Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Ice Castle History

On Sunday when my daughter and I walked to Rice Park to see the ice sculptures we got to Landmark Center before it opened. Yesterday with the temperature around 40 degrees (+4 C) -- amazing for Minnesota in January -- I couldn't stay indoors all the time. I took the walk back.

On the way I saw a couple lovely winter scenes.
Last year all of this would have been covered with snow, for by this time last last year we had received 55 inches (1.5 meter) of snow.

At the Landmark Center there is an exhibit of models of previous Ice Castles although during World War II they got much smaller and were called Ice Palaces.

Here's a photo of the model of the first one, built in 1886.
It was 106 feet high and it's foot print was 180 x 154 feet.

It must have been so much fun in 1886 that another was built in 1887.

The horse and wagon beside the model for a later 19th century Ice Castle reminds us that transport was different in those days.

I found the one below a bit poignant.
This one was built in January 1941 before our world turned upside down in December 1941. I thought about the happy people walking through this Ice Castle without the knowledge of what the next 4 years would bring. And yes, I do know that the world of others had been turned upside down almost two years before January 1941.

Above is a late 20th century Ice Castle, this one built in 1992. This castle was constructed on Harriett Island, just across the river from where I live now. It was part of the festivities for the 1992 Super Bowl which was played here on January 26 that year.

Walking out to Rice Park I found my guess from Sunday was correct. Good thing we went that day to see the ice sculptures for they surely were melting. However, the weather was just perfect for this guy.
People were having fun sticking pennies on this figure.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Snowplow Contest

The Winter Carnival includes an Autonomous Snow Plow Contest. The goal appears to be to create a remote controlled snow plow. This event features students from several colleges and universities.

The scoreboard reveals that the students earn points by presentation of the design and well as by how well it actually works on the course. This would be a great invention. How nice it would be to make the snow plow work by remote control!

Don't forget to see the ice sculptures in the post below!

Winter Carnival

It's Winter Carnival time in Saint Paul. The "urban legend" about this goes something like this: Sometime in the late 19th century a New York City newspaper referred to Saint Paul as being a frozen Siberia. That led the city leaders to create a festival to demonstrate there is life in winter in Minnesota and in Saint Paul.

My older daughter  and I went to Rice Park this morning to see the ice sculptures. The weather forecast for tomorrow is for temperatures well above freezing, and I thought if we didn't go today we might not be able to see them! (Update on Monday, January 30. I was right -- the sculptures are melting fast.)

Here's what we found.

Perhaps the detail in the photo is not good -- this is a polar bear bowling -- thus Ice Bowl! Without something to give perspective it may be hard to understand how big this is. The polar bear is at least 6 feet tall.

This is Lion King. Perhaps this scene came to the mind of the artist because the Lion King musical is being performed again in a theater in Minneapolis. (It actually previewed here before going to Broadway -- many, many years ago.)

I can only call this one Ice Horses or perhaps it should be Ice Pegasus.

And here truly is an Ice Bar!

Across the sidewalk from the Ice Bar is a tent with musicians from the McNally School of Music. It amused me that the song being performed was Walking in Sunshine. Well, I guess we were walking in sunshine, but it seems like a summer song, not right at the place with an Ice Bar.

One side of the park is lined with a wall. I couldn't find any way to get a good photo of this long wall because the adjacent side walk was lined with food trucks -- yes, that phenomenon has hit Saint Paul.

The wall in done as a checkerboard with historical photos in a vinyl inset.

The first photo below shows an Ice Castle. I'm guessing this one is from the  year in which Minnesota hosted the Super Bowl. I can remember three Ice Castles since I have lived in Minnesota. I've seen two and the Super Bowl Castle is the one I missed -- so that's the reason for this guess.

Above is a downhill evening race of some sort. I've heard stories about how there used to be events such as this from the Capitol area down into the business area. I'm guessing this photo comes from the late 1930s.  Now with a freeway between these two areas, such things never happen.

On each side of the ice displays carvers were still busy.Here is a photo that shows some of the steps.

I think this Ice Sculpture event is quite unique. I know one city in northern China does the same thing. Does it happen elsewhere? Hope you enjoy.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

An Expedia Experience

I have been having successful luck with making international flight arrangements with Expedia. I am going to Romania in May on a Global Volunteers service trip. I need to be in Bucharest on a certain day by 3:00 PM and leave two weeks later on a certain day not earlier than 2:00 PM. My original reservation was a flight from Minnesota to Amsterdam, leaving on Thursday evening and arriving in Amsterdam on Friday morning and then departing for Bucharest on the next day. My reverse trip follows the same pattern, up to Amsterdam on a Saturday and then home to Minnesota on Sunday. I have a perfect hotel reservation at an on-site airport hotel in Amsterdam on both ends of the Romania trip.

Today I got a phone call  from Expedia about 10  AM my time explaining that Czech Airlines, the company that had my intra-European  flights is making significant changes to its schedule and that I needed new arrangements for the flights between Amsterdam and Bucharest. We talked a long time on the phone making a new plan, one I wasn't happy about, but could live with. Then I went to work and in a meeting for several hours. When that was done I looked at the e-mail with the new arrangements, taking me to Paris and then Bucharest and each time on the wrong dates with some wrong times for the schedule I must maintain to be part of a Global Volunteers team.

So first I went back to Expedia and found there is a perfectly good flight from Amsterdam to Bucharest, even though the first agent was telling me I had to go on 7 PM flight and spend a night in Prague before flying back.

So I called Expedia and told them all the problem. I spent 45 minutes on hold after telling an "expert agent" what I wanted. Then the phone went dead. I called back but in the meantime looked at e-mail and found, to Expedia's benefit, that someone had tried to call back on cell phone except it was right beside me and never rang, nor does the phone show a missed phone call. Maybe my present office is in a "dead" spot, but I was later able to make calls out on my cell phone, so I'm assuming they should come in. (And in fact when I was on my land line phone --story below -- trying to call Expedia again, my cell phone rang, so I don't know what happened to this call back.)

So back on the phone with yet another person explaining this over and over. They just couldn't seem to get the idea to leave my Minnesota to Amsterdam flight alone and find me another flight from Amsterdam to Bucharest. Then after 17 minutes of this the phone call was disconnected again.

In a few minutes Expedia called me back and said the disconnect was their fault. After 11 minutes of begging, the agent finally agreed to cancel my whole itinerary with them, rather than "trying to find  you more options." I'd been trying for "new options" with various people for over an hour, and that's why I wanted to cancel and just do the new reservation myself. Finally the agent relented and agreed to cancel my flights and did send a confirming e-mail saying the money would be refunded without any penalty.

I went online and booked one ticket to and from Amsterdam for my desired dates, and then booked another ticket for Amsterdam and Bucharest and back. This took me about 10 minutes! Unfortunately, this new reservation cost me at least $200 more than the original reservation.

The Expedia agents just spent too much time "trying to find new options." I have no idea what method they use. I find their web site user friendly and informative. Perhaps the Expedia agents should use a better information system than "trying to call the airline."

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Winter Shadows

Yesterday just around noon, I went out the door for a walk, mostly with the word, "should," on my mind, as in "you should exercise." Yet, as often happens, the world out the door delivered a wonderful surprise of winter shadows.

Here is how the fence along the river created beauty.
The recent cold days have produced just enough ice on the river to support the light snow fall. The shadows produced by High Bridge arch intrigued me.

The final photo above shows some structures in the back ground. These are private boats up on shore for the winter, covered with blue tarps.

Hope you enjoy this glimpse of winter weather in Minnesota.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Visiting the Eagle Center

Last Sunday, when the weather was much warmer than the temperatures shown in my previous blog entry, my older daughter and I decided to take a trip to the National Eagle Center in Wabasha, MN. We traveled there primarily on the east side of the river, using Wisconsin Highway 35. Wabasha is about 75 miles down river from where I live in Saint Paul.

As one drives down the river, there one finds Lake Pepin. Lake Pepin is an area of the Mississippi River in which it become very, very wide. This change is due to the Wisconsin River entering the Mississippi. The Wisconsin River moves faster than the Mississippi and when the water hits together, silt is dropped. Over the centuries this has created an under-river dam which forces water back on the Mississippi. Rather than become deeper, the channel becomes much, much wider. Here is one view of Lake Pepin from the Wisconsin side.

The river is frozen enough here, even in a somewhat warm winter, that it supports fish houses -- couldn't get a good picture. There were a number of pick-up trucks parked in the same area where I stopped. People walked out to the fish houses-- the ice is not thick enough to support driving a vehicle on the ice.

Above is a picture I took later in the day of Lake Pepin from the Minnesota side of the river.

We arrived in Wabasha about 11 AM so our first stop was for a bite to eat at a charming coffee shop.

The National Eagle Center is located in Wabasha because this is an area where the river stays open over the winter (see above). Thus, eagles can hunt for food all winter. This is also the start of a protected wild-life area on the Mississippi River so the eagles are quite free of predators--  particularly the human kind! There is also plenty of wood land that can provide shelter during winter days.

The National Eagle Center is a private organization. It is not a federally or state supported facility. Income comes from admission fees, donations, and grants.

One feature of the Center are displays about how eagles have been an icon for nations for a very long time. This goes back at least to Roman times. We see this icon carried on in flags from Europe.
We see this icon than coming along to the United States with European settlers where it met with the respect that the American Indians have for the eagle, so it should not be a surprise it becomes a symbol for our country.

One story I had never heard before was about Old Abe. Old Abe was sent to the Civil War by Dan McCann, after Mr. McCann had been refused for military service.
As the poster shows, Old Abe went into many Civil War battles. After the Civil War he lived at the Wisconsin Capitol building, but was displayed in Philadelphia during the Centennial Exposition. Unfortunately, he died in 1881 when a fire swept through the Wisconsin Capitol.

Our 101st Airborne Division owes its heritage to the 8th Wisconsin Regiment. That is why this Division is known as the Screaming Eagles.

The Center has 5 resident eagles, all there because they have some injury that makes it impossible now for them to survive independently in the wild. One is Golden Eagle -- the type of eagle found in our western states.

The others are bald headed eagles. We think of the word, bald, as meaning no hair, but it is also a very old word for the color white. Now that helps to make sense about why these are called bald eagles. Below is a video showing a bit of the eagle, Columbia. She was hit by a car along a Wisconsin road where she was feeding on a deer carcass. When she was sent to the Raptor Center at the University of Minnesota, it was found she also had some lead poisoning. Getting injured actually saved Columbia's life, for she had only an early case of lead poisoning and could be treated.

The audio on the video is incidental and not really part of any message. I included this video primarily so all can assured these are really live eagles and not simply a stuffed bird!

I learned eagles are particularly vulnerable to lead because they have the capability of breaking down and digesting lead sinker or lead shot. The lead immediately moves into the blood stream at very high levels, causing death in a very short time.

Outside the Center is a statute commemorating Wapasha I and Wapasha II. These were highly respected American Indian chiefs in this area. Wapasha II granted permission for European and Americans to settle in the area now called Wabasha. Wabasha was founded in 1830 and is one of the oldest, if not the oldest, towns of the west bank of the Mississippi River.

We surely enjoyed our visit to the Eagle Center and recommend it for a visit.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

January Winter

Two weeks ago -- see January 5 -- I was writing about January Summer. Today, January 19, I can say something about January winter.

My car allows me to select displays in either the U.S. or the metric system. I've been setting this feature on the metric system to help me learn the "cold" temperatures. I know what 28 or 32 C are -- but I didn't have a good frame of reference for the cold temperatures because I usually am not in a place where I need to use the Celsius system in the winter. Yet, the kids I teach in Europe in the summer ask me about cold, so this year I'm learning.

Here's what my display showed this morning in the underground garage.

And oh what a luxury it is to have an underground garage!

Here's what the display showed when I got to work. This drive takes about 5-6 minutes. 

A conversion table I found on the Internet tells me -23C is -9F. Anyway it was cold, and a cold walk from the parking lot to the buildings because the university is located on top of a river bluff and the wind does blow up there.

One news commentator asked why are we even talking about cold weather -- this is statistically the coldest week of the winter.

This year it's just so strange to have cold weather such as this when there isn't any snow. Here's the view out my window this afternoon:

If you have time, look back at my blog entries for January 2011. You will see much different views. But thank heavens, Minnesota is a place where the sun shines most of the winter rather than having day after day of clouds.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Watching Bears

My older daughter and I went out to a movie late this afternoon. We saw Joyful Noise -- great music within this movie, but that's not what this posting is about. On the way home we were listening to Prairie Home Companion on Minnesota Public Radio and Garrison Keilor decided to call Dr. Lynn Rogers to inquire if the warm Minnesota winter is causing any confusion for the bears in their dens. Dr. Rogers was excited to announce that one of the bears is about to bear cubs. Now there's a sentence that will confuse anyone who reads English as a second language. You can watch the bears from anywhere via web cam. Go to www.bear.org and if you want to see the new Mama click on Jewel's bear cam. You can see this at any time of the day because the bear den is lit with subdued light .

Bears may not be what others associate with Minnesota. By the time one gets about 50 miles north of the Twin Cities, there are signs in the rest stops cautioning visitors to dispose of their trash correctly so it doesn't attract bears!

One of the funniest stories I've heard -- a work colleague was describing camping with his father somewhere in northern Minnesota. During the night something rolled into him and had quite a body odor. He thought his father really needed to find a shower. That is, until next morning when he walked around the tent and noticed the indentation in the soil next to the tent and realized he had been snuggled next to a bear for most of the night!

Update on January 22 -- Jewel delivered what is believed to be two cubs on this date. The web cam is still there, but the video from January 22 may be found on You Tube. 

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Crashed Ice

 Update: The finasl of Crashed Ice being held on this evening, January 14, will be broadcast on NBC sometime  on  January 21.

Today I had a meeting in Minneapolis and in driving back from it debated which freeway exit to take. Decided to take the Marion/Kellogg exit. Big mistake. I ended up in the traffic jam associated with Crashed Ice. I forgot it started today.

Never heard of Crashed Ice? It's a fairly new sport and this is another event sponsored by Red Bull.

Here is the city promo video for it.

I'm not going -- the crowds are immense. And due to the warm weather we've been having, the event planners had to refrigerate the track to keep it from melting. Today the weather changed -- great for Crashed Ice -- not good for a long walk. The temperature all day was around 12 F (which I think is about -12 C -- hey that's an easy one to remember). And the wind is really blowing -- up to 40 mph -- which makes it seem even colder. I'm planning some different activities for the next couple of days!

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Museum Weekend

My daughter was asked to help with a funeral on Saturday afternoon, and so asked me if I would take care of my younger granddaughter while she did that. We walked down to the Science Museum. It was mobbed. I guess I usually go there on a weekday and didn't realize how crowded it would be on a Saturday afternoon. I'm a member there, and so it was just a case of getting our admission bracelets.

In the hallway outside the museum my granddaughter noticed a poster advertising a pirate exhibit coming up and called the pirate a monster. Then inside the museum she looked above and saw a pterodactyl skeleton. She called that a monster too. I told her it was a special kind of dinosaur, not a monster. Later in the museum she saw a skeleton of a cat, and proudly pointed out a "dinosaur" to me. She enjoyed jumping on the musical stairs. She liked the polar bear display -- a six foot bear didn't bother her one bit, but she was frightened of fur and animal skins on a table. Rubbing rocks was a good idea. Above she is enjoying working with puzzles. Then she asked to see the "duck book." In the book she found a frog and enjoyed making frog noises. Then she told me told frogs were green, and pointed to my sweater and told me it was frog green. She was right. Perhaps the best exhibit was a display of objects (now thoroughly cleaned) that had been found in the waste water treatment plant -- in other words, things that had gone down the toilet! Each is given a fun scientific name. My granddaughter said "pacifer," but the the label for this object is pacificus infantus!  I'm most amused by a set of dentures. Losing them must have spoiled someone's day.

Today I went to The Museum of Russian Art.
If you think this building doesn't look very Russian, you are right. It is a re-use of a church, built in the 1920s in a very Spanish style because that type of architecture was a particular favorite of the then pastor. When the church outgrew this space, it became a puzzle of what to do with the building. Turning it into this museum is a wonderful idea. The large spaces provide wonderful display areas.

I wanted in particular to see the exhibit related to Ukrainian artifacts.  Years ago in Los Angeles  I had seen a display of Scythian gold and wondered if this would be with this exhibit. Yes, it was. The photo below shows some of it.
This display begins with pottery from the Trypilian culture -- from about 7000 BC. This group of farmers and craftsmen and women -- because I bet women made some of this pottery-- made beautiful pots for their every day storage needs.

There is also a display from Cimmerian culture -- by this time bronze was known and so the objects are bronze. I was intrigued to learn that the Crimea area of the Ukraine takes its name from this culture.

As things go more modern -- only 400 BC to 400 AD, I found two little bulls' heads. They are very much like the bulls head motif seen in Pecs.

I'm enjoying what I find that is the same and what is different between the various Central European countries.

Two levels of the museum right now are devoted to the work of Oleg Vassiliev. He is considered to one of the most prominent members of the non-comformist art movement that came to fruition in the time between Stalin's death and the collapse of the Soviet Union. This group of artist broke from Soviet realism which demanded a display of ideology in art; the non-comformists tried to produce art that portrayed different ideas or messages. It is a real treat to have the Russian Museum in our community because we can see things such as this so easily -- and art that never before has been on display in other parts of the United States.

I particularly liked the above painting, titled A Misty Morning, Prokrovsk Boulevard. It made me think of walking on the Szetar in Pecs. Vassiliev is a very prolific and talented artist -- doing everything from these paintings to illustrations in children's books. I also enjoyed a series of engravings, too, called Moscow Metro. These are totally in black and white and show scenes one might see in a subway system. I don't think I would have enjoyed or understood these engravings like I did had I not ridden the Budapest Metro so many times. A great afternoon at the TMORA!

Friday, January 6, 2012

Where I've Been

Thought I had done a lot of traveling, but there still is a lot of the world to explore!

Before and After

I got a new car in October, but kept that news out of the social media because I wished to surprise people for the next few weeks. With a new car comes the moment when there is a "ding" of some sort, usually when someone bangs a car door into your car in a parking lot. I put all the protection I could think of on this car, including service to fix little "dings" like that.

Well, the first "ding" was a big one. On December 20 I was in the midst of the Christmas shopping and other preparations. I had been to the library, to the Good Will, and done some shopping and decided to finish the afternoon by going to Lund's to get some groceries and also another box of Christmas cards. The traffic was terrible, stop and go, stop and go, and now after 5 PM it was very dark. All of a sudden I found myself driving into the rear of the car in front of me.(In the middle of the night after this event, I woke up thinking: I never saw the brake lights. I truly think the car's brake lights didn't work, but after the event there was no way to prove that.)

We found a safe place to park after the Big Bang (I do like the TV program by that name, much better than hearing one!) snd exchanged information. I finished my shopping and got myself home.

Here's how the car looked:

Notice the hood now doesn't align with the rest of the car.
I left a message with my insurance agent the evening this happened and was in the office early the next morning. You can see the front of the car didn't look too good.

I elected to use a different body service than I have before, and I'm so very glad. Everything for fixing it went very smoothly. I took it to the "car hospital" on December 28 and got it back yesterday.

Here's how it looks now!
When I took the wrecked car for the estimate, the man helping me laughed and said, "You  managed to do this with only 1801 miles!?!" Then he pointed to the frame around the front license plate and said, "Do you see that frame with the dealer's name?" Yes. "Well, when you get this back it will be just like a new car only you won't have that frame." I told him I certainly could live without the license frame -- and he was right -- The car even smells like a new car. This is the most I've ever smashed up a car in more than 50 years of driving. The insurance agent was quite nice, and I can't say enough good words about the body shop! They even took it to their mechanical shop and recharged the air conditioner. Oh, and by the way, while the impact bar was kaput after the Big Bang, it did it's job. No one was hurt in this accident.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

January Summer

In my December 6 blog entry I showed the snow covered bench on the nearby overlook for the Mississippi River and noted no one would be sitting on it very soon. Well was I wrong!
Here's  how the bench looked on January 2 and there is even less snow today, a day when the temperature is showing to be +8 (Celsius), 46 (Fahrenheit). The snow out the window looks as if it is March and spring has arrived.

Yesterday during a walk I thought the river really looked like a summer day.

The tiny bit of ice in a quiet place looked very scenic.
I liked how a nearby fence on some steps to a condo were glistening in the late afternoon sun. The glow comes from water, not ice.
Now why am I speaking about yesterday and a couple of days previously. Well, I came back feeling happy after a nice walk and cappuccino and found my laptop had blown up while I was gone. It appears the battery has died, but I think there is something wrong with the operating system too because it will not operate well using electrical power directly.

I tooled around on the Internet for a bit and found battery failure is quite common with the type of computer I had, I explored ordering one online, but decided instead to go shopping. So this blog entry comes from a brand new computer. Got home around 7 PM last evening and started the process of re-installing all the necessary software. Tomorrow I will tackle the old laptop to see if I can recover and move some necessary Word files. Life stays exciting -- but I'm very grateful that in the midst of this I wasn't dealing with snow and ice at the same time.

Monday, January 2, 2012

The Technology Generation

My daughter and the grand-kids stopped by for a few minutes. They came prepared. My daughter brought her laptop so she could ride on my Wi-Fi and work on Facebook for a bit. My little granddaughter had her cell phone.
My grandson had his nose glued to his DVD player.

My older granddaughter had her was enjoying using her I-Touch on my Wi-Fi, too.
The art of conversation certainly has disappeared during the past decade.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Snap, Crackle, Pop!

When I looked out the window this morning I found a small bit of snow had arrived. All I had noticed during the night was the howl of the wind.

This is the type of snow that makes the railroad tank cars look as if someone had dropped cake frosting on them.

No need really to plow for this small amount of snow, but the temperature was just right for turning it to a form of crunchy ice. Every car that went by on the street below my window produced the Snap, Crackle, Pop! So that's how New Year's Day was celebrated in this corner of Minnesota.