Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Butterlies on New Year's Eve

I grew up on a farm in northern Iowa. One night when I was a high school student we had amazing visitors. Thousands of Monarch butterflies landed in our pine grove for a rest on their flight south. Thus, I have always had a special place in my heart for Monarch butterflies. So I was excited when I hear the Science Museum of Minnesota had a Butterfly House exhibit and also there was a film in the Omnitheater about Monarch butterflies. But I almost missed it with one thing and another happening during the fall. So this afternoon, New Year's Eve afternoon, my older daughter andI made a visit.

It was also my first trip out with a new camera. The camera I have used for about four years suddenly sounded like a car with a very bad transmission. So even though my checking account took a major hit this month, I went camera shopping. The sounds of the my old one made me think asking about repairing it would surely be asking a foolish question.

So here are my photos from the Butterfly House.

 I tried and tried to get a photo of a black and yellow butterfly, but none of them would cooperate. Then I found myself next to a young man holding one of these butterflies and he graciously allowed me to do this video.

We also went to the film in the OmniTheater. This film tells the story of Fred Urqhart. He became fascinated with the Monarch butterflies as a child in the Toronto, Canada area. He wondered where they spent their winter. And he spent his whole career along with his wife, Norah, finding the answer to this question.

The film is magnificent. It is amazing to see thousands of butterflies clinging to trees in Mexico.

If you have never heard about Urqhart, please read this Wikipedia entry

We had a great afternoon.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

A wonderful surprise

I have known a young woman in Poland for nearly 11 years. Recently on Facebook we have been planning for getting together when I'm in Poland in May. Then I saw she was in Florida but six weeks or so before my older daughter and I would be there. Then suddenly on Facebook I saw she was flying to Minneapolis! I wrote back, "Hey I'm in St. Paul." So we made plans to meet at the airport before she flew back to Poland.

Today the sun was shining, and in Minnesota that is a clue it's cold outside! Yes, the temp was around 0 when we went out the door to the Light Rail. Thankfully the walk is only one block and we waited only about 5 minutes for the next train. And we were lucky for the train transfer. We waited for 30 seconds!

After we got to the airport we waited for 10 minutes and then she was there with the host family. Her host family goes back for about 9 years or so when she came to Minnesota for a youth exchange.

We enjoyed a visit at the airport. I don't look elegant! It is a cold day, but this is first picture in years with no glasses! Had to leave the hat on, not elegant either, but because what we call head hair!

We hope to meet again in Warsaw in May!

Monday, December 29, 2014

A toy adventure

On Saturday my daughter and I went to the Minnesota History Center to see the Toy exhibit. It surely brought back memories.

To the left hand side of the entry hall I found Twister.

We actually have at least part of the game in the teaching resource room at Reymontowka, where I go to teach English in Poland. This May I am going a week early to search through all the teaching resources and determine whether we are missing parts of games such as this.

Just inside the door we found this pastel colored toy train. The sign said Lionel, a very famous toy train maker, produced this for girls. It was not a success. Girls wanted "a real train."

Above are the wooden blocks that every kid used to have.

And above is Roy Rogers and Trigger. Anybody reading this blog who also remembers this?

And it's "Howdy-Doody time, it's Howdy-Doody time."

The above is about the Mickey Mouse Club. I never could watch this on TV. It came on TV in the time zone in which I lived at 4 PM, but the school bus didn't get me home until 5 PM. I was so envious of my friends who lived in town and got home from school in time to watch this. Now when going to Disney World a bus driver will often start singing "M-I-C" and all the adults will starting singing the rest of the song, much to the amazement of the children who have no idea what the "old folks" are doing.

While not exactly a toy, I was glad to see the bubble lights on the Christmas tree. Anybody remember these?

Anybody remember Cootie? Yes, these were named after the word for lice used by World War I soldiers. What I didn't know is that first sales of this game came through the Dayton's Department stores in Minnesota. No other store was willing to take the chance. This got me thinking about whether I could use this game to teach English. Amazon sells this game, but my heavens there wasn't a positive review of the game now because of the cheap materials used to make the parts.

And below another Minnesota connection. 

The Tonka toys were/are made by a Minnesota company.

And of course any toy collection from the 20th century would have to have Barbie and Ken.

Not a very good picture but I wanted to include this. Diahann Carroll broke the color barrier on American television with her program, Julia.

And here are some quite primitive Snoopy figures. Charles Schultz, who created Snoopy and all his friends, came from Saint Paul, so of course these had to be in the collection.

Above is a totally plastic Mr. Potato Head game. The signs said this made it possible for the toy to back into the toy box and not become a rotten vegetable. I was trying to remember if I ever played this game using real vegetables or always with the plastic version.

Above are two unusual GI Joe figures. The one of the left is a Russian soldier and the one on the right is usual because it is an African-American soldier.

The Play School figures I knew about were always villages and farms, but I was not surprised to find out there was also a McDonald's in the group.

And of course Sesame Street figures.

Do you remember Star Wars?

 Since I had two daughters and four nieces, Star Wars was not around in our homes. But yes, we had Play-Doh.

I can't even guess how much of this I bought. And there used to be recipes for making this in cook books.

The exhibit closes with some of the first electronic learning toys.

We also enjoyed the Home exhibit. This is about one house in Saint Paul that ended housing 50 different families.

And we had a great time watching an African drum and dance group. But no pictures or videos, because alas my camera was dying! When I tried to download pictures it sounded like a car with a very bad transmission. The sound made me think it wasn't worth seeing if this camera could be repaired.

So today I went out to a good camera store and got a new Nikon. Interesting trying to figure out how to use a new camera after two cataract surgeries. Now I can see 2-3 kilometers out the window but reading a manual, not so good!

Sunday, December 21, 2014

A Holiday Tradition

I have had a the pleasure lately of receiving some e-mails from one of my former students at the Poland language camps in which I participate. Yesterday she inquired about Christmas Eve in the United States; I knew she was thinking about wigilia in Poland which features 12 traditional dishes. I replied that the United States is a very multicultural place, and there is no one way to celebrate the Christmas holiday.

I also remembered that one time when teaching the months of the year and important dates I asked the Polish kids what day was Christmas. They answered, much to surprise, December 24 because wigilia is such an important event. Every kid in the United States would answer December 25. I replied in my e-mail to this former student that an evening meal on Christmas Eve is often simple because many people, particularly with young children, attend early evening church services. For example, my church has Christmas Eve services at 4:00, 5:30, 7:00 and 10:00 PM. And in the United States kids who celebrate Christmas must go to bed early so that Santa Claus can bring gifts.

All of that is a long introduction to describing one holiday tradition for me. On the Saturday evening before Christmas all the choirs in my church participate in a concert. Everyone attending brings a bit of a treat for sharing after the concert.

We arrived early enough to see the children's choir practice.

We means my older daughter and me.

Then evening begins with a carol sing. The director for this session has a great way to manage this. He asks for example, for someone wearing glasses to choose a song. The songs are both traditional Christmas songs such as Silent Night, but also secular songs such as Silver Bells.

Then each of the choirs presents several songs.

Here is the adult choir.

Also participating were the Women's Ensemble and the Unity Singers. The three choirs are open to anyone who wants to sing. The Unity Singers is an audition only group. There are 16 of them and they sing a Capella. The voices must blend together and that is why it is an audition only group.

As the groups were getting up and down, the audience sang a Christmas carol.

The music director said there were 150 people participating in the concert. That is about 10% of my church's membership.

After the concert it was time to eat.

There were three tables such as this lined with holiday goodies.

Here's what my plate looked like:

I heard a lot of conversation that went something like this: "Oh yum, but what is this?" as people tried to identify an unfamiliar flavor.

Hope you enjoyed a peek at one holiday tradition.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Flowers in December

Today I spend a bit of time at the Conservatory at St. Paul's Como Park. About two years ago at this time I was there for a taste-testing for my daughter's wedding reception. Last year at this time I was moving and overwhelmed with all the work for that right on top of the holidays.

The food is good there so I decided to go for lunch.

I ordered the pulled pork sandwich and was not disappointed.

Following lunch I went looking for the flowers.

The first room one enters in the Conservatory is the Fern Room. A sign there explains there are no flowers because ferns grow from spores not seeds.

A door from this room leads to the orchid room, not open to the public.

This interested me because recently I have been reading my way through the Nero Wolf mystery stories written by Rex Stout. Anyone familiar with these books knows that Wolf spends 9-11 AM and 4-6 PM with his orchids. Thus it was fun to see a place like this.

Next I went to the Sunken Garden, which is all decked out with poinsettias. But they were not all red.

Here are three varieties pictured with their names.

In real life this variety appeared to have a more yellow color than shown by this photo, but truly I've never seen poinsettias like this before.

The flower above has the traditional colors.

This one made me smile and I think turns out to be the favorite variety.

Peeking out from a bench were some paper white narcissus.

 To me these are a sign of spring, which is a difficult concept to put together with Christmas flowers.

Next I walked to the North Garden.

Here I found many beautiful orchids on display, such as shown below.

Above if a view of the pond in this room.

I spent some time in the gift shop too, but didn't part with any money. However, I did find some good puzzles I might use next summer when teaching English in Poland.

Probably next month some afternoon I'll go back and walk through the zoo. For today a nice lunch and lovely flowers were quite enough.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

A Summer Day in December

Today the temperature was 45 F (7 C). That makes this day nearly 60 degrees warmer than the -20 F (-29 C) we had at this time last year! That is why I call this a summer day.

The first event of the day was picking up my older daughter, who lives in a group home elsewhere in Saint Paul. She had a haircut appointment at 11:30. then we went for lunch. Our restaurant choice put us in the Highland Park neighborhood where I used to live. Neither of us had been in the recently renovated Highland Park Public Library since it had re-opened.

It is the most used branch library in Saint Paul and was really showing its age -- its 1970s design and too small for the number of patrons that use it now. It also was not exactly accessible if one needed to use a wheel chair. And the lack of accessibility became more difficult over time. When I first moved to St. Paul I had a broken leg in a cast and had a temporary handicapped parking permit. That is when I started to use this library because it was very accessible. But had I tried to do the same even one year ago it would have been much more difficult.

Wow! that's are our conclusion now that we have seen the renovated library.

First it is totally accessible and the architecture has been changed to the 21st century. The picture  to the right is of the computer lab/internet area. For readers in other countries -- internet cafes never really caught on in the United States. And now in countries where one used to find them they are disappearing because of the widespread availability of Wi-Fi. However, public libraries provide computers and internet services for patrons are part of the mission to provide information services to patrons. In addition there were many tables in the library with good electrical connections where one could bring a personal computer and work there, using the library's Wi-Fi connection.

The picture to the left is the start of the children's area. This shows some of the 21st century design.

Another thing I liked is a Teen Express area. This area has tables teens and young adults may use for studying and internet access, along with the book collection for this age group.

We came back to my apartment and relaxed for bit. Then we went downstairs to the Lund's market to get some vegetables for supper. Much to my delight I found my favorite black current sparkling water on sale for 99 cents rather than the usual price of $3.00. This is part of the 12 Days of Christmas sale and I'm going to go down again in the morning to see if it is still that price.

Then my granddaughter who theoretically lives with me -- I say theoretically because she spends a great deal of time with her boyfriend's family -- showed up to report she had just come from urgent care where she was found to have a lung infection. After resting for a bit she decided she wanted to meet a friend at the skating area. So we walked over there.

On the way we passed the Fitzgerald Theater decked out with holiday colors rather than usual purple.
 The skating area was busy on this "summer" evening.

From here we also saw what has become the traditional candle on the side of the Lawson Building.

Rice Park is glowing with lights.

We walked over to in front of the Central Library to get a good view of the Christmas Tree.

We went to take a better look at the trees along the garden area of the St.Paul Hotel.

Walking back home we got a very good view of the Capitol.

All in all it was a great "summer" day in December.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Global Volunteers Gala

Last evening, December 6, was the 30th anniversary celebration of the founding of Global Volunteers. This was celebrated with Gala, held at the Crown Plaza Hotel in Saint Paul. I perhaps might be the person attending who lived the closest. I walked one block to the 10th Street Station of the light rail, rode 3 minutes to the next stop, and then walk 1.5 blocks to the hotel. So much fun to get somewhere like this and not have to look for or pay for a parking space!

I found many people already having great conversations.

I had volunteered to be a greeter. And a very good thing the planning committee had thought about this as the ground floor of the hotel now is under renovation. The hotel staff was also very helpful in giving arriving people directions to the area for the gala. I enjoyed my greeting "shift" very much as I shared it with the country manager from Peru and the country manager from China.

At 6 PM I was "free" and spent some time looking at the items that had been brought from around the world for a silent auction.

Above is a magnificent chess set that I had carried back from Poland. Below is a Polish napkin holder. I was pleased to learn that the chess set sold for a very good price.

Here are some plates from Romania.

There were also some very some very American things on the tables for the silent auction.

There were also items on display for a live auction.

One splendid thing was a black pearl brought by the country manager from the Cook Islands.

 My photo really doesn't really show off this beautiful jewel at its very best.

While walking around I was approached by a staff person who asked if I had seen my pictures on the anniversary web site. This was a great surprise to me. I knew I had prepared something but never found it on the web when I clicked on the anniversary link on the home page of the Global Volunteers page. So this morning I googled for Global Volunteers anniversary page and arrived here.

I believe the statements on the above page appear at random. You will find one written under my name. Another is written by Brenda Pearson. I've been on two teams with Brenda and enjoy working with her very much.

Another is written by Zygmunt Wielogorski. For many years he has been the Governor of the County of Siedlce, which is the host organization for Global Volunteers in Poland. I have just learned that he will be leaving this position, retiring from this public office.

Another thing I was pleased to do at the Gala was to carry the Hungarian flag. I did not do the Global Volunteers program in Hungary, but was privileged to have a Fulbright experience there. This I was very happy to carry the Hungarian flag.

The photo below was taken by Lynn Paitakes Lokowitctz. 

The photographer above took this photo to note the passage of the flag for Greece. I just happened to be right behind with the Hungarian flag.

The rest of evening was full of good conversation, good food, interesting videos. All in all it was a good celebration.