Monday, October 29, 2012

Sister Cities - Council Bluffs IO & Omaha NE

We needed to make a stop at a Camper World to have some work done on the rig, and Council Bluffs Iowa was the closest one to where we were at, so off we went!  The first thing one "sees" when arriving to this area are their very large, very strange art(?) posted at the four corners of the entrance bridge.  Wow, they take your breath away...and for us, not in a good way!  All we could voice was "what the??"  I called them "large foreboding Edward Scissorhands"!  When we asked a local what they called them, she said "ugly"!  She thought they were supposed to demonstrate "the conflict between man and machines".  I had to look them up, to strange for words...the artist, Albert Paley, simply calls them "Odyssey".  Go figure.  We soon found out that large "public art" was big (no pun intended) in Council Bluffs.  It was everywhere - some cool looking, some you just had to shake your head over, but notice them, you did!

Their "sister city" is Omaha Nebraska - both cities are connected by a single bridge across the Missouri River.  Omaha is much larger and more in line with what big cities usually look like.  Omaha is where Lewis & Clark began their trip on the Missouri River.  They have a really nice museum there that has a short movie and memorabilia about them.  They also have a Pedestrian Bridge that goes across the river, where you can put one foot in Nebraska and one foot in Iowa!  Of course we had to try it!  Great view and a nice looking bridge (vs Edward Scissorhands).  They too like their large public art, but theirs was aimed more at paying respect than "art for art's sake".  They did a great piece showcasing the labors that it's citizens do to create a city.  It's called "Labor" by Mathew Placzak.  Of course they included a blacksmith, so you know it was well thought out! ;-)

Council Bluffs did have a couple of fun places to visit, one being the Union Pacific Railroad Museum.  What a great job they did with that!  It's housed in an old (1903) Beaux Arts-style Library and covers three floors.  They had it all, movie clips, pictures, dioramas, "talking" filmed characters that was activated when you approached, artifacts, even a model of President Lincoln's private rail car!  I'm sure we were there for hours, but it didn't seem like it.  You know we love trains, and everything that has to do with them, so this was a real treat to see all the various components of operating a train.  I realized something while I was there, something I never really thought about before, and that was that for all the love I have about trains (as far back as I can remember), I've never really ridden on one!  Oh, I've done the short "scenic" train rides, but I have never actually taken a train to somewhere of any length.  I've added it to my "bucket list"!

Jack, on the other hand, has ridden lots of times.  When he was living in Philadelphia he took the train to Washington often.  "Men working on the train" brought back some great memories he had as a child.  His parents built a small beach house in Ocean City NJ that they went to for the summers and  weekends.  When he was around 11, he observed some men working on the tracks in a small yellow car (Chessie System Railroad Speeder) and walked up to them and asked to ride along!  They pulled him into the car with them and continued on with their work.  After that, he showed up every morning with a sack lunch, and they men would pull him on board and he would spend the day with them.  You could do that back in the '50's, especially in a small town like Ocean City!  He shared that story with the museum manager.  When we finished with the museum, I wanted to go across the street to a beautiful little park and take some pictures.  Jack drove the truck around to the other side of the museum, and guess what he found?  The exact same kind of little yellow car that he spent his summer with those workers on!!  He was so taken aback, as he's not seen one since.  I had never seen one, so it was fun for me to finally see this car that he's talked so fondly about.  Now, that's the frosting on a cake experience!
Bayliss Park was across the street and had some black squirrels that I wanted to take some pictures of.  We had first spotted them the day before and I couldn't believe my eyes!  I asked about them, and was told that yes, they were actually very black, and to their knowledge there are references to them going back to the town's beginnings.  I had to photograph one to share.  I soon found out that wasn't so easy, as they are really shy and run like heck anytime a person gets to close.  I got some, but not as close up as I would have liked.  The park also have the common ground squirrel (of course he didn't mind that I came close at all!) but they don't seem to mingle, even tho they live in the same area.
Of course the park also had some great "art"; at least these were functional and pretty!

If you wish to view the rest of the photos from this trip, you can at my Flickr account at:

...kicking back in Iowa/Nebraska,  Marie

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Kansas City MO...a beautiful city and home to Hallmark Cards

KC is a beautiful city in of itself.  Downtown skyscrapers mix with beautiful old buildings like their 1914 Union Station.  Courthouse and City Hall with statues playing homage to Abraham Lincoln, mansions dating back to the 1800's and Jazz.  I just love all the history and the architecture that shows it.  Driving around a city is one of my favorite things to do.

 KC is the home of the greats like Charlie Parker and Count Basie with music styles of the blues, New Orleans Jazz, ragtime, big band, swing, stride and Bounty Music.  18th & Vine was the center of all this, and still is.  Besides keeping Jazz "live" with nightly performances, they have the American Jazz Museum that by day it shares the wealth of history and by night it's the "Blue Room" where they play live Jazz along with storytelling and poetry.  We struck out in trying to get into any of these while we were there, unfortunately, as they weren't open on the nights we were there.  All we managed to do is drive the neighborhood and dream.  We will just have to come back again, and time it better!

Downtown KC also has revitalized their Historic City Market to include various shops and restaurants, that includes the wonderful Winslow's BBQ.  We were told that Winslow's was the best BBQ in all of KC - so, of course we had to check it out!  Well, they weren't lying, it was GREAT!  My personal preference still puts the Memphis TN BBQ as number one, but boy, this was a close second.  Yum!  We also have discovered another treat out here, and that's Frozen Custard.  This stuff makes Ice Cream seem armature.  It's so much more creamy, smoother and satisfying.  California, your really missing out on this wonderful dessert!  (please don't tell Jenny Craig my new addition)

A big surprise was finding out that KC is the home of Hallmark Cards!  What a delightful experience visiting their Visitor Center.  There was so much to see and listen to, I came back the next day too!  Granted, partly because Jack was enjoying the WWI National Museum, and that's not my cup of tea.  I LOVED this place!  Of course I have been a fan of Hallmark Cards for many years, and who doesn't just love Maxine?  It was evident throughout the exhibits what a great company this is.  It's a family owned company that was started by 18 year old Joyce C. Hall, who, with his box of postcards, started the business back in 1910.  He later brought his brothers into the business to help him keep up with the success.  It's stayed in the family all these years.  It was first called "Hall Brothers Cards" before they decided to change it to Hallmark.  He cared for his employees from the vary beginning by offering things like car pooling and day care, long before it was ever popular to do so.  How cool was that?  His employees cared for him back, by sharing their creative skills in an annual Christmas Tree (each year a different theme) and a special painting created just for him.

They also showcase some of the original artwork done by Saul Steinberg, Grandma Moses, Norman Rockwell and Sir Winston Churchill.  They played all their commercials on TV; as I sat and watched I teared up just like I do when they come on now!  Of course they showed samples of their cards as well as their awards that their TV show The Hallmark Hall Of Fame received.  I could go on and on, like I did those two afternoons, but I will spare you, and just offer some of the many pictures I took!
A sweet place.

If you wish to view the rest of the photos from this trip, you can at my Flickr account at:

 ...kicking back in KC, Marie

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Kansas City MO and the World Series of Barbecue

Wow, Kansas City is a town with tons and tons to see and do!  Before we even got there, tho, our mouths were watering.  The night before we journeyed into KC, we met a nice couple that shared conversation and their fire with us.  They were from this area, and when we told them that we were heading into KC for "some good BBQ", they agreed that KC was the place to go for that!  They also mentioned that they weren't sure when it was, but they have a World Series of Barbecue competition that teams come from all over the US to compete, and it was really something to experience.  Well, imagine my surprise when I found out that it was happening the very same weekend that we were going to be there!  Yippee!

Well, we didn't waste any time in reserving a couple of tickets for that Saturday.  Boy, we were ready to taste some good BBQ!  With lips smacking, we bundled up (it was colder than heck that day) and off we went to the American Royal Center where it was being held.  Map in hand, we decided to check out the "vendor hall" first.  We entered, expecting it to be full to the brim (like the ones at the fair)...hmm...not so much.  There were about 1/50th the vendors that the space could hold.  First off, tho, we saw that a cooking demo was going on, so we grabbed a couple of chairs and sat down to watch.  It was a chef from the Midwest Barbeque Institute talking about sauces.  They actually have a school for BBQing!  What a hoot!  We saw on the agenda that later that day Guy Fieri from the Food Network was going to host a segment, so we would come back for that later.  On to the vendors...the only ones that were aimed at the "general public" (vs professional cooks wanting huge grills) were those promoting their special sauces and rubs.  The first one I walked up to, I shared with him that we weren't from here, so were novices, and what made KC style of cooking different than say, Memphis TN?  He and the other customers there, explained that KC's is typically a sweeter sauce - but that "good BBQ" was cooked with a rub, served with the meat falling off the bone, then the sauce is added (or, it's OK to add it as the last thing before taking it off the grill).  I asked everyone to suggest the best BBQ place in town, and they all agreed that Winslow's BBQ was the tops, along with a couple of others.  With a "thank you" to the group, we moved on.  Around the last corner was a small set up with several (lovely) black women handing out samples of their sauce.  Their set up intrigued me, so I stopped to listen to them and taste.  Wow!  What a different flavor of sauce!  They named it Freddie Lee's "Ghetto Sauce".  Love the name.  They shared that it was an all purpose gourmet sauce to use when you grilled, smoked, baked and even in chili.  Yum, we agreed and bought a bottle.

 Well, enough of that, it was time to go outside and try some of the 545 competitors' BBQ!  We walked up and down rows and rows of the different team set-ups, all elaborate, some fancy & some funny, but no people?  We finally found a couple of folks gathered around a fire that they invited us to join them, in trying to keep warm.  We asked where all the food samples were, and they shared that there wasn't any, it all was going to the judges.  What, NO FOOD?  You mean we paid $18 each to allow vendors to sell us something and smell the BBQ?  Damn.  So, with hungry tummies, we conceded and went back inside to buy a BBQ sandwich from a concession stand.  NOT the fare we had in mind.

After the sandwich, we headed for Guy's demo.  He was a hoot!  He made several different things, one a "hot" Margarita!  Fun.  It almost made up for the disappointment, almost...

They were having a band and some other activities later that evening, but it was to dang cold to just hang around until then, and without the food, it wasn't worth it.  We would just have to find our BBQ fix at Winslow's...later.

If you wish to view the rest of the photos from this trip, you can at my Flickr account at:

 ...kicking back in KC, Marie

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Kansas City MO...home of Harry & Harley

Like I mentioned before...KC has a lot to see & do!  Just outside of the city, a suburb, is Independence where Harry S Truman's Library is and where Harley-Davidsons are made.  Both were worth going to see.

Of course I remember studying about President Truman in school, etc. but I really didn't know about him.  Now I sure do!  His was the first Presidential Library to be built, and what a wonderful one it is too.  We spent hours there, reading and seeing all they have to offer.

As you enter, you come face to face with an incredible mural painted by Thomas Hart Benton that is titled "Independence and the Opening of the West".  Absolutely beautiful.  You then walk into a maze of pictures, videos, timeline, memorabilia, and recreations, all telling you the what and why of his career.  Truman served as the 33rd President when Roosevelt died, from 1945-1953.  That decade was one of the most tumultuous times of America.  It was the conclusion of WWII, the start of the Cold War,  was a turning point in foreign affairs while the nation supported an internationalist foreign policy, in conjunction with European allies.  Truman's decision to use nuclear weapons against Japan led to a speedy end of the war but remains controversial.  He oversaw the Berlin Airlift in 1948 and the creation of NATO in 1949. When communist North Korea invaded South Korea in 1950, he immediately sent in U.S. troops and gained UN approval for the Korean War.  That's a whole lot more that many of the Presidents since then has had to deal with.  He took full responsibilities for his decisions with the motto "The Buck Stops Here" started by him.  He and his family are buried there as well.

I was truly moved.  It made me really appreciate what a good President can do.   I don't think we've had many candidates of this caliber since.

For something completely different, we also toured the Harley-Davidson plant.  This plant is a much smaller operation than what we experienced at the Toyota plant, but just as interesting.  This is where they make the Sportster, Dyna and VRSC models. They even showed us the new liquid-cooled Revolution powertrain for the VRSC V-Rod.  Pretty neat.  I found it interesting that there they used a number of robots to do the actual work, vs at the Toyota plant the robots assist workers doing the jobs. They even had models that we could sit on and pretend we were riding the scenic byways of America.  Thank goodness they were bolted down!  (no pictures allowed, darn!)  Vroom, vroom!

If you wish to view the rest of the photos from this trip, you can at my Flickr account at:

 ...kicking back in Missouri, Marie 

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Music, Music, Music! Part II

As I've shared before, Jack and I love trains, all kinds of trains,  So, whenever we have the opportunity to take a scenic ride, we try to fit it in our schedule.  The Branson Scenic Railroad offered a nice trip through the Ozarks into Arkansas and back, just short of two hours.  This was a vintage passenger train with a collection of unique passenger cars, sharing the railway with Amtrak.  One of the staff gave a narration about the history of the train and the land we were traveling through.  It was a fun ride with a couple of tunnels, over trestles and a couple of sharp curves where you could see one end to the other.  The train itself was interesting with each car a little different from each other.  There were Vista Dome Cars with panoramic views (my choice), a Club Car where you could get a snack and drinks, to a variety of Passenger Cars.  The countryside showed beginning of trees turning their leaves to Autumn colors, meadows full of Goldenrod, Lake Taneycomo, and even a remnant of a long ago town.  We never seem to tire of the sounds and ramble of these wonderful old trains.

A fun surprise was lunch at Mel's Hard Luck Diner, where professional singing servers entertain you while you enjoy some great food.  When I read about it, I thought the whole staff stopped what they were doing and all sang together, like in some places we've been.  This was different.  Each server sang a solo between serving their customers.  They would introduce themselves and their song and tout their CD if you wanted "more".  It was kind of like Hollywood, where everyone is "waiting tables until they get their big break in the movies".  Here it was probably in hopes of a show.  We heard about 4 while we were there, and for the most part, they were all pretty good!  Fun way to enjoy your burger I must say!  Pretty good burgers too!

In between these special visits, we browsed the area and found Branson's Landing.  It was a pretty mall along the lake, with fountains and a large variety of shops.  They have a huge Bass Pro Shop that I found several goodies I couldn't live without, but Jack - nothing!  Go figure.  ;-)  They even have a great restaurant there, the White River Fish House that we had a great dinner at.  We saw that one of the local bars had "dueling pianos", so we decided to try as well.  I'm glad it had a small cover charge because it wasn't worth much more.  Let's just say, we've heard better.

All in all, Branson was a fun stop that even Jack had to agree was well worth it!







If you wish to view the rest of the photos from this trip, you can at my Flickr account at:

 ...on the road, Marie 

Friday, October 19, 2012

Music, Music, Music! Part I

In the West, when we think of bright lights and lots of entertainment, we think of Las Vegas - in the Midwest, it's Branson! So, in my opinion, it was a "must stop" on our journey through Missouri.  Branson is a small Las Vegas on Valium. Over the years they have morphed into a "family destination" still keeping it "clean entertainment" but also adding other family activities like miniature golf, water parks and a fun train ride. We had met a friendly camper in Kentucky that had told us about a great camp ground to stay at while in Branson, Table Rock State Park. He had told us how nice and quiet it was, and with great scenery, yet only about 15+ minutes from town. We took his advise, and boy we were glad! What a wonderful find. Everything he said about it was true. It was a nice addition to our trip.

 There were plenty of activities to choose from, so I had to peruse them all and pick a few to get a good 'taste' of this place. For diversity, we chose the Shoji Tabuchi Show for classical and the Dolly Parton's Dixie Stampede for pure country. Never missing an opportunity to take a scenic train ride, we added Branson's Scenic Railway to the agenda as well. To not go to long without music, we made a lunch stop at Mel's Hard Luck Diner, where the wait staff sing. Throw in a visit to the Bass Pro Shop's flagship store, and that's what I call a "well-rounded visit"!

 Jack is the one who picked Shoji Tabuchi, as he had heard about him a long time ago and had seen several of his performances on U Tube. So, that was our first show. I got a glimpse of his show from his website, but I wasn't prepared for what we got! First, you walk into a huge foyer modeled to look like a theater from the 1930s. Picture giant bouquets of fresh flowers, stained glass, chandeliers and a ceiling reproduced from the 1890's Empire Period. The big thing that's talked about everywhere is the bathrooms (yes, you read that right). The ladies' room boasts fresh orchids at each onyx and granite sinks with faucets made of gold, even a changing table complete with all the things you could ever need for that little one. The men's room offers a billiard table, fireplace and leather seats. Not bad, huh? After seeing all this, as we were seated, I'm thinking "oh my THIS should be interesting...". Shoji has the looks and comic personality of Jackie Chan, and the talent of Itzhak Perlman with the playing style of Jack Benny. His daughter led a small group of dancers & singers in various vignettes. He played every kind of genre there is, including God Bless America and a "sneak peak" at his Christmas Show! What a great show they put on!  It would be a hard act to follow. (sorry, they wouldn't allow pictures)

For a completely different type of entertainment we couldn't have chosen a better one than Dolly Parton's Dixie Stampede. It was a cowboy version of the Medieval Times Show, if you've ever seen that one, including "finger food" and all. Yeah Hah, what a fun show! The 'Union' against the 'Confederates' (we were on the Union side). They had everything from a live buffalo roundup to square dancing with covered wagons! Music, log rolling, games & challenges. Dinner was huge, with a fat whole Cornish hen, pork slices & all the trimmings. We had enough left over for two more meals for each of us. Her show place (that looked like a Southern mansion) also included around a 20+ horse barn that people could visit and talk with the horses (no petting). It was a hoot of a night!

If you wish to view the rest of the photos from this trip, you can at my Flickr account at:

 ...on the road, Marie

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Its all the little things...

My goal on this trip was to see all the "little things" in this country, as well as the big attractions.  America is made up of billions of fun sights, scenic byways, locally known places and surprises.  All to often we "get going" and miss some of them along the way, but for the most part, we try our best to take the time to seek out those special treasures and enjoy them.  Lots of times its something we spot along the road and a quick shout out "oh my, take a look at that!" or "did you see that?" gives us our chuckle for the day.  Some, I manage to capture with my camera, some, I'm not so lucky.

Sometimes its just enjoying nature, seeing & feeling the changing of the seasons.  Living so long in southern California, its easy to forget what a true season is like.  Autumn colors are beginning to paint the landscapes along our route these days.  Cool breezes whisk the leaves hither and yon and the rain beats it's music on our rooftop fairly frequently.

One of the latest little things we've enjoyed lately was when we took a quick trip around the Cave Hill Cemetery in Lexington.  The famous Col Sanders is buried there and I thought it was only fitting that I pay homage to my favorite "chicken chef".  As we drove around this huge place, we were aw struck at some of the incredibly beautiful headstones.  People used to really invest in having something special created in honor of their loved ones, making them a thing of beauty for all (the rest of) us to enjoy.  We did find the good ol' Colonel, only to also find a nice lady standing guard.  It turned out that KFC Corporate was hosting a team building experience for some of their employees and one of their stops was his grave site!  As we chatted with her, we commented on her cute red t shirt with a screen print of a person asking a chicken with an egg next to it, "So, what does come first?"  She shared that we were the first (public) to see it, that it, as well as several other (cute) screen prints were going to be part of the new uniform for 2013!  We approved.

Speaking of chickens, it doesn't get any funnier than the one coming out of the front of a restaurant!  Its one of those you have to see it to believe it places.  For that, we pulled over and I was able to snap a couple of shots of it.  It's a well known, or maybe I should say, its a well advertised restaurant in Branson.  We chuckled and shook our heads every time we passed by it. 

Barns capture my attention a lot of the time - and there's been plenty to see this year!  Usually we are driving to fast for me to take a good picture of, but occasionally I can get a snap in.  The ones I've missed I'm sad about because they are usually the ones with the quilt painted on, or old advertisements (called "ghost ads" I found out) painted on their sides.  When we drove by the St Louis Arch, I got off a quick snap because we were stuck in traffic!  We really didn't want to drive through the city, so we passed on stopping to visit it.

One thing we try and do upon entering each new state is stop at their Visitor Center.  These people are great resources for all kinds of things.  They have helped us with maps, scenic routes, routes to avoid, regional music and food and just all kinds of wonderful ideas and advise.  Sometimes their center is a "destination" itself, like the one in Missouri.  Their "theme" was Route 66.  They had all kinds of fun stuff built round it, including each picnic table's shade structure designed to look like a place along the route!  Their floor showed the whole map, including the iconic US66 logo. 

As I am writing this, I'm enjoying the beautiful scenery and solitude of the state park we are staying at for a few days.  The only sounds are the leaves rustling from the breeze and the birds chirping nearby.  Many times we have found that there are only a few of us in a great big park.  I'm sure too, that as the temperatures continue to cool, we will see even fewer fellow campers.  It's rejuvenating to just settle in, surrounded by nature, and not "go see" this or just to sit back and enjoy being here, reminding me, that's why we are doing this...

If you wish to view the rest of the photos from this trip, you can at my Flickr account at:

...on the road,  Marie

Friday, October 5, 2012

Bats, Boxing & Braille in Louisville!

No matter how great the visit is with family & friends, at some point it's time to leave...

After saying our "goodbyes" to old friends and new, we headed out to Louisville KY to visit some of their great places.  Louisville, we discovered, has a LOT of fun things to see and do!  Our challenge was narrowing them down to a few days' worth.  We settled on bats, boxing and Braille!

First up, the home of the Louisville Slugger.  This great factory makes 90% of all the wooden bats, and has been making them since 1884.  Cool story behind it's start too...seems that the Hillerich family business was turning wood for  butter churns to bedposts when "Jr" (John Andrew "Bud" Hillerich) joined the family  business.  Bud played armature baseball at the time and made all his own bats.  One day Bud was watching a pro-ball game when Pete Browning broke his bat.  Bud offered to make him a new one.  Pete got three hits with it in the next game, and you know how superstitious athletes can be, so he not only kept that bat, but continued to have Bud make all of his (and it wasn't to long before other players wanted one).  Pete Browning was known as the "Louisville Slugger" and with time, that became the name of the company.

The tour was fascinating, to say the least.  It also had one other aspect that "other" tours don't usually have - FUN!  You could try hitting balls, you could "imagine" yourself on one of the bases with the likes of Babe Ruth or even Eric Jetter!  They even give you a little "mini bat" to keep!  We had a blast here.  I only wished that one of my grand kids played baseball so that I could have had one made for them, and even had their name engraved on it!  Oh well, I guess I saved some bucks there...;-)

Next up, boxing!  Muhammad Ali has long been a favorite athlete of mine.  I've loved watching and "listening" to him when he was Cassius Clay.  One time in the early 70's, he was hospitalized in a small hospital in my neighborhood - just a block away.  I kept trying to come up with some way to sneak myself into his room so I could meet him!  In the end, I chickened out, so I never did get to meet him.  I missed meeting him (once again) on this trip too!  He had been in to the museum just the day before, just sitting in one of the (public) chairs and watched some of his old fights!  Dang, that would have been sooo great!

Muhammad has created quite a "Center" for himself - no less than I would have expected.  We were there at least 3 hours, and had to be told that it was "closing time"!  So much history and memorabilia to read, see, listen to and enjoy.  One of the things I loved about it, was how his philosophy and core principles are weaved in through it all.  His "postcards" simply stated: "respect, conviction, confidence, dedication, giving, spirituality".  Words we could all stand to live by.  He has my respect.

An unexpected treat, was the American Printing House for the Blind.  Because of Jack's work history is printing, this stop seemed a must for us.  What I didn't expect was how this plant makes every single aspect of their products (in Braille).  Their tag line is "Building Independence since 1858"...and that they do!  They make everything from books to audio recordings (now on memory chips!) to teaching kits, to puzzles and games.  This place was huge!  They are still using the same building they did back in the 1800's, but have added on to it several times.  They still have some machines that are over 100 years old that are still going strong.  What impressed me the most is how they made all the components - from creating the metal printing plate to making the envelopes that they are shipped in.  It was really something to see.  On top of all that, they have created an incredible museum showing the history of the various kinds of techniques that were created to help the blind "read", to the modern day opportunities.  They have about 200 employees with 10% of them being blind.  Terrific tour, terrific place that is doing so much to help a special group of people.  Loved that!

If you wish to view the rest of the photos from this trip, you can at my Flickr account at:

...kicking back in Kentucky,  Marie