Thursday, May 31, 2012

Waterways of the Twin Cities

The name Minnesota can be roughly translated as "sky-tinted water".  It actually has more than 15,000 lakes. No surprise, then, that the two biggest cities of the state has about 1,000 bodies of water in its' metropolitan area. Minneapolis is a word which combines "minne", an American Indian word for water, with "polis", Greek for city. The Mississippi River runs through both of the cities, and the water power of St.Anthony Falls made Minneapolis the flour mill capital of the world from 1880-1930. Today the headquarters of Cargill and General Mills are still in Minneapolis. Anthony Falls has changed a lot over the years. It has receded and its' height has decreased. Erosion, the presence of the flour and lumber mills,  as well the erection of locks and dams on the upper Mississippi has affected the physical nature of the falls.
Yesterday, before touring the capitol building, we drove over to Minnehaha Park located in Minneapolis. At one time the Minnehaha Creek flowed directly into the Mississippi River. Its' falls have receded 500 feet over time. The park is part of the Grand Rounds scenic byway, 50 miles of public land located in Minneapolis. It was designated as a National Scenic Byway in 1998, the first byway in the states located entirely within an urban area. Minnehaha Falls is pictured below.The glen surrounding it is quite picturesque.
Our last stop yesterday was at the St. Paul waterfront where we strolled around Harriet Island. We certainly have not even put a dent into all the sight seeing possibilities in the twin city area! Just along all the water ways of the cities there is a lot to see and do.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Minnesota State Capitol

Our tour of this building was about as interesting and colorful as the political history of this state. Our tour guide, a member of the Minnesota Historical Society, did not dwell on the huge marble columns of the building, stenciled ceilings or murals- rather he regaled us with the political intrigues of the state. I must say that it was one of the more fascinating tours of a capital building that we have ever had!  I did not get a good outside picture of the building- that was rather difficult to do in one picture as it is a long structure of three buildings. One of the first items our guide wanted to show us was a model of the capitol made of Lego bricks. That display model offers a better conception of the capitol than any picture taken on my camera.
More than 20 varieties of marble, limestone, sandstone, and granite were used in the construction of the capitol. The picture below of the grand staircase perhaps gives you a good idea of the beauty of the interior of the capital. Strangely enough, those features of the building, as well about a ten others, we discovered later when we got home and read a brochure we had picked up titled  Art Treasure in the Capitol.
 After showing us the Senate and House Rooms our guide took us to the roof to get a closer look at the Quadriga. It is a sculpture gilded with gold leaf over cooper. Quadriga means a two-wheeled chariot drawn by four horses. It can also be a symbol of victory. It was placed on top of the capitol to symbolize progress in Minnesota.
One other interesting feature of this building is the presence of statues of Civil War heroes and flags. Apparently it was primarily Civil War veterans who built the first two capitol buildings (the present building was completed in 1905)- for them it was the "Great War" of the time.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Minneapolis, Minnesota

It is about time that we bring our readers up to speed on where we have been and what we have been doing. From Missouri we traveled to Minnesota last week. We are parked in a campground in St.Paul, the nearest we can be located to our niece Kathy, her husband Doug and three children. Saturday we drove to Northfield, Minnesota to attend the end- of- year concert performed by the St. Olaf choir, band and orchestra. Needless to say, all of the music was outstanding as per usual. Sunday was the baccalaureate service and graduation ceremony for the class of 2012. Our nephew Kaleb was in that class- he is the son of our niece Miriam and husband Kraig. It was our third attendance at a St.Olaf graduation. Our niece Kathy graduated from St.Olaf in 1990,  and son Daniel in 20004. Time does fly by so quickly! Certainly the weather has changed here over those years. It use to be that the weather on graduation day here could be counted on to still be a bit cool. Sunday it was 90 degrees- we sat out under the scorching sun with no shade (umbrellas were held by many) for two hours. Well, there was a little breeze, otherwise it would have been unbearable. However, the weather certainly did not diminish the joy of the day for many of the graduates and their families! Unfortunately, I forgot my camera Sunday, so I have no photographs to share. On Memorial Day we toured the riverfront of Minneapolis. Below is a picture of the stone arch bridge, built in 1883 as a railroad track which brought grain from northern Minnesota to the mills of Minneapolis. It is now a pedestrian bridge. In the background is the new I-35west highway bridge ( you may remember that in 20007 the previous one collapsed with the loss of 12 lives).
The Guthrie Theater can also be seen from the waterfront. Built in 2006 it houses three theaters. The very modern-appearing building has a 178-foot cantilevered bridge (called the "Endless Bridge").

Friday, May 25, 2012

Salisbury House

When we checked into the campground on the Iowa Sate Fairgrounds on Monday we were informed that if we were planning on leaving Wednesday, to check out early because President Obama was having a campaign rally later that day here on the fairgrounds. We extended for one more day, just for the chance of seeing him. And I thought that going to the rally would be my big story of the day for Wednesday, until we toured the Salisbury House. In 1921 while visiting Salisbury,  England  Carl Weeks first saw "The King's House".  It was a manor house used by British royalty dating to the 13th century. Edith and Carl Weeks knew immediately it would be the model for their new home in Des Moines. In 1926 construction was completed on the 28,000 square foot, 42-room, four story house. The Tudor-style mansion features Gothic porches, a Carolean-style brick addition, 16th century floors and ceilings, paneling and fireplaces. The exterior consists of Indiana limestone, English flint and re-used paving bricks. I have here two pictures which show the building's different architectural styles.
We started our tour on the north side of the Great Hall. The balcony above the Great Hall offers a good view of the half-timbered, wood-beam Tudor ceiling. The railing is from a church in England. The wooden statues, seen in the picture below, were carved in Germany during the 1500s.
The house is advertised as "six centuries of stories under one roof". The Weeks traveled around the world and amassed a great collection of rare and varied pieces of art and history, which can be seen through-out the house in furniture, wall panelings, tapestries, paintings and artifacts. John and I initially toured the first two floors on our own, after that we went on a guided tour to see the nooks and crannies of the mansion. The fourth floor, which at one time had many guest bedrooms, now is one big room of paintings and artifacts which as yet have to be displayed. Here there is also a scrapbook of rare documents, antique weapons collection and South American shrunken heads- that is just to mention only a few of the treasures which were shown to us. Needless to say, the Weeks were quite wealthy- Carl was a pioneer in the cosmetic's industry and owned Armand Cosmetics Company. They moved out of the house in 1954. After touring the home we returned to the fairgrounds, and joined the crush of people waiting to see President Obama.  A storm came up while we were waiting (we had returned our umbrellas to the car because we were informed that they would be confiscated as they were security risks). Fortunately the crowds were moved to a large exhibition hall to get out of the rain. After that we waited a couple of more hours standing in line and listening to several political speeches before the main event.  It was painful, but I am satisfied that I at least saw in person one president in my lifetime. Also, Barack Obama is one president whom I do admire.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Des Moines Art Center

Unfortunately I did not get an outside picture of this building. The art collection of this museum is housed in three major buildings.  Three architects collaborated on the design of the total building: Eliel Saarinen, I.M. Pei, and Richard Meir. The building opened to the public in 1948. It had two more building phases after it opened, one in 1965 and the last one in 1985.  The total structure is a distinctly modern building with a horizontal profile and flat roof. Inside there are sweeping curved  stairways and large rambling spaces broken up into into either large galleries or into very small rooms designed to display only one work of art. The museum forms a quadrangle of galleries around a reflecting pool. The art displayed is mostly contemporary. Currently Jackson Pollock's Mural is on display as well as the work of Tony Feher. In the past I have not particularly cared for the work of modern artists, but I liked what I saw today at the art center. However, the goal of the museum is to represent artists also from the 19th and 20th centuries as well as the 21st century. Some of the artists represented are: Claude Monet,  August Rodin,  Francisco Goya,  Henri Matisse, Georgia O'Keefe,  Andy Warhol- as well as many others. The art center also displays sculptures on its grounds as well as at the Pappajohn Sculpture Park located in downtown Des Moines. That was our last stop for the day. In the picture below (foreground) are Three Dancing Figures by Keith Haring, and in the background is a sculpture called Nomade by Jaume Plensa.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

History and Art in Des Moines

The title of this posting may sound quite boring, but I must say that John and I had a very interesting day in this town. We knew that the temperature would get even higher today than yesterday (it did get to 89 degrees today). Our plan was just to spend the majority of our day at the Des Moines Art Center. But as it was still cool early in the morning, we took a side trip to the "strikingly modern civic center" (so described in our AAA Tour Book). I do believe that we saw a more impressive building at Madison Wisconsin's convention center. In a plaza near the civic center of Des Moines we were to find waterfalls, a reflecting pool and "Crusoe Umbrella" a sculpture by Chaes Oldenberg. The waterfalls had not been turned on yet, but we did find the umbrella sculpture.
On our way again, to the art center, we saw signs pointing the way to the Governor's Mansion- the signs also indicated that tours were available. We wondered whether that was something we should add to our day- our tour of the Governor's Mansion in Little Rock was very interesting. We stopped, entered the Carriage House were the tours started,  and found out that we could join the last tour of the day. The building of this Victorian Mansion (Terrace Hill)  was completed in 1869. It was built by the richest man in Iowa at that time, B.F.Allen. His goal was to build on the highest hill in the Racoon River Valley, and it was to be the tallest and wealthiest home in the city. He spent $250,000 to $400,000 on it - but soon went bankrupt and had to sell it to Fredrick Hubbell in 1884 for $60,000. It is worth about $30,000,000. today.
Even though there were only John and I for the last tour, a volunteer guide was quite eager to show us the home. Only the first and second floors can be toured, the third floor has been occupied by the families of  Iowa's governors since 1976. The Hubbell family donated it to the state in 1971. All I can say is that the home is quite beautiful with its' massive butternut and oak arched doors between the rooms, 8 marble fireplaces and crystal chandeliers. I think you can get an idea of what I am speaking of in the picture below. Note also the intricate and ornate wall stenciling. It is a most elegant home.
To get to the second floor we went up a attractive grand staircase, and at the top we passed by a massive stained glass window- sunlight coming into the windows made the colors of the glass very vibrant. The interior of Terrace Hill is filled with Victorian furnishings to recreate the early era of the residence. Most interesting to me was a "petticoat table" in the entry hallway where the women could check the hems of their long dresses in a mirror. There is also a Lincoln sewing stand made by Civil War prisoners. A carving of the head of Lincoln is on its lid. Looks like I will need to continue the story of our day in Des Moines in the next posting, we did make it to the art center eventually!

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Iowa's Capital City

Yesterday we moved our home out of Missouri and headed north, to Des Moines Iowa. Upon arrival we parked our home on the grounds of the Iowa State Fair campgrounds. It is a rather spacious area with over 1,000 camping spots available. Presently there are about a dozen other campers, if that many, parked here with us. The campground is rather beautiful with rolling green hills, and overlooks downtown Des Moines. We drove into the city today to tour the capitol building. It is one of the more ornate state buildings which we have seen in our travels. Construction of the capitol began in 1871 and was completed in 1884. Gold leaf covers the dome. The interior is furnished with 29 types of marble as well as a variety of wood.
In the tour of the capitol building our guide pointed out beautiful artwork, woodcarvings, artifacts and decorative wall and ceiling paintings as well as a set of mosaics created in Italy. Suspended across the dome is the emblem of the Grand Army of the Republic. It was placed there as a reminder of Iowa's efforts to preserve the Union during the Civil War. The emblem is painted on canvas and suspended by wire.
Near the Governor's Office is a collection of dolls depicting Iowa's first ladies dressed in their inaugural gowns. Our guide pointed out that there has never been a male spouse represented in that collection- Mississippi and Iowa are the only two states that never has had a woman governor. After touring the capitol we walked from there into the edge of downtown De Moines. We walked only as far as it was needed to get some lunch, it was a rather warm day! Our next goal of the day was to search out the waterways of the city. In its' early days it was a military garrison established on the forks of the Des Moines and Racoon Rivers. The former river had been christened by French voyagers as La Riviera des Moinesk, or the River of the Monks. Pictured below is a pedestrian bridge which crosses the Des Moines in the downtown area.
In the town of West Des Moines we found Racoon River Park.It has a beautiful beach front area where many young people were hanging out, either swimming or sunbathing. It is hard to believe that we are at the end of May and heading into the summertime months!

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Omaha, Nebraska- Mother's Day

I just received some beautiful hydrangeas from a friend of mine here in St.Louis, so pardon me if I show them off. I will also say that they are a tribute to all the wonderful women in our readership who celebrated Mother's Day on Sunday. We honored the day by touring Omaha. The city does have many interesting places to visit, however, we only had Sunday to see a few of them. John and I do think that someday we will have to come back to complete our tour of  this city, which is the largest municipality in Nebraska. The state can claim one president as its own, and that is the 38th President Gerald Ford. He was born in Omaha in 1913 and stayed here only for the first 16 days of his life. His grandparents home, where he lived, is not around anymore. But on the site is a scale model replica of the original house. The Betty Ford Rose Garden also marks the home site. All of the gardens on the grounds, in addition to some stately Grecian columns,  were designed to suggest two residences of President Ford- that of his birth home as well as that of the White House.
From there we drove to the riverfront of the city. The skyline and riverfront of Omaha has certainly been revitalized since the last time we spent any appreciable time in the city. In 2008 the Bob Kerry Pedestrian bridge was built over the Missouri River. The 3,000 foot bridge connects Omaha and Council Bluffs, Iowa.
 The lights on the bridge were paid for by Gallup, which has its corporate headquarters and university on the river adjacent to Miller's Landing in the Port of Omaha. Also adjacent to the riverfront is the corporate headquarters of Con Agra Foods. We spent the rest of our afternoon walking around a park built by that company,  called Heartland of America. A mama goose reminded us what the day was all about (Mother's Day) as she sat faithfully on her nest near a lake in that park. Despite many people passing close to her on the lakeside trail she remained unruffled and sat very sedately on her eggs.

Creighton University Graduation

We left our home in St. Peters, Missouri Thursday and drove to Columbia, which was the first leg of our journey to Omaha, Nebraska. John and I felt very bad having to place our cat in a kennel at this late stage of his life. We picked him up yesterday, Tuesday, and it did seem that the ordeal took a few more lives off his already few left for his remaining years on this earth. Now it seems that he is a bit more wobblier on his back legs. We arrived in Omaha Friday afternoon, in plenty of time for the Creighton Baccalaureate Mass. Before I go on any further, I should explain Creighton University. It is a four year Catholic university, in the Jesuit tradition. Enrollment is around 7,700 students. My brother-in-law. Charles Austerberry is a professor there. I have not attended many Catholic masses in my lifetime, but the baccalaureate service was quite up-lifting with beautiful music and an inspiring homily. Saturday, between a brunch in the morning and the graduation in the afternoon,  we drove over to the picturesque Old Market section of Omaha. In this section of Omaha there are art galleries, boutiques, specialty shops,  pubs and restaurants. We were there to shop at the Farmer's Market. Flowers especially were in demand because of Mother's Day, which was happening the next day on Sunday.
What I enjoy (most generally) when attending graduation ceremonies are the speeches given by notable personages.  The special speaker for the graduation ceremony on Saturday was CNN's midday news anchor Suzanne Malveaux. She had some interesting stories to tell from her many experiences both as a reporter for CNN and also as a White House Correspondent. She received an honorary degree from Creighton. The rest of the  graduation ceremony was devoted to the awarding of various degrees to 1,500 students. Our nephew David is pictured below, along with his parents Chuck and Gloria. They can be quite proud of what David has accomplished during his years at Creighton! He will be continuing his education at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Cinco de Mayo in St.Louis

St.Louis has had some very hot weather lately. It has been more like July here rather than the beginning of May. Consequently the strawberry crops in this area are well along into their season, which is usually more toward the end of May. So yesterday morning,  hoping to find some sweet local berries,  we headed to downtown St.Louis and the Soulard Farmers Market.
We got wise very soon at the market- California and Florida strawberries were about $2.50 a quart, local strawberries were about a dollar more. No problem for us as to which strawberries we should purchase! Also now being grown locally are spinach, lettuce, asparagus and a small quantity of rhubarb. It did not take very long for our shopping bags to be filled and we were ready for lunch. Knowing that a Cinco De Mayo parade was soon happening on Cheokee Street, we decided to stop there for lunch. This part of St.Louis is south of downtown, and use to be John's old stomping grounds when he worked for Concordia Publishing House. Currently Cherokee Street is famous for its many antique stores and Mexican cuisine. We found our lunch at a Mexican restaurant and,  just as we were walking back to the car,  we came upon the parade.
The Cherokee Street area more recently has become a rapidly growing environment of art and entertainment. It seemed to me that much of the parade lacked an Hispanic theme but had more to do with the businesses of the area. In the parade we saw a "First Punch Film Production Truck", as well as people carrying a sign which said "Gateway to Agape"- one of the people carrying it wore a shirt which offered free hugs. There were some things in the parade which I so totally did not understand, maybe I had to live in the area to do so.
Another truck in the parade had painted on it " Pig Slop 4 Life" and another said "May These Changes Make US Light".  We saw everything from the ridiculous to the sublime with a lot of funk in between. The parade ended with a procession of cars from the Volvo Car Club.  I guess what mattered is that everyone was happy and seemed to be caught up in the festival spirit of the day.

Friday, May 4, 2012

April Storms in St.Louis

A bad storm came through the St.Louis area last Sunday evening. I am given to understand that the most damage, done by the wind and hail, happened in the Maryland Heights, Creve Coeur and Bridgeton areas. Our motor home is all right, but our little car was sitting in Bridgeton and suffered about $4,000.00 worth of hail damage. As I was walking around our rv park the other evening, a feeling of d'e ja'v ue hit me. Trucks parked around us have labels on them like "Roofing Team" and "Disaster Response Team". Insurance companies are now out in full force, just as they were last year around this time when a tornado devastated parts of the St.Louis area. Most fortunately the damage this year has not been as bad.
The past month has been fairly busy for us, it has not been a boring stay for us in St.Louis at all. I have been able to reconnect with an book club I once belonged to and have been able to attend one of their meetings- also joined another book club and have met once with them. Since we have been on the road I have missed doing volunteer activities. I have discovered Connection to Success is only a few blocks from our home, and it is one place where there are many opportunities to volunteer my time. It is an organization devoted to helping low-income women move into the workplace, teaching them job skills and how to dress to maximize their opportunities for employment. Monday I spent a couple of days there bagging cookies for a trade fair.
Yesterday I spent sitting with a friend in a hospital room waiting for her mom to come out of surgery. It was a deeply emotional, soul wrenching day as her mom's diagnosis is not looking all that good. However, I was glad that I had the opportunity to be there for them.
It did please me then, after being inside a hospital all day, to be awakened by a bird signing at midnight. One nice benefit to our way of life is that when our windows are open we have very close access to God's wonderful world.  The bird's song changed rapidly from "what cheer" to "whose here" to "give it here", its' here" "hurry up-hurry up" "in a minute","come here,come here" "whats up whats up" -  all interspersed with tweets, chips and many other vocalizations, even mews (maybe there was a catbird or just a cat adding their part to the evening concert). I started counting the many different sounds in hopes that in doing so I could be lulled back to sleep. That did not work, so I got up to write down everything I was hearing, and that filled a page very quickly. I decided that it had to be only one or two mockingbirds singing their hearts out with the entire repertoire of songs which they had in their little heads. No I am not making this up, nor was I in a dream state- I was very much awake. The whole experience recalled to my mind what the poet Browning once wrote: "The larks on the wing; the snail is on the thorn; Gods in His heaven- all's right with the world!".