Sun-Less in Nebraska

My friend Leo told me I was crazy to go to the Eclipse because the traffic was going to be EPIC. As you can see, it was pretty bad.

I drove southwest from St Paul to Sioux City, Iowa. My first rest stop in Iowa was an homage to the Lewis and Clark Corps of Discovery. Sergeant Charles Floyd died of appendicitis three months into the voyage and was buried on a high bluff above the Floyd River. The area is now known as Sergeant Bluff. He was the only member of the expedition to die.

I was on my way to stay with an old friend in Lincoln, Nebraska. Another friend was driving up from Denver. Chris lives out in the country surrounded by cornfields. I met him in Switzerland. He was originally from Beirut and had lived in Iraq and Italy. His father was Lebanese and his mother Italian. I’m still not sure how he ended up in a cornfield in Iowa but he seems to be happy with it. And why not? It is a lovely spot.

Needless to say we ate well.  The first night he made Italian stuffed zucchini. Most stuffed zucchini recipes I have seen treat the vegetable like a boat, cut it in half, dig out the meat and fill the hollow.  Not Chris, he cut off the ends, dug out the inside, and stuffed it with ground meat mixed with breadcrumbs and parmesan so the zucchini still looked like it was whole. Then smothered with a lovely tomato sauce. Of course he had also made hummus and Lebanese green beans sometimes called Lubiyeh or Lubee.  He used French style beans in a sauce with crushed tomatoes, lots of garlic and olive oil. Our appetizer was fresh corn on the cob. Just doesn’t get any better than that.

Sunday was our day to be tourists.  We started out at the Sunken Gardens. The garden was originally built in 1930 as part of a Depression works project. It was then renovated in 2005. It has over 30,000 plants on 1.5 acres and is designed each year on a different theme. The theme for 2017 is Purple Reign. It was a hot day so we didn’t linger but we did see a lot of purple.

Next stop was the Capital building. After a nationwide competition, Beltram Grosvenor Goodhue’s design was selected in 1920. It is said to be the nation’s first vernacular State Capital. It was the third building to be built on the site and was a departure from the more typical capital buildings found around the country. It was completed in 1932 and cost $10 million.

The inside is stunning with several courtyards, marble columns, vaulted ceilings, interesting light fixtures, mosaic floors and colorful murals. We took the elevator to the top of the tower and enjoyed the view. Across the street was the lovely old St Mary’s Catholic Church.

After touring the Capital building, Chris gave us a little tour of the city, showing off nice neighborhoods with big houses and then the downtown area. The Haymarket area was a warehouse district that has been transformed into a trendy place to live and work. It is a place to explore restaurants, bars, shops and the Farmers Market. In 2014 it was listed on the National Register as Lincoln Haymarket Historic District by the National Park Service. Chris kept pushing a great ice cream parlor but parking was scarce.

That night our friend from Denver threw together a salad with leftover corn, black beans, green and red peppers, home grown tomatoes, cilantro and olive oil to go with our pork ribs that had been on the smoker all day.

Monday was eclipse day. We packed up our beer and food and drove south to Firth where we went to a pot luck party. Chris’ friend had a big house on a lake with lots of room for eclipse viewing. There were about 30 people there enjoying a warm but cloudy day.  We missed the corona of the total eclipse but we experienced the atmosphere. Everything got quiet, the wind died completely, the day grew very dark. It was eerie. We ate well, enjoyed the beer and company. At the end of the day we jumped in the golf cart and took a spin around the lake.

On my way home the next day I stopped at the highest point in Iowa. Hawkeye Point, 1670 feet. Who knew?

Iowa Weekend – Art, Nature and Food

 

“Old” Capital Building, Iowa City

Iowa City was originally the capital of the State of Iowa. The government was there for ten years until it was decided to move the state capital to Des Moines, a more central location. The “Old” Capital building became the first permanent building owned by the University of Iowa. It is now a museum.

I met my friend, Liz, over thirty years ago in Minneapolis. When I was living in Russia she was living in Finland so I went to visit her there a couple of times. Now we were reunited at her home near Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

The first day we spent the entire morning at the Lasansky Gallery in Iowa City, Iowa, learning about Mauricio Lasansky, his life, his art and his family. My son had written a paper on one of Mauricio Lasansky’s prints for an Art History class and wanted to learn more about him. It was fascinating. Lasansky was not only a great printmaker and graphic artist but he taught at the University of Iowa for many years producing several generations of art educators and printmakers. He is known as one of the fathers of 20th Century American Printmaking. We also had the opportunity to see his grandson, Diego, at work in his studio. So we learned a little about the process as well.

From there we had lunch and then made a mad dash to Cedar Rapids to get to the Czech Museum before it closed. They currently have an exhibit of Dale Chihuly’s, Venetians from the George R. Stroemple Collection. The series was inspired by a trip to Venice where he was exposed to Art Deco vases. He invited Lino Tagliapietra to work with him on this series. The exhibit does include vases but highly decorated, bright, asymmetrical vases that are more art than function. Apparently Chihuly is Jewish and his family originally came to the USA from a region of Austria later known as Czechoslovakia. As an aside, I found out he lost his eye in a car accident.

That night we met up with some African emerging leaders who were on an exchange program visiting the USA. My friend and her husband had hosted them in their home and were now saying good-bye. We all went to Devotay, a tapas restaurant in Iowa City where we drank wine and enjoyed plates of chorizo, pulpo a la Gallega, Spanish olives, market cheeses, chewy bread, potato basil soufflé, chicken salad and salt crusted potatoes. All delicious.

Next morning we headed out after breakfast for a two hour drive north along the river to the Effigy Mounds National Monument. The monument contains 200 plus Native American mounds considered sacred to the 20 tribes associated with them. Many of the mounds were constructed in the shapes of animals. The effigies in this area are mainly bears and eagles. These date back to 1400-750 B.P., which I interpret to be about 600 AD to 1300 AD. There had been some flooding recently so some of the trails were closed. We chose a two mile hike up into the lower region of the park where there was a line of marching bears and several eagles.

The hike was uphill all the way in with an overlook and a mound on the way. Prairie grasses, flowers and raspberries were abundant. And it wasn’t too buggy, which was nice. We came across a friendly toad who stopped to be photographed but otherwise no wildlife. Once we reached the top, we understood why they had chosen this spot to build the mounds. It was a beautiful setting with a view of the river.

Back down at the river, we drove north to Lansing. It was the last day of Ragbrai and it just happened to end at Lansing so we spent a lot of time passing cyclists. Ragbrai is an annual event that started in 1973 with a few friends riding their bicycles across Iowa and was known as The Great Six-Day Bicycle Ride. Because it was the brainchild of two DesMoines Register’s writers, the ride is now called the Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa (Ragbrai). Approximately 10,000 people do the ride every year, some participating in one or two days of the ride.

From Lansing we crossed over over the Mississippi on the Black Hawk Bridge, named after Chief Black Hawk. It is a large scale cantilever truss bridge. Because of its size and age, it is one of the most unusual bridges of its kind in the country. It is definitely very cool.

The bridge took us into Wisconsin and we drove north up to La Crosse. In La Crosse we stayed at the Charmant hotel downtown. It is a new boutique hotel in a renovated candy factory that was originally built in 1898. They made a premium line of chocolates known by the name Charmant. Upon arrival we were offered a sample of the hotel’s own version of Charmant chocolate. The building features exposed brick, wood beams and wood flooring. Our room was comfortable with nice amenities and a spacious bathroom.

Interesting light fixtures at the Charmant in La Crosse

There is a rooftop bar that was nice but small and completely packed on a Saturday night. The dining room bills itself as “rustic French-inspired”. We had delicious steak frites for dinner. On Sunday mornings they sponsor Yoga in the Park and have a full brunch on offer. We enjoyed french toast and eggs for breakfast. 

Across the street from the hotel is a lovely park along the Mississippi River where you can watch the barges and boats, and people, of course.

 

Brand New Expat 1953

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I found this letter in an old scrapbook. My family was living in Rangoon, Burma. The letter is from my mother to a friend in Iowa.

 

February 15, 1953

Dear Mildred:

I’m sorry not to have written you sooner – I have thought of you so many times. I would like to tell you so much about Burma and our life her, but it is hard to condense all these new experiences and decide which might be the most interesting.

First, I think you might like to know what your home is like. We are fortunate in having a good-sized brick house, which is rented from a Burmese woman. It has 20 ft. ceilings, ceiling fans, concrete floors, and every piece of wood in the whole house from rafters to coffee table is of beautiful teakwood. Due to the high ceiling, fans and brick walls we hope to be as comfortable as is possible here during the humid hot season, which is just now beginning. To help run our household we have a cook who is indispensible, for he does the marketing, acts as interpreter since he speaks excellent English as well as four or five other languages, and he miraculously runs the temperamental kerosene stove! There are very few Burmese who work as house servants and our cook is Indian. He is a Hindu and does not eat beef, but does not object to cooking it for us. Then we have a sweeper who does the cleaning with includes scrubbing the concrete floor and waxing all the furniture at least once a week o prevent mildew. Then since babysitters are unheard of here as such, we have a nanny who lives with us and, besides babysitting, takes care of light laundry, helps me with mending and sewing and is a most pleasant person to have around. She is a young, pretty woman and a good Baptist. I usually take her with me when I drive so that she can interpret for me if the car should break down or if we should become lost (I’ still learning my way around the city).

Now, as Mother keeps asking, you might be wondering what I do with my new “life of leisure”. Well, everything is not perfect and leisurely even with so much help, believe me. Since many people in this part of the world do not have the same ideas of sanitation as we do, I have to constantly check on the kitchen to be sure the water is boiled before placed in the refrigerator for drinking, to remind the dishwasher to use soap, to see that clean dishtowels regularly replace dirty ones, etc. Our help is very fine, and they do everything to make us comfortable, but they often don’t realize how particular we must be to avoid becoming sick. One day I found nanny straining freshly boiled drinking water through a very dirty napkin into a pitcher! Language differences sometimes cause confusion – such as the time Bill asked our cook to get a mess of lime to mark out our new badminton court, and the cook appeared later with 3.5 lbs. of fresh green limes! Needless to say we are still drinking limeade. But, all in all, our household is very pleasant and as much like it would be in America as we can make it under the circumstances. I manage to keep busy – I am trying to learn to speak Burmese, I keep all the household accounts, of course, and do most of the meal planning, attend meetings of several organizations, read as much as possible, go out socially, some, and write letters. It doesn’t sound like much, I guess, but time is passing very quickly.

Our two boys both go to school from 8:30 to noon every day except Thursday and Sunday. Their school is English-speaking, but children rom all nationalities are represented. Some are learning English as they go to school. Our boys have very good friends who are Chinese, French, Dutch, and Burmese – some of whom speak no English at all. But neither race nor language is any barrier to their friendships – an example from which we all might profit.

Rangoon is a most colorful and interesting city with large Chinese and Indian populations as well as the pleasant, friendly Burmese. The city is dominated by one very tall gold-roofed pagoda which is a most interesting place to visit besides being a landmark for Rangoon and one of the outstanding pagodas in this part of the world. One climbs hundreds of steps to the top where there are many statues of Buddha of different sizes, colors and positions. The roof or dome of the pagoda is pure gold leaf and it has many valuable gems sealed inside. We enjoyed the long climb to the top almost as much as the worship center, for the stairs are lined with little shops where everything one can imagine is sold – Burmese, drums, ankle bracelets, cymbals, flowers, lacquer ware, Ivory combs, flutes made of bamboo, brassware, toys, etc, etc. Once Bill and I wanted to buy a delightful-sounding Burmese gong, and since one bargains over the price of most everything here we started bargaining. The merchant asked 15 rupees, we offered 6 and finally after much haggling got it for 8 rupees – very pleased with our bargain. When we got home one of our servants pointed out the price mark written in Burmese – 5 rupees!! But we had had fun anyway, and you can be sure we learned how to read Burmese numbers that very day.

We are at the moment thoroughly enjoying our Iowa news since the monthly ship from New York came in this week. We got about a month supply of newspapers. We get all our letters in about 10 days, but the magazines and papers take about 6 weeks.

We really like it here in Rangoon and are so glad we had the opportunity to come. It is a joy to find that these people halfway around the world are just as human as Americans are, and that it is as easy to become good friends with Asians as it is with Iowans. This is one thing that gives me a renewed faith in the world.

70 years together

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I am re-posting this from my other blog – Eclectic Global Nomad.

My parents were married at 2:00 in the afternoon.  My father was on medical leave from the US Navy after having his appendix out.  The year was 1943.

My mother remembers driving with her father to the church. They lived in a small town in Iowa.  As they drove through downtown my mother noticed the bank clock said 1:55.  When she and her new husband drove back the same route to her house for a small reception, she again noticed the clock.  It now said 2:15.  The minister had married them under the wrong name.  Nobody mentioned it.

My father’s father ran the family farm so he had petrol coupons.  He filled the car with gas and gave them coupons so they could go to Kansas City for a two day honeymoon before my father returned to his post at Lakehurst, New Jersey.  He was training to fly blimps.  My mother was teaching school and had to finish out the year before joining him.

They were separated again when my father went to fly blimps off the coast of Brazil searching for German submarines.  He remembers Christmas Day, 1944.  He and his buddies drove through the Brazilian countryside on their way to find a beach to play volleyball.  It was the first time he had ever seen that kind of poverty.  He noticed the crops in the fields and decided that very day he could help people by teaching agriculture.

He had planned to be a vocational agriculture instructor when he returned to civilian life but this gave it a whole new dimension.  He wanted to work overseas.  His mother had always told him he could do what ever he wanted if he set his mind to it.

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Mt Ayr, Iowa

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THOS. LIGGETT.

 

Like many more of our leading citizens, Mr. LIGGETT has taught in the district schools. He is a native of the Buckeye State – but of choice a Hawkeye – having made his advent in Union county, Ohio, March 2, 1841. At the breaking out of the [Civil] war, Mr. LIGGETT was in Monmouth, Illinois, where he enlisted in Co. C 36th Illinois Inf., his first battle beint that of the Battle of Pea Ridge. He escaped pretty luckily until the battle of Chickamauga, when he was shot in the cheek, the ball coming out at the back of the neck. He still carries evidence of that “Johnnie’s” markmanship.

In [February 18] 1869, Mr. LIGGETT was married to Miss Catharine ARTHUR [in Warren County, Illinois], and they have four (sic) children, two daughters [sic, daughters Bessie, Mary, and Margaret; Pearl died in childwood] two sons [Arthur and Harry of Mount Ayr]. They moved to Mt. Ayr in the spring of 1875, when he formed a partnership with J. R. HENDERSON in the grocery business and has continued in the same occupation nearly ever since excepting the three terms he successfully served this county as clerk of the courts. He is now with his brother, J. Hall LIGGETT, conducting a very successful grocery business, as elswhere noted.

 

I found this entry on the Ringgold County website.  Thomas’ son Harry was my grandfather, and Harry’s brother Arthur was my great uncle.  My mother was born in Mt Ayr, Iowa in 1920.  She reminisces about growing up in a small town:

 

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Our town, Mount Ayr, Ringgold County, Iowa, was built around a square with a three story brick courthouse in the very center, a cannon set on one corner of the courtyard, a soldier’s monument (WW I) on another corner and when I was growing up, a bandstand on the north side center.  Each Saturday night during the summer the American Legion Band gave an hour’s concert of mostly Sousa marches and other, not too difficult, compositions.  Forrest Stewart always was the leader.  I played flute and piccolo (Stars and Stripes Forever was a real favorite and challenge!) and the rest of the band was made up of people of all ages from the town and country.  It was a lot of fun to be with this varied group and we actually got paid a pittance by the town for this bit of culture.  We always had a great time and were so pleased when we occasionally rendered something flawlessly, or at least, acceptably.  I think my sister, Jean, played clarinet with us as she grew older.

            All around the square were all sorts of stores and offices – a movie house, the Carnegie Library, the Christian Church on one corner, and, in the early days even a milliner’s shop full of beautiful hats.  We had two or three doctors, several lawyers, one, of course, was County Attorney, a realty company, a bank, a sandwich shop that made anything from hamburgers to pork tenderloins to brain sandwiches, all delicious.  We also had a hotel of sorts, a fire station with truck, a telephone office with operators who place every call for you, and who, therefore always knew all the latest gossip.  Also, there was a gas station, a pool hall which was a “den of iniquity” and off limits to most of the younger set.  I was even scared to walk by it!  There was a post office built during the great depression and decorated by Works Progress Administration mural artists.

            Because Harry and Arthur were friendly people and did a big grocery business all over the county, we were taught to be especially friendly and polite to everyone, whether we knew them or not.  I think that may explain some of the quirks in Jean’s and my personalities – both “conformist” and “non-conformist” attitudes and cynical.  Liquor was frowned upon by most people in Mount Ayr but our Dad who loved a glass of beer now and then (he always put a shake of salt in it) drank it only during his two weeks’ annual vacation away from home.

            During the great depression in the 30s, Harry and Arthur, who allowed groceries to be charged by the month, literally fed many families over the county free.  For several years after good times returned Dad would get a check in the mail for payment for groceries received during that terrible time.  People were basically honest, they just had no money at all during those years.  The only bank in our town closed and because of high mortgages many, many farmers lost their homes and land.  That was disaster enough, but we had a great drought period during that time also.  I don’t remember our family suffering, at least we always had enough to eat.  We wore second hand and made over clothing and purchased as little as possible but everyone else was doing the same.  We saw so many families who were in such dire straits.  Everyday, Dad would come home feeling so sorry about yet another farm foreclosure that we couldn’t feel sorry for ourselves.  We had a comfortable home, a Model A Ford and no debts that could be foreclosed on.  And, apparently the grocery business made ends meet in spite of so many unpaid charge accounts.

 

 

The Family

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Flying home from my winter wonderland visit with the family I thought about a conversation my mother had with one of my nieces as they were saying good-bye.

Mother:  We really do have an odd family

Niece:  Should we take offense at that?

Mother:  Well, no, you are all very interesting.

Niece:  Interesting?  Now I know we are being insulted.

Mother:  But interesting is good.  I can’t think of anything worse than a bunch of boring people.

Niece:  Well, we certainly are not boring.

Mother:  No, none of you are boring!

 

It was all in good fun but it made me think of what makes up my non-boring family.  There were sixteen of us.  We are scattered across 5 states.

The patriarch grew up on a farm in Iowa and ended up spending over forty years as an expat.  He  met many Heads of State and he had been to 90 countries by the time he was 90.  The matriarch, kept up with him all the way also starting out in a small town in Iowa.  My brothers and I are third culture kids who grew up all over the world.

I married Nicholas, a Russian American whose parents were refugees after World War II.  Nicholas’ father never learned to speak English so Nicholas was his translator from a young age.  Nicholas used to tell me that coming home from school every day he felt like he was crossing a border into another country.  Most of his family still live in Russia.  Our son spent the first six years of his life in Russia and has traveled to many places around Europe.

My brother moved to Australia after college and met and married a woman from New Zealand.  She also came from a cross cultural family with roots in England and Australia.  Their children carry dual passports – New Zealand and USA.  They visit their relatives half way around the world whenever they can.

My niece married a first generation American with Indian roots.  She is now immersed in the traditions and culture of an extended Indian family.  One tradition included a rice eating ceremony for their baby daughter.  For this ceremony they needed a baby sari.  Not just any sari but a beautiful, fancy sari.  They found it was difficult to find one the USA and so another sister-in-law of mine and my niece are starting a baby sari business.  They have an Indian woman lined up to make the saris and they are working on a website to market their goods.  You will be hearing more about this as things progress.

So we are a cross cultural conglomeration.  And we all get along beautifully.

Cheers!

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