Tuesday, April 16, 2013

A Day Trip to the Old Iowa Capital...

Amid watching all of the horrific news about what happened at the Boston Marathon, my jaw dropped yesterday.  A bunch of questions popped into my mind...Is violence becoming part of our society?  Or has it always been there and it was just shown in other forms?  And what can we do to safe guard ourselves against such things happening?  I guess we could avoid large groups and stay safely in our homes but then what happens to our sense of community?  Are we to question what our neighbors are up to and always be questioning their motives?  And where would all of that distrust and separation possibly lead to? Well, one only may need to look at the Middle East to get the answer to that one.  Are we all leading that way? Maybe I’m just over reacting to all of this but I still can’t help but wonder what we should be doing…
Photo- The Old Iowa State Capital on the University of Iowa Campus.
Meanwhile back here in Iowa, last week when the weather was a balmy 50 degrees and the sun was shining I took a day trip to the Old Iowa State Capital in Iowa City.  The Old Capital with its gold covered dome which is a topped with flags sits prominently in the middle of the University of Iowa campus.  On the day I was there, students were sitting on its steps; some relaxing while others were buried in books studying, while still others were walking around enjoying a day of sunshine.  In general the area seemed like a place of openness, happiness, and hope; but that could have been the sunny day talking to me.
Photo- The view from the Old Capital steps.
I will say that there’s quite the commanding view of Iowa City from the back steps of the Old Capital.  There has been a great deal of growth and construction taking place in the area.  A great deal of that construction is rebuilding after the BIG flood of 2008 that took place in the area.  That BIG flood happened along the Cedar River and hit both Iowa City and my hometown of Cedar Rapids very hard, but more about that in upcoming posts.

The Old Capital actually served as the State Capital of Iowa for a very short time frame.  It was finished being built in 1842, when Iowa was still just a territory.  Four years later, Iowa became the 29th state and it very soon became obvious that the Old Capital building was not large enough to serve as a Capital.  Meanwhile, it was decided that the Capital should also be more centrally located in Iowa.  Thus, a location was found in Des Moines, Iowa and the present day state capital building was finished in 1857.  Yes, if you do the math the Old State Capital only served as the state capital of Iowa for 11 years.
Photo- Iowa's earlier currency on display.
After those 11 years, the Old Capital building became the first permanently owned building by the State University of Iowa which later got name changed to the University of Iowa.   Until the mid-1970’s, classes took place and offices of the University were in this building.  But after a while, the University of Iowa outgrew this capital building too. 
Photo- The central staircase in the Old Iowa Capital building.
In July 1976, it was reopened as a restored National Historic Landmark and served as a state museum.  But the history didn’t stop there.  On November 20, 2001, contractors using open flame torches and heat guns on the cupola supporting the building's gold dome accidentally set the cupola on fire. Ooopps! Thankfully the actual fire was limited to the cupola area due to a concrete slab that had been installed during a 1920’s renovation but there was tons of damage done by water to douse those flames.   A new dome was built on the building in February 2003 and the building was restored and reopened to the public in 2006.

The building was designed with large windows to allow for light and there were wood stoves installed in each of the four corners of the building.  Later, they discovered those four stoves were not enough to combat the cold Iowa winter and they installed more stoves in the halls where pipes had been installed throughout the walls to help circulate the heat in the building.  This was years before duct work had been created and I guess you could say it was one of the pioneers to the idea of doing something like that.  During the cold of the winter and the height of summer heat, cloth covered shutters and wool curtains helped.  In the 1920’s there was a switch to steam heat in the building.  Sorry, I find this fascinating and I guess that’s due to working in the heating and air-conditioning business for 11 years of my life.
Photo- Old Civil War guns on display in the downstairs of the Old Capital.
Downstairs in a small exhibit hall, there was a Civil War Exhibit and it was interesting going through and reading about the Union’s 22 that were based out of Iowa at the time.  The 22nd was instrumental in the battle of Vicksburg and amid all of the guns, swords, and artifacts there were stories of University of Iowa students that had served their part in the Civil War, both for the North and the South.  It was a very interesting exhibit.
Photo- Part of the restored Library room in the Old Capital building.

On the main floor area there are offices that have been restored.  Some of those offices are restored to the time when the Old Capital was an active Capital building and other offices that served as offices for the president of the University of Iowa.  There’s also a room that was used as a library for the University at one time. 
Photo- Herkys' signed by the freshman classes in the upper foyer area.

Upstairs in the foyer area, are four large white Herkys’ which are covered with signatures and stand on dated pedestals.  The Herky is the school’s mascot.  The signatures are from the University freshman who sign when they start attending.  The dates on the pedestals are the four most recent years.  It’s an interesting tradition of the University of Iowa.  I forgot to ask where these Herkys’ go when each year as those freshman graduate from the University.  Is there a Herky Heaven?
Photo- The House Chambers in the Old Capital Building.

Also, up on the upper level is a where the restored House Chamber and the Senate Chamber were.  The House Chamber serves as a museum area and is preserved where the Chamber appears to be used for possible meetings and other events for the University.  In fact, there was student playing a piano while I was there and getting feedback from a teacher.  I had wondered where all that wonderful piano music was coming from while I was touring the building.
Photo- The elegant Senate Chambers where the piano music was wafting from during my tour.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Catching Up in CR...

It’s been a while since I’ve updated this blog.  In fact, its been about 2 months.  It’s hard to believe that time can sometimes fly that fast.  So you may ask what have I been up to?  Most of my time has been spent between two different jobs.   I’m working on saving money up for my next tangent of road adventure. But today, I had my first day off from both of the jobs and so here I am doing a bit of updating...

One of the jobs I’ve been working is a on-line tech support job for an educational firm.  Yes, I know those of you out there that know me find this rather funny.  On-line tech support?  She had to bring a guy friend over the last time to set up her stereo/TV/DVD Player.  But I seem to be managing through with the help of a wonderful on-line resource and a supportive team spirit of people that I work with.  I’m actually solving people’s problems over the phone and it sometimes amazes me that I’m doing this.  But it’s been a fun experience overall and I will admit that I'm learning to be more tech saavy.

The other job that I’ve been working is for the Cedar Rapids Convention and Visitor’s Bureau.  It seems like a perfect fit after being on a road trip for  four and a half months.  In that time I have visited an awful lot of Visitor’s Center and know what I would expect  as a visitor.  So, here I am working from the other point of view.  Thankfully, because I grew up in Cedar Rapids; I already really knew my way around.  The center where I work is in the Czech Village area of Cedar Rapids. Last Saturday was the St. Joseph Day's Parade in Czech Village.  I took a few pictures while I was working.
Photo- It's Iowa, of course there's a tractor in the parade!
Photo: Thing 1, Thing 2, & Cat in the Hat--Hmmm?  Not sure what they had to do with St. Joseph
but at least they were wearing red.  So, why not?

It’s been rather fun meeting people from all over the country and I’ve even gotten to talk with an exchange student from the Czech Republic.  I get to hand out different flyers and give directions to people .  Some of the places I’ve been to, some that I would like to go visit, and still others it has been years since I’ve been there that I have forgotten.  A few things that are on my list are; the Brucemore Mansion, the Grant Wood Studio where he painted the famous American Gothic, and to Dyersville to see the Field of Dreams Movie set.  Yes, I know it’s rather corny of me to want to see a baseball diamond set among corn fields, but after all I am in Iowa.  I figure a little “corniness” is allowable in the Corn State.
Photo- All pimped out in Red for St. Joseph! 
Did I mention that the local pubs were serving Red beer too?!?
Photo- Got to have the ladies dancing in a parade!  And these ladies were wonderful!

When I’m not working at either of the two jobs, I’m doing some painting or Mall Walking.  Yes, Mall walking and let me explain that Iowa’s weather is so very unpredictable.  It can go from rain to snow in a blink of an eye and quite often it doe.  I want to go some place where I can get some form of exercise on a predictable schedule and somewhere cheap because I am trying to save after all.  But I will admit that it is a boost to the ego to be passing all of those older people that do that Mall Walking.  I know that’s terrible of me.  I am hoping that as Spring really eventually comes to this past of Iowa that I’ll be able to get out on my bicycle or perhaps, even get some running in too.

I'm also hoping to squeeze in a bit more local sight seeing while I'm here in Iowa and hope to report and show pictures here soon,  Thanks for visiting and I hope to be updating you soon with some local sights!

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Road Trip On Pause: Firemen, & Hoover…

(***Editors Note- I'm sorry but I hope to add pictures at a later date.  Google has still been having problems with adding photos with MS Internet Explorer. ***)

I know I really needed to update this and let all of you out there know what I’ve been up to.  Sorry for the delay and laziness on my part.  Yes, I’m still in my hometown in eastern Iowa.  It seems like ages ago that I left out on the first day of this road trip.  That was the day I saw a vested pair of a man and a goat out along the freeway just outside of Boise, ID; a totally unexpected strange thing to see during my first day of a road trip.  I’ve been amazed at the sights that I have seen since that day in late August. 

But now, I’m in a bit of a pause mode trying to build up some money in my savings so that I can head out on my adventure again.  I’m not sure how long that will take.  I am hoping to get to Washington DC to see the cherry blossoms this Spring. Lately, I’ve been working doing some temporary data entry.  I’ve applied for several waitress jobs too.  I haven’t worked in a restaurant in several years that I think they are wondering why I’m applying.  I guess in hindsight I should have gotten a part time one in Utah before I left.  I applied at one restaurant and they saw my degree in Hotel/Restaurant Management and wanted me to apply for a management position.  I half-heartedly filled out the application but I’m not really interested.  So anyway the job searching and working is an ongoing process.

Fire Station Tour
I have been doing a bit of sightseeing and different things here locally in eastern Iowa.  So I’ve been continuing in a way with the trip.  One day I went on a school filed trip with my nephew to see a local fire station in Marion, Iowa.  A Fireman and certified MT named Peter gave us a tour of the station.  We started out in the classroom where he discussed what they did.  The number one calls that they made other than fire are medical calls.  They do regular trainings at the fire station to keep updated in the latest medical techniques. They also do a fair amount of training on other locations; like practicing fighting fires.  Most recently, they got to burn down a local abandoned house that the owner had donated to them for training.  We were told that if at any time during our tour that if a call came in that we were to report to the classroom for our safety and to keep clear of the fireman that needed to get out on a call.

We were also told safety tips and what to do if we are ever in a case if our home had a fire like; keep low, check the temperatures of the doors, and if caught on fire to drop and roll.  Next, Peter took us out to where the fire trucks were and showed us how he put on his gear.  He talked while he put the gear on; explaining the equipment and other aspects of firefighting.  He told us that he would look and sound quite a bit different when he got his gear on and to not be afraid of him.  Once he got all of the firefighting gear on he crawled around on the floor grabbing some of our feet.  Quite often he said that firefighters would be down near the ground and that was where we should be too in case of a fire.  I expected him to sound more like Darth Vader but his voice was not quite that scary.  But it was somewhat muffled.  Peter said that all of the gear weighed close to 65 lbs. He also told us how they needed to get into their gear in less than 2 minutes time.
Photo- Fireman Peter in full gear as Captain Kirk watched.

Next, we took a tour around the fire trucks with Fireman Captain Kirk.  Yes, Captain Kirk!  He explained how some trucks carried water on them and the different uses that each truck had.  One vehicle that they used the most was the medical truck because it was the most fuel efficient and was easier to get around in.  The larger trucks were for fires.  One of the smaller large trucks had a holding area where water could be pumped from a local lake or pond and then immediately used to fight a fire.  Generally this truck was used in more remote farmland areas with a water source nearby.  There was another fire truck that had a large water gun on the back that was used to fight fires out in a field. 
Photo- Captain Kirk showing a future fireman how to hook up the hose to the truck.

Next some of the kids in the class got to play firemen as they connected a hose onto a truck and three of them pretended to work the hose over to a fire in a nearby room.  It was too cute watching them trying to work as a team on a hose that was almost larger than the three of them.  Next, Captain Kirk took us through the living quarters of the fire station.  There were 6 rooms in all, three on each side.  I was surprised at how plain they were.  Each had a wall of closets on one side, a window, a twin bed and a night stand; that was all.  At the end of the hall was a fairly large plain kitchen with a round table in the middle and on the other side was a room with a large TV with chairs and sofas.

Hoover Presidential Library
Another day I went to the Hoover Presidential Library which is located in West Branch, Iowa.  It’s funny that I had grown up so close to a Presidential Library but I had never visited it before.  Most people negatively tie President Hoover with the Great Depression, and I must admit that I generally did not have a good outlook on him either but I decided to go in with an open mind.  I was surprised.

Hoover was born in a small house in West Branch, Iowa and worked up his way to become one of the highest paid engineers in the world.  By his mid-30’s he was tired of earning money and opted for a life full of philanthropy.  There was a map of the world at the entrance to the main part of the library on the floor and it showed a star by every country that he had touched.  There were quite a few stars.  His wife worked hand in hand with him on his charities and eventually because of the public profile he ended up going into politics. 

One of his first roles in politics was the position of Secretary of Commerce on the Presidential staff of President Harding.  During this time, Hoover was instrumental in standardization of almost everything from house building to road signs to weights and measurements; all of this in an effort to make government and business to work together in his belief of an efficiency movement. He believed that the government and the economy were riddled with waste and inefficiencies.  Wow, I wonder what he would say about government today?  The big joke during Hoover’s time at this job was that you better be careful what you did because Hoover may find a way to standardize and make it more efficient. He was touted as being a little too enthusiastic about his job.  But quite a bit of what he did back then affects us every day now.   

From the standardization, he ended up being catapulted into being nominated for the presidency.  He won in the election of 1928.  I watched a film and heard the recording of the live radio broadcast of his inaugural speech.  He was one of the first Presidents to be heard live during this speech.  I was rather amazed at his plain speaking and not overstating but he outlined what was considered idealistic at the time.

When the stock market crash happened and the Great Depression started, no one was prepared for such an event.  There was a lot of debate at the time to let the free capitalistic market work its way back without assistance from the government and to not regulate or make laws.  Hoover started to lay in a lot of the ground work towards building the WPA projects.  But he was voted out of office before they took full bloom.  It was even more interesting that after WW2, he was asked by FDR to help organize recovery efforts to feed the thousands of hungry Europeans affected by the war.  He continued to work and help people the rest of his life.  It all surprised me that he did all this during his life.

Monday, January 7, 2013

A Christmas Break & New Year!

(*** Editor's Note: Google Blogs has been having issues with downloading of photos.  I hope to be able to add these photos in at a later date.  I also apologize for just not keeping up on my blogging.  Oh, and Happy Belated New Year! )

I have come home to my hometown for Christmas; in the hilly country of eastern Iowa.  I was in need of a much needed break of my traveling style of life.  It's rather hard to move from day to day.  Plus it is always interesting to “go home”.  Of course, there always are those residual memories, both good and bad that remain.  I will admit that it was good to see the family.  But with that also there’s that portion where the family can really drive you to a point of insanity and you remember why you left in the first place.  That point arrived a few days after I arrived.  Mom and I butted heads to say the least.  Family always seems to manage to push your buttons and it’s never a very pretty sight.  Now don’t get me wrong, I love my family but they really do know how to push my buttons.
Photo- The family on the couch for a Christmas photo.
It has been fun revisiting old hangouts.  I went to the old Spring House Restaurant with my mom.  The Spring House was the place where we always used to go eat when I was growing up.  It was relatively inexpensive and there was a sit down dining room area.  Growing up it was bit of a splurge for us to go there because of being a single parent home.  It’s rather amazing when you go to a place like that again and see that it really hasn’t changed all that much.  In fact, I think they still have the same original chairs and booths; just recovered.
Photo- My nephew and I building snowmen.  His snowman is taller than mine of course!

I did manage to have some new fun.  I took one evening and built snowmen with my nephew.  I know his snowman was so much better than the one I tried to build.  His mother supplied us with a couple of spray bottles that had water with food coloring.  It was a choice of yellow, red, or yellow.  In my sick sense of humor, I tended to go overboard with the yellow.  There’s just something about yellow snow.  Oh I’m terrible!  We also went and purchased some new sleds which I hope we will get to break in soon.
Photo- A snow covered empty street in Main Amana, IA.

Another afternoon, we took a drive down to the Amana Colonies where we went around looking at little shops throughout the cute little German community.  The Amana Colonies is a National Historic Landmark and one of America’s longest-lived communal societies.  I periodically have visited the main Amana as I was growing up; mostly during the May Fest which is a large festival.  There are seven different villages of which the main Amana is the largest.  You can read more about the history and the colonies at this link… http://amanacolonies.com/

During our afternoon we tasted wine, had Rubens (mine without the kraut), and walked through all kinds of wonderful shops.  My favorite places I used to go as a kid were the Woolen Mill where they make all kinds of woolen goods and the furniture store where they have a room full of clocks.  I was a bit disappointed because usually at both places they have areas where you can watch people working.  At the Woolen Mill, there’s usually a room where the looms are going and you can watch as material is being made.  Due to the holidays though, there were not any equipment that was being operated.  This was also the case at the Furniture Shop.  They usually have an area that you can watch the wood workers which is always fun and fascinating.  But I got some fun in with watching a dancing clock face in the furniture shop and I almost bought a pair of "Mucka-Ducks" which were heavy woolen long moccasin like socks that looked very warm. 

 Yes, I'm having a bit of time adjusting to the cold weather here in Iowa.  I forgot how cold it can get here during the winter.  Those cold fronts come out of Canada and drift down into Iowa.  They deposit here and seem to want to stay.  Some of the evenings have been getting down to the negative degrees which is something that I haven't had to experience in years living in Utah.  Utah gets the snow but it doesn't get much below the lower 20's.  I'm very much hoping for a bit of a January thaw in the New Year.

For New Year's Eve, the night got down to -1 with a lovely chill factor (a common thing here in Iowa during the winter) it actually felt like anywhere from -15 to -20.  Mom and I had a snack night in front of the TV watching the New York New Year's Eve.  But I had to laugh when I saw on the local news about Prairie Du Chen, Wisconsin did a dropping of the HUGE carp fish.  Leave it to us, Midwestern folk to make things interesting and different.  So they drop a carp almost 100 ft. out of a tree.  I wonder what happens to the fish then?

I woke up with a cold on New Year's Day with a sore throat and feeling yucky.  Yep!  I started the New Year with a cold.  I stayed in bed most of the day and came out only to try to eat a bit or to use the restroom.  Happy New Year to all of you out there!  I hope your year started out better.  And thank you to those of you that have been contacting me to see how I have been doing I haven't been blogging as much as I should have been.  Something I need to work on in the New Year.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

DAY 124- St. Louis, MO...

My hotel was situated right near the base of the St. Louis Arch which was rather neat to be so close to, but my room happened to be facing the downtown area.  It was a very nice view especially at night with the lights of the city.  I woke up to the same basic view only with the sun starting to reflect on some of the buildings and I could see a bit of the shadow of the arch falling on some of the buildings.  I walked across the street from my hotel in the morning to get a good photo of the arch.   Then, I walked a bit of the park area around it but the wind had picked up overnight and it was very chilly out.
Photos- St. Louis from my hotel window at night and in the morning.

Photo- The St. Louis Arch.
Next, I found myself on my way to the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis on the west side of downtown.  I had been told that I had to visit this Basilica if I ever went through St. Louis.  It looked HUGE from the outside but I was not prepared for how amazing it was on the inside.  I walked in the door and was greeting by a gentleman at the visitor’s stand just inside the front foyer.  I was told that I could take pictures, where the gift shop was, and that there was a museum downstairs. 
Photo- The outside of the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis.

Walking down the main aisle of the church I was in awe as the music from the choir floated down around me in the surrounding beauty of the Basilica.   The choir was practicing for the Christmas midnight mass.  I could almost feel like I was in the presence of God amid all of this beauty and sounds of harmony floating around the HUGE open areas of the Basilica.  I sat at a pew to just take it all in and I was almost to the point of tears.  I felt full of emotions.  It was just all so much beauty to take in at once.  Wow! 
Photos- The wonderful interior of the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis.

The interior was full of marbled columns, arches with mosaic tiles, and painted frescos.  At the center above the alter there was a large dome area that went at least 30 ft. above the main floor area.  Everywhere I turned was a new beauty that I took my breathe away.  Off of the main pew church seating area there’s several hallways where there are chapel areas with smaller statues of Mary and a baby Jesus, and among others.  Off on onside there was a row of Christmas trees along with a smaller Christmas manger which almost seemed out of place in a majestic place such as this Basilica.
Photo- Forest Park in St. Louis, MO.

Next on my way to find the Interstate heading west then north out of St. Louis, I wandered into Forrest Park.  Forest Park is a large city park in St. Louis that has a city zoo in one corner of the area and surrounds the St. Louis Art Museum.  There’s a large pond like area in the middle of it.  Out on the pond there are several fountains sprouting up and out.  There were walking/running trail paths.  People were out on them; some of them even with their dogs.  I imagine on a warmer day this park would have been packed.  There also was a large statue of Saint Louis riding on a horse.  I got out and walked around for a short bit around the park.  The whole park took up what would have been several city blocks.  It was a very large space with trees and grassy areas.  Right now, it was mostly barren trees and yellowed grassy areas but in the height of the late Spring time I would guess that this would be an amazing place to just come spend some time.

Next, I was off on the interstate heading north towards eastern Iowa.  The plan was to spend the holidays in Iowa with family.  That is something I will admit that I have not done in years.  Quite often, the driving conditions between Salt Lake City and eastern Iowa are not ideal in the winter time.  This year so far had been a mild winter and I thought it would be an easy ride into Iowa coming from the south.  I didn’t see a hint of snow until I reached the northern portion of Missouri. 
Photo- The Iowa scene as I drove north towards my hometown of Cedar Rapids, IA.

The roads were still clear with a bit of snow of new snow off to the side as I got into Iowa.  There was a bit of patches of ice under the over passes here and there but for the most part it was wonderfully clear sailing on the interstate.  The only real touchy driving conditions came when I ventured off of the main roads and onto side roads as I got close to my old neighborhood in Cedar Rapids; slow and steady was the key here.  But my front wheel drive always makes it easier to drive in these conditions.  But there is also the added benefit that I learned to drive in Iowa’s winter.  I feel very comfortable on winter roads driving but please don’t ever ask me to parallel park.  I made such good time I was there about 40 minutes earlier than what Mom was expecting me.   She didn’t complain about my showing up early.  She was very happy to see me.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

DAY 123- From Wal-Mart to the St. Louis Arch...

The Crystal Bridges Art Museum didn’t open until 11AM, so I went instead to the Wal-Mart Museum which is housed in the original 5 And Dime in downtown Bentonville, Arkansas.  Downtown Bentonville is centered on a square where there is a Confederate statue in the middle of it.  It was covered with lines of light which in the middle of the evening turns into a large Christmas tree.  I parked, walked across the street, and through the front doors of the Walton’s old 5 and Dime Store.  It was a bit like walking back in time.  There were all the old candies and misc. other items that you would’ve found in an old neighborhood candy/toy like store.  There was also a whole new section where you could purchase souvenirs, postcards, and etc.  Unfortunately, there weren’t any bumper stickers but there was the Wal-Mart Spark.
Photo- The outside of the Waltons 5 and Dime Store which is now a WalMart Museum.

I went through the door and down a short hallway.  Off to the right was a continuously running minute movie that told a bit about the Sam Walton and the success of Wal-Mart.  After watching that film, I wandered into the actual museum and it was very interesting reading about how Wal-Mart in its current state came into being.  There were pictures of Sam, his brother, and mother.  Sam didn’t have an easy start to life.  They had a dairy and eventually worked towards having a shop that they ran with their mother.  A landlord didn’t allow them to renew a lease and they relocated to Bentonville.  It was here that they found Walton’s 5 And Dime that then eventually turned into a chain of Wal-Mart Stores around the world.  Of course, that’s the VERY shortened version of the story and it was very interesting reading about how it all evolved.
Photo- The little fountain shop at the end of the WalMart Museum.

The museum also went into some of the philosophies of Wal-Mart.  I was getting a kick out of the display concerning Wal-Mart’s return policy.  They will accept any return for any reason.  In this section, they had a hand mixer that was returned because the woman said that it was possessed.  There was a pencil sharpener that was returned because it failed to sharpen ball point pens.  There were six or seven other examples that were almost as funny but those were the ones that really stood out.  
Photos- The inside and outside of Crystal Bridges Art Museum.

Next, I was on the edge of Bentonville and driving down a wooded lane to the Crystal Bridges Art Museum.  It is an amazing place to visit for an artist and it’s all currently free which made that all the more amazing.  The museum is focused on American Artists and it was wonderful to see some originals by very well-known artists.  Some of the pieces are not the well-known pieces from some of the artist.  There’s a Georgia O’Keeffe but it is not one of her well known pieces.  Probably, the most famous original piece that they have on the premise is Rosie the Riveter by Norman Rockwell.  But there are several other fascinating pieces too.  In fact, one of the most interesting pieces to me was a playoff of a famous piece of artwork.  It was a hanging of string spools on a wall that at first just looked like a blob.  But then you would look through a glass sphere and it was the famous American Gothic by Grant Wood where you have the farmer couple with the pitch fork standing. 
Photo- Rosie the Riveter by Norman Rockwell.

I easily spent a couple hours in the art museum and they periodically change out parts of the collection as I was told as I was putting on my coat.  There’s security in every room but you are allowed to take photos as long as you don’t use your flash and you don’t touch the artwork.  They even venture in the literature to invite you to sit and enjoy and draw the art.  However, an easel is not allowed. 
Photos- Spools of threads that when you look through a glass sphere turn into American Gothic.

It was a fascinating place to visit and it’s even more interesting in how the building looks.  It’s a great deal of glass, wood, concrete and steel.  The compound of the museum centers on a pond like area where periodically you can look out on the pond either from a room with couches/chairs or a balcony that you can walk out to look upon it.  At the end of the museum there’s a large dining room hall area where you can eat.  Across from the entrance’s courtyard is a small wonderful little gift shop that has local Arkansas artist goods is available for purchase.  There’s also the fair amount of other items that you would find in any art museum gift shop too.

Next, I was on the road and through some back road like areas of northern Arkansas on my way to a little town called Eureka Springs.  Up through hills, valleys, and winding roads I went.  Quite often, I had to slow to 15mph for steep turning curves.  I arrived into this little town where there are Victorian houses built into the hillsides.  It very picturesque and there’s more bed and breakfasts per captia that I had ever witnessed in my life.  I visited one road side natural springs which I guess that there is several in the area that are within a short hike of the town area.  I wish I had more time to visit the area but unfortunately, I had already made reservations for the night in St. Louis and needed to be on my way.
Photos- Some of the Victorian houses in Eureka Springs, Arkansas.

It was about 8PM when I finally found my way to my hotel in St. Louis.  My hotel was downtown and was almost literally at the base of the St. Louis Arch.  I had a wonderful view of the downtown area from my hotel room.  I ended up doing a bit of walking in the downtown area.  I walked to a nearby bar and grill in the area called Calico’s.  I had a very late dinner and then walked back by where I could see the arch.  I didn’t venture into the park area itself because it was dark but it was a wonderful view but unfortunately it didn’t show up well when I tried to take a photo of it at night.  I would have to get a photo in the morning.

DAY 122- Little Rock…Clinton Library & Heifer International

The night before I had arrived just as the sun was starting to set, I got checked into my cute little bed and breakfast which was located in North Little Rock.  It was just barely across the river from the heart of the downtown River District of Little Rock.  The manager of the bed and breakfast gave me a complimentary trolley ticket pass and suggested I just ride the trolley for the sightseeing factor alone.  He said that the trolley gave a running commentary along the route and that I would be able to ride it on that pass until 10PM that night.  I changed quickly and was on the next trolley which had a stop ½ block away.

Photo- The Little Rock Skyline as I crossed the bridge on a trolley car.

Off I went through part of the North Little Rock downtown area and then across the bridge to the River District of Little Rock.  It was a beautiful view with the city lights as we crossed the bridge.  There were a ton of restaurants and shops along the River area; among other things that the trolley operator announced as he went along.  I ended up having dinner at a place called Big Whiskeys which was a nice wooden sports bar that had a wonderful grilled salmon.  Next, I headed back across the river and ended up going to an Improv Show.  It was a wonderful fun hanging out and watching the show.  There was quite a bit of local humor that was intermixed throughout the show.  After the show a lot of the people went over to a wine bar called Crush across the way.  I enjoyed some wonderful wine and met some local people.  I ended up closing down the place with the owner, the bartender, and a new friend called Cheddy.
Photo- A night of FUN Improv in downtown North Little Rock, Arkansas.

The wind had picked up overnight and the temperature that had been in the mid-60’s the day before was going to be 20 degrees colder.  I drove across the river to the Clinton Presidential Library.   The Clinton Library building is a long skinny building that almost appears to be reaching out toward the Arkansas River; the inside of it almost feels like a bridge with large angled metal bracing along a large open long area.  I started my tour of the Library with a 12 minute orientation film that focused on Clinton’s life and political career.  Then, I went upstairs and into a cabinet room which is a full scale replica of the White House Cabinet Room.  It was an interesting place to start a tour but I took away from it that the Clinton Presidency’s success was only as successful as those that are involved in the decision process. 
Photo- A large timeline down the middle of the Clinton Presidential Library.
From there, I went into a long open area where there was a HUGE oversized timeline of the Clinton Presidency down the middle of a long open area.  Off to the sides were smaller partial room areas where it covered different aspects of his presidency.  It was a very interesting way of setting up a presidential library.   I went up the stairs where there was a wonderful view of the Arkansas River.  On the second floor there was a section about Clinton’s early years of life and also another area about life during his presidency.  There also was a replica of the White House Oval Office which a very nice security guard offered to take a photo of me in front of it.
Photo- In the replicated Oval Office in the Clinton Presidential Library. 

Next, it was outside in the windy and colder weather where I walked around the Clinton Library and down the road a bit to the Heifer International building.  I was very familiar with Heifer International which is a wonderful charity that I have donated some of my art project proceeds to in the past.  Heifer is based more on a philosophy of sustainable agriculture through training participants using livestock to fulfill their needs and becoming self-reliant.  Also key to this their success is the importance of passing on the gift.  The charity is also very concerned in about being green and protecting the earth for future generations. 
Photo- Heifer International Building a VERY green building.
The company headquarters based in Little Rock is a platinum level LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification which is the highest honor a green building can receive.  I HAD to see this building which they do a free tour of it.  The tour of the building started at the front door area where my tour guide explained the strict requirements of a LEED building.  I guess that the Clinton Library started out as a Gold LEED buidling and has recently been upgraded to be a platinum, which fascinated me that two platinum buildings were within a few hundred yards of each other in one city.  I think that said quite a bit about the City of Little Rock, Arkansas.  I thought it was rather impressive. 
Photo- Elevated floors to allow room for the heating and cooling.

My tour guide went through and explained that 90% of the building materials came from within 500 miles of the site of the building.  That sounds like a lot but not really when you start looking at the building materials used in most buildings.  Part of the reason they tried to use local materials was to cut down on the transportation costs and the fossil fuel use.  There’s Arkansas limestone, Mississippi Delta pine, old bricks from the previous building that were recycled, locally grown cotton, soybeans and even cornhusks are used in the building.  There’s recycled material used in the carpeting and the counter tops.  Also, recycled steel is used throughout the structure too.
Photo- Inside the Heifer building which is only 60ft. wide so sunlight can supply a good amount of the light needed.

On top of all of the recycled and local building materials, the actual design of the building was very well thought through.  The building is curved and situated in an east-west direction to optimize natural daylight.  The floor plans area open light and most of the building is no more than 60 feet across to also optimize daylight.  Generally, daylight will travel 30 feet into a building’s interior that way this building is fully taking the opportunity of the daylight.  There’s raised flooring on each level which improves the ventilation and makes the heating and cooling more efficient, saving both energy and money.  The roof of the building is designed to collect and save rain water which is used in the heating and cooling system; as well as, for the toilets to flush.  I was amazed at all the different little things that were done in the building that all added up to help make it SO energy efficient.  It was wonderful to see so much thought and reflection put into a building; and what was more amazing is that it was a charity that was doing this.  If you get the chance please check out this very worthy charity.

Next I was on down the road towards Fayetteville, Arkansas.  I was planning on stopping in nearby Betonville, Arkansas which is the home of Walmart.  There's a museum there and the original Walton 5 And Dime.  There's also an art museum called Crystal Bridges that is funded by Mrs. Walton (the wife of Sam Walton who is the founder of Walmart).  I have heard that this museum was something to see and that it rivaled some of the best museums in the country.  Unfortunately, it was getting late by the time I drove to the area and had already closed for the night.  I decided to stay in a nearby hotel.

Monday, December 24, 2012

DAY 120, 121- Memphis…

Memphis has been called the Home of the Blues and the Birthplace of Rock’n’Roll.  But I knew of two places there that I wanted to visit; one of course, was Graceland and the other was Lorraine Motel.  Past that I really had no plans and I would play it by ear.

DAY 120- Lorraine Motel, Belz AND Popeye’s…
Photo- Lorraine Motel

Lorraine Motel-
Lorraine Motel where Martin Luther King Jr. was shot was first on my list.  I went to the Lorraine Motel only to find it blocked off and renovations being done.  The whole place was on lock down.  I guess they found black mold and needed to take care of it before it did some real damage.  Unfortunately, all I could do was take pictures from the outside of the Motel.  There’s a Civil Rights Museum that is attached to it but it also was not open.  I guess during this time of year it is only open during the weekends.  But I got a picture and walked as close as I could to the railing area where Martin Luther King Jr. had been shot.  There were several others there taking pictures.  I talked with a black lady from that had come all the way from North Carolina only to discover it was closed.  She was very disappointed and also complained that they had been here for two days and there wasn’t anything to do.  I’m not sure what she was looking to do but I had a whole list of possibilities and knew I couldn’t see it all.  I guess it just all dependent upon your point of view.
Photo- The balcony where Martin Luther King Jr. was shot.

Belz Museum of Asian and Judaic Art-
Photo- Inside the front hallway of the Belz Museum.

I had found this museum on-line the night before and it got very good reviews.  Since I couldn’t do much with the Lorraine Motel/Civil Rights Museum and Graceland was closed for the day, I figured it would be a good place to spend some time.  It was a bit of a maze to find this gem of a museum in the heart of downtown Memphis but well worth the effort.  The Belz Museum contains a great deal of artifacts and art from the Quing Chinese Dynasty.  It was amazing just to look at all of the level of intricate jade sculptural art alone.  This museum also features Jewish, Judaic, and natural history specimens from several time periods.  I had only put 90 minutes into the parking meter and before I knew it I went out to put more change in the meter.  It was until I was leaving the museum that I found out I could have gotten validated parking at the nearby hotel parking ramp.  Live and learn!

Lunch at Ernest and Hazel’s-
Photo- Inside Ernest and Hazel's.

I had driven by this place while I was trying to find the Lorraine Motel earlier and I decided I would swing by possibly for a late lunch.  After the Belz Museum, I went by.  I had seen this place in part of a movie called Elizabethtown.  This corner restaurant had been several places in the past; at one point it had even been a brothel.  But probably the most famous part of its history occurred in the 1950’s when it was Ernest and Hazel’s restaurant.  Hazel was the well-known mistress of a blues musician and this place had served as a meeting place for quite a few of blues greats in the area.  There’s currently quite a bit of records and photo memorabilia up on the walls of this place which I have to say is a bit of a dive.  But the seafood chowder was pretty good and I talked with Dave who’s a chef for the establishment.  It was interesting talking with him and learning about the Memphis area.  Meanwhile, we talked the “possessed” juke box up front would pop on with music every now and then.  Dave said it was supposed to auto-play every half hour but it played a couple times where it was only 5 minutes and then 10 minutes the next time.  He go over, turn the volume down, and then it would play again just as loud the next time it started to play.  He said that it was possessed and that the whole place was probably full of ghosts.  It looked like it definitely needed a remodel and like the place was falling apart.

My Popeye’s Experience-
I had never been to a Popeye’s before and yes, I knew it was a southern fast food chain but I figured that it was time to give it a try.  I went through the drive through figuring I would take it back to the hotel for a night in and catch a movie on TV.  I drove up and proceeded to attempt to order a “Holiday Platter”.  I couldn’t understand what the girl was saying here accent was a heavy southern drawl and she talked fast.  I said pardon a couple of times.  Then, figured she was asking if I wanted it hot or mild.  I said hot.  Then I think that she asked if I wanted light or dark meat for the chicken I had ordered.  I told her white.  So the next thing I know is there’s a guy talking to me over the intercom asking me in much clearing English what side I wanted and what beverage too.  I got to a window and was getting a terribly awful glaring look from a large black girl.  Ooopps!  I said hot and white.  I think she was just a bit pissed off with me.  Meanwhile, the guy who had talked to me arrived at the window.  He was a black clean cut man and he apologized looking at the black girl like she should know better.  Oh my!  I think I may have started an inter-racial incident and here I was just a Yankee trying to order dinner through drive through.

DAY 121- Graceland to Little Rock…
Photo- See! I was actually there!

Graceland is the famous home of Elvis Presley, the King, and is one of the most visited sites in the US.  I was visiting it during the slow season.  I could just walk up to the window and purchase a ticket but this is not always the case.   Shortly after Graceland opened at 10am, I pulled my car into the parking lot across the street.  I paid the $10 parking lot fee and then went to a booth to pay another $28 for a tour of the Mansion.  There’s a VIP tour that’s more and takes you through the mansion and all of the museums from cars to planes to extra museums but I figured that the mansion was enough for me.  We were given audio tour devices as almost 25 of us walked onto the bus that took us across the street to the mansion. 
Photo- Elvis' Livingroom.

The bus left us off right at the front door.  As you went into Graceland, they directed you to input a number in the audio device and the tour of the house began.  It was the height of luxury when Elvis lived in it and was very like stepping into the mid-1960’s home.  It was rather fun because they had all of the Christmas decorations up; most of which were original from Elvis’ time at Graceland.  We went around the first floor in a carpeted roped off area and listened and looked as directed by the audio device.  We went down the stairs, through a “jungle” room and out to the back carport.  Then, it was off through some of the other buildings on the property.  There was an office building, a trophy hall, and a racquetball building.  All around the buildings you could see horse pastures where horses were grazing on grass.  I could imagine that it would have been a relaxing environment for someone of Elvis’ caliber.  I was really amazed at all of the gold records he had in the Hall of Gold.  It just made you realize how much of a talent he was.  Then, you went out to the back area where there’s a garden like area where Elvis’ grave is.  He is laid to rest next to the graves of his mom and dad.  There are flowers and other items near his grave and that of his parents.  This is the most visited grave site of anywhere in the US.
Photo- The room with 3 TV's in Elvis' House.

After the mansion tour, you got back on a bus to cross the street where you are directed to a place where you can look at your souvenir photos that were taken before you got loaded on the bus.  I skipped this all together but I still was directed into a gift shop.  I had a ticket for an additional museum visit which was at the north end of a row of gift shops.  Every little museum or area that you could visit on Elvis led you through a gift shop right afterwards.  There was definitely some marketing going on here.  But I will say this was an amazing experience in all because it was all about Elvis.  After Graceland, I found myself driving on my way to Little Rock, Arkansas.