A Trip to the Twilight Zone

Several years ago, my husband brought a proposal for a trip to witness an event to my attention, and at the time I really didn’t think he was all that serious about it. Fast forward to a few months ago when he brought up the topic again, and it was readily apparent to me I’d significantly underestimated his interest in this event, so we began planning how we might be able to be among those who watched the 2017 Solar Eclipse, and in August we took a road trip down to Columbia, Missouri for the big show. We are terribly fortunate, my husband’s brother and his wife live there, so we were able to stay with them, and his nieces were in the process of moving from Florida to Jefferson City which is about 30 minutes south of Columbia. One was there already and was gracious enough to let us stay with her for the first two nights in spite of the fact that she didn’t even have towels or pillows unpacked yet, items we were happy enough to bring along. (Thanks Mary!!)

The trip down was mostly good, up until the last half hour before Jefferson City, when we hit a heck of a rain storm. Suddenly our long drive got even longer, when hubby had to slow WAY down just to see the road. Fortunately that didn’t last terribly long, and after winding our way on a curvy, hilly road in the dark, we got to Joanna and Mary’s house, a couple of weary travelers stumbling out of the car and into an unexpected wall of warm humidity. Yeah, that wasn’t planned for at all, after all that time in an air conditioned car and we were instantly dripping wet. Fortunately his nieces’ house had AC, so we were quite comfy inside. What we didn’t realize is that Missouri is known for it’s humidity, and the air conditioners go on May 1, and don’t go off until the end of October. The other thing we didn’t know, is that there are armadillos in Missouri…yep, you read that correctly, armadillos. We saw a couple of dead ones on the road, and fortunately other drivers hit them, not us, as I’ve heard they can do some awful damage to your car. I guess it’s because they have this weird startle reflex causing them to jump straight up in the air…so when cars drive over them, they jump up, and that lovely armored shell causes all kinds of damage to the undercarriages of cars. Ugh.

Sunday morning we headed up to Columbia, where we had the unique experience of attending church where my husband’s brother is the pastor. It’s not an ordinary church, but rather is an international church on the campus of Baptist University. There were attendees from a number of different countries and cultures there, so his brother is kind of acting as a missionary right here in the United States. His wife teaches Sunday School to the children, and she said it can be really interesting as some of the children don’t speak any English at all. She finds she has to be creative, and uses lots of crafts to teach the kids. Look out on glitter Sundays!

Monday dawned, and was the big event. We set up our lawn chairs and waited, then watched in dismay as hazy clouds started to fill the sky. Apparently this isn’t an unusual phenomenon with eclipses, as the moon begins to cross in front of the sun and the temperature drops, it causes clouds to form. So on top of the partly cloudy sky we already had, we got more haze blocking our view. We did get to experience and see the eclipse, and while it wasn’t nearly as good as some parts of the country, I can’t really fuss because back home in Minnesota, I understand it rained all day and where they were hoping for a partial, they got nothing so I really shouldn’t whine.

The experience – now that was something else. While I can’t say the four of us were moved to tears or were overwhelmed, like some folks seem to have been, it certainly was an awesome and amazing sight. IMG_9633Perhaps if the sky had been clear it would have been different for us, but the sun/moon were periodically disappearing and reappearing behind clouds, so we had less than the 2 min of viewing the corona that a lot of others got. (I want a do-over!) It was beautiful, eerie, and kind of otherworldly. My husband and I took some photos that unfortunately were also a bit on the hazy side. The thing that was weird though, is that it got dark out, but not as dark as I thought it would. IMG_9651The light that remained literally made you feel like you were in the Twilight Zone, and then all of a sudden it was done, the sun peeked out, warmth came back and the haze disappeared.
We also got a few photos on the “exit” side. You’ll note that the sun looks orange, which is more from the color of the filter covering the lens of the camera than anything.

So would I travel again to see an eclipse? You’d better believe it! They happen about every 18 months somewhere in the world. There are total, annular and partial eclipses. I’d never heard of an annular eclipse before and had to look that one up. That’s when there is a ring of the sun that is still visible, where the moon isn’t quite covering all of the sun. In that case you can’t remove the protective glasses at all. It’s like having a “ring of fire” in the sky. I think that would be interesting, but not nearly as much fun as a total eclipse. So who knows, maybe we’ll plan some around the world vacations around the coming total eclipses. There are a couple that go over Australia, and I’ve always wanted to go there. Can you imagine what a trip that would be? Dive the great barrier reef, visit New Zealand AND see a total eclipse? Truly a trip of a lifetime for us. Have you gone anywhere that you considered your “trip of a lifetime”? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.

 

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A Moment in Time

Looking back…the moment lost…we forget….

How often do we think back to something and think “I wish I had a picture of that?” Back in the day, we had the convenient excuse of forgetting to bring our camera,  but since most of us now have smart phones, we have a camera all the time . So that old excuse really doesn’t work so much anymore, does it (unless you’re like I was the other day and completely forgot to even bring my phone along)?We have no excuse to miss that moment. So what’s the problem?

I was glancing back through our pictures of our trip to the Black Hills of South Dakota last fall, and a hike we took up to Harney Peak. If you’re not familiar with it, it’s not a hike for the faint of heart. It’s a lot of climbing, some of it over roots, trees, rocks, boulders, sand, and goes from about 6100-7100 feet of elevation. And in the middle, you actually go downhill, just to have to go back uphill again.

At the summit is a stone lookout tower that was used for fires, and the view is incredible. You can see a long distance view of the tower in the photo at the lower right…yep, we had a LONG climb to get there! As you can see, we had cameras along and took pictures. Word to the wise, if you do this hike, do it on a cool day, take snacks and plenty of water, and start early in the day. If you’re in good shape, this is under a 4 hour hike. Shape not so good? Plan on 6 hours. We made it in about 4.5 hours, although I have no idea how. (Sheer stubbornness would be my best guess. )

As we neared the top, we met larger groups of people coming down with what seemed like ridiculously happy grins on their faces – which I would understand a short time later – and they all were saying things like “you can do it” and “you’re almost there”. I can remember I was so tired and feeling like I couldn’t do it, that I wanted to slap that stupid grin right off their faces. Then we started to notice that the boulders were different, more like big smooth slabs, and all of a sudden we were ducking under a big stone archway, before turning and seeing the end, and _MG_3004then there it was, with only about 50 more steps to go. The end. Still steep, but doable.

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I got a lovely little screen shot of my “What’s My Altitude” app too! While it didn’t show the air temperature, I remember it was a bit cooler, and you can see that the boiling point of water was lower.

 

You know, two years ago, I wouldn’t have been able to even do an hour of this climb, let alone the whole thing. I remember going to Scottsdale, AZ, and sitting down partway up the “easy side” of Camelback, waiting for my husband while he climbed to the top, because I was so overweight then, and there was no way I could do it. But this trip, being healthier, thinner and in much better shape, I knew I could make it, and was determined to get to the top, stopping periodically for water breaks and snack breaks, but that was it. When we got there, oh, the view.

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Isn’t that amazing? It looks out over 4 states, and if you walk around the station, you can see the backside of Mt Rushmore. We took photos of that, of some great big bird soaring around, all kinds of stuff. You know what view we don’t have? The one of me standing there, tears in my eyes, being completely overwhelmed with elation that I did it! I think hubby was going to and I seem to recall I didn’t want him to but I don’t remember why not. In retrospect, I wish he would have anyway. I would have loved to have captured that moment of energy and triumph shining through. Particularly because when I think back to that moment, that’s the feeling that I remember having…that my best self, right then, was completely and totally shining through. The tears, messy hair, sweaty skin and red face – those were badges of honor to be worn proudly, not hidden away. Silly me. What a missed Kodak moment, but a lesson learned, nonetheless.

So next time you want to push someone away when they want your picture, think twice about it. So what if you’re all sweaty, hair is a mess, face is covered in dirt. Maybe you don’t have on makeup, or your mascara is running down your cheeks…or your eyes are puffy…or your shirt is torn, or whatever. Who cares? Freeze that moment before it’s gone, because remember you can’t capture lightning in a bottle.

The Deep End

As in, I’ve gone off of it…again. Yep, done something odd. Hubby would say, “woman, you done lost your mind”. I can’t help it, though. I’m a firm believer in “If you don’t ask, the answer is already ‘no’ so I might as well ask”. I feel like I’m Paul Harvey…and now, the rest of the story…

So  hubby and I were following our annual tradition of going to the Minneapolis auto show, and had gotten to downtown Minneapolis early. With time to kill we went walking and happened to go past a building where he used to work at the corner of 10th and Hennepin, in the old National Camera Exchange building. Now for those of you that aren’t familiar with the area, Hennepin Avenue is the main thoroughfare through downtown Minneapolis and the streets take a cut at an angle there. This building is an odd shape because of that, almost a trapezoid, and is rather small. Anyway it’s now abandoned, and we peeked into the lobby windows a bit.

KODAK Digital Still Camera

                    National Camera Exchange Building (Formerly M.L. Novak Diamonds)                                          930 Hennepin Ave, Minneapolis  

All I could see were some stairs, and a huge chandelier still hanging. As we walked, he told me he remembered that on the lower and upper floors there were quite a few very small rooms (think maybe 6 feet by 8 feet at the most) with only a light and incredibly tacky wallpaper. His description was “like you’d find in a cathouse”.) and he thought that perhaps they had been used once as a brothel.

Well! That got me curious, so I started to do a little digging into the history of the area. I’m embarrassed at what I didn’t know, although the digging produced a treasure of other information (see my previous post on Fancy Pillows) and if you’re curious about the history of Minneapolis, just Google things like “The Gateway District” or “Mill City Museum”. It’s incredible what’s out there. I was specifically trying to find something on the history of that particular building however, and had a lot of trouble. It’s really too far down to have been a part of the Gateway District, so I think it was more part of the entrance to the Theater District. So then I approached it from the perspective of, could it have been rooms for let as part of the theaters? Or perhaps a flophouse? Still nothing. Short of going down to the Minneapolis Public Library, or City Hall, I was coming up a bust.

Now we come to crazy. The deep end. At one point that building was for sale and the listing info helped me to figure out the year built was 1919, which also helped with thinking it was likely more a part of the theater district, although it has since been taken off the market. So using a little internet savvy I decided to try to contact Larry Millett, who is the author of a number of books including “Lost Twin Cities” and “Twin Cities Then and Now”, and his books are full of wonderful old photographs and history of the Twin Cities, buildings long gone, architecture and incredible facts. He’s responsible for my learning much of what I have about the Gateway District of Minneapolis, as a matter of fact. Well, while he didn’t have the answer himself, he was both kind enough to reply, and to suggest I post my question on the Facebook page titled Old Minneapolis. It’s a user page frequented liked by over 67,000 folks, one of which is Mike Evangelist who is also an author and is considered an expert on downtown Minneapolis. My hope was that he might see my post and have the answer, but I had no idea that I was going to tap into a gold mine.

One of the respondents to my question ended up being the son of the owner of the diamond business which was the first business there. He had the entire history of the building as his father had owned it since it was built, along with a number of others who had frequented it and knew the history as well. Between the diamond business and National Camera, the place actually had become a massage parlor, which of course “back in the day” was code for – you guessed it – massage parlor/brothel. That would explain the wallpaper, which someone was kind enough to post a sample of on Facebook. Yep, cheap and cheesy about covers it!

There is other fantastic information in the post about the building, including information about the vault, how the windows and glass doors were bullet proof because the area had been full of gangsters back in the day, how you had to be buzzed in through security doors, how they had installed state-of-the-art security cameras for the diamond business, and then those same security cameras were used to keep them alerted when it was a massage parlor that the police were coming!

I had a lot of fun trying to find out this information, and while I’m glad that I did, I’m kind of sad that it’s coming to an end. I’ve stumbled across some amazing old photographs of Minneapolis, and it’s reignited my interest in photography which has been waning a bit over the past few years. I’ve also learned about things like ghost signs on buildings. I don’t know if those were popular in other parts of the country but they certainly were in the twin cities. They were advertisements on the sides of buildings, almost like early billboards.

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 Back of Nat’l Cam bldg, ghost sign, Minneapolis

Here is an example of one, on the backside of the National Camera Exchange building. In their case, it was so you knew you were at their location when arriving from a different direction. On other buildings, you might have seen information about cigars, flour, seeds or a number of other things. Over time, of course weather and UV have degraded those that remain and are visible, so they are slowly disappearing from view and there are web pages popping up with photos of them, but you can also find photos in books of our city’s history like Larry Millett’s.

A side benefit of all this has been that it also has spurred my thinking about other old stories, which helped to feed the Fancy Pillows post I recently did, and has made me write down more memories of my parents and grandparents, asking questions of my relatives to clarify memories. It’s a journey I’m just starting down, and one that I hope will be fun as I uncover more and more tidbits that I’d thought were forgotten but instead were just tucked away. I hope that perhaps it will do the same for some of you, and start some conversations with your family and friends, maybe today, or at your next family gathering. Who knows what interesting story you’ll hear revealed?

 

Fancy Pillows

While I’m a child of the city, I was fortunate to have grandparents that lived out in the country. One set lived on a farm, and the other lived 3 miles away in a very small town, where they were related to almost everyone there and had a town motto of “if you’re not Dutch, you’re not much”. (Don’t worry, I’ll get mileage out of that someday!) My mom’s dad was a real corker, even taught me a curse word in Dutch when I was little (“tsk, tsk Grandpa Cornie, you should have been ashamed of yourself.”)

Beth and Grandpa Cornie

Me and “the corker”, about 1963

My dad’s parents were a bit more on the stoic, German side. Kind of the no-nonsense, hard working farmers you expect to find in the midwest. Growing up we called them by their last names to differentiate which grandparents we were talking about, but as we became adults and the grandchildren started having children, somehow they picked up on Grandpa’s nickname as a child. His first name was Albert, but his nickname was Abby and somehow, he and my grandmother became Grandpa and Grandma Abby, probably because our last name was a long, difficult German name to pronounce.

I remember some of the stories from Grandma Abby, although not as many as I’d like and now that I’m older, probably not nearly as well as I’d like either. I’m a little hazy on the one about how and why she caught her bloomers on a fence, and I seem to recall something about a finding a rattlesnake in a bale of hay when she took lunch out to the men one day during hay baling season. I remember too, Grandpa Abby saying how proud he was that he paid cash — cash (can you just imagine?) — for everything, except for the time he bought a cream separator on credit, for which I think he paid a nickel a month, and it bothered him so much he never bought anything on credit ever again.

Beth w Grandpa and Grandma Abby

Me with Grandpa and Grandma Abby, about 1962

I do remember, very well, grandma telling me about the fancy pillows they used. She said that they had every day pillows on the bed, with regular pillow cases, but that when company would come to stay they would take the everyday pillows off the bed, and put them aside, take out the nice pillows and put on the really nice, embroidered pillow cases with the hand crocheted lace edges on them. They called them “fancy pillows“, and those were the ones that would be out for guests. I always kept that phrase in my head, and knew I’d write about it someday in a book or blog.

I thought about all this tonight when I was talking with my mom, after I had asked her what she remembered about some places in downtown Minneapolis that were tickling in the back of my memory. The area is called “The Theater District”, and I believe I’ve also seen it called “The Lower Loop”. My dad worked downtown near 13th Street and Hennepin Ave for a number of years, and the two places I remembered were the Gnostica Bookstore and the Pink Pussycat. I asked mom what she remembered, and she thought the Gnostica might have been an occult bookstore but she wasn’t sure, but she laughed when I brought up the Pink Pussycat. With a name like that you can take a wild guess what kind of business this place was, and you’d probably be right! Apparently his employer had purchased the land that the building sat on, and was going to use the building for something else. Some of the ahem – dancers – lived upstairs, and my  dad was given what he saw as the less than desirable job of telling these lovely young ladies they had to move out. Imagine in the late 1960’s, a 28-30 year old, ultra conservative young man going to tell strippers to move out of their apartments. He wasn’t terribly keen on this assignment and ended up taking a co-worker with him to get it done.

Speaking of downtown Minneapolis, my mother also told me a funny story about coming into downtown with her dad and mom, and younger sister. Her father owned a general store in that small town I mentioned, and came into Minneapolis from time to time to buy dry goods. Apparently they arrived late and when they got to the Hotel Andrews, it was full. Well Grandpa Cornie, the aforementioned corker, has them get ahold of his friend who was perhaps the manager, they find a room for them and get settled in with a second floor room facing Hennepin Avenue in about 1945. (If you ‘re unfamiliar with Minneapolis , Hennepin is the main drag through downtown, and has always been the central street for the bars, theaters, bums, pandhandlers, etc. It’s much better now, but always has been the focal point of downtown, and a great place to people watch.) After dark, on a rainy night. Across from the Gay 90s.

 

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1958 Photo courtesy Minnesota Historical Society

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

While today it’s most well known for being a gay bar, back in the 40’s  the location was first a restaurant called The Casablanca, then Shanghai House before becoming the Gay 90’s in 1948, and turning into a “striptease and jazz music” bar (info courtesy of Jeanne Andersen).  So my mom would have been 8, her sister 6, and she said she and her sister just sat and watched, and watched and watched for hours, all the drunks coming and going from the bar, their eyes so wide they about fell out of their heads!

 

 

I’m so glad I found the time to have that conversation with my mom, and to remember the stories from my grandparents. It’s sad when we don’t capture those moments and they’re gone.  I stumbled on some incredible resources tonight, with old photos of Minneapolis. Historyapolis is an amazing trove of old memories, as is Thomas Lowry’s Ghost on tumblr and this Minneapolis history site on Flickr. If you haven’t sat down and talked to your parents and grandparents about what life was like when they were kids, take the time to do it. It’s amazing what you’ll learn. Go through old website archives, take a stroll down memory lane. Start a journal or blog and write it down, before memories are gone, and along with them, the stories. Shortly after my dad died, I started a journal that was for memories of him. I wanted to capture those unique things that I knew I’d forget over time. I pulled that out today and added the story my mom just told me, and was looking back at some of what I’d put in there. What a gold mine! (And rich treasure for future blogs too.)  I am so glad I wrote those things down because I had forgotten some of them, and reading them made me smile and made me feel very, very lucky. It reminded me my life was full of moments of fancy pillows, even when I forget they’re there.

What’s Free Time?

“What are you going to do with all your free time?” Someone asked me that question the other day, when I told them I was getting ready to complete my post-graduate studies. Yes, after 5 long, long, LONG years, I am almost done. The end is in sight. Shortly after I post this my final paper and project will be turned in and then I will be free of the worst professor on the planet, and the countdown to walking graduation will start, and on December 15 I get to make my mom cry a few happy tears. But I digress.

Free time? What’s that? Oh yeah, it’s what other people have…insert snicker here. I used to know what it was. I was going to ask the people around me what they do in their free time, you know, like family and friends. Here’s the problem with that. After a few years of having no life, what do we do? We surround ourselves with OTHER PEOPLE JUST LIKE OURSELVES who also have no lives. ARGH. I’m in trouble. So I’ve started to dig deep into the recesses of the brain closet for old hobbies to resurrect.

Quilting was something that I liked, so I’ll probably try that again, hopefully I’ll have learned some patience over the last 5 years. And some precision. I do have a project that I started a number of years ago, and I never finished it so it would make a good one to tackle. My grandmother started a quilt when she was a girl, in the “granny’s flower garden” pattern. The blocks are hexagon shaped, and are of course hand quilted. When she did it, she accidentally put too many blocks together, so the center ended up oval. The pieced block ended up the wrong shape and she got stuck and ended up with 31 blocks that are about 12″ x 8″ that she didn’t know what to do with, and she quit. She ended up giving them to me, and I started by cutting hexagons to try to piece them by hand, but boy is THAT putzy. So maybe I’ll try to figure out something else. I could do…..

Knitting…now THERE’s an old lady pastime! Sitting in a rocking chair by the fire, kitty at my feet. Crap, there goes the cat again, chewing on the yarn. “Stop it! Let go of the yarn” and I stop my foot. “That’s $20 a skein from England and is a gift for Amy, darn it!” (not really, Amy, don’t get excited.) Or I could….

Probably the one I’m most excited about is photography. We do have several cameras and lenses and I love getting out and just shooting nature, and trying different things. We have some fabulous locations close by here and I can’t wait to just take a chair and sit, and have the time to just wait for the opportunities to happen. Isn’t that a lovely phrase? “Have the time to just wait”? How often do we ever do that? For anything? Yeah, me neither. But it’s a nice thought….

In the meantime, it’s 26 days, 11 hours, 43 minutes until graduation. But who’s counting? It’s not like I’m impatient or anything.