Road Trip 2018 #1 – Say Cheese!

Brace yourself for lots of posts about this year’s Pict Family Road Trip.  Long time readers of this blog may recall that in 2016 we took two weeks and drove from Pennsylvania as far west as Chicago before pivoting back and returning to PA.  Reaching Chicago in a week felt ambitious then.  What then do you think about the fact that this year we had to drive as far as Chicago by the end of our first day?  Yup.  What we took a week to do two years ago we did in a single day this year.  It’s not just because we are utterly crazy – though there is that – but because we needed to reposition ourselves in order to make the rest of our plans work.  It was a loooooooong day of driving and it really felt long but the kids were absolute troopers and didn’t rage or rebel once.

We spent the night in Munster, Indiana, our bellies full of deep dish pizza.  The first proper, official day of our vacation, therefore, found us in Gary, Indiana.  My 11 year old is a Michael Jackson fan so we, of course, were compelled to visit his childhood home.  The house is privately owned so can only be viewed from the street but it was worth a brief detour to see it just to appreciate how modest Jackson’s beginnings were.  I have lots of siblings and grew up in a somewhat over-crowded house but the Jackson household must have been bursting at the seams.  It is quite fascinating to reconcile the flashy, lavish-living man Jackson would become to how humbly his life started out and to ponder over the relationship between his alpha and omega states of being.

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After departing Indiana and whizzing through a corner of Illinois, we were in Wisconsin.  This was my first time in Wisconsin and meant I could claim* it as my 31st state.  When I think of Wisconsin, I think ‘Laverne & Shirley’, beer, and cheese.  The latter was our chosen theme for the day.  I am both a cheeseaholic and lactose intolerant – not the best combination but it means I am also a tad obsessed with cheese.

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We headed to Monroe and the National Historic Cheesemaking Center, which proved to be a much smaller scale than we anticipated.  The museum was tiny and centered around the mid-19th Century Imobersteg cheese factory.  It proved to be the most perfect welcome not just to Wisconsin but also a lovely, gentle start to our road trip.  When we stepped inside the museum, we were greeted by an ensemble of chipper elderly women.  One of these, Joanne, was assigned to be our guide and she was wonderfully warm and welcoming and also a trove of information about cheesemaking past and present.  We enjoyed our time spent in her company.

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We learned about the Imobersteg family, immigrants from Switzerland, who determined to make their traditional cheese in their new surroundings.  Inside their tiny factory, we were led through their process involving copper kettles, a special metal jacket to keep it at the perfect stable temperature, a harp to break up curds, presses, brine baths, and hot and cold storage.  Joanne got the boys to act out various parts of the process, such as swinging the copper kettle on its arm.  My favourite thing in the tiny factory was the funny little window hatch through which local farmers would pour their milk.

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Inside the museum, we watched a video showing a modern cheesemaker replicating the Imobersteg’s process and creating an absolutely massive limburger cheese.  We also saw various artefacts and Joanne informed us about the arduous process of becoming a master cheesemaker, farmers operating as cooperatives, and the cheese quality grading system.  One of my favourite items in the museum was a one legged milking stool, the design of which was to permit balancing on steep slopes.

Obviously after learning about cheese we absolutely had to go and get some cheese so we drove a little further into Monroe and stopped off at an outlet and deli selling all manner of cheese and associated munchies.  They had lots of samples available which the boys fell upon as if they were wolves after a lean winter.  For the sake of my digestive system, I exercised maximum self-control, though I would be lying if that didn’t mean I still nibbled a few pieces of cheese.  We bought cheese and crackers enough that lasted us days of on-the-road lunches.

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We thought we should go and have a squizz at Monroe’s city centre and were pleasantly surprised to find a lovely town square.  It was neat and shiny as a pin and was filled with independent stores, boutiques, and eateries.  They also had a series of wooden sculptures placed around the square that were on an outer space and sci fi theme.  The younger boys had fun running from one to the other which kept them moving in the afternoon sun.

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We took a series of winding country roads past beautifully maintained farms and interesting dilapidated properties I would have loved to stop and photograph.  We noted that even the grounds of the run down properties were well maintained. So much green! So much corn!  The problem with being in a rural area, however, was phone reception.  I did not own a smartphone until we emigrated to the US but I have assimilated and become dependent on it for navigation in unfamiliar places.  It was, therefore, weird to be back to using traditional maps to plot our course to Dodgeville, our abode for the night.  The problem, of course, is that traditional maps can only get one so far.  When it comes to locating things at street level, a map book is no use.  We, therefore, took a while to find our hotel even though Dodgeville is far from a sprawling metropolis.  The kids loved the hotel pool and the fact that they could walk to get dinner and explore instead of getting back in the car – at least until the next morning.

 

*My rules for claiming a state are that I have to accomplish two out of three things while within its borders: sleep, eat, or pee.  Therefore, while I have been in both New Mexico and New Hampshire, I am not permitted to claim and count them because I only did one of the three things in each.  I am as strict with applying my rules as I am obsessed with visiting all 50 states.

Civil War Virginia

Our children had gone to Virginia to spend Spring break with their grandparents, who had flown over from England. On the Tuesday, Mr Pict and I were able to travel south to join them.  As regular readers of this blog will know, my husband is a Civil War nerd.  He was, therefore, relishing the prospect of spending some time mooching around Civil War sites in Virginia, though he agreed to restrict himself to the Peninsula Campaign of 1862 for this trip.  On our journey south, needing a comfort break, he selected the National Park visitor centre at the Tredegar Iron Works.  While I availed myself of the restroom, Mr Pict undertook a warp speed visit of the visitor centre and determined that we should return some time with the kids.  It was largely determined that Richmond should serve as the capital of the Confederacy because of these iron works so it is a significant site.  I did like that the visitor centre was housed within such a historic building.

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The next morning, with the four boys and my in-laws in tow, Mr Pict took us on a tour of Civil War sites.  We started at Yorktown.  Yorktown is more strongly associated with the War of Independence and so it proved to be at the National Park.  The focus was very much on Revolutionary history with just a slight nod to its place in the Civil War.  At the risk of muddying the waters of the boys’ learning for the day, we subjected them to the film about the history of Yorktown.  I write “subjected” because it had not been updated since probably the 1980s and the quality of performances and production values were pretty tragic.  I am not sure, therefore, that the boys engaged much with the film but hopefully some learning stuck and they at least took away from it that it was the place where Cornwallis surrendered.  They did, however, enjoy the various canons outside the visitor centre.  There was to be a lot of clambering on canons that day.

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Our next stop was the Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond.  As regular readers will know, I absolutely love cemeteries.  While I personally enjoy just wandering around and appreciating the memorial architecture and funerary sculpture, it is always useful to have some famous burials to search out and provide focus to the wanderings.  Turning a cemetery visit into a “treasure hunt” also helps engage the kids.  The reason for our visit was because the cemetery, while a public cemetery rather than a military one, is chock full of confederate graves.  It, therefore, formed part of Mr Pict’s Civil War tour.  We started with a massive granite pyramid erected to commemorate the confederate dead.  It was in an area where the confederate dead of Gettysburg had been interred following their recovery from the Pennsylvania battlefield.  Can you imagine the grim task of locating all of the remains on the battlefield and preparing them for transportation to Virginia?  Nearby was the grave of George Pickett, he of Pickett’s Charge.  We also saw the grave of JEB Stuart.

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I have no political, ideological difficulty with the commemoration of the confederate dead within the context of a cemetery.  The confines of a cemetery’s walls makes it about the living processing the grief of lost loved ones.  I can think that these are people who chose to fight on the wrong side of history, who were fighting to uphold an appallingly horrific system, who may even, particularly in the case of the military leaders, have been loathome, morally bankrupt individuals.  But I can square that against them being someone’s father, someone’s son, someone’s brother, and therefore deserving of being buried with dignity and not left on a battlefield to moulder.  What I have real difficulty with is when commemoration moves into the realm of celebration.  That is why I support the removal of confederate statues from public spaces.  Again, while tricky in the context of a cemetery, there was definitely something that troubled me about the grave of Jefferson Davis.  The fact that some workers were placing new cobbles around Davis’ statue, in order to make the whole area look polished and smart, seemed to me to underscore the fact that this was a site that was being venerated.  Then there were all the flags.  Those flags always make me feel uncomfortable.  This was not simply a place where family members could come and pay their respects to a departed love one, gather their thoughts about their experience of loss; this was a space that was bigger than that and was imbued with more political meaning than that.  It was weird.  Just weird.

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Hollywood is also the final resting place of two American Presidents.  They are buried within the same attractive circle in an area of the cemetery that is elevated and provides a striking view over the river.  James Monroe, fifth President, had a very unusual tomb, an elaborate and fancy cast iron structure, reminiscent of a gothic church, surrounding his granite coffin.  I read that it was known as the “birdcage” which is entirely apt.  Just a hop, skip, and a jump from Monroe’s grave was the monument to John Tyler, tenth President.  Tyler famously became President when William Henry Harrison died just one month into his presidency.  He also has two grandsons still living.  Imagine having a grandfather who was born in 1790?  His grave was marked by an obelisk with a bust built into its front facade.

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After Hollywood Cemetery, Mr Pict took us to visit battlefield after battlefield.  The first was Gaines Mill and it was only slightly more interesting than the sites that followed because of the presence of a house.  Mr Pict and his father were very interested in a creek that ran through some woods that flanked the fields and went off for a wander there but to my mind the site was pretty featureless except for that house.  I read that the house was home to an elderly widow whose slaves carried her out of the house on the day of the battle.  She was never able to return home because the house was all but destroyed during the conflict.  I think the next stop was named Glendale Crossroad or Frayer’s Farm but I didn’t even bother to get out of the car for that stop and cannot remember what my husband told me about it.  As far as I was concerned, it was literally a crossroad and there was nothing to see.  The last stop was at a spot named Malvern Mill.  Mr Pict was very keen on this spot and explained why but I did not absorb the information.  To me, these were literally just fields filled with scrub or the stubble of old crops.  The only thing that indicated it was a place of historic significance was the presence of canons lining the field.  The boys enjoyed clambering on the canon and seeing a whole car lot filled with fire trucks as firefighters were running a controlled fire nearby.

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I would like to claim that I learned something new or interesting about the Civil War that day but honestly I did not.  I am none the wiser about the Peninsula Campaign than I was before because I just could not absorb the information my husband was sharing with us.  My brain just is not that keen on military history, what can I say.  Still, the cemetery was attractive and Mr Pict was very happy so it was a day well spent.

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