Destination 18: St. Cloud, Wisconsin


From Ohio, we drove to St. Cloud, Wisconsin to visit our close family friends, Jane and her daughter Alana. As you can imagine, the drive was long…and torturous.

Let me explain to you how a typical day in the car plays out. After the kids watch Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel for the umpteenth time, they quickly get bored and start fighting with each other or, even worse, begin annoying me for pure entertainment. For a reason unknown to me, my sleeping/napping doesn’t register with the kids. Therefore, while I’m peacefully dreaming away about who knows what, I’m almost always awakened by taps on the shoulder or an insistent “Sissy…sissy…sissy…sissy…”

Once they receive the wrath of Sissy, they resume back to fighting with each other. Whining, kicking, hitting, yelling and spitting ensue. Meanwhile, Mom and Dad sit peacefully up front, far removed from the chaos in the back. They call this the act of “tuning out.” Interestingly enough, as they “tune us out,” they manage to pay attention close enough to recount these as stories of pure entertainment for friends and family. It’s a troubling phenomenon.

[Robert and his trusty peanut butter close by...right where he likes it.]

[It was a long day]

[Passing the Chicago skyline!]

This pattern usually cycles twice on an average drive on this road trip. But when you have an 8-hour drive like this one, it cycles viciously about five or six times. Thus, I begin to lose it (understandably). At this point, I would usually reach for my iPod and try to tune out as much of the chaos as possible. But, ironically, at the tip of my breaking point, my trusty little iPod happened to run out of battery, leaving me no option but to count the minutes down until we reached our destination.

We finally made it to St. Cloud by 8:30 p.m. Jane warned us that we’d have to run to the house or else we’d be eaten alive by mosquitoes. I thought she was merely joking but, boy, was I wrong. The moment we stepped out, a swarm of a hundred mosquitoes immediately attacked us and followed us into the front door. It was a scene straight out of a horror film. Needless to say, we stayed in the rest of the night.

The next morning, Jane took us “downtown” for a firemen’s parade (thankfully, there weren’t as many mosquitoes). All the local fire trucks drove through the parade with many other groups of people. There were marching bands, polka bands, cheerleaders, politicians, baton twirlers…the whole shebang. Tons of locals lined the streets with lawn chairs and plastic bags. Why plastic bags, you ask? Well, because the people parading threw candy to the kids!

[Waiting for the parade to begin]

[Here it comes...]

You should have seen Mary, Alana and Robert. They scattered across the street, desperately gathering candy like little ants. It was hilarious! Daniel didn’t really engage because he was “too cool.” At one point, Robert looked at us with melted candy all over his mouth and said, “This is the best day ever!!!!”

[They wait...]

[And then, scatter!]

After the parade, we went to the picnic/BBQ and enjoyed some bratwursts, burgers and cheese nuggets. Meanwhile, the University of Wisconsin marching band put on an outstanding show right there at the park. They were dancing, singing and having such a great time. I’d say they’re probably one of the best marching bands I’ve ever heard. They were that good!

[The University of Wisconsin marching band]

[How embarrassing...we asked to take a pic with them!]

We went back to the house after that for some R&R before heading back out again for dinner at this amazing steakhouse. I can’t remember the name of it now but Dad claims it was the best steak he’s ever had. I had Walleye fish, which is apparently a northeastern specialty. It was yummy!

The following morning, we woke up bright and early for a very special day at the dairy farm. Jane has childhood friends who own this humongous dairy farm not too far away. At 7 a.m., we went to their house, where they served us a wonderful breakfast of fresh fruit, toast and coffee. Then, we made our way around the farm, seeing and doing so many things it’s hard to remember! This particular dairy farm is larger than most; they milk around 550 cows a day!

[I came and I conquered!]

[The family, Jane and Alana, and part owners of the farm]

Some of the things we saw included less than a day old calves, pregnant cows, bulls, milking machines, and so much more. I’ll let the pictures do most of the talking because the day was just filled to the brim with activities. I don’t think we could have gotten a more in-depth tour of the dairy farm from anywhere else. It was only through Jane’s connection that we got such a great experience. Thanks Jane!

[Daniel getting his hand sucked by a calf!]

[This is how cows are milked these days...]

[Robert going in for a closer look]

[Three generations of dairy farmers...and look at the curious cows on each side!]

[These calves were born that morning!! So, so, so cute]

[We all got a chance to feed the calves some electrolyte juice]

I've never lived in a small town before but after our stay with Jane in Wisconsin, I can definitely see the appeal. There's a real sense of community that you can't get in big cities throughout southern California. I absolutely love how Jane's old babysitter is now the owner of that dairy farm, her high school classmate was one of the lead singers in the polka band at the picnic and everyone was singing and dancing during the University of Wisconsin performances. This trip is definitely going in the books as one of the most memorable (minus the mosquitoes...I would gladly give up that memory!)

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