Friday, January 31, 2014

Start of a Disney Adventure

This morning my older daughter and I left for Disney. My new building is one block from a light rail station, but alas the light rail does not begin running until June 14. So I booked the Super Shuttle.

I found a lot of reviews online very negative of Super Shuttle, but I have no complaints about this trip. Within three minutes of the pick-up time I got a phone call from driver. His GPS had taken him to the 11th Street side of the building while I was at the main entrance on the 10th Street side. I asked him to come around to the 10th Street side and shortly we were on our way.

At the MSP Airport I found the G concourse very changed from my last trip through there coming home from Poland. All the restaurants there now have IPad menus, including the ability to send the receipt to one's e-mail address. But I found there is hardly any sit down space left on the G concourse that is not associated with restaurant seating. Very little space to sit down and wait to board a plane.

Our trip to Orlando was uneventful, but a long three hours in some ways and a bit bumpy for the last 10 minutes. Finally we were to the tram area that moves passengers from the gates to the main terminal.

I think this has been remodeled since I was here last year. But boy! was I confused. I couldn't figure out where we to stand to board the tram. Across the area where it seemed the doors would be a belt preventing entry. Now for some reason, a person must remove all these belts before entry. I wasn't the only passenger grumbling about this new feature.

We took a long walk to Disney's Magic Express and were directed to Bus 48. I was surprised to see the video one watches on the bus while traveling to the resorts has been totally changed to one for adult passengers. All the info is primarily about how to use the new Disney app, which I wasn't successful using before my trip. Everytime I went to use it on either my smart phone or computer I got a message saying that servers were too busy to help me. So I arrived without any advance plans being made. And I can't believe that much in advance anyone will know exactly what hour of the day he/she/family wishes to ride a ride! Connecting Fast Pass to 60 days advance planning  doesn't seem logical to me. I think it will lead to all the Fast Passes being gone and yet the people holding them won't be showing up. We'll see what our experience is when we arrive in a park.

We each got a Magic Band. This serves as the key to open the hotel door, to charge for purchases and as our park ticket. I had a problem opening the hotel door. Couldn't make it work attached to my wrist, but it worked just fine when I took it off and pressed it against the door locking mechanism.

After checking in we went to Olivia's restaurant and had a sandwich. After that we went to the General Store and got some orange juice for breakfast. Then we went to the Bell Station and asked for a ride to our room. I do not like wandering around a resort in the dark trying to find a room. Life will be much clearer tomorrow morning in the daylight!

Our luggage arrived about three hours after our arrival at the airport. I do like this luggage service very much. I put on the Magic Express tags at home, take the luggage to the airport and check it in like usual, and then it magically appears later in the hotel room.

So we are off to an adventure and definitely out of winter for a few days.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Century Link Finally Figured It

After many phone calls to Century Link about discontinuing my internet service when I moved,  and then numerous postal mail exchanges and e-mails again, I got an e-mail today that someone reviewed my file and found the service was discontinued! For a technology communication company, it certainly doesn't know how to use computer records and technological supported communications.

They have acknowledged they in fact owe me a refund rather than more bills!

I started writing about Century Link in my blog and on Facebook, for while in the midst of this problem I found a post from someone who said the problem got quickly solved when he/she started to proclaim the problem on social media! Well in addition I found that one state alone has about 5000 complaints in its Better Bureau Services about Century Link's lack of competence in billing! In my last correspondence I said, "Fix it or I'm taking complaints to the Better Business Bureau and the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission." Nice to finally be done with moving.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

The Start of Winter Carnival

Friday afternoon was actually a time when the temperature was in the mid 20s (20F = -6 C). I decided it was a good time for walk to see what was happening with Winter Carnival. Walked first to the bagel shop and enjoyed a bagel and coffee, sort of like lunch.

Then I continued along 7th Place where I found an ice carving honoring the Minnesota Wild.

Over at Rice Park I found people enjoying hot dogs.

Rice Park also had this ice sculpture in front of Landmark Center.

Opposite this is the Ice Bar.
Thursday, the day before my walk, had been a dreadfully cold day and so the major ice carving competition was just getting underway. The day before would not have been a safe day to be out.

Here is a video that shows more about how this done.

Usually I have a problem getting to the ice sculptures before they melt! This year, polar vortex winter, that is not a problem. The next two days are not to have any temperatures warmer than -10 degrees (-23C).

Learning about Prohibition

In a recent posting I mentioned going to Minnesota History Center. The reason for that visit was to see the exhibit about Prohibition and then to attend a concert by the Rose Ensemble featuring songs about drinking and songs against drinking alcohol.(Note: the program for the Rose Ensemble carries a message to the audience that alcoholism is not a joke or should not be belittled, but that we should know about the culture associated with drinking and not drinking,)

Prohibition started started in the United States on January 20, 1920. The starting date was one year after the 18th constitutional amendment was passed by a state. That required 36 states to adopt the amendment and Nebraska became the 36th state on January 19, 1919. Minnesota became the 37th on January 20, 1919. The gap of a year was necessary in order to enact the legislation to regulate Prohibition.

This legislation was commonly known as the Volstead Act, named after a Republican member of the House of Representatives who came from southwest Minnesota. The Volstead Act made it illegal to manufacture, transport, or sell liquor, but it was not illegal to drink liquor.This Minnesota connection has always made Prohibition of special topic in history in Minnesota.

Also much to surprise of many, illegal liquor included beer and wine, except for sacramental wine. The inclusion of beer and wine into prohibition came as a surprise to many that had favored its enactment.

The cry for Prohibition had been building for years. One exhibit shows how much alcohol Americans drank is 1830.

 What is never mentioned when the amount of alcohol is discussed is that beer, wine, and cider were consumed because water was not safe and a huge source of illness. Public health history is full of stories about how hard it was to convince public officials to establish safe water systems and at least in the Midwest United States this did not really start until the early 20th century.

The exhibit included a growler.

 A growler was used to carry beer home from the saloon or would also we used by workmen to take beer to work. Lard was smeared on the side to control the foaming of the beer and thus increase the amount of beer that could be purchased and carried.

Another thing I didn't know is that a major political effort in front of prohibition was the establishment of income tax -- for something had to replace the revenue from alcohol tax.

One of the early proponents of Prohibition was the Women's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU).

At this time women did not have the right to vote in the United States, and the women associated with this movement quickly figured out they would have no political power unless they could vote. Thus women's suffrage quickly became linked with the Prohibition question.

 At least in Minnesota the WCTU also advocated for kindergartens and other progressive social changes. This movement from being a one-issue organization led to the development of the Anti-Saloon League. Prohibition was all the Anti-Saloon League wanted and as the exhibit says, the Anti-Saloon League made strange bedfellows in this effort.

One group with which the Anti-Saloon League joined was the Nativists. That is what anti-immigration folks were called then.

In case the print is too small, it says Prohibition, in the view of the Nativists, would make life less comfortable for the Germans, Irish, Italians, and Jews. An equably coalition, in my way of thinking, was made with the Ku Klux Klan.

The most famous person from this Anti-Saloon League is Carrie Nation. She was from Kansas and threw bricks through the windows of saloons and used a hatchet to break up the bars inside the building.

The sign under the picture says she had the muscles of a stevedore, the face of prison warden, and the persistence of a toothache.

Well, as noted above, with the use of a lot of political persuasion and dirty politics which makes the present era look almost innocence, Prohibition passed. It is said, using great alliteration, that the only people happy were the Baptists and the Bootleggers.

Near here was a little game to play to learn if one knew how Prohibition worked. Not the best video I've ever done but it's hard to shoot a video and play a game at the same time!

 The next part of this exhibit introduces one to the speakeasy -- the place where one went to drink -- remember drinking wasn't illegal. I also learned that up to this time the Minnesota Highway Patrol only made sure things were safe on the roads and the troopers were also there to help stranded motorists.

Prohibition turned this patrol and probably many in other states into law enforcement agencies.

And there was plenty to do in Minnesota. This state had many German immigrants who knew how to make good beer, it had lots of good water, it had lots of good corn to make moonshine, and a rather impervious border with Canada where Prohibition was not in place.

Rather quickly there was a cry to end Prohibition, but for awhile no one believed that could be possible. Then suddenly in the early 1930s it was all gone. Why? This is my explanation, not a historians. The economic depression that began in 1929 led to a sudden drop in income and equal drop in income tax and snap! bang! Prohibition was gone.

States retained a right to make laws about liquor and many of them remained "dry." Kansas, the home of Carrie Nation, was a dry state for a long time. I remember once flying on plane between Minnesota and Texas and the flight attendants stopping serving drinks while in "Kansas air space."

Here are a couple of funny examples shown in the exhibit.

Woe to anyone who used swear words in a North Carolina bar.

Apparently this law is still in effect -- has anyone seen liquor advertisement in California that are gaudy?

The Rose Ensemble concert was held in an auditorium in the History Center. As were welcomed at the ticket desk, each was given a drink holder with this insignia:

The Rose Ensemble is noted for presentation of early classical music so this concert is quite a departure from its usual repertoire. The musicians don't just stand there and sing. Some songs are presented by all, some are presented by a soloist, and some by 2-3 musicians. They are accompanied by a piano, guitar and bass.

The first act was presented in late 19th century costume, the 2nd act is 1920s clothing.

One song I enjoyed was Bevo.

The title is a play on words for the slavic word, piwo, meaning beer.

I couldn't quite figure what would be the Minnesota Battle Hymn. Well, like this:

Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Glory, glory, hallelujah! Minn-e-sota shall by dry.

I didn't know Irving Berlin wrote songs from the genre. One is "I'll See You in C-U-B-A." Apparently the fashionable went to Cuba for legal drinking vacations.

The last song presented was the Modranska Polka, commonly called in the Midwest as the Beer Barrel Polka. I've known this song all my life. I found one of the musicians and told her I had heard this song being played in the Rynek in Warsaw last summer. She thanked me for sharing that and went on to say that for anyone in the Midwest the Beer Barrel Polka is in our genes.

A great afternoon and evening at the History Center.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Problems with Century Link

Before I moved my Internet and TV services were provided by Century Link, which brought out Qwest which was the provider when I moved into the building where this was the only option.

In October before moving I contacted Century Link about discontinuing services and was told that I could only do that within 30 days of the move. So in late November I called back again. Century Link representatives assured me that the service would be discontinued on December 16. I unplugged the modem and moved it in a box. Soon I received all the instructions for returning the modem to Century Link to some office in Kansas.

Now I'm getting repeated contacts to pay a bill for service from January 16- February 2. This makes no sense.

When one searches on the Internet it becomes easy to find thousands of complaints about Century Link's billing service including more than 1000 complaints filed against Century Link with the Better Business Bureau.

One person said the problem went away when the problem got into social media, so I'm writing about this company here as well as on Facebook.

The TV part of this service was Direct TV and I have nothing but good things to say about that side of the service. They did everything I asked in a very timely and professional fashion.

But the Internet side of Century Link -- watch out. 

Thursday, January 23, 2014

A Picture Made of Pictures

On Tuesday I went to the Minnesota History Center and I will write more about the primary reason in a future blog posting. But first, a Pictures Made of Pictures.

Every Minnesotan knows about the Split Rock Lighthouse. It is located north of Duluth, about halfway between there and the Canadian border. But since most readers of this blog aren't from Minnesota, click here to find out more about this famous place. Have I been there! Of course, many times.

What took my eye at the Minnesota History Center was this picture that looks like a mosaic of the lighthouse.

Below is a view of just a portion.

Reading the signs by the picture I discovered the mosaic is made out of photos taken by hundreds, if not thousands, of people of the lighthouse and its surrounding area. These photos all were found on the Flicker site.

What a cool idea!

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Shipping Days and Cookies

I do volunteer work with an organization based here in the Twin Cities called Mano a Mano. Click here to learn more what this fine organization does to make life better for the people, largely those who live in poverty, in Bolivia.

One huge effort of this organization is collection of good, usually new, supplies that U. S. health organizations throw away or supplies that people have had in their homes and no longer can be returned to any health organization in the U.S. Mano a Mano collection area is primarily only the Twin Cities area and that area produces a huge immense of materials that can be used in Bolivia.

What do I mean by throw away supplies? Well, if a tray is opened in a health organization and perhaps only one 4x4 gauze pad is used, everything else on the tray, brand new and unused, is discarded. All around the Twin Cities are caring people who collect these type of materials and set it aside for pick-up. Other volunteers drive to these organizations and pick up the supplies and bring them to the Mano a Mano warehouse. The picture below shows volunteers unloading a small van.

This results in a mass of materials that looks like this.

This ends up looking like this. Other volunteers come in and sort the materials into groups such as bed linens or wound dressing supplies.

Then several times a year comes the shipping time.

Large containers are trucked in. Volunteers come in to load the containers. The group below is working with large objects such as crutches, wheel chairs, and furniture which do not lend themselves being placed into small boxes.

Small boxes are placed on pallets and then wrapped in plastic before shipping. Then the pallet is placed in the container using a fork lift.

And when the container is full it starts on its way to the warehouse in Cochabamba, Bolivia where the supplies are unloaded, re-sorted, and then distributed out to health organizations.

Now about the cookies in the title. My volunteer job is to make cookies for the volunteer coffee breaks. Today the temperature was 9 degrees (-12 C) when I left for warehouse. As you might expect, it is not warm in the warehouse. The volunteers are  working in their winter clothes and after a couple of hours of work they really need a coffee break.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

It's Not Cookie Cutter

Stainless steel appliances and granite counter tops-- the call for every new construction done recently in the United States. And if one watches HGTV programs often people walk into a place and complain it's "cookie cutter." Let me translate this complaint to my readers in other countries.When baking sweets, a cookie cutter is used to make every cookie the same shape and size. It's "cookie cutter" means people think every house or apartment looks like everyone in the area.

I have recently moved and was surprised by decor. Never thought to ask when considering this move and it's definitely not cookie cutter!

Well balconies are not unique, but I like this recent view of mine. One can tell the snowfall came without wind by the snow is piled up on the tiny railings. Once in awhile we've had enough warm weather that some of the snow has melted on the balcony floor that I know what it looks like, but I haven't stepped out yet since my move in mid-December.

I was walking back on Tuesday and had to wait out front a few minutes because there was a cherry picker -- a slang name for equipment that allows workers and supplies to be moved up high -- operating out in the front. The workers were busy inserting new panels over the front door. It has rows of LED lights which unfortunately don't show up well in this photo.

But wait --look at the benches in the front.

Below is a view of the almost completed concierge desk.

When my younger daughter came to visit she noticed the rack in the back and asked, "You have bellhops here?" No, we don't but these are the very nice carts we have to moving packages and groceries up to our apartments.

Above is the decor on the sixth floor lobby areas, the floor on which I live.

On the other hand, the 2nd floor lobby area looks like this. The wall goes with the flooring on the sunken living rooms which are a feature of the 2nd floor apartments.

Here is the full kitchen in the clubroom area, an area which is not yet quite completed. This room has a mirror on the ceiling as well as a mirror on the south wall. The north wall opens out over the courtyard area where the swimming pool is located.

I live opposite the clubroom. The balcony on the left on the top floor is mine. The brown structure on the lower left is part of the "cabana" area. I can't quite figure out how this will work yet, but spring will come soon and then we will see how this all works out.

And to make sure we don't get complacent with the gray and red colors about, here's the 10th Street lobby-- the front door to the building -- in aqua blue!

So it's definitely not cookie cutter. There is something to see everywhere!

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

There's Bureaucracy Here Too -- both Public and Private

I often see complaints from those that live in Central Europe about the left over communist/socialist bureaucracy. Well, it's alive and well in the United States too.

I needed to change my postal address with the Social Security office. I tried several times to do this online without any luck. So since the office is only about 10 minute walk away I decided to just walk there yesterday. 

I also needed to start exploring how to get around in Saint Paul skyway system, too. 

I haven't been using the skyway much since leaving a job located in the downtown area about 12 years ago. I figured some things may have changed.

For those who live elsewhere, a skyway, as pictured above, is a way to move through the whole city center without going outside. The skyway usually is on the 2nd level, in some buildings on the 3rd level. I walked 2 blocks -- the building where I live is not connected to the skyway -- and entered in a parking ramp (called a parking garage in most other parts of the United States) where I used to park. Yes, this skyway works. I found some things the same as I walked and other things new. I ended up near a restaurant where I'm meeting for lunch tomorrow.

Then I walked outside about one block to the Social Security office. From a kiosk I took a number and waited my turn. When I was able to work with a clerk, I told him I simply wanted to change my postal address. He told me I had to wait again for someone else to help me.

After about 10 minutes, I was called and taken to a station where there were two computer monitors. There is no way to change one's postal address except by creating a My Account with Social Security and then changing the profile.

So we started on the My Account process, and predictably we got stuck. The person helping me disappeared for about five minutes and then came back to enter an authentication code. Don't know why I wasn't "authentic." After that we got it done easily. Hope I don't have to do this again any time soon.

So then it was outside and across the street and back into the skyway. As I started back to my apartment I discovered there wasn't any line at all at the Four Inns Restaurant.

I used to eat lunch here when I worked in the downtown area. The last time I walked by this restaurant the line was at least 20 people long -- no line today, Hurrah!

The food is good Midwestern dishes. I simply had a grilled cheese sandwich and a Diet Coke. The service is always excellent.

The decor is maybe a bit 1970s.
 Then down the skyway to parking ramp, down on the elevator to the street and two blocks back home.

Just another day with bureaucracy!

But before I close, maybe Century Link actually wins the bureaucracy prize. Dealing with that company during my move was full of useless phone calls -- useless because they would tell me at the end of October to call back in December. I wondered why a company such as this doesn't have a computer system that can remember anything.

The service for Internet and Direct TV were both discontinued on December 16. I received the mailing label for returning the modem and did that on December 27, but Century Link still sent me a paperbill for another month of service for both Internet for February 2014!!!. I put that bill in the recycling!!! Then a bill for the coming month for both internet and Direct TV arrived in my electronic account with my credit union, so I deleted Century Link as a payee on my electronic account. Then today I get an e-mail from Century Link saying they can no longer electronic bill me! But I still haven't received the shipping label for the satellite receiver so I suppose I have to tackle this company once again.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Life During Roller-Coaster Weather

We are having roller-coaster weather. Tomorrow is supposed to be colder than anytime in the past 17 years. All schools, K-12, are closed in Minnesota tomorrow, January 6. I looked at the closings on a web site and 3 universities in the Twin Cities are also closed tomorrow.

Yesterday was a bit warm, + 15 (-9 C). Ever since moving, my stapler has been empty and I have no idea what is the good place I put a box of staples. I decided it would be easier simply to get a new box of staples rather than to keep searching. So I took for a walk to a nearby shop. I put on a polar fleece shirt and then a winter coat.

The shop to which I was going is located along a pedestrian street plaza.
Along the side of the shop are four murals.

The murals are all fanciful representations of major landmarks in Saint Paul, but in some of the murals buildings are next to each other which in real life are several blocks apart.

By the time I walked back into my apartment I was sweating, but that won't happen anytime time soon!

Last evening I had been invited to supper gathering and was delighted when other guests e-mailed to ask if they could pick me up. Going out when the temperature is dropping is more fun when one is with others. The gathering was so much fun, but on the way back to our homes we noticed the temperature was now -7 F.

This morning the temperature was -10 (-23 C) when I left for church. I had volunteered to help with a re-gifting fundraiser. The idea is that we often receive gifts that don't fit or are not our style. Yet someone else might like the item. So today many brought items and next week we will sell them.

 The proceeds go to support the international service teams associated with my church.

After being done with this, I drove to the Science Museum, parked the car, and had lunch in the Elements Cafe there. About six weeks ago I had purchased a ticket for a performance at the nearby Ordway, envisioning that I would walk there from my new apartment, but the weather convinced me otherwise. I decided a 2 block walk was much better than a 10 block walk!

 Easy to see why no one was having lunch on the outdoor plaza. This is the first time I've ever eaten lunch here, and wow! the food is very good and quite reasonably priced.

Then it was time for the 2 block walk, and oh my! was it cold. There was a blustery west wind blowing.

The concert today was a Broadway Song Book featuring Gershwin music.

When I was about 10 years old one of my grandmothers gave me a record with Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue.

The idea of the song book series is that one learns about the composer as well as details about the songs. Things that surprised me -- Gershwin was well on the way to being a juvenile delinquent, when one day he was forced to attend a violin concert presented by a friend. He became mesmerized by music. Then shortly thereafter his family bought a piano -- and the rest is history. His brother, Ira, produced some lyrics under the name Arthur Frances, which is a combination of names from their younger two siblings.

The concert included very familiar songs such as "They Can't Take That Away From Me" and "Let's Call the Whole Thing Off." It also included some not so well known such as Vodka. I've never heard this one before. I can remember only one line: If I have a drink, I can't think.

The final song -- yes song-- was Rhapsody in Blue. About 20 years ago a lyricist put words to the concerto that tell the story of Gershwin's life. Another surprising fact: Paul Whitman published in the New York Times  on a January date that he was playing a Gershwin piano concerto in late February. That was the first time Gershwin heard about his writing a piano concerto. Whitman said he did it to challenge Gershwin, and we all know Gershwin did rise to the challenge. 

Back across to the Science Museum plaza again in the wind, and then home. So glad I decided to do it this way -- and since I'm a member of the Science Museum, the parking fee was discounted. Temperature back to -7 again when I got back to my building, only to discover someone in my parking place. Since the building is not 100% occupied I put my car elsewhere and hope it will be OK.

Temperature now 2 hours later as I write has dropped to  - 11 (-24C). By Tuesday things are to start being better -- weather-wise! I just know I'm not going outdoors anywhere tomorrow.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Not Much Happening

No adventures lately. Just trying to keep warm. But what warms my heart the very most is that there have now been 50,000 readers on my blog. Thank you, thank you.

Hopefully the Arctic air will leave Minnesota soon and life can become more fun!