Most of this month we've been in northern Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois. We've continued to meet Slovak relatives and returned to our inquiries about German ones. Aside from one snowy day, we've had typical fall weather for this part of the country -- cool to cold, generally gray, with some rain and some patches of sunshine.

We've watched the countryside transform from Halloween to Thanksgiving to Christmas -- it's interesting to us, because (as least as far as home decorations are concerned) it's a non-stop decoration orgy. Ghosts and skeletons and inflatable gravestones give way seamlessly to cornstalks and scarecrows and gourds; jack-o-lanterns are a bit passe, but pumpkins and fall foliage decorate the scene until Thanksgiving is past when out Cedar Point Amusement park and its multiple rollercoasters Cedar Point and its rides come the green and red wreaths and icicles and candy canes and inflatable Santas and reindeer and it's Christmas season. None of those one-day holidays of our youth (Halloween wasn't even a grownup holiday back then) -- it's just one steady fall holiday season.

Of course holidays are a social phenomenon, and the American treatment of the months of November and December has been evolving steadily. In an urge to stimulate the fall buying season, cities and villages have spent money on wreaths and lights and decorations for poles and wires and public facilities near downtown, while homeowners must have entire storage lockers full of seasonal decorations. Don't expect us to interpret the sociology here, either; we think there may be as many explanations for our holiday customs as there are people!

We still don't know the immigration pattern of Elsa's German ancestors. One family just appears in Bunker Hill, Miami County, Indiana, around 1852, while the other turns up in Rockport, Cuyahoga County, Ohio, around 1833. The first produced a grandfather, the second a grandmother. We know they were "German Evangelical" in religion, which we think somehow mutated into "Lutheran," but we don't know that for sure. One of the problems is that all the German-ness vanished suddenly at the time of WW I, and all the German-Americans became just Americans. Some demographers say that a lot of nineteenth-century Germans came Public art in Elkhart emphases band music Civic art in Elkhart, Indiana to New Orleans, then up the rivers to Cincinnati, finally proceeding overland to farmland in Ohio and Indiana. It would have been as easy to take the Erie Canal to Buffalo and then by boat in Lake Erie. We just don't know yet.

Heading west from Cleveland we drove close to the Lake Erie shore, a region which was new to both of us. We had grown accustomed to identifying Ohio by its farms and industries, and not by lakeside resorts and second homes with boating and fishing, marinas and big yachts and all the modern accoutrements of modern waterfront living. We saw a mixture of older 20th century resorts with inexpensive mobile homes and trailers and small cottages, and, as the price of waterfront property continued to climb, newer gated communities with large ostentatious homes on the lake, an easy drive from Cleveland on I-90.

Somehow the Walther girls managed to grow up in Lakewood without ever visiting Cedar Point, near Sandusky. This year we drove as close as we could (it's closed for the season, now) and counted at least 8 roller coasters, all of which would scare the dickens out of us, not to mention roiling our innards! There's a A tough climb in the Indiana Dunes Bob climbs the dunes superhighway leading straight to the amusement park, and we got the picture that that multiple lanes of traffic would back up for miles on popular summer weekends.

Elkhart, Indiana, has statues of musicians and musical instruments. We soon remembered that it is the home of the Conn-Selmer musical instrument companies, well known to anybody who has played a trombone or trumpet. The city is also home to the Recreational Vehicle/Motor Home Hall of Fame, which seemed to be closed for the season.

We reached the edge of Lake Michigan and entered the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. We stopped to admire the tallest of the dunes, known as Mount Baldy, and quickly decided it was too steep and wet for us to climb. However, as we drove along Highway 12, the Dunes Highway, we found another access point, and made our way to the shore of the lake, where we watched the waves and admired the soft sand and beachgrasses in a brief spot of brilliant sunshine. We didn't stay long, because a strong wind was chilling us despite our layers of sweaters and windbreakers, The path in the dunes leads to Lake Michigan Lake Michigan from the Dunes and it started to sprinkle again.

Before reaching Chicago, we had lunch at a McDonald's in Gary, Indiana -- this one with a cheerful hostess who greeted all the guests as they arrived, joked with the customers, and made sure we were enjoying our meal.

In Chicago our second cousins Jan and Ladislav and Emilia greeted us with the keys to the city, took us to a Czech restaurant, and gave additional family information to us. In return we collected and compiled more and more reports about the extended family on both sides of the ocean and shared it with all. Thank goodness for the internet! The road sign says, Blinding Railroad A curious road sign

We spent Thanksgiving week in Indiana, seeing the countryside, cousins Earl and Martha, and the Allen County Public Library in Fort Wayne. We did add one road sign to our collection -- BLINDING RAILROAD. Any suggestions for interpretation? We've already seen many farms raising alpacas and llamas, but the yard full of camels was still quite a surprise.

Earl and Martha have finally succeeded in deterring squirrels from jumping out of trees onto their bird feeders -- strips of blue plastic blow in the wind and somehow convince the squirrels not to come near, leaving the birdseed for the birds, as intended. Temple Grandin would surely approve. We met cousins David and Linda, too, who live on an Indiana Heritage Farm -- meaning it's been in the A tree with strange fruit Our mystery tree same family for over 100 years. They've just lovingly restored the post-and-beam barn. Since we see so many old barns just collapsing from neglect, we're very proud of David and Linda.

Now that the trees have shed their leaves, occasional mysteries are exposed. We wonder what the fruit on this tree might be.

Now we're back near Cleveland, where we've joined a number of local genealogical societies, looking for suggestions to determine the origin of those German ancestors!