Monday, July 31, 2006

Cruise Envy

Since we didn't choose to drive 300 miles searching for "the perfect campsite" this weekend, we took some time to sit down and really think about where we would like to take our next vacation. In the past couple of years, every trip has been "the last big, blowout trip before Grace." I think we're on our fifth "big, blowout trip" at this point, but who's counting. The brainstorming for this latest trip led us initially to exotic destinations like Prague, Amsterdam and Paris. (Paris isn't really so exotic, I suppose, but the one time I was there, I remember thinking that seeing boobs on billboards seemed exotic enough, so I guess it still counts.) After a few hundred hours of consultation on the web, we discovered that post-Christmas Europe is, apparently, cold and damp. Our dreams of sidewalk cafes and whatever they have in Prague were instantly dashed, and we decided to look elsewhere.

Our parents recently returned from a cruise which they quite enjoyed. My mother rode a jet ski. For those of you who may know my mom, this should conjure images of Mother Theresa riding a mechanical bull -- except that Mother Theresa probably outweighed my mom (and may still.) In any case, we also heard tales of members of Erin's family leading line dances on the ship. I can't really imagine anyone in my family doing that without the aid of an overdose of some sort. While we realize the video is dark, here are some of Erin's relatives gettin' jiggy wit it.

All in all, it sounded like everyone had a good time, so Erin and I started thinking about a cruise. We initially thought about a river cruise in Europe, that is until we read that these cruises are enjoyed "primarily by those over 55." I suggested to Erin's parents that I "didn't want to take a cruise chock full of old people" and spent the next half hour getting the fork out of my forehead. Apparently my mother-in-law doesn't think 55 is old any more. Anyway, the image of me in a smoking jacket sitting next to a German version of Don Knotts at dinner doesn't seem all that appealing, so we tossed this idea. Erin spent roughly 3 solid days exhausting the options, and in the end, we decided on a cruise out of Miami into the Eastern Carribbean. It'll give us a few days to see south Florida (Erin wants to see alligators in the Everglades; I want to see if the Shoney's breakfast buffet looks the same as it does most everyplace else); in addition, Miami costs a whole lot less than our previous potential iteneraries. The only problem is that now I have to start losing weight again to give myself a little room to grow on the cruise. I've requested a room with its own soft-serve machine.

Monday, July 24, 2006

More Indiana Trek

Another weekend, another long drive for the Hawkins family. Yet again this weekend, we set out exploring various campsites for Erin's big camping trip in a couple of weeks. By the time it's all said and done, we'll have checked out more campgrounds than Lewis & Clark. On Saturday, me and Sacaja-wifey headed down to the Indian-Celina Lake Recreation Area in the Hoosier National Forest. We had hiked around Indian Lake on the Two Lakes Loop back when Erin received a grant to hike all over the state. Our sole memory of this experience was that it was really hot and extremely bug ridden. I just remember hiking along continually swatting insects away from my face. Given this exquisite memory, I was oh so excited to return to the lakes.

Prior to our arrival at the recreation area, we decided to do some canoeing on the Blue River courtesy of Cave Country Canoes. Erin plans to begin her big camping trip with a float down the Blue, so since we were in the neighborhood, we decided to give it a whirl. It's kind of hard to see on this map, but we took the half day trip on the upper portion of the river, just north of the outfitter's Milltown base. We had a great time, and the weather, which had rained on us all the way from home down to the southern end of the state, ended up being perfect while we were on the river. We were successful in keeping the canoe upright during the whole trip, but we did hit one set of rapids that left me soaked. All in all, we had a very nice trip, and I'd highly recommend the experience to anyone looking for a canoe trip in southern Indiana. Not only is the scenery on the river itself beautiful, but watching our fellow canoers chasing wild turkeys along the shore, smashing beer cans on their foreheads, and wearing bathing suits that MIGHT have fit back when Dukes of Hazzard was on the air made it all that much more fun.

After our canoeing experience, we drove on down to the recreation area to look for camp sites. This has turned into a very stressful endeavor for Erin. Originally she had planned on having the trip at Land Between the Lakes, and its combination of scenery, the lakes, hiking, and relative remoteness made it ideal for her trip. The only problem was getting chaperones to commit to being six hours away from home for the week. So the solution was to move the trip to Indiana, and recruit yours truly for at least one night of chaperoning. It didn't seem like it would be hard to find a patch of Deliverance country in Indiana on which to camp, hike, and swim in a lake. But it has turned out to be difficult to find all those things along with a somewhat secluded camp site. In any case, she found the perfect campsite near Celina Lake on Saturday, only to find that it was already reserved for the dates she needed. Just as the weeping and gnashing of teeth set in, I suggested we head south a few miles to Tipsaw Lake. As we approached the turn for Tipsaw, we noticed that the road sign for the lake pointed to the right. To the left, it pointed to the Branchvillle Correctional Facility. Maybe Erin can offer a craft session on making a shiv. While not quite as ideal as the sites she found on Celina, the sites we saw at Tipsaw could do the job. In the end, I think Tipsaw will be the winner, but there's at least one more weekend of driving available between now and then, so we'll see what happens.

After leaving Tipsaw Lake, we headed up the middle of the state to have a look at Patoka Lake. Neither of us had ever been to Patoka, and while Erin had already checked out the potential camping availabilities and decided they probably wouldn't work, we figured since we were in the general vicinity... Patoka is big, remote, and from what we saw on Saturday, covered with boats and jet skiiers. Erin has a fixation on eventually owning a lake house, and Patoka would be a candidate, but it's a long drive from Indy. We'll see... I have enough trouble maintaining our main house.

From Patoka, we headed for home via French Lick. I was interested to drive through French Lick to see the renovations being done to both the French Lick Springs Resort and West Baden Springs Hotel. If you've never been to these two hotels, you really should stop in if you're ever in southern Indiana. The West Baden Springs looks like something that belongs on a mountain top in Europe, and it originally was referred to as the Eighth Wonder of the World. Currently both resorts are being restored, and an adjacent casino is being built. I was surprised by the amount of work being done, especially on the French Lick Springs. All the streets around the hotel are torn up, and it looked like every window in the place was out. The new casino sits right out in front and to the side of the original hotel, and it looks relatively huge as well. Here's a link to pictures of the restoration, and here's another link to a webcam of the restoration site. It'll be exciting to check this place out in a couple of years, since my whole life, the area surrounding these two rather amazing structures has looked like a study in decay. I was sad to note that my favorite liquor store in Indiana -- French Liquors -- had apparently closed. Au revoir, French Liquors.

Following French Lick and dinner in Bedford (yes, we were THAT hungry), we headed for home. Here's a map of our route.

We broke the 300 mile mark for yet another weekend. I've gotta get me a hybrid if we're going to keep this up. I love my Hyundai, but it chugs gas like a '76 Grenada. Hopefully we're done with the cross state treks for a while, although I do have to say that I've enjoyed seeing some parts of the state that I haven't seen previously.

The trip was the big part of our weekend, but on Friday night we made another trip to Rustic Gardens with some friends from church. Yours truly won this round, beating his charming wife by many a stroke. Our friends found the place as bizarre as we did, but I think everyone had a good time. Mini golf was preceded by dinner at the Fountain Diner, one of our favorite little hangouts in Indy. We had our wedding rehearsal dinner at the Action Duckpin Bowling alley upstairs, so it's always sentimental to go back down there.

On Sunday, our parents all returned from their cruise in the western Carribbean. We were glad to have everyone back, and Erin's parents didn't seem to mind that we slept at their place and ate the majority of their food. It sounds like they had a great trip, and Erin's aunt and uncle got me a T-shirt which begs, "Where the hell is Belize?" You gotta love that.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

AC Update

For anyone who reads this that actually cares about the well being of myself and my lovely wife, the repairman was able to fix our air conditioner on the spot yesterday. It's back to finding excuses for why I smell so bad. Here's the rundown:

(All prices approximate.)

He unplugged a part and plugged a new one in -- $200.
(He did have to remove two screws first.)

He used my garden hose to clean off the coils -- $70.
("I realize this here unit sits in the grass up against your dryer vent, but you need to keep it free of grass and dryer lint." Thanks.)

He added a pound of refrigerant -- $100.

While almost $400 for a half hour of work does hurt, it does include a furnace cleaning this winter, and I really expected that it would end up costing more. And while I wasn't happy about spending ANY money on a four year old heating/cooling system (which has already chewed up one blower motor), the guy was on time, very nice, generally very helpful, and he didn't expose us to any unseemly body parts or odors. Broad Ripple Heating and Air Conditioning gets my vote.

Oh, and we washed all the sheets, towels, carpets, toilets, counter tops, and floors over at the inlaws house where we were camping. We also replaced their supply of Special K. I did eat a Klondike bar which had, at some point in its past, melted and refrozen and developed a nice culture of freezer burn, but since my inlaws probably "don't eat that crap" anyway, I'm not replacing it.

It sure is nice to be home.

Monday, July 17, 2006


It's hot here. I'm not talking, "Oh, it's summer and it's a little toasty." I'm talking wet the minute you leave the house, sheets sticking to you like saran wrap, shorts stuck to thighs where they shant be, Africa hot. You don't believe me? Well here's the weather for this week in lovely Brownsburg, Indiana according to my good friends at Yahoo and the Weather Channel.

Now here's the weather for another part of the world.

Notice the location? Ndjamena, Chad, AFRICA. Now I have no freaking clue where Ndjamena is, but I do know one thing -- THE WEATHER IS JUST LIKE CENTRAL INDIANA. But more on the heat later.

This weekend we trekked down to Bedford to see the vast majority of my family. It was my grandfather's birthday and all my aunts, uncles, cousins, and kin had come in from exotic locales like Alabama. As always, it was great to see everyone. I marveled at how fast my cousin's son is growing and how good everyone looked, and in return, they marveled at the fact that I can write an entire blog about overeating and vommiting at various points in my life. I contend that these pages haven't merely covered those events, but upon inspection of the archives, it does appear that I've managed to cover what I eat and where I later deposit it pretty thouroughly here. I've scolded my content editor appropriately.

We enjoyed a quick hike through the village and Donaldson Cave in Spring Mill State Park with my family from Alabama. The pioneer village in Spring Mill is really fascinating. Apparently in the mid to late 1800's, old ladies with granny glasses sat in long dresses made of burlap making quilts -- even when it's 95 degrees out. Methinks the original settlers of that village might have found it amusing that their reenacting brethren don't have the good sense to not wear so much clothing when it gets hot out, but perhaps they did as well. Erin found it amusing that on the way into the village there are signs with friendly reminders like, "Absolutely no pets" and "No playing of games." (I'm not kidding. And they aren't there for historical import -- they've been placed there by the state. Somehow I'm thinking they must have placed that second one outside of Mackey Arena up in West Lafayette at some point in the past couple of years as well, based on the Boilers last few seasons of basketball.) The other curiousity was that despite all the seeming attention to historical detail, the first pioneer building you pass as you enter the village is a pioneer refreshment stand selling such 19th century staples as fried pork tenderloins, french fries, Klondike bars, and Pepsi. Those settlers sure did love their Pepsi.

Following our visit to Bedford, we returned home to Brownsburg on Saturday evening at midnight to a mild shock. As we entered our lovely Chateau de Vinyl Siding, we discovered that it was very hot. In fact, it was sort of like walking into a blast furnace. Erin quickly scolded me for turning off the air conditioning when we were just going to be gone for the day, but I quickly retorted that I had done no such thing. A quick check of the thermostat showed that it was 96 in our living room, and the air was blowing full tilt -- hot air. Upon resetting every switch and fuse I could find associated with our cooling system, I came to the conclusion that our air conditioning is officially out. We tried opening windows, but cooling a 96 degree house when it's still 85 degrees outside with no breeze doesn't work too well. Luckily Erin's parents live close by AND are on a cruise with my parents (I bet THEY didn't get to see a pioneer village Saturday) so we shuttered our house and headed for theirs. These past couple of days we've had a lovely time eating their food, sleeping in their bed, and fouling their toilets. Don't worry Deb, we'll leave the place looking like the cleanest truck stop in America before you return.

To escape the boredom of my inlaws empty house and the still sweltering heat of my own home Sunday, we decided to take a trip out to the eastern portion of the state to scout camping sites for a camping trip Erin is taking with some students in a couple of weeks. Here's the route of our journey.

It was a whole lot of driving to determine that there are no camping sites in the east-central part of the state which meet all the necessary criteria. And to make matters worse, Erin made me stop at Subway to eat lunch rather than finding a nice local establishment someplace that served dishes that were the results of "playin' with the frier." Damn that Jared for losing all that weight via Subway. If he hadn't, we'd all still be eating at McDonalds, wiping grease and "special sauce" off our chins, and forgetting about how many grams of fat we were ingesting. Oh well...

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Shakamak Scenery

This past Sunday, Erin and I took a hike out to Shakamak State Park, just outside of Jasonville, Indiana. There's not much in Jasonville besides the park, although they do have the market cornered on the "privately owned restaurant which used to be a franchise restaurant (usually Dairy Queen or Hardees) until the fire." I love these places. People buy them, tape their own product names over the Dairy Queen names on the drive-up menu screen, and off they go. I had a lovely Blizzard, er, Shiver at one of these fine establishments. Anway....

I wanted to take Erin to Shakamak to see the site of my infamous "pukey boy at camp" episode. When we arrived at the park, we immediately headed to the group campground. It looked exactly as I remembered it, and I was able to show Erin the cabin where my hot dogs escaped to the solace of my bedside. She noted that the campground was pretty ratty, which made me feel better. Apparently my experience there wasn't colored solely by the experiences of that fateful first night.

Since we were there, we went ahead and hiked around Lake Shakamak. One of the things I remembered about the lake was the presence of this massive diving tower. As a camper, we weren't allowed anywhere near the thing, but I can remember watching other kids jump off it from our campground. I wasn't completely surprised to find that the tower has since been dismantled. I suspect the local personal injury attorneys had permanently reserved spaces in the campground at Shakamak during the tower's tenure. I found a website where a guy is lobbying to have the tower put back. Good luck with that.

The hike was pretty non-eventful, but there were tons of bugs and snake holes. A few weeks ago at Turkey Run we encountered a small snake, and I don't think Erin has ever fully recovered. She spent a fair amount of time jumping around the holes, as though her four inch vertical leap would save her from the impending jaws of a Shakamak boa. We didn't see any actual snakes this time around though, so perhaps her yelling at them to "stay away" actually worked.

The other landmark we went through on the way to and from the park was Clay City, Indiana. Erin and my inlaws have been dying to go to Clay City ever since they moved to Indiana, primarly due to it's self-proclaimed billing as "Mayberry of the Midwest." We have relatives that live in Clay City and are lovely people, so I will tread lightly. But calling Clay City the "Mayberry of the Midwest" might be a little bit like calling a rusted out 1973 AMC Gremlin the "Mercedes of the Sub-Compact World." I think we pretty safely covered all there was to see at 45 miles per hour.

This weekend we'll be visiting some relatives and enjoying the splendor of Spring Mill State Park and Bedford, Indiana -- "Not Quite Mayberry, But Still Featuring A Drunk Called 'Otis.'" I've called and requested that all the snakes be cleared from the premises of the state park.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006


Saturday we took in this year's Taste of Chicago. We decided to take a lightening fast trip to Chicago with my inlaws to see what all the fuss about Taste is about. I will say, in brief, that Taste of Chicago could more appropriately be renamed Smell of the Denizens of Chicago, given that you're smashed into Grant Park with approximately 2 million citizens of Cook County. The food was tasty, although I think we all found it a little hard to enjoy whatever "food on a stick" you might be eating at any given time when you really don't have anywhere to sit, and you really don't have anything to drink most of the time either. I realize that you could probably hunt these necessities down, but that would require you to exit the giant "people coccoon" you're encassed in as you walk from booth to booth.

All in all, I would say that we were all glad we gave this experience a go, but none of us need to do it every year. Plus, with all of the holiday eating this weekend, my wife informed me that I had slipped back to a previously abandoned hole in my belt. That's so defeating.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Rustic Gardens

This weekend proved to be yet another busy weekend in the Hawkins household, and Saturday evening provided Erin with one of her more memorable experiences as a Hoosier. The evening started off nicely with dinner with my grandparents at our local Uno Chicago Grill. We've been to this place a few times over the past couple of months, and every time we've had surprisingly good food. The time with my grandparents was great, as always, and we enjoyed getting to catch up with them. After dinner, we decided that rather than head home to bed or go to the gym or eat something healthy, we would extend our evening with a little competition at Rustic Gardens.

Now Rustic Gardens really has to be seen to be believed, but I'll do what I can here. (I searched high and low for a website for this place, but I'm somehow guessing that the owners aren't too interested in the Internet. There was a sign by the cash register announcing that any website having anything to do with Rustic Gardens was not run by Rustic Gardens... It was a friendly sign with a "We don't take no out of state checks" kind of demeanor...) First off, let it be known that I was not Erin's only source of information on Rustic Gardens. Some of her students had gone there with the mini golf club at her school and agreed that it was an interesting outing. Plus Erin and I are always up for a little friendly marital competition, even if we do run the risk of Erin getting us kicked out with her potty mouth.

Back to my description. First off, the course has been a staple in Indianapolis since the 1930's, and you're greeted at the end of the gravel driveway by a boarded up log cabin. There's really no information about it, it's just a graffiti-covered log cabin with a sign saying something like "Est. 1824" on the front. Down the gravel drive are two more log structures, one housing the pro shop (I use this term very loosely...all it houses is a cash register and a stock of 50 year old putting devices), the other serves as an outhouse. Now Rustic Gardens isn't just your average miniature golf place. Each hole ranges probably 10 to 30 yards long on normal lawn grass, and the area around the cup, normally referred to in golf circles as "the green" is a sort of cement and sand combination. Nothing green about it. You might be thinking, "Oh, this sounds like a chip and putt kind of place." Au contraire. That would be accurate if they gave you anything but a putter, but they don't. Therefore you tee the ball up (no joke) and hit it full steam with a putter. Amidst the grass and concrete are various concrete structures, most of which are in such disrepair that they have been garnered unrecognizable, but they serve as obstacles none the less. One of Erin's favorite holes (pictured here on someone else's blog who I do not know, but I found it on Yahoo so I can link to it, right? Thank you to whoever the goofy looking guy in the photo is... At least they were smart enough to carry a camera along...) Anyway, one of Erin's favorite holes featured merely a dirt ramp that dropped over the edge onto the concrete surface. All of this wackiness makes for an interesting evening of competition.

Another facet of the experience which I can't neglect to mention is my fellow citizens of Indianapolis who flock to this place in packs. The people watching is supreme. The entire time you're playing, you have to be on the lookout for people teeing up and sending the ball sailing over (or into) your head. I'm relatively sure you could invent a new game where you try to catch the ball in your mullett, as it seemed to be a required hairstyle for the evening. (Here are some mullett pics for the uninitiated.) In any case, the experience also reminded us of some of the horrors of having a daughter in the future. For example, young ladies, if the pockets on your cutoffs extend below where you cut them off, they might be too short. Same rule if you have to tuck your underwear under the leg of your cutoffs. Too short. It humored me that we saw one couple with a young lady in just the type of shorts I'm describing, while her charming beau had "shorts" that he held onto the whole round with one hand to keep them from falling off, while his boxers continued covering the rest of his backside. Gentlemen, if you can do a sit-down job in the bathroom without unbuckling your belt, we have a problem.

Anyway, the evening was an interesting one, and it was only capped off when on the last couple of holes I spied chickens running lose around the course (keep in mind that this is all within Indianapolis city limits.) The guy managing the cash register was handing out bags of chicken feed to kids, so apparently this is normal at Rustic Gardens. In the end, Erin and I ended up tied, which was a good thing. Otherwise Erin might have said a swear and hit a chicken with her putter.

Following the mini golf, we went downtown for a dessert of chocolate fondue. For me, fondue is still too much effort. If I want a banana covered in chocolate, why do I need to put it on the end of a spear and subject it to flaming hot chocolate before poking myself in the face with the spear and depositing the searing hot chocolate on my chin? It all seems like too much work...but Erin likes it, so it's all good with me.