Sunday, July 26, 2009

Family Vacation - Jim's Perspective

I feel like I'm writing that dreaded, cliched essay "What I did last summer." Our vacation really had two distinctly different parts to it: visiting family/friends and visiting our great country. Both parts were great.

Seeing Jeff and Grace at their home was a special treat. I honestly can't remember the last time I visited a cousin in his/her own home. The closest thing I can think of is visiting Liz in Germany, and we met in Heidelberg, not in her home (when you travel thousands of miles and cross an ocean, I think meeting someone in a nearby city should count). It still seems like yesterday when our families would crowd together at Thanksgiving and Christmas in our parents' homes; now it's our turn. It was fun seeing the Michigan Wilhelm family in action. Softball games, VBS, Jeff's church, Grace's tour of Greenville, and their fabulous home were all highlights, but it was their hospitality that stuck out the most. They made us feel at home, and that was a blessing.

It's been years since we've been back to the Detroit area, and our son Brett couldn't wait to get there. Since he was born in the Detroit area (Grosse Pointe), Brett has laid claim to the Motor City as his home town. Of course, he was only two when we moved back to Milwaukee, but that hasn't stopped him from supporting the various Detroit teams, especially the Lions. It was great seeing the Justice family again. Just like Jeff and Grace's family, the Justice family made us feel at home. We had a great time hanging out together, making campfires, going to Frankenmuth, seeing Don's school, and going to Trader Joe's! The best part was reconnecting with the Justices. To be honest, the happiest times I've had as a teacher were at Lutheran East in Harper Woods, and the Justice family was a large part of that. That staff was like a close-knit family, and it was like lighting in a bottle. I don't know if it will ever happen again, but I'm glad it happened at least once.

Leaving Detroit was a difficult process, not because we were sorry to leave, but because the city closed down the major highway we needed to take. I felt like we were being quarantined! Anyway, on my birthday we went from Detroit to Philadelphia all in one fun-filled day. The absolute worst part of the trip was all of the tolls we paid out. Talk about organized crime! The actual driving wasn't that bad; the kids were well behaved and we made good time once we escaped Detroit. We got into our hotel just in time for us to unwind in the pool.

Philadelphia. Well, there are a few things that stuck out to me about the city of brotherly love: homeless people, extortion, and fantastic history. I don't think I've ever seen so many homeless people like I saw in Philadelphia. Everywhere we went there were homeless people camping out and staking their claims. They were in church entryways. They were in the parks. They were at the street corners. We even saw one bathing in a fountain in front of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Not to be too political, but I wounder why most of the homeless can be found in the cities that have been controlled by Democrats for decades. They care so much about the 'little man' in society, you thing they would be able to help all of these homeless get a job. I guess they think giving them a park bench is good enough.

Anyway...on to extortion. We though we'd save money by driving; however, our car cost us almost as much as out great hotel prices we got. Thirty dollars per day to park! Between tolls and parking we must have dropped almost $200 on our vacation! In spite of the larceny, I'm glad we went.

The history of Philadelphia is fantastic. We got to stand in the very room where our nation declared its independence and eventually solidified that independence with the ratification of the constitution. Just being in the same room that those great men graced with their actions was a moving, unforgettable experience. We saw the Liberty Bell, Betsy Ross' house, Ben Franklin's grave, and we even worshiped in the same pew that George Washington worshipped in! Of course, the service itself was a travesty of secular humanism that never mention the name of Jesus Christ once in the sermon, but what can you expect from the Episcopal church? It's like one of those gourd rattles you see in the fall - pretty on the outside, but inside it is dried-up and empty; it sounds good but you get no nourishment from it.

One night Logan and I visited the Star Trek exhibition in the Franklin Museum. While it was interesting being able to walk around a mock-up of the NCC-1701D's bridge (Trekkies will get the reference), I was disappointed by some of the displays. They simply made $18 models and spray-painted them silver - cheap! We did get to sit in Kirk's classic captain's chair, and we saw various props and costumes from all of the movies, including the current one, Star Trek (which is a must-see, by the way). I thought the exhibition overall could have been better, but it was cool doing some of the things we did.

We also visited historic Little Italy. It was interesting seeing not only Italian shops, but Asian and Hispanic shops as well. My favorite shop was the butcher shop that sold kangaroo and python meat (no, we didn't try any). And, of course, we had several Philly Cheese Steaks. We had one downtown, we had one from a cart selling them, and we compared Pat's and Geno's cheese steaks. The winner hands down was Geno's.

Our side trip to Atlantic City was interesting. It was cool having a hotel room with an ocean side view. Unfortunately, as is the case with so many of our vacations, it was overcast and rainy. The best part of Atlantic City was the ocean. We just couldn't relate to the rest of it.

On our way back home we made two more historical stops: Valley Forge and Gettysburg. Valley Forge was my favorite historical site because of a simple railing. You see, on the grounds you can visit George Washington's headquarters and tour it. We were the only people there at the time, and the park ranger told us that while most of the house was in original condition, the one thing they knew for sure was original was the railing used to go up stairs. Normally something like this would be roped off to be preserved, but here we got to touch the very handrail that the first President of the United Stated touched. That was by far one of the coolest things I have ever done! That alone made the trip worth it.

The trip through Gettysburg was interesting. We purchased a CD tour guide and took the car tour around the battle site. I was impressed as to the large area over which the battle took place. The CD brought the battle to life and gave us a richer understanding of that significant battle. The best part was at the end where we saw where President Lincoln gave his Gettysburg Address. That was the perfect end to our vacation. Of course, we still had hundreds of miles to go to get home, but that was not a bad trip back (except for going through Chicago during their cheat Summerfest knockoff, Taste of Chicago).

Was the trip perfect? No, but what trip ever is? Did the kids get on my nerves at times? Sure, but they do that at home too. Did Fatime drive me crazy as we drove over the mountains? No! Of course not! Would I do it all over again if I had the choice? In a heartbeat

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