Thursday, August 31, 2023

Do-It-Yourself Scenic Overlook - Kansas-Style


I suppose I've always taken sunflowers for granted. As a Kansas native, these sunshiny flowers have become part of my peripheral vision as I motor down the road in the summer, usually in a hurry to get to where I'm going.

In our immediate area, they seem a little less plentiful as ditches have narrowed or been mowed. So as we were traveling down a more secluded dirt road in our Gator and I saw the blanket of sunflowers stretching toward the horizon, I wanted my chauffeur to stop. The national parks have scenic overlooks. I could do a make-your-own version, Kansas-style.

Summertime is sunflower time in Kansas. And even though our Iowa friends may believe it's a noxious weed, it's our noxious weed, thank you very much (with apologies to my son-in-law's Iowa family). The genus Helianthus comes from the Greek "helios" meaning "sun" and "anthos" meaning "flower." The species "annuus" means "annual."

The sunflower grows in every Kansas county due to its adaptability to soils from sand to clay and its toleration of dry to medium moist soils. In the summer and early fall, the yellow flowers give the prairies and roadsides a golden glow.

From the Kim's County Line archives

Sunflowers were cultivated in North America as far back as 3000 BC and were introduced to the rest of the world by Spanish Conquistadors in 1500. 

According to an article in The Hutchinson News by Steve Gilliland, in 1901, George Morehouse, a state senator from Council Grove, attended a rodeo in Colorado Springs where all the Kansas folks in attendance wore sunflowers identifying them as Kansans. Morehouse was so moved and inspired by the Kansas spirit, that upon returning home, he drafted the bill naming the sunflower as our state flower. It was adopted in 1903.

So, this year, it's especially appropriate to celebrate the sunflower, since it's the 120th anniversary of its status as official state flower. The 1903 proclamation said it was chosen for "its strong, distinct disk and its golden circle of clear, glowing rays."

In this original bill, Morehouse also stated:

 “This flower has to all Kansans an historical symbolism which speaks of frontier days, winding trails, pathless prairie and is full of the life and glory of the past, the pride of the present and richly emblematic of the majesty of the golden future, and is a flower which has given Kansas the world-wide name “The Sunflower State.”

I've transitioned to my sunflower decor in my living room. So I have sunflowers "blooming" all around me. 

The last several blog posts, I've reported on tourist spots in Iowa, Chicago and Missouri. We enjoyed those travels. But we are pretty fond of Kansas, too. 


Tuesday, August 29, 2023

The M-I-S-S-I-S-S-I-P-P-I!


Do you remember as a grade school kid learning that little chant to help you remember how to spell Mississippi? I do, just as easily as I remember that riveting poetry, "Pop, pop, pop, goes the popcorn in the pan! Pop, pop, pop! You can catch me if you can!" (Yes, sometimes I can't remember why I walk in a room, but I remember grade school poetry).

Our trip back from Chicago included a stop in Hannibal, Mo. It is located on the banks of the M-i-s-s-i-p-p-i. As I mentioned in the earlier blog post from LeClaire, Iowa, Randy is fascinated by our country's major rivers. It's not like he grew up by the water - unless you count Peace Creek or Rattlesnake Creek. But he's fascinated, nonetheless. 

As we were figuring out our itinerary for the trip to Chicago for the wedding, he planned the stop on our way back home at Hannibal, Missouri. Several weeks before the trip, Randy called the Mark Twain river boat, hoping to book a dinner cruise on the Mississippi. But the day we were to be there, the river boat was booked for a private event. He was disappointed, but we still decided to stop in Hannibal. We could still see the river up close instead of from the top of a highway bridge. And we knew Hannibal provided plenty of history with the Mark Twain museum attractions. 

From the shoreline, we watched the Mark Twain river boat set sail that Sunday evening as they motored down the Mississippi with a private group.

Earlier in the day, we had seen the boat out on the river - along with a dramatic sky!

We also got to see a tug boat - the Sir Randall - taking off from the Center Street Landing. However, we weren't able to see it perform its duties after it departed.

We were thrilled to discover there were hour-long scenic cruises offered - sans meal service - on the Mark Twain river boat. We booked two spots on the boat for the next day.

My travel companion was a happy camper - or happy boater.

 We sat up on the third deck so we could have a wide open view.


We saw the Mark Twain Memorial Lighthouse from the river. We did not walk up its 244 steps. 

I think one of the reasons Randy is interested in major rivers is because they serve as a thoroughfare in moving and exporting grain. 

This barge was loaded with wheat. Another barge parked out in the river was loaded with cement from the Continental Cement Plant, a business that's been operating in Hannibal since 1903. The riverboat captain said the company's cement has been used in many construction projects, including the Empire State Building and the Panama Canal.  More recently, the cement was used in the Minnesota Vikings’ new football stadium and the St. Louis Cardinals’ newest baseball stadium.

Coming back onto the landing after our cruise.

The riverboat captain also recommended going to Riverview Park, and we were glad he did. What beautiful views of the Mighty Mississippi!

From there, we could also see the grain handling facility - another bonus for Randy. It was located right along the river and by a train track.

A giant statue of Mark Twain also looked over the river from the park. It commemorates Twain's days as a riverboat captain. In 1859, he became a licensed pilot on the Lower Mississippi River. 


When his piloting career ended with the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861, Clemens went to the Nevada Territory where he first used the pen name Mark Twain in 1863 while writing for The Territorial Enterprise in Virginia City, Nev. Clemens took the name from the river sounding that indicated 12 feet of water, which was safe for navigation. 

I told Randy this photo would be more impressive if you couldn't see the cars in the museum parking lot - ha!

Before our river excursion, we toured the Mark Twain Museum complex.  It included the Huckleberry Finn House, Mark Twain Boyhood Home, Becky Thatcher House, and Grant's Drug Store.

Twain wrote his many books at this desk, including those about Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn.

Mark Twain was a master at "stretching" the truth and adding exciting details to dress up stories. Real people were developed into exciting and colorful characters. He used his childhood in Hannibal to inspire the characters.

The museum has an impressive display of Norman Rockwell art. Already famous for his Saturday Evening Post covers, Rockwell got the opportunity in 1935 to illustrate editions of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

I discovered that none of the previous illustrators had taken the trouble to visit Hannibal, Missouri, where Twain had lived as a boy. ... After I'd been in Hannibal for a few days, I had a sketchbook full of authentic details.
Norman Rockwell

The edition of Tom Sawyer with Rockwell's illustrations appeared in 1936 and Huckleberry Finn in 1940. Rockwell gave them to the Mark Twain Museum before his death in 1978.  

As an avid reader and a former newspaper writer and editor, it was interesting to me to learn that Twain was not without his naysayers. Book banning is nothing new.

The Concord (Mass.) Public Library committee has decided to exclude Mark Twain's latest book from the library. One member of the committee says that while he does not wish to call it immoral, he thinks it contains but little humor and that of a very coarse type. He regards it was the veriest trash. The librarian and the other members of the committee entertain similar views, characterizing it as rough, coarse, inelegant, dealing with a series of experiences not elevating, the whole book being more suited to the slums that to intelligent, respectable people.
The Boston Transcript
March 1885

Mark Twain definitely didn't take himself too seriously.

High and fine literature is wine, and mine is only water. But everybody likes water.
Mark Twain
Since we returned home, Randy has re-read both Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn.
The home of Tom Blankenship, who Twain used as inspiration for the character Huck Finn.

 We also had to visit Becky Thatcher's Ice Cream Parlor.

After leaving Hannibal, we also enjoyed an overnight stop in Kansas City, where we got to see these two. 

We ate supper at the Kansas City Taco Co. and had ice cream at Betty Rae's. Then we listened to jazz at the Green Lady Lounge. I didn't get a photo, but we were also glad to see our friend, Barb, before returning home - just in time to make dinner for 40 for the Core group two days later. Back to reality!

Thursday, August 24, 2023

Chicago, Chicago, That Toddlin' Town


 "Chicago, Chicago, that toddlin' town ..."

Contrary to what Frank Sinatra's song says about Chicago being a "toddlin' town," I think it's more accurate to say it travels at an all-out sprint.

We arrived in Chicago in mid-afternoon - theoretically, ahead of rush hour traffic. But we visitors from rural Kansas thought it was plenty busy. In our rural Kansas neighborhood, the biggest obstacles for traffic are pulling over to let giant farm implements pass by or dodging deer at twilight. 

How did we navigate the concrete jungle and all its roadway options before Google Maps right on our telephones? We missed one turn, but our Google "friend" recalculated quickly, and we made it to the hotel. I let out a big sigh of relief. And nobody even honked at us! Success! (After we were in Houston a couple of years ago for a K-State bowl game, we were feeling good that Randy only got honked at a couple of times. That's one way we gauge our navigation success in unfamiliar territory.)

We got to the hotel and parked our car until it was time to leave for home. Randy texted the kids and asked how many bushels of wheat it would take to pay our parking bill at the end of our stay. It wasn't cheap, but can you put a price tag on letting Uber drivers fight the unrelenting traffic? We think not. 

We were in Chicago to help my sister, Darci, and her husband, Andrew, celebrate the wedding of his oldest daughter, Julia. Before we got there, Darci suggested downloading Curb, an app that connects you to Chicago cabs. I successfully completed a Curb transaction, and we were delivered to Darci's and Andrew's condo for an evening pre-wedding, get acquainted party.

It's just a bit different from our evening view at home.

These shots were taken from their balcony on the 16th floor.

Uber and Curb weren't our only transportation methods. We also walked around the neighborhood surrounding the hotel.

We ate breakfast one day at a McDonald's franchise located next to its Hamburger University. It's where they train McDonald's franchise owners from around the world. Randy says he's already a graduate student in hamburgers. The menu there included a few international options. Kent and Randy tried a British breakfast sandwich.

We also rode the subway to Wrigleyville, thanks to the navigation skills of my sister Lisa and sister-in-law Suzanne.

Once there, we went to a Chicago Cubs game.

The Cubs didn't win their game vs. the Atlanta Braves, but it was still a fun experience.

That evening, we went to a pre-wedding gathering after the wedding party had a brief rehearsal.

For we Kansans, it was our first exposure to the traditions connected to a Jewish wedding.
Julia and Dan with their officiant (at left)
On the Saturday of the wedding, we went to the Shedd Aquarium in the morning before we needed to get ready for the wedding ceremony that evening.

 Even though Randy and I have visited Chicago several times, we'd never been to the Shedd. It was impressive.

The wedding was beautiful. (I shared photos from that in an earlier blog post. Click HERE for those.)

Lisa and I thought some of the pre-wedding music sounded like it was from the soundtrack of Fiddler on the Roof. 

 It was quite a party. 

On the blog next time: We stopped in Hannibal, Mo., and Kansas City on the way back home.