Tuesday, May 26, 2015

America Observes Memorial Day

Wood Cemetery began with Civil War Soldier burials in 1871
Since I'm a veteran, I feel the importance of remembering the people I served with who are no longer around.  I think of the loss we all feel because they weren't around to have children, become civilians, create lives that may have been linked with ours.  It's also my birthday weekend and I feel incredibly blessed every year I get to celebrate, and wish they were here for birthday cake too.

This year for Memorial Day, we went to a unique memorial called High Ground.  It's near Neillsville, WI, and was started around 1984 by an individual who suffered a great loss during Vietnam.  You can read more about him at the website.  If you didn't know it was there, you probably wouldn't even stop.  But don't make that mistake.  It has monuments to many conflicts and wars, with an ongoing fundraising campaign for the next memorial to the Persian Gulf War. There are bricks throughout the grounds with names of people, organizations, and families who support veterans or have lost a loved one. You can find a comfortable bench for prayer and meditation.  Maybe you prefer to take a walk on the 4 miles of trails.  Be sure to read the stones and pick up an audio tour device for more information about the memorials.

This year commemorates the 50th anniversary of the beginning of the Vietnam War, and High Ground received a Motorcycle Honor Ride.  Though it was a rainy morning, it turned into a beautiful afternoon as the motorcycles arrived from around the state and rode through a reception area of flags and clapping people.  Every veteran was thanked and received a red ribbon.  You could have lunch before the ceremony where names were read for those from Wisconsin who were killed in action/Missing in action during Vietnam & Korea. The written program included a listing of all killed during Desert Storm, Iraq, and Afghanistan.  It was much longer than I expected. I'll share some photos I took.
A replica liberty bell everyone is encouraged to ring
to remember to let freedom ring

This memorial has the names of all those killed
hanging under the poncho

Motorcycles rode through applause and flags

Carnations on the seats for participants

Part of the High Grounds with the Visitor Center behind

Vietnam Vet
After visiting the High Ground, we drove back to Milwaukee and stopped at Wood National Cemetery while flags were still on all the graves.  It's a major undertaking, but volunteers place at least one flag at each gravesite every year.  As a veteran, I could be buried here one day.  There are graves from every major conflict starting with the civil war.  This cemetery started just 2 years after Memorial Day was officially started. There were floral wreaths, letters to servicemen, and remembrances from friends and fellow soldiers. It was very moving to see.  Whether you're a veteran or not, I encourage you to visit one of these amazing places for Memorial Day...or any day...and remember those who died so that we could enjoy the lifestyle we have.
Letter to unknown soldier
Wreath and flags for medal of honor recipient

Thursday, May 21, 2015

World's Largest Truck Stop and Trucking Museum

Some have joked and called the World's Largest Truck Stop in Walcott, Iowa one of the man made wonders of the modern world.  Just for the record, it is not, but here's the list in case you were wondering what is on it. I read about it at Roadside America.  You can find major highway routes at that website and see what unusual destinations sit along the route.  It's fun to visit some of the oddball stuff they include. You'll find it if you travel along I-80.  In fact you can't miss it because most of the scenery along the highway is just open fields.

It is VERY LARGE!   We decided to have a look, and ended up spending more than an hour there shopping, eating lunch, and touring the museum.
This semi truck is INSIDE and has a beautiful mural painted on the side of it
We ate lunch at the buffet where you could find ribs, fried chicken, mac n cheese, mashed potatoes, and a variety of veggies.  It's typical American food.  There's also a small food court at the front entrance.  Truckers can shower, visit a dentist, have a massage or chiropractic adjustment, and shop for anything you can imagine that can be put in or on a large truck.  The gift shop is loaded with souvenirs and clothing. My husband found hats that could be stitched with whatever you like and ended up getting one with a Somali flag done while we waited. Omar loved the small game room.  Who knew that the kid would be so good at some shooting game?!  Ugh.  We had to bribe him to get him away from that place, but not before he went through about $20 in quarters. Don't worry if you don't have change.  They have a change machine that even a kid can operate, as long as he pries some bills out of your hands first.

Also on the grounds is a Trucking Museum, which is definitely worth a stop.  It was a private collection put together by one man, Bill Moon.  It includes antique trucks, highway signs, farm vehicles, and a variety of truck memorabilia.  It is free though they do request a donation for visiting. You can watch a short movie in the theater to learn more about how it all began. I was really impressed with the condition of the vehicles.  Some of the earliest trucks had the most rugged hand tooled wheels and there was even a postal vehicle that could operate with skis!

No matter the weather, the mail will be delivered

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Revisiting Egypt without leaving Milwaukee

Riding camels at Giza

 We were in Egypt four years ago, the same year as the Egyptian Revolution.  We'd read that tourism was at an all time low and that Egyptians were starving because income related to tourists had dried up almost completely.  There was a state department warning which said it wasn't a good time for Americans to travel, and in fact, there were no tour companies sending flights or tours over there.  It would seem to most people that it wasn't a good time to visit, but we managed to find a tour company based in Cairo and went anyway.  It was a great decision.  We had all the monuments nearly to ourselves.  Our tour operator provided a driver, guide, and thanks to the American embassy we had a gun carrying bodyguard with us during the Cairo tour days. It felt completely safe.  Egyptians were courteous and helpful.  We had a wonderful trip for 9 nights visiting Cairo, Aswan, Valley of the Kings, and Abu Simbel.  We even took a day trip to Alexandria.  The cost was $5000 for three of us, and covered a balloon ride, 4 day Nile cruise where we only had 14 people onboard, hotels, nearly all meals, transportation, train ride from Cairo to Aswan, and day trips with a guide.  Amazing.  But what is really amazing is that you can still do a similar trip for even less!  Check with Vantage Travel for deals.  We started with a basic package and had them add everything we wanted to personalize.

Travel is a wonderful experience because it gives to you over and over again.  You experience it in the planning.  Then you take the trip.  Afterwards you look at photos and remember all you did and relive it in your mind.  Fantastic.   We were doing a bit of that reminiscing today.

My adult son and I went to the Milwaukee Public Museum to view a new exhibit called Crossroads of Civilization. It has displays and artifacts from Egypt along with timelines and explanations for how things were done.  It brought back a lot of great memories and we enjoyed how detailed the exhibit was.  I'm impressed with our museum staff.  They recreated people and things that were very realistic, like this pair of horses and driver.  The mummy is just like many we saw at the Egyptian Museum at Cairo.  Sometimes you don't have to go very far to have a great experience.

These horses were so real looking

Afterwards we ate at a local restaurant Casablanca and had the vegetarian mediterranean styled buffet: baba gannoj, couscous, falafel, dill pickles, yummy olives, cucumbers in garlic sauce, potatoes in tahini...it was tasty. The owners are from Lebanon and Palestine, but with a name like Casablanca you'd expect Moroccan food.  We thought most of the salads were similar to what we'd had in Alexandria, Egypt.  For less than $10 each, we were transported temporarily to that seaside city.  Maybe you can spend an afternoon in your own city living like you're a world traveler.  It was a great "getaway" for us today.
Casablanca buffet

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Thank a Teacher

It's college graduation season, and we've attended a couple of ceremonies and parties for  young African women.  I admit since the politics of presidential elections is already underway, I can get a bit depressed about the future of our country as I scan the headlines, but when you sit amongst young people with fresh new diplomas and a whole bucket full of dreams, it can leave you feeling hopeful.

We went to the home of a Somali family where shoes were scattered across the front porch and down the hallway as everyone took them off before entering. A large prayer rug was laid out on the front lawn so the men could pray together. You could hear at least three languages being spoken, though I think our host said we had eight countries represented.  It was like being at a United Nations meeting. People sat on the floor, on couches, or at folding chairs on the deck.  The buffet included falafel, injeera (like buckwheat crepes), goat meat, hummus, pita bread and couscous.  Spices wafted in the air.  It was definitely not like the gatherings we had when I was a kid!

Delicious buffet

At one of the parties, I was chatting with a group of women who came from five different African nations. All of them had more education than myself, even though I'm a college graduate.  All had become American citizens. They wore the most amazing dresses covered in bright flowers, while I just threw on something from the back of my closet.  This is usually how it goes.  I used to apologize for being underdressed or tried to spend the whole time by my husband's side, but now I try to fit in, or at least learn something useful.  One of the ladies asked how it was being married to a Somali and always being in the minority (the only white lady at the party).  I guess I've been doing this long enough now that I usually don't feel like I stand out too much, and I've gotten past the discomfort that I had initially. I always enjoy these discussions, because once you begin a conversation, it opens doors into beliefs, religions, and cultural norms. It suddenly occurred to me that I am kind of different.  Then I considered why that might be.

Back in high school, I had some teachers that liked to push somewhat liberal ideas out there for us to explore.  We studied Apartheid and world affairs on a deeper level than most people I knew from other places.  I realized it when I became an exchange student and had to reach out to my teacher Ms. Cameron for more information on the topic.  In the late 70s, we didn't have the internet resources that make research so much easier for today's students.  I was in a high school of 3000 students and maybe 7 were African American. I had a psychology teacher, Mr. Sippy, who was very interested in world affairs but put the psychological spin on things.  I loved going to that class.  These teachers gave me a curiosity for the world, and are responsible for the choices I've made since then when forging friendships and even a marriage with someone born on a different continent.  Thanks to teachers like them, my life is richer, broader, and more interesting than it might have been if I'd spent the bulk of my adult life in one city.

My husband was just in Washington DC for a transportation summit at the White House.  One of the speakers told them how we are failing at educating adults.  Too many people get their news from entertainment programs and can't understand complex issues like how developing infrastructure affects the cost of goods.  There was an example of how if you add lanes of traffic or rebuild a bridge, you can send more trucks, thus reducing the time used to ship goods and it will ultimately cost the consumer less than if the bridge was closed down and the truck rerouted.  Look at anyone's Facebook rants about politics and you see that too many of us just copy something we've seen without fact checking or doing some critical thinking.  Now our governor is just one of the people reducing the education budget.  We spend about 2% on education and 18% on defense.  Take a look at this report to learn more about where our tax dollars go.  Want to know how we compare to other nations?  It was educational for me when my husband shared it.  It seems like we should spend on education if it means better understanding about global issues and it will expand minds and hearts to people across borders.  Too many teachers are opting out of those jobs because we are moving towards testing rather than teaching...examinations rather than exploring.

If you have the opportunity, reach out to someone who is different from yourself.  Listen. Observe. Be curious.  You're sure to walk away just a bit smarter about the world.  And thank the teachers who got you where you are today.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Visiting the Presidential Libraries

My husband is a real American history buff, something that kind of surprised me since he was born in Somalia.  I think it stems from his dad being Somalia's Secretary of State and meeting so many foreign dignitaries.  His dad attended John F. Kennedy's funeral and was received at the White House on several occasions. Oh, the stories that man could tell if he was still alive.  I was never able to meet Abdul's parents because they died before we met but they led very interesting lives, full of travel and fascinating people.

We try to take vacations which include some form of history when we travel through the US.  We enjoyed our trip to Hallowed Ground near Gettysburg a few years ago, which included battle sites and presidential homes. This past Sunday we were driving along I-80 in Iowa and had an opportunity to visit Herbert Hoover's Presidential library.  I know most people think they "know" about presidents based on the page of a text book you may have read in middle school, but to see artifacts and read about history based on a presidency is very different, and we find we learn so much about these great men (and maybe a woman one day soon). I highly encourage you to check them out.

We went to Simi Valley to see President Reagan's library once, and I remember the full size plane which was hangared in the museum- very impressive.  Hoover's had a WWI trench complete with views of the enemy combatants and noise from the bombs.  Omar, who is nine, loved this part so much that he spent nearly an hour in it.  The National Parks also maintain Herbert Hoover National Historic Site where you'll find the house from his childhood and several displays as well as outdoor buildings.  You can visit this for free and the grounds are right next to the presidential library. Be sure to see the film at the visitor center.

We learned there is a new passport program for the thirteen current libraries managed by the National Archives.  There are additional libraries not included in this list for much earlier presidents like Lincoln and Coolidge, but those are not managed by the National archives. If you buy a passport at one of the gift shops, you can get a stamp at each of the libraries/museums and at the end you can receive a crystal paperweight.  I don't really need this kind of incentive because the visits are truly their own reward, but it's a nice idea anyway. Maybe you want to see all of them?  You'll leave with a deeper understanding of the presidents and the problems they faced.

Hoover was fond of fishing and loved the outdoors

A realistic wartime trench
Hoover's first home

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Pella Tulip Time

Pella Historical Village
Tulips.  Thousands of colorful tulips.  That's what we found when we visited Pella, Iowa on Saturday. It's a charming town where nearly every building has a Dutch architectural influence. It is also the place where Pella windows are made. There are a few other great places that still celebrate Dutch heritage in the USA.  This is the best time to go because there are massive plantings of tulips, wooden shoed dancers, along with the usual windmills and delicious bakeries.

I am half Dutch.  I love tulips.  I was looking for a place to feel like it was really spring, because it seems like it's taking a very long time to get warm weather here in Wisconsin.  We originally planned a weekend road trip to Pella Iowa's Tulip Time, which is actually celebrated this coming weekend, but the tulips came earlier than the festival, so we changed our plans to be sure we could see all the beautiful flowers. We didn't get to see a parade, and probably avoided some crowds, though there were definitely more people than usually live there.  The tulips were wonderful, though maybe not as many as you might see in cities where tulip companies exist.  You won't see fields of tulips, but they have planted the parks and local streets en masse, and it's lovely.  All of the tulips are shipped here from Holland and planted every fall to ensure the biggest blooms and showy displays.
The trees are in bloom too

Though you'll see tulips planted in nearly every yard and park area, there are five distinct plantings I think you should definitely see.
1. Main Street through town on both sides of the street.  As you drive into town from I-80, you will see plenty.  These are planted by the parks department.  What a job! Each one is a bit different.
2. Central Park has a windmill and this is the place where you'll find the huge tulip time stage and tower.  We saw dancers here and there are lots of photo ops.
3. The sunken gardens at Main & Lincoln.  You probably passed this on your way into town.  It has a wooden shoe shaped pond and a small windmill.
4. Scholte House at 728 Washington St. Even if the house is not open or you're not interested in the historic home, you can go into the gardens for free. There are grand old trees and 32,000 tulips! You'll find Dutch clad statues here too.
5. Pella Historical Village.  You'll know this place by the largest mill that is visible from all points in town.  With many buildings, including Wyatt Earp's home, you'll have fun looking at history and seeing tulips.  Be sure to visit Heritage Hall to see memorabilia from previous parades and festivals. This also has a room for playing dress up and doing puppet shows.  Children can color pictures here to take home. Admission was $10 for adults.  There are sometimes guided tours of the windmill, or you can just walk through.  This is an active mill which still grinds wheat, which is used at the local Jaarsma bakery. We spent about 2 hours here.  If wooden shoes were being made or if there were costumed characters, we may have stayed longer.  On the second floor of the main building, there's an (enormous) miniature village that is super fun to see.  A train drives through the village and you'll find lots of interesting details.

There are other wonderful sights, including the Klokkespel, which is a clock that plays music while dolls circle through windows at certain times of day.  Be sure to check out at least one of the bakeries and taste authentic Dutch letters- a type of pastry filled with almond paste.  The line was half a block long at Jaarsma, but we got in a bit quicker at Vander Ploeg.  If you're in a pinch, go to Brew Coffee House and get a pastry (and free wifi). The Opera House is  beautiful and hosts a quilt show as well as performances during the festival. We found some cool souvenirs in a gift shop called Silver Lining.   The Quilted Windmill is a great place for people who enjoy quilts or sewing.  Most shops are closed on Sundays, and nearly everything closes by 5 on a Saturday.

If you have a smart phone, download Pella Now from the app store and it will help you find everything you need to know about the food, tulip beds, entertainment and shopping.  You can view photos and upload your photos too. If you're visiting during the tulip season, pick up a Tulip Time magazine at one of the local businesses for more information about the festival, its history, and many other interesting tidbits.
Be sure to get a photo here at the Historical Village

This mill was made in Holland, shipped
here and put together by Dutchmen
A lovely courtyard with tiled walls and the klokkespel

A montage of pretty flowers and wooden shoes 
Line to the Jaarsma Bakery!!!