I know – that last post was a very, very long one. But the good news, this is very, very short. Actually, I forgot to put it in the last post. But that’s ok, because now it can get the attention I think it really deserves. Yes, for all of you pasta lovers out there, may I present – Stile di Famiglia, or what I like to call, THE FORK .
We found the fork in a neighborhood of Omaha, Nebraska. It is a sculpture by Jake Balcom, that was finished in 2010. It is a beautiful Stainless Steel utensil with dimensions of 13’x7’x8′. It is owned by The Towns of Little Italy Homeowner’s Association.The sculpture was funded by a donation from Bluestone Development, a hip real estate development company, and their developer partner, the Caniglia Family. The Caniglia Family owned and operated an Italian restaurant for 60 years and when they decided to close, they wanted the property transformed into a benefit for the neighborhood that treated them so well. After sitting down with the family, an agreement was reached to create a City Neighborhood Townhouse Project. Through the development, it was learned that there is an Omaha Mayor and a Little Italy Mayor, and that there were/are underground tunnels dating back to the bootleg prohibition era. It was also learned that Little Italy can be divided between white sauce and red sauce (depending on what side of 20th street you lived.)
It was the residents of that townhouse project, The Homeowners Association of the Towns of Little Italy, that commissioned a sculpture through a design competition. The residents called for entries, based on a vision to commemorate the unique history of the neighborhood, one of the city’s oldest. Residents selected the artist, Jake Balcom, from among the entries. Once Balcom was chosen, the committee worked to select a site and make sure the sculpture was appropriate and met their goals. Balcom came up with an installation that is distinctly Italian, and that represents the feel for the town’s neighborhood at 7th and Pierce. This area seemed fun, friendly, and where the people are close to each other, much like a family. Balcom kept coming back to the idea of a big Italian family sitting around a table eating dinner, everyone talking about their life or how their week went, laughing and enjoying the company. ”With this in mind I went down to one of our local Italian restaurants for some research/inspiration and as I was eating my favorite pasta dish there, I looked down and caught myself twirling my pasta around my fork and instantly knew that this would make a fun and dynamic sculpture that would represent both the Italian heritage, the playfulness of the neighborhood, as well as pay homage to the Italian restaurant that used to occupy the lot”. As for the name, ‘Stile di Famiglia’ or ‘Family Style’ was chosen, which is in reference to a restaurant serving style, where food is served to guests in the same way you would at a big family dinner.
I love this sculpture. It may be because I’m Italian. Or maybe because I love pasta. Either way, this artwork just makes me happy!
This is a very long blog post, so grab a bottle of water, maybe a snack, and get comfy. Ready? Here we go…
First things first. I chose this title, purely to get your attention. Surely, you want to know how Barbara Walters
could possibly be connected. Well, they are – and they aren’t. Let me explain. Tim tells me I missed my calling. I should have been an interviewer like Barbara Walters. Once I get to talking with someone, they’ll usually tell me anything. I really don’t even have to ask. But I’ll let you in on my secret. I have learned that people just love to talk about themselves. I can talk to a stranger for 20 minutes or so, (it has happened), and they never once ask me anything about me or us. As long as the conversation is about “them”, they are perfectly happy to go on and on. I’ve used that to my advantage over the years. It used to upset me a little, as in poor me, nobody gives a hoot about us – they didn’t even bother to ask our names or where we were from… Truth is, they really don’t care! Fair enough. I’m ok with it after all this time, and have learned to accept it. But if you ask questions, trust me, you will get answers. We were in a campground on this trip where a woman, her 2 children, and her mother were intrigued with our little trailer, and asked if they could checkout the inside. Tim went in with them, and gave them a “tour”. When they came out, we continued to talk for more than a few minutes. She shared that she had just completed a seven-year sentence in prison. I made sure my face didn’t register any horror. I’ve never met anyone who spent time in prison. I wanted to ask her, “What for?”, but that’s where ignorance of “prison etiquette” comes in. I mean when someone tells you they just got out of prison, is it ok to ask, “Why did you have to go?” I just don’t know. I figure if she wanted me to know, she would have told me. As in, “I went to prison for robbing a bank”, or” for killing my husband”. She didn’t, and so I didn’t – If anyone is familiar with prison etiquette – please let me know. I may run into this situation again – you know I will!
If you follow my blog, you may remember Chislick, the food found only in the southeast corner of South Dakota. Now, allow me to introduce you to Runza, a regional treat found in Nebraska.
A runza (also called a bierock, fleischkuche, or kraut pirok) is a yeast dough bread pocket with a filling consisting of beef, onions, sauerkraut or cabbage, and seasonings. They are baked in various shapes such as half-moon, rectangle, round, square, or triangle. In Nebraska, the runza is usually baked in a rectangular shape. There are actually fast food restaurants called, what else,
It’s a Mid-western fast food restaurant chain specializing in ethnic food that was once served by the Volga German immigrants to the United States…and there you have it a Runza.
By the way, it was delicious !!!
You’ve probably figured out by now, we finally made it to Nebraska, and I’ve got the sign to prove it.
But we didn’t make it to Minnesota or North Dakota. Unlike our big trip last year, there were time commitments. Rather than rush through it all like the Griswalds, we decided to take our time and “smell the roses” (or the corn, as it turns out.). Before we go on, let’s talk about the rather circuitous drive we took to get here. Even though our ultimate goal was north, as in Minnesota, we went south. We decided to stop in Northeast, Maryland, for a crab feast. I won’t go into detail, because we stopped here almost two years ago when we started out on our first year and a half road trip.
Here’s Tim in his glory.
After our crab feast it was pretty late, so we had to find a campground. Lucky for us, we stumbled upon Elk Neck State Park in Northeast, Maryland. What a gem. (Please check out this park in my Campground Review Page). No RV? No problem. They have two different kinds of cabins that you can rent by the night. It was so lovely, we plan on visiting this fall for a few days.
Up and at em’ the next day, we came across an outdoor shrine that honors St. Padre Pio, in Buena, New Jersey. St. Padre Pio is an extraordinary example of a pious man. It is said that God gave Padre Pio many extraordinary “spiritual gifts and divine powers, including the gifts of healing, bilocation (the ability to begin two places at the same time), prophecy, miracles, discernment of spirits, the ability to abstain beyond man’s natural powers from both sleep and nourishment, the ability to read hearts, the gift of tongues (the ability to speak and understand languages that he had never studied), the gift of conversions, the grace to see angelic beings in form, and the fragrance which emanated from his wounds and which frequently announced his invisible presence”. When a friend once questioned him about these charismas, Padre Pio said, “You know, they are a mystery to me, too.” He does sound like quite a man – a saint , if you will. Please Google him if you want more info. But, here are a few photos.
In Morgantown, West Virginia, we stopped for fuel. Stopping for gas is pretty common, but I don’t think this is. On the drive leading out of the station, there was a “Blessing Box”. Having never heard of one, I looked it up.
So what’s a Blessing Box? The concept is simple. The box is a miniature food pantry — receiving items from those who want to donate, and offering it to those who need them.
“Whether you’re taking or giving, you can just go to the blessing box, “There’s not a lock on it — it’s open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.” Nice idea !
Ohio was full of surprises.
Always on the lookout for roadside attractions and oddities, we read about Dr. Ryan, the chiropractor, with his 25 foot tall tree trunk carved into the replica of a spine, and “splines”. Sometimes these excursions don’t quite work out. Dr. Ryan told us that his tree had fallen just two weeks ago. But – we did find something very cool, especially since my son Christian is a chiropractor.
Here’s the remnant:
What did we find? SPLINES !!! what the heck are splines you may ask. Well, “splines” are lines to delineate spaces in his parking area, in the shape of spines – hence, “splines” ! Don’t you just love them?
Not too far from the chiropractor was a field of 6′ concrete corn, in Dublin, Ohio.
This former corn field, sprouts 109 people-sized ears of concrete corn. Although it is a large oddball art display, it’s also a salute to Sam Frantz, an inventor of hybrid corn – a very weird sight along the highway. M. Frantz farmed this site from 1935 to 1963, using it as a study field for tasty mutant strains. Apparently, he was well known for his development of hybrid corn seeds, and worked with Ohio State University on hybridization projects. He donated this land, now named Sam and Eulalia Frantz Park, after his farming days were over.
In Zanesville, Ohio, we found Cotrill’s Sidewalk of Sculpture. The block outside Alan Cottrill’s sculpture studio serves as an open-air bronze statue gallery, with many more pieces inside. Check out the sheep wearing ice skates, a boy reading, and the Indian on the roof, just a few of the scores of sculptures.
Also in Zanesville, we found a Pile of War Dead Helmets, erected in 2010, This sculpture is a nod of thanks to 297 Muskingum County servicemen killed in World War II and the Korean War, represented by a pile of individually named helmets.
In Dublin Ohio, we found the Watlao Buddhamamakaram Buddhist Shrine. While driving, you start to think “there’s no way there’s a Buddhist temple around here.” Then, all of a sudden, there it is. It really is beautiful and if you visit on a sunny day it glistens and sparkles. The colors and shine seem to be out of place in the neighborhood. The yard is surrounded by a low brick wall and every brick column is a shrine to someone who has passed. It was dedicated on 6-13-2009 and is known as the Watlao Buddhamamakaram, which translates as Lao Buddhist Temple. It was built by the local Laotian community, and is also used as a place to gather. The temple is very ornate, with two sets of dragons on both sides of the steps leading to the front entrance. There are spires and golden flames on the roof, and lots of decorative columns all around the building. Check out these photos, although they really don’t do it justice.
We arrived at our 1st destination, Omaha, the the Pine Grove campground. ( For a review, please checkout campground reviews) But I will say, that in all the many months of traveling, this is a first. A complete bar and lounge in the camp office, including jello shots. They also have sandwiches and delicious pizza. You just can’t go wrong here. Plus, they have a decent working internet. Love it!
When crossing from Iowa into Nebraska, the first notable thing we saw was a shrine – The Holy Family Shrine it turns out. It was oddly beautiful from the highway, and so we vowed to visit once we were settled in at Pine Grove. And so the next day, we did. This is a very special and unusual church. “It serves as a place of rest and solitude for people of all faiths and allows the Holy Spirit to have free access to their soul”. Strangely, The Holy Family Shrine does not host any weddings, funerals, baptisms, renewal of wedding vows, proposals, or anything connected with wedding parties.
In order to visit, you must go through this entrance.
Here is the view of the church when exiting the very small visitor’s center.
Once inside, this is the interior roof.
This etching is on the glass pane above the altar.
Water plays a large role here. In the visitor center, there is a very large sculpture that comes down from a skylight in the ceiling. Water drips from that sculpture and pools into a base of tiny stones.The water then flows out from the building in what looks like a natural, rivulet, with potted flowers on either side, all the way to the church entrance.
Once inside, the water continues to flow down both sides of the center aisle, as can be seen from the floor cutouts, and drains into pools beside the alter. At each pew, the devoted can hear the rush of water. It’s pretty spectacular.
By this time, we’re pretty hungry. When I think of Omaha, I think of steaks. Maybe that’s because of the ubiquitous “Omaha Steaks” advertising. Naturally, we felt that we had to have a really good steak. When in Omaha, do as the Omahan’s do – eat at Gorat’s, serving great steak since 1944. I’m not saying everybody eats at this restaurant, but this guy does, every week. And if it’s good enough for Warren Buffett, well, it’s good enough for the Reillys.
Hey, stop staring at me Warren!
Being the masterful “stalkers” that we are, here is a picture of Buffett’s home. Very modest, right? But while Tim was taking his pictures, a voice whispered from the hedges,”Please, move along”, and we did.
After leaving Omaha, we headed for Grand Island, where we would be watching the solar eclipse. We are in a KOA campground called KOA Grand Island Journey. It’s ok. We got a bad taste in our mouths upon arrival. I wanted/needed to use a restroom – immediately. Rather than stopping in the office first and being told they had no public restrooms, we drove directly into the camp to use a facility. A man in a golf cart came zooming over to tell us that we couldn’t use the restroom if we weren’t registered guests. Tim explained that we did have a paid reservation but that his wife needed the restroom. That brought on more questions from this crazy person, meanwhile, I’m like “dying”. Finally, finally – he told Tim the combination, while I barely made it to the door. We would not have stayed except that every campground in this area has been booked solid for a year due to the eclipse. People, when someone asks politely to use your restroom, please say “Yes”.
After we checked in and settled, we drove to Wasabi Bistrofor sushi. It was quite delish!
The next day, we settled on Hastings as a town to explore. The first stop was the birthplace of Kool Aid.
Like the excursion to the “spine” tree, visiting Kool Aid’s footprints in concrete was a bust. We found the place, but someone had lifted the footprints. Now who would do such a thing ??? I had no choice but to take this picture from Google Images of what used to be..
After visiting KoolAid, it was time to visit the tombstone of Andy The Footless Goose. It was very hard to find this sight because it was hidden behind a fence and cars. We really had to do some sleuthing. But Tim was not about to be done in by a tombstone. The story of Andy is both heartwarming and incredibly sad.
This is a likeness of Andy on the mailbox of the home where his tombstone rests.
Andy The Footless Goose was born without feet, and couldn’t walk or swim like other geese. So his caretaker, a local manufacturer and inventor named Gene Fleming, designed shoes for him. Andy’s fame was assured in 1989 when he appeared on “The Tonight Show,” and he was featured in People magazine. He went on to make hundreds of appearances, delighting schoolchildren, especially disabled children for whom he was something of a role model. STOP READING HERE if you don’t want to know about the disgusting and sad final bit of Andy’s life.
In October of 1991, Andy was kidnapped and murdered. Although his head and wings were missing when he was found, he died with his trademark boots still on. His neck apparently had been broken. Who killed Andy? The sheriff’s office was bombarded with tips and suggestions. Some thought that a disgruntled former employee of Fleming’s might be responsible. Others thought the dismemberment pointed to a satanic cult. Andy fans sent in $10,000 in reward money, but the murderer was never found. The reward money remains in a local bank.
YOU CAN READ AGAIN NOW : Another day had us checking out the Marble Museum, in York, Nebraska. Collectors would have the time of their lives here at this colorful museum, viewing the millions of marbles on display. “We have the largest collection of collectible marbles in the world”, the owner,Lee Batterton told us. And I sure do believe him.Some of the items you will find there are: Handmade, machine made, carpet balls, sulphide, Lutz’s, European swirls, onionskins, agates, marble-related games and toys, and much more. All marbles are identified. Here is a photo of the outside of the “museum”.
Here is a picture of one small part of a wall. Everything is as neat as a pin for your viewing pleasure.
And finally, I save the best for last. Me and Lee, of course.
Check his crazy hat, complete with a shock of blond hair. (He’s actually bald as a steely.) In fairness to Lee, he wanted to take the hat off, but I told him he looked cute with it on. My reason? To show you how fun-loving a guy can be who’s been collecting marbles for 54 years. He still goes to shows looking to buy stand-outs, and maybe selling a few as well. Rare ones can go for thousands of dollars , EACH! Worth a peek if you have the time.
That same day, we checked out the World’s Largest Time Capsule ( or so they say), in Seward, Nebraska.
Truly odd I think…
Time fora change – off to Cedar Hills Vineyard & Gardens.
We spoke to the owners, Heidi and Clay for a while.
They told us they had been planning the eclipse weekend for two years. In fact, they had T-shirts made, commemorative glasses etched, and a full weekend of food and entertainment scheduled. They even had people from South Africa, Italy and Great Britain coming to stay at the winery/B&B for the event. We purchased a special vintage wine that was released on Thursday, the day we visited, called Dark of Day. That is what actually brought us to this particular winery on that very day. If we have time, we may go back after the actual eclipse for the pig roast – yum!
On Friday, we were so darn tired. We decided to just take it easy, straighten a little and do four loads of laundry. As I’ve told you before – just because you’re on the road doesn’t mean the chores stop.
On the day of the Solar Eclipse we were camped in Mormon Island State Recreation Area. (Check out review in Campground Review section). This park was named for the winter stopover used by the Mormon emigrants, who were headed west. For those of you who are “birders”, this park is a gathering place for hundreds of thousands of Sandhill Cranes to rest and pursue their courtship rituals from February to late March.
Now that’s a lot of birds !!! (Photo thanks: Nebraskaland Magazine).
Although all of this is stunning, the real reason we were camped at this particular park was the Solar Eclipse. Mormon Island sits directly on the path of totality for optimal viewing. Like everyone else in our area, we were watching the weather reports daily – and they changed daily, always giving us bad news. In fact, on the day of, there was a report that there would be scattered thunderstorms in our area. The nearest place with a “clear” prediction was Casper, Wyoming, 400 miles to the west. We considered driving, but thankfully decided against it, insisting and praying that it would be fine right where we were.
Armed with our glasses and chairs, we chose our viewing spot. You can’t be too careful when the stakes are 2 minutes and 30 seconds of total eclipse.
Here’s my man the “sun gazer”
Lots of folks at the park, picnicking and watching.
The Solar Eclipse was one of the most magical things we’ve ever seen. As the moon is crossing the sun, the surroundings get steadily darker and really quiet. Darkest glasses must be warn while even a sliver of sun is exposed, so only the tiny dim crescent is visible. But the instant that the moon fully covers the sun , the magnificent corona bursts into view. The glasses come off and a silver hue pervades the sky and the earth. Stars and planets are visible around the mystical solar ring. The insects begin to go crazy, each of them making their own music, which only adds to the surreal vision. And the people let out a spontaneous cheer. You cannot look away. A full 2 minutes and 30 seconds of beauty – the true reason we made this journey. And was it worth it? Emphatically, yes, yes, yes!
We realized traffic would be horrible right after the eclipse, with literally millions of people having traveled to this thin slice of America. So what do you do with a free afternoon in Grand Island? You take a drive to Kearney, to see the famous “Archway”.
Now, I know it doesn’t look like much, but if you are in the area, do visit.
The Archway is fairly new to Great Plains tourism, opening in 2000. Using giant multi-wheeled transporters, the 1,500-ton, 309-foot structure was rolled across the Interstate 80, in one piece on the night of Aug. 16, 1999. The interstate was closed for eight hours while the archway was locked onto its support platforms.
The Archway presents the 170 year history of America’s westward movement through detailed displays and harrowing stories you’ll hear as you walk over one of America’s busiest interstate highways.
You start at Ft. Kearny in the 1840s where the Oregon Trail converged with the Mormon Trail and California Trail, and end up in a drive-in movie theater. The Archway takes visitors along the trails, rails, highways and superhighways in a self-guided audio tour that includes stories of the travelers along the way. You can hear the rumble of the Iron Horse on the transcontinental railroad as it passes overhead. You watch a Pony Express rider make a quick stop to change horses as he races to deliver mail across the country. Listen in as the first transcontinental telegraph transmits the news of the breakout of the Civil War to the West Coast. Travel the historic Lincoln Highway, catch the newsreel at the drive-in theater and take a break to check on the traffic below in the roadside diner. Our favorite exhibition was the Mormon Handcart Display. Neither Tim nor I had ever heard of Mormon Handcarts. Mormon devotees who didn’t have the funds for wagons and animals to help transport themselves and their goods westward, used handcarts. If you think traveling west in Conestoga wagons and such was harrowing, imaging pulling a hand cart with your goods and perhaps a child or two, for over a thousand rugged miles! This was a very, very courageous group of folks. I can say with full certainty that I would have not made that trip. Quick Fact: How long do you think the Pony Express was is existence? 18 months – that’s it !!!
Two different pictures of people pulling their handcarts. This first picture was taken from “True West” Blog from 2015.
This second photo is from the Deseret News, “LDS Church News”, from 2006.
The Archway is a perfect stop for a family vacation. The displays can be viewed in under an hour, but why hurry? Take your time. It is an amazing structure, and an amazing final experience before heading home.
We started back home the day after the eclipse, retracing our journey through the maze of maize that forms our nation’s heartland. After a 20 hour and 37 minute drive, we arrived in Galloway, NJ. We’re already planning our next road trip. Maybe we’ll try to get to the last two states, Minnesota and North Dakota. Stay tuned…