it was…but like a lot of other wonders, you really must see it to get the scale. The area in the center with all the kids’ rides, arcades, and various other amusement park-like stuff is indeed a sight to behold. I counted no less than five roller coasters in the space, including a log flume ride, along with a full-size Ferris wheel and various other rides. The engineering to get all of those to fit in the space is pretty amazing. We wandered around the mall and found the restaurant. Food was high-class pub food and good, but the service was a bit indifferent. Given their prices, I found that somewhat surprising. ESM had a walleye sandwich, and I had beef stroganoff. We had fried cheese curds as an appetizer. Talk about feeling your arteries harden!

After lunch we wandered around MOA, looked at the Lego display which is quite impressive! I marveled at the 30-foot high mech robot made out of Legos. ESM enjoyed the Lego minotaur and sabre-tooth tiger. And we both liked the dragon/sea serpent! We decided that we had had enough walking around and wanted to rest a bit before the fabric pre-sale later that evening. So, we managed to find our way back to the car, which is in itself no small feat! And drove back to the hotel.

Just before 5pm, we began getting ready to go to the sale. We put our game faces on, psyched each other up, and practiced our body-check-little-old-ladies moves. We grabbed the two large Ikea bags we brought for the occasion and headed out. Traffic was about like you would expect on a Friday night in Minneapolis, apparently. Our arrival time of 5:50pm, as predicted by my phone’s navigation, was spot-on. We parked the car and headed to the building across the street. There were about a hundred people in line in front of us. Oh boy, this looks like it may be interesting!

At precisely 6:03pm, they opened the doors and a cheer went up from the crowd! Ok, here we go. The line of people began to file in and it moved very quickly despite the numbers. As we entered the front doors, there were volunteers handling the crowd. Most folks were waiting to pay their fee to get in, as the pre-sale was $30 a person for entrance. We had taken advantage of their apparently new ability to pay for tickets in advance online, and so we were ushered into the practically empty will-call line.  After checking our names off their list, we immediately went in. Nice!

The warehouse looked small from the outside, but was much bigger than I expected inside. They had cleared out two rows of space to accommodate the garage sale, which amounted to about 10% of the total space available. The rest was taken up by UM’s equipment cast offs. If you have ever seen the kinds of stuff universities sell to the public when their useful lives are over, this was pretty typical.

The garage sale consisted of two rows, each about 400 feet long, with tables down the middle and shelves lining both sides. One row’s tables were piled up with all kinds of fabric pieces in all shapes, sizes and colors. Tons of it, literally. There was some organization to it, with specialty stuff separated out, but mostly it was a free-for-all. Dig through the piles and find what you wanted. Along the outside, the shelves held more fabric, yarn, and all manner of other stuff on them. Thread, notions, bags of miscellany, anything you could think of. ESM and I headed down one side of the aisle and stopped at the fake fur. With kitties, fake fur is useful stuff around our house. We bagged up several pieces we thought would be useful. ESM then stared pawing through, h the other stuff and had soon filled up the first bag. She dished the bag to me and I went to stash it in an area they had set aside for people to keep their stuff while they are still looking around. After the ladies put a tag with my name on the bag, I headed back into the fray. I found ESM knee-deep in silks, having found several pieces she liked. My job is to play Sherpa/blocker for her. I hold the bag, grab stuff she hands to me, block her from getting run into, and body-check people out of the way when she moves. It’s a good system. She filled the second bag up, and after retreating out for a moment to catch our breath, she wanted to head back in for another pass. I told her she was going in alone, and I would go check out the second aisle for her.

The second aisle was all of the sewing machines and equipment on auction, as well as books, patterns and a section at the back they call UFOs. In this case, UFO stands for Unidentified Fabric Object. It is all the stuff that gets donated that does not fit into their other categories. Lots of unfinished projects and weird things. When I went back to find her, she had her arms full of a large bolt of wool and several other pieces. I took them and told her there was more stuff she would want to see in the next aisle. After dropping the last of her booty with the other bags we headed over. She and I both found some patterns for clothing we wanted, and picked up a couple of other small items. Now came the moment of truth…checkout.

As we got into line, a volunteer came up and asked if she could help us tally up what we had found. All the fabric is generally marked with a price, but given the large variation in markings, it is obviously done by the donators, not the volunteers. So we began going through the bags, reading off prices to the volunteer and she wrote them down. When we were done, she handed me the piece of paper and said we could wait there for the next cashier to be available. Quickly, one opened up and we moved in. The cashier began adding up the tally sheet, and another volunteer explained that if we wanted to, we could “round-up” the amount and the extra would become a donation to the textile program/museum at the university. Not a bad racket! We agreed, and ESM filled out the form with name, rank and serial number. As she was finishing up, the cashier had the total for us. I squinted my eyes, expecting to feel the pain of $300+, but was pleasantly surprised with a reasonable $149. Not bad for almost more fabric than ESM and I both could carry! We rounded up to $160 and happily paid.

After walking part-way back to the car, we decided it would be easier to park ESM with all the fabric and bring the car to her! So I collected the car, we loaded up the bags and headed for the hotel. Successful hunt, high fives all around!

After dropping the fabric at the hotel, we decided it was time to celebrate. We found a local ice cream shop not too far from the hotel called, aptly enough, The Neighborhood Ice Cream Shop. I didn’t feel guilty at all, after all the walking we did that day!

Day 4 – More Fabric Shopping

After a little Googling, I found a place for breakfast on Saturday called the Bunny Bar and Grill. We headed over and had a good breakfast, with ESM having their Cinnamon Swirl French Toast, and I had a pork chop and eggs. Both breakfasts came with a complementary Bloody Mary, Screwdriver, or juice. ESM got a Screwdriver, and I had a Bloody Mary. They did not skimp on the alcohol! I didn’t dare finish mine, even though it was good, as I was driving!

ESM had found another fabric outlet store in east Minneapolis she wanted to go to, so after inputting the coordinates into the GPS, we headed out. Turned out it was WAY east of town, in a suburb called Brooklyn Park. After winding our way through an industrial park, we found it. ESM had said it was 30,000 square feet inside, which I knew was pretty big. What I was not prepared for was how tall it was! Warehouse shelving very much like what you would see in a Costco or Sams Club and almost as tall! And over 30 rows of it, plus many, many more eight-foot racks of other fabric. There had to have been several million bolts of fabric in there. I have never seen so much fabric in one place in my life. Unreal!

After spending about two and a half hours in there, trying to see/feel everything, ESM was overwhelmed. In the end, we had found eleven bolts of stuff she wanted. All the cutting is self-service for anything under 5 yards, so we waited for a spot at the cutting table to open up. After a bit, we were finally able to get a space. We got a system going, and between she and I we had it all cut and labeled in a matter of fifteen minutes. We then looked around and noticed that there did not seem to be any employees clearing bolts away from the cutting tables. We found someone who worked there and asked what we needed to do with the bolts after they were cut. “Put them back where you found them,” was her response. Really!?! After spending two and a half hours wandering all over the store, we are supposed to remember where all these came from!?! Yikes! She took a little pity on us and took a couple that we could not identify out of our cart, saying she would put them back. But we had to retrace our steps and try to remember where they all came from! It took us longer to put them back than it did to cut them! We then paid them for what we had cut and headed out to the car.

After we both sat down in the car, we decided we had had enough shopping for today and started to head for the hotel. ESM wanted to stay off the highway and see more of the town, so we took the “scenic” route back. Like most big cities, there are good parts and bad parts. I think we saw a pretty good cross-section on the sixteen mile trip back towards the hotel.

As we were getting close to the hotel, we noticed that it was 2pm and we had not had lunch. So, we started looking for someplace to eat. The first place we tried to go to was closed, the second place was not much to look at and had no parking, so we ended up at a third choice, the Red Cow. Billed as a burger, pub kind of place, we were pleasantly surprised to find a very upscale restaurant that would not be out of place in the Park Meadows area back home. The burgers were very well cooked, juicy and flavorful. We had a pretzel with beer cheese to start, which was yummy! ESM had a mushroom and swiss burger, and I had what they called a 60/40 burger. 60% Angus beef and 40% ground bacon. Both were very good! Since the rest of the meal had been quite good, we decided to skip dinner and have dessert. ESM had a carrot cake with cream cheese frosting that was billed as the chef’s personal birthday cake! And I had a dessert that consisted of two small scoops of vanilla bean ice cream and a small bag filled with about ten mini doughnuts, made fresh and sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar. Wow! I ate the ice cream and a couple of the doughnuts, and decided I would save the rest for breakfast.

We waddled back to the hotel and crashed for the rest of the day. After all we had been doing, an evening to relax sounded inviting. Later that night, we prepped plans for our departure the next day towards Duluth and Lake Superior.

New Beginnings

"Is this thing on?" :-)

Yeah, I's been a while. But, life has a funny way of getting in the way sometimes. I'm firing up the blog again, initially with a specific purpose in mind. We are traveling and I want to document our travels. That way, I have a diary to look back on when I get home and can't remember all the details. And, if something happens to us along the way, folks will have some idea of where to start looking for us!

So, what follows is the synopsis of the first four days of the trip, and where we are headed next.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

R.I.P. our little Sprout

This is a picture of a baby field mouse ESM rescued from the nursery hut at the garden center where she works part-time.

He was born in a nest, kept warm behind a mini fridge. ESM found him out in the middle of the floor of the hut on 9/19/2011 and, using her gloves, put him back in his nest hoping his momma would come back to take care of him. ESM found his mommy the next morning when she went back to work, and she had, unfortunately, been killed by an unknown predator. So, he was left all alone.

We rescued him, brought him home and named him Sprout. We fixed a box with holes in the lid and lined with clean tissues for him, and put the box on a towel over a heating pad on low to keep him warm. We fed him half-strength kitten formula through an eyedropper every two hours, including overnight. We rubbed his nether-regions with a warm cotton swab to help him poop, just like his mommy would. And despite all our best efforts, he passed away somewhere between 10am and noon on 9/21/2011. He was laid to rest underneath our peach tree in the backyard, where he can forever bask in the sun and smell the ripe peaches in the summer. He has a marker with his name and the date, so we will not if we ever could.

While he was not with us for very long, he had a significant impact. Some might say in the grand scheme of things, he was very small and insignificant. Why would you care so much for something so small, and so common? I believe when a higher power...fate, God, whatever you wish to call it...places a task like this deliberately in your path, you must listen. All furry creatures deserve a chance to survive. If I am given a chance to play a part in that survival, I will gladly take on that responsibility, knowing full well that by giving and loving with your heart, that also leaves you open to the heartbreak of loss. That's what makes us human, in my opinion.

Even though we were not ultimately able to save him, we did love him and we did all we could to help. It is some consolation that when his end came, he was warm, dry and safe. And in just the brief moment we had him, he became a part of our family. I can only hope he is happy and with his mommy, wherever the souls from this earth go when the body's time is at an end.

My dear little man, I'm so sorry you didn't even get to open your eyes and see all the wonders of this world. Maybe you weren't meant to. The world was certainly not so kind to you. Please know we did our very best to help you, and you did find your forever home. Forever was just not very long. You have left a tiny, mouse-shaped hole in our hearts. And we shall never forget you. Rest In Peace, our beautiful little Sprout.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Godspeed, our beloved "big guy."

Sorry for the delay in posting...with the maintenance issue with Blogger, I was unable to post this until now.

In the midst of the current turmoil in our house (me recovering from my car accident, and ESM working part-time and also trying to start a new business), I must report some very sad kitty news. Mr. Hubbard, our oldest (16 to 18, we’re not sure exactly) and the first kitty we adopted together, made his journey to the Rainbow Bridge Thursday afternoon.

He has been in declining health for some time now, however that decline has been noticeably accelerating over the last several weeks. We finally made the difficult decision that it would be better for him not to suffer any more than he had already. We made the appointment several days ago to allow us some quality time at the end, including both of us taking time off to spend his last day with him. We took lots of pictures and video, to add to the already large collection we have.

For our final act of love, we took him to the vet that has been seeing him for the last six plus years. They have treated him through all his various age-related illnesses, including his cataracts, pancreatitus, diabetes, arthritis in his hips and several other issues. They have been so good with him (and us) over the years, we felt they should have a chance to say their good-byes and help him in his final journey. He passed peacefully from this earth with the vet, his favorite vet tech and his adopted parents by his side at 5:02pm on Thursday, May 12th, 2011. He will be individually cremated, and his remains returned to us on Tuesday.

ESM and I are planning to plant some orange tiger lilies in our yard, in his honor. We wanted something symbolic for us to remember him by (even though tiger lilies are poisonous to cats), and when they bloom each year we will have a beautiful reminder of his 13 years with us.

I know I have urged this before, however you will have to suffer through my urging it again. Please, go find someone you love (furry or not), give them a big hug and tell them how much you love them. You never know when you might not have the chance again.

As part of my healing, I will post again very soon with more about his life with us.

Mr. Hubbard, we love you so very much and you will always be in our thoughts and hearts. Vaya con dios, big guy. We’ll see you again at the bridge.

Thursday, May 5, 2011


Apparently, someone somewhere decided that a Mazda5 is an SUV. Don't know exactly how the rocket surgeons at the insurance company came to that conclusion, given the sliding rear doors, lack of AWD and a general mini-van-esque appearance. However, when I went to pick up my rental car from the accident, this was what was waiting for me.

Umm...ok. Small, slightly alien green a great white whale! Interesting. So, I asked the obvious question. Why? Why did they feel this was the correct rental car for me? And the answer was, they wanted to make sure I had a vehicle which was just as capable as the one involved in the accident. Sure, I can see that. o_O

So, after driving it for a couple of days, I have a few observations to share.

1. It is quite comfy to drive/ride in.

2. Gas would have to drop to pre-1970 prices before I could even think about commuting in it. I don't care that it DOES shut off four cylinders when it doesn't need them...16 MPG average isn't THAT big an improvement.

3. I cannot imagine myself ever being in a position to utilize the cavernous interior space...for people or stuff. I got over moving my furniture myself some time ago. That's what moving companies are for. Although, I suppose I could rent out the back to a small Korean family...probably wouldn't even notice they were there.

4. I am reminded of a quote from Jeremy Clarkson on Top Gear. " gave me some idea what it would be like to try and park...the moon."

Don't get me wrong...while I have appreciated having wheels while my other car is incapacitated, this wasn't exactly what I had in mind. I'd rather have the one I had last year, while ESM's Buick was being worked on.

I am doing better every day. My persistent headache is beginning to wane. My sore neck and shoulders are slowly loosening up. Give me another week and I should be back to some semblance of normal. The nasty cold I caught in the hospital is also getting better with each passing day. Yes, you read that right...I caught a cold while in the hospital. Well, that's what happens when you hang out with sick people. Was kind of a case of adding insult to injury, literally.

I should also know what the Mazda's final fate will be tomorrow, but it isn't looking good for repairs at this moment. I'll post when I have more concrete info.

Sundown, Out.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Not the way to start your weekend

If you are making a list of some of the wrong ways to start your weekend, I have an entry for you.

Driving to work Friday morning, minding my own business. Then, WHAM! Glass is flying, metal is crunching, and I feel like I'm suddenly on the mechanical bull at the local cowboy bar. A car I barely saw coming hits the side of my car, throwing it sideways onto the median, hitting a street sign, and ending up back in my lane on the road. Bill Cosby describes that moment as, "First you say it, then you DO it!" Luckily, I didn't DO it, but I did say it!

Then as quickly as it happened, everything stopped moving and it got quiet again. It took me a few moments to fully realize what had just accident.........I've just been in a car accident!

I look around and realize that I'm not bleeding anywhere, that I appear to be mostly intact, minus my wits. My next thought was the other driver, so I went to check on her. She was also in about the same shape I was. Someone stopped and called 911. I somehow managed to call my ESM and tell her I'd been in an accident and where I was. Luckily she had not left for work yet and was only about two miles from where it happened.

Now, to be fair, this was certainly not my "first" accident, however it was very definitely the worst I've been in.

I was checked at the scene by EMS, however I still had a fair amount of adrenaline in my system and it took an hour or two before my injuries started to show up. I ended up going to the ER later in the day with a headache, neck and shoulder pain, and scariest of all for me, a profound sense of unsteadiness on my feet and I had to concentrate to get words together in the right order to say them. When I got to the ER and went through triage, they slapped a neck brace on me, refused to let me walk anymore and began carting me around in a wheelchair. After several hours of tests and laying in a hospital bed watching TV (and good pain meds), I was diagnosed with a form of whiplash, and possibly a mild concussion. No fractures, no other problems they could see at that time. I can't tell you how relieved I was.

So, now begins the process of working with insurance companies, adjusters and such in the little dance of "what happens to me and my car now". Claims are filed, information has been given, now I'm waiting to hear the verdict on my car. Thumbs up, or thumbs down...we'll just have to wait and see.

Overall, the accident could have been much worse. A small change in timing here, a small change in the location there, I would probably still be in that hospital bed even now. And someone else might also be there too. We were both very lucky that day.

If you'd like to see the accident photos I took, feel free to follow this link.

Sundown, Out.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Decisions, Decisions...

No one I've shown my new-to-me vending machine really likes the black color. And not too many are feeling the whole Pepsi vibe. Several people said, "Why not do something different than Coke or Pepsi? Something that hasn't been done so much." Those comments spurred me on a quest for a more suitable theme. So, after much thought and deliberation with my Everlasting SoulMate, a theme for the new vending machine has been selected.

Sing it with me y'all..."Only A&W's got that frosty mug taste!"

Yep, A&W Root Beer is the chosen brand. They never got into the vending machine thing, so this will be a one-of-a-kind unit. I think it will be cool to have a machine with a custom design that no one has ever seen before. Plus, I do love me some rooty-beer! *grin*

Here's a photo of what a fully restored machine can look like, in Pepsi colors.

I'm thinking the body of the machine will be a nice root beer brown, maybe even metal flake to make it look fizzy. The can door and surround will be white, like the photo above. And for the lighted front panel, I'll eschew the current A&W logo for an older one that would have been in use in the sixties, in keeping with the machine's era.

I'm also thinking about adding a large, vinyl logo of the A&W Root Bear to both sides, as I think he's very cute!

I'm already beginning to scour the Internet for the few parts and pieces it's missing. Hopefully I can come up with all I need to get started soon.

I also tried to join one of the larger online forums for soda vending machine owners (, but have been having some difficulty. The site does not allow for automated verification for joining, so a human must be involved on their side to "approve" my account. However, after a week I still don't have an account and I cannot get anyone to answer my subsequent emails about how my account has not been created. How rude! There is a phone number for someone on the site, but I'll only use that as a last-resort.

If I don't see y'all, have a good St. Patty's Day!

--Sundown, Out