Saturday, June 29, 2013

"Jewel Box of the Prairie"

   This is the story of the pairing of the unusual circumstances of two unusual men which resulted in an architectural treasure in a small town on the prairie in Minnesota.  The Farmers' Bank stands on the town square of Owatonna, Minnesota.
Simple square shape with vaulted stained glass windows and arch within a square.

   Carl Bennet's dad owned the Farmers' Bank in Owatonna, Minnesota. Son Carl's interests tended toward art and music, not banking, but, a dutiful son, in 1893 he graduated from Harvard and returned to Owatonna to take over the bank.  It was pretty unusual for those days in rural Minnesota for a young man to have a Harvard education, let alone an interest in the arts. 
Huge murals depict life on the prairie
   Carl agreed to run the bank, but he still had some creative ideas in his head.  He felt that the bank did not give the proper impression of solidness and service in its present building and set about finding an architect with a vision.
Clock is above the tellers' windows, against a prairie sky mural.
   The second unusual set of circumstances involves the legendary architect Louis Sullivan, the "father of skyscrapers" incorporating that new building material--cheap steel, mentor to young Frank Lloyd Wright.  Sullivan over the course of his career designed many of Chicago's famous buildings. So, why would the "father of skyscrapers" agree to design a small bank out on the prairie of Minnesota?  
"Electoliers" weigh 2 1/2 tons each

   Because of an economic downturn in the 1890s, Sullivan's career virtually ended and his life became a financial disaster. With no more work for him in the Big City, Sullivan agreed to a few small projects like Farmers' Bank in Owatonna.

Sullivan called the building "a symphony of color and light."
   By 1922, Sullivan's wife had left him, he had succumbed to alcohol and died, poor and alone in a Chicago hotel room.  He had no money for burial, so his former pupil Frank Lloyd Wright paid for his funeral and burial in a Chicago cemetery.  Ironically, he was buried with a very plain marker a short distance away from the ornate graves he himself had designed for Chicago's elite businessmen.
   I'm wondering what the salt-of-the-earth Norwegian farmers of 1908 thought of the Owatonna Farmers' Bank when they came to town.
Carl Bennett lost the bank in the Crash in the 1920s.
It is now open as the Wells Fargo Bank and is a National Historic Landmark.



Friday, June 28, 2013

It might be time to clean the rain gutter when...

Maple trees are starting to grow!
But wait, there was a reason to delay:
Yes, that is a robin's nest, a great big American robin.  Usually the nest is 3 times this size.  She did hatch one nestling and he is now following her all around the yard, as big as her, hollering for food.
   So today was cleaning day, but a chore that should have taken a half hour developed into 2 hours because I can never pass up a chance to make things more complicated.

Since the ladder was out, I might as well cut all these branches overhanging the gutters.  Because all those leaves would eventually fall into the gutters, right?
Just to show you how small this nest is, here it is by my hand.  I don't know how she ever fit herself into it, or how it survived all the rain we have had this spring. 

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

In the garden

"Just remember, during winter, far beneath the bitter snow, that there's a seed that with the sun's love
in the spring becomes a rose."
~ Leanne Rhimes (and Bette Middler in that sad movie, The Rose)
Prairie Rose

   My wild Prairie Rose bush only blooms now and then, but when it does, it delivers dozens and dozens of roses that scent the whole yard.  This is, happily, "one of those" years. The bush is 5 feet tall and covered with buds from top to bottom.

   Each bloom lasts only a day, and within a week, all will be gone.  But, oh, what a glorious week that is!

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

And the winner is . . . .

"Awesome up your life.  Live worth writing about. "

Rainy night in March near Covent Garden
   Back to London in the fall! 

   Who picks a B&B because it has a beautiful cat, an old Lab, and a lovely garden WITH CHICKENS IN IT?
   Yup, me.  
   Hoping to meet up with a friend from Scotland and a brand new friend from London. 


Sunday, June 23, 2013

Slow Down and Enjoy the Anteater

"Sculpture and paintings have the effect of teaching us manners and abolishing hurry."  Ralph Waldo Emerson
   I am fortunate to live in an area where sculpture can be found, if you know where to look for it. Yesterday it was just a couple miles away, in the small town I live nearest to, at the Steeple Center, by a local artist, Dale Lewis. 
   The Steeple Center is the only old building remaining in the town, and it's pretty much a miracle that it hasn't been torn down. The church was abandonned a couple years ago. Funds were scarce to save it and make the necessary repairs that would allow it to meet codes and remain in use. It would have been so sad not to see the old steeple above anything on the landscape anymore.
   The artist, Dale Lewis, creates delightful things from found objects. I found the sculptures whimsical, surprising, and would love to discover them in a garden or park.


These are my photos from the exhibit, but you can see lots more of Dale's work at






Friday, June 21, 2013

A Good Traveler

"A good traveler has no fixed plans, and is not intent on arriving."
Lao Tzu

  Temple Bar - London

     One of the things I enjoy about each trip I take is coming home and researching further what I saw.  The most fun "finds" are the places I didn't expect to go and knew nothing about.  In London last March, it was raining and snowing, and our guide for the day, Laura, led us into a plaza beside St. Paul's Cathedral for a "tea and a pee".

   I'm sure she gave us some history of the huge gate behind us, but if she did, I couldn't hear (there were 32 of us and a very short guide somewhere in the middle) (AND, I confess, we were pretty intent on the promise of hot tea and a warm-up in the basement of St. Paul's).  Only later did I find we had posed for a photo in front of Temple Bar, the only old gate to the city (originally there were eight) that still exists! 
   Temple Bar was completed in 1672 and is believed to have been designed by Sir Christopher Wren.  It was at the spot where Fleet Street met The Strand and stood, beginning in 1293 as a simple bar across the road, until the 19th century.  By 1878, it was impeding traffic flow and dismantled, later to be re-erected as the gate to a private home.  In 2004, it was again disassembed and moved to its present home in Paternoster Square beside St. Paul's.
   In its original spot, the Temple Bar was used to display on spikes the heads (and other body parts) of executed traitors.  Original statues at the top depict Charles I, Charles II, James I, and Anne of Denmark. Other statues were lost in the first removal from Fleet Street and have been recreated, including the Royal Beasts. 
   The gate is now an entrance to Paternoster Square, created in the early 2000s in a space that, in Medieval times, the priests used to walk in procession along Paternoster Row, reciting the Pater Noster, or Lord's Prayer, on their way to church. 
    Also in the square is a sculpture I especially liked, "The Shepherd


and the Sheep", going back to the times in the square's history when it was a livestock market.

Monday, June 17, 2013

"Pardon the dust of the upper crust ...."

"Pardon the dust of the upper crust -- fetch us a cup of tea!"
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang
Vintage is ...  "my cup of tea"

Saturday, June 15, 2013

What to do? What to do? Plan A, London

   I've been surfing the web every couple days for a few weeks, watching airfare prices for a trip in September.  I had a "buy now" price in my mind, and twice I found it, but for some reason I couldn't commit.  I'm not exactly sure why.  Really, I could be blissfully happy in London or Paris, England or France.  Or China. 

But I can't seem to choose!

So, here is What to Do, Plan A:

Today I read this news on the Internet:

LONDON (AP) — A British museum has successfully recovered what could be the last intact model of a famous German World War II bomber from beneath the English Channel . . . .with a photo of it being lifted out of the Thames. 
So naturally, today I'm thinking: London!
This trip will not be the Kings and Queens of History Tour, the Popular Sites of a Great City Tour, or even the Famous Dead Authors Tour.  I've seen all the "big stuff" in London several times, but usually with tour groups of kids in tow.  No, this would be a trip that caters to my own idiosycrasies and obsessions.
Here's what I have planned so far:
The Foundling Museum -- one of the first homes for orphaned children, housing 27,000 orphans before it closed.
 The Churchill War Rooms -- from which Churchill commanded the Battle of Britain which finally ended The Blitz, the relentless bombing of London residents by the Germans.
The Old Operating Theatre and Herb Garret -- an intact operating room and museum from the days before anesthesia.
Museum of London -- London life from before it was London to present day.  And it's free!  I think this might take me more than one day.

 Museum of London Docklands --  The East End and the port.

 Twinings Tea Shop -- Well, of course!

Geffrye House -- a free museum in the East End depicting the history of the British home over the last 400 years.

Well, those are my thoughts so far.  Anyone want to come along?  Next time, Plan B -- Paris.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

In the garden

   My pantry and my sanctuary, my garden feeds more than my body. It feeds my soul as well. 
Come for a walk with me.

   We have had a very late and wet spring, with snow falling just a few weeks ago, but the herb garden is finally showing up.  Behind that is the greens bed -- lettuce, spinach (lots of spinach!), kale, chard, and some annual flowers that will take over when it gets too hot for lettuce and spinach.  Beyond that is a bed of strawberries.  See the tiny white blossoms that will be intensely flavored strawberries in a few weeks? 
   See that jungle beyond the strawberries?  That's rhubarb.  I picked 7 lbs. from one plant Saturday, made sauce, and stored it in the freezer for winter eating.

 Tender, sweet lettuce, ready to eat, with a little dill to flavor the salad.
Kale that seeded itself from last year, in the potato bed.  Delicious in spring salads and omelets.
Asparagus, the first vegetable on the table for the year!  I'll eat all I want, then freeze some for asparagus soup.
The grape arbor, just beginning to leaf out and flower.
There's more, but let's leave it for another day.
Let's sit awhile here in this corner under the apple tree, a spot to quiet the mind, nourish ourselves with some peaceful moments.  There are nests of robins, chickadees, wrens, and chipping sparrows here, and you can smell the lilacs.



Sunday, June 9, 2013

"I don't have time"

   I have been retired for one week! 

Since I was a teacher, I'm used to summer vacations, but my head is having a hard time getting that 3 months of  summer is here, let alone retirement! Today everything in me is telling me, "Better do this or do that right now because tomorrow is a new week and you won't have time." It's kind of a jerk on my  leash each time I realize that that part of my life is now behind me forever, and "I don't have time" no longer has to be part of my vocabulary.
    I've done a few things to help myself believe it.  This afternoon I retired my lunch bag to the Goodwill donations bag in the trunk of my car.  My lunch  bag represented a lot of my identity during the school year.  It took hours of my weekend to get my food ready for the week ahead, planning, growing it, shopping it, preparing it.  It was (and still is) important to me that my food be homemade, healthy, local, and minimally packaged. That's going to take a whole lot less planning ahead to accomplish now.  

   It's a rainy, chilly day UpNorth where I live, pouring much of the day. With nothing to get ready for Monday, what have I done?  Read most of a book I've had waiting for me on my Kindle app for months and months, The Story of Rose: A Man and His Dog by Jon Katz. It's a thoughtful book and I've read slowly, petting the cat, savoring the story. I've spent time listening to the robins and cardinals, roaming from window to window to look out and appreciate all the shades of green shimmering in the rain. Yup, pretty much 'standing there in silence, looking up at the sky, and contemplating how amazing life is.'  I think I'll get the hang of this new life real soon!



Saturday, June 8, 2013

Les rues de Paris

Wisdom for the road
"You don't always need a plan.  Sometimes you just need to breathe, trust, let go, and see what happens." 
mandy hale

   In March, I took 28 9-12th graders from our school on a spring break trip to London and Paris.  On our last day in Paris, two boys were vomiting and too sick to leave the hotel, so I stayed behind with them.  It was our day to visit Versailles, what I though would be the highlight of the trip for me, and  I shed a few tears of disappointment.  But then I regrouped and vowed to make it a good day no matter what.  After all, I was IN PARIS!
   I couldn't venture far from our hotel on the outskirts of the city (had to check on the boys every couple hours), so all my wanderings had to be in this Paris neighborhood.  And, did I mention it was raining/sleeting/snowing?  So what to do?  Spy on ordinary life and explore the neighborhood!

   The smell of the patisseries--at least two in every block--started to lure as soon as I opened the hotel door.  After window shopping awhile, I chose a delicious small strawberry tart to eat on a bench near a bank with others doing the same, and watch the traffic go by.  In the rain/sleet/snow.  If it didn't bother Parisians, it wasn't going to bother me! 

Fruit and veg venders and flower shops ... did I mention it was sleeting/raining/snowing?  Why are these not freezing and wilting?  Anyway, they add welcome jolts of color to the gray skies and streets.

Lunch time.  I picked out a French bread sandwich with smoked salmon at a boulangerie and ate it in a park area.  Look at the sky.  No rain/sleet/snow.  Ooh la la! 

Because of a record late spring, flowers were just getting planted.  These will be glorious when summer arrives!

Palm trees and brick streets

There were no signs on this gorgeous building trimmed with so much gold that it had to be important! I never did find  out exactly what it was.

And finally, back to the tiny hotel room to take a nap and wait for the others to return. 

"You don't always need a plan. Sometimes you just need to breathe, trust, let go, and see what happens." 

Nothing surprising happened on my solo day in Paris, but it was relaxing, sweet, and memorable with no kids, no crowds, no responsibilities.