Family History, Life, Uncategorized

Summer Travels and Midwest Curiosities

Hello all!

The Clare clan has returned from our visit back home to Minnesota and Wisconsin. (Even after thirteen years in the Pacific Northwest, and in spite of the Midwest’s violent weather changes, blood-thirsty mosquitos, and horizons that can feel lonely in their vast emptiness, those blue skies and rolling fields still whisper “home.”)

There might not be much to see, but you sure can see it all.

Our travels didn’t allow me much time to explore and look for spectacular views or historical sites to share -when you manage to get a family of five 1,500+ miles away from home to visit family and friends, people take priority over sightseeing.

Instead, in between hugs and meals and board games and farewells, I found myself looking around, noticing and enjoying the little curiosities of the Midwest as they presented themselves.

I hope you’ll enjoy a look at some of them too!


For instance, I have to admire the optimism here. Yes, it’s certainly closed, but “road?”


The challenge of sustaining small family farms doesn’t seem to have daunted these folks. This shot was taken in the middle of a nice little subdivision- you can see some of the houses in the background. I imagine the tiny hayfield down the block is theirs as well.

DSCN2855If you’re going to build a water tower, why not add a little local flavor? (Mmm, it makes me hungry for sweetcorn. Minnesota’s is the best.)

Speaking of flavor, we found an interesting bit of it plunked in the middle of peaceful green fields near Jordan, MN.

I can neither confirm nor deny that this is actually the largest candy store in Minnesota. It must be something special, though, as a number of superheroes turned out to guard it. Apparently Doctor Who and the Borg also found it worth a visit.

The sheer volume of candy was impressive enough, with sections of local goods as well as imports from around the world, but then they included a few special displays.

My four-year-old’s hand is in front of the glass, for perspective.

Of my three children, she’s the only one who kept pulling me over to listen to the animatronic candy’s performances of “oldies” music, which took place every five minutes. The other kids found the talking candy unsettling. Personally, I’ll take them over that giant gummy worm…

Needless to say, the kids had a good time perusing the wares and spending the little allotment we gave them. I *ahem* may have found a few items myself.

Eventually, we recovered from the sugar crash, and resumed our journeys.

The straight highways cutting through the southern Minnesota prairie toward Wisconsin seem to go on forever, until you approach the border. Then fields drop away to clumps of dark trees, rising up to cover the slopes that surround the road as it descends into the bluffs that cradle the Mississippi River.

The longest river in North America and third longest in the world, the Mississippi has humble beginnings in Minnesota’s Itasca State Park. The river’s headwaters are shallow enough to wade across- I know from experience- but by the time the Mississippi reaches the southern edge of Minnesota, forming the border to Wisconsin, it’s grown to a respectable size.


Perhaps there are places in the world besides Wisconsin where you decide where to purchase cheese by checking out billboards along the highway. I just haven’t visited them.

We decided to check out Humbird Cheese in Tomah because it was conveniently placed in the spot where I navigated us onto the wrong road and we had to backtrack anyway, and because with a happy mouse on their sign the cheese had to be good.

We were not disappointed.

The cheeses in whimsical shapes were interesting, but we were really searching for cheese curds.  It wasn’t until I moved out of the Midwest that I discovered the sad fact that cheese curds are not known and loved everywhere. The bite-sized curds are best when they’re fresh enough to squeak between your teeth.

We indulged in a variety: Cheddar of course, but also Cajun, and Chive/Onion. The beef sticks were a bonus. Mmmmmmm.


Sated with candy and cheese, full of sunshine and mosquito bites, it was nearly time to bid farewell to family and friends and return to the evergreen shaded Pacific Northwest.

That’s when I found a fascinating bit of history I wasn’t expecting, with an odd family story to go along with it…

but that will have to wait for next time. 🙂

Here’s a hint…

Have you found any interesting places, or enjoyed any local curiosities in your travels of late?

Many thanks to the bloggers Jon, Ari and Dan who provided guest posts while I was away, and many thanks to you for visiting!



19 thoughts on “Summer Travels and Midwest Curiosities”

  1. …so…much…to…respond…to!

    I have long loved the bluffs around the Mississippi. I have family in LaCrosse. I still remember the first time I saw them — I thought they were mountains! (Growing up in North Dakota… yeah. They’s big compared to that flatness!)

    I saw that EXACT SAME GUMMY PYTHON yesterday at Jungle Jim’s in northern Cincinnati! I posed my six-year-old in front of it!

    Yes. Squeaky cheese curds. They are necessary, and sadly lacking in so many places.

    Looking forward to the family history, and thank YOU for letting me come visit!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. That was wonderful trip you had. I remember going on those road trips when the kids were young. We’ve never been to the Midwest but mostly travelled on the East Coast. Trips to Vermont where my brother lived were special. Really country with mountains and cornfields and the country stores where cheese and maple candies abound! Your kids will remember those fun road trips!!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’ve only driven out to the north-east once, but it was lovely country! As the kiddos get older, I can (hopefully!) see more road trips in the future- it’s easier with diapers and bottles out of the equation 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Thank you for sharing about your travels, Anne. What lovely phrasing- “in between hugs and meals and board games and farewells.” It evokes such happy memories of precious time with family!
    When I drive back to Central Oregon to visit family, the smell that greets me when I arrive is one of sagebrush, juniper trees, and dust. It’s a smell I love; it’s the smell of my childhood home. Last time I was there I tried honey lavender ice cream for the first time. It was different, but sure tasted good after a hike!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! Mmm, the smells and the ice cream sound fantastic! The Northwoods of MN have a more distinctive scent than the south, I think (unless you count some of the farms- I don’t usually notice, but the kids, growing up away from animals, certainly do 😉 ) Thanks for visiting.


  4. Hi Anne – I imagine keeping the little ones happy as you ‘rove’ around visiting family and friends was a good idea – love the places you stopped at … though the ‘Road Closed’ looks like a classic … and I too love corn – especially freshly picked … but cheese too … good to see you back – cheers Hilary

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I don’t know these spots but I do know the northwest/north central (Michigan) and they could be from any spot here. No travel discoveries yet but for my birthday (OK, don’t laugh) I’m hoping to tour the old Northern Michigan Asylum in Traverse City. Family history research. Seemed fitting.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. And I’m so blessed to be a part of this trip! 🙂 xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx You know, if we ever get our parental bums in gear, we should try to coordinate some sort of meeting by the Mississippi or something, a sort of day at a park with grilling and the like.

    Or, we go find some bizarre monument to stand in front of. This candy store is awesome! Bo promises to take us all North to stand in front of a giant muskee sometime…assuming the boys won’t run from it screaming… 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oooh, a giant muskee! Nice! We’ve got a photo in front of the Hodag in Rhinelander, WI, and I’d LIKE to get a picture in front of one of the giant Paul Bunyans in northern MN (there used to be one in Bemidji and Brainard I THINK- and one of them would even talk to visitors…) So many curiosities to see!! 🙂 And grilling by the Mississippi would be awesome!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Ooooo, you should do a Paul Bunyan tour! And I hear ya about the Hodag–I totally need to do a post on one of the weirdest legend creations of the Midwest. 🙂 Next summer, methinks!

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I know Bo’s got a book somewhere to help me, too. But no more North Woods for us this year, with school startin’. Remind me to hunt the Hodag next year! Because hopefully between the two of us one of us will remember. 😉

        Liked by 1 person

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