Quick Stop at American Gothic House

American GothicYou have probably seen Grant Wood’s American Gothic painting on a jigsaw puzzle or a mug. Or one of the many riffs on it by other artists. If you are fortunate you were able to view it in person at the Art Institute of Chicago. I knew that Grant Wood found his inspiration in Iowa but I couldn’t say for certain where. I’d also read Beth M. Howard’s memoir, Making Piece, that she wrote while she lived in the American Gothic house. (She has since moved on and you can read what she is up now in her blog.)

I was zipping along the highway, pushing my rental car to the speed limit on the Iowa state highway to get to my cousin’s in time for dinner. Then I saw the sign to American Gothic House. It was honest–it is a 6 mile detour (one way) off the highway. Plus whatever time it takes to view the house. So far on this road trip I had underestimated that amount of time I’d want to spend seeing an attraction.

What the heck! When would I be in this part of Iowa again?!

Google maps seemed to have a hard time selecting a route once I got into the town of Eldon, Iowa. I don’t think the phone service was consistent. I did find it though. There is a good size parking lot and a new visitor center. Then a lovely wildflower lined walkway to a viewing area. It was past 5 p.m. and the visitor center was closed. There was one other person who had the same impulse as me. He was heading north to Minneapolis eventually. We both absorbed the information and enjoyed a respite from driving.

Was it worth it? Heck yeah!


Walk Chicago’s Michigan Avenue

Downtown Chicago is the most beautiful downtown in the USA. Just walk Michigan Avenue. I stayed at Club Quarters at Wacker and Michigan. I walked across the Chicago River and a few blocks and the shopping began. Nordstrom and Bloomingdales are not architecturally interesting, but its the inside that matters.

Walk back across the river and a couple of blocks and you are at Millenium Park and a block or two from the South Lakeshore Drive.

Frank Gehry designed the Jay Pritzger Pavilion at Millenium Park
Frank Gehry designed the Jay Pritzger Pavilion at Millenium Park


There is the famous Cloud, which is always different depending on the weather and the people interacting with the sculpture.

The Cloud in Millenium Park
The Cloud in Millenium Park



These are new sculptures from my last visit to Chicago. People have already created ways to interact with them.


Across the street from Millenium Park is the Art Institute of Chicago. I have spent many hours on previous trips. This time I only visited the bookstore (a terrific bookstore). The walk along the park continues all the way to Field Museum and Soldier Field.


The park goes on. I have never walked past Soldier Field. There is a city bike rental program if you want to find a quick way to get back.

Epic Day of Rugby in Chicago

The spotlight is for the television crew who is filming Nik Wallenda's tightrope walk tomorrow at 6 p.m.
The spotlight is for the television crew who is filming Nik Wallenda’s tightrope walk tomorrow at 6 p.m.

I am staying in the spire of Club Quarters on the river and so there are only about 3 rooms on the floor. (The rooms are shaped funny too.) This morning I walked out at the exact same time as my neighbors and they were also on their way to the rugby game. It was the first of many fun, short conversations with other fans.

I walked a half block to the Corner Bakery and ordered breakfast. I start walking towards an open table when I realize I am walking by Richie McCaw.  Only my mind processed it as “Oh my gosh, that is RICHIE MCCAW!!! I am walking past RICHIE MCCAW!!!” He is the captain of the All Blacks most games and he is one of the best players in the world. Oh, he is also gorgeous. I was so excited I was shaking and if you asked me my name right then I would have been stumped.

I barely had my coat, scarf and gloves off when Richie McCaw walks past me as he exits the restaurant. No one seems to even notice him. Maybe they are all giving him his space. I smile at him with a big stupid grin and cannot even muster a “hi”.  I had to say something to someone so I walked over to the people who were sitting just across from them. They had New Zealand Rugby shirts on, so I blurted, “Can you believe it? That was Richie McCaw!”

The man says “I thought it was him,” and his wife turns to him and says, “Why didn’t you say something?!”

It is hard to eat breakfast after seeing one of your heroes. I texted lots of people to share. I figured today is going to be a great rugby day.

And it was.

All Blacks fan grimaces at Rookie Eagle (USA mascot)
All Blacks fan grimaces at Rookie Eagle (USA mascot)

The long walk to Soldier Field was in the company of many rugby fans. I stopped at the Chicago Bean to take photos and the Art Institute and the Field Museum for the haka exhibit. (Future posts). It is a long way round Soldiers Field. Ultimately I found the Fan Zone party. Met some more great rugby fans and saw lots of craziness.

The weather today was better than yesterday when it was snowing. It was still cold walking to the stadium. When I got to my seat the sun was beaming down and suddenly I had to strip off my coat, scarf and gloves. I actually got a sunburn!

I made sure I got to my seat in plenty of time to see the All Blacks do the haka. First the national anthems were performed. The USA anthem was tough to hear over the fireworks and people cheering. Then more cheering for the USA when photos of the flag appeared on the various screens. Finally the moment I have been anticipating for months: the ABs get in formation for the haka. And then the big doofuses behind me start chanting “USA, USA”. I did not have a hard time finding my voice in this moment. I turned around and said, “Stop being disrespectful” They actually stopped. Then they said, “It’s not disrespectful. USA, USA” and the guys on my right said, “Yes, it is!” really forcefully. And they stopped. Unfortunately, the haka was almost over.

National Anthems in Soldiers Field
National Anthems in Soldiers Field

There were a few more USA chants but soon the ABs shut them up with their play. I just do not think most of the American fans had any idea what the best in the world rugby looks like. And this was the All Blacks’ B team.

My tweets tell the story. After the third AB try in less than 20 minutes I stopped reporting the score. The final score was 74 to 6 New Zealand.

People around me found the USA’s performance really unsettling. They said goofy things like “New Zealand is so good in rugby because it is the only sport they play.” The guy next to me was really upset by the lopsided score, “This will set rugby back in the US for years.” I asked him why and he did not answer my question.

If US fans want to know what it takes to be number one in the world, they only had to stick around after the game ended. The “A” group of players who sat out the game began a work out on the field that was impressive.

A rugby club captures the moment film
A rugby club captures the moment on film

Walking back to the hotel was crowded and many of the rugby clubs were still enjoying their big day out. And a lot less beer is available in Chicago tonight.