October 25, 2014, Backside of Fall

We are on the backside of fall, with November on the horizon next week.  We had a day in the mid 70’s so took a break from the grind of studying and working around the farm for a trip to Ledges State Park.

They grow big leaves here!

It was a great day to take a hike up a creek, especially this one with lots of sand on the bottom. (Emma will be bummed she missed the green stuff near Mom’s head.)

Even though the leave are past prime, there is still enough color to make things interesting. Yes, there are places like this in Iowa!

Martin “owns” the sandstone outcrop.

spindle tree, red berries in pink casing

First time noticing this shrub with brilliant pink berry protectors – this is a spindle tree or Euonymus europaeus.

Euonymus europaeus.jpg

A peek at the berries inside.

December 28, 2013 – Historic Park Inn/Frank Lloyd Wright

Merry Christmas to us!  Linda and I decided in lieu of Christmas presents, we’d do something together.

The lobby of the Historic Park Inn, the only remaining hotel designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.

Now part of the complex is the Wright-designed City National Bank, attached to the hotel.

Some detail of the second story windows.

Typical hallway carpeting.

Our room, complete with square pillow, for what, I’m not sure!

Also connected to the hotel is the 1910 Grille, where I was bold enough to walk from my room to the restaurant in my slippers!

Linda peering out the windows in the Ladies Parlor.  The hotel was rehabilitated only a couple of years ago.  It would be a nice place to go for small conferences or get-aways when you wanted to focus on the people you were with in a tasteful atmosphere.  Did I mention is was away from it all?  No, it’s not in Oak Park, Illinois, but in Mason City Iowa.  I hope all the hard work the local citizens did to renovate and re-open the hotel gets rewarded and that the hotel has a long future.

July 6, 2013 – 80/35 2013

Once again it’s time for the mostly totally volunteer-run music festival that takes place at the intersection of I-35 and I-80.

The most intriguing new act that I saw was the Homemade Jamz Blues Band from Tupelo, MS.  When the band took the stage, I turned to Linda and said, “What, is the drummer 13-yrs old?”  I was wrong – she’s 14!  Her brother the bass player is 19 and her other brother playing lead is 21.  But even at 14, it’s already been five years since signing her first record deal.


Photo Credit Patrick Wingard

I missed the headliner Friday night, David Byrne – and how could you go wrong with a tuba, French horn, trombone,  and David Byrne?  Friends said the show was ethereal. But I have a good excuse for missing it as our good friend and neighbor, on the occasion of her 50th birthday, jumped out of an airplane 10,000 feet above her farm and landed at her party.

Looking down at 80/35. Photo by Stefan Hansen.

Photo Credit Stefan Hansen

Saturday’s headliner was Wu-Tang Clan, and I chose to pass on them, although many others seemed to have a good time!


July 25, 2012 – RAGBRAI Hosts

Tonight we hosted RAGBRAI (Register’s Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa) riders. It was our way of giving back to the world. Last year we were scrambling for a place for Claire to live in D.C. and a Unitarian minister hosted her free of charge for the summer. So, when I learned RAGBRAI was going through Marshalltown this year, I did a search for Unitarian and RAGBRAI. I found an online sermon from a minister in New Jersey, got in touch with him, offered our place, and here is team Woody Van.

Their stuff arrived early in the morning in one of the sag wagons and around 2:00 team members started rolling in.  It was the hottest day in 29 years in Central Iowa, reaching 106. Some riders did a half day, some the whole day, and one did the special “Century Loop” an extra loop that made the ride over 100 miles for the day.  The guy who did it, although being one of the oldest in the group and having ridden his bike coast to coast, said the day was the hardest cycling day he had ever completed – 100 miles, 100 degrees plus, with a 20-25 mph headwind for about 1/3 of the day – all after the two previous days of 100 degree plus riding.

Here’s part of the team – we also hosted part of Team Skunk from Ames.  Most elected to sleep in the air conditioned house, but a few started the night in tents – until the hail, heavy rain and 50-60 mph gusts arrived.  It was an early evening for the crew, some were in bed by 8:00 and everyone by 10:00.  Rev Charlie Ortman from Montclair NJ is hard to miss in his blaze orange.  Other members of the team were from New Jersey, Arizona, Iowa, Ohio, and Minnesota.  One of these guys even did the route on roller blades!  It was a great to get to chat with as many of the team members as we could.


July 7, 2012 – 80/35 Day 2

Final day of 80/35. Most of the bands I saw are below and most I’ve got a link to a performance by the band in the text below their picture. At then end is a rather random mish-mas of bits and pieces from my camera during the day. If you only choose to look at two, the variety of 80/35 is perhaps best captured by the Delta Rae and Leslie and the LY-s!

Fairfield Iowa based Little Ruckus is shall, we say, irreverent?

It’s nice to see brass bands still on the musical horizon as Central Iowa Christopher and the Conquered and his Black Gold Brass Band funk it up.

After listening to a few of this band’s songs, I’m not sure if it was the band’s lineup or its sound, but I thought they could do a killer Fleetwood Mac cover.  And by gosh, they did, they can also go gospel as in this video.  They were recently signed to warner Bros and were a SXSW band.

The Mumfords, another SXSW band from Ames, again show there is a future in this country for trombone players wearing red and white duct tape underpants to make their mark in the world!

Atmosphere is a band that I would never find on my own – the indie rap band was fun for at least 15 minute.  They hail from Minneapolis and had a #5 album on the billboard charts.

Greensky Bluegrass is another SXSW act with a great bluegrass vibe.

Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit hail from Muscle Shoals – the band is a wonderful spawn of the Drive-By Truckers (plus he looks a lot like my dad when he was young).  I remember hearing one songwriter – it may have been Dylan or Cash or Emmy Lou say, one of the hardest thing to do is to write one true lyric that hasn’t already been said.  I think Jason’s lyric “There’s one thing I can’t stand, There’s one thing I can’t take,  It’s the sound that woman makes, Five seconds after her heart begins to break” counts for me.

Leslie and the LY-s need to be seen to be believed.  Some kind of a glam-dance satire.

My favorite group of the day was Leftover Salmon, what’s known in the trade as a jam grass band – a bit of of the Grateful Dead mixed with Del McCoury band.  The band seemed to have as good a time as the audience.  It strikes me that most people’s musical tastes are much wider than commercial radio suggests – many of the same people fist-pumping for Atmoshpere, danced to Leftover Salmon.

Closing the evening was Death Cab for Cutie, probably the most commercially successful band of the festival, but not quite as compelling as some of the other acts.

Random short clips of the day.

October 1, 2010 – Emma Visits River Museum

Emma recently visited the National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium in Dubuque with her Envirothon team.  She was gone a couple of days, so could really see and do many things.

They had free run of the museum after hours, which they greatly enjoyed.

You can never have too much instant ocean!

They did some stream biological assessments – here trying to chase minnows and fish into a net.  They also set up fish traps on the Mississippi and were able to catch some monster northern pike and walleyes which was a thrill for Emma!

one year ago…”Thingamajig Thursday #179″

November 25, 2008 – Waiting for Turkeys

I was up at 5 am to bring the turkeys to Milo, about 30 miles south of Des Moines.  It’s first-come first serve and my turkeys got in about 11:00.  Then it was about a three hour wait until they chilled in ice water so they could be transported.  After dropping some off in Ames, it was home about 6:30.  In the three hour wait, I visited a park close by the locker, Lake Ahquabi State Park.

There was a unique structure out at the end of a dock.

Inside the structure was an opening that went to the lake.  It was an indoor fishing shack.  Could be handy on a wet or hot day!

one year ago…”Last Lambs of the Season”.

July 26, 2008 – Reiman Gardens

On Martin’s special request, yesterday was a gj and Martin at Rieman Gardens in Ames day.

Reiman Gardens are Iowa’s largest public gardens, with 11 themed gardens.

Along with the gardens is a butterfly conservatory, thus the appropriately-themed chair in the garden.

Martin took some photos, including this texture-rich photo of a tropical leaf in the conservatory.

One of the butterflies in the conservatory.

one year ago…”Thingamajig Thursday #81″

June 28, 2008 – Des Moines Art Festival

Since Aunti Julie was here this weekend, we went to the Des Moines Art Fair.

Here Martin is amazed by a contraption that moves balls around a series of loops, falls, twists and turns.

You might recognize this guy from the July 21st Wind Turbine Dedication – one week at high hopes gardens, the next at the art fair!

The neices and nephew with auntie!

Linda seldom sees something that strikes her fancy – this artist, Mark Orr, had a series of ravens bearing keys in their mouths and Linda could not resist!  Here she is with the artist.

Here is the raven on its new perch in the living room near the front door.  One of the symbolisms of the raven and the key is the opening of doors and the welcoming of positive change into our lives.

one year ago…”Thingamajig Thursday #78″

May 18, 2008 – A Stroll in the Park

One of our favorite parks in central Iowa is Ledges State Park, just a bit west of Ames. The landscape is very rugged where Peas Creek goes through a small canyon on the way to the Des Moines river.

The creek has a mostly sandy bottom, and seldom gets over waist-deep, so it is great for kids to hike down along the cliffs and winding course of the creek.

The swallows were swarming like something out of a Hitchcock movie on this cliff face, where if you look closely, can see a number of nests below the first ledge from the top.

The road crosses over the creek at numerous places, and there are “steps” to walk across if you don’t want to get wet feet. Martin was a bit hesitant to jump, so takes the 4-wheel approach to crossing (stop wondering why his pants wear out at the knees!). In the warm days of summer, kids stand on these blocks and urge the cars to drive through quickly, as to make a big splash and douse them with water.

Closer by the river, this pole marks the high-water marks over the years. The top placard, of course, represents the water level during the legendary Midwestern floods of 1993. Linda and I went canoeing in those waters and passed very near this pole in our canoe.

one year ago…”Garden in Full Swing”

May 3, 2008 – All Work and No Play Make Mark a Dull Boy

Linda and I snuck away from the farm for 20 hours this weekend to Iowa City.  We had tickets to see Steve Earle and Allison Moorer, a couple of acts I saw at SXSW in Austin, TX last year.  Steve is a rare hippie country singer, but his latest CD is more folk with a hint of hip-hop and won the Grammy for best contemporary folk album this year.  I got the last two seats in the house about a month ago.  The Englert was a nice venue, restored by a big community effort.  There is a tuxedoed man to greet you at the door and volunteer ushers wearing black pants and white shirts.

He played a good mix of his old tunes like Copperhead Road and most of his new CD.

Before the show we ate at Devotay – a fine dining restaurant that features hordes of local producers and run by Chef Kurt Friese, who is one of the founders of Edible Iowa River Valley magazine.

Of course, we stopped at Prairie Lights Bookstore as well and did well to keep the bill near 100 bucks.  We picked up Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food, a compilation honoring the late Paul Gruchow entitled The Grace of Grass and Water, The Flower Farmer, by Lynn Byczynski, which updates the Organic Flower Farmer which is the single most valuable how-two farming-related book we own.  We also picked up the latest Wapsipinicon Almanac, a seasonal magazine still using the traditional Linotype press and good writing published in Anamosa, Iowa, and Red Bird, the latest book of poetry by Mary Oliver.  We couldn’t wait to read her latest, so after the show, we took turns deliciously reading alternate poems until we finished the book.

one year ago…”Thingamajig Thursday #70″

April 9, 2008 – Paragon Prairie Tower

There’s a new landmark on my way to work – the Paragon Prairie Tower in an office park in Urbandale, IA.

The placque adjacent to the tower gives this as part of the explanation of the tower.

“The Paragon Prairie Tower rises from the landscape as a dynamic symbol of the the accomplishments and aspirations of the people of Iowa and the Midwest…The Paragon Prairie Tower recalls the presence of agricultural structures such as grain silos, where for generations we have traditionally stored the bounty of our harvests.”

The description mentions that the scene is of native prairie plants dancing in the wind – but I also see human figures in the tower.

The tower is made up of hundreds of thousands of glass fragments from Ravenna, Italy and stands 118 feet tall.

Here’s a close view of the individual tiles that make up the mosaic of the tower.
I just wish they would honor the tower by planting the native grasses depicted on the tower in the grounds around the tower instead of the same old irrigated kentucky bluegrass and fescue that is ubiquitous around every midwestern office park!
one year ago…”Equipment Day/Fresh Air”

December 3, 2007 – In the News

There have been a couple of recent stories in the news about our neck of the woods. NPR produced a story about immigration and visited with people in Marshalltown, including a woman that went on the trip to Mexico with Linda and Claire’s high school principal. In addition to the audio story, there is a video story link below the story photo from a local coffee shop talking about the caucuses that features some folks we know. The old ladies steal the show in my book!

The New York Times travel writer gushed about the renewed downtown Des Moines. He said in part:

It was not long ago, as most Iowans will tell you, when East Coast stereotypes about this Midwest city were fairly accurate. Bleak and foreboding, a city with a desultory and desolate downtown, few places to eat and little to do once the candidates returned to often dreary hotel rooms. For the hordes of campaign staff members, reporters, television crews who have encamped here for the caucuses over the past 30 years  – great story, yes, but suffice it to say that Des Moines wasn’t the draw. But the other night in Des Moines, I had dinner with a colleague and the Iowa state director of Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign at a vibrant restaurant, Lucca, in the heart of a gentrified neighborhood called the East Village. The restaurant had more panache and better food than many places I’ve eaten in Washington, D.C. The East Village streets, spread out under the State Capitol, were aglow with lights – lavender, icy blue and, of course, red and green  –  strung out for Christmas. They were bustling with boutiques, bookstores, coffee shops, culinary stores and Smash, an edgy T-shirt shop where the proprietors were listening to Band of Horses while making slightly off-color T-shirts celebrating the Iowa caucuses.

Although Iowans still can’t quite put them up to talking smack about the improvements in their state, at least there are outsiders who can come in and do it instead.

one year ago…

August 12, 2007 – Iowa State Fair Day

Today we went to the Iowa State Fair.  Since it was so hot, we decided to try something a bit different.  Rather than battle 100,000 or so people for a place to park, eat, and stand in line in the heat, we arrived there about 5:00 pm and stayed into the evening, to experience the fair after dark.

There was virtually no line at the butter cow, at the big boar and farrowing exhibit, and other places there are usually long lines.  We’ll do that time period again!

Of course, you can get nearly anything on a stick at the fair.

But to my mind, the coolest is the new “Energy on a Stick.”  Over a year, this wind turbine will produce enough electricty to run all the power needs for the 11 day run of the state fair – midway, lights, cooling etc.  In total, it will provide 1/4 of the fairground’s annual power needs (the grounds are open to other events year-round). 

We always look at the displays and compare the blue ribbon winners to stuff at our farm and think that if we ever were organized enough, we may do quite well!

This morning Linda and I presented the service at church where we talked about the sustainability of local foods.  So today was a bit of a relief day after getting ready for the service and party simultaneously.  The service was well received – we even got applause at the end!  Dennis Keeney, former director of the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture was in attendance and thanked us as well. 

one year ago…