Sunday, November 15, 2015

Je suis Paris

Sioux Falls Sculpture Walk 2015

Every time we go back to Sioux Falls, we make a point of doing the annual Sculpture Walk. It gets bigger and bigger each year with the main exhibition downtown on Phillips Ave. Here a few pictures of the work on display.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Houston Quilt Festival 2015

The co driver had her 'Wonky Basket' quilt selected for the Primitive Quilts and Projects sponsored Primitive and Folk Art Quilts Exhibit at the 2015 International Quilt Festival in Houston, Texas.
She won second prize in the original design category.
She was pretty excited at being one of the 22 quilts chosen for exhibition from almost one hundred originally submitted.

The Festival is the world's largest combined quilt show, sale and quilt making academy and draws more than 60,000 attendees from over 35 countries for four and a half days every October at the George R Brown Convention Center in Houston.
This was one of major reasons for our visiting the USA this year.
The convention center is a huge complex with five exhibition halls each averaging around 10,500m2. Three halls accommodated around 600 vendors, the remaining two, the quilts.

I enjoy quilt shows mainly for the art quilts. I have also, under the co driver's tutelage, learnt to appreciate the more traditional ones. I can even pick out mismatched points and puckers!
The work on display ranged from  amazing to stunning.

There were not too many men around the venue but you get to chat to a few who seem to be in perpetual waiting mode. They did have a Husbands Lounge full of comfy chairs and TVs showing sports but its clientele made it look a bit like God's Waiting Room.
Many more guys were on the vendors' stands. I was on assignment to find 'chook' fabric. Eventually finding some I was served by a fellow who had visited Australia with a basketball team in the 70s at the age of 19. He still remembers his time in Sydney, especially Kings Cross which was then a pretty raunchy part of Sydney. 

We swapped a few stories about our experiences in that precinct in a corner of the booth in virtual whispers. He didn't want his wife who was also working the booth to know what he (and his team mates) got up to all those years ago. 
Who says quilt shows aren't entertaining!
I will leave it up to the co driver's blog to give a detailed overview of the show.

But there was one quilt there from a Japanese lady, Ayako Kawakami, who won The Robert S. Cohan Master Award for Traditional Artistry that was amazing.
This quilt was made for her 10 year old daughter for whom she has made five so far. Both were in attendance.
Called My Sweet House with Kirara it is made with hand-applique, hand-embroidery and hand-quilting.
Simply stunning!

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Visit to USA 2015 / Part 4

Eating out has always been part of our USA adventure.
Fast food outlets through the chains to up market restaurants are always on our list.
Breakfast at Perkins.
Coffee at Caribou  (Starbucks eat your heart out!) and Coffea Roasterie.
Lunch at Culvers, Cubby's and Backyard Grill (BBQ!).
Mexican at Chipotle, Chevy's and Guadalajara.
The Pheasant at Brookings was added to our list this year.
Mom's 75th birthday celebration lunch at Minervas was lovely.
And our usual Sioux Falls last night date night at Foleys was as good as ever.
I buy wine from a few places while in the area. I have to say that the selection of Australian wine was pretty disappointing this time round. Obviously the strong $A has affected imports at the cheaper end of the market which (unfortunately) seems to be 'our' niche.
But that didn't stop us enjoying a lot of Spanish, Italian and New Zealand as well as local west coast wine.
The Pinots from Oregon and Cabernets from Washington were very good. The Central Coast AVA (south from San Francisco) also had some interesting reds. The Santa Maria Valley Clark & Telephone Pinot Noir was a highlight.
Soon the three weeks in SD was up and we were heading to Houston, Texas, for the 2015 International Quilt Festival (see separate post).
The co driver had a quilt, a second prize winner, hanging there.
We have flown some pretty small planes in and out of South Dakota over the years eg.CRJs and EMBs but this year the Bombardier Q400 to Denver took the cake. Surprisingly, it was quite comfortable although a little more noisy than a jet.
Houston had suffered the remnants of Hurricane Patricia in the few days before we arrived. Over 500mm of rain had caused flooding and property damage.
The bad weather wasn't ready to quit while we were there. It was quite a hairy landing coming into George Bush Intercontinental (IAH). Severe thunder storms our first night caused at least seven tornadoes to touch down resulting in more flooding and more damage.
We met up with a couple of the co driver's quilting Facebook friends from Chicago. They were great fun and the three ladies prowled around the quilt show for a solid two days.
The Hilton Americas is a huge 1200 room hotel connected to the George R. Brown Convention Center. With the bad weather they were suffering staff shortages and an increased number guests 'staying in' during the evenings. The bars and restaurants were overflowing but they coped amazingly well. One of the best hotels we have stayed in.
Sadly Australia did not win the Rugby World Cup. New Zealand, as always, was just too good. Bizarrely while standing in line for the hotel restaurant the night of the match the co driver saw a guy walk past in a Wallabies jumper. I think he was just as surprised to be accosted by a fellow supporter in Houston of all places. They had a short mutual cry on each other's shoulders.

Our last night saw some easing of the rain and we found a nice restaurant close to our hotel, The Grove, which had a good selection of Southern inspired seafood and a great by the glass wine list.
So then it was time to head home.
Weather on our arrival in Sydney was atrocious with torrential rain and thick fog in places. This did not make our final 3 hour jet lagged drive from the airport, where we had left our car, any easier.
From our Houston hotel to our front door via San Francisco and Sydney Airports took 35 hours.
Are we both getting too old for this sort of travel?
Last week we both said yes.
Today we are not so sure.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Visit to USA 2015 / Part 3

The October weather in South Dakota for our three weeks stay was mostly acceptable. Apart from the aforementioned wind storm, a torrential extended downpour that made highway driving quite hazardous and a slight blizzard that lasted for a few hours, we had sunshine and warm temperatures.

Mark was finishing up harvesting at his father's farm just over the border in Lake Wilson, MN. I got to ride the combine as well as take a truckload of corn into the elevators (silos) at Hadley.

This was an interesting day seeing the practical side of broad acre farming in the mid west.
As normal with farming, things didn't quite go to plan. Initially the combine 'threw' a belt resulting in a blockage. Both problems took some time and manpower to fix. But from then it was plain sailing.

The farm grows both corn and soya beans. This year has produced record yields for both crops but prices were down because of this.
Corn is ideally harvested at around 15% moisture content. A higher content results in the corn being dried at the storage facility the cost of which is passed onto the farmer. There were huge 'mountains' of corn ready for distribution at most of the storage facilities we passed.

The major uses for corn in the USA are the manufacture of ethanol and its co-product (Distillers' Dried Grains with Solubles) accounting for 37% (27% + 10%) and the production of high fructose corn syrup, sweeteners, starch, beverage alcohol and cereals (11%).
I managed to get to the local Casino a few times. Ended up not losing (or winning much) overall. I always enjoy a few hours here. It's a small friendly place and the machines seem to pay out well enough. The bacon/cheese burgers at the cafe are good too!
One of my gambling partners did really well one night, the other, not so good. The big news here was that the Casino would be offering legal marijuana at the end of the year.
Halloween was fast approaching and although we would be in Houston for the 31st there was plenty of preparation going on in the local area. Lots of pumpkins for sale, some pretty awful pumpkin food and drink items on offer and many decorations being put up. One house a few miles from us is renowned for its OTT decorations.

While we were away the Rugby World Cup continued. Australia kept on winning (sometimes by the skin of its teeth) and eventually made the final against the New Zealand All Blacks.
It was very difficult finding a telecast of the games in the USA although one web site was offering streaming at an exorbitant cost. We were content with following an on line blog with a minute to minute updates.
The co driver was wearing her Wallabies jersey and had her toe nails painted green and gold for the occasion.
Would we, against all odds, win the cup? We would have to wait until we were in Houston to find out.

Monday, November 09, 2015

Visit to USA 2015 / Part 2

I first became aware of  A Prairie Home Companion when the movie came out in 2006.
I have been a fan of this radio show ever since and have listened to it on the net either live (on our early Sunday morning) or later on podcast. The concept is loosely based on Nashville's Grand Ole Opry but with a distinctly mid west flavour.
Back in 2011 I was lucky enough to be in the audience at the F.Scott Fitzgerald Theater in St. Paul, MN to see it go to air.
The host of some 40 years, Garrison Keillor had announced that 2015 would be his last year so I wanted to see 'his' show one last time. We were lucky enough the get tickets so it was back to St.Paul for an overnight stay.

Instead of driving the Interstate we cut across country on county and state highways enjoying the autumn colors of the remnant forests (this is predominantly soya bean and corn growing country), huge wind turbine farms (Buffalo Ridge is the highest point of this flat prairie landscape) and small town America. We stopped in Redwood Falls for coffee and the biggest caramel rolls I have ever seen ( and eaten!).

Despite the 5 hour drive, we had three pre show goals. The first was to visit Garrison Keillor's bookshop, Common Good Books which more than lived up to its reputation, eat at a Chipotle Mexican Grill (this was pre e-coli scare) and visit the Yarnery so the co driver could get her 'wool' fix. After a quick freshen up at the St.Paul Hilton we headed around the corner for the show.

This was the 1439th!
A great 2 hours with GK at his cynical best, funny skits (especially 'Mom'), wonderful musical guests and an impressive performance by the new host in waiting, Chris Thile.
You can listen to the actual show here.
Next morning after a quick clothing shop at Cabelas, we 'Interstated' it back to our SD home base for a family dinner.
We did however take time out for a quick lunch and a visit to the Jolly Green Giant at Blue Earth just off the I90.
Kelly had suggested an Art and Wine evening where you take part in a three hour art lesson while drinking your favorite tipple.
So we (Lisa came too) went to one run by Wine and Canvas.
I was the only man among 20 women. Obviously SD men don't do art classes.
It was a most enjoyable time following along with the teacher step by step, working in acrylics.We all painted the same picture but no two were exactly alike.

Each year we go to the Sioux Falls Sculpture Walk downtown. Again it was no disappointment. There will be a separate post but preview pics are below.

There is obviously a thriving arts community in the area. Funding of a quite amazing project is under way. If realized, The Arc of Dreams will be a striking asset for the city. An artist's impression is below.

A trip to South Dakota would not be complete without clothes shopping. Compared to Australia there is a much bigger range, prices are way lower (even when $A1 = $US0.70) and we can get in on the end of summer sales which is ideal for this time of year down under. Add to this the Coupon Queen's, a.k.a Mom, stash of discount vouchers, we usually make a 'killing'. This year was no exception.
Kohl's, Macy's and Younkers were all targeted with success.

Saturday, November 07, 2015

Visit to USA 2015 / Part 1

Up to Sydney for an overnighter at Rydges International Airport Hotel for a midday departure the next day to Sioux Falls, SD via San Francisco and Denver.
That evening we met up with the Daughter and the Nickster for an excellent meal at Sake in the Rocks for a late or maybe it was an early birthday celebration.
All flights to the mid west USA were uneventful and virtually on time. We picked up our little Hyundai Accent at our final destination for the hour's drive to our accommodation.
This is the first car I have driven without a spare tyre. Instead all they supply is a small 12V battery driven air compressor and sealant kit to deal with any punctures. Not to my liking but thankfully we never needed to test the system out.
Then, on very next day, we began the rounds, catching up with family and friends.

Our first Saturday was the family wine tasting tour on the Sioux Falls Trolley organised by Kay. The city's trolley transport system has quite a history and it was a fun ride in this motorised replica.
The Strawbale Winery at Renner is relatively small and was very crowded due to it being their harvest festival day. They make American grape wines from Frontenac, Kay Gray, Frontenac Gris, La Crescent and Valiant as well as fruit wines.

The next stop was the Little Cellar Wine Company. They have wine tasting stations where you insert a 'charge' card and select from 16 wines (4 sweet/fruity, 4 whites, 8 reds) you want to taste by the ounce (30mL), ½ pour (75mL) full pour (150mL). They even supply Riedel stemware for the tasting. We have bought wine here on previous visits and they usually have a great selection.
Then we went to The Market for a more traditional tasting experience.
We were 'taken through' five wines by a very knowledgeable sommelier. In between wines, he and I had an in depth discussion about wine in Australia and the various styles that predominate here. Again the tastings were in Riedel glasses and the snack food was excellent too.
Everyone wanted to kick on so we ended up in a downtown bar. Some stayed late. The jet lagged were home by 11pm.

Sunday was Gramcracker jam making day for the ladies so Mark and I went to Cubby's Sports Bar and Grill for lunch. Great burgers and nice cold Coors on tap as well as a bit of NFL football watching on the big screens.
Then in the afternoon we headed up to Lake Hendricks to Kevin and Lisa's new house. We had been there last year when they were moving in but it was a miserably freezing cold and snowy day so we didn't get to see much.
One of their friends picked us up on his pontoon boat and took us on a sunset cruise. It was beautiful before all of a sudden a huge gale hit us.
Totally unexpected and he couldn't get us back to shore on 'our' side of the lake so we went into the lee of the opposite shore to land and he had to drive us back after a few beers and an impromptu game of Hammerschlagen.

The weather incident wasn't too scary, it just put a bit of a damper a nice evening.
The next day the girls went shopping in Sioux Falls so Kevin and I went around to the boat guy's place to help get his dock and boat cradle out of the water. They have to do this early October as the lake can freeze over quickly after a cold snap. That took 3/4 of the day.

The following day was a chill out day. The wind eventually subsided so in the evening we dropped a line in from Kevin's dock.

I caught a very minute perch and a largish bullhead. I also 'lost' quite a big silver one, maybe a Walleye.
My excuse was that it was difficult fishing keeping one eye on my and Kevin's rod and float while he was BBQing and the other out for the game warden as I didn't have a license.