Monday, October 31, 2011

An October Update

I arrived back from the USA to find all grape varieties passed bud burst and well into shoot growth, even the later variety Cabernet Sauvignon.
Also the lawn as well as the grass in the vineyard inter rows were already out of control.
This of course meant lots of mowing and fungicide spraying, both of which need fine weather which eluded us for another week. Eventually something like normal fine spring weather came and it was a chance to try out my new electric sprayer.
It gets towed behind my ride-on in a trailer and is powered by the ride-on battery. I went for a larger pump option which allows the use of 15m of spray hose.
What a great thing! So quick and easy.
Gone are the days of hawking around multiple loads in a heavy back pack sprayer.

Stirling was down to help with a bigger than normal fencing job. I had discovered a large tree down over multiple panels on my southern boundary fence just before leaving for overseas so locked off the paddock to the cattle until I got home. So it was a matter of clearing the tree, cutting and setting new posts including a big strainer as well as joining and stretching barbed wire.
Two things we noticed while doing this were the leeches were out and about again. And so were the black snakes.
The cows have started to have their calves. So far so good with three on the ground without problems. "Dr" Neighbour Bob is on standby just in case however.
We have planted another vegetable garden (tomatoes, rocket, zucchini, silver beat) with a new irrigation system installed as last years proved completely ineffective. Instead of drip irrigation, we are trying weeping hose made from recycled car tyres which is laid directly in loops onto the soil. All this produce coupled with the mixed salad and herbs supplied by neighbour Gail should hopefully see us set up for a lot of healthy summer meals.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Sculptures of Sioux Falls, SD

Sioux Falls holds an annual sculpture competition with entrants displayed downtown in Phillips Avenue. These are some of my favourites.

And some previous winners are on display in Falls Park.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Nashville to Sioux Falls and Home

Up early once again for the short drive to Nashville airport, rental car drop off and check in.
The flight to Chicago was uneventful.
Then we boarded our flight to Sioux Falls a few hours later and sat and sat. They had a fuel gauge problem but "it was being fixed."
Nope, not fixed, everyone off!
Luckily they had a replacement plane quite quickly for us as Chicago is a United hub so our arrival was delayed only a few hours.
On the Saturday, Kay and Scott accompanied us on the drive up to St.Paul, Minnesota to see a live performance of A Prairie Home Companion. I had become aware on this radio show purely through the movie many years ago and am now a fan.
We went to Mickey's Diner (featured in the film) for lunch. The place was quirky and a little grotty and the staff were wonderfully off hand. So no disappointments there.

In the evening we came back to the Fitzgerald Theatre for the two hour performance of the radio show. Garrison Keillor and company were in fine form, the resident and guest bands (in particular the French Canadian Le Vent du Nord) were terrific so it was a great evening far exceeding expectations. You can listen to the actual show we attended on this link.
Thinking the show was an institution, I was continually amazed about the number of mid westerners who had not heard of it. We passed on the meatloaf and mashed potato supper and street dance outside the theatre afterwards in favour of Japanese starters in one restaurant and Mexican mains in another as the porta potty queues were a mile long!

On the way back to Sioux Falls we stopped at Cabela's in Owatanna for my bi annual clothes stock up. Sadly most of the summer specials were gone but there were still plenty of cheap jeans and short sleeved polos.
Kevin and Lisa held a family get together that night with deep fried turkey among other delicious offerings particularly Kelly's baked beans made from scratch.
The rest of the week we caught up with family and friends, revisiting old eating haunts, finding new ones (Cooks Kitchen in Brookings), shopping and drinking lots of Caribou coffee.
After an evening spent in Hills, Minnesota at a small town diner with childhood friends of the co driver, I just managed to fit in a gambling date with my usual partner in crime, Lisa, at the new Grand Falls Casino over the border in Iowa.
I say 'just managed' because we inexplicably (according to them) got lost for some time in the dirt back roads among the corn fields in an area where the co driver and her mom had lived a great deal of their lives. So it's just not me who thinks all these roads look the same.
Lisa did extremely well at Grand Falls.
I didn't.
We also managed to satisfy our cravings for prime rib at Mad Mary's in Flandreau with Karen and Emmett and have the usual great Reuben sandwich at the Phillips Avenue Diner courtesy of Mom.
The co driver had enrolled in yoga classes in town so that gave me an opportunity to explore downtown Sioux Falls in more depth than before. I spent a bit of time in Falls Park (yes, there are falls in Sioux Falls) learning about the unique geology of the area and its industrial development when the power of the Big Sioux River at the falls was harnessed to drive a flour mill, the ruins of which still stand there today.

The pink and sometimes red rock in the area is called Sioux quartzite or jasper. It's very hard (7 on the Mohs scale) and was heavily quarried for building stone which was used in many prominent structures in the town.
Now it is used mainly for industrial purposes eg.road fill, rip rap and railway ballast but still finds use for architectural and decorative applications.

After the hustle and bustle of New York and DC, Sioux Falls was a welcome change of pace. The picture below is the main street downtown around lunch time. Not exactly busy.

There is an annual summer sculpture display/competition with works set up in Phillips Avenue.
I thought some of these deserved a post of their own at a later date.
We stayed in an area an hour or so out of town ie. Colton/Trent/Elkton. This is farming country given over to corn and soya beans. The main centre is Brookings which is a university town (SDSU) and the headquarters to electronic scoreboard and sign manufacturer Daktronics.
And no matter where you are you always seem to come across the meandering Big Sioux River as it makes its way down to the Missouri on the South Dakota, Iowa, Nebraska border just to the south.

The next weekend saw another family gathering, this time at Kay and Scotts. Great hamburgers and hot dogs and an energetic game of volley ball for those so inclined. The next day we had a family photo shoot in Dell Rapids Park and later the ladies had a rhubarb and raspberry jam making session in memory of Granma Helen. Mark and I retired to Cubby's Sports Bar for a few beers and a burger to watch his beloved Minnesota Vikings once again blow a substantial first half lead and lose in the last minute. Having seen the Wallabies perform similar sporting suicide on a few occasions I was sympathetic.
During what remained of the following week we caught up with Becky and another Kevin for a nice dinner at Granite City Microbrewery as well as have a nice smaller family picnic in the zoo park.
Between the layers of hard jasper soft layers of catlinite have formed. This is a red carvable rock used by Native Americans for pipes and effigies.

Just over the SD border in Minnesota is the town of Pipestone and the Pipestone National Monument where this rock is quarried by hand and worked today. I had been there before but am always pleased to go again, walk the track along the Pipestone Creek, feel the spirit, take in the views across the restored prairie (only 1% original prairie in MN remains), see the pipestone quarries, watch the native Americans carving it and buying a few small pieces. This time it was two small owls to keep my turtle, already at home, company.

The pipestone quarries are a significant site for many American Indian cultures. It is still considered a sacred place by many who come to quarry the rock or visit and is treated with reverence and respect. Native Americans believe the red pipestone is the blood of their ancestors. Pipes carved from the rock are used in religious ceremonies and the smoke carries prayers up to the Great Spirit.
Along the path past the waterfall we walked by a rock formation known as The Oracle. The stones form a face. Legend says if you're very quiet The Oracle will speak to you about life and about the history of this piece of earth.
All you have to do is listen.

Kevin gave me the opportunity of touring the Sioux Falls National Guard Air Force base. It was great to see lots of F16's up close with many going through maintenance phases. They are really just one big engine with a tiny cockpit on top. I was also allowed in the munitions area which was pretty interesting as well.
So soon my time had run out and it was time to head for home. The co driver was staying a few extra weeks so driving me to the airport she managed a detour to fit in a butter burger and a frozen chocolate custard at Culvers. Complimentary food is non existent on United domestic flights and is pretty dire on international routes so I needed fueling. Luckily there is a Caribou Coffee and a Ben & Jerrys in DEN and a good Mexican restaurant in SFO International Terminal.
All the flights home were full which can make things a little uncomfortable. But on the 24 hours I was in transit I managed to keep in my zen zone and even slept some of the 14 hours between San Francisco and Sydney.
My ride was already waiting for me as I exited customs in Sydney, so I was soon in more familiar surroundings where I spent the next few days fighting off the affects of jet lag.
Another very exciting trip was over.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

More Nashville

There was a Starbucks in our hotel who served better than normal coffee of that brand and really delicious blueberry muffins. So after breakfast there we headed into downtown Nashville for our Nashtrash Tour.
The Jugg sisters, Sherri Lynn and Brenda Kay, take you on a ninety minute tour of Nashville in a big pink bus giving you 'the dirt' on all the stars. Passengers (and people on the street) are not excluded from their irreverent banter either. Definitely adults only and they say in their advertising blurb "you'll laugh until your face hurts".
And we did!
You can take your own six pack (at 11am?) and they provide the snacks ie. crackers and cheese in a can.

Then it was on to the Country Music Hall of Fame after a nice sandwich lunch with a few beers at a local pub. I think you have to be a real country music fan to fully enjoy this venue. There are a mind boggling number of exhibitions to go through. I enjoyed the 'roots of country music' with some very old films of black American music (sometimes you can hear the rock and roll just trying to get out) as well as seeing Carl Perkins' original "blue suede shoes" and walls of gold records.
Elvis was represented to some extent with his gold Cadillac on display but obviously Memphis is his town.

That night we were off to the Grand Ole Opry. They were celebrating George Jones 80th birthday and he was sitting a few seats in front of us.
The show is a very relaxed format with quite a number guests performing one or two songs over the two hours. The show is broadcast live on radio so there is time given over to advertisements from the onstage announcer. People wander the aisles taking pictures and crews wander the stage setting up. The lighting and sound were fantastic. There was a great 'feel' in the house the night we were there. I imagined that was not unusual.
We saw among others Pam Tillis, Oak Ridge Boys, Lee Ann Womack and Alan Jackson.
I should also mention the 91 year old 4ft 11in Rhinestone covered Jimmy Dickens who couldn't hold a note but told the most outrageous jokes especially about himself......and his wife!
All performers including George Jones were on stage for a pretty special finale.
It was a great night with the show more than living up to its reputation.

Next morning our destination was Goodlettsville, north of Nashville.
I asked the same question but it was on the co driver's quilt shop list. It was a nothing sort of town but apparently the quilt shop turned out to be the best on tour. I sat in the designated 'husband chair' that most quilt shops have in the USA and tried the read the magazines with the latest being a 2008 National Geographic, eventually falling asleep.
Obviously from the packages I helped carry out this enabled extra time for additional purchases.
Next we drove across country to Hermitage and the home and plantation of President Andrew Jackson

The Hermitage began as a log cabin (later pulled down and rebuilt as slave quarters) on a 425 acre frontier farm in 1804 occupied by Jackson and his wife Rachel. By 1821 a mansion had been built on what was now a 1000 acre mixed farm but predominantly a cotton plantation. In 1829 Jackson was inaugurated as the 7th President of the USA and served two terms. His wife died a few weeks after he was first elected. He passed away in 1845.
A considerable part of current mansion was rebuilt in 1834 after a disastrous fire.
The house remained in the family for the following years until the state took it over. As a result 95% of the contents still in there belonged to the Jacksons.
The tour of the mansion's interior with its beautiful furniture, fittings, decoration and numerous shelves of books is excellent with a wealth of information given by the docents. They are not adverse to answering any questions either, no matter how controversial.
And he was quite a controversial character, a man of many contradictions.

The Jacksons were owners of around 45 slaves. One of the slave quarters remains and is known as Alfred's cabin. The ruins of the field quarters are to the north. We walked down there via the nature trail past the Springhouse to Muddy Spring and sat quietly in the sun among the foundations. Quite a different atmosphere now than then I would imagine.

Rachel and Andrew is also a great love story. Despite scandal surrounding their relationship with the inevitable political fallout, it never faltered. They are side by side in a Greek inspired tomb in the gardens of the Hermitage.
For our final night we looked for a better than normal restaurant. Rumours East seem to fit the bill. It's a wine bar that specializes in seafood. And they had quite an eclectic wine list. I ended up with a Vinho Verde from Portugal to go with my prawns and grits (nope, sorry, don't like the latter despite a number of attempts) and a Tempranillo from Rioja, Spain with my seared tuna. The co driver had fried green tomatoes as an appetizer and scallops as a main.
Good food, wine and pleasant surroundings was a good way to end the touring section of our trip.
Next stop would be Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Washington DC to Nashville

A very early morning rise on September 11th and we were on the first Amtrak train out of DC to Baltimore Airport for our flights to Nashville via Chicago.
Security was tight but we were air side in plenty of time for a good breakfast and a quiet sit and read. It was good to relax for half a day (even if it was in airports and on aircraft) after nearly two weeks of hectic travel.
We arrived in Nashville mid afternoon and picked up our rental car. The guy behind the counter was 'y'alling' continually and I thought he was taking the piss. But no, most of the inhabitants actually do talk like that.
After checking in to the Airport Marriott we made a beeline for the Bluebird Cafe'. This is a music listening venue where you can hear songwriters performing their own songs as well as unknowns trying to make it in the country music scene. Some pretty big names have passed through this unassuming little place. Sunday is a no booking day and you have to line up to get a seat in the 100 capacity room. It was a very pleasant evening of music and song. Food wasn't bad either.
The following morning found us on our way to Franklin just to the south of the city. The first thing you notice about suburban Nashville are the huge houses (a lot plantation style) on large blocks of land and that there seems to be a church on every corner. Methodists and Presbyterians are well represented. I wondered how John Wesley/George Whitefield and John Calvin/John Knox would feel about some of these huge obviously expensive edifices.
Franklin was the scene of one of the bloodiest battles of the Civil War which largely goes unnoticed in the scheme of things.
After orientation at the local tourist office and a great breakfast of juice, French toast and a HUGE cup of coffee at a local bakery we walked down to one of the many cemeteries in the town. Here lies the unknown soldier from the battle discovered only a few years before. Pieces of the original columns of the Tennessee State Capitol have been used in the memorial.

Then we drove out to the Carnton Plantation on the southern end of the town.
Built in 1826 by the McGavocks, on the late afternoon of November 30th 1864 the house and its family were trapped between 40,000 Federal and Confederate soldiers. At 4pm the Confederate Army of Tennessee launched a massive frontal attack (at least as large as Picketts Charge at Gettysburg).
Five hours later 9500 soldiers from both sides were dead, wounded or missing.
Carnton became a Confederate hospital.
By midnight hundreds of wounded and dying men lay in the house and on the lawns.
In the morning four dead Confederate Generals lay dead on the back porch.

We were given a very detailed tour of the beautiful house and graphic descriptions of what took place there. On the southern side of the house near the windows, the doctors operated endlessly trying to save lives. Blood ran off their aprons and soaked through the carpet into the wooden floors.
Large crescents of bloodstains still mark the floor boards today.
In 1886 the McGavocks began reburying the remains of the nearly 1500 Southern soldiers from their temporary graves south of the town. They designated two acres at Carnton for the reinterment. Mrs. McGavock kept meticulous notes on each burial in her "book of the dead" so that she could answer the many inquiries from families whose soldiers never returned home.
They still get enquires to this day.
The McGavock Confederate Cemetery is the largest private Confederate cemetery in the country.

Two quilt shops in town were on the agenda and after some trouble we found both. One had the reputation of being the most chaotic in the country but had since moved to new larger premises. The co driver said it was 'still a bit of a mess' but had some amazing stuff 'if you could find it' among the piles of fabric.
Then we were off through really pleasant rural countryside to find the Loveless Cafe on the outskirts of Nashville for a late lunch/early dinner. It has been serving fried chicken and biscuits since 1951. The menu has been extended to cover all sorts of other southern 'delicacies' and despite many saying it's a tourist trap and not genuine we decided to give it a go. The co driver is a bit of an expert on southern cooking having lived in Alabama for a few years so I let her be the judge.

I had the southern sampler consisting of fried chicken, catfish, and pork BBQ together with hash brown casserole, home made cream corn and fried green tomatoes.
All I can say is YUMMO!
Biscuits may be like greasy scones but they were ok too especially with some of the Loveless preserves.
Dessert? You are kidding. Roll me outta here!
The co driver gave the meal the thumbs up.
Then we were off into town and Broadway to hit a few bars and honky tonks.
Parking was surprisingly easy (we were early) so we walked the strip to get a feel.
There are sixty odd bars in the area. We chose one which had the sound of good live music coming out the door. This was quite a good male singer who sang covers (and performed an Olivia Newton John song for us "because we were Ozzies") which was then followed by a good band. They concentrated on country rock.

I was wanting something more traditional (and quieter) so we found another bar where the band looked to average about 70 years of age. From the bio sheet on our table they had played for every big name in country music at some time or other either together or solo. The co driver thought they were too 'twangy' but it seemed I knew the words to all the songs they sang. Sad really!
Verdict on Broadway? Expensive drinks and the hand always in the pocket for band tips.
Glad we did it but no need for a repeat.

Sunday, October 09, 2011

More Washington DC

Thunderstorms had disturbed our sleep during the night and dawn broke cloudy and very overcast but dry. However, the breakfast TV weatherman was giving all sorts of dire warnings about the day ahead.
After another really cheap and filling American breakfast at a Mexican restaurant, we caught the Metro to Arlington National Cemetery for the first tour of the day.

This is one of the country’s oldest national cemeteries and its 624 acres is the final resting place for more than 14,000 veterans, including those who fought in the Civil War.
Our first stop were the Kennedy graves and the Eternal Flame.

On the hill above this site stands Arlington House the home of General Robert E. Lee for many years. It was here that he wrote his resignation from the United States Army on the eve of the Civil War after refusing a command and moved south to Richmond a few days later. His wife soon followed. The Lees never returned.

Next stop was the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier under permanent guard 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. We witnessed the changing of that guard with all its sombre military ritual.

One particular soldier buried in Arlington is well known.

It had started to rain a little by the end of the tour but we made our way by foot across the Potomac towards the National Mall. Half way across the Arlington Memorial Bridge the heavens opened up. Our umbrellas and ponchos were no match for the torrential rain (and the spray from the cars crossing the bridge). We were all 100% soaked to the skin by the time we reached the Korean War Veterans Memorial. There were a few grumbles until the co driver mentioned that the soldiers commemorated here had gone through a whole lot worse that being a little bit wet.

So we made our way down the National Mall past the World War II Memorial to the Washington Memorial, a short detour for a distant view of the White House (9/11 security was tight) and eventually onto the Capitol Building.

After 'drying off' in the American History Museum cafe' during lunch, we decided that were memorialed and museumed out. The weather had improved so we took the Metro to the DuPont Circle area to find a 'listed' yoga shop. This was a really lovely part of DC with leafy streets and some pretty smart houses with beautiful small gardens. By this time the sun had made an appearance and it was warm and steamy. We retired to a local bar for a few glasses of Bitburger Pils from the tap before heading back to Roslyn.
Our travelling companions were leaving for home the next morning so where to have a farewell dinner? Where else but where presidents (and vice presidents) eat ie. Ray's Hell Burgers, a favourite of the Obamas.
And it was all is was cracked up to be. Best burgers of the whole trip and sweet potato fries and onion rings to die for. And did I mention the really cheap bottles of genuine Lowenbrau beer?

Back at the hotel, we heard that some areas surrounding the city the had had 16 inches (400mm) of rain in the last 24 hours, flooding had reached disastrous levels in many areas and lives had been lost. We decided we had had it easy.
Next morning was sunny and dry. So off we headed by Metro and local bus to Mt. Vernon, the home of George and Martha Washington for over 40 years.
We walked through the nearly 50 acres visiting his (and his wife's) tomb and slave memorial, looked at many of the original structures including stables and blacksmiths shop and enjoyed the military reenactments.

The highlight was a tour of the interior of the house with many original artifacts still in place.
And the Washingtons knew a good piece of real estate when they saw it. The view over the Potomac from the front veranda is spectacular.

On the way back to Roslyn we stopped off at Alexandria.
The first settlement was established here in 1695 in what was then the British Colony of Virginia. It is now largely populated by professionals working in the federal civil service, the U.S. military, or for one of the many private companies which contract to provide services to the federal government.
The historic center of Alexandria is known as Old Town. It has quite a concentration of boutiques, restaurants, antique shops and theaters, which are a major draw for tourists of whom we were just two of many on that day.
And it was here we had the best Mexican meal of the trip at the Austin Grill.
So that was our trip to the capital over.
We put in an early morning wake up call to catch a flight to Chicago with a connection to Nashville.