Wednesday, December 30, 2015

WEST BRANCH, IOWA: HERBERT HOOVER PRESIDENTIAL LIBRARY AND MUSEUM, THE HOOVER BIRTHPLACE, AND WHERE TO EAT

Our next destination was the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum (the second PLM of our trip) in West Branch, just 12 miles east of Iowa City.

I have to admit that I've always viewed Hoover as somewhat of a place-holder in history. He got stuck with the Great Depression, not really his fault, and he mostly just had to be the figurehead in the White House until someone else could replace him.

I got a completely different view of him from visiting his PLM.

Hoover was the first President born west of the Mississippi. He was born in 1874, and the first census in West Branch wasn't until 1880, when the city had a booming population of 500.


Hoover's father died in 1880 and his mother in 1884, leaving him an orphan at age nine. He eventually went to live with an uncle in Oregon. After initially failing his college entrance exams, he was accepted into the inaugural class of Stanford University in Palo Alto, California, from which he graduated in 1895 with a degree in geology and a girlfriend named Lou Henry, a banker's daughter and fellow Iowan.
Herbert on the bottom left

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

IOWA CITY, IOWA: THE UNIVERSITY OF IOWA AND THE IOWA AVENUE LITERARY WALK

We have discovered the joys of domestic travel. There is as much to see in the United States as in any country we have visited--or more! The US is full of hidden gems. Last June, after spending some time in Kansas City, we traveled through Iowa, Nebraska, and Kansas, three states not necessarily known for their tourism, but which we learned are LOADED with things to see. 

Here is a map of our meanderings. We began in Kansas City and nearby sites in Missouri (bottom middle), then drove north to Des Moines. From there we went east to Iowa City and West Branch, then turned around and went back through Des Moines and west to Council Bluffs. Next was Winter Quarters, Nebraska, followed by Omaha and Lincoln (left side of map above center). Continuing south, we went to Abilene, Kansas, then turned east towards Topeka, ending up back in Kansas City.
Our longest drive was the first stretch from Kansas City to Iowa City, a distance of about 300 miles. However, we like to drive, and we had a good book going from our Audible.com acount (Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania by Erik Larson), so we didn't mind. 
We left in the late afternoon so we could sleep in Iowa City and get an early start the next day. 
I fell head-over-heels in love with radiant Iowa. (And with Kansas. And with Nebraska.) 
It didn't hurt my initial impression of that our first stop was the Iowa Avenue Literary Walk, located on both sides of three blocks of Iowa Avenue, which runs alongside of the University of Iowa.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

INDEPENDENCE, MISSOURI: THE TEMPLE LOT, THE AUDITORIUM, AND THE STONE CHURCH

Independence, Missouri, could be considered the site of a modern-day "Holy War" between three very different churches with one common origin: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (aka LDS Church, or Mormons), the Community of Christ (aka the Reformed Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints [no hyphen, capital D], or RLDS), and the Church of Christ (aka Temple Lot, or Hedrickites). With over 15 million members, the LDS Church eclipses the Community of Christ (about 250,000 members) and the Church of Christ (about 7,300 members). Each church claims to be the true successor church to the one established by Joseph Smith in 1830.

In Independence, the three churches each vie for a attention around what is known as the "Temple Lot." 
#1a: LDS Church Visitors Center and #1b: LDS Stake Center
 #2: Community of Christ Temple
#3a Church of Christ Headquarters and #3b Temple Lot (owned by the Church of Christ)
#4: Community of Christ Auditorium
#5: Community of Christ Stone Church
The Church of Christ's main claim to fame is its ownership of the property in Independence, Missouri, that was dedicated by Joseph Smith for the building of a temple (#3b above). Today that property is bordered on three sides by significant Community of Christ properties (#2, #4, and #5 above) and is kitty-corner from the LDS Visitors' Center (#1a above). 
The Church of Christ headquarters are located in a white wooden building built in 1990 next to the Temple Lot:

These two acres of grass have been the source of some contention among the three churches named above, including a lawsuit in the 1890s and two acts of arson, one in 1898 and one in 1990:

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

INDEPENDENCE, MISSOURI: COMMUNITY OF CHRIST TEMPLE

The Community of Christ Church, which was known as the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints from 1872 to 2001, is an offshoot of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, commonly referred to as the LDS or "Mormon" Church. The two groups split after the death of the man considered the founder of both churches, Joseph Smith, Jr. The LDS church chose Brigham Young as their next leader, and those who did not support that choice eventually chose Joseph Smith III, who was 12 years old at the time of his father's death, to be their next leader. For years there was some animosity between the two groups, but recently their relationship has greatly improved.

Since Joseph Smith, Jr.'s death in 1844, the doctrine of the two churches has diverged greatly, and one of the places where this can be seen is in their concept of temples. While LDS Temples are closed to the general public and used for ordinances for the living that can be performed nowhere else, as well as for vicarious ordinances for the dead, the Community of Christ Temple located in Independence, Missouri, serves as the headquarters of the church and as a place of public worship "dedicated to the pursuit of peace." I was very curious about it and excited to visit.

Plans to build the temple were announced in 1984,groundbreaking took place on April 6, 1990, and the edifice was dedicated April 17, 1994. The cost was approximately $35 million.

I had seen photos of the building, and its strange twisting spire reminded me of some futuristic structure, perhaps a building out of The Jetsons or Star Wars. However, in person I found it quite striking. The twisting-turning steel and glass steeple looks like an ever-narrowing pathway that leads to heaven. The building was designed by an award-winning architect from Missouri named Gyo Obata, who also designed the National Air and Space Museum of the Smithsonian Institution.
Different angles provide changing views:


As this temple is dedicated to promoting peace, this primitive-style bronze statue on the grounds is especially appropriate. A plaque at the base quotes Isaiah 2:2-4: ". . . they shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore."

Sunday, December 13, 2015

INDEPENDENCE, MISSOURI: TRUMAN PRESIDENTIAL LIBRARY AND MUSEUM

On this trip to the Midwest, Bob and I visited three Presidential Library and Museum (PLM) sites, bringing our total to eleven of the thirteen official sites. (We still need to visit Gerald Ford's in Michigan and Teddy Roosevelt's in New York.)
The Truman PLM was the first library created under the 1955 Presidential Libraries Act, which established a system of privately built but federally maintained libraries. The dedication in 1957 was attended by previous President Herbert Hoover, Chief Justice Earl Warren, and former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt. In 1972, funeral services for President Truman were held here before he was interred in the back courtyard, and ten years later his wife was buried by his side.

A mural by Thomas Hart Benton covers 495 square feet of the lobby walls, its swirling clouds, rolling landscape, and busy figures almost jumping off the surface:

Detail of area above the door
Detail of left panel below main painting
Detail of right panel below main painting
Truman and Benton became good friends during the painting of Independence and the Opening of the West. Truman himself even applied a few brushstrokes to this mural.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

LDS CHURCH HISTORY SITES NEAR KANSAS CITY, MISSOURI

One of the reasons I was excited for the AP scoring move from Louisville to Kansas City was that it put us closer to some LDS Church history sites. Mormons have a way of finding each other in large crowds, and the AP English scoring group is a very large crowd. However, over the past few years my LDS friend from my hometown and I had identified and befriended several other Mormons, and in 2014 when we heard about the location change, we decided a group of us would rent a car the following year so that we could go on some evening excursions as soon as we were turned loose at 5:00.

There were five places we wanted to go: Independence, Liberty, Far West, Adam-Ondi-Ahman, and the LDS Temple in Kansas City. We were fortunate that everywhere we wanted to go was open late, unlike many of the tourist attractions in Kansas City. It took two different trips to see everything we wanted to see.
(Note: The 1 h 19 min marker on the map is the distance from Kansas City to Adam-Ondi-Ahman)

On our first foray we made it to Independence, Liberty, and the the Kansas City Missouri LDS Temple.

Friday, December 4, 2015

PLACES TO EAT IN AND AROUND KANSAS CITY, MISSOURI

Kansas City is an eating town. A guide told us that it has more barbecue per capita than any other city in the world. To be ranked as a good barbecue place in KC is like being ranked as a good art museum in New York City or Paris. Going back for another year of AP scoring would be worth it just to be able to try a few more restaurants. In the short time I was there, however, I managed to try the five listed below.

1. FIORELLA'S JACK STACK BARBECUE
When we asked around at the AP Reading where we should eat, this restaurant at 101 W. 22nd Street is the place we kept hearing about. It is ranked #7 out of 1,186 restaurants in Kansas City by TripAdvisor, and it deserves its high rating. When I went there with my AP friends, I had burnt ends, a dish I'd never heard of, and sides of cheesy corn and baked beans. Burnt ends, a unique part of Kansas City barbecue, are flavorful bits cut from a beef brisket. It was a dish that I loved at first bite:
And the cheesy corn, ah, the cheesy corn! So good that I came home and looked up a recipe to make it myself. It can be found here.  
When Bob came in to town at the end of my scoring week, I made sure I took him to Jack Stack's. He liked it so much that we went back for a second visit before we flew home. Bob going to the same restaurant twice when there are 1,183 other options? That's a ringing endorsement!

Here are a few other cuts we enjoyed. This is crown prime beef short rib:
And this beauty is a combo that adds beef ribs and lamb ribs to the crown prime beef short ribs:
Bob rates the barbecued beans among the best he's ever had, so I made those at home as well, using this recipe. It calls for some of Jack's barbecued brisket, which of course I didn't have, so I substituted bacon instead. It was good, but not quite as good as the real thing.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

KANSAS CITY, MISSOURI: NELSON-ATKINS MUSEUM OF ART

Kansas City, with population of under a half million, has the cultural resources of a much larger city. I was especially impressed by its world-class museum, the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. William Rockhill Nelson, the publisher of the Kansas City Star newspaper, directed that after his death (which occurred in 1915), his fortune should be used to establish an art museum. Mary Atkins, a schoolteacher and widow of a real estate developer, had already bequeathed $300,000 in 1911 to establish an art museum. Trustees of the two estates decided to combine the money, along with a few other small bequests, to make one major museum.

The Neoclassical/Beaux Arts main building was completed in 1933 at a cost of $2.75 million. It was the peak of the Great Depression, and great pieces of art flooded a market devoid of buyers. However, money from the bequests for the museum was still plentiful, even after paying for the building. Lots of available money and lots of available art was a fortuitous combination. The Nelson-Atkins grew quickly into a major art museum with one of the largest collections in the United States.
Acres of grass provide a park-like setting in front of the museum. In the distance, we noticed what looked like a giant badminton birdie. In fact, that's exactly what it is. In 1991, American artist Claes Oldenberg and his wife Coosje van Bruggen were asked to create an outdoor artwork for the museum. According to the duo's website:

While visiting the galleries [of the Nelson-Atkins Museum], Coosje was attracted to the headdresses worn by Native Americans in a painting by Frederic Remington, which led to our initial concept of large feathers scattered over the lawn as if dropped from the wing of a huge passing bird. As we proceeded to research the site, we came across an aerial photograph of the museum grounds that reminded us of the layout of a tennis court. We imagined the building as a net, with balls distributed over the grounds, but soon determined that the ball shape would be too repetitive. What if, as Cossje suggested, feathers were combined with the ball form to become a shuttlecock, a lyrical object, with the ability to float, spin, fly, and land in many different ways? We proposed three 17-foot-high shuttlecock sculptures for the lawn, each in a different position. Although their placement appeared to be random, the shuttlecocks were actually located at strategic points that would bring the far reaches of the site together. A fourth shuttlecock, in an inverted position reminiscent of a tepee, "landed" on the other side of the museum.
I wouldn't have made any of those connections on just seeing this lone birdie (two of the other birdies being in temporary storage and the other one being on the other side of the building), but my visceral response to the birdie was one of pure enjoyment. I loved the familiarity of the ordinary object, the exaggerated size, and its whimsical placement in an impossible upright position.

Whimsy is a good word to describe another outdoor art installation, The Four Seasons by Philip Haas, based on the paintings by Guiseppe Arcimboldo, which we had seen three years before in Vienna. 

Here are spring and summer:
 . . . fall and winter:
Unfortunately, this is a traveling, not a permanent, exhibit, and it was scheduled to leave in October 2015. However, it has been so popular that the Nelson-Atkins people extended the sculptures' visit until mid-April 2016. 

Saturday, November 28, 2015

KANSAS CITY, MISSOURI: NATIONAL WORLD WAR I MUSEUM

One of Kansas City's biggest claims to fame is the National World War I Museum and Memorial, which Congress designated America's official World War I Museum in 2004.
The story is that in a fit of post-war patriotism, Kansas City residents raised $2 million for a war memorial in less than two weeks, an astonishing sum in those days. When construction was completed in 1926, the museum was dedicated by President Calvin Coolidge. All five Allied Forces generals attended the dedication.

The memorial is built in the Egyptian Revival style and is marked by a massive obelisk called the Liberty Memorial Tower. It soars 268 feet and has an observation deck on the top. The current museum, which was added later, is partially underground and is accessed by large doors below the tower.
View from behind
The inscription on the base of the Tower, seen below, reads, "In honor of those who served in the World War in defense of liberty and our country."
  

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

KANSAS CITY, MISSOURI: AP ENGLISH LANGUAGE AND COMPOSITION READING 2015

For the past four years I've joined a valiant force of high school AP English teachers and other college writing teachers like myself to score the infamous AP English Language and Composition tests. I've written about it on my personal family blog in past years, but there is enough travel and tourism involved that I think it is worth a mention here. Rather than reinvent the wheel--or rewrite the post--I am going to borrow some of what I have already written from my previous posts on my other blog.

For my first three years the reading took place in Louisville, Kentucky, a city I hadn't been to previous to my AP experience. This year the English Lang & Comp scoring was moved to Kansas City, Missouri, another new city for me. I had gotten pretty comfortable in Louisville and felt like I'd seen what I wanted to see there, so I was really excited about the move. Incorporated in 1853, Kansas City now has a population of about 470,000. While that is about two-thirds the population of Louisville, I figured there would still be plenty to see and do during our free time in the evenings.

A little bit of background on the AP Reading here would probably be helpful. Friends and family look pretty skeptical when I tell them that I really enjoy the AP scoring work. Honestly, it's rather hard to believe it myself. After all, I am the Queen of Grading Avoidance when it comes to my own students' papers, but there are many things that are wonderfully rewarding about the AP scoring experience.

First, the AP Reading gives me a family of about 2,000 other English teachers for the eight days we are together. (Yes, EIGHT CONSECUTIVE DAYS of reading essays from 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM.) We trade quips and tips about our teaching experiences, and during those eight days I feel the camaraderie that is sadly lacking for adjunct professors at community colleges. 

Second, I am amazed by attitude of these teachers. Everyone arrives on time in the morning. We work hard, focusing on the work in front of us. There is no goofing off during our work sessions--no whispering, no texting, no photography, and absolutely no use of any form of social media in the scoring rooms. Okay, so there might be an occasional person staring blankly into space for short periods of time (Who, me?), but for the most part the work ethic is pretty incredible, which I think says a lot about America's teachers, and I love being part of that. (Our table leaders do supply us with copious amounts of chocolate and other treats. Any person who has graded stacks of papers knows that constant munching is the key to focus.)

Third, the College Board (the nonprofit corporation that runs the AP system, the SAT/PSAT tests, etc.)  treats the readers very well. It pays all our travel costs and gives us a pretty good stipend. There are so many of us that we take up two hotels. This year we were split between the Westin and Sheraton, both first-class places.


Thursday, November 19, 2015

AMMAN, JORDAN: LAST DAY, LAST VIEWS, LAST THOUGHTS, AND HOME AT LAST

After spending a few hours on top of one of Amman's seven hills at the Citadel, we drove into the valley and got an up-close look at the spectacular 2nd century AD amphitheater that we had seen from above.  It seats 6,000 and is thoughtfully oriented towards the north to provide minimum sun exposure for patrons:
We had noticed the green, plastic-looking dome of this mosque from the Citadel. We wish we could have gotten closer:
With a population of four million, and with the basic layout of the city centuries old, traffic in Amman is just what you would expect: horrible.
Amman is considered one of the most liberal and westernized cities in the Middle East, and we saw evidence of that, along with some things we would never see in the West, such as the raw meat hanging up in the butcher shop window:

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