Flintstones and Jack-O-Lanterns in Griffith, Indiana

“Time is measured by the movement of hands, but history is measured by the fruit of their labors.”

Daniel J. Mitchell

Checking out one of Griffith’s most beloved seasonal tourist attractions, today I got to stop by the pumpkin buried lawn of the Berenie family (917 Miller Street, Griffith).

Every year the Berenie’s grow and harvest their own pumpkins on a large plot of land at the corner of Arbogast and Miller Street. Annually carving out a new theme into their monolithic, orange vegetables, this year’s family friendly motif was none other than the Flintstones.

Fortunate enough to catch the carvers in their “pre-carving phase”, I got to watch as they graphed and plotted the endearing sprites onto the bulbous faces of the pumpkins. Wilma Flintstone stood in a perky salute with her hands on her hips, Fred Flintstone cruised in his stone-age automobile with a delightful grin, and the rambunctious Hoppy the Hopparoo (an apparent hybrid of dinosaur/kangaroo) flashed an adorable, dopey smile.

Daring to snag one of the carvers for an interview, I was able to speak with Ms. Berenie at the front of the lawn who welcomed the break. Frustrated in her attempts to draw the Flintstones’ iconic, stone-carved letters, she assured me that as long as there was paint thinner to go around, she’d eventually get it right.

Curious as to how they decide what theme to run with every year, she informed me that it all depends on the pumpkins. Before they even give way to fleeting inspiration, the family pays close attention to both the quantity and quality of the pumpkins to determine which theme will work.

 

 

Baffled at just how much effort goes into the mere grid sketches, I had to ask how much more difficult is it to do the actual carving. Admitting that carving is definitely the most tedious part, they tackle the challenge by carefully utilizing tiny knives to sculpt every minute detail, and occasionally wires where mistakes are made (though, she assured me, this rarely happens).

While they aren’t quite done with the finishing touches yet, Ms. Berenie assured me that most of the pumpkins will be ready for display this coming Sunday. So, if you happen to be in town, indulge in a moment of regression and catch a glimpse of these wonderfully nostalgic Jack-o-lanterns!

Jeepers Creepers

 

The weekend weather made it quite clear that it’s almost time to place the bike back on the rack. Although, I was able to squeeze in a few casual rides down to Oak Ridge Prairie and the Calumet River, even these routine rides were becoming a chore with the high winds and cold air creeping in.

Needless to say, I think these next few days, hopefully weeks, will be marking the end of my bicycling adventures. While I’ll still be able to post about local sights to see and eateries to try, I will most likely be documenting them from the safe heated cockpit of my car rather than the cold leather seat of my bike.

So, what’s next on the agenda? Not wanting to let my favorite season get by without a second glance, I’m planning on doing a little holiday ride around The Region. As the residents dress their lawns with tombstones, drape their walls with ghosts and stock their homes with candy, I will set out into the night to explore some of the creepiest and cutest Halloween decor this side of Northwest Indiana has to offer!

Autumn has Fallen

With Mother Nature fighting me at every turn, it’s becoming increasingly obvious that biking season is coming to a close. Barely able to get out and enjoy the outdoors without dawning a suit of fleece armor, the chill of late fall is all too real.

If you’re able to get out during one of the nicer days over the weekend, I highly recommend paying Oak Ridge Prairie a visit. With autumn officially settling in, the trees are just beginning to transform into gorgeous, organic jewels of orange, yellow and red. There’s a nice playground set-up if you’re planning on bringing the family and plenty of nature trails if you’re merely looking for an escape. While I’m not exactly the hiking expert, one of my fellow bloggers, Earth Traveler, stopped by the park recently for a little expedition. You can check out his misadventures at, Earth Traveler’s Guide to Environmental Entertainment.

Hopefully over the weekend I’ll be able to soak in the last of the waning sunshine and make it out to a few more eateries around Northwest Indiana. I’m thinking in this weather I better start shooting for a place that serves hot chocolate.

Any suggestions…?

Frozen Yogurt Express – Munster, Indiana: Shake It

Coming home after a rough day, I found myself with a horrible toothache. However, this wasn’t your typical toothache that could be remedied by a dentist visit or brushing with Sensodyne. No, the only thing that could satiate this unnerving pain was a nice, cold, ice cream shake. That’s right…it was a sweet toothache.

 

Biking out to Wicker Memorial Park in Highland, I connected with the Little Calumet River Trail and followed it down to Calumet Avenue. Once I hit the end of the trail in Munster, I immediately glanced to the left, my Sugar Sense was tingling. Just a few pedals up the road was an old frozen yogurt shop I had visited awhile back with my father, the Frozen Yogurt Express.

Gladly submitting to temptation, I advanced toward the quaint little hut. Merely a counter and a kitchen, this tiny building was a delightful, rusty penny amongst the more impersonal structures of the area.

During my last visit, I was bold enough to ask what was the most original dessert they make. The cashier said if she had to choose her favorite, most original menu item it would have to be the Swedish Fish Shake-It… Unfortunately, I wasn’t bold enough to try it.

Settling for an Oreo Shake-It, their most popular, not their most unique, I was pleasantly surprised with the result. Literally what it sounds like, a Shake-It is a frozen yogurt shake with cookies, candy, or cake rolls, pulverized into it. While I thoroughly enjoyed this liquified masterpiece, I know some people who’ve said they didn’t care for the gritty texture. So if you’re sensitive to that sort of thing, you might want to grab a cone instead.

Mentally preparing myself on this return trip, I was crazy enough to try the Swedish Fish Shake-It. However, when I was faced with a cup full of pink slop and red specks, I began to re-evaluate my decision-making skills. Closing my eyes, I took a nice, deep slurp. Pleasantly surprised, this blend of fruitiness and creamy frozen yogurt tickled my tongue and gave me a slaphappy sugar buzz. While I still prefer the Oreo Shake-It a little bit more, the Swedish Fish made for a good non-chocolate substitute.

 

Having only experimented with Shake-Its these past two visits, I asked the cashier what were some of their other popular creations. She said that their most popular item had to be the 24 oz Root Beer Float, but a lot of people come in for a quick cone or the sugar-free flavor of the day as well.

Although this shop was opened by the husband and wife team of Bob and Linda back in 1989, it will be moving into a strip mall up the road in late October. While I’ll certainly miss the cute stop-and-go style stand, it’ll be nice to see what they can do with a newer facility. Perhaps, I’ll swing by for another visit after the move if it’s not too cold.

9/11 Reflection: Munster Community Veterans Memorial

Today is the only day that America reflects on a loss. We may celebrate Independence Day, Veterans Day, Memorial Day and even take time to acknowledge the tragedy of D-Day, all holidays sadly birthed from war, but they are days of victory nonetheless.

The 9/11 attacks brought about new feelings and perceptions that were foreign to our country at the time, ones of vulnerability, uncertainty, and loss. It felt like the very fabric of our ideals and foundation of our freedom was on the brink of destruction. But as all men and women do when they are pushed to the very edge, we held on.

Like many other people who remember that day, the memories of 9/11 are still vividly preserved in my mind. I was eleven at the time, sitting in front of the television eating a turkey sandwich. Flipping through the stations to find something to watch, I was confused as to why the same thing was on every single channel. It looked as if there had been a horrible plane crash in New York.

Calling my mom to interpret the matter, she, like myself, perceived it to be nothing more than an unfortunate accident.

And that’s when it happened…

Watching a second plane strike the World Trade Center right before our eyes, I instantly looked to my mother seeing a sight I’ll never forget. Pale white, one of the many shades of terror, suddenly washed over her face. Her shoulders hunched and her eyes opened wide, as did all of ours, at the horrific scene transmitted over the television.

It was at that moment I knew that what had just happened would change us forever.

Eleven years later, having endured loss, fear, panic, war and terror, America once again has proved that it can take every moment, triumphant or tragic, and transform it into a defining moment. Even though we had been torn apart by terror, we were united by our resolution.

As we remember our journey as a people: our victories, our losses, our accomplishments and missteps, we continue to build courage around doubt and purpose over incertitude.

While I’ve already included an excerpt on Munster’s Community Veterans Memorial not too long ago, I would like to take this time of reflection and give it a second glance.

Last Sunday, my father and I rode down The Munster Bike Path through Centennial Park and across the street to The Community Veterans Memorial at 9710 Calumet Avenue. Although no bikes are allowed on the memorial itself, it was a small price to pay to honor our veterans.

A beautiful red brick path encompasses the park, with references to specific historical events chronologically ordered, beginning at the year 1896. Grand monuments paying tribute to veterans from WWI to the Persian Gulf War are spread throughout the canvas. Skillfully blended into the greenery of the gardens, these intense monuments of war are perfectly contrasted by the serenity of nature, creating moments of remembrance and resolve.

If you’re looking for a special way to commemorate the sacrifice of our troops overseas, or simply to acknowledge those who lost their loved ones during the 9/11 tragedy, this memorial is the perfect way to focus your mind and comfort your heart.

Crown Point Downtown Square – Crown Point, Indiana: Square Route

With the Southlake YMCA’s two week annual maintenance shutdown finally over, I decided it was time to get back to the gym. Still preferring to spend more time outside, I figured the ten mile ride there and back would be more than sufficient  for my cardio, leaving the tedious strength training for indoors.

Mounting the bike, I hit the Erie-Lackawanna Trail in Griffith and journeyed on towards Crown Point. The great thing about this path in-particular was its consistency. One long stretch of asphalt with practically no interruptions breaking the pace (save for two or three busy roads to cross), it was an ideal route for my cardio workout.

Riding past Merrillville and spelunking through the thin cement cave under Route 30, I made my way to one of the most beautiful portions of the trail I had ever seen. Running behind the Lake County Government Center, flanked by gorgeous fields of green, smooth wooden fences and vibrant colored flowers, it was almost like stumbling into the fanciful summer meadows of Narnia hidden right in Northwest Indiana’s backyard.

The path curved around the natural landscape gently massaging the shallow hills. Traversing  a comely bridge extending over a creek, I came across the Charles & Mable Swisher Park. Just a small plot of groomed grass and four benches, this concealed little oasis was a perfect, tranquil spot for an impromptu picnic. It was too bad I ate before I came. Maybe another time.

So caught up in the beauty and peacefulness of the whole experience, it wasn’t until this point that I realized I had forgotten my YMCA membership card. Taking this misfortune in stride, I figured if I’ve already come this far, I might as well drop by and visit the Crown Point Downtown Square.

Reaching the end of the Erie-Lackawanna Trail, I hopped immediately onto West Street and moseyed on towards the bright orange tower of the Crown Point Courthouse peeking over the tree tops. It wasn’t long before I was in the heart of the square, with cars zipping by and visitors casually touring the novel, local shops. With the picturesque courthouse now in plain view, I made my way around its side to the Historical District on South Main Street to get a glimpse of my two favorite buildings: the old Lake County Criminal Court, and the Sheriff’s Building, where the notorious John Dillinger made his famed escape in 1934.

It wasn’t too long ago that Director Michael Mann came to this very location when filming his own Dillinger story, Public Enemies. I still remember standing out in the bitter cold just to get a peek at the action. In retrospect, it isn’t something I would consider doing again without a bucket full of hot chocolate…

My heart rate lowered to a lazy pace as I leisurely took in the rustic and gritty architecture of these yesteryear masterpieces. It wasn’t until I finally let out a long and content yawn that I knew it was time to get my legs back on those pedals.

Bidding farewell to the marvels of the downtown square, I started on my journey home.

Perhaps I would go to the gym tomorrow…

Bruce Lake – Kewanna, Indiana: The Lake Effect

This Labor Day brought an unexpected treat, sweeping me off the northwestern trail and on to good Ol’ Kewanna, Indiana. Visiting my grandparents at their Lake Bruce house, this was a rare opportunity to get in some country biking during my short stay at this beautiful rose of a town.

When I was six years old my grandparents purchased a quaint little cottage on the secluded Bruce Lake near Winamac. Ever since then my summers have been filled with bass fishing, boat rides and S’mores around the fire pit. However, with the old timers’ recent retirement and the unavoidable calling of Florida ringing in their ears, it became explicitly clear that this was probably going to be our last summer in Kewanna.

With the words “For Sale” looming right outside the door, it felt a little odd to think that someday there would be no more sunny days spent on Bruce Lake. This place had been with our family since the first time I picked up a fishing net, felt the thrill of tubing and the joy of midday dips at the swimming spot (a sectioned off area in the middle of the lake). Every outdoor hobby I explored, this humble, little lake more than provided for. Now with the uncertainty of a return visit, I begged this old friend to open up its enchanting roads one last time.

I set out on my bike just as the sun was beginning to descend, flirting with the horizon. Corn fields shimmered like tarnished gold as streams rippled in a drowsy gurgle, already asleep in the afternoon breeze. Taking the irregular circle around the lake, I made my way casually down the thin country roads, remembering only to utilize left turns so I wouldn’t get lost.

The experience was like riding through a Norman Rockwell painting, each nuance of the countryside brushing character into the canvas. A tattered barn leaned on its side like an old man on a crutch. Rusted, worn out fishing boats rested idly in tin sheds, apparently accustomed to life on land. Birds serenaded the setting sun as the crickets struck their harps, beckoning the night. Every man, woman and child gave a courteous wave as I rode by, a traditional neighborly greeting… but now a sad farewell.

It was hard to identify what it was about this place that made me so happy. Was it the water? The sun? Fishing? Or the S’mores? No, these things I could find at any manmade lake. Something much deeper resided within this place, something I could never sell or lose… memories. Long summer sleepovers with my friends, playing the ancient original Nintendo on rainy days, hiking out to the suspension bridge just for the sake of crossing it and sneaking out early in the morning to get the jump on some unsuspecting fish. These moments were the very essence of my Bruce Lake, preserved in time, unchanging. And as I thought about this, it gave me a sense of closure and peace. It wasn’t the lake, the boat rides, the fishing or the swimming that held such a special place in my heart, but the moments I spent with those I love creating a lake of memories that will never run dry.