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July 7 thru July 31st - Wandering Wisconsin

Rolling Hills of Western Illinois south of Galena on Rt. 20
Wow, July is almost over and I haven't written any new posts since the first week of July!  Here's what's been going on this month (at least what I can remember, I really should keep a daily log).  There hasn't been much traveling lately just lots of family stuff. 

We are still in the  Midwest because we are flying out of O'Hare on July 31st heading to Europe where we will be joining Marty's sister Linn, her husband Terry, and daughter, Krissy for a biking tour of Lithuania and Latvia. We needed a place to leave our rig and my cousin Jeff and his wife Lori were kind enough to let us camp out on their property in Brooklyn, Wisconsin for a few weeks and then are letting us keep the rig there while we're gone.  We are so blessed to have such wonderful cousins!

Queen of the perfectly toasted marshmallow
After the busy Fourth of July weekend we spent a quiet week with Sarah Beth and her scrapbook.  By the time she left on Saturday (7/12) most of the "ABC" pages were done - I will finish the last few and give it to her at her birthday party (Big #10) on the 26th.  She didn't want me to give it to her earlier because she wants to open it and she promises to act surprised - what a character this little girl is!

It wasn't all scrapbooking all week (although it sure felt like it).  We toasted marshmallows every night and one night we took a drive over to Chestnut Mountain and Marty, Sarah and I each took a ride on the Alpine Slide.  Marty decided it would be fun to attach a camera to his bike helmet and video tape us going down the slide.  Unfortunately, when he took his second trip down he asked for and got the "fastest" sled and wiped out.  He banged up his elbow and knee but no worries, the camera was uninjured.

Please, no pictures
Once Sarah left (7/12) we started getting ready to leave Blanding Landing.  This was supposed to be our temporary home until Pleasant Creek COE Park dried out (which it never did).  Our commitment  was from May 15 - July 15.   It was nice not paying campground fees for the two months we were waiting but it's even nicer to hit the road again.

We left our campground on Wednesday (7/16) and drove up to Jeff and Lori's house in Brooklyn, Wisconsin.   We will be here until Wednesday (7/30).

On Sunday (7/13) we found out that my Aunt Dee passed away and the wake would be on Thursday and funeral on Friday in Marion, IN.   We left the rig in Wisconsin and drove our truck to Illinois on Thursday morning and then drove with some of my sisters to Indiana.

I always have a good time with my sisters and even though we were on our way to a funeral, this car trip was no different.  The car I was in with Marty, Sue, and Judy stopped at Baker's Square for lunch.  When we walked in, I asked the host if it was "free pie Wednesday" - he said no "that was yesterday".  I told him I was from Australia and that it was Wednesday there and couldn't I get a free piece of pie?  He believed me for about a minute but I cannot tell a lie and told him I was just kidding.  Our server did give us one free piece of pie and we all had a good laugh about it.  I may have to try this again :).  Australia is actually a day ahead of us so next time we try it will have to be on a Tuesday.

Once we finally got to Marion, Indiana it was after 7:00 and the wake ended at 8:00 so we had to change our clothes in  a hurry and head over.  Luckily, the motel was right next door to the funeral home.  My Aunt Dee was 88 years old and had been in hospice care for over a year.  It's never easy to lose someone you love but she was ready to go and join my uncle.  She was alert until the end and her kids were all with her when she passed away.  We love spending time with our Indiana Hoos cousins but it would be nicer if it wasn't at funerals!

After the funeral lunch and family visiting time was over it was time to head back to Illinois.  But wait, there's a playground over there and Marty thinks it would be nice to take a "Sister" picture.

Me and my sisters:   Jeanne, Donna, Sue, and Judy
And then we got silly ----
A well-balanced family (mostly)

8 swingers
On our way home from Indiana we had a decision to make.  We had four tickets to the Billy Joel concert at Wrigley Field for that night.  We had hoped to sell them through StubHub but there were no takers.   We really weren't crazy about going but also didn't want them to go to waste.  After much discussion in the car we decided that Sue, Judy and I would go and that Marty could hang out at Sarah's apartment and chill until the concert was over and then he would pick us up and we would all drive back to Crystal Lake.  Sarah went to the concert with us so all four tickets were used.  This is not what I was expecting to do when I got up that morning.   We had a pretty good time although we were a little disappointed in the play list and the lack of energy from Billy Joel.
Sarah, Judy, Sue and Mary
My first trip to Wrigley since June, 2013

We ran into cousin Dave and his wife Beth

Sugar River Bicycle Trail - New Glarus, WI
Marty and I ended up spending the night at Sue's house Friday night and driving back to Wisconsin Saturday afternoon.  On Sunday, Sue came up with her bicycle and Marty, Sue and I went for a 20 mile bike ride.  We need (at least I do) to get in shape for our bike trip and I was very happy that I could ride that far in the heat and humidity.  It helped that there was an ice cream shop at the end of the trail.  Wisconsin has an incredible network of bike trails, you can almost ride across the whole state just on trails.   Wherever you are in the state you can usually find a nice trail to ride on.

When we got back home we had dinner with our Aunt Betty from Madison (Jeff's mom).  The best part of our travels has been catching up with family. 

My cousin, Jeff, had a heart transplant in April.  He is doing remarkably well and has been back at work for over a month.  It's truly amazing what modern medicine can do!

We helped him out a little by doing some yard work (did I mention he has five acres?).  We pruned a couple of the weeping willow trees and cleaned out all the weeds around the firepit.   Marty cut the grass on the riding lawnmower and, boy, is there a lot of grass!  It normally takes Jeff about seven hours on Saturday to get it done.  Marty did a few hours on Monday and again on Tuesday.
That's a lot of weeds!
Madison has six different AVA walks so on Monday morning we drove there and picked up a map for the 6k "Capital Walk". The walk started across the street from the capital building.  Our first stop was about four blocks away at Monona Terrace which overlooks Lake Monona.  There was a memorial there to Otis Redding - his plane crashed into the lake on 12/10/1967.  We didn't know that, did you?

Madison's capital area is on an isthmus between Lake Monona and Lake Mendota.  There are only 8 blocks between the lakes and as we continued our walk it took us along a path near Lake Mendota.   We also saw many fraternity and sorority houses for the University of Wisconsin - Go Badgers!

Lake Monona
Otis Redding Memorial

Madison Capital Building
We found a cool spot to hang out in
My brother Tom works in Madison so once we finished the walk we headed over to his company to pick him up to go to lunch.  We had an excellent lunch at a Mexican restaurant (complete with a pitcher of margarita's) and then drove him back to work.   Once Marty, Sue and I got back to the rig we were done for the day - the sun and the margarita's knocked us out.  

Sue left us on Monday night and drove back to Illinois but we like company so we invited Tom to come over for a cookout on Tuesday and to spend the night.  He lives about 75 miles from where he works and since we are only about 20 miles from his job it made sense for him to stay.  After dinner Jeff brought out some big boy toys - a compound bow and arrows and a pellet gun.  They all took turns with both and were outside until well after dark.

Tom left early Wednesday morning and we spent the day organizing, filing, and cleaning.  There is always a lot of all of the above to do so we also spent Thursday finishing up.  Marty was also processing photos on the computer and I finally finished Sarah's scrapbook which she'll get to see at the July Birthday party on Saturday.

On Friday morning we drove to Oregon (Wisconsin) and did some laundry.   Once that was done we headed over to Monticello and had lunch at the M&M Cafe (for obvious reasons).  The food was decent and Marty's cherry pie was homemade and very good. 

We drove back down to Illinois on Saturday morning (7/26) to spend the day (and night) at Judy and Don's house in Crystal Lake.  We celebrated birthdays for three of my nephews and Sarah Beth. Their birthdays range from July 21st thru September 12th but it's always been a tradition in our family to combine parties.  It makes things a whole lot easier!   All seven of my siblings were there and we even had three cousins there with their kids for a grand total of 55 people!

Birthday kids:  Adam, Zach, Sarah Beth, and Mark

Sarah and her "abc"scrapbook - does she look surprised?
"T" is for Tom - can you tell who's her favorite uncle?

All 8 siblings plus 3 cousins
We left Crystal Lake Sunday morning and Sue and Sarah Beth followed us back into Wisconsin.  They wanted to see Cave of the Mounds so we drove to Blue Mounds, WI to take the tour there before heading home to our rig.

This cave was discovered in 1939 on the property of Ebenezer Brigham during a routine quarry blast. 
During the tour we descended 70 feet into the cave and listened as our guide walked us through the different cavern areas.  The temperature in the cave is always 50 degrees which makes for a pleasant way to spend a hot July afternoon.  One of the highlights of the tour was when our guide turned off all the lights - it was completely black and a little freaky. 

Cave of the Mounds

Sue, Sarah and Mary
On our way home Sunday night

After the cave we drove to Mt. Horeb for a quick bite to eat at the "Grumpy Troll".  While there we saw that the 40 mile Military Ridge Bicycle Trail runs right through town.  This trail runs all the way from Dodgeville to Fitchburg which is way too many miles for us.  And we didn't have our bikes with us so we ended up going back on Monday for a bike ride on a small portion of the trail.  Jeff's oldest son, Seth, came with us and kept Sarah company.  They are both ten and lots of fun.

We ended up riding from Mt. Horeb to Blue Mounds which was about five miles away.  We stopped for lunch at Aunt Mary's Hooterville Inn and then headed back to Mt. Horeb.  It was an incredible day for a ride - temps in the 70's and low humidity.  Without kids we could have gone at least another 10 miles.  Both kids had 20" bikes which are not the best for keeping up with our 26" bikes.  They both did a pretty good job even with their little bikes. 

Last year Marty and I took Sarah for what turned out to be an 11 mile bike ride.  We made lots of stops and she handled it fine.  She begged us not to tell her grandma (Sue) because she didn't want her to know how far she could go.  What a difference a year makes, Sarah really enjoyed the ride and the only complaint she had this year was that the seat was too hard. 
Let's get this show on the road!
She sure was having fun
She'll follow me anywhere especially if there is food involved. 
Once we finished the ride we checked out some of the trolls in Mt. Horeb.   Here is some information I got off the Mt. Horeb website sharing the reason for so many trolls in their town.

 By the late 1800's this community was 75% Norweigian.  Trolls originated from early Scandinavian folklore. They are usually smaller beings, similar in size to dwarves or elves. Trolls tend to dwell in mounds or near the sea-in our case-”mounds” (nearby Blue Mounds)-and are known to have developed semi-magical powers such as prophecy and shape-shifting.

According to ancient Norwegian legend, trolls have long, crooked noses; only four fingers and toes; and a long, bushy tail. Trolls live to be hundreds of years old.

Most trolls are shaggy and look a bit frightening, but are mostly good-natured and naive. It is advised to maintain a good relationship with trolls as they are often known to be guarding treasures of gold or gemstones-in our case, they guard the friendly people and wonderful attractions of our community!

Our trolls are known to relax outside watering flowers, tending chickens, playing music or just plain ol’ hamming it up for your viewing pleasure.

An amazing wood carving of 3 trolls

Seth, Sarah, and "friend'


Well that's it for this edition of M&M R adVentures blog post.  Sorry it was so long and congratulations if you made it to the end.  I promise to try and do better in August. 

7/1 thru 7/6 - Over the River and through Dubuque . .

We had a wonderful Fourth of July holiday filled with family time.  We had lots of visitors because our Merkes Family reunion was in Dyersville, Iowa (just an hour west of us) on Sunday, July 6th. 

On Friday, July 4th, my nephew Eric, his wife Tina and their son Derek came to spend the weekend.  Tina makes the best carrot cupcakes and she brought us a dozen - YUM!!   They set up their tent right behind our rig and we all settled back in our lawn chairs to enjoy the fireworks from across the river in Bellevue Iowa. 

After the fireworks finale, Tina pulled out some sparklers.
Derek enjoying the sparklers!
Tina had as much fun as Derek

It was a very pleasant evening and very different from what we were used to in Chicago!  One person shot off an M-80 in the park and the rangers were out immediately to find out who did it and that was it for loud noises for the night - Maddie was very happy (me too). 

On Saturday we had more visitors - Sue, Sarah Beth, Matthew and his girlfriend Emily came to spend the night.  I made the mistake of asking 4 year old Derek what he wanted for dinner and so we had pasta and meatballs inside rather than cooking burgers on the grill.  Oh well, now we know we can feed 9 people inside the rig.  We did sit outside and toast marshmallows for dessert - life is good!

Our campground was filled due to the holiday and we had a very interesting neighbor - Hamilton, a pot-bellied pig.
Emily and Matt were quite amused by the pig
There wasn't a whole lot for kids to do at the campground - the playground was still underwater (although that didn't stop some kids).  Derek's favorite thing this weekend was going for "big" walks around the campground.  We can walk the whole thing in ten minutes so I'm not quite sure what a small walk would be.
Derek and I convinced  Sarah to give us a ride.
Derek and his daddy, Eric

On Sunday morning, after eating bacon (sorry, Hamilton) and pancakes for breakfast we drove west into Iowa and headed to the reunion.

Every five years the Merkes branch of my family meets in Dyersville, Iowa for a reunion. Back when it started in 1984 there were 600 +/- direct descendants of my great grand-parents Thomas and Catharina who had ten children.  Thirty years later we number in the thousands!  The reunion is always held on the Sunday closest to July 4th and even though the turnout was less than in previous years we still had a great time catching up with our Iowa and Wisconsin cousins.   My parents are gone as are many of my dad's first cousins.  The ones that are left are mostly in their 80's or older so this may have been the last reunion.
One small branch of our family
When we come to Dyersville we always make a stop at the "Field of Dreams".  It's a magical place and it's always fun walking in the corn and running the bases.  There are always a lot of people there, even more than usual this year (the 25th anniversary of the film).  It's amazing that so many people come to this baseball field in the middle of a cornfield - all because of a movie. 

Eric holding Derek, Tina, Sue, Sarah, Emily, Matt, Mary, Marty and Maddie
Children of the Corn - Oops, wrong movie :)  

We left Dyersville around 5:00 and headed back to Blanding Landing.  My sister Donna, her husband Rick and two of their kids, Sarah and Mark wanted to check out our campground so they stopped by on their way back home.  Sarah, who lived with us for almost two years when we were in Chicago had never seen our new home so "little" Sarah gave her the grand tour.  Once back outside Mark and "big" Sarah climbed the rig's ladder for a view from above.

5 little turtles sitting on a log. . .

Sue and Sarah taking pictures for the blog
Once they came off the roof (and photos were finished) we cooked hot dogs over the fire for a quick dinner.  Donna, Rick and their kids left around 7:00 and we were down to only two guests - Sue and Sarah Beth.  Sarah is actually spending the whole week with us for some quality scrapbooking time - hopefully we can get her "ABC" book finished.  Sue left Monday afternoon after we took a drive into Platteville to visit more family.   Sarah wants to tell that story, so here she is:

Hi Sarah here - in Platteville, Wisconsin we went to go visit my second cousin, twice removed - Tom.  He's my grandma's 2nd cousin.   We stopped at DQ (he owns it).   Then we talked for a while.  He introduced us to his daughters Katie and Debbie then we went to Country Kitchen (he owns that too) to meet his wife Renee and my favorite of his SEVEN daughters - Sarah Beth.
Tom showed us the houses that were destroyed by a tornado on June 16th.  Then he wanted to show us Payton's Hill but when we entered there was a little sign that we didn't see!  (no trespassing)  So we went down there and we saw a police car (and a bunch of broken trees) we pulled over and Officer Reg told us this road was closed and we could not be there.  Then he said he  could give us each, even me, a $205.00 citation.   I STARTED TO FREAK OUT!!!!!!!
but luckily he just gave a citation to uncle Marty.  GOOD NIGHT PEOPLE!!!!!!

Marty, Mary, Tom, Sue and Sarah Beth
Yes, Sarah is correct - we did get a ticket from a University of WI-Platteville police officer.  The gate was open, the sign was small and we wanted to see the hill where Walter Payton used to run.  I guess we just had another "lesson learned" - that would be #9.   We still had a great time catching up with a cousin who we haven't seen in many, many years. 

6/21 through 6/30/2014 -Pikes Peak or Bust

We've had an interesting two weeks since our last post.  We've had a few nice weather days sprinkled in among the very rainy/stormy days. 

I know that Pikes Peak is in Colorado and that we are in Iowa and no, we are not heading back west just yet.  Iowa has a beautiful state park called Pikes Peak and we visited it on Tuesday (6/24).  The weather was fantastic, not too hot and best of all - no gnats or rain!  We drove through the park and looked at the campsites and then parked our car and walked over to the overlook.

We took a hike on a couple of the trails.  The Bridal Veil trail goes downhill (on an easy wooden trail with steps) towards a waterfall.  From there we continued uphill and connected with the East Hickory Trail which took us up back to the parking lot and our truck.  It was soooooo nice to be out getting some exercise - and did I mention there were no gnats!!

Looking northwest over the Mississippi River into Prairie du Chien, WI
Pikes Peak State Park is a beautiful park and we would definitely consider staying there in the future.  Iowa does not charge a daily use fee (unlike Wisconsin and many other states) so their camping fees are very reasonable.
Hummingbird at Pikes Peak State Park

On our way to Pikes Peak we stopped in Luxembourg, IA.  This town is where the Merkes branch of my family started when they came over from Germany and I wanted to check out the local cemetery to see if I recognized any names.  It's a very small country cemetery with the Catholic Church, Holy Trinity, about a block away.  We turned in onto a small dirt lane and parked the car.  We walked through the whole cemetery in about 20 minutes and saw many familiar names. 
My great-grandparents - Thomas Merkes and Catherine Heiderscheit

This headstone is for my dad's first cousin (Helen).  This is the most informative headstone I've ever seen.  It will be very helpful for future genealogists.   I wish we had seen this earlier, it would be great to have all this information on my parent's headstone. 

When we left Pikes Peak State Park we drove north on 52 and wouldn't you know it there was a small riverboat casino.  Marty suggested we stop for a half-hour and try our luck.  I know some people probably don't believe that it was Marty who wanted to stop but it really was.  Lady Luck didn't favor us that day but it was fun and we didn't lose much and it was nice and cool inside - I call that a win.
Another place we've visited recently is Chestnut Mountain Ski Resort.  It's about 6 miles from our
campground and during the off season you can ride the Alpine Slide 2050' down to the banks of the Mississippi and the ski lift returns you to the top.  We haven't tried it yet, we're waiting for visitors to come with us.
View from the top of Chestnut Mountain
Marty goofing around
Since we've been at Blandings Landing for six weeks we occasionally have to move the rig to the dump station and then position it back on the grass at a new site.  We change sites because they cut the grass here every Monday and if we're in one spot too long the grass gets very high under the rig.  The above picture shows you why I get nervous every time we do this.  The rig tilts to the right as Marty drives it off the road and into position.  We haven't broken anything - yet.

On Satuday (6/28) we drove into Elgin for our brother-in-law Jim's retirement "fiesta" party.  It's always nice to see family and this time we saw 6 out of my 7 siblings (sorry Judy, we'll catch you next time). 
What's a fiesta without a pinata?
Waiting for their turn

You're supposed to put your candy in the box not wear it on your head!
I'm writing this on Tuesday (July 1st) and we've had some crazy weather the past few days!  On Sunday night around 10:30  the weather app on my phone alerted us to a tornado warning.  Five minutes later our camp host, Charlotte, was driving thru the campground beeping her horn to warn everyone.  We all met up at the park office which is a concrete building with concrete roof and about 15'x15'.  There were probably about 15-20 people milling around, inside and outside.   We had lots of lightning and thunder and rain but no tornadoes and around 11:00 we all went back to our trailers. 
Tornado, what tornado?  

The wind knocked down this tree near us and another one in the back of the park
On Monday (6/30) we drove into Dubuque to do some laundry and pick up a few grocery items.  When we came out of the store the skies were getting dark and we hurried home to put everything away before the rain came.   And boy did the rain come!  And the winds!  Our power was out from 5:00 Monday night until 12:00 noon on Tuesday.  The river is now closer to us than ever (about 75 feet away).  If it comes any closer we will need to move the rig to a new site here or maybe it's just time to move somewhere else.    I am so glad that the storms have left the area - we definitely do not need any more rain!
This swing set is about 75 feet behind our rig

It's a beautiful day out today and the park crew has done a great job of clearing out the downed trees and branches.  Hopefully the river recedes enough that the families camping this 4th of July weekend can enjoy the playground. 
Lizzie, about 12-13 years ago - so cute!