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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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 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.
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.
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”
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!
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.
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.”Â 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.
Today we took our out-of-state guests to the Neil Smith National Wildlife Refuge and Prairie Learning Center near Prairie City, Iowa.
There is a beautiful interpretive center nestled into a prairie hillside. The site was at one time destined to be the site of a nuclear power plant, but those plans fell through, and it became the largest reconstructed prairie in North America. It is a grand experiment to try to turn corn and beans back into native vegetation to give those around here a small taste of what it might have been like when the first pioneers came this-away.
Blazing Star – commonly naturalized for home and butterfly gardens – liatris.
Cup plant – Saves water by the design of the stem and leaf – you’ll see this one is holding water just below the flower.
On Thursday everyone but me went to Neil Smith National Wildlife Refuge near Prairie City, Iowa, about 45 mintes south of us. Â The refuge contains over 5,000 acres of reconstructed prairie, with funding to add about 2500 more acres. It’s been about 17 years since the first reconstructive plantings, so it is starting to look like a real midwestern tallgrass prairie! There is an engaging interpretive center, appropriately built low into the ground as to fit into the open spaces. Great place for kids and adults alike.
There’s not many places in the US you’ll see a sign like this!
The bison currently graze about 800 acres of the refuge.
It’s nice to have a peek at what the original landscape may have looked like – althoughÂ it is thought that this part of the tallgrass prairie was home to more elk than bision. There are elk in the refuge, but this trip the bison were out.
The girls waiting between activities in the museum lobby.
Any cultural understanding of Iowa and the Midwest would include the work and life of Grant Wood, most famous for “American Gothic” the most-parodied painting in the American canon.
I do not particularly count that as one of my favorites. Quite independently and most interestingly each member of our family (except Martin) chose the same piece as our favorite – the appraisal.
This photo is from an art site and does not show the detail – come visit and you can see a reproduction on our wall!
This painting shows a farm woman and a city woman about to sell/buy a chicken. We love the detail of the safety pin holding the farm woman’s coat shut, the fancy purse of the city woman, and their appraisal of each other in negotiating a price. Perhaps as chicken growers ourselves, we can relate!
Grant Wood was nurtured and worked most of his life in Cedar Rapids. A director of a funeral home offered him studio space above his carriage house.
This is the carriage house today – only about 3 blocks from the museum. It is a good show – as the 100th anniversary of the Museum, many of the pieces are on loan from the Chicago Art Institute, Metropolitan Museum of Art and so on. The exhibit runs until December 4th and any fans of Art or Iowa History would enjoy the chance to see all the pieces together.
Each year, the kids earn “points.” They earn points randomly for doing an extra job cheerfully or helping out without being asked. The points can be applied for smaller or larger “prizes.” They’ve elected to go for the big prizes (usually a night at a hotel with a pool). This year we combined the point rewards with a number of other events.
Claire was honored at a ceremony at the University of Iowa honoring the top 1% of Iowa students, and Mom, Emma, and Martin visited the Science Station in Cedar Rapids.
Emma cranking up the skyward wave machine.
It’s hard not to like a dinosaur when you are four. Tomorrow look for the pictures from the Grant Wood exhibit.
Today was the annual pilgrimage to the Iowa State Fair, now rated one of the top 10 places to visit for a family vacation along with the Grand Canyon, Colorado Rockies, and seven other places I can’t remember. Today, I’ll let the pictures do most of the talking.
Here’s Claire on the mezannine of the Agriculture Building. Just over her left shoulder in a refrigerated case is the life-size butter cow.
The best way to see the fair is on the skyglider floating above the fair.
Among the many agricultural curiosities at the fair are the big bull, big sow, big sheep, etc. Here’s this year’s big bull, weighing in at a shade under 3,000 pounds.
Today was Wells Fargo day at the fair, so we had a free concert by Jo Dee Messina.
Here are a couple of “Fair Girls.”
Garrison Kellior of the Prairie Home Companion, spoke with the winner of a 4-H family research project. He was spellbounding talking about the project and weaving his own stories into the talk. He’s a quick wit!
Grandma and all of her female grandchildren hopped in the car and headed east to Maquoketa Caves and Dubuque.
Since some of the grandkids had not been in Illinois, they drove over the river to Illinois and Wisconsin, to make it a three state road trip.
The entrance to the cave feels good as the cool air rushes out on a hot, humid day.
The trip was not all educational and wholesome. Flarp was a big attraction on the way home. (For the uninitiated, Flarp is the modern-day whoopie cushion, except a skilled practitioner can perfect a much wider range of sounds and cadences than can be coaxed from an ordinary whoopie cushion.)
Flarp causes severe laughter and lots of playacting!
It was time to pick up Claire from music camp at Luther College in Decorah. Here she is with the choir. It must be a blast to sing with this many people!
Grandma Nana came down from Rochester to watch as well.
As the concert was quite long – pushing 4 hours including the bands, jazz bands, orchestra, and choir, Martin and I headed off to a state fish hatchery.
The hatchery is nested in a forest outside of Decorah.
The fish are raised to “full size” and released in the cold-water trout streams in Northeast Iowa. Here’s Martin looking at a tank of rainbow trout.
Very near the hatchery, a stream comes right out of a cliff at the base of a hill. It is really cool to see the water coming out of the earth and starting a stream. I’m guessing the reason the hatchery is there is that they use the very cold water coming out of the earth to raise the trout.
Not many things beat throwing sticks down a cascading waterfall!
We also walked a short ways down the stream and looked and found trout swimming. We watched patiently and quietly while a fly fisherman cast a fly over the top of a fish we were looking at. The fly made about 10 passes before the trout jumped up and ate a different fly (not attached to a fishing line) and swam away. I told Martin that his papa would have really loved to take him fishing here as he spent many days fishing the streams around Decorah.
We’re off (mostly) for a weekend in a cabin at Pine Lake State Park. The kids and I are heading out after school, but Linda has commencement and a speaking engagement tomorrow morning, so she won’t be joining us until then.
It seems like you need the same stuff whether you go for a weekend or a week. Here we are, all ready to go! Packing is always such a delight (but you’d never know it from these smiling faces).
Ah, just what you hope for – it’s about 30 degrees and overcast, with wind gusts of 35 mph and a 90% chance of rain this afternoon. It’s not quite tropical, but as the old saying goes, “whatever the weather, we’ll weather the weather, whether we like it or not.” In all truth, it won’t make much of a difference as we have plenty of space and room inside the cottage do whatever.
You know you are a real farmer when you’d rather spend your money on a new fence than a caribbean vacation! I started building the fence for this year’s tree planting. I ultimately decided on the cattle panels as they will be most flexible and “always on” even though they are a bit pricey. Today, I finished pulling the snow fence posts and got about 6 panels (96 feet) worth of fence hauled and up. That means I’m about 1/14 done with the fence. Here’s about half the pieces on the wagon.
Tomorrow morning I leave with Linda on a 2 day get-away to the Villages of Van Buren County. We’re renting a “cottage” and today I went shopping for food and drink. It looks like the weather is going to be crummy, so we’ll probably spend less time hiking at Lacy-Keosauqua and more time working on the farm business plan.