Friday, August 30, 2013

#4 & #86 - One Trip, Two Goals

American Icon
The goal of taking a trip in the US was one that I transferred over from my first DayZero list.  Originally, it was specifically a solo road trip, but I made it a bit more open when I was writing goals for the second round.  However, it did end up being just me and the car, so I fulfilled the initial intent as well.

A trip to see Mount Rushmore has always seemed to be part of the standard family vacation roster.  My family did, in fact, take this journey ... with my older siblings five years before I was born.  So, seeing this area is something that I've always felt I still needed to do (hence its inclusion on my bucket list).  Going alone was a very different experience ... I got several odd looks when paying my admission to places, and I said "one" ... but, I think that there was some family spirit with me as well.  I found myself bringing fresh fruit and making sandwiches the first night to put in my cooler for the next day; totally something that I remember from family car trips of my youth.  The fruit, especially, was welcome over the next few days.  And, I found myself playing car games to make the drive more interesting along the way - also a remembrance of traveling with my family.
The guide shows a technique to view rock carvings in full sun - see the thunderbird

I had some other stops along the way.  The first was the Jeffers Petroglyphs.  These rock carvings are in south western Minnesota, and some are estimated to be older than the pyramids.  It was a popular picnic spot for the early settlers, so there is more recent rock "graffiti" as well.  It was quite windy and hot, so I didn't take the full prairie trail walk.  One of the ironic things I noticed here was that there is a rock company located less than half a mile away crushing stone into gravel.  You have to wonder if more carvings are disappearing there just to make gravel; the guide at Jeffers did say that the same rock ridge located on other properties in the area also held more petroglyphs.
Walking trail at Pipestone National Monument

The next stop was Pipestone National Monument.  I was really impressed with this one.  By a fluke, it happened to be "Founder's Day" which meant my admission was free.  Despite this fact, there were not many people there.  After lots of time in the car, the walking trail provided a lovely chance to stretch my legs as well as cool shade and the sound of cicadas and water.  My family always jokes about the need to have a vacation include rocks and waterfalls ... well, there were rocks as an attraction in most places where I stopped on this trip, but this site provided the requisite waterfall.

This sign on the trail was labeled "Oracle - look through the hole" ... here's what you could see.
I also got a chance to see more prairie ... this area (as well as the Jeffers site) is close to some of the Laura Ingalls Wilder settings.  It was interesting to look off across landscape (ignoring more recent signs of civilization) and try to imagine what it must have been like in the 1880s with no air-conditioning, highways, or grocery stores ... truly makes one appreciate some aspects of modern life.  On the other hand, the quiet sounds of the wind in the grass, insects, birds, etc. were very relaxing and provided a great break from the noise of driving.
Can you see the face in the rock?

Along with the trails, the museum had more petrogylphs (found locally and removed from their original site) and some Native Americans carving pipe bowls.  The catlinite (pipestone) is very soft ... there were some small pieces on display along with files and saws that visitors could try ... it was quite easy to score.  The carver that I spoke briefly with said that it took 2-3 hours to carve a simple pipe - longer for more complex items.  Only Native Americans are allowed quarrying permits, but the gift shop sold a wide variety of articles made with local stone.

My first day of driving ended with a gorgeous sunset as seen from the parking lot of my hotel.  The colors changed in front of me for the last half an hour of my driving time; it was like driving into a very subtle kaleidoscope.  I planned an early morning start, so I didn't do much sightseeing in Mitchell.  Just a quick look the next morning at the famed Corn Palace.  There had been an event in the area the previous night, so I shared my view of the exterior with the crews that were cleaning the street and picking up items like tables and porta potties ... made for some interesting camera angles to keep them out of my tourist pictures.
My favorite panel on the Corn Palace

I do confess that I stopped at some rather tacky tourist spots during this trip ... including the famous/infamous (your choice) Wall Drug.  I didn't try the ice water, but the T-Rex was amusing (mostly to watch the reaction of the kids as it "attacked").  I imagine that I would find the T-Rex less amusing if I had to listen to it attack every 12 minutes all day long.  I could tell that I hit a few quieter days of the summer ... there were still families around, but not as many young children as I expected anywhere.  One of the store clerks told me that South Dakota schools had mostly already started for the summer.  The gold mine that I visited in Keystone had children on the tour, but that family was also from Minnesota.  Generally, my fellow tourists seemed to be in their 60s and to have all of the time in the world.
Current state of Crazy Horse carving

My next big stop was the Crazy Horse Memorial.  I would highly recommend a visit here to anyone coming to the Black Hills.  Unlike its better known neighbor - Mount Rushmore - carving on this mountain has been going on for 60 years with NO federal funding.  The initial stages were done primarily by one man (Sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski); work is now handled mostly by his family members.  The whole complex is a tribute not only to the Native Americans, but also how idealism can bring great things into being.  I would definitely consider coming back in a decade to see how much progress has been made on the mountain.

And, of course, the primary goal of the trip was to see Mount Rushmore.  It was very much what I expected ... not sure if that's good or bad.  I was interested to learn that the reason there is an area carved out by Lincoln's face was that it was planned to hold a brief history of the United States.  I had also heard about the unfinished Hall of Records behind the faces, but didn't realize how elaborate those plans were until listening to the audio tour.  How different would our understanding of the Egyptians or the people who created Stonehenge be if they had left something similar near their sites.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

#36 - Writing a Murder Mystery Party

Parasol row

Patty Kakes, local restaurant owner

Maid to the heiress

The prospector

The school marm in her best dress (photo credit to Janet Swanson)
I have often used murder mystery dinner kits with my friends, and a good time was had by all.  For my 40th birthday, I wrote one myself because I planned to have such a variety of guests involved and couldn't find a kit with enough roles.  Unfortunately, only one member of my family was able to make it to that party (my niece Jenni), and I knew that several family members were quite disappointed to miss out.  Fast forward a couple of years to this summer ... my Mom had a big birthday on the horizon.  My siblings and I asked her what she wanted - her answer:  everyone to come home at once and NO PRESENT!
The blacksmith shop

The milliner with her hats

The laundress and her shop

It took some arranging for all of us to get a summer weekend off at the same time.  Sadly, the weekend that worked for myself and siblings did not work for two of my nephews' families, but everyone else could be there (at least for Saturday).  I suggested that I could write another murder mystery for the family - set in the old west, Mom's favorite historical period.

Handing out the packets (photo credit to Mandy Heinrich)

Getting started with the clues

I did what?!

Checking on what to do next
It sounded so easy!  Ummm ... coming up with the characters went just fine, but then I started running into problems.  I decided on the character who was the culprit before anyone else saw the names, but I made the mistake of letting people choose their own roles.  And, I gave them a long lead time to make the decision.  Not so helpful from the writing standpoint as people didn't choose the roles that I thought would be the most interesting.  So, I kept having to move minor characters to more major roles.  My second stumbling block was the crime; I had thought to have it be the theft of a silver tea set.  I kept running into the problem of motive though ... if everyone just wanted to sell it (well, everyone but the prospector, who had other plans for the raw silver content), all of the clues sounded the same.

The school marm cries over her broken heart (photo credit Janet Swanson)

Much discussion of cakes, surveying, and laundry (photo credit Janet Swanson)

The best way to get lots of clues - lurk on the edges of a group (photo credit Janet Swanson)

The prospector asks the blacksmith about fixing equipment

The mail-order bride confers with the heiress

The mayor has a proposition for the saloon owner

Confrontation between the bride and the heiress

The dogs just wanted to be able to get into the saloon
So, I needed to sacrifice a character to turn it into a murder mystery.  I made that decision less than a week before the party - goodbye, sheriff Justin Case.  Talk about cutting it close.  I wrote 90% of the clues in one day and spent 4 hours the next evening printing things off and assembling the packets.

The heiress concentrates her thoughts (photo credit Janet Swanson)

The mayor is concerned about his reputation (photo credit Janet Swanson)

It's so hard ...

The cowboy rechecks his notes on clues

However, the party was a splendid success (as you may see from the photos).  My Mom seemed to have a grand time.  Everyone hammed it up - some in costumes - a few even set up little shops in the yard to go with their character.  Wild rumors started ... just why did the mayor ask about washing ladies' delicates, how many women was the cowboy juggling, did the heiress have money or not, why was the seamstress so sleepy, what was in the cakes served in the local restaurant, and where did the baby appear from?  All those questions and a murder too ...
This was my favorite photo of the day ... my parents and their dog having a grand time

All of the people at the party

And, yes, there was cake :)

#50 - Hammock Time

Several years ago, I purchased a hammock with a stand on a whim.  I have found that often such impulse purchases don't necessarily cause buyer's remorse; however, I usually don't end up actually using the item very often.  The hammock has been a happy exception to this rule.  I love spending time in my backyard watching the clouds or listening to music or reading or trying (yet again) to fool the hummingbirds into coming close enough that I can take a good photo.

I've found, though, that no matter what I go out to the hammock to do, within 15 minutes I've fallen asleep. I think, perhaps, that may be a comment on the fact that I tend to be chronically short on sleep.  But, it also shows that my hammock is comfortable enough that I can fall asleep outside where there is a fair amount of background noise, and I am fairly exposed to people walking by in the alley.  And, I am definitely not a napper normally.

I wanted to try actually sleeping (as opposed to random naps) in my hammock as an experiment.  So, last weekend, I was at my parent's farm for a family event (more on that in my next post) and brought my hammock instead of a sleeping bag for my bedding.  The experiment was a great success.  The hammock took up much less car space than a sleeping bag, foam mat, pillow, etc.  It was cool - which was very nice after the heat of the day - perhaps even a bit too cool since I only had a sheet for a cover.  I did sleep inside of a building not under the stars, but I could see the moon shining brightly through one windows and stars through another as I drifted off.  I would definitely do this again.

#99 - Contest Results

A few weeks/posts ago, I offered a contest for someone who could identify the object in the photograph.  My friend Nina guessed correctly that it was the mouthpiece used in my CPR training course.  And, here's what I've made for her prize ...
Salted Chocolate Caramels

Sunday, August 4, 2013

#57 - "I couldn't have been more surprised if a zebra would have knocked on my door!"

My friend Annette has a business that I sometimes envy (like 9 months out of the year).  During that period of the year, she spends her time making art out of pressed flowers.  Here's one of her designs ...
A Morning Glory Creation

In the summer months, she travels to art fairs around the state selling her work.  That part I don't envy at all as it involves things like making small talk to hundreds of people in a day and sleeping in her van with all of her stock.  Sometimes the weather is beautiful, but there are storms and incredibly hot days to deal with as well.

This past weekend, she was selling at a festival which is in the town where we both live - a nice change for her since it means for that weekend she can go home to her own house for the night.  The weather on Saturday was not pleasant.  I had my woodstove going for much of the day in my house since it was rainy and in the low 50 degrees - not normal for the end of July at all!  Guessing that sales might not be the greatest in these circumstances and thinking that she might like a nice surprise, I went online to order her some flowers for delivery in a few days.

She did figure out (by process of elimination) that the flowers came from me, and I got to hear the whole story of their arrival.  The quote in the title of this post is her response.  She was sure that the driver had the wrong house, and the flowers were meant for her neighbor.  And, she told me that she didn't EVER remember having flowers delivered to her in the past.  I am so happy that they came at a good time to cheer her up.