|The last time we did "spontaneous"|
As a rule, we don't do spontaneous very well these days. Just ask my wife. If you ask her how many times she has suggested I ditch whatever plans I have cooking for the day and the two of us jump in the car and drive up to Superior, she'll tell you simply, 'Too many.' I think the last time Linda and I did something spur-of -the-moment was last summer early on during my sabbatical (and that day was memorable in so many ways). So, on the day after Easter, when I woke up and the sun was shining and the air was warmish and most of the family was off of school or work, I suggested we do just that: get in the car and go somewhere. But then boundaries were quickly drawn: Ed couldn't go as he had track practice and Emma had to be back in town for dance lessons by 5:30 p.m. Seeing we all had slept in a bit after a very full weekend and my plan began to gestate only around 9 o'clock that morning, that meant that wherever we were heading it had to be on a relatively short tether. That ruled out Superior (2 hours up, 2 hours back leaving approximately only 2 hours to do anything seemed like a trip only for the very rich). Places like Ladysmith, Spooner and Eau Claire I crossed off, too, simply because there promised too little variety or too much familiarity. I googled Crystal Cave in Pierce County but they were closed. Then I thought a driving tour in and around Pierce County with little interesting stops at El Paso (home of El Paso Days in August) and Elmwood (the UFO capital of Wisconsin) but once again we would be in the car a good part of our afternoon and given our deadline this didn't seem like the best use of our time. In the end, we settled on Menomonie as our destination and after stopping at the bank for some cash and Kwik Trip for fuel (and good thing we gassed up in the morning for by the time we returned home the price of gas had already gone up a nickel), we (that is, Charlie, Emma, Linda and I) were headed southwest on County I by about 10:40ish.
|The Grain Bin & Market on FF|
|The Big Red Jelly Beans|
|Exclusively from Ms ellaneous|
When we were coming into Menomonie I asked Linda to hit points-of-interests/restaurants into her GPS informing everyone that for one day only, fast food was out (despite the gravitational pull Culver's has on me). Linda began rattling off the names of several restaurants. We decided on “The Silver Dollar Saloon and Brick Company” on Main Street just a block away from Lake Menomin. But given it was just 11:30 or so, we opted to pop into a few stores first including Bad Cat Bicycles (there were some pretty awesome Trek bikes within on display), the Chamber of Commerce to pick up a free brochure and map of Menomonie and Ms ellaneous, some kind of girl-ee shop with clothes for both the petite and the more mature woman. Linda almost came out of the place with a new pair of shoes (they were on clearance) but thought better of it. I had her pose with one of the t-shirts they sold – Bad Girls of Menomonie – but at $22 it seemed a little steep for a shirt she would wear only for fun or as the mood suited her.
|The Silver Dollar Saloon & Brickyard|
I don't know what the history of The Silver Dollar is but it looks like you would imagine it – an old time saloon right off some Hollywood Western set with standard lunch and dinner fare. (Sorry, Cassandra, but I don't think they serve Vegans here). We ordered our drinks (lemonade for Emma, cherry Coke for Linda and two root beers for Charlie and I) and took a glance at the menu. Charlie, as usual, went with a cheeseburger and fries, Emma got the french dip, Linda got a chicken wrap (that was huge) and I settled for the “Brickyard” - a half pound worth of meat covered in Swiss cheese and mushrooms. To me, half the secret of a good burger is the bun it's served upon. Most of what we garner in fast food establishments is served up on a defrosted bun. But at the Silver Dollar we were served our fare on fresh rolls. Mmm. Simply delish.
|Jewelry from Scrabble pieces. Who knew?|
After lunch, we decided to stroll down the street and pop into the various little shops on Main. La Dee Dah is a cute place for interesting items like rings made from small forks, bracelets made from scrabble pieces and pins from bottle caps. The most interesting thing to me about Flowers on Main was the little dog who came to greet you and the bird who liked his head scratched. Of course, we complied.
|Scratching the bird's head|
If you travel to Menomonie a must-see stop is the historic Mabel Tainter Theater. It is one of the featured landmarks of the downtown area and free to the public. While I was taking pictures, Emma called to be careful about something as she entered the building. Honestly, I wasn't really paying attention and simply said, 'Okay' to whatever she had said. When I went to join them, I paid for my inattention as a wasp was sunning himself on the door handle and promptly stung me for interrupting his siesta.
|Mabel Tainter Theater|
According to the brochure that is available for your free self-guided tour, Mabel was the daughter of Andrew & Bertha Tainter who died at the age of 19 presumably of an appendicitis. Her parents spared no expense in erecting this memorial in her honor:
The building is made of Dunnville sandstone and reinforced with Menomonie red
brick. The sandstone was shipped to Downsville by rail and brought to Menomonie
by barge on The Red Cedar River. Hundreds of stone masons, many of them
Scotsmen, split the six to seven ton blocks entirely by hand. The memorial was
estimated to cost $60,000 to complete. But by the end of its construction, the price
had increased to $125,00, the equivalent of $6.5 million today.
Back in the early 1990s, I belonged to the Northern Lights Chorus, a barbershop choir, hailing from Colfax and had the honor to perform once on the very stage that presently is set for the musical version of Robert Fulghum's All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten. The theater has been wonderfully kept and is still very active today.
|Practicing the balcony scene from Romeo & Juliet|
|Emma's salute to Tangled|
Following our tour, we crossed the street and began our slow meandering walk back to the van making stops at the Folk Art Emporium, where a woman proudly referring to herself as a spinster demonstrated the spinning of wool for us, - (I never knew until this moment that “spinster” is a word from the Middle Ages and women got this title because they were unmarried or widowed and had the time to spin wool [whereas a married woman who had to keep house, feed the critters and serve up meals would have zero time whatsoever for anything else]) – and Bookends on Main, a book store selling new and used books. I tried vainly to get Emma to pose with a copy of Seth Grahame-Smith's Pride and Prejudice and Zombies but that was request was dead on arrival. Looking at the cover she failed to see the mirth in parody and simply said, “That is disgusting.” That our family friend Kale found it hilarious only seemed to lower her opinion of his literary tastes. Ah, well...
|And this isn't funny?|
|What's not funny about this?|
At lunch, while waiting for our meal to arrive, we thumbed our way through Menomonie 2011 Official Destination & Living Guide of the Greater Menomonie Area and found a coupon for the Eau Galle Cheese Factory located about 15 miles south of Menomonie. We had decided then that this was our next destination and following our little walking tour of Main Street Menomonie we got in the van, returned to Hwy 25 and proceeded south again. About a few miles down the road a green mileage sign informed us that we would travel through Downsville and immediately I suggested we stop at the sign to pose for a group shot. Linda failed to see the humor in that idea so when we pulled up to the water tower just outside of Downsville, she almost refused to get out of the van. But I persuaded her to at least take the picture of Emma, Charlie and I looking as down as we could. Only later did I learn that Downsville actually boasts Dunn County Pottery, Bullfrog Fish Farm, the Downsville Coffee House, Discover Downsville Days (another August festival) and the Empire in Pine Museum. Highway 25 follows the general course of the Red Cedar River and passes through farmland with a few good views of Nine Mile Island State Natural Area on the east side of the river.
|Eau Galle Cheese Factory|
The Eau Galle Cheese Factory, located on Hwy 25 just north of Durand, not only makes their own cheese but sells all kinds of wares from T-shirts to fresh ice cream to Dept. 56 Village Houses and accessories. For the first 23 Christmases we were married we bought one or two additions to our Dickens Village collection every year until last one. The inn is simply full. Most of the items were 50-70% off, too, which made it slightly tempting to purchase another piece. But $35 is a lot to pay for a nicknack that may not even make it out of the box. We enjoyed samples of fresh cheese and settled on a few different varieties as well as a bag of cheese curds. We each grabbed a cone and sat outside in their patio chairs enjoying the beautiful afternoon sun.
Heading north again on Hwy 25, I suggested we stop at a park we had passed a few miles outside of Durand. The Caddie Woodlawn Park is located about nine miles south of Menomonie and is free to the public. The Dunn County Historical Society has a nice little page about Caddie's park which may be found here:http://www.discover-net.net/~dchs/sitecw.html We strolled around the grounds and decided that this would be a great place to come back to for a picnic sometime. Her house is kept open and it looks like there is an attempt to restore it even though it looks it fairly good shape. I remember hearing about Caddie Woodlawn in elementary school but like the Little House on the Prairie books it seemed like a story for girls.
The afternoon was passing by and we still had one last stop to make before heading home. One of Linda's absolute favorite coffee places is Caribou Coffee and every time we pass through Menomonie a must stop is the little shop there located in a strip mall just on the north side of I-94 as you're heading out of town. We placed our order (Linda: the Camp Fire; Emma: Chai Tea; Charlie: Hot Chocolate; me: Banana-Strawberry Smoothie) and sat by the faux fire place in the nice leather seats. Due to the time, we had to take our drinks to go and thus our little excursion on a Easter Monday afternoon came to a close. We came home with cash in our pocket that was designated to return to our small savings account but some school activity quickly claimed that.(for Shel Silverstein fans, “Ching back the Brange” indeed.) Still, it was a wonderful six hours and a good reminder that great adventures do not all need to be found on the far side of the world.