Archive | July 2019

Circus Trip 2018: Effigy Mounds National Monument

Day 17 & 18, Wednesday, August 1, 2018 – Thursday, August 2, 2018

After lunch and my tasting at Four Daughters Winery, I made it into Iowa – my 7th state and my 2nd new state!  I traveled to Effigy Mounds National Monument, to check out the mounds there.

I’m in Iowa!

Effigy Mounds is located in Harper’s Ferry, Iowa, and preserves more than 200 prehistoric mounds built by Native Americans of the Woodland culture in the first century AD.  The mounds are relatively unique, in that they are shaped like animals.  Thirty-one of Effigy Mounds’ 206 mounds are effigies (animals); the largest is Great Bear Mound, which is 42 meters long and a meter tall.  The National Monument was designated on October 25, 1949, and welcomes approximately 77,000 visitors per year.

Effigy Mounds National Monument

Researchers don’t know why the mounds were constructed; they believe that they were built for religious ceremonies, burial ceremonies, or as clan symbols.  There are four types of mounds at the site; conical mounds that were often used as burial mounds, linear mounds (also known as “cigar-shaped”) for ceremonial purposes, a compound style which looks like a string of beads and were often used as burial mounds, and the effigy mounds, the animal shapes that make the monument famous.  Interestingly, the linear and compound mounds are only found in the Effigy Mounds Region.

I arrived in time to check out the Visitor’s Center and do a hike up to some of the mounds.  It was muggy that day and it was a nice workout!  I enjoyed being able to see the mounds up close, although I do wish that they had more platforms so visitors could view the mounds from up above.  When you are barely above the level of the mound, it is difficult to see what the mound looks like from above it.  The trail I hiked did have a great view of the Mississippi River though!

After my visit to Effigy Mounds, I found my home for the evening; the Sleepy Hollow Campground in Oxford, Iowa.  It was right off the freeway, but somehow the road noise didn’t carry so far.

This place had a lovely pool!  I ended up staying two nights, just so I would have a chance to spend a few hours in and around that wonderful pool.  It was glorious.  Some days, you just need some pool time.  I drank some sangria, read my book, journaled and was offered a job cleaning the Iowa rest area bathrooms (I know this will surprise you, but I turned it down).  It was a wonderful day of down time!


Facebook Memories

Ah Facebook memories, you are a complicated bunch…

I have been on Facebook for a little more than 10 years now and have posted various photos and thoughts on life along the way.  As a result, most days, I get a Facebook memories post.  And that’s where it gets complicated.

I, like other people I’m sure, have a tendency to want to remember the happy times and not the bad memories.  Facebook, I’m sure, wants to remind you of those.  But not all of my memories are happy, and even some of those that were at one time have become tainted by what came later.

I see all those posts of my early marriage, when I thought I was going to have a genuinely happy union.  I was bright-eyed and fresh-faced and wanting to make it work.  But the posts later showed a person who was just pretending.  Keeping up the appearance of a happy marriage, while I felt like I was the only one trying in our relationship.

Me on the Mary’s Rock Trail

I planned vacations, only to hear complaints about how a drive was too long or a historic site too boring, or how we didn’t do what he wanted to do, even though he hadn’t given any input when asked.  I see the pictures of him hiking far in front of me, with no interest in interacting.  I see pictures of my food at dinner, or selfies at national parks, because there was no way he was going to agree to a picture with me.  I see what I call the mug shots; those times when I insisted on a photo, and he just tried to ruin it with a sour expression.  Those Facebook memories are complicated; I loved the places we went and the things we did, but I hated having to “manage” a person who was so often so focused on the negative.

But I also see the experiences that have come since then – the trips with girlfriends and by myself, the hikes, the happy hours, family times, the morning walks.  I see that I have found joy again, that cheerful face that shines through in photos.  I have grown immeasurably and become more comfortable in my own skin.  I have gotten older, and lost love ones along the way, but still see the happy times.  I have faced my share of adversity, and despite it, I enjoy the experience of living.  I enjoy my life!  Those Facebook memories are welcomed.  Places that I want to see again, and people that I love spending time with.

My Facebook memories currently include lots of photos of my trip last year – I love seeing them but it is making me nostalgic about being on the road again.  I think about all the places I visited, and all the ones I didn’t have time to make it to.  I long for that kind of freedom again, and I hope I get more opportunities to travel without so much of an agenda or a timeline.  I worried about that last year as my trip began; would I be too nervous if I didn’t have everything planned out?  Where would I stay each night?  What if I got bored?  What if I got lost?  But it was quite the opposite in fact – I came to enjoy not having a reservation to make it to each night.  I could stay longer if I wanted to or move on earlier.  Freedom.

Me on the bank of the Yellowstone River

For now, work is keeping me from being on the road.  So I focus on those memories, and knowing that I will be making more soon!


Nope, Not Julie

I was downtown for a haircut after work, and then I had a few errands to run before I went home.  A man literally followed me a block and a half to ask me if my name is Julie.  I know this because I heard him ask the first time, but there were lots of people around, and my name is not Julie, so I assumed he was talking to someone else and did not respond.  It wasn’t until he asked the second time, after passing me and looking intently at me…

So meet the new face of Julie…  And if you are the real Julie, there is a man downtown who seems very interested in seeing you!

Book Review: The Radium Girls

It is pretty interesting to think about how much of history gets lost to time, until someone comes along and digs it up again.  Have you ever thought about how they get your watch hands and numbers to glow in the dark?  Well, once upon a time, it was radium that gave them that glow, and that luminescent paint was applied by women.

The problem was, radium, and the paint that was manufactured from it, is radioactive.  Exposure to very much of it will kill you.  Of course, the men who ran the watch dial factories didn’t tell the women that; instead they taught them that the best method of applying the paint was to lick the brushes to get a fine point.

The Radium Girls, by Kate Moore, tells the story of the female dial painters, who got sick and died as a result of their work.  And the women who stood up for their rights and changed history.  These women, some as young as 14, were excited by the high wages they earned, and never believed that the companies they worked for were knowingly exposing them to a poisonous substance.  It wasn’t until after the women started falling ill, with numerous diseases caused by the radium, that they finally began to make sense of what was happening.

The Radium Girls offers an excellent account of the period in U.S. history when thousands of young women worked as “dial painters.”  It tells the stories of these women, their hopes and dreams and families, their reasons for coming to work in the factories, and what happened to them there.  The book explains in frank and often gory detail the effects that radium has on the human body, and how it slowly poisoned and often killed these young women.

It also details the women who fought back, bringing suit against the companies whose executives showed such a callous disregard for their health and lives.  Even after there was irrefutable evidence of the effect that the luminescent paint was having on the workers.

This book was very well researched and laid out.  Moore captivates the readers with her details on the lives of each of the women who worked at, and became sick at, the factories.  It is quite emotional, as I’m sure you can guess, many of these women died as a result of the exposure.

Moore also writes extensively about the lawsuits and worker’s compensation claims brought by the women, relying on court testimony and media coverage of the events.  She details the changes to workers compensation laws that were passed as a result of the illnesses and deaths among the dial painters.

I like that these women’s stories are finally being told.  They didn’t set out to change the world, but with their suffering, they did.  Thanks to Moore, perhaps a new generation of worker’s will understand their sacrifice.

It isn’t for the faint of heart, but The Radium Girls is an excellent read!

Circus Trip 2018: Four Daughters Winery

Day 17, Wednesday, August 1, 2018

I had not intended to see much of Minnesota on my road trip.  I mean, in the perfect world, I would have visited much of Minnesota on my trip, as I had never been there before, but… it is not a perfect world, and there was not unlimited time on my trip to go everywhere.  Sadly, I had to pick and choose.  From Austin and the SPAM Museum, I headed east and then south to drop into Iowa.  And found an unexpected gem.

Four Daughters Vineyard & Winery

The Four Daughters Winery is on Highway 16, one of the highways I traveled to get to Iowa.  I wasn’t expecting to see a winery, and I hadn’t done any research on Minnesota wine, but there it was.  I drove past it, noticing what it was, and ended up turning around to go back.  A winery – with a restaurant, and it was lunchtime!  It was clearly a sign.

I went in and chose a spot at the bar – the tasting included your choice of six white or red samples (not SPAMples this time) – I chose the whites.  You could also select two samples of their ciders (but I was so very enthusiastic that she let me taste more).

Four Daughters has some fantastic wines.  Their sparkling Brianna is delicious, and their Tea Time Loon Juice, a black tea infused cider, is amazing.  The sangria is a light, refreshing, summer time sipper.  I bought all three, and I’m sad that Four Daughters doesn’t ship to Washington…  I long ago drank them all…  I am going to have to make it back to Minnesota.  Not to mention I had their pork tacos for lunch, which were so delicious – and paired perfectly with the sparkling Brianna.

Pork tacos

That’s the thing about road trips – sometimes you just find a place you want to stop at and explore.  I was so glad that I did!



Time Off

A year ago at this time, I was recently back from London, where I spent a two week vacation with friends.  It was so much fun!  I came home, finished out my last couple days at my job, and then departed on July 16th for several months on the road, traveling the country.  A year ago today, I was on the fourth day of my road trip in Glacier National Park.

On that trip, I would see some of our nation’s beautiful National Parks, historic sites, and some of the places where our Presidents lived and worked.  I would see our nation’s Capitol, and stand outside the White House for the first time.  One day, I would like to go on a tour!  I also spent some time hiking in the Utah red rock desert, and seeing some of the amazing structures left by the Puebloan people.  I still have some much to share here!

It is strange to think how different my life was a year ago.  I am so much happier not being married to a man who was bringing me down and sucking the life out of me.  I was readjusting to being on my own, and it was nice to not have drama in my personal life.  My time and my money were my own.  But I was lonely too.  I love my friends, and they are amazing, but I also didn’t want to be alone forever.  I missed Oliver, my sweet orange kitty, who went over the rainbow bridge a few weeks before.  I so badly needed a reset after a toxic job.

This year, I am a little more than three months into my new job, and enjoying it.  It is a much improved environment!  Due to a recent vacancy, I’ve been doing a lot of “other duties as assigned,” and I am looking forward to getting back to the job I was hired for.  Developmental opportunities!

What I don’t have this year is time off.  The start of any new job means the vacation balance isn’t built up yet, and that is sooo difficult…  Especially for someone like me, who likes being on the road…  I was telling one of my employees about my road trip today, and it was making me so very nostalgic.  I’m doing little mini-weekend getaways, and some day hikes with friends, but it isn’t the same as having a real vacation to look forward to!

I just got back from a quick trip to Lassen National Park.  The mountains, the alpine lakes, and the gorgeous wildflowers are incredible!  It was too short, but I made some incredible memories!


Circus Trip 2018: The SPAM Museum!

Day 17, Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Austin, Minnesota is home to the SPAM Museum, and who wouldn’t want to visit there!??  Austin was a cute small Midwest town with a nice little downtown area, and after I packed up and got on the road, I checked it out.  The SPAM Museum is home to all things SPAM.  Did you know that the name SPAM actually is a contraction of the words Spiced Ham?  It was introduced by the HORMEL company in 1937 and the original SPAM is still produced today, although there are many other varieties in the line up now.  During World War II it was a popular ration item, due to its canned nature, and the fact that it was a shelf stable meat.  In the UK, soldiers began saying that SPAM stood for Special Processed American Meat.

SPAM is produced in Austin, Minnesota, so that’s why the museum is here!  Hormel has been in business since 1891, but SPAM took off during World War II, especially in the Pacific Island countries.  If you have ever been to Hawaii and had Loco Moco, you know what I mean…

The museum is free to visit, and has exhibits on all things SPAM.  The history of SPAM, worldwide SPAM recipes, SPAM in advertising, SPAM in pop culture.  They have a whole display of musical instruments made with SPAM cans.  I never knew SPAM was so influential!  Some of the exhibits explain the various regional SPAM preferences.  Varieties sold today include Classic, Hot and Spicy (Tabasco seasoned), Black Pepper, Oven Roasted Turkey, Chorizo, Cheese, Garlic, Macadamia Nut, and Classic in spreadable form…  There’s a SPAM for everyone – except vegetarians.

For Monty Python fans, the movie SPAMALOT plays on an endless loop.

When I was there, there was even a bacon-fueled themed Harley Davidson motorcycle parked in the lobby; even though it isn’t directly SPAM-related, it is powered by a Hormel product.

I admit I never knew very much about SPAM.  Besides trying it in Hawaii, I’ve never been a SPAM eater.  Somehow this iconic classic never made it to my dining table – I’m very disappointed in you Mom and Dad!  There are employees wandering around with SPAMples though, so you can try the various flavors of SPAM with no commitment!  I have to admit the Black Pepper one is pretty good.  I also learned that SPAM factories produce 44,000 cans of SPAM per hour.  And did you know that Hawaii eats more SPAM than any other state?  8 Millions cans per year!

My foray into SPAM lasted about an hour, after which time I selected a couple of SPAM postcards, and of course, a SPAM stemless wine glass.  There’s something awesome about drinking wine from a SPAM wine glass!  I must one day do a SPAM wine pairing night.  Now there’s an idea for a party!

If you have a chance to visit, check it out!  And be sure to pose with Jay Hormel outside.



Circus Trip 2018: Pipestone National Monument

Day 16, Tuesday, July 31, 2018

I spent a lazy morning on my last day at Split Rock Creek State Park – I did some route planning and relaxed on the dock and got some photos of the muskrat who kept swimming by.  After leaving, I felt rejuvenated and ready to begin again.  I was off!  My destination was Pipestone National Monument, in Pipestone, Minnesota.


Pipestone National Monument is a sacred site for the plains Native Americans, including the Lakota, Dakota, and the Sioux, due to the red pipestone that is prevalent in the area, and is carved to create prayer pipes.  The Sioux took control of this land around 1700, but ceremonial pipes found in burial mounds show that this area has been quarried for centuries.  Pipestone is a type of metamorphosed mudstone, which is prized because of its soft properties, which allow it to be easily worked into the ceremonial pipes.  It is also known as Catlinite, after it was described by the American painter George Catlin in 1835.

Types of Pipestone

The land that the monument occupies was acquired by the federal government in 1893, and the last tribe to quarry there, the Yankton Sioux, sold their quarry rights in 1928.  On August 25, 1937, Pipestone National Monument was designated, and Native American quarrying rights were restored.  Today, approximately 67,500 people visit the monument each year.

The nature walk at Pipestone National Monument

The monument has restored over 250 acres to the native prairie grasses; there is a 3/4 mile nature walk where you can see some of the historic quarries and a waterfall.  It is beautiful and peaceful.  Another section of the park, that is not open to the public, contains lands that are currently being quarried.  You have to be Native American from specific tribes in order to obtain a permit to quarry pipestone there; many of the artisans who dig for the stone are third of fourth generation carvers.  There is historic evidence of the visitors here over time; some graffiti is from the 1800s.

Me at Pipestone


Historic graffiti

One area on the nature walk contains The Oracle; you can peek through a hole in a sign and see the face of an elderly man jutting from the quartzite stone cliffs. Unlike in The Neverending Story, The Oracle did not open his eyes or shoot laser beams from them.  Whew!

I enjoyed Winniwissa Falls, and even captured “Bigfoot” in one of my photos there – you be the judge!

I found Bigfoot!

I also saw a Green Heron, and my first ever Thirteen Lined Squirrel!

Inside the Visitor’s Center I checked out the exhibits of petroglyphs and the history of the site, and I watched a man carving pipestone into pipes.  They are truly beautiful; the finished product is rusty red with a smooth finish.

A carved pipestone pipe

After leaving Pipestone National Monument, I stopped by Blue Earth, Minnesota for selfies with two iconic figures from my childhood – the Jolly Green Giant and Sprout!  The Jolly Green Giant is 55 feet tall and has been here since 1978.  What a fun, quick stop!

The Jolly Green Giant! Him, not me…




I stayed the night at Oakwood Trails, in Austin, Minnesota.  It is a family owned campground on the back 40 of a farmer’s soybean and dairy farm – they were such friendly, kind people!  It was a nice campground with very few mosquitoes, which of course I really enjoyed.  The bathrooms were nice too!  Highly recommended!


Circus Trip 2018: Split Rock Creek State Park

Day 14, Sunday, July 29, 2018 – Day 16, Tuesday, July 31, 2018

After the Corn Palace and lunch at a Taco John’s (this was on the recommendation of a friend – I wasn’t that impressed), I stopped at a rest area.  I did some Googling and found a small state park in the middle of nowhere, not far across the border in Minnesota, and near my next destination of Pipestone National Monument.  A call to the state park reservation line revealed that they had a site for the next two nights.  Score!  I was going to decompress and just relax for a bit!  Instantly, I started to feel better, knowing the pressure was off.

Minnesota! My 5th State!

I made my way there, driving down back roads by farm fields, and heading off on a gravel road to the park.  I was a little unsure, thinking there surely couldn’t be a state park here.  But soon enough, I arrived.

Split Rock Creek State Park is on a man-made reservoir that was created in 1938, when the Works Progress Administration (WPA) dammed the creek in order to provide a lake and recreational area to fish during the Great Depression.  It was small, and beautiful.  My little tent site was right on the lake, with a dock that I could walk out on, and lay on to enjoy the sunshine.  The fish there were so plentiful that they were just jumping out of the water.

I took a nap when I got there, to shake off the fatigue that I had been feeling all day.  Then I set up camp and checked out my surroundings.

Split Rock Creek State Park is small, as state parks go.  There was an RV area and a tent area and a total of 55 sites; the tent area had no more than 10 sites.  I liked my site a lot, as it was just steps away from the lake and that little dock.  The lake had a little trail that followed the lake for a while, and there was a swimming area that was completely deserted the entire time I was there.  In fact, there was very little going on here; there was only one other tent camping family for the first night of my stay.  I never saw the camp hosts the entire time.  The busiest creatures there were the muskrats, which seemed to be plentiful. I saw at least four during my stay.

The dam is made from Sioux Quartzite, a red rock that is local to the area.  The dam and a nearby bridge made from the same Sioux Quartzite are both listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

I spent two quiet and relaxing days there.  I didn’t say much more than hello to a soul there at the park.  I set up my tent to have a respite from the mosquitoes and the periodic rain showers, but slept in my car.  I wrote in my journal, relaxed on the dock, and took walks by Prairie Lake.

I enjoyed watching the muskrats working on their lakeside homes, cutting down reeds to build.  I loved seeing the fish jumping out of the water to catch bugs, even though I was never able to catch that with my camera.  I watched a snapping turtle checking me out from the middle of the lake, even though I couldn’t see what he was until I blew up the photos from home.  Deer ran in front of me while I was walking, I saw lots of bunnies, a woodpecker, Northern Flicker, Mourning Doves, and a Great Blue Heron.  It was peaceful and quiet, a true oasis tucked in among the farm fields.

I watched the sunsets each evening from the little dam over the creek.  Those sunsets were stunning!

Watching the sun sink lower in the sky, shooting rays in every direction, reminded me of the purpose of the trip.  To let go of the hard parts in my past, to be renewed, and to find joy.  And I did find joy there, tucked away in that tiny little oasis in a corner of Minnesota.  More than I possibly could have ever known.


Circus Trip 2018: Dignity and The Corn Palace

Day 14, Sunday, July 29, 2018

The next morning, I woke up, had breakfast, had a shower and hit the road.  Goodbye Al’s Oasis!  I drove for a few hours having a breakfast of string cheese and a granola bar on the road, and first I stopped at a rest area in Chamberlain, South Dakota along the Missouri River.

This rest area is the home of Dignity, a 50 foot tall statue of a Native American woman.  She is beautiful!  She is made of steel, and was designed by sculptor Dale Lamphere; Dignity weighs 11 tons, and was dedicated on Sept. 17, 2016. The statue cost over $1 million, and she is engineered with pivoting diamond-shaped panels in her star quilt so that wind can blow through it and not blow the statue over.  It was well worth the stop to see her and the view of the river behind her.

Next I stopped at the Corn Palace in Mitchell, South Dakota.

Have you heard of the Corn Palace?  It is world famous!  The Corn Palace has been on the same site and has been decorated every year since 1892, although they are now on their 3rd Corn Palace now.  Every year, they design and decorate the Corn Palace in thousands upon thousands of corn husks with a different theme.  That’s right – corn husk murals!  I’m not sure who came up with this cockamamie idea, but there it is.  The claim to fame of Mitchell, South Dakota!

Of course, what they don’t tell you is that the Corn Palace is a sports arena…  That’s right – I felt a little bit mislead!  I was talking to a friend later on, whose husband grew up in Mitchell, South Dakota and the Corn Palace came up.  She said she asked to visit it because she had heard about it being famous, and he couldn’t understand why people would want to visit their high school basketball arena!  The Corn Palace was interesting to see – the designs are truly stunning, but the venue is a bit strange.

Inside there were photographs of the previous themes of Corn Palaces of yesterday, dating all the way back to 1892.  On the arena floor was a makeshift gift shop, with various local goods and Corn Palace memorabilia.  My opinion?  Stop by the Corn Palace if you are already in the area, but don’t go out of your way!

However, I couldn’t shake the feeling of exhaustion and burnout.  It was the first time on my trip that I felt that way, and I figured I needed to listen to my gut.  I was tired of South Dakota and I was ready for a rest break!