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The last couple of weeks have flown by… Last week I was too tired to put up anything but the cool Sandhill Cranes… Now for a bit that was missed…

Our headquarters while in Denver has been with good friends Lonnie and Laura.  They hare awesome hosts!  We took a few drone shots one day, and then that night we got snow, so a few more drone shots the next morning.


Ft Collins

Saturday afternoon was spent in Ft Collins with more dear friends; Giny and Joe.  We took the drone out to play in the middle of nowhere.  My phone/drone interface wasn’t working well, so I don’t have much worthwhile footage, but we had fun!  Here is a picture that proves, at least in Joe’s case, we never really have to grow up!



Eastward Bound

I decided that because we had two months worth of luggage, including all our SCUBA gear, we would get a big rental car. (See above). However, that Chevy Tahoe seemed far bigger than we needed.  Since we were planning on driving all the way to Florida, when a light flashed on saying it wanted its oil changed, I offered Hertz to swap cars before we left Denver.  I figured we would get a slightly smaller car for the trip.  They were happy to swap, except they didn’t give me smaller… they moved us up to a Suburban.  Same basic vehicle, just about 2 feet longer!  Funny.  We had plenty of room and grew to like the big old thing.



We spent a few days in Lincoln with Cherryl’s family – Jeanne, Steve and Mom Joanne. We even got to see Crista, Josh and William: niece and her family.  No pictures though, so maybe it never happened. 😉



The next weekend was spent in Atlanta… I have several places I want to see in Atlanta, and we did none of them!  We had a relaxing day driving in the country, soaking up views of pretty forested areas, spring flowers, and even a few animals.   I had no idea Atlanta could be so beautiful! So we will return!




We drove to Buford Dam – like most dams, a beautiful lake on one side, a river on the other.  Both sides were filled with people boating, fishing, or looking for wildlife.





This little guy was with a few others just out of the park.





About one hour out of Jacksonville, Florida, we were driving our cool big Suburban, when the peace was shattered by the sound of an explosion!  The left rear (portside aft) tire blew, and did it very dramatically!  But no problem keeping it in control; we just pulled off and tried to get the tire changed.  The problem was getting the spare out from under the truck… once we got the trick figured out, it was pretty easy.  A nice guy stopped to help us, and he had a hydraulic jack that saved us using the Chevy’s jack. A nice welcome back to Florida!


Kathryn Abbey Hanna Park

This is a wonderful campground!  We’re glad to be back!  We’ve spent some time getting paperwork caught up, doing some trailer maintenance, and even some resting up.



We haven’t gotten the kayak in the lake here yet, but we’re anxious to go alligator hunting!  There are hundreds of birds hanging out on the little islands in the lake, and great fun watching them this evening.


Here is an Osprey diving for dinner…


His take out order is here…


And now he has to show off by flying it past all the neighbors.


And so ends another week…


Celebrations in Colorado

Sayonara Japan

In our last episode 🙂 we were about to leave Tokyo…  Japan was fabulous, but a lot of it is not good drone flying territory.  The views were awesome, but you’re not supposed to fly over congested areas (Tokyo??) or historic monuments (Kyoto??).  So I caught a few aerial shots of Tokyo and Kyoto and quit before I ended up in a Japanese prison.  Or whatever.  Notice the guy wearing a (very common) face mask to work.



A Beautiful Centenarian

One major reason for the timing of our return to Denver was a celebration for a dear friend, Lucille, on her 100th birthday!  She is such a sweetheart that over 400 people showed up for the party!  I think all enjoyed it tremendously, with the possible exception of my little grandson Peter…  Here’s the evidence…


Dr. Mike and some of the team with Lucille


100 cupcakes, and at least 10 large cakes!  A wonderful celebration for a great lady!



That afternoon some of us volunteered to be locked in a room and not released until we had solved the Cuban Missile Crisis… or a bunch of themed puzzles and riddles to find the key to escape.  We made it with 17 minutes to spare!



Ukulele Education

My clever grandson is learning to play the Ukulele, and doing an amazing job of it!  So it was decided to get him a better instrument, from Gary, Ukulele master and head of the Rocky Mountain Ukulele Orchestra.

After testing many “ukes” and lots of consideration, a beautiful ukulele was chosen.  This is Gary restringing it with better strings.  We all learned a lot!




We spent a few days with one of our daughters and her family in Keystone.  The weather was very nice, and the spring skiing was… well, spring skiing.  The snow was too icy in the morning, perfect a lot of the day, and pretty slushy towards the end of the day.  But in spite of less than optimal snow, we had a fabulous time.  The scenic beauty would be worth the trip even if you didn’t like the skiing!  (But I loved the skiing!!)  This little video was made with grandkids in mind – hope you enjoy it too!


Dillon Reservoir

Thursday we spent part of the day exploring the beautiful frozen Dillon Reservoir.  A shot of my granddaughter sitting on a park bench shows how deep the snow still is!


Good Friends

Part of the fun of this trip has been seeing lots of good friends that we have missed.  Brad and Bill didn’t think they would end up in this blog, so – This Pix’s for you, Brad and Bill!



And in the tradition of closing with a sunset, here is the last evening in Keystone.


A Country Christmas

Silver Dollar City Campsite Cabins

Sunday evening we met Becky, Kevin, Dayna and Peter at the Silver Dollar Wilderness Campground in Branson, Missouri.  The campground and cabins were very quiet over Christmas.  We felt we were the only ones here.  We made a provisioning run and tried to buy enough food for the week.  It was a trick finding places to stow it in the little cabin!


Here is a video overview of the campground and cabin…


Christmas morning was special in many ways, but one you can see is the lot of us in matching PJ’s.  A first time for me!



Silver Dollar City is an amusement park with a very laid back, Christian feel.  The old steam train is a fun ride through the woods, and stopped on one place while an “old timer” read the story of the birth of Christ, and emphasized the meaning of Christmas.  Nice references to God are all over.  It’s done tastefully and quite refreshing in this commercial world!  Not that they are non-commercial!! They claim to have more lights than any other park, with over 6.5 million lights up this year.  EVERYTHING is lit up!  I’ll admit to being blown away with the gorgeous lights.   I tried taking pictures, but there is no way to capture the feeling of all those lights!









During the day, the park is themed as a small city in the 1880’s.  There are craftsmen working – blacksmiths, glassblowers, woodworkers, etc.  Except if it is too cold some of those are frozen out…  but there are tons of things to see and do.  Other parts of the park feature amusement park rides – several awesome roller coasters in particular.  One called the Time Traveler may be the coolest coaster I’ve ever done!

Wednesday we spent the day in the park, and went back to the cabin for dinner.  After the grandkids went to bed, we left Cherryl to watch them and went back to the park to hit the more advanced coasters.  The cold and the beginning rain drove most of the sane people out of the park, so we had no waiting in lines that had been terribly long during the day.  Most roller coasters are more fun in the dark, but when you add cold and rain the effect is quite dramatic!  We had a great time even though we ended up soaked!  I appreciated that the rain drove out people getting in the way of my photos, and the wet pavement made for great reflections.


Thursday we attended Dolly Parton’s Stampede – kind of a rodeo where they serve you dinner while you watch!  They did a great job of feeding 1,100 people simultaneously while we watched trick horseback riding!  The food was pretty good, and the show was really amazing.  Backdrops were magical, a small ice rink dropped down from the ceiling for a mini-ice show, and there was even a whole nativity scene enacted.  Good Job, Dolly!

The later it got in the week, the colder it got!  Friday we were back at Silver Dollar City, but most of the rides were closed because it was only 32 degrees!  We were glad that wasn’t our only day there…  Here is a cute family with frozen noses!  We’ve had a great Christmas Week with these kids and grandkids!


Socks of Rocks



Our great time with our kids in Washington was drawing to a close, so we had a little mini-Christmas celebration with them before we left.  Sunday was our early Christmas – we were to have all the great Christmas food, and even open some presents. So “Christmas Eve”, Saturday afternoon, we hiked to the top of Mt Badger, all of 1,500 feet.  It felt a lot higher than that – I think I’m out of shape!  The view from the top was nice, and it got dark just as we got back down… in time to show off someone’s extravagant Christmas lights.  Clever computerized lights synchronized to music that you could hear on your car’s FM radio.  Probably the most elaborate setup I’ve seen on a private home.


First thing in the morning we all checked out our Christmas Stockings… there was a new one in the group, with the initial E identifying it.  The grandkids wondered a bit about whose that could be… maybe the dog?  Hunter?  Why would his stocking have an E on it??  When Ashlyn emptied her stocking she found nothing but paper and rocks!  She looked close to tears!  And Bryan had the same fate!  In fact, all of us got nothing but rocks in our socks!  Then we discussed why that might be… and the grandkids came up with the fact that we are all sinners, and deserve nothing.  Then after a few wrong guesses, Ashlyn figured out that the E stood for Emmanuel, God with us.  That stocking was full of yummy treasures, which were shared around the room… There was even more hidden around the corner.  The point was rather eloquently made that God gives us far better than we deserve, and there is plenty for all.


I bought myself a Christmas present – a toy I’ve been lusting after for a long time – my first drone.  So here are a few shots of my first attempts at flying video.  The fun part is watching Bryan- he was so excited I thought he’d have a stroke!  I first tried tracking Karen and her van, then Bryan wanted to be tracked.  He couldn’t hold still and ran all over the place.  Lots of fun!  Warning: don’t feel like you have to watch the following video unless you like drones or like watching grandsons acting silly!


Unfortunately, later that day sickness arrived, and messed up most of our plans.  Somewhere between a third and half of the kids in school were out sick, and our house wasn’t exempt.  Ashlyn was hit pretty hard, and didn’t go back to school till Friday.  Karen was hit slightly more gently, but still out for the week, requiring substitute teachers for her class.  Cherryl and I belatedly got our flu shots and avoided the plague.


We were looking forward to the grandkids’ Christmas program Tuesday night, and it was fun even with a good portion of the students absent.  (There were 8 shepherds and 1 sheep!)  Poor Ashlyn was one who had to stay home, as did her mother.


One of the teachers posted this cartoon in his room… I love it!



The next morning we set out for Lincoln to spend the weekend with Cherryl’s sister and mother.  We were going to spread the trip out over 3 days, and the first day we made it to Salt Lake City uneventfully.  The next day took us to Cheyanne, Wyoming.  It was very cold and windy!

For much of the drive, the most beauty was in the sky!


Friday morning I saw a couple of interesting cars from our hotel window.  Sometimes when a car manufacturer wants to road test a new model, and not let anyone see what it really looks like, they tack on lots of extra bumps and bulges, fake grilles, and a very strange squiggly paint job to disguise the car.  There were two of these just outside our window.  The drivers started them up, so I had to go down and chat with them.  As I expected, they would not tell me what the cars really were.  There were so many bumps attached to the cars it reminded me of the climbing walls we’d done in Washington!  I was surprised that the entire interior was draped in black cloth, so you couldn’t get any clues there either.  A tiny slit in the drape let the driver see a part of the instrument panel, but even the center of the steering wheel was covered.  I could see two grab handles on the center console, and said it looked like the Porsche Cayenne.  The driver just scoffed.  The only other hint I got was the windshield wipers – a fancy wiper mechanism I’ve only seen on Mercedes and Porsche.  I asked him if there were only these two cars on this test, and he said they had another at the other end of the lot.  He said they’d driven from Southern California, up to Wyoming and would go from there to Nebraska and Minnesota.  Then fly home for Christmas, and then start over with more cars.  As they drove off, I saw the third car – an unadorned Mercedes wagon.  Were these future Mercedes?  Or did Porsche use a Mercedes wagon as a decoy? Am I the only one crazy enough to care??



So after breakfast, we loaded the Jeep, and didn’t start it.  Sigh.  Sounded like the battery had died.  Maybe it didn’t like the cold any more than we did.  The hotel staff were happy to help me jump start it, but I had to empty the back of the Jeep to get at the cables.  Ok, but not really… because that didn’t do it.  We called AAA, and in only 38 minutes they had a nice guy and a beautiful big truck to help us out.  He tried his battery booster gadget, and that didn’t do it, so we pushed the car out to where we could jump straight from the truck’s system.  No dice.  We concluded that the starter had perished, and we would need a tow.  But our nice tow driver said we had another problem – his winch cable broke last night and he couldn’t tow us.  They’d figured it would just be a jump start, or they would have sent a different truck.  So we waited for a second truck, and called around to see who was still open and able to replace our starter.  One place said they would try to work us in today or maybe tomorrow…

Cherryl had a new friend keep her company in the repair shop…




But we were fixed up by 2:30, and then on the road again!  So I am trying something new… posting this at 75 mph (or so…) as Cherryl drives.  We should be in Lincoln in a couple of hours… only 7 hours behind our projection!


Merry Christmas!!

Colonial Christmas

The Nutcracker Sweet…

We attended a wonderful rendition of the Nutcracker Suite performed by a troupe of mostly high school students.  They danced beautifully, the sets were great, and of course Tchaikovsky’s famous score is always awesome to listen to.


Snow Day

Sunday night it snowed, and the schools were placed on a 2 hour delay Monday morning.  This delighted both our grandchildren and our daughter (the teacher), but amused us greatly… because there must have been 3mm of snow!  Ok, I realize the roads may have been icy in spots, but it really was funny!  Here are our grandkids having fun in the huge snowfall!



Colonial Christmas

We decided to get a few things off the boat, check out the progress there, and rack up a few more flight miles… So while back in Virginia, we spent Thursday evening at Colonial Williamsburg.  All the houses are decorated as they would have been in the 1700’s – so no huge colored lights here!  The one exception is the Williamsburg Inn, which is “off property”, and done up with millions of little white lights.




I love both architecture and night photography, so I had great fun here.  Most of the houses had a single candle in every window.


Every evening they have a ceremonial illumination of the taverns.  (No, I did not get illuminated in a tavern).  The Fife and Drum corps starts at one end of Duke of Glouster street, playing as they march, stopping at every tavern.  There are several taverns on that street, and at each the torch bearers would light 4 cressets, which are wire baskets fixed to posts.  These fires, at about 6 feet off the ground, provided very impressive illumination in the cold dark night.


Ice Skating 

It seemed very nostalgic to see open air ice skating on this beautiful clear night…


The College of William and Mary

The college was founded in 1693, making it the second oldest in the US, behind Harvard.  King William and Queen Mary would be proud of its beautiful campus.



Bruton Parish Church Colonial Christmas Concert



The Bruton Parish Church was completed in 1715.  That was the beautiful venue for a concert by the Manassas Chorale, about 100 voices strong.  And I do mean strong!  They were fabulous, and in that magnificent old church, the concert was almost enough to bring tears to your eyes! (And I must admit, sitting in the harsh 300 year old pews almost brought tears also).  I don’t remember ever seeing a chandelier in a public place with real candles lit before…

They reminded us that it was 200 years ago this Christmas that the organ broke down in a small town in Austria, and the priest couldn’t imagine a Christmas eve service with no music.  So he had a poem he’d written set to music, and performed to guitar accompaniment that beautiful Silent Night.

The concert was breathtaking, and an awesome finale to an evening in Colonial Williamsburg.






A Week in Washington

Last weekend we made a couple of apple pies.  I’d just seen pictures of some pretty fancy crusts on pies, and volunteered to try something different on our pies.  They were different!  We took them to some friends’ house for dinner Saturday.  Wonderful people, lots of fun… and I liked the dishes, all with different scriptures written on them.  That is, till they served me my pie on a plate that knew I didn’t need dessert… it said “Repent!”


Our grandkids had a day in school where they were to dress like what they’d like to do when they grow up.  Bryan was a cowboy, and Ashlyn was a CIA secret agent.


Very early one morning I drove Loren to the airport for a commercial flight (yes, he sometimes has to fly commercially).  I wandered around a bit on the way back to the house, and found this cool building all lit up.  Franklin County Courthouse.



This area is not known for its long growing season.  Here is Karen with her entire carrot crop!



Decorating the Christmas Tree is always fun!


I got to fly with Loren again, this time to Lewiston, Idaho.  A 2.5 hour drive was 25 minutes in the air!  Gotta love Jets!


If you’ve ever wondered what it looks like to descend into and through the clouds, you can watch the short video below.

If you are a crazy lover of all things aviation, like maybe I am, you can watch the long version, where we go through the clouds, land and taxi, all in real time.  Kind of long, so only watch if you are an airplane buff…



Music by

More Road Tripping

After Thanksgiving, we spent another couple of days in Lincoln.  Our Grandkids and Grandnieces had lots of fun playing together!  Note that this “Rocking Burro” was made by Cherryl’s father Frank, well over 30 years ago.


Saturday night I got to spend a little more time with my new friend Terry.  His Camaro had the engine torn apart last time I was here, and now I got to hear it roar!  It was too cold outside to drive it, but it sure puts out some violent noise!

Sunday morning we were to continue our road trip to see our daughter and family in Washington. Wind had covered our Jeep with snow before we got going, but we saw nothing but wind and a little drizzle on the length of the trip.

After a too brief stay with dear friends Lonnie and Laura in Denver, and a visit to the awesome McArthur Dentisty office, we were off to Washington.

We chose to go a northern route to the Tri-Cities area, through Wyoming, Montana and Idaho, and not be in too big a hurry.  Our second night we stayed in Wallace, Idaho… not because we knew how great it was, but that it was in the right place for our timing.  But it turns out Wallace is a very cool place!  It remains the world’s largest silver mining area, with billions of ounces produced.  It was a thriving mining town in the late 1800’s, and in 1890 a fire leveled most of the town.  They rebuilt with stone and brick.  Two decades later, the Great Fire of 1910 attacked… This is considered the largest fire in U.S. history, with 3 MILLION acres burned.  California is staggering after a terrible fire season right now, with something like 160,000 acres burned.  The Great Fire of 1910 was 18 times as large!  The sap of the White Pine trees created fumes that just exploded, burning over three states in only two days!  Heavy rains extinguished the fire, but something like 78 firefighters perished.  One forest ranger called “Big Ed”Pulaski guided 40 firefighters to safety in an abandoned mine cave when the fire surrounded them.


In the 1970’s, the highway department was going to build I90 right through the middle of Wallace.  The town fought hard to avoid demolition, but bulldozers started razing buildings.  At the last minute, they got someone in authority to listen, and had the whole town designated a historic area.  The compromise had I90 built as an elevated highway down one edge of the canyon that Wallace inhabits.

Wallace has some very nice old buildings downtown, and some very steep roads into residential areas… including several long public stairways.


At some point, the Mayor of Wallace declared the intersection of 6th Street and Bank Street is the “Center of The Universe”.  The town says that if you can’t disprove a thing, then it must be true.  If you look closely you can see proof… signs proclaiming it to be so.  We have now been to the Center of The Universe!


In the 1950’s and 60’s, America was enthralled with outer space and space exploration.  Many businesses played up the space theme, which resulted in cute places like the “Stardust Motel” in downtown Wallace.  It even has a small spaceship, with seats inside for intrepid explorers!


On a slightly more earthbound level, we have had fun with our Kids and Grandkids here in Washington.  At the gym, we got to do some climbing, and even some racquetball!



Be thankful for what you have; you’ll end up having more.  If you concentrate on what you don’t have, you will never, ever have enough.
– Oprah Winfrey 

Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays… fun with family and food!  What’s not to like?  We have so much to be thankful to God for!  Hopefully we are thankful every day!

We were graciously hosted by Steve and Jeanne in Lincoln, Nebraska. (Jeanne is Cherryl’s sister). With kids and grandkids, great grandmothers, and five other guests, we had 18 or so for dinner.  It was fabulous, and I focused on eating rather than focusing cameras.  So you don’t have to look at our food!

Except for one fun part… Becky, our daughter the chocolatier, is very adventurous and loves trying new exotic dishes.  She had showed us a video about making an Apple Cinnamon Roll Cake.  Basically, you prepare a bunch of apples, place them in a pan, and then make the world’s biggest cinnamon roll and place it on top of the apples and bake.  When you turn over the finished product, you have nicely arranged baked apple pieces over cinnamon roll base.  Fantastic!  But on Thanksgiving day, the oven was always busy with lots of other good stuff, and the only pan we had available was a bit too small.  Whatever… So it had to sit out waiting for oven time, rising, longer than the half hour rising time recommended.  And when it did get in the oven, the oven had been broiling something and it got the temp settings changed, but not the “bake” option.  So instead of baking, it just kept rising!  It grew so large it overflowed the pan and kept going!  But it wasn’t cooking!  We finally diagnosed the problem, but by then it looked like Jabba the Hutt. We had to carve out the pan!  But it tasted great!  Below right is with all the extra carved off…




Between Omaha and Council Bluffs are two huge locomotives placed nose to nose overlooking I80.  We’ve driven past them countless times, and I’ve always wanted to investigate, but we’ve always been on a mission, in a hurry.  Guess what? I’m retired!  We stopped.  They claim to be two of the world’s biggest locomotives, one coal/steam powered, the other diesel/electric.

The “Big Boy” steam locomotive, #4023, was built in 1944.  It is considered the longest, heaviest and most powerful of the steam locomotives.  1.25 million pounds, 7,000 horsepower, it could move about 70mph.  This Big Boy was commissioned by the US government to help the shift from war in Europe to war in the Pacific.  It was used until 1959, after logging 829,295 miles.


These are HUGE!  No way to capture the immensity of these machines.  If you look closely you can see a little me beside a drive wheel.

Locomotive #6900 was built in 1969 for the Union Pacific Railroad, commemorating the 100 year anniversary of driving the spike that completed the first trans-continental railroad.  Hence they are called “Centennials”. #6900 had 6,600 horsepower, and could run at 85mph.  Her first mission was to be at Ogden, Utah for the Golden Spike Centennial Celebration.  She logged almost 2 million miles before retirement.




Another highlight of the trip was getting to see one of my former Dental Hygienists teaching!  Angie is now on faculty at Iowa Western Community College, teaching in their Hygiene program.  She said nice things about me, and had me do a Q & A with the class.  I felt very honored, and I think Angie is doing a great job!



We not only escaped doing any shopping on Black Friday, we escaped from a locked room!  Becky and Kevin are fans of escape rooms, as we are.  When we arrived, we saw a team being prepared for their escape room by being handcuffed together and then blindfolded, then led away!  That increased our heart rates a bit!


So then the four of us were locked in an escape room with a musical theme (no handcuffs, no blindfolds).  We had to solve many puzzles, find many keys and combinations, and even play the piano (one finger worked fine),  finally finding the last code to get out of the room.  We solved the puzzle with 8 minutes to spare!  Great fun!!


Mansions, Castles, Cathedrals and Crack

Mill City Museum

Above are machines to take dust from the air in the mill

Minneapolis was the flour milling capital of the world from the mid 1800’s.  It was perfectly situated to get grain from all the open lands west, and power from a wide waterfall on the Mississippi.  Rail lines could then take the processed flour to destinations all along the east coast.

At one time, more than 20 stone flour mills got power from the falls.   The largest, the Washburn A Mill, exploded so violently in 1878 that it killed all the workers inside at the time, and leveled the west side of the river.  It broke windows all over town, and is said to have been heard 7 miles away!  It was rebuilt and opened 2 years later, as the largest and most sophisticated mill in the world.  At peak production, it ground enough flour to make 12 million loaves of bread per day. This was at a time when most mills were small, serving only the towns where they were located.

From their website:

In the industry’s early days in Minneapolis, almost all sales were of “family flour,” used in home baking and sold in 196-pound family barrels. It wasn’t until later that the barrels were replaced by 100-, 50-, and 25-pound cotton or jute sacks.

Home baking declined, however, as more people moved from farm to city. But as they did, the commercial baking industry grew. In 1900, only five percent of bread consumed was bakery-made. By the time the US entered World War I in 1917, bakeries were making 30 percent of the nations bread.

The tremendous capacity of all these mills raised some problems.  Early on, folks just went to the local grocer and asked for flour, and took whatever was offered.  Now with many mills producing so much flour, all from the same area’s wheat, all processed with the same falls’ power in similar mills, how do you distinguish your own product?  So marketing came to the flour business.  Companies raced to find new ways to sell their goods, with competitions, games, and new products.  Cake mixes and breakfast cereals were pushed.

One chef at Washburn dropped some wheat bran cereal on a griddle, and it fried into crisp flakes.  He tasted them and approved, but it took three years of research to make flakes that didn’t fall apart in a box.  A naming competition resulted in “Wheaties”, Which was probably was better than the original “Gold Medal Wheat Flakes”.  Wheaties started broadcasting local baseball games, and that proved so popular they were soon doing over ninety locations.  At one point, they had a competition for the best baseball announcer, which was won by a young man named Ronald Reagan.  His prize? A trip to Hollywood! Who knows where Wheaties can take you?!

Washburn merged with many others and became General Mills.  Betty Crocker was created to answer the ton of questions stemming from a competition that the advertising men didn’t feel qualified to answer.  She has become one of the best known female names in the world, even though she is fictitious.

Eventually, electricity replaced water power, so a location at the falls was not needed, and mills moved elsewhere.  The mighty General Mills plant closed in the 60’s and fell into ruin.  The Mill City Museum has been built to preserve some of the structures and tell of their history.

A museum guide demonstrated how explosive fine dust, like in a mill, can be.  He had a model mill, with a tower at one end.  He covered the open top of the tower with several paper towels, and used a frame to screw them down tightly.   He then put 1/2 teaspoon of corn starch in the mill, pumped air in to disperse it into the air, and touched off a spark.

The resulting explosion was really fun!  Flour dust is 30 times more explosive than gunpowder!

The view from the top of the museum was great.

A steam engine used to power farm equipment.


James J Hill House


James J Hill was called the “Empire Builder”.  He started as a shipping clerk for a company on the Mississippi River, and worked his way up into management.  Then he opened his own shipping company, eventually expanding into railroads.  He bought a failing railroad, and by wise and careful expansion, not only made it profitable, but eventually took the northern route all the way to the Pacific.  People loved and admired him, or hated and feared him.  It all depends on one’s point of view!

When he was in his 20’s he met a waitress in a hotel dining room, and fell in love.  He was not wealthy at the time, but had great ambition.  So he scraped money together, and sent his new fiancé away for three years to finishing school!  As bizarre as that sounds, it was probably a good move, because he eventually amassed a huge fortune, built this 36,000 square foot home, and owned 4 other homes in places like Jekyll Island and Paris. She had to manage the homes and domestic staff, like the 15 or so who took care of this house.

So on to the house…

The house had electric lights throughout, but since electricity was new technology, and could not be depended upon, the light fixtures had gas piped to them as well in case of power failures.

IMG_8126This is not the music room, it is the gallery.  Hill had it filled with his favorite paintings.  It was all the rage to have an organ in your house, so he had to have one… with over 1,000 pipes.  The irony is that neither Hill nor any of his family could play it, so it was only heard when organists were hired for parties or concerts.  The air for the pipes was supplied by bellows pumped by servants in the basement, when they got a signal from the gallery.

The Hill family lived here for about 30 years, raising 10 children.  Four of them were married in the house, several grew up and built houses in the neighborhood.



The head woodworker (over his team of 15) had a tradition of “signing” his work with a self portrait.  Here is his “selfie” in the wood carved entryway.



Cathedral of St Paul 

James Hill knew the bishop who was in charge of the cathedral construction just down the street from his mansion.  He politely requested that they limit the height of the cathedral so it wouldn’t spoil his view!  The bishop, of course, ignored him, and built anyway, so this is the view Hill ended up with.  Too bad…  But better than a storage unit!


The cathedral was finished in 1915.  It is imposing inside and out…




Turnblad Mansion / Swedish Castle


Swan Turnblad moved from Sweden to Minnesota in 1868.  He was a farmer and a printer.  He turned his typesetting prowess into the largest Swedish newspaper in the U.S., and built this mansion to show the folks back home how well he had done in the “new world”.  The house is incredibly beautiful, and has exquisite woodwork inside, maybe even nicer than the Hill house (Don’t tell Hill!)

I felt the house in general was warmer and more livable than the Hill house… but apparently the Swan and Christina Turnblad didn’t share my opinion.  They only lived here for about 7 years, preferring instead an apartment they had downtown.  Christina had been a hotel maid, was uncomfortable having servants, and employed only a married couple to help out around the place. They were “new money” in a neighborhood of “old money”, they were not well educated, and didn’t speak the language well.  They didn’t fit in, and were not well received in the area.

The house was designed for entertaining and had rooms for the many domestic staff expected.  But the Turnblads never entertained, and ate most of their meals, not in the magnificent dining room, but on a small table in the corner of the kitchen.

When Christina died, Swan and his daughter moved into an apartment building nearby.  In his will, Swan donated the house to a foundation to preserve Swedish history and culture in the area.  He also left an endowment to enable the upkeep of the house.  The ultimate irony is that the snotty neighbors’ houses are mostly all gone, and this “outsider’s” house is beautifully preserved.




We went to a special program for 2-5 year olds (We took grandson Peter so we could get in).  They had stories, a turkey hunt and crafts.  Then the whole castle was ours to explore, for an hour before it was open to the general public.



The castle was decorated for Christmas, with several rooms representing different Scandinavian traditions.  Many had tables set for Christmas dinner – one with fancy silverware which I  noticed was subtly stitched to the tablecloth.


Here is a “Christmas Tree” without the tree!  Just glass spheres floating in space.


On the eve of Svaty Mikulas Day, the Bishop (Svaty Mikulas), Angel (andel), and the Devil (cert) visit children.  The Bishop talks to each child, and the Angel rewards good children with a treat.  Meanwhile the chain-rattling Devil stands by to put naughty children in his sack and take them back to hell with him.  Not to worry though, the Angel stops the Devil and protects all the children.

The ballroom was huge, and featured a stage with special lighting, backstage entrances and rooms.  It was only used once, as a fundraiser during WWI!



I enjoyed this whimsical woodcarving of art, art enthusiast, and less enthusiastic.


Crack Cream Puffs

Ok, maybe the highlight of the week was helping Becky make these AMAZING Crack Cream Puffs! Supposedly they are named for the  Crispy Cracked Sugary topping.  But I know it’s because when you add creamy filling inside the crispy puff, it is crack like addictive!  Fabulous!





Just before we left Lincoln, Steve introduced me to his friend Terry, who is a car guy, and has a pretty awesome Camaro.  He said he’s a little bummed because it only puts out a bit under 800 hp now.  But he’s working on it!


On our way back to Minneapolis from Lincoln, we had planned on stopping somewhere for a 2-3 mile walk.  But where would we find a nice place that seemed rural and wasn’t just along a highway?  After we drove through Omaha, we found a great spot – Iowa Western Community College.  They have a pretty campus and lots of room to walk and explore.  And the next day we found out that is where Angie, a hygienist who used to work for me, is now teaching!  How cool!

Above are pictures of campus walkways.  They have a stadium dedicated to the “Reivers”.  So I had to know what a Reiver was.  I had to look it up… the short answer is a river pirate.  So I learned something at the college!

whatisareiver image

We spent some time at the Mall of America in Minneapolis.  MOA is supposed to be the largest mall in America, but I guess it depends on how you count… MOA has 2.5 million square feet, where the King of Prussia Mall in Pennsylvania has 2.9 Million.  But the King mall has only 450 shops and MOA has 500.  Aren’t you glad to know that?  Both have far more stores than I need, but we spent most of our time in the amusement park in the center.  Being a weekday, it was all but abandoned!  No lines, and some fun stuff.  One coaster goes straight up 3 stories, then straight down and inverted several times.  Gotta Love It!

I know I’m just a big kid when it comes to Lego… an almost life sized helicopter, a three story robot thing, and many other huge sculptures.  Amazing.

This life sized girl was wearing an “I voted” sticker.


My favorite was the huge Saber Toothed Tiger.



So here’s a quick video tour of the park…


Just north of the Mississippi River I saw a nice looking old building dusted with snow:

Then time for a bit of internal architectural work…




Becky told us about a little Swedish Bakery, so we met an interesting baker and relieved him of some sourdough bread, Limpa bread (aka Swedish Rye) and several pastries!

So I’m pretty sure we’ll eat well this weekend!