Monday, August 14, 2017

Those Lazy Hazy Crazy Days of Summer

peach jam
Summer is winding down in my neck of the woods, perhaps sooner than normal as we have been blessed with temperatures in the 80s during the day and 60s overnight. Peaches are abundant right now, so I decided to try my hand at making peach jam. For the first batch, I made five jars of peach and five jars of a peach/blackberry mix. As the peach turned out well (haven't tried the mixed jam yet), I made a second round of peach on Saturday. For whatever reason, the peaches did not ripen as much as I would have liked, which made them challenging to smash with the potato masher. Consequently, I'll have to say that the end result is more peach preserve than peach jam. But I'm okay with that. The flavor is still quite good.

St. Louis Zoo
Sunday morning I met my photographer friend Caren at the St. Louis Zoo. With temperatures in the 60s when we started out, it was a perfect time to experience the animals. Because it was a Sunday, the zoo was not yet crowded so we were able to stroll and photograph at our leisure for the first hour or so. By the time it got really crowded, we were ready to head out anyway.

I had yet to visit the Grace Taylor Broughton Sculpture Garden behind the St. Louis Art Museum, so we walked there next. It was slightly disappointing, to say the least. There are no paths leading to each sculpture so you have to walk on the grass. As the irrigation system had been on that morning, it was a soggy endeavor. And I have no idea how the project met ADA requirements as I can't imagine pushing a wheelchair (or a stroller, for that matter), let alone trying to maneuver a walker through the area. Over 400 hundred trees have been planted, some purportedly representing "rooms", but all I could see was too many trees planted too close together. There will be tree casualties due to this, and that is a shame. Perhaps they should consider using a local landscape architect next time, instead of bringing someone in from France.

Sculpture Garden
We then headed inside to have an early lunch at Panorama, the restaurant located inside the museum. This was my second time eating here, and I have found both the food and the service to be quite good. Caren and I had both parked in the open lot across from the museum when we arrived that morning, so it was an easy walk back to the cars following our meals. It was good to get out and photograph again. It's been too long since I have taken time to do that.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Moon River

Last weekend was the annual float trip for our company. The past several years it has taken place on the Huzzah River at a facility where we shared a cabin with another couple.  I am not a fan of sleeping on the ground anymore, especially in Missouri in August. The younger associates and their families pitched tents or brought campers along. This year the organizer selected a campground on the Niangua River near Lebanon, Missouri. Unfortunately, all the cabins and rooms in the lodge were already taken when our group signed up, so I called every motel in Lebanon only to find out that they were all booked as well. This was the first indication that the river would be packed with floaters on Saturday.

I am suspicious that all the campsites were already full when the organizer called, judging by where they ultimately put our group. Located by the porta-potties and the dump station for the RVs, I'm convinced that they created space for us once they found out how many were coming. It's all about the almighty buck, after all.

Still not interested in tent camping, ultimately I found a house for the four of us on AirBNB, and as it had a two night minimum during the summer, I booked us for Friday and Saturday nights. The house was perfect for two couples, and it backed up to a city park so it was nice to sit outside and enjoy coffee or another beverage. We drove separately from the other couple as we wanted to take some time to explore the area on Sunday and they needed to get back. We grabbed dinner to go in town and took it out to the campsite Friday night. Most of the group had arrived, with only a couple driving down on Saturday morning, so we sat around the fire until 10 or so before going back to our house.

Niangua River
Saturday morning dawned cloudy and cool, with a revised forecast of rain. By 10:30 we were on the water. Most of our group chose to float in individual kayaks, but a few had rafts or canoes as they had children or dogs with them. I have never seen so many people on a river before! It was packed, and a number of groups had their rafts tied together, creating logjams in the middle of the river and making it difficult to get around them when the channel narrowed. We were on the water maybe 10 minutes before the rain began. At first it was light, but then it poured. We kept thinking it would stop, but it never did. We later learned that they were expecting 4-6 inches of rain that day. The operators had no business sending anyone down the river on Saturday.

With the cool temperature, the rain was not refreshing, but we muddled along. When the thunder and lightning began, it got scary. Jim and I had long since separated from the others in our group as our thought process was to get the heck to the ending as quickly as possible. There was no safe area to leave the river mid-route. We were on the 6 mile float, which normally takes 4-6 hours to complete, depending on how often you stop. We pulled over under a tree for a short break, thinking we might be able to eat our lunches, but it was just too wet even under the tree. We grabbed a protein bar and gobbled that down, but we began to shiver uncontrollably as we were no longer exerting ourselves. We quickly got back in the kayaks and on our way.

Passing the 3 mile marker was very disheartening as we knew we were only halfway done. A lot of people pulled off there, so the river was more open for the second half of the journey. As I came up behind a raft, I saw a young man walking in the freezing river. That can only mean one thing - he was peeing. After he finished he belly flopped onto his raft, causing the other passengers to fly up in the air. Unfortunately that maneuver also caused his swimming trunks to come down. And that is how it came to pass that, despite the clouds, rain and the daylight hours, there was a full moon (as in VERY full) over the Niangua River on Saturday. And I had a front row seat, much to my dismay.

We finally reached the 6 mile marker and drug our soggy selves out of the water. We had paddled the route in 2.5 hours! Thankfully a bus was waiting, though it had all the windows open and no heat going despite the temperature being 59 degrees. Only the intern from our office, her dog and her boyfriend were on the bus from our group. The route back to the campsite was up steep hills on a barely-there, deeply eroded gravel road. The driver had to back down the hill one time to let another bus come down. My only thought was it was possible that we survived the lightning on the river only to die on the bus ride back to camp. We later heard that one of the buses slipped and tipped over, and another one hit a car on the way back.

As  we approached the campsite we were surprised to see that most of our group had either packed up and left, or were in the process of doing so as it was still pouring and predicted to do so throughout the night. How had they beat us back? As it turns out, they all got out at the 3 mile marker and hoped that a bus from our camp would take pity and come and get them. Indeed it did, but they waited 45 minutes in the cold and rain for it to show up. They actually did not get back to camp that much earlier than us.

Back at the house, a hot shower never felt so good. We ate our late lunch, then read or watched t.v. for the rest of the afternoon. That evening we found a really good Italian restaurant where we had dinner, and then played cards up until bedtime. Following breakfast the next morning, the other couple took off for home, and we went to Bennett Spring State Park. Neither of us had been there before, and we wanted to check it out and watch the fly fishing. Of course it had to rain on us there as well.

Bennett Spring State Park
In a fitting end to the weekend, we stopped at Uranus, Missouri, a tourist trap along I-44 where the jokes just seem to write themselves. What a hoot! The general store, in addition to containing the Uranus Fudge Factory, also sold nostalgic toys and candy in addition to fishing equipment, guns and ammo. There was even a shooting range in the back. One stop shopping...

Uranus, Missouri

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Kissing Cousins

My cousins in Cincinnati are absolutely the best, even if I feel like I eat my way through the city every time I go there. The family that I stayed with this visit always help me to push the envelope in terms of my palate. Friday night we went to Gomez Salsa, where they offer unique Mexican specialties such as their signature Turtle Shells. I had a burrito that could have fed at least two people. From there were went to the old fashioned ice cream parlor, Algamesis Bro's, which has been in business since 1908. It is no surprise, as the ice cream is delicious!

Gomez Salsa and Algamesis Bro's
Saturday morning we had breakfast at the house, and then my cousin and I went to the American Sign Museum in Cincinnati. What a fun find! It is located in 20,000 square feet of an old factory building, and covers more than a century of American signage. There are early, pre-electric signs adorned in gold leaf, some of the earliest electric signs, examples of beautiful art-deco neon signs, and modern plastic-faced signs. We were really enjoying ourselves except for the group of four families who had 12 kids in total. Those kids were out of control, running, yelling and climbing on the exhibits. Not only were the parents paying no attention, no one from the museum stopped the shenanigans either. When they finally left, the noise level dropped dramatically, and my cousin breathed a sigh of relief. I told her jokingly not to worry, they would show up at the next place we went. Ha, ha...or so I thought.

American Sign Museum
From there we went down to the riverfront as there has been a lot of development since the last time I walked in the area. Because it was 97 degrees and incredibly humid, we mostly did a drive by. But I can't wait to spend more time there when I go back in October. We hit Findlay Market next to pick up some dog food for their dog, and were debating whether to grab a bite to eat. We walked around to see if there were any tables available, and we heard a bunch of kids yelling and screaming. Guess who? Yep, our favorite families from the museum. We busted out laughing!

Margie, me and Betty
Margie and Marie
That afternoon there was a surprise party for my Aunt Margie, who turned 95 the previous day. She is my mom's younger sister, and one of two children still living from the family of eight kids. Her sister Betty turned 90 last month. Margie's sister-in-law Marie from her husband's side of the family will be 96 in September, and she is a hoot. All three of these women are a constant source of inspiration as they are active and living on their own. There are some incredible genes in these families, that is for sure. I believe there were around 40 people at the party, and we had a lot of fun and laughs.

Sunday another cousin met us for brunch at a dim sum restaurant. This was my first experience with this style of dining, and I really liked it. It was fun to hear the wait staff explain each dish as they brought it by, and then say yes or no to trying it. For me it was a good way to try various dishes that I would not have ordered on my own for fear of not liking it.

Then that evening we met yet another set of cousins for supper. There are always so many people I want to see when I go back to Cincinnati, that it is hard to fit everyone in. Fortunately there is a family reunion in October so my next visit I can see a slew of people in one spot.

Skyline Chili
Leaving Cincinnati the next morning, I stopped at a Kroger store to stock up on goetta. And in Kentucky I spied a Skyline Chili sign. As it was 11:00, I just had to stop for a taste of Skyline before I headed home since the Empress Chili I had while staying in Alexandria did not do it for me. As I said, I eat my way through Cincinnati when I visit there. Good thing it is only twice a year!