Mall of America, Minneapolis, Minnesota

Lucia and I created a rule while we were dating; we would not spend more than twenty minutes in a mall. It was a great rule because anything over that time-limit stirred our sin natures to the point to where we were irritated with each other.

We disdain malls (also called mauls) because we dislike shopping. Our best clothes are over ten years old. Why buy something new to replace something you like? No question the Lord permitted Amazon to live and breathe on our circle because of people like us.

And then there is the Mall of America, the biggest mall in the United States. We spent more time in that mall in one day than we have spent in any mall in the twenty-five+ years that we’ve known each other.

Just shoot me.

But we had to.

We arrived before noon and left at closing time. It’s four levels that seem to go in a circle. I think; maybe that was just me. We began on one, walked around it and then proceeded to the next one until we had seen every store–for the most partl.

Mall Facts

  1. You could fit seven Yankee Stadiums inside the Mall of America.
  2. Or you could fit 32 Boeing 747s inside the Mall of America.
  3. Or you could fit 258 Statues of Liberty inside the Mall of America.
  4. The Mall of America has its own counterterrorism unit.
  5. If you were to visit the mall and spend 10 minutes inside every store, it would take you 86 hours to complete your journey.
  6. It took 13,300 tons of steel to build the Mall of America. That’s almost twice the amount it took to build that Tinkertoy the Eiffel Tower.
  7. It boasts having a 1.2 million-gallon aquarium.
  8. Feeding these aquatic creatures requires more than 100 pounds of food, daily.
  9. It cost more than $650 million to build the Mall of America in 1992.
  10. And they just confirmed a $325 million expansion of the mall. By the way, a trip to the moon costs roughly $100 million per person.
  11. The Mall of America generates almost $2 billion in annual revenue for the state of Minnesota.

From BuzzFeed

There was the giant Lego Store. Yay!! And the theme park in the middle, on the bottom floor. There’s the Apple and Microsoft Stores across from each other. Cute. Of course, there is a putt-putt course. The Crayola Store would be great for the little folks. I got a waxed version of my finger there.

Whatever you want, you could probably find it in the Mall of America. (Or go online so you can spend your days doing other things, redemptive things.) The highlight was spending time with the family, goofing off and eating/drinking samples that are plenteous.

We took our backpack full of food and water bottles so we wouldn’t have to buy food or drinks. It was my largest “step-count” for any day during our trip, no doubt. And praise God that I could walk pain-free, virtually. And I believe there was little sinning against each other, which was a major miracle of mercy from the Lord to our family.

The real great news is that God did not give us courage or desire to make malls a part of our family dynamic, but we were glad that we went. We had to because it was there, and I think we’re all glad it’s off the list.

I’ve Been Everywhere, Man

In the great “I’ve Been Everywhere,” Man” tune by the late and famed American legend Johnny Cash, he made sure that we knew he’d been to Davenport, Iowa. It was a no-brainer after leaving Chicago that we had to hit this excellent midwest city.

All well-rounded cultural children yearn to visit these places, which is why we could not leave Folsom, California two years ago without visiting the historic Folsom Prison, which just happened to have a museum outside those blue-stone walls. And, as (sovereign) luck would have it, they had a J.C. room.


I went through three-quarters of my entire Johnny Cash collection between Folsom and Fresno. The glory of it all overcame my children. So when I learned that Davenport was a possibility, we bee-lined it to that little hamlet. And, you guessed it, we parked on one of the main drags and pulled up “Everywhere Man” on YouTube and took it all in.

Sky Bridge and More

The big highlight in Davenport was the sky bridge that jutted toward the mighty Mississippi. For whatever reason, they did not build it all the way to the river. Perhaps it was a lack of funds, but no matter, it was great to be able to walk through it.

And, as (sovereign) luck would have it, no other people were visiting that landmark while we were there, except two street teens who seemed to be looking for a cool spot to sit on the floor for a while.

And it was hot. I mean, blazing, scorching hot. We may have seen 50 total people while in the town for three hours.

The other highlight was walking alongside the Mississippi where they had a “park-like setup” similar to the riverfront in Cincinnati, just without the people. Lots of parking available, an amphitheater, and the stadium to their minor league baseball team, the Quad City Bandits.

There was also an opportunity to walk into the Mississippi, which was our first time, out of all the times we’ve crossed the big river in our crisscrossing of the States. Afterward, we went downtown to take in the city.

The architecture was lovely, especially the Adler Theater. The next event is in October. It appears the city takes the summer off, probably due to the heat. I’m not sure.

We chose not to stay overnight in their fair city, as we wanted to get to Minnesota to spend a few weeks with Lucia’s sister, brother-in-law, and their adorable family.

All-Day Walkabout in Chicago


Granted, we have a tourist experience in all the places we visit, but I must say that Chicago was one of the more delightful big towns that we have seen. NYC was great but too intense. LA was spread out and cobbled together. Chicago was big but not intense, too busy, or spread out. I’m talking about the primary tourist’s center areas, of course.

Boston was similar to Chicago in that it was more laid back, smaller, and not as dense, tourist-wise. D.C. had too many tourists. All of us put Chicago at the top of our list of fun cities to visit.

We found an outdoor all-day parking lot for fifteen bucks that would accommodate the “coffin.” Not bad. (The “coffin” is our luggage carrier on top of the van. At times there are height restrictions in some garages.) This parking area was near Millennium Park, which is contiguous to the Magnificent Mile, which put us in the heart of the tourist district.

Hello, Trump Tower

It was funny to walk out of the parking lot, look down the street and see the Trump Tower in all its glory. The words “Trump Tower” are large and conspicuous for all to see. They angled the building in such a way that you could see his name from nearly all the main walking, picture-taking venues. It was hilarious.

I’m sure it did not matter before 2016. I would assume Chicagoans were glad to have such a famous person boasting his name and hotel in the heart of the tourist district. And there were a lot of folks taking pictures of the hotel. I could not discern their political persuasion, though one Hispanic lady was clear to me that she did not like him. Sigh.

After getting a few shots and selfies at the Prez’s building, we had to find Garrett’s Popcorn Shops, which are all over the place. People say they have the best popcorn.

Willis Tower

From there to the Willis Tower, which used to be the Sears Tower, which used to be the tallest tower in America. Take that, Empire State Building. It was last on our list of top ten architectural achievements in America.

Sears built the building, over-imagining their future growth. Their goal was to rent out the vacant floors to businesses, and as their own growth expanded, they would eventually fill the entire skyscraper. That did not happen, as Walmart came on the scene. Sears continued to downsize, even to the point of selling their “tower of Babel” to the Willis folks.

For a steep fee, you could go to the top and stand on some glass that puts you “out of the building” and over the street. I did read something about a piece of glass in the Skydeck cracking once upon a time, which totally thrilled Ansa. We chose not to do go up, though Haydn was disappointed as his adventurous spirit was drawing him to the possibility.

Millennium Park

We spent most of the day in Millennium Park, which includes Grant Park, a stroll along the shoreline of Lake Michigan, the Navy Pier, and, of course, the Bean. There were scores of shops along the way, the most fun for Ansa was the Nutella Store, which had all things Nutella. Intriguing.

At the Navy Pier was a Ferris wheel and other rides, plus shops galore in an “underground Atlanta” type configuration, albeit much smaller and cleaner. I made my one souvenir purchase there, and so did Haydn. I got a hoodie-shirt, and he bought a knife.

The Bean

We ended up at the “Bean,” which is technically the “Cloud Gate” that a fellow built between 2004 and 2006. It was a beehive of activity. We met a couple from the Netherlands, who are now living in Tennessee. Talking to them was excellent.

It appears the big idea behind the bean is that you can take a picture of yourself and get some cool cloud or Chicago skyline shots, which is true. Then there were the two LED constructions (Crown Fountain) that had people’s faces with holes where their mouths were that let out a fountain of water every few minutes.

There were lots of youngsters barefoot, standing in the giant puddles waiting on the fountain to turn loose on them so they could get a good drenching. Before this, we went to the Jay Pritzker Pavilion to chill for a while. We were tired.

The Chicago Orchestra kicked off their summer season on that day, so we listened to a bit of Haydn before wrapping up our day. And it was a good day. Lots to see. The people were interactive and friendly. We did Chicago. A great family memory.

Chicago, a Sports Town


As mentioned in a prior post, it’s important to me to hit all the historical sport’s landmarks, as it’s one way to connect with a good memory from my childhood. And Chicago has a ton of these venues.

We drove my Soldier Field the first day but did not stop. There was no reason to do a walkabout since I care little for the Bears. Of course, Brian’s Song (1971) was a classic, and I cried much when I saw that movie. Really like Gayle Sayers. Other than that, we kept on going.

Today, we hit Wrigley Field and the United Center. (Oh, and yeah, we did drive by the White Sox’s stadium on the way into town the day before, but there was no significance in that structure other than seeing it at 70 MPH.)

Wrigley Field

As (sovereign) luck would have it, the Cubbies were in St. Louis, so I could not go to a game. The Reds were in town. The Tigers were in town. But not the Cubs. I had no interest in the first two, but it was crucial to me to snatch a leaf from the outfield wall at Wrigley.

Not this year.

Yet it was good to walk around the field, go into the over-priced gift shop that is contiguous to the famed stadium, and take a lot of pics at various points-of-interest, i.e., the many statues, including Harry Caray.

It was refreshing, sentimental, and inspiring in that I loved being where the lovable losers have played for decades, since 1914. One of the curious things was how the apartment complex across the street built bleachers on their roof so folks who could not get into the stadium, or didn’t want to, could watch the game from the “across-the-street” outfield.

Man, I love America.

We did get to make some tech-contrived Cub jerseys with our names and favorite numbers on our backs. My number is four. Not sure why. We then took pics of them rather than buying them because I’m not a true Cubbies fan.

Preferentially, there is something about wearing a jersey with my name (or worse, someone else’s name) on it. I don’t like the “spectator connotation” to life, especially something as unimportant as sports. I’d rather be on the “field of play,” and my game is the gospel.

United Center

Michael Jordan was one of my biggest heroes as a kid. He lifted this unregenerate child, who was looking for anything that was different from what he had, from the dysfunction and into the realm amazing-ness.

And I enjoyed Dean Smith as a basketball coach. I first saw the Tar Heels play Lew Alcindor (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) in the 1968 championship game. They were defeated soundly, but they made it to the big game in the (not-so) big dance. From that point forward, I followed the Tar Heels.

Until Jesus came into my life. Now, I follow Him.

He’s better, FYI.

There used to be a statue of Michael outside the United Center until they decided to consolidate their offices with the sport’s complex. So they built this beautiful office building on one side of the stadium so the Blackhawks and Bulls admin and execs could be on site.

Rather than moving the statue, they left it where it was, which is now a vast hollow lobby area that is between the offices and the arena. There is also an over-priced gift shop in this area. That was nice.

Other than that, there was nothing to see. It was free to enter, and the upside is that I got my inner-vicarious-hero-fix on.

The Windy City


I first saw Chicago from the east side of Lake Michigan. We drove up from South Bend, after visiting Notre Dame University, which put us at the lower southeast side of the big lake.

Of course, we had to stop because the kids had to get their little doggies in the cold water. And I did not want to disappoint them. Being the servant that I am, it was vital that I not get in the lake because I was on photo duty.

Weirdly, when we pulled up to one of the little park areas, there were these swirling dandelion, floaty things covering the car. Totally odd. It felt like a reenactment of Alfred Hitchcock’s Birds movie.

I found a couple of folks sitting on a bench who looked like indigenous people, so I asked them what that stuff is. They said it was from all the cottonwood trees. The lady said it would kill her husband if he were here because of his allergies. I sneezed and then said, “Thank you for letting me know.”

Chicago Sighting

We could see Chicago from across the lake. The tall buildings were tiny and enveloped in all the mist and haze from the lake, but there was no question what we were seeing. We snaked our way around the bottom of the lake and back up the west side until we arrived.

We decided to drive downtown and knock off seeing Soldier Field where the Chicago Bears play. Then I texted my friend in Scottsdale, AZ to find out the best place to eat Chicago deep-dish pizza. We ended up going to Lou Malnati’s.

Please do not tell him that we did not enjoy the pizza. It was okay. It was not world-beating. Honestly, we liked Lombardi’s better in Little Italy, lower Manhattan, which is also the oldest pizza place in America. Chi-town’s deep-dish did not sit well with me.

We drove around a bit more to get a feel for the place and then headed to our hotel, which was about an hour outside the city. But first, I wanted to drive by the United Center to pay my respects to MJ. He played most of his career for the Chicago Bulls, and they have a statue of him outside the building.

It was on the way to the hotel, so we drove by to find out that they built their offices around the statue, which put the landmark inside the United Center. The kind guard said it was free to enter, though they were not open at that time. So we decided we’d come back the next day to pay respect to a fellow Tar Heel.

Tomorrow, we’ll see the city.

Jiffy Corn Mix Factory Tour

My children love Jiffy, whether we’re talking about eating it or making it. So when putting forth the possibility of a Jiffy tour, they were ready to go. The Jiffy plant is a small one, but they produce a lot of product.

We were part of about thirty other folks touring the facility in Chelsea, Michigan. Jiffy schedules them throughout the morning, and there is no charge. It took an hour, which began with a short creative video.

We put on our nifty Jiffy blue hair nets and took the tour. I thought it would be cool to be a tour guide in a factory. The Jiffy tour guide was excellent. She has been working at the plant for 30+ years and loves her job. The tour guide gets to interact with the people and not have to do the hard factory work.

The plant was somewhat loud, but not unbearable. They were not at full capacity. They are mostly a seasonal company as folks use their products more during the fall and winter, Thanksgiving and Christmas, for example. We bought a case of Jiffy boxes on the way out, which were at a discount.

From Their Website

Chelsea Milling Company was established in 1901, as a traditional flour mill. By early 1930 we had expanded into the retail prepared baking mix market with our first “JIFFY” Mix product. Today, “JIFFY” is the market share leader in retail prepared muffin mixes. In addition to our retail products, we produce mixes for the Foodservice and Institutional markets.

At “JIFFY” our mission is to provide our consumers with the best possible value. We define value as providing the highest quality ingredients at the best price.

Mindo Chocolate Factory


One of the things we love to do is visit factories, to take tours. They are always interesting, and usually, you get good deals, if not free stuff. Last year we did the Celestial Tea Tour in Boulder, Colorado. We got a lot of inexpensive tea, and it was educational.

In 2008, we may (or may not have) skipped out on part of the ACBC national counseling conference to take the Budweiser tour in St. Louis. (It was way more interesting.) This year we did the Henry Ford museum, and while on our way to Chicago, we decided to visit the world-famous Mindo Chocolate Factory.

Okay, it’s not quite as world-shaking as it sounds. The factory is a house deep in the woods of Michigan. The GPS had a hard time directing us, and we went down more than one gravel road. And the service on our phones did disappear. I kept hearing the theme song to Deliverance (dueling banjos) in my head.

The reviews online said not to give up; you will find it. They were correct, and after awhile we drove down a long driveway to a home surrounded by woods. Being the leader that I am; I protected our children as Lucia went to the door to meet a lady, who said, “It’s a little weird, but it’s okay.” I think she has seen “that look” before from strangers who were not sure what was going to happen after they knocked on her door.

She was about twenty or so and inviting. We slowly entered her home as she explained that it was a chocolate (house) factory. One converted room was shipping and receiving. Another room was where they made the magic chocolate. Then there was the tasting room, which appeared to be a converted Florida room.

The lady who owns the “factory” shuttles between Michigan and Ecuador, which is where they get their amazing beans. She was in South America at the time. Our guide was wonderful, kind, generous, and willing to answer all our questions. The “cook” in the back room was also gracious.

And the chocolate was fabulous. We bought a few bars to take on the road with us. The thing I appreciated the most was the entrepreneurial spirit of these folks. They had an idea and went about implementing it. I love that spirit. They do sell to a few small-sized stores, as well an online presence.

If you’re ever deep in the woods of Michigan, drop by their house (factory) and take the tour. It’s about an hour, depending on your questions. You’ll like these folks and their chocolate, and it will be a good memory for all.