Sunday, July 31, 2011

Look to the Cross

Rudy, our host at the CCS office in Ayacucho, Peru, where I volunteered in 2009, explained that many cities in Peru (perhaps throughout South America and even the world for all I know) will have a cross placed on a hill high above the city. Being a predominantly Catholic nation, people in Peru will look to the cross for strength and support.

Isn’t that something that everyone should get into the habit of doing? Whether you have a cross above your city, one hanging on the wall in your house or only the vision of a cross you carry in your head and your heart, look to the cross and remember what it means.

It means that our loving Father in heaven sent His Son to die on that cross so that we don’t have to. No matter what we are facing today, turn towards the cross and turn towards our Savior.

As for me, may I never boast about anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. Because of that cross, my interest in this world has been crucified, and the world’s interest in me has also died. Galatians 6:14 New Living Translation (NLT)

From the city plaza in Ayacucho, you can see the cross high on a hill.

One day, we took a ride into the Andes Mountains. Can you see the cross
in the lower left side of the picture? Don't know which town this was.

Friday, July 29, 2011

The Street Children

Tuesday morning of my stay in Ayacucho the placement where we worked was called the street children. Not the most appropriate name, I thought, but that’s what CCS called it and I couldn’t come up with anything better.

Adjacent to one of the city’s huge farmers’ markets, there is a simple building set up as a sort of drop-off center for kids whose parents are working in the market. The boys and girls go to work in the morning with their parents, work at their stall for a while, and then when they need a break, they walk over to the center to hang out, play with other kids or work on their homework. A lot of the schools were on break due to the Semana Santa (Easter) celebrations, so there were more kids at the center than usual.

Tina, Meg, Gayle and I brought out a deck of Uno cards and played game after game with the youngsters. It helped us all learn our numbers and colors, I’ll tell you that. We also drew pictures with them and they would point to the pictures and tell us the name in Spanish.

Tina and Angelina playing Uno with the kids. It helped us a lot with our Spanish.

Just as we were leaving for the morning, two little girls, ages six and seven, came walking in. They were so adorable, just beautiful lambs and so friendly and happy. They hugged us foreigners as if we were all old friends. When we left the center, we walked through the market place to see what it was like and ran into the two little lambs at their father’s stall. And got more hugs.

It was a happy morning, filled with lots of laughter and silliness.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

A tour of Ayacucho

Cross Cultural Solutions, the organization I traveled to Peru with in 2009, set up most volunteer placements so that you worked in the mornings and in the afternoon you learned about the culture of the country. The first afternoon following our first placement, Rudy, the director of the Ayacucho location, took us on a tour of the city. Just a breathtakingly beautiful city. In these pictures anyway. Not all views looked like this, as I will share in upcoming days.

The absolutely beautiful town square (minus the porti-potty)
Maybe we need a few signs that say "no bull" back home
A fairly typical side street
View of Ayacucho, surrounded by the Andes Mountains

Monday, July 25, 2011

A nursing home is still a nursing home

Cross Cultural Solutions, the organization that I traveled to Peru with in 2009, offers several different volunteer options, ranging in duration from one week up to three months. Volunteers who are staying for a longer period of time are assigned to an area in which they are interested and their daily volunteer work concentrates on that, such as health care or teaching. Since our little group of four was only staying for one week we had the unique opportunity to experience a little bit of everything, by going to a different volunteer placement each day.

Our first day, we were assigned to the nursing home. It was a clean and efficient facility, men and women on completely separate wings. We worked on the women’s wing and when we arrived, they were all dressed and out in the courtyard for the morning. Just like the nursing homes back home, they were pretty much left to themselves until lunch. And if we hadn’t been there to try to entertain them, well, they would have had no entertainment. We played catch with them, colored with them and even danced with a few who were agile enough. One little lamb, carrying a plastic bag full of her stuff, told the staff worker who had brought us from our home base that she was waiting for the bus to take her to Lima. Sounded just like some of the nursing home residents I know.

And they were all so cute. And short. I don’t think any of them was over four foot ten. The native dress of the Peruvian women is multiple skirts and sweaters. And let me tell you, these ladies were layered up. They all wore hats too. Not just these women, but most of the older population who were out in the streets. Such a different culture.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

For the next several weeks, I am going to be writing about my volunteer trip to Ayacucho, Peru, in 2009, so I am hoping to tie my Sunday inspirational blog to that, each and every week until I have finished the story of those travels. Let’s see how I do.

Ayacucho, Peru, high in the Andes Mountains, is known as the city of churches. It is said that there are 33 churches in this town, one for each year of Christ’s life. Odd that no one seems to know exactly how many churches there are. Is that because no one knows exactly how to define a church? Does it have to have an active congregation with regular services? Does it have to have a certain architecture, does it have to “look” like a church?

Actually, as cool as these old buildings are, they are just buildings. A church may be just a building, but The Church is what is important. The Church can be anywhere, anywhere that believers are gathered. The Church is what we each carry with us in our daily lives. For you see, The Church is the Body of Christ.

And the church is his body; it is made full and complete by Christ, who fills all things everywhere with himself. Ephesians 1:23New Living Translation

Friday, July 22, 2011

Doesn't take much to make me feel at home

I was exhausted. I had been up since four am on Saturday, April 11, 2009. It was now nine in the morning on Sunday, and I hadn’t lain down anywhere in that time and had only caught a few minutes sleep on the plane from Atlanta to Lima. But I was finally there, the home-base for Cross Cultural Solutions in Ayacucho, Peru. A simple but clean three-story building on a noisy street corner. My home for the next week.

Inside and up one flight of stairs were familiar faces. Megan, Gayle and Tina, my partners for the week, all who had arrived the day before. We had met each other via the internet and swapped pictures and experiences. It was like I had known them all along. Most importantly, English was their first language!

We had a quick orientation, then I went to my room to unpack, take a short nap and what would be my only hot shower the whole time I was there. Lunch that noon – and most days – was chicken in tomato paste with rice and mixed vegetables.

That afternoon, Gayle and I walked up to the Plaza. What a beautiful city square, full of shops, churches, statues of famous people and fantastic views of the surrounding hills. And only a five minute walk from our home base. We walked here at least once a day, so many pictures of that will be coming.

That evening however, still exhausted, fighting a headache and feeling the effects of the high altitude, I wanted to lay low and go to bed early. That would not happen. Instead I went down to the kitchen to socialize.

Including the four of us who had just arrived, there were three students who had been staying at the home base for a while already. Harriet, Angelina and Harry. They had decided to make cookies that afternoon. It was Easter Sunday and so the logical shape – and easy – to make was round, in the shape of Easter eggs. Then we all decorated them. Colors for frosting were limited, but we managed.

I felt like I had come home.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

What Have I Gotten Myself Into?

Have you seen the original “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid”. One of my favorite movies. Remember when Butch and Sundance get off the train in Bolivia. This was Butch’s big idea; he had told his partner what a wonderful place Bolivia was, streets made of gold, a land of milk and honey, easy pickings. But when they arrived, when their train stopped and they disembarked, they weren’t met with any diamonds or jewels. They were met by pigs and chickens, dust and squalor.

When I got off the plane in Ayacucho, Peru, in April 2009, that scene flashed through mind. I don’t remember seeing pigs or chickens, but everywhere there was dust. The airport was a small structure, like a shed where someone would store their tractor instead of a building to greet newcomers.

Inside it wasn’t so bad. It was brightly lit and modern and no one spoke English. And because my flight had been two hours late leaving Lima, I was worried that my ride wasn’t there.

I waited patiently for my luggage, focusing on the simple baggage handling system, sneaking peeks at other people without being obvious, listening for a familiar word. I grabbed my suitcase, my lone suitcase which had to weigh in at under 25 pounds due to the small size of the plane I had just exited. Worst case scenario, I could spend the week in the airport because now I at least had my stuff.

Against one wall was a tourism kiosk, a cute little counter with an awning of palm leaves. The woman working there didn’t know English, didn’t recognize the words “Cross Cultural Solutions”. You would think that the organization had people coming and going on a somewhat regular basis and that the airport personnel would have heard of them. I clutched my backpack to my chest with one hand, my other hand gripping my suitcase handle.

“Excuse me, maybe your ride is waiting outside.” Oh, my gosh, was I hearing things? I turned to face a man dressed in business casual. He nodded toward the doors. Out the window, I could just make out the side of a white van.

“Thank you,” I stammered, “Thank you so much. That must be my ride.”

And sure enough. I walked outside and the van driver hoisted a hand written sign announcing “Cross Cultural Solutions”.

A young man introduced himself (and I promptly forgot his name) and his father, the driver. The boy was home from college on break and was anxious to practice his English. Interesting. And I only wanted to practice my Spanish on him.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

over the mountains

I flew out of Appleton on Saturday morning, the day before Easter 2009, on my journey to volunteer in Peru. I had a long layover in Atlanta, but that was ok because I have a friend from college who lives there and she met me at the airport just to visit for a few hours. Believe it or not I have a friend from high school in Atlanta also, and she is going to meet me for my long layover on the way home.

When we left Atlanta for Lima, Peru, three stewardesses made the usual announcements in three different languages – English, Spanish and an Asian language. I am sure that it was just me being paranoid, but as we flew over South America, it seemed that they announced less in English and started only speaking Spanish.

I had been trying for months to teach myself Spanish, but it is tough doing it on your own. Even if I could afford the fancy Rosetta stone software, I think I need to have someone else – a real Spanish speaking person - in the room to interact with. As it was, I got pretty good at my numbers and when to say Buenos dias, Buenos tardes, and Buenos noches. I think I memorized how to say “My name is Chris and I don’t speak Spanish”, but that was about it. I drove my husband nuts watching the Spanish speaking networks on satellite TV.

And all that effort went right out the window when that plane started descending into Lima. I can only assume that it is because of the weather coming in off the Pacific Ocean, but it seemed that all flights into and out of Lima from the outside world occurred only late at night and flights into and out of Lima within the country occurred early in the morning. Which means another long layover both coming and going into Ayacucho.

About that time, I started wondering why I had decided to volunteer in Ayacucho instead of staying in Lima. I arrived in Lima around eleven pm, and my puddle-jumping plane to take me across the Andes Mountains to Ayacucho wasn’t scheduled to leave until five am. As it turned out, due to weather, that plane didn’t leave until seven am. And all I could remember of the language was the numbers, which was at least a good thing, coz all I listened for on the overhead speakers was “uno tres dos uno”. The number of my flight.

Once I got on that twelve passenger plane and we were in the air, any misgivings I had about my final destination lifted along with the clouds. The view of the Andes – completely breathtaking.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

How do they know we are Christians?

I had pretty much made up my mind that I would travel to Ayacucho, Peru, in April of 2009, with Cross Cultural Solutions. I had one reservation (besides the cost!). CCS sounded like a great organization, but they were not a Christian organization, this wouldn't be a mission trip, this was strictly a volunteer trip. Then one Saturday night in church, we sang this song.

We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord
We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord
And we pray that all unity may one day be restored
And they'll know we are Christians by our love, by our love
They will know we are Christians by our love

We will work with each other, we will work side by side
We will work with each other, we will work side by side
And we'll guard each one's dignity and save each one's pride
They will know we are Christians by our love
And they'll know we are Christians by our love, by our love

We will walk with each other, we will walk hand in hand
We will walk with each other, we will walk hand in hand
And together we'll spread the news that God is in our land
And they'll know we are Christians by our love, by our love

(They'll Know We Are Christians By Our Love, written by Peter Scholtes, 1968)

I guess that answered that question.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Ayacucho, it is!

Back in the fall of 2008, when I started to get inklings to take another trip, and I thought that the trip should be to Peru, I heard from a friend of ours who had moved to the upper peninsula of Michigan a few years before. As happens when miles separate friends, we had lost touch, when seemingly out of the blue, Judy contacted us and invited us to her new home for a visit. Somewhere in the conversation it came up that her church was planning a mission trip to Lima, Peru, to work with an orphanage. She was struggling with whether or not she should go and invited myself and another friend, Joyce, to go with.

You know me, all you have to say is “trip” and I am packing my bags. Having never traveled so far, not having passports or any immunization, Joyce and Judy both had to think long and hard about this. In the meantime, I went home to study up some more.

Unfortunately, for them, my two friends decided that at least for now, this trip was not meant to be. For me, however, it was a sign from God that I should stick with my original dream and go with Cross Cultural Solutions.

Lima, the capital and largest city in Peru, really didn’t seem the proper fit. CCS offered another Peru location, however, a city by the name of Ayacucho. Set high in the Andes Mountains, this city of 150,000 is known as the city of churches, as it claims to have 33 churches, one for each year of Jesus life. In reality, no one is quite sure how many churches there are, but there are a lot, and they are all old and full of personality.

The coat of arms for Ayacucho. I need to get me a coat of arms; they are so cool.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Where, where, where to go?

When I returned home from my mission trip to Kenya, Africa, in the summer of 2006, I was content. I had accomplished one of my dreams, something that was on my list of things to do before I died. I’d volunteered in a third world country.

The fall of 2007, we hosted another (our third) German student for two weeks. The following summer, Val would be traveling to Germany to stay with that girl’s family. After the German girl went home the end of October, somehow we ended up with a foreign exchange student from Portugal for the rest of the school year. She became friends with a foreign exchange student from Taiwan, who became the girlfriend of my son’s best friend. Val was getting excited to go to Germany. My son Nick was making plans to volunteer in Ghana, Africa, with Engineers without Borders. His friend Josh was going to Taiwan to see his girlfriend.

The world was getting so much smaller. Within a year, I was getting major wanderlust.

First it started out with aimless web searches on my lunch hour. I would type “volunteer trips” to see what would pop up. One day, I typed in “mission trip Ghana”. The first site to come up was for Cross Cultural Solutions, so I checked it out. And every day at lunch, I checked it out some more.

Cross Cultural Solutions sends volunteers to countries all over the world. They didn’t just go to Ghana, Africa; they went to Tanzania, Morocco, India, China, Russia and even South America. I decided that I had kids or friends of kids who had been to Europe, Asia and Africa. South America seemed the place to go. Peru seemed the place to go.

What had I ever heard about Peru? Wasn’t that the country where the Incas had lived? That was about all I knew at the time. Tells you how much I learned in world geography.

Nick in Ghana

Val in Germany

Monday, July 11, 2011

A Whole New Adventure

If you have been with this blog from the very beginning, seventeen months ago, you have traveled many miles with me, throughout a good part of the United States, into Canada and Mexico. You have been to Africa with me. And now it’s finally time to take you to another continent – South America.

In 2009, I took a volunteer trip to the city of Ayacucho, high in the Andes Mountains of Peru. I am going to leave you with that for today, as my husband bought us a Kindle today, and I really must play. But come back soon, so you can hear about life in another land far from our own.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Lifest day 3 continued

OK, enough about me. Finally I will write you a blog about a seminar I attended. Tiffany and Tim Thompson spoke at the Café stage at 10:00 Saturday morning. What can anyone say about Tiffany? If I ever thought I could be a professional speaker, she is the woman I would want to be. She is soo cute and funny and just genuine. I would believe anything that came out of her mouth. And her husband of 23 years is just about as adorable.

Their talk was “Til death do us part: 5 myths about marriage”. First myth: Compatibility. You and your spouse will share the same likes and interests and personality. Not. We all know that. It is true that opposites attract and that is so that you can complement each other. But you have to allow it to work that way. He is organized and she is not, and that’s good coz then she doesn’t have to be organized, but they both have to accept that that is the way it is.

Second myth: Smooth sailing. Like a sail boat on a calm lake, your marriage will be smooth. We all know that’s not true. Marriage is more like the Russell Crowe movie, “Master and Commander”. And I would add that unfortunately sometimes it is like the “Perfect Storm”. It’s going to get rough and you have to be willing to hang on, no matter how much you may puke over the side.

Third myth: The grass is greener. Where? On the other side of the fence, of course. No, not really. If you want to have green grass, water it and fertilize it. Your lawn can look as good as the neighbors. Marriage is work, work, work. It’s not going to be easier with somebody else. And, I’m going to add my thoughts here again, that the grass is also greener over the septic system, so just accept that poo is going to happen.

Fourth myth: Mission: Impossible. Statistics are pretty grim. America makes up less than 5% of the world’s population, but 50% of the world’s divorces. Every first marriage has a 50% chance of ending in divorce, every second marriage has a 60% chance of ending in divorce. So, why even bother to get married if the cards are so stacked against you? Why even try?

Because, “Jesus looked at them and said, ‘With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible’.” Matthew 19:26, New International Version (NIV)

Keep God in your marriage and the odds will swing in your favor.

Last myth: Happily Ever After. This is mostly what us girls had drilled into us from little on. The whole Disney-princess myth. If you are beautiful and patient, your Prince Charming will sweep you off your feet and you will live happily ever after. We all know those are fairy-tales, but we still all love “Pretty Woman”, don’t we, ladies?

Even if your prince isn’t handsome or rich or has a white horse, let him sweep you off your feet by washing your dishes. That’s all my prince has to do.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Lifest day 3

As you may remember if you read an earlier blog, I have some issues with my eyesight (or maybe it is more likely issues with vanity). I have a pair of reading glasses in nearly every room in the house. I usually carry two, if not three, pairs of glasses with me at all times. My bifocals usually stay in my purse, but I will wear them when driving some place new (I feel I should really be able to read those traffic signs up ahead).

While at Lifest here in Oshkosh, I have been trying to wear my bifocals faithfully. Some of those singers put the words they are singing up on the Jumbotron and it’s kind of nice to be able to read them.

In addition to carrying all these glasses in my backpack, I like to be prepared with everything else imaginable. A first aid kit, pens, markers, highlighters, a notebook, ibuprofen.

The first day at Lifest, a group of us were sitting around at lunch in the sun, and someone mentioned that they should have put on sunscreen. I pulled a bottle out of my backpack, and everybody lathered some on.

Yesterday, as I was waiting to purchase a comedian’s T-shirt, a stagehand asked the guy behind the table if he had a marker. He did not. Being not only always prepared, but always helpful, I asked, “Do you mean a Sharpie?” And I pulled one out of my backpack.

Later that same day, as I was sitting down for another singer, I went to put on the bifocals which I had just been carrying around, and one of the lenses was gone. Oh, nuts, I thought, what am I going to do now? I retraced my steps and found the lens back at my campsite, in the can holder of my camping chair.

That was amazing, but what good would it do me now. With all my preparations, I did not have an eyeglass repair kit with me. Well, there’s another thing to put on the packing list.

But can we really be prepared for absolutely positively anything that might possibly happen? Of course not. Luckily, God is always prepared. No matter what life throws us, what breaks or what we lose, God has our backs covered. He may not send down from heaven a tiny screw and screwdriver, but He will be there for us when we call on Him.

We got Reggie Dabbs on saxophone.
We got kid's art work
We got legs

Friday, July 8, 2011

Lifest day 2

What did I do at Lifest today? I listened to Reggie Dabbs, Peder Eide, Daren Streblow, Andrew Schwab, Geoff Moore, Andrew Peterson. Wow! And if you want to know what they talked about or what they sang, click on their names to go to their websites. I don’t need to write it all here. But as promised, here is what inspired me.

Believe it or not, in between all these speakers and singers, I actually went back to my little campsite to try to get in a nap in the sun. Before I go any further, I should tell you my one and only vice (honestly there is only one; my husband can confirm that). I don’t drink, or smoke, or swear, or go to bars. But every day that I am not at work, from April 1 until November 1, as long as there is no snow on my deck (note, I didn’t say no snow in the yard) and the sun is out, I am on the deck working on my skin cancer, I mean my tan.

So, today, during my little break in the Lifest action, you would think I would be soaking up those rays. Instead I lay there looking at the sky hoping for clouds to cover that beastly hot sun. Since when has the heat stopped me?

I watched this particular cloud just dip past the sun and it dawned on me. Isn’t that how it should be especially here at this Christian event? The Son – not just the sun - can’t be hidden behind a cloud. He needs to shine down on us all. And even when the clouds of sin get in the way, He is still there; we just can’t see Him, we don’t feel His loving warmth. Sometimes we can chase those clouds away on our own, but usually we need to call on the Holy Spirit to help us.

Great, another reason for me to want to soak up those rays.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Lifest day 1

Last night, I promised I would tell you something inspirational today, something from Lifest that grabbed me and recharged me. Of course, the things that grab me and inspire me are the things you would least expect.

At the first speaker that I listened to, I ran into a woman I know from our hometown. She was with her sister and her sister’s fiancé. Her sister’s fiancé knew the speakers (actually it was a married couple), so we all went for lunch together. These people were all very nice and it was interesting getting to know them.

Was that inspirational? No, but it was still a “wow” moment for me. Life is short and we never know who we will run into. Starting a conversation with a total stranger may not change either of your lives, but it will change those few minutes that you are together. You’ll never see them again, but that doesn’t mean that those were wasted minutes.

I’ll repeat it – life is short. And during this little bit of time, out of all of eternity, we will meet all kinds of people. Some we will like, some we won’t. But if we interact with them, that is precious time, so don’t waste it. Make a difference, even if it is just a smile or a “hi, how ya doin’?”

My cute little campsite. Just a place to come take a nap.
Matthew West, at the Edge stage, sharing personal stories. I could have zoomed in, or walked closer, but wanted you to get the effect. (Effect of what, I am not sure.)

Josh Wilson playing at the Thrivent Cafe stage. My campsite is not too far behind him.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011


So tonight I am getting ready to head to Lifest in the morning. Hopefully it will be an inspiring four days. The forecast is for warm, muggy weather, so it should be a great time to sit under a big tent fanning myself and listening to speakers share their stories.

My goal is to blog each night about something that inspired me that day. Hopefully with a picture or two.

My only words of wisdom for tonight are that you shouldn't practice setting up your tent by yourself on the deck when the cats are out and about.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Being An American

America’s Independence Day conjures up thoughts of flags, parades, fireworks. When you think of how this all started, where this all came from, you maybe conjure up visions of the revolutionary war, men in powdered wigs signing the Declaration of Independence, Paul Revere, George Washington. America’s independence maybe started way back in the 1700s, but it continues today. And sometime in between then and now is the story of how my family became Americans.

I won’t give you the whole story now, of course, but maybe someday, when I am finished with it and get it published, you will buy a copy. I will sign it for you. In the meantime, let me share with you a day in 1924.

On September 1, the SS Republic, sailing from Germany, docked at Ellis Island. A young mother and her four children, ages 11 to 5, walked off the ship and touched American soil for the first time. After spending hours in immigration lines, struggling with the foreign language, Emma, her two daughters and two younger sons were finally joined by her husband and oldest son who had made the same journey a year earlier.

They would eventually settle in Chicago, where life continued to be a struggle, but was nothing compared to the poverty they had known in Germany. The middle son, Paul, got a job selling newspapers on the street corner, keeping one cent from each of the three cent papers he sold.

In 1934, when Paul was 19 years old, the family moved to Tripoli, Wisconsin, where they took up farming. His siblings all married, some moving away, some staying nearby, but Paul stayed on the farm, helping his twice-widowed mother. He was 30 and driving a school bus to supplement the farm’s income, when he asked one of the female students on his bus to the dance. The rest as they say is history.

In 1961, Paul, then 47, would hold his newborn baby in his arms. He and his wife would name their youngest child Christine Marie. Paul’s life as an American was more than complete. And mine was just beginning.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

A time to break down...

In 2006, as you probably know, I traveled to Kenya on a mission trip with my daughter and 13 others. Each day one of our team members was assigned to lead devotions. When it was my turn, I opened the Bible to Ecclesiastes 3 and was amazed that every line was something I had witnessed while in Africa. Over the next several weeks, I will be sharing those reflections in my Sunday blog.

A Time to break down and a Time to build up - Driving around the streets of Nairobi, there were so many vacant buildings. I couldn't tell if they were being built or waiting to be torn down.

A Time to weep and a Time to laugh - Many of our team members sponsor children through Compassion International and had the chance to meet these children on the trip. In Nairobi, Kari got to spend the day with her Compassion child, Wuzungu, who traveled from Mombasa via a 12-hour bus ride with a Compassion social worker. All language barriers were broken by laughter, and later on by watching Wuzungu eat ice cream for the first time ever.

Friday, July 1, 2011

A Cheap, and Final, Day in Our State’s Capital

Earlier in this rather lengthy description of our 2008 vacation to Madison, Wisconsin, and the countryside to the southwest, I slammed the famous House on the Rock for being too big and too commercial and just too too. Here’s an alternative location for you to visit at a much cheaper price. Ella’s Deli on East Washington Avenue. It has animated bears and clowns, a miniature train running all around the ceiling, the Beatles, the Green Bay Packers, and its own 1927 carousel that you can ride on. Oh, and the food? It is ok, a little expensive for what shows up on your plate, but you have to remember that there is a show going on all around you.

After lunch our last day in Madison that year, we trekked over to the Henry Vilas Zoo. This would be totally free, except that everyone needs to buy a t-shirt or something to drink or something to feed the barnyard animals. It is a small zoo, on only about 28 acres, but it has the usual critters – orangutans, polar bears, giraffes, etc. It is a nice family-friendly place to visit, great if you have kids and not too bad if you are just an old married couple like my husband and me.

And last but not least, with our country’s Independence Day celebration looming on the horizon, I have to bring up the Capitol building in Madison. It is so cool. Three feet shorter than the United States Capitol building in Washington. I still can’t believe that, even after 9/11 when security tightened, they still let just about anyone wander around. It is, after all, a building of the people, for the people and by the people, just like our great country.

Pictures from inside the Capitol building in Madison, Wisconsin