I keep my blog as a personal record of what I'm up to, which might be seen as working towards "An elegant sufficiency, content, retirement, rural quiet, friendship, books, ease and alternate labour, useful life"

I'm certainly not there yet.  There is quite some way to go!










Taking the fast route


There are times on a road trip when it helps to skip a step.  To hop on a plane rather than drive thousands of miles.  So, though our original idea was to do a circular route from Chicago, somewhere along the way, we thought it would be good to explore that bit further by means of adding a flight into the formula.




So early this morning, we were at Minneapolis Lindbergh terminal boarding a small plane, first to Chicago (59 mins) and connecting to an even smaller plane to Little Rock (1hr 35min). 

It took us all day.




Leaving Minneapolis, the views were rather good.  Minnesota isn’t called “the land of 10 000 lakes” for nothing.




Sitting waiting for the connecting flight, I looked at the names of the standby passengers and thought how strange it was that they all had Chinese names…that was just before I realised that the list showed just the first three letters of each surname.  Duh!




It was a pretty cloudy ride this time and there wasn’t much to see, sadly.




Though as we came into land, we flew low over the Arkansas River and caught a good look at the downtown skyline.




We collected our rental car (yay!  this one doesn’t smell of curry inside!!)  and found our way to the River Market area, where our hotel is situated.




My hero and I scored our 41st state here, too!


The Fourth of July




Today, we did what most people here seem to do on a bank holiday, we went shopping!




We’d hummed and haaahed about going to the Mall of America – and yet, could we possibly come to Minneapolis without seeing it for ourselves?  But if we were going, we’d better go early because the last thing we wanted was to get snarled up in nightmare traffic scenes.

No, the last thing we wanted was to get lost!




So, we were there around 9.50am (it opened at 9.30) and we made careful note of where we’d parked the car before going inside.




We then made careful note (ie took photographs!) of where we started out, which is where the first surprise came.

The Mall of America isn’t anything like as enormous as any of us had imagined.

The stores are arranged around a square, over three floors (or rather, two floors and one comprising mostly of food offerings).  I think there may have been four anchor stores, one at each corner, but right now, there are just three, whilst the other is being rebuilt.




The thing is, as is often the case, the shops are the same here as they are in every other mall we’ve been to in the US. 




Not that I’m complaining!




What was different was in the central area – though my friends living close to the Metro Centre in Gateshead won’t find it at all unusual to have a funfair there.  The rides looked pretty serious – like nothing I’d ever dream of trying out – and if anything, the funfair was rather busier when we were there than the shopping centre.

We walked around two floors, stopped for milkshakes and one or two purchases, but by lunchtime we were done.  We ticked the Mall of America off our list and retraced our steps (very easily) to the car and drove back into St Paul.




We’d decided to spend the rest of the day at the History Center.




It’s in a pretty impressive building, with a replica of Lindbergh’s Jenny hanging in the atrium.




There was also a great view of the Capitol building from here too.




We began in the Minnesota exhibition where one of the staff was standing by the Fur trading post, ready to do business with these Europeans who had just turned up.  From this moment onwards, once again we were struck by how much the staff enhanced our visit.  They were friendly, knowledgeable and yet didn’t overwhelm us with too many details.




We learned about the Indian schools, where children were boarded for weeks on end away from their families.




We also learned more about the lives of the pioneers.




Imagine a family of seven living in this small one room home during a hard winter. (I’d rather not)




We learned a little more about the plague of grasshoppers we’d read about in Laura Ingalls Wilder’s books.  It sounded dreadful.




I’ve really enjoyed finding out about the lives of the pioneers and seeing pictures like this confirms just how hard it was for them – and how much easier it must have been once the railroad opened up.




The challenges of life in modern day Minnesota were explained in the next exhibit, which focused on the weather




Woollen underwear features highly.  This whole room described the many extremes of weather which life in Minnesota involves and gave us all the chance to experience a simulated tornado whilst sitting in a mock up cellar.  Even knowing that it was just a demonstration, it was scary.  I can’t imagine what it’s like sitting it out for real.




Next, was a feature about “the greatest generation” – the parents of the baby boomers, born in the 1910-1920s. 




Throughout the center, I admired the imaginative ways to impart information.  Here, the stories were told on the hanging clothes covers of a dry cleaners’ set and pressing the button sent the conveyor along a little and moved to the next story.




This flowed nicely into the next room, which was about the H’mong people who’ve settled in Minnesota.  After the Vietnam war, many refugees were settled here and over the years the arrival of their families and friends have expanded the community still further.  We’d seen part of the exhibit yesterday, when we were at the Hill House.




Finally, in this part – we thought – was a great show of the couture clothes from Ebony and Fashion Fair magazines.  Absolutely stunning mannequins, somehow arranged in just the right attitudes of the 1970s-80s-90s, I loved it.

And that was that. 





There was one other exhibit – the story of one house in Minneapolis and the people who lived there.  Once again, it was the creative ways in which the exhibition designer communicated the information which wowed us.




Like this chest of drawers in the first family’s sitting room.  Each drawer was labelled with an aspect of their life.




Pull out a drawer and voila, here was the story with pop up figures too.  Each drawer told about a different aspect of their lives.




Another family moved in a few years later and their story was told on their clothes, by printing on the garments, writing on labels and on ribbons and trims.




Subsequent families had their stories told in their lunch boxes.




and on the tins and containers on the kitchen dresser.




Multi media, interactive and so varied.  Great imagination.




This couple lived in the house around the time of the war and they were brought to life by means of TV screens in the dinner plates around the table.  Someone had really had fun putting all this together, I think.




And rounding things off nicely, one of the latest inhabitants of the house was a H’mong family. 

As we took one last look around, the lights flashed to signal that the museum was closing shortly.  Hmm.  A quick zip around the museum shop (and a groan from the two assistants when they saw customers approaching just five minutes before closing!) and that was it.




As we left the excellent Italian restaurant on our way back to the hotel, we passed this bronze statue we’d spotted as we passed by yesterday.

I like you, Charlie Brown.


Checking off the must-sees


Everyone who knew we were heading for Minneapolis told us we should visit the Art Institute.  So, this morning, we did.




It’s a huge place, chock full of every kind of art from all over the world.  Name an artist and there’s surely at least one of their works here.  What’s more, it’s free! 




The hard part was finding our way around.  For some reason, the map was particularly tricky to interpret.  So, we just jumped in and followed our instinct.




We saw classical sculpture – this is The Lost Pleiad by the American sculptor Randolph Rogers.




When we arrived, I asked one of the volunteers at the desk which particular exhibit was a “must see”.  She replied that there was a piece in the modern art collection that was so horrible, we’d recognise it immediately.  That was the one we really should see.

Here it is.  Yes it’s horrible – the more so because it’s a posthumous portrait of the artist’s mother!  (by the American artist Morris Kantor)  Maybe it’s as well she never got to see it?




I enjoyed the modern installations, particularly this one by American street artist Swoon, called Alixa and Naima.  I liked the way the textures interact with one another and the composition of the collage as a whole.




And we all loved the Magritte “Promenades of Euclid” which played with our brains so! 




I must have been particularly receptive to collage today, because this piece made of driftwood from Lake Superior, by George Morrison, hit all the buttons for me.




There’s just something really satisfying about the neat patterns, the blend of colours and those lovely textures too.  Love it!




But actually, there were two truly memorable exhibits which left us all thinking.  The first began with these small figures on the landing and continued into an extended exhibition of work in the next few rooms.




I’d not come across Mark Mothersbaugh before.  The title, Myopia refers to his own shortsightedness and refers to this mixed media exhibition of his work.




The first room was filled with a musical instrument made of a strange collection of tubes and frames which soon sprang into action, playing the weirdest, most kooky music imaginable.  Difficult to describe but suffice to say, everyone was walking around with a smile!




The adjacent room contained a collection of 30 000 postcards created by the artist who draws at least one postcard a day.  Hmm.  Dodger friends, are you listening?  I mean, if we all kept up this habit, what would we do with such a collection? 




Another room was concerned with symmetry and yes, of course we loved the car Winking smile .  So, Mark Mothersbaugh, we need to know more about you and your work!




The other exhibit which touched us all was the recently discovered office of the first curator of the MIA, Barton Kestle.  Full of a curious collection of bits and pieces, the office had been locked closed following the mysterious disappearance of the man during the McCarthy era.




The story was outlined on a nearby panel and explained how the office and its contents had been rediscovered recently, bringing the tale of the curator and the mystery of his disappearance to the fore once again.  Sitting in the cafe later, we decided we wanted to know more about this brilliant young man – we googled and came across this




So, time to go, by means of the 1950s Otis Lift, another exhibit really but this time, a working one.  What a great place to spend a morning – well, of course, we could have spent the week here, but we thought we’d quit whilst we were hungry!




We’d intended to pay a visit to the Minnesota State Capitol whilst we were here, but our plans were thwarted – renovations until 2017, we understand, so the place is closed.  Never mind, we still hit the road to St Paul and made alternative plans.




Just around the corner from St Paul’s Cathedral was Summit Avenue, which was – is – the place to live in this city.




On Summit Drive, there is the largest of houses.  Not only the largest in the city but the largest house in the state of Minnesota – The Hill House, built by the railway baron James J Hill.




James Hill and his family lived here in considerable style and we looked forward to taking a look around the mansion.  We booked our places on a tour and waited the half hour in Mr Hill’s art gallery – formerly the home of many old masters but now, used for temporary exhibitions.




Right now it’s a show of H’mong quilts – right up my alley!




Beautiful contemporary examples of the traditional H’mong embroidery techniques were to be found here, including this one, which brought back memories of a small elderly H’mong lady working on her indigo resist patterns high above the Mekong River in Laos…




No worries about waiting for our tour with such lovely things to see.




When the time came for our tour, we were delighted to find the chatty lady in the reception was our tour guide – first class!




So, if my favourite room in the house is the lavish entrance hall, perhaps my least favourite was the laundry.  Actually, the house was a beautiful design on a human scale and most of us could imagine living here rather well!

OK, we’d like to have the help of staff, just as Mr Hill had Winking smile




OK, enough culture then, let’s hit the shops!




Fawbush’s had popped up on my Pinterest page a couple of times and knowing we were headed for Minneapolis I noted the address.  Mary and I left with couple of purchases each, aided and abetted by my hero who was simply looking forward to supper.




A good job Good Earth was right next door, then.


The Road to Minneapolis




We set out immediately after breakfast for what was going to be a fairly long drive to Minneapolis.  We’d identified a couple of highlights along our route however and we hoped that these would prove interesting enough to avoid any use of Roadside America!




The Wisconsin countryside continued in the lush, green style and a callout alerted me to this particularly pretty quilt barn.  Isn’t that a fine apple tree block?




Shortly afterwards, as I was craning my neck to catch a first glimpse of the great Mississippi River, we followed a signpost to “Lock and Dam #5A”, to what Mary described as “some kind of water operation, I expect”.




There didn’t appear to be much to see, apart from boys’ stuff – statistics about the dam and the lock and…




a huge train with two engines all fired up and ready but for the moment, just puttering there with a couple of miles of wagons behind them.  Every so often, there’d be a whoosh of air as the brakes were released but for now, these engines were going nowhere.

But just in case, we didn’t walk over the crossing but used the underpass, as recommended.




Our reward was an unimpeded view of the dam.




And a huge, but dead, dragonfly on the steps – the wingspan was easily four inches and those lace wings were so pretty.




Time to move on, driving alongside the railroad and passing several stationary trains, each one a mile or more long.  Why none were moving, we had no idea, but someone was glad to see them and have a small diversion from the straight road ahead.




Not quite a quilt on this barn but interesting nevertheless.




Another dam.




More straight road, through the big woods.  Can you guess where we are heading?




I must say, the signs didn’t bode well, but here we were in Pepin, birthplace of Laura Ingalls Wilder and the nearest town to the “Little House in the Big Woods”, the first book in the series Mary and I have been enjoying recently.




Actually, there’s not a great deal here, since the books were written many years after Laura and her family moved away from Pepin, taking their belongings with them.  But the town features in the first book and clearly, the place of her birth warrants some commemoration.




I’m just not sure this does her justice, however.




Perhaps it’s a “work in progress”?  This information panel suggests that someone is working on some changes.




But I think that post it notes are possibly not the most visitor friendly way of imparting information – and of course, none of these things are original or particularly historically accurate.




Oh my.  Here’s hoping that changes are afoot and that someone can do something better here, sooner rather than later. 




Having said that, I’m not sure the exhibits at the train museum are that great either!




Anyway, here we are by the historic marker, a little further along the road.




Where a clearer, more attractive information board summarised the life of Pepin’s famous daughter and gave directions to the Little House Wayside, about seven miles from here.




It’s along the Laura Ingalls Wilder Historic Highway, needless to say.




The historic marker and the cabin are situated on the land owned by Charles Ingalls, but it’s not the original cabin and it’s not necessarily in the exact place either.




But hey, it’s a Little House in the Big Woods!




Yes, of course we went inside to take a look – and to try to remember how it was described in the book.  We both recalled how the family had gone into Pepin just before Christmas to choose presents from the General Store – that would have been quite a journey.




And as we drove back towards the river – which opens out to become Lake Pepin here – we drove through the Big Woods again and recalled the words of one of the guides at Old World Wisconsin the other day: She explained how settlers would be dropped off in a patch of native woodland like this with an axe and a spade and just have to manage.  First, a well to be dug.  Then the trees to be cleared and the stumps taken out before seeds could be sown for the first crops.  All of that needed to be done if they were to survive the first year.  And those big woods were not neatly planted rows of tall conifers, but these smallish, scrubby deciduous trees and bushes which were so dense it’s impossible to walk amongst or between them.

They must have been tough souls.




We are nothing of the kind and we were getting hungry.  The information board in Pepin had suggested that Stockholm, the next town along the road could be a good bet for something to eat, so we parked up and went in search of a bakery or similar.

We spotted another Statue of Liberty too!




My hero’s eyes were elsewhere though…the magic word, PIE!




Looks promising…




The Stockholm Pie and General Store was perfect!  Great sandwiches for two of us and a chicken pot pie for the driver.  Delicious.

What a lucky find!




Stockholm was a cute kind of place, with blue bicycles to borrow, free of charge (we didn’t) and a real community feel.  We stepped inside one of the other stores to browse and received a recommendation for a shop/gallery in the next town.




Cultural Cloth was right up my alley and there were some really interesting pieces in there.  My favourite was a crochet/beadwork necklace from Turkey – but at $169 it wasn’t an impulse purchase, sadly.




What joys there are to be found along America’s Byways!  We love it!




A short time later, we were crossing the river and I was getting out my camera to try to snap the next sign – I nearly got it!

Welcome to Minnesota.  No “ker-ching” until our feet touch the ground though Winking smile




The skyline of St Paul passed by – or rather, we passed by the skyline.




And eventually, finally!  We arrived in Minneapolis.




Ker-ching!!!   US State #40 for my hero and I!




On our way to find some dinner this evening we found no roller skating waitresses, but we did find Mary Tyler Moore throwing her beret in the air outside Macys.  We missed the fun of the drive-in diner, but actually, the margaritas in the Mexican restaurant we chose made up for it in some way Winking smile


At the Drive-In Diner




Dinner tonight was a Shrimp Supper at Rudy’s.  Mary and my hero had their favourite Root Beer Floats whilst I settled for a chocolate malt, all accompanied by exactly the right music.  We loved it.





If you followed the link then you’ll already know, Rudy’s is a drive in diner and though we chose to eat inside so we could watch the whole operation, we could have driven up to one of the parking bays and had our food delivered to our car window




by one of the super skilled roller skating waitresses!




Just as we were leaving, a car nearby placed their order and one of the team sprang into action with a tray laden with food, drinks on one shoulder and an ice cream held in her other hand.  She sped across to the car to deliver the order in super fast time.




First delivery was the ice cream!




Then, the tray was fixed to the open window so that hungry people could access their food from a kind of shelf/table.  Shortly before leaving, they’d summon the waitress by means of a call button and she’d skate out again to collect the tray and any rubbish before they drove away.

What fun!  (the food was good, too!)




Our hotel tonight is not quite our usual style.




But it has a great view of the U Haul depot!

Who says we don’t travel in style?