Thursday, June 8, 2017

Springfield- Land of Lincoln

I grew up in Illinois and enjoyed the few occasions we went to Springfield to see the Lincoln home and tomb. When my older kids were younger, I made the effort to bring them to New Salem, hoping they'd enjoy the log cabins and people dressed as early pioneers. Now it was Omar's turn. We only had the weekend, so we had to choose carefully to see the best places.  There are three that I think are the most family friendly.

The first place, where we spent half a day, was New Salem.  It's a town that has been rebuilt using the original foundations. While in his twenties, the future U.S. President made his living in this frontier village as a boatman, soldier in the Black Hawk War, general store owner, postmaster, surveyor, and rail splitter, and was first elected to the Illinois General Assembly. It includes these buildings as well as a school house. There is no set admission, but donations are encouraged.

When I'd been there before, we saw many more actors/volunteers, however it was a hot day and we only met the "school teacher," who was male and full of great stories about how it would have been back in the 1830s when Lincoln lived there. He had a small fire going in the huge fireplace and said it provided a draft which cooled off the cabin and took away the humidity.  Who would have known? He explained that Illinois was really the "wild west" of the day, yet it was a hub for gathering and early trade.

With a small museum and a film about Lincoln playing in the theatre all day, you can easily spend 45 minutes in the visitor center.  We even bought tickets for the evening outdoor performance behind this building, where we saw a great kids' production of Aladdin Jr. They provided bug spray because the mosquitoes were out in force. There was also a concession selling snacks and drinks. It turned out to be a fun evening.

The Lincoln Museum is really fun for families, with lots of interactive exhibits and wax figures.  Smaller kids can dress up in costumes and play with toys. Others will enjoy the movies and information on well designed displays.  Omar got a bit upset at seeing the slave market wax figures, as well as Lincolns doting on their bed ridden son just before his death, but otherwise, everything is tame by comparison. They offered a military discount, which I always like. Though there is no flash photography, you can take photos.  We ended up buying a t-shirt and Lincoln hat in the gift shop. I thought everything was pretty reasonably priced.

It was funny that we later ran into a Lincoln look-alike at Cozy Dog Diner and Omar wore his hat with Abe. Turned out to be a perfect photo op.  The chamber is doing a promotion this summer where you can look for Lincoln at local businesses, and I was told more information will be up on the Visit Springfield Facebook page. Be sure to check out the participating places doing the History Comes Alive Program too, which runs through August 13.

Our last stop was the Lincoln tomb where most of the family is buried, except for Robert who is buried at Arlington Cemetery. From the parking lot and from a distance you can see the monument, but the tomb is inside the monument, using the front door. When we visited, there were several tour groups so a narrator was giving a talk about Lincoln and his entombment, but I'm not sure if someone is there every day.

You walk through a corridor with bronze statues depicting different times in Lincoln's life.  It's very nicely done, with nothing scary. Outside was a bust of Lincoln with a stepstool in front. It's thought to be good luck to rub his nose.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

A Road Trip on Route 66

Summer is the season for road trips, and we have several planned.  The inspiration for these came from a National Parks website for shared heritage travel. I like the variety of themed itineraries on this site, and plan to come back for more tips. If you're someone who enjoys learning something on a vacation, this is for you.

This weekend we did the Illinois Route 66 trip, though we deviated a bit from the itinerary to include more places because we used the state brochure for the route also. Much of our drive was actually on I-55, with detours to the towns listed. In some cases we drove on the old route 66, which has now become frontage road or a town road. That's when it was great to put on our road trip playlist and drive with the windows down. Here's just a sample of what's on our list: Beach Boys, Michael Jackson, Bee Gees, John Denver, and of course "Route 66" by Chuck Berry.  Road Trippers also has some highlights as well as the Roadside America app.  It seems like every website picks just a few sites, but once you arrive in town, you'll no doubt find other historic places or photo ops.

We stopped at Dwight for a meal and ate at the Old Route 66 Family Restaurant, where Linda was our waitress.  She found a unique Chicago Route 66 T-shirt for Omar. Food was great and the place is loaded with things to look at while you wait. Just a block away is the visitor center/gas station. We arrived after closing time, but we could still look through the windows at the old equipment and car.

At Atlanta, we loved the murals, enormous Paul Bunyon holding a hot dog, and old mill.  The highlight would have been The Route 66 Arcade Museum, but it was closed.  They will be open for the summer, so check the hours and bring your coins. I would have enjoyed playing some pinball with Omar.

Pontiac has a great route 66 museum which includes a variety of photos from the entire route on the upper floor.  Once you've looked at these, you may feel inspired to keep driving west. The town has murals all over, as well as cute mini trucks painted in different themes, so it's a great place to stretch your legs.

Springfield is a place you could spend several days. We visited a few of the presidential sites, but made time for a corn dog at Cozy Dog Drive-in. Imagine our surprise when Abe Lincoln came through the door and ordered lunch.  I wasn't sure what to order, but the locals standing in line suggested the cheeseburger and cozy dog, so that's what I tried.  Both were very tasty.

Now that we've done this small portion, I'd love to see more.  The route has a bike map for anyone with loads of stamina, though I think we'll stick with the automobile.  We had a couple friends who did this on a tandem two years ago and blogged about it. How about you?  Have you done Route 66 in any state?  

Saturday, June 3, 2017

A Powerful Breakfast for Fasting Muslims...and Everyone Else

I've been with my husband for almost 13 years of Ramadan.  The hardest part for him has always been eating enough at breakfast to get through 17 hours of fasting.  I searched blogs and recipe books, written by Muslims, but the best solution comes from a combination of sources unrelated to Muslims. I found advice from weightlifters and people with successful weight loss. What a bonus if it keeps weight off and gives energy.

It all boils down to protein and fiber. And the best part is that it can be made ahead. It's a steel cut oatmeal mix. This is accompanied by a vegetable juice, made in a juicer.

Power Oatmeal

4 cups steel cut oats
1/2 cup chia seeds
1/2 cup hemp seeds
1/2 cup ground flax seed
1/4 cup couscous
1 Tbsp. cinnamon
1/4 cup coconut sugar

Mix all ingredients and store in an airtight container. When you're ready to cook it up, mix 1 cup power oatmeal with 3 cups water or milk (you can use almond milk or coconut milk) in a saucepan and bring to a boil.  Then turn burner to low and cook uncovered for 25 minutes, adding more liquid if it becomes too thick. Be sure to stir this as it cooks. At this point, you can eat it or put it in the refrigerator for the next day.  I find this enough for 4 servings.

Top with greek yogurt, nuts, and mixed berries.

Power Juice

2 stalks celery
1 cucumber
2 carrots
handful of spinach
1 beet
2 apples
1 tbsp. chunk fresh ginger

This makes 2 large glasses of juice.

If you still feel hungry, a hard boiled egg added to this combination might help.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Cooking for Ramadan

We're not even a week into Ramadan, and I'm already tired of cooking the same old thing.  My husband likes to eat a large variety of foods, so everyday cooking goes out the window during this month.  Some days I feel like a short order chef, though I try to smile and just carry on.  Many people feel sorry for the people fasting all day.  I mean, who would purposely choose to eat breakfast at 3 am, then wait to eat dinner at nearly 8:30 pm?  A lot of Muslims living in the midwestern US, that's who. Depending on where you live, the fast can be longer or shorter because it goes from before sunrise to sunset.  He eats it, but I cook it. So I thought I'd share some of the recipes I'm using this week for dinner, which is called iftar.

He starts with water, strong coffee and dates- they have to be American grown California Medjool because I like to support local growers, and many of the dates grown in the Israel/West Bank region, have been suspect to using children in the processing. You can read about it here. Last year there was an effort to boycott dates of "unknown origin."

Then it's crepes, though called different things in different countries. There are many recipes, but this one is very close to the one my mom always made. Sometimes I add a teaspoon of vanilla, or change out some of the all purpose flour to include some wheat flour and wheat germ. He likes to eat them smothered in honey.

Next it's a cup of soup.  Lentil is his favorite because it's high in protein. This recipe is good on its own, but I often add a Tbsp. of curry, just because he likes it a bit spicier. And I usually clean out the vegetable drawer with whatever we have because I can hide vegetables in this he won't normally eat (like broccoli) because it goes in the Vitamix. Shhh...don't tell him.

Lentil Peanut Soup

Today I got out a recipe for Lentil Peanut Soup. I received this from Astrid, a woman I met while living in Denmark.  She was from Rhodesia. I wrote that on the recipe. It doesn't even exist under that name anymore. Now it's Zimbabwe.  She and her husband were white, and had come to Denmark because her husband found work at a garage doing bodywork. I always liked eating at their house because she used a variety of recipes, some African, but others were from her Danish/Dutch heritage.  If you want to try this, here's the recipe:

1 cup red lentils, sorted and rinsed
1 cup pearl barley, rinsed
2 carrots, peeled, cut in half lengthwise and sliced
2 stalks celery, washed and sliced
1 medium onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, crushed
2 teaspoons cumin
½ teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon allspice
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
¼ teaspoon ground coriander
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
salt and pepper to taste
1 can diced or crushed tomatoes 
5 cups broth (I use bone broth made from chicken carcass)
1 bay leaf

1 Tbsp. grated ginger
1-2 Tbsp. peanut butter

Saute the veggies in ghee or olive oil until onion is translucent.  Add lentils, barley, spices, tomatoes and broth.  Stir and cook until everything is cooked through.  I use a pressure cooker, but it can be cooked stove top for about an hour.  Add ginger and peanut butter. Then blend in Vitamix if you want to hide the veggies too.  It's pretty tasty, though the peanut butter overpowers any veggie taste. 

After the soup, we're on to the main course, which has been beef tips in gravy, with peas, and rice.  I make enough to last three days. Sometimes just before bed, he'll have a yogurt to top it off.

Want more recipes?  Here is the article from 2012 the local Milwaukee newspaper did.  The recipes listed are staples for us during Ramadan. The sambusa can also be made using tortillas and baked or fried.  Sometimes I freeze them and just take out a few every day.  Here's a Kenyan/American recipe with tips on how to do that. You don't have to be Muslim or wait for Ramadan to eat these recipes.  Let me know if you try them.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Morocco for Ramadan

Omar and I take a camel ride on the nearly deserted beach at Sidi Kaouiki
It's Ramadan again, and I'm recalling the summer we spent in Morocco last year during the Muslim's holiest month.  We rented a minivan and drove about 1000 miles during the month, starting in Marrakesh and ending in Fez. It was hot. It was also the experience of a lifetime as we saw the diversity of what the country had to offer.  I didn't know at the time that I would write a book about it, but the stories and memories of the people we'd met stayed with me, so I put it on paper.  The book is available now on Amazon and Kindle.

Before we went, people thought we were a bit crazy to drive in an African country. I think being a bit naive on my part, it was a plus.  Between cities, there wasn't much traffic, but we encountered speed traps and check points every day in every city. I saw some crazy things.  I also grew from the experience. That's the best part of getting out of one's comfort zone.  Personal growth happens.  It widens a person's perspective about people and places.  It's such a good thing. I really believe if everyone had to travel to places where they didn't speak the language or follow the same customs, the world would be a much more understanding place.

I tried to capture the places on my camera. It's a photo rich country.  Just look at the blue city alleys of Chefchaouen in the upper left photo, and then the blue boats of El Jadida on the right. There are similar boats all along the coast. Each city has different colors.

Ramadan is a time for Muslims to fast. They eat an early morning breakfast before sunrise.  Then they don't eat or drink until after sunset.  It's a very long day, and Abdul nearly always took a nap to make the time go a bit faster. We ate nearly the same meal every night to break the fast, though Omar and I weren't fasting. My husband Abdul was. We enjoyed eating with Moroccans on several occasions. The highlight was dinner at the top of a mountain near Tetouan where we ate with a Moroccan family who owned an ecolodge.

Most tourists see only the famous tourist spots like the enormous mosque at Casablanca and the ancient tannery of Fez.  We managed to see those places too. But it was the little things we enjoyed along the way I write about in my book.  Omar chased cats.  I drove in the dark with no wiper fluid and nearly hit a cow in a sandstorm in the middle of the city. Omar fed monkeys and gave them water from bottles. I struggled to be understood using really poor French, but we got by. We saw the King praying at the mosque. We watched boys play soccer at a natural spring where they would lay out carpets under their feet to wash them. Lifeguards at the pool read the Koran to pass the day. Meals at McDonalds couldn't be eaten in public. There were hundreds of little differences.  If you're thinking about visiting Morocco, or just want a window into the lives of Moroccans during Ramadan, I hope you'll read my book. 
Fez tannery

We saw the King at the Mosque in Casablanca.
Feral cats were everywhere. They keep the rodent population down.

My son Omar, Me, and husband Abdulhamid in Marrakesh

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

EAA Museum- Great Place for Families

1 of 30 nose art pieces on display currently
We were in Oshkosh, Wisconsin for the weekend where we visited the EAA Museum.  Since I spent 21 years in the Air Force, I have an interest in aircraft but had never been to this attraction. It features and supports experimental aircraft, but it also has a great collection of other aircraft and memorabilia.  
replica of the Wright Brothers aircraft

The current exhibit of WWII nose art is rare and unusual. This is the first museum to display these vintage paintings. Though some might find them offensive because of the women depicted, it is a view into the history of warfare. Some pieces are in the main hangar gallery, while the more provocative are in a segregated area with a warning to parents. They are beautifully presented with a history about the artists and where the aircraft flew.

Our 11 year old son was invited to take a plane ride on the opposite side of the grounds with a volunteer pilot as part of the young eagles program. This program promotes aviation among young people ages 8-17. Older teens can fly in a biplane. It was definitely the highlight of his day going up in the air and actually having the opportunity to man the controls as they flew over Oshkosh. The flight was about 10 minutes. Be sure to take the trolley to the flight side of the grounds whether you plan to take a flight because there are several hangars full of aircraft.
Checking out the plane before flight

Strapped in and ready for flight
If you want to make a day of the EAA grounds, bring a fishing pole and a picnic lunch.  It has a beautiful natural area and a fishing pond.

With a new theater showing older flight related movies, you can go to evening events.  There are also special events scheduled throughout the year, which include displays, social gatherings, and aircraft rides like the B-17.

For us it was a memorable day and though we skimmed through the museum in a couple hours, we could easily go back again and learn something new.  The volunteers are what really make this place great.  If you go, let me know what you enjoyed most!

Monday, May 15, 2017

Holland Michigan Tulip Festival

My front yard in bloom
There's something so encouraging about seeing tulips in bloom.  It's why my own yard is planted in hundreds of the pretty flowers. We know that winter is behind us and summer ahead.  The days are getting longer and that means more time outside in the sunshine.  Though I would love to be in the Netherlands right now, the US has some pretty good places to enjoy tulips on a smaller scale.

We had been to Pella for tulip season two years ago and thoroughly enjoyed the color and festive atmosphere. This year we wanted to see Holland Michigan,  known for its Tulip Time festival. Unfortunately it was very cold, so we didn't stand outside for too long, but we made our way quickly through some of the parks taking a few photos. First stop was the Windmill Island Gardens, where we paid admission, and there were tulips galore as well as costumed performers and a reenactment with fur traders, which was colorful and fun. People could have a tour of the windmill, or see the enormous organ play. Shops sold traditional cookies and sandwiches.

tulips with the white tents in the rear, used by the reenactors and merchants

Next stop was the downtown park Window on the Waterfront, which had a nice monument and again, thousands of tulips. They even had an explanation about why they didn't have more- hungry deer had eaten about 9000 in winter. This is a free stop with walking paths to a nice wetland/wildlife area at the rear. During the festival, there were trolleys to take people around the city.

Traditional Dutch costumes on these statues at the front of the park
There was an art fair at Centennial Park going on during the festival, with unique handcrafted items.  At the center of the park were performing Dutch dancers, though we didn't stay for it.  I just wanted to get into a warm place and drink some coffee. I know the photos look sunny, but it was about 38 degrees F and quite windy. The tulips were indeed beautiful though.  Well worth a visit if you are there in early May.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Some Oddities in Dubai- Box Park and Miracle Gardens

I think the places that really surprised me in Dubai were the shopping mall made of shipping crates and the enormous A380 airliner completely covered in flowers.  Would you expect that?  Dubai can be full of surprises and I love that about the city. I enjoy knowing that there will always be something new to explore.

The Boxpark might be the best place to watch New Year's Eve fireworks, as it is outside the city center but has a great view. It's marketed as a hip shopping and dining experience, and has most of the shops you'd see in any city, but every one of them has some component that comes from a shipping container.  They are stacked and arranged like a set of building blocks, though unless you really take a closer look, you wouldn't know they weren't average buildings.  It is a place you just have to see to appreciate the engineering, architecture and beauty of the space. They even managed to sneak in patio tables, a chalkboard, and play areas for kids. I thought it was genius. We didn't do much shopping, but stopped to enjoy a gelato.

Dubai's Miracle Garden is an anomaly.  I mean, who would have thought you could grow millions of flowers in the desert? We went early in the day, but it was still incredibly hot.  The displays are a mix of structures with annual flowers planted into pots covering them, as well as normal landscaping scenes.  The A380 was a totally new way to recycle a plane though. It made the Guiness Book of World Records. If you go, bring your camera and plan to spend about an hour. With cafes surrounding the gardens, it's easy to find a place to enjoy a cold drink or snack.