Sunday, October 26, 2008

Great for a rainy weekend

I love BookTV, the weekend programming on C-Span 2.

Where else, in one weekend, can you hear lengthy talks, usually with Q&A sessions, with many well-known and diverse writers. Only this past weekend I heard Jessie Ventura, Ralph Reed, Stephen Pinker, Alice Schroder, David Horwitz, Lee&Roger Peterson (Peterson Field Guide to Birds), Christopher Buckley, T. Boone Pickens, Allan Greenspan and others give talks or long interviews and take unscreened questions.

It's usually informative, though sometimes I strongly disagree with the speaker. I find particularly interesting the unscripted comments made informally in the Q&A sessions. About half the talks/interviews I would enjoy, given the time to watch; the others I skip.
Many of the sessions are available as podcast, and can be downloaded for listening while walking or on longer drives. I prefer to watch the speakers however, and occasionally they have visual media with the formal talks.
Sometimes I have already read the books, sometimes I am motivated to buy and read them, and sometimes I'm convinced I don't need/want to read their book.
Granted, not every weekend has such a notable lineup, but often there is. If you have never sampled this programing, running continuously for 48 hours starting at 0800 most Saturday mornings, you may be pleasantly surprised if you give it a try.

Monday, October 20, 2008



For those of you living locally, I have a restaurant recommendation for you.

(click Picture to enlarge)

Barbara and I were for some reason thinking this was a Greek restaurant and decided to give it a try last Saturday. We found a couple of things to our surprise.
First, it is Lebanese, not Greek.
Second, we have eaten this food before, just at another location and a long time ago. It is owned/run by a Lebanese couple who used to have a restaurant down on 16th Street SW, at the back corner of a large furniture store. We ate there a few times, and then were very disappointed one day to arrive and find them permanently closed. . . that was many years ago. She has now reopened at this new site and has developed a good lunch crowd with no advertising whatever. They are open in the evenings as well; closed on Sunday.
I strongly recommend the falafel plate. The sandwiches are ~$4, and the plates are ~$7-9.
This unpretentious strip mall Lebanese restaurant is out on Center Point Road, just north of Boysen Road, and next to Roasters Coffee shop for those of you who have been by there. The menu is short but all the food is cooked to order. They have no web site I can provide, and I doubt they ever will. Give it a try.

Monday, October 13, 2008


The Plan: For the second time in 3 weeks, Barbara and I looked a few days ahead and saw what is not all that common; a weekend with both of us uncommitted and with good weather. Yes, there was a pile of paperwork to be done. Yes, there was yard work needing to be finished before the snow falls. Yes, the laundry pile was overflowing. No, we were not about to be responsible and stay at home to do all those things; gas was $2.55 and falling and there were lots of cheap hotel rooms waiting in Des Moines. We took the old Lincoln Highway (Hwy 30) which we consider more picturesque than I-80. The harvest was underway and the greens and golds of the rolling hills were beautiful to watch go by on the 2-hour drive.

We had two main objectives in Des Moines; the Art Museum and Salisbury House.

Saturday afternoon: The Des Moines Art Center is a small collection in a uninspiring original building, with a new wing that makes up in design for its modest size. I will be honest. I have trouble with a 2' square canvas with white paint holding a place of honor (as an example of minimalism) in a civic collection of art. Not to mislead you, I did enjoy the time there, and there were a few notable works (if it is an Edward Hopper or a Georgia O'Keeffe it has to be notable I presume?) I wouldn't go to Des Moines just to visit it however.

Saturday evening: We tried a new restaurant, Sage, on University just west of 65th. You can check out the menu at the Sage web site. Barbara had a wonderful spinach-cashew-strawberry salad. My Cesar salid was pretty standard. For an entree, I had Duck breast and duck confit on risotto with a duck reduction sauce, and a pumpkin cake with soft goat cheese topping desert. Barbara had a good pasta dish, though it was a little spicy. They have a large selection of wines by the glass, and about 50 different 1/2 bottles on the extensive wine list. I was pleased with a glass of Four Vines Zin; Barbara said the water was excellent.

Sunday: The Salisbury House , unlike the Art Center, is worth a trip and an afternoon if you are in Iowa. Salisbury House is considered one of the "American Castles." Built by Carl Weeks, a pharmacist who made millions before the depression selling a cosmetic mix of powder and cold cream, it is more or less a copy of a 16-17th century English manor house near Salisbury Cathedral in England, built with a more or less unlimited budget and with 20th century conveniences, it does a credible job of transporting one back in time (we visited many of these old manors when we lived in England in the 70's.) It was in the hands of the teacher's institute for a number of years, but is now owned by a preservation organization that is doing a fine job of restoration. Some random pictures of Salisbury house follow:

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Apples, Art and the Holy Ghost

About 15 years ago, Barbara and I did a day trip to the Apple Festival in Gays Mills, Wisconson. We had memories of the small-town fair with sampling tables of apples of all varities, applewood BBQ stands and locally made pies. The weather forecast was OK and I had the weekend off for a change, so off we went.
(left click on pictures to enlarge)

The Apples were largely ready for harvest. . .

The country side was beautiful with the crops approaching harvest . . .

Unfortunately, thousands of others had the same idea, and the small local stands and small warehouses had been replaced by much larger operations taking advantage of the tourist moving from orchard to orchard. Even in Gays Mills, the quaint, local fair had been replace by a . . . well . . . simply something a bit on the "tacky" side. We didn't even stop in the town. As I said, there was a high overcast, but this made the drive and views very plesant.

We did visit one more interesting place on this outing; the Holy Ghost park with the Dickeyville Grotto:

This is really the grounds of the Holy Ghost Catholic Church in Dickeyville, Wisconson. Here I stand at the entrance to the church grounds, which include the church, the cemetery, the grotto, and a lot more.

The Dickeyville Grotto is a series of grottos and shrines, and currently has 40-60,000 vivistors yearly. The Dickeyville Grotto was built by Father Mathius Wernerus, the pastor of Dickeyville's Holy Ghost Parish, from 1920 to 1930, and was renovated between 1995 and 1997. This preist had a LOT of time on his hands, and it seemed to Barbara and I that he was a better than average artist. Nearly all of the site's concrete structures are covered in shells, stones, tiles, wood, glass, gems and geodes from the area donated by parishioners. He inlaid them into the concrete in a fascinating moasiac, creating animals, trees, slippers, flowers. It sounds like a lot of kitsch, but it comes off as real art when viewed closely and individually (see the pictures below).
While most of the site's components are religious in nature, the Patriotism Shrine includes depictions of the liberty bell, Columbus, Washington, and Lincoln.

At least part of the purpose of this shrine was to demonstrate the patriotism of Catholics; Protestant Americans of the time believed that Catholics' allegiance to the Pope conflicted with their allegiance to the United States. Dickeyville's grotto itself inspired many other grottos throughout Wisconsin.

The grotto itself stands adjacent to the church.

This 6ft piece of petrified wood is incorporated into a green tree.

These fish swim through a crystaline and aquamarine river.

For someone else's take on the Dickeyville Grotto:

There are several more midwest grottos including these:

Here is a general information link about the concept of grottos and some links to midwest grottos: