October 22/18 (Part 4) – Eau Claire, Wisconsin to Tea, South Dakota – Blue Earth, Minnesota – in the Valley of the Jolly Ho Ho Ho, Green Giant

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Blue Earth was first mapped in 1856 and takes its name from the Blue Earth River that surrounds the town. It is from the Dakota name Mahka-to which means Blue Earth after the colour of the clay in the river banks.

The population of the city was shown as 3,353 in the 2010 census down from 4,200 in 1960. The main claim to fame for this fair city and the reason for our stop is a 55 foot tall statue of the Green Giant. Apparently, the statue attracts 10,000 visitors per year.

(Source – Wikipedia)

I tried to find this attraction on the GPS, but failed, because I left out the word “Jolly”. Come on! Its a freaking big statue of a fictional green giant. Why the H do I need to add the word Jolly.

Anyhow, the info center was closed and there was construction in the parking area, so we parked in the parking lot of the adjacent business and walked over, beating our way through the crowds of….uh….thou….uh….well there were no crowds. There was only us.  There is also a memorabilia museum in the town, but we only wanted to see the Jolly Green Giant and the Little Green Sprout.

We were not disappointed and the entire stop took us all of 10 minutes.

In truth, we did not think how this first photo would look until we saw it back home on the big screen. Oops.

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These 2 pix  give you an idea how big the statue is.

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My wife thought this photo gave the big guy a saintly glow.

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October 22/18 (Part 3) – Eau Claire, Wisconsin to Tea, South Dakota – Austin, Minnesota – SPAMtastic

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Austin is named after Austin Nichols, who built the fist cabin in the area in 1853. This city, located on the Cedar River, was incorporated in 1856. Mills on the Cedar River were the first industries, providing flour and lumber for the area. In 1891, George A. Hormel opened a butcher shop in Austin, eventually growing the business into today’s Fortune 500 company, Hormel Foods. The population of Austin is 24,718 as of the 2010 census. (Source-Wikipedia).

Some buildings on the neat and tidy Main Street.

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Minnesota truly is the home of the strange and the unique. The SPAM Museum in Austin, Minnesota is one such place. It has 7 galleries and 14,000 square feet of space dedicated to this canned, pre-cooked pork meat product developed by the Hormel Foods Corporation in 1937. It gained popularity after its use for field rations in World War II. It is sold in 41 countries on six continents. One billion cans of SPAM had been sold by 1959 and the eight billionth can was sold in 2012. (Source-Wikipedia)

Admission to the museum is free and it is open 10 AM – 5 PM, Monday to Saturday and 11 AM – 4 PM on Sunday.

Mystery Meat

We rolled into Austin without a real program,

our first time in town, we had no clue where to go.

Our GPS, Gertie searched for Museum SPAM,

and found it at last, bright blue siding, all aglow.

Inside, smiling staff showed how the displays did work,

pointing out seven galleries, gleaming and new.

They told us how this product made from ham and pork,

all around the world had captured hearts, quite a few.

Shiny displays told the whole Hormel history,

of US soldiers sharing cans of SPAM ample.

wherever they went, thus solving the mystery.

Sadly, we left without tasting any SPAMples.

October 22/18 (Part 2) – Eau Claire, Wisconsin to Tea, South Dakota – Minnesota

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We felt a little bad driving across Minnesota, without really spending any time there. It was on our route and we did find some things to see along the way, but, to be truthful, it reminded us of Saskatchewan, except with corn fields instead of wheat fields.

Minnesota was admitted as the 32nd U.S. state on May 11, 1858. It is the 12th largest in area and the 22nd largest in population with 5,628,128 residents (2018 estimate). Industries include agriculture, mining and forestry. The capital city is St. Paul and the Mall of America in Bloomington is the largest shopping center in the U.S. (23rd in the world) at 390,000 square meters total area. It was supposed to be larger than West Edmonton Mall in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, but so far, WEM is still the largest in North America (19th in the world) at 490,000 square meters. (Source-Wikipedia)

So it was, we rolled across the Mississippi River into Wabasha, Minnesota.

This city of 2,510 (2010 census sits on the confluence of the Chippewa and Mississippi Rivers. It is named after the Mdewakanton Dakota/Anishinaabe chiefs (father, son and grandson) Wapi-sha or red leaf. (Source-Wikipedia).

It was a pretty town and we should have stopped there, but, we rolled on.

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We spotted this strange rock formation near Wabasha.

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As we drove along up and out of the Mississippi valley, the land got flatter and flatter and the farms, corn fields and wind farms seemed to stretch on forever.

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October 22/18 (Part 1) – Eau Claire, Wisconsin to Tea, South Dakota – Wisconson Drive

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Today, we had planned a long drive from Eau Claire, through Minnesota and on to Tea, South Dakota. There were sights and things to see along the way, but, we did not think we would  be stopping for long at any one location. This did not turn out to be quite correct.

The included Grandstay breakfast was pretty good and we loaded up the car, ready to head out. The temperature was close to freezing and we had to warm the car up a little bit and also be careful when driving until the sun came up.

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Our route took us through the rolling farm lands, past frosty fields and barns.

The reflections on the pond in Eleva lured us in for a short stop.

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Barns, old and new flashed past the car windows and soon, there was no doubt that we were in the “Corn Belt”. This is an area of the Midwest that since the 1850s has produced most of the corn in the U.S., which produces 40% of world production. It stretches from Ohio in the East to South Dakota West and from Michigan in the North to Kentucky in the South. This fertile land is mostly level. Most corn is fed to livestock, particularly hogs and poultry. (Source-Wikipedia)

On several of the high ridges, signs advertised scenic overlooks, but even with the leaves gone, the view was kind of overgrown. Nonetheless, there were still some good views.

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Before we knew it, we were rolling across the Mississippi River and into Wabasha, Minnesota.

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A Flicker of Interest

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Yesterday (Feb 8/19), our neighbour called to let us know that a there was a bird stuck on the side of our house. Wait, what?

I had often seen squirrels use the struck-off stucco finish as their own personal climbing gym, but a bird. Grab my coat,. grab my boots, grab my camera and sneak out the back door, so as not to disturb the bird. Here is what I saw.

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Emboldened, I tried to improve my position to get  better photos. I took about 4 steps through the snow drifts and the bird flew off.

I headed back inside to see what kind of bird had paid us a visit, thinking it must be a member of the woodpecker family. All of the woodpecker photos I looked at either had too much red or a short bill.

I finally lit on the flicker family and determined that this was a Northern Flicker, which is from the genus Colaptes, which encompasses 12 new world woodpeckers. The Northern Flicker is a medium sized bird and one of the few woodpecker species that migrate. (Source: Wikipedia)

OK, so why did this guy not migrate.

Wikipedia goes on to say that the bird is known by many names – Yellowhammer, clape, gaffer woodpecker, harry-wicket, heigh-ho, awe-up, walk-up, wick-up, yarrup and gawker-bird. Many of these names derive from attempts to imitate some of its calls.

Just goes to show that you never know what bird will drop by unannounced. What unusual birds have you seen in your area?

 

Really Cleaning Up

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Central Alberta’s winter weather and car washing requirements require a precise plan to get the most out of your car wash $. Edmonton insists on using a Calcium Chloride Anti Icing spray on their roads, despite evidence that it causes damage to roads, overpasses and metal vehicle parts. In certain weather, it also seems to create a very slick road surface, where regular sand and salt would give a better grip.

Sitting in our local Shell touchless car wash recently, we were presented with this colourful soapy display on the side window. If you take the photo in isolation, you might mistake it for modern art or perhaps some form of stained glass.

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Slipping and sliding through winter weather Hell,

the day seems just right to pop into the Shell

car wash for a hot, soapy wash and clear rinse,

even though the price would make most of us wince.

Is it so cold, doors will freeze bottom to top,

or so warm, the drive home will be filled with slop?

Lots to puzzle out as we sit in the line,

waiting to get rid of that Edmonton brine.

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Dedica-TED to Coffee – Confessions of a Coffee Snob

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OK, I admit it, I am addicted to good coffee.

Ever since we went to Europe in 1984 and enjoyed Espressos, Cappucinos and Café au Laits, I was never happy with the coffee back home.

My first attempt at good coffee was with a stove top Moka pot, then a French press and finally a series of DeLonghi Espresso machines at the bottom end of the cost spectrum. They were all “just OK”.

No home coffee can ever be successful if you do not buy fresh beans and grind them yourself. I tried beans from Woodwards, Safeway, Sobeys, Second Cup, Starbucks and others. At grocery store locations, they used to have a coffee mill so you could grind your own beans. This has now disappeared, as has the mess created when someone (not me) forgot to put the bag under the spout.

About 40 years ago, I realized that to get full coffee flavour, I would need to grind my own beans. I purchased a Braun burr grinder (state of the art at the time), which served me well. About three years ago, the Moka setting no longer gave me the fine grind I needed. The grinding process became more of a shattering process. Enter a budget DeLonghi burr grinder. At $75 on sale, I thought it was a good deal. The first grinder stopped working after grinding only 2 small bags of beans. The warranty replacement went on grinding for a few more months, until I realized it too, was just shattering the beans. Turns out the burr in this grinder was a series of metal studs mounted in a plastic wheel. Hmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm. I dug out my 40 year-old Braun with its adjustable hopper (turn clockwise to make fine Moka grind and counter-clockwise to make coarser grinds) and noted there were small plastic pins on the hopper bottom to keep the grinder from setting the burrs too close together. I trimmed these off, adjusted the hopper and Voila, I was again getting Moka. The Delonghi grinder was banished to my basement, where it languishes to this day.

When my reliable (cheap) 15 Mbar DeLonghi espresso maker started failing, I looked around for better alternatives. These ran the gamut of a simple cheap replacement, all the way up to $750 machines with integrated grinders. Walking through London Drugs one day, I noticed a $450 DeLonghi Dedica (feature photo) on sale for $250. I was sold.

It has automatic settings for single and double shots and one for frothing. No more timing shots and frothing is also pump-aided, which helps maintain a constant steam pressure for better foamed milk and more uniform bubble size.

Now, all I needed to do was find the right beans for the right price. London Drugs Commercial Drive and Ethical beans did it for a while, but they were not always the freshest. Quite by accident, I stumbled across a source for Vancouver’s 49th Parallel Roaster’s beans out at EIA outlet mall and I am now set. Good grinder, good beans, good machine, great coffee. Now, I only have to learn how to do good foam art.

OK, I admit it, I am addicted to good coffee.

Below is my 3 shot Latte (actually more of a flat white… more coffee, less milk).

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October 21/18 (Part 4) – Escanaba, Michigan to Eau Claire, Wisconsin – Eau Claire

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Eau Claire (clear water)  is Wisconsin’s 9th largest city with a population of 65,883 as of 2010 census. First settled in 1845, West Eau Claire was founded in 1856 and incorporated in 1872. (Source:Wikipedia)

The name originates from French explorers who traveled down the rain muddied Chippewa River and arriving at the Eau Claire River, they exclaimed “Voici l’eau claire” (Here is the clear water). (*Source-Wikipedia)

This was to be the first of 4 nights in Grandstay Hotels and after our motel experience in Escanaba, this was definitely at the opposite end of the spectrum.

After, we were all settled, we went down to the front desk to ask where we could go for a good walk. They suggested Carson Park, which is the place I also came up with, when I did the planning for the trip.

Carson Park is a 134 acre (54.2 ha) park on Half Moon Lake (an oxbow lake on the former course of the Chippewa River). The park was on land donated by a former lumber baron, William Carson in 1914. It opened one year later. The park also contains football and baseball parks and the Chippewa Museum. (Source:Wikipedia)

Gertie, our faithful GPS got us there easily and we circled the park, looking for a good place to park, so we could start the hike.

It took us a while to find decent path and a good part of our walk was actually on the road. But, we were able to stretch our legs and for this, we were grateful.

Now feeling hungry, we set off in search of Casa Vallarta, the Mexican restaurant we had sussed out before leaving the hotel. The food was delicious and we pretty much had the place to ourselves.

October 21/18 (Part 1) – Escanaba, Michigan to Eau Claire, Wisconsin – Everything is just Rosy in Escanaba

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Rosy Glow

A breakfast of desk coffee and donuts did not entice,

so it was off downtown to a diner rated as nice.

Driving along the street, its location we were scoping,

but rattling the door, it was obviously not open.

Just as we turned away to go seek our breakfast elsewhere,

the door opened up and we were given an icy stare.

You folks can rattle the door all you want, it won’t open,

the diner opens at eight, if for breakfast, you’re hopin’.

But come right on in, don’t stand outside on the cold front street,

I’ll rustle you up some breakfast, if you’ve a mind to eat.

Is your corned beef hash thick or thin, I carefully queried?

Because you asked, I’ll not serve it, she said looking harried.

Breakfast ordered, served and eaten, delicious it all was,

she put a hash sample plate in front of me and then paused.

I’m giving you this, so you know what you have been missing,

put that damn camera down, she pointed at me, hissing.

Meal now done and bill settled up, we could not help but smile,

we had just been served our breakfast, in first class Rosy style.

Now, just so you all know, the hash was in fact thick cut and while it was good, I do prefer thin cut. I guess that makes me unusual in this part of the world.

We drove back down to the waterfront to watch the sun come up over Lake Michigan. Being Sunday morning, there were not many other folks out yet.

We drove back to our motel to collect our things. Escanaba may not be rich, but it had a wealth of community spirit and we had certainly had some experiences there.