Thursday, April 27, 2017

Sydney Day 2

This morning I woke up pretty early (as in 3:30 in the morning early), so I checked messages as I normally do first thing only to find out that back in St. Louis lightning had struck the remaining oak in our front yard causing the tree to fall. Those of you who follow my blog know that we lost two huge trees out front a couple years ago, and they fell on two different neighbors' cars. The good news is that the tree landed predominantly in our yard, and hopefully did not destroy the small buckeye we put in last year to replace the one that had fallen the previous year. The bad news is that it took out the internet and cable line. Oh, and the huge quote to remove the tree was not exactly good either. Thankfully we have people staying in our house while we are gone, and they could deal with the issues right away. We are so grateful for the wonderful neighbors who came over to offer their assistance to our house sitters.

Once we were assured everything was being taken care of at home, we took off for an early breakfast and then made our way to the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Affectionately known as the "Coathanger", the bridge opened in 1932. It is the world's largest (but not longest) bridge, spanning 1149 meters in length. It carries eight lanes of vehicle traffic, two train lines, a footway and a cycleway. You can climb the bridge spans if you dare, with prices beginning at $158 Australian dollars. Once I learned that no phones or cameras are allowed, that was a deal breaker for me. We chose to walk across instead. The views from the bridge are quite spectacular.

Once on the other side of the mile long bridge we were in what is called North Sydney. There at the foot of the Sydney Harbour Bridge we found Luna Park, an amusement park that was built in 1935. The park is only open Friday-Monday, but we were able to walk in a bit of it. Luna Park is one of two
 amusement parks in the world that are protected by government legislation. Several of the buildings in the park are listed on the Register of the National Estate.

By the time we completed our walk back across the bridge, grabbed lunch to go, and returned to the room to eat on our terrace, we had already racked up over 15,000 steps and walked nearly 7 miles. And it was only noon!

Following lunch and a short rest we walked to the Royal Botanic Garden. This 74 acre garden opened in 1814 and is free to visit. Paths meander throughout, taking you past lush planting beds, ponds and along the harbour. Numerous birds call the area home and we even saw parrots! We will need to make another trip back as dusk began to fall before we had finished exploring. Luckily it is within a short walking distance of our hotel. As we hit over 23,000 steps on our Fitbits today, we were ready to find somewhere to eat dinner, then head back to the room.

I've been researching why photos can't be placed in this blog on an iPad, and haven't found a satisfactory solution yet. I never have problems on my iMac at home, but for some reason blogger cannot find the photos I have uploaded to this iPad. It is very frustrating as that is why I brought the iPad along. I'm not giving up yet!

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Trip of a Lifetime

We have talked off and on for years about traveling to Australia and New Zealand. First of all, the countries look amazing, and second Jim had a landscape architecture professor at Iowa State who relocated his family to Melbourne 30 or more years ago. He has always invited us over for a visit. We decided it was time to finally go as none of us are getting any younger.

The planning began in 2015, but between scheduling issues, health issues on the other end, and dealing with American Airlines, it took until July of 2016 for the trip to get booked. We wanted to use frequent flyer miles to upgrade our seats, because I told Jim that the only way I was getting on a 15+ hour flight was if my seat was in business class. The airlines really do not want you to be able to use those miles you collect, so it took quite a while and a lot of flexibility to make the tickets happen.

Because there was no business class on the plane from St. Louis to Los Angeles, we were given first class seats. We didn't complain! We had over 4 hours to kill at LAX, but the Admirals Club made that bearable. We boarded the next flight at 10:20 p.m.for an 11:00 departure. Neither of us had been in business class, so this was a real treat. The single cubicles, for lack of a better word, had wide, comfortable seats that could fully recline for sleeping. We were given slippers, pajamas, and a toiletry kit to keep, and a large pillow, comforters and Bose noice cancelling headphones for use during the trip. There was a remote control for the large personal LCD screen in each seat. Plenty of storage space was provided in each cubicle. The food was good as was the service.

Neither one of us slept much on the flight, despite the comfortable arrangements. We arrived in Sydney a little ahead of schedule, enjoyed the streamlined epassport services at the airport, and quickly collected our bags. The longest wait was in the que to get a cab.

We are staying at the Sir Stamford Hotel, which is located in Circular Quay. Fortunately, despite the early hour (8:00 a.m.), they had our room ready. We enjoyed a cup of hot coffee (tea for me) on our terrace, freshened up a bit, and then headed out to explore. This location is excellent, and we quickly found ourselves at the Sydney Opera House - the most iconic symbol of the city. Having seen it so often through the years in films or videos, it was surreal to be standing in front of it. For today, we just enjoyed walking around the outside, but we will definitely go back for a tour.

We found a lovely place along the water to have lunch, and then did more walking before making our way back to the hotel room. Two days of no sleep are catching up with us, so we will just chill tonight before taking the city by storm tomorrow.

For some reason I am not able to post photos to the blog. As I am too tired to figure that out right now, I will look into this tomorrow. Hopefully I can figure it out!

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Weekend Highs and Lows

The Better Business Bureau office in St. Louis had a paper shredding event last Saturday at one of the local malls. I had a stack of papers that I have slowly been shredding over the last year or so with my underpowered paper shredder. But with an event this size, I decided to tackle the file cabinets to see what we could get rid of in one fell swoop. In addition to our personal taxes dating back more than seven years, I had old bank statements for the kids as well as all the check book registers dating back to nearly when we were first married. I also inherited all of my dad's paperwork, including his medical and financial reports. He died in 2004, so I could have safely disposed of these many years ago. Ahem...

boxes of paper
By Saturday morning I had five cardboard boxes filled with papers of various shapes and sizes. The event ran from 9-12, so I decided to arrive around 9:30 to avoid the crowd. Ha! On my way there, a lady in a huge Lexus SUV decided she wanted my turn lane in addition to her own, and despite me laying on the horn she continued to come fully into my lane. It's a good thing I was paying attention since she obviously was not. That was the second time in a week that I nearly got creamed by someone. Come on people, vacation is right around the corner and I want to be in one piece for it!
waiting in line

Arriving at the mall, I could see where the shredding was taken place, so I turned left into the parking lot where two volunteers were standing in their bright colored vests. One of them asked me if I was there for the event, and when I indicated that I was he directed me to pull behind a stopped SUV up ahead. It wasn't until that point that I realized the line of cars was snaked through the parking lot west of where I had entered. No problem, I figured we would have to wait our turn and then they would let our group move ahead at some point. Well, that didn't exactly happen. The other cars continued on uninterrupted, and I'm sure they thought that our lane had just arrived and was trying to butt in. One man was particularly vocal and yelled out at us that some people didn't want to wait their turn. He had no idea how long we had been waiting. In hindsight, they should have had all cars enter at the same place to avoid any misunderstanding, road rage being what it is and all. Any way, we finally were allowed to proceed, and once at the truck volunteers grabbed the boxes out of your car so I didn't have to lift a finger - just my tailgate. Easy, peasy...
paper shredder
I returned home to finish cleaning for Easter Sunday. Normally my sister has everyone over for dinner, but she has had a rough start to the year health-wise. I knew she would not have the stamina to clean and shop, much less cook, for a dozen people. So I volunteered to host at our house. I wanted to get everything cleaned on Saturday so I could focus on cooking Sunday.

pineapple upside down cake
Everyone brought something, so that helped a lot. I made my dad's pineapple upside down cake using his special pan, and it was like having him in the kitchen with me. Then I prepared the bone-in ham the way he used to, covering it in cloves and later pineapples and cherries along with a glaze. I was able to put the potatoes and the ham in the oven at the same time, which only left the rolls at the end. Everything worked out perfectly, and we enjoyed a wonderful meal together. After eating the cake and/or the peanut butter pies my sister brought, we broke out a game of Code Names. It is easy to play with a crowd as you divide into teams, and is so fun. Andy had brought it at Christmas, so we were familiar with the rules.
baked ham
All in all, it was a nice day, and I am so grateful that we have some family in town so that we can celebrate the special events together. I just wish the kids lived closer so they could come as well.

Monday, April 10, 2017

That's Just the Nature of Things

My sister and I were finally able to get together for lunch recently. She has been pretty sick for a couple of months, so I was glad that she was feeling well enough to meet. We went to our favorite pizza parlor in Pacific, Missouri as that is close to being a halfway point for us to drive. The pizza was great, as was the company. After we ate I enjoyed taking photographs in the area.

Pacific, Missouri
It has been incredibly beautiful around here, despite the severe storms that have come along with early, high temperatures. We have been getting out whenever we can to enjoy the weather. Shaw Nature Reserve is lovely year round, but spring brings out the daffodils and bluebells, among other things. We took a five mile hike into the back of the reserve, and had the place to ourselves, except for the ten deer that we came upon. Ten! It was amazing, for sure. But the stinkers were running through the woods so I was unable to capture a picture of them.

Shaw Nature Reserve
Saturday I attended the annual Family History Conference put on each spring by the St. Louis Genealogical Society. Their conferences are always great, and I was particularly excited for this year's event. One of the main speakers was Cyndi Ingle, creator of Cyndi's List of Genealogy Sites on the Internet. The site holds a categorized index of more than 335,000 online resources, including my website on researching house history. Not only is she a wealth of knowledge, she is also a wonderful speaker. Also on the program was Jan Alpert, who was offering up tips on using DNA in genealogy. This was of particular interest to me, and not just because I have had my own DNA analysis done. I also had my father-in-law tested, and his results were puzzling to all of us. The ethnicity breakdown for him showed 50% Great Britain, 26% Scandinavia, and 24% Europe West. As I have researched his family back to the early 1800s and found nothing on either side of his family but Germans, the 50% Great Britain makes no sense. For that high of a percentage you would expect that one of his parents was English and that is certainly not the case.

Once I studied the map that you can find when digging deeper into the test results, it sort of began to make sense. Their designation for Great Britain dips way down into parts of France, Belgium, and Germany. As his ancestors are from northwest Germany, I can see where that statistic is coming from. But why in the world do they include that part of the world in their Great Britain designation? It certainly is not the most helpful thing to do.

I spoke with a couple of people who are knowledgeable about DNA at the meeting, and they suggested that I have my father-in-law retested with a different company. I may eventually do that, but I also found out that for $19 I can upload his test results to one of the other testing companies so that I can gain access to their reporting systems. So I will probably start with that and see what happens. I want to have my husband tested as well, since my mother-in-law and one of my sister-in-laws have been tested. It will be fun to compare all of them.

While I was sad to be sitting inside a conference center all day on Saturday as it was a beautiful day, Jim and I got out for a nice walk at Francis Park on Sunday. We have been busy getting ready for an epic adventure, so it was nice to take a break from planning and get outside.

Bob Cassilly's sculptures at Francis Park

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Bloom and Doom

Last week I went to the Missouri Botanical Garden to see what impact our crazy spring weather has had on the plants that were coerced into blooming before their time. Sure enough, the freeze that followed the record-breaking warm days took their toll on some of the early bloomers. Normally the cherry blossoms are a sight to behold, but the cherry is off the bloom, so to speak.

Some of the other perennials are doing okay, though, and it will be interesting to see what other plants have been affected as the season springs ahead. The day I went, the temperature was in the 70's and the garden was overrun with spring-breakers and school buses. It wasn't quite the peaceful experience I have come to expect when I visit. The high winds added a degree of difficulty to my photography, but I managed to get off several shots that I was happy with in the end.

Missouri Botanical Garden
Today Jim and I met with an attorney to draw up a new will. Our original document was done in 1987, and I am pretty sure that no one would be able to find the executor should we both die at the same time. We are planning an epic adventure together, so we want this to be done before we head out.

It is a thought-provoking and humbling experience to go through the (14 page) questionnaire. Who gets what, and in what order? Who can decide to pull the plug on you? What if all of your named beneficiaries die before you - who do you want your stuff to go to? Are there any people you specifically want to call out who get nothing from you? Hmmm...

One good thing that came out of the review process was that I found out that my big life insurance policy still has my older brother named as the contingent beneficiary. So if Jim and I both die, my brother would get the money. Whoops! It made sense when I first took out the policy as my brother and his wife were going to be guardians of the children in case something happened to the two of us. It makes no sense now. I sent off a change of beneficiary form to the insurance company right away. Too bad, bro!

The most impressive part of pulling together all of the various forms and documents that the attorney requested is that I actually found the Deed of Trust on our house. From 1987! I deserve a prize or something, I think. Not to mention the $$$ I saved us, as the attorney would have sent someone to the county recorder of deeds office to get a copy had I not produced the original. Having spent more hours than I care to recall digging through deeds there while researching houses, I was happy to save everyone a trip.

If all goes according to plan, we will have a new will before we are on our way.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Seeing the City

St. Louis is blessed with many unique, beautiful, quirky and fun communities. It is amazing how few of them I have really seen. But I crossed one of them off the list when I visited The Grove yesterday with a photographer friend. The district is located between Kingshighway and Vandeventer along Manchester Road, and a Sunday morning was the perfect time to do some exploring without a lot of cars and/or people to get in the way.

The first thing that caught our eye was Demo Man, which is located at the intersection of Vandeventer and Chouteau. Since 2002 the 20' Demo Man sculpture has been overlooking the intersection of Chouteau and Vandeventer. The small parcel of land is owned by Don Bellon of Bellon Wrecking and Salvage. One of his employees created the piece, replicating a small statue that has been on Bellon's desk since 1973 when he started his business.

Demo Man
The Grove sign
From Demo Man you can see the iconic The Grove sign, which was lit for the first time on December 17, 2010,  announcing the entrance to The Grove. A second sign hangs at the east entrance near Kingshighway. The area takes up about a mile along both sides of Manchester Road. Originally a commercial district called Adam's Grove in the 1950s, the area fell into urban decline. New businesses began to open in the 1980s, and since then the area has been successfully revitalized. With new branding, it is now known as The Grove.

The architecture in the area reminds me a bit of The Loop in University City. The vast majority of the storefronts are full - I did not see many vacancies, which is wonderful. But it is the number of public art pieces, primarily murals worked on by local artist Grace McCammond, which really capture your eye and give life to the area. Painted fireplugs and electric boxes, as well as bright splashes of trim on building exteriors, add to the colorful atmosphere. The Grove is definitely a photographer's dream, and my friend and I enjoyed living it for the morning!

The Grove

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

March Came in Like a Lamb

The old idiom is that March comes in like a lion, and goes out like a lamb. That has not been the case this year, with the temperature hitting 74 degrees last Saturday. We have already been under tornado watches/warnings twice in the past couple of weeks. The warm temperatures have thrown the trees, shrubs and flowers for a loop, with many blooming at least a month early. There is always the concern that a cold snap will nip the blooms in the bud.

Shaw Nature Reserve daffodils
With that in mind, I went to Shaw Nature Reserve on Saturday expecting to see an array of color. Other than a field of daffodils, mother nature was keeping her buds close to her chest in the reserve. No matter, it is always a beautiful place to take a walk.

Gardenway Motel
Across the street from the entrance to the reserve is a Travelodge. I have always wanted to stop and shoot the old Gardenway Motel sign, so I pulled into the parking lot of the Travelodge to take the picture. I had no idea the size of this closed Travelodge! All I could think was how many homeless people or veterans it could house. As I drove around the back, I was surprised to see a miniature golf course, two swimming pools and an old-school playground. How many little hands got blisters from crossing the monkey bars? How many butts got burned going down the metal slide? How many scraped knees from the merry-go-round? What a nice little facility it must have once been, and the close proximity to Six Flags must have been of some advantage once upon a time.

Sunday was not quite as nice as Saturday, but Jim and I headed off to the Missouri Botanical Garden in the morning. He had not yet seen the Orchid Exhibit. What we didn't know is that it was corporate partners day, and they all got in for free. I have never seen so many people at the garden, except for special festivals. And we arrived early! It was packed inside the Orchid Show, so we'll need to go back when we won't get jostled every time we turn around. Thankfully, out in the garden itself it was not so crowded. The colors are really popping here! Every day at the garden is a good day, and we love to spend our time together walking and taking pictures. We are so blessed to have such an incredible facility here in our city.

Missouri Botanical Garden

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Family History Writing Challenge

The Family History Writing Challenge takes place in February, and for the 6th year in a row I participated again. Basically you commit to writing about your family every day for 28 days. I had to miss 4 days as I was up in Iowa creating new family stories, so I will continue on past today with those posts. This year I wrote about the Kubler family. If you are interested in what the challenge is all about, you can find my posts here.

Before we left for Iowa, I was looking for a couple of fun places to stop on the way up to my in-law's house. Because Kirby always made this trip with us, it has been helpful to break out of our old routine and go places we could never go when he came along with us. I came across a website called Roadside America. What a fun site! You enter the state you will be traveling through, and it gives you a listing of all the oddities in that state. You can look at the attractions located in an alphabetical listing of town names, or you can review the attractions pinned on a map so you can see which ones are on the route you will be driving.

That is how we came to stop at the Swedish Heritage Museum located in Swedesburg, Iowa. You can see the Julbock (straw goat) and sign from Highway 218, so we have driven past this over 100 times in the years we have lived in St. Louis. But we never took the time to stop. Originally my thought was to just grab a quick picture, but we ended up going into the museum as well.

Am I ever glad we did! The docent was incredibly knowledgeable and friendly, and we enjoyed getting to know the origins of the town and the Swedish people who settled in the area. The antiquities included in the museum are amazing. There were no photos allowed inside, but I was amazed at the quality and quantity of items that have been donated by local family members. The general store and tinsmith shop certainly take you back in time.
Swedish Heritage Museum
Roadside America also led us to a new place for lunch - The Flying Wienie in Cedar Rapids. You can't make this stuff up...After photographing the exterior, we went inside to presumably order a wienie. We were not expecting the variety of options on the menu. In the end, my husband could not turn down an Iowa pork tenderloin sandwich, and I was lured by the smell of the Italian beef sandwich. The choices we made were good, but not great, so if we ever stop again we'll go for the hotdogs.

Flying Wienie
If you ever decide to visit Cedar Rapids, I am including a little tip for you below. Because if you have a flying wienie, it's always good to know where to park it.

Wienie parking

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Celebrating 65 Years of Marriage

Jim and I went to Charles City, Iowa for a wedding anniversary over the weekend, but first we attended the latest Women in Focus photography exhibit. Held at Third Degree Glass Factory, the opening coincided with their Third Fridays monthly event. Every third Friday of each month, Third Degree offers glassblowing demonstrations, food from local caterers or food trucks, live music, and a new exhibition in their east gallery. That is where the Women in Focus show entitled "Passion" is being displayed for a month.
Third Degree Glass Factory
The event opens at 6:00, and Jim and I arrived a little before that to find the parking lot already full and about 30 people waiting in line to get in. We were amazed! Having never attended Third Fridays before, we had no idea what to expect. The evening was quite fun, and the photos on display by our group are excellent and thought-provoking, as always.

Saturday morning we got up early to head up to Charles City where we had a big surprise in store for my husband's parents. They knew that the two of us were coming up to help them celebrate their 65th wedding anniversary, which happened to be February 18th. But they had no idea that our son and daughter-in-law were flying in from Washington, DC., or that our daughter would also be flying in from Los Angeles. These plans had been in the works since Thanksgiving, when the kids were able to arrange their flights into Minneapolis on the 18th arriving pretty close to the same time. They wanted to be able to rent one car and drive to Charles City together. With the flights settled, we only had to worry about the weather.

wedding day
When my in-laws were married, a snow storm kept some guests from being able to attend the wedding and reception. When the time came to plan their 50th anniversary party, they decided to have the celebration in April to avoid the possibility of snow. But guess what? It snowed that weekend in April. You just can't fool mother nature!

The weather gods were kind this time, and we had unseasonably warm weather. It was sunny and warm (for northern Iowa) on both Saturday and Sunday. We were even able to take some photos outdoors in the park on Sunday afternoon following Mass and a small dinner party at the local Chinese restaurant. Thank goodness for tripods and the timer on my camera.

family photos
All of us were able to stay in town until a little after noon on Tuesday, so there was plenty of time to catch up, play cards, puzzles and other games, and of course eat some amazing food. Our children rarely get the opportunity to see their grandparents as everyone lives so far away, so I am beyond grateful that things worked out for us to share this time together.

I have been fortunate to have Jerry and Lorraine Wolterman in my life for over 40 years. They are a constant source of inspiration to me, and have set a loving example of what marriage should look like to all who know them. There is no "in-law" after father and mother in either my mind or my heart with them. They raised Jim to be the man that I fell in love with, and I know that our own marriage is stronger for the example that they have set for both of us.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Someting Rotten!

Something Rotten!
Jim took his annual trip to Chicago this weekend with a riding friend to go the the motorcycle show, so I had the house to myself. I don't particularly love that since my little house buddy is no longer here to keep me company. But I am adjusting. Friday night I took a gal pal with me to see "Something Rotten!" at the Fox. I knew nothing about the play other than some vague reference to Shakespeare and the fact that it had been nominated for 10 Tony Awards. Since I am not a huge Shakespeare fan, I chose not to read anything more about the show as I didn't want to have the wrong attitude going into the performance. This show has you laughing from the very beginning. It is fabulous - maybe the best play I have ever seen, and that is saying a lot. I highly recommend it!

Saturday my niece came over to borrow one of my cameras. She is photographing the rehearsal dinner of her co-worker's stepson. I am a little anxious for her as shooting indoors is always tricky. I try to avoid it myself, and usually resort to using my iPhone because it seems to do better in low light. Without bringing in auxiliary lighting, which I don't own, it is hard to take flattering pictures. The built-in flash on the camera always seems to be too hot, washing the people out. I am not available that night, or I would go with her and take a second camera so she would have more pictures to choose from. Oh well...Coincidentally, the dinner is at 3rd Degree Glass. My Women in Focus group has a show opening there on Friday night, so at least I'll be able to scope the area out for her and see what the lighting is like. At any rate, it was great to see my niece as we never seem to be able to get together, especially one on one.
Cathedral Basilica

Sunday I went to the Cathedral Basilica as my photographer friend wanted to retake the photo she is planning on using in our show. The cathedral was completed in 1914, and designated a basilica by Pope John Paul II in 1997. Installation of the mosaics inside began in 1912, and the last of the 41.5 million tiles was laid in 1988! Covering 83,000 square feet, it is the largest mosaic collection in the world. What an amazing building! No matter how many times I go inside, it just strikes me dumb.

Sketch of Church
From there we went to Grand Center, where the skeletal remains of a burnt out church stand. Located at 460 N. Spring Street, the church was built in 1884 for a Baptist congregation. A fire in 2001 destroyed the church. Some reports say that lightning struck the building; others insist an electrical fire was the culprit. I have looked at many photos of it, but never seen it in person. The lighting with the bright sun wasn't particularly favorable, but at least I know where the church is now so I can go back. We had intended to end our photoshoot at The Grove, but despite the sun and temperature it was chilly out due to the high winds. We decided to tackle that location on a warmer Sunday morning.

Church of God

Monday, February 6, 2017

Heart of the Community

Each year the Webster Groves-Shrewsbury-Rock Hill Area Chamber of Commerce hosts the Heart of the Community Awards Dinner. This year the event took place on Friday, February 3rd at the Westborough Country Club. The ceremony was particularly exciting as Jim, along with his company SWT Design, was given an award for Outstanding Green Initiative. What was especially rewarding was the fact that two people from two different communities nominated him.

Recognizing both the green design that he and his firm have brought to Webster Groves and many other areas as well as the fact that SWT "walks the talk" in the design and renovation of their own corporate campus in Shrewsbury, the award is certainly evidence that what Jim and his company are doing is being noticed in the area. It is so wonderful to live in a community that gets it! It was nice that several of Jim's colleagues were able to join us at the event, and an added bonus that my friend Linda provided the musical entertainment for the night.
Heart of the Community Awards
Sunday was such a gorgeous day that I knew I had to go shoot something. With my camera, that is. I contacted one of my photographer friends, and she readily agreed to accompany me. As the morning was still a bit chilly, we first went to the Missouri Botanical Garden for the annual Orchid Show. It is one of my favorite events at the garden. I am always in awe over the stunning array of various orchids that are on display. Surprisingly, especially since the show just opened on Friday, it was not too crowded. Perhaps everyone was at home getting ready for their Superbowl parties. We had lunch at the garden, and took a stroll outside for a bit before heading to our next destination.

Eads Bridge
My niece has been posting photos of progress at the St. Louis Arch grounds as she works downtown and often runs on her noon hour. I wanted to check things out for myself, so that was our next photo stop. I never tire of taking photos on the riverfront. I absolutely love the workmanship of Eads Bridge. Completed in 1874, it is still in use today for both cars and the Metrolink.

It was hoped that the renovations on the arch grounds were going to be completed by the time the arch turned 50 years old, October 28, 2015. (As an aside, the arch and I share a birthday, albeit 10 years apart.) Obviously, that deadline has come and gone. But I will say that a lot of work has been accomplished since I last visited the landing area this summer. I think it will be very nice when finished, though I have concerns about parking as they tore down the parking structure closest to the arch. While it may be fine for buses to drop off kids on the landing and let them scramble up the dozens of steps leading to the arch, the elderly or infirm will not be able to make that climb. Even the newly installed handicap ramps would be a challenge for some. And we know that tourists in particular like to park close to their destination. I'm thinking they won't pay the $25 being asked to park on the levy. Suppose they build it and nobody comes?

We found a nearby lot charging $5 to park, but it was a quiet Sunday with no baseball season yet in play. I'm not sure what their rate will be during the busy season. Regardless, we had a fairly short walk to the arch. The weather was perfect, the sky was amazing, and I got my 10,000 steps in. Now THAT's a winner!
St. Louis Arch

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Fete de Glace

ice man
Yesterday was the annual Fete de Glace, or ice carving festival, in St. Charles, MO. Last year a friend and I went (you can read about my experience here), and this year five of us from my Women in Focus St. Louis photography group met at the event. Last year was quite warm, creating a problem for the sculptors with the melting ice. This year weather was not an issue. It was about 36 degrees when I arrived, outfitted in my long underwear and multiple layers of clothing. Though the sun was shining, a brisk breeze kept a chill in the air.

Our group met up at 10:00, with the actual festival beginning at 9:30. That was still early enough that we could see the prep work of the artists as they readied their blocks of ice for the competition. Each carver starts with a block of ice weighing approximately 260 pounds. It seemed as if there were fewer ice carvers this year, although there were a few who were just beginning to carve as I was leaving a little after 1:00. So perhaps they staggered the start times in an effort to give more visitors an opportunity to see a piece from start to finish.

The crowds are usually pretty light in the morning, so it was easy to get around and take pictures of the artists at work. We basically all headed off on our own for a little over an hour to get the shots we wanted. By that time we were pretty cold, so we went into one of the local restaurants to grab lunch. This is what happens when five photographers sit down to eat. Ha!

tools of the trade
Each time I am together with these women I am struck by what a unique group of individuals we are. I like our field trips where we have an opportunity to get to know each other a little better. We all may be looking at the same thing, but we each see things differently. In our own way. And that gets reflected in our photographs.

Following lunch we braced ourselves to once again face the cold, and headed back down the street to see what the artists had accomplished in our absence. The crowds were much larger, and tons of people had their dogs - large and small - with them as well. It was harder to get good photos without someone in the way. I checked out a few of the new artists just beginning their sculptures, and then took off for home. I think I was the last woman standing from our group at that point. Despite the chill in the air, it was a cool event to photograph. Bah!

ice sculptures

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Burn, Baby, Burn

Yesterday was my semi-annual visit to the dermatologist for skin cancer screening. Since last year was a banner year with four basal cell carcinomas having to be surgically removed within a six month time frame, I wasn't sure what kind of report I would be getting. My doctor, ever optimistic (not!), always enters the exam room with a red plaid thermos filled with liquid nitrogen in hand. I'm old enough to remember the plaid metal lunchbox that came with this exact thermos. What a way to spoil a childhood memory!

The procedure is known as cryotherapy, because liquid nitrogen is extremely cold - at around negative 328 degrees Fahrenheit. Using an extra-long, cotton-tipped swab, the doctor places the liquid nitrogen for ten seconds or so on each spot on my skin that he deems suspicious. The affected skin is frozen, and forms a blister which eventually dries up and falls off. The hope is that all the pre-cancerous cells are killed, and that the remaining cells underneath are healthy. Yesterday I had 25 spots frozen. Yikes! But the good news is that only six of those were on my face, and the doctor was not alarmed by any of the spots that he saw. I'll take that news.

As someone who grew up before the advent of sunblock and spent long, summer days playing outside with my friends, I've had lots of exposure to the sun. Add in my light skin, blue eyes and the fact that I wear my Irish heritage proudly, and I am the poster child for skin cancer. As my doctor says, "You shouldn't walk from the house to your car without wearing sunblock". I try to be vigilant about this.

Onto a happier topic...This weekend we were blessed with incredible weather, particularly on Saturday. I knew that my husband would go out for a motorcycle ride, so I left the house early and drove to the Audubon Center at Riverlands. Many migratory birds stop here during the winter months, and January is usually a good time to see the trumpeter swans. I wrote about visiting the center last January (you can read the post here), and mentioned that there were way fewer birds on site than in 2015. This year I think there were less birds than in 2016. I'm not sure what that means, but it may have something to do with the fact that the weather has been a little milder. Maybe they just don't have to travel so far south to survive the winter. It was a little disappointing, though the sixty plus degree weather helped me get over it.
Audubon Center at Riverlands
Continuing on my drive, I crossed over into Illinois to travel on the River Road. I was hoping to spy some eagles. I saw one swooping down overhead as I was driving, but none in the trees. Normally drivers are pulling over to the side of the road to take photographs or look through binoculars, but that didn't happen either. Driving through Grafton, I saw several cars turning down a side street. Following them, I finally saw an eagle high in a tree. The other photographers there said the eagle had been in the same spot for at least an hour. I snapped off a few photos of the eagle, and then caught this unusual bird formation in the sky. Doesn't it look like a fish?
The Loading Dock
As luck would have it, my husband and his friend were also traveling on the River Road, so we were able to meet up at The Loading Dock for lunch. It is located right on the river, and has a wonderful patio area. It was nice enough for us to sit outside while we were eating. Following lunch, they continued north and I headed south for home.

On Sunday, Jim and I took our first walk around the neighborhood together since losing Kirby. It was strange not to have him with us, but as each "first" passes, things get easier and easier. I'm sure he walked with us in spirit.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

No Kirby Prints in the Snow

Kirby January 20, 2016
We got a dusting of snow last week. As I looked out the back window into the yard, I felt saddened by the lack of dog prints. Kirby liked the snow as long as there wasn't so much that he got the ice balls between his toes, or he didn't have to walk where some homeowner had thrown down salt. That irritated his feet. Though he could certainly entertain himself when we came back inside by picking off the ice balls! The snow fall with no tracks was just another reminder of what we are missing.

coyote prints?
But the next morning when I opened the blinds, I was shocked to see paw prints on the deck - two different sets, actually. For just a moment I thought, "Kirby must have been chasing a rabbit." But then reality blew in like the north wind, and I realized that could not be the case. I shrugged the prints off as being the neighbor cat sniffing out a rabbit.  I posted the photo on Facebook stating that I didn't know if was harder to not find prints in the snow, or to actually see some prints and think for a moment that our boy was still alive. Several people commented on the post, stating that those were coyote prints. Yikes! That thought didn't cross my mind at all. Can coyotes jump fences? I guess I can be thankful Kirby wasn't out there after all.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Another Year Over and a New One Just Begun

Well, we survived our first Christmas without Kirby. It was our turn to drive to Iowa for the holiday, and it was incredibly strange not to have him with us as he was a welcome guest at my in-law's home. There is a certain gas station we always stopped at on the way up so that we could complete the trifecta - potty stops for the dog and us, fuel for the car and food for us. We could not even pull off there this trip. The memories are still too painful. In fact, we did something we have never done before by going to a sit down restaurant to have lunch. It helped a lot mentally to change things up. We also broke up the trip by stopping at a couple of Freedom Rocks. You can read more about the Freedom Rocks here.

Iowa artist Ray Sorensen first painted a rock to honor veterans in Adair County, Iowa in 1999. Beginning in 2013, he established the Freedom Rock Tour, setting a goal to paint a rock in each of Iowa's 99 counties. He has since completed 45 or so of them. There are two fairly close to the route we take up to Iowa - one in West Point and one in Cedar Falls. I was immediately impressed with two things: first, the size of the rock; and second, the incredible detail in the paintings. I'll have to look for more of these when we next drive up to Iowa. There is one fairly near my in-law's town, and we thought that would be a fun family outing one day during our visit. But the weather was a little dicey we decided to save that one for next time. There were several inches of snow on the ground when we arrived, and about four more inches fell while we were there.
West Point Iowa Freedom Rock
Cedar Falls Iowa Freedom Rock
winter squirrel
We had a wonderful time in Charles City. I had fun watching this little guy out the back window. Kirby's favorite spot was on the couch in the living room where he could keep a close eye on the squirrels and birds at the feeders. I kept watch for him this year. Both of Jim's sisters were in town, so for the first time in many years the whole family was together except for a few of the grandchildren. We ate too much, played games and put together a puzzle, laughed a lot and of course received some wonderful gifts.

Gardenland Express
We headed for home on the day after Christmas because Katie was flying into St. Louis on the 27th, and Andy and Megan were driving in on the 28th. We packed a lot of fun into their visits! We opened our gifts on the 28th while drinking our signature CranCherry Cosmos. Jim had to work on Thursday, so we met him at Imo's for lunch - on the must-do list for the kids. Later in the afternoon we went to Jim's office so the kids could get a tour of the latest construction before taking off for the Missouri Botanical Garden to see the Gardenland Express flower and train show. This, too, is a tradition for our family and we try not to miss it. From there we drove to Anheuser-Busch to see the Brewery Lights. We were a little early, so we had to wait in the wind and cold until they began to hand out the arm bands. This is a walking tour, and you receive five free drink tickets to try out different A-B products. Andy, Megan and I went to this last year, but Jim and Katie had never been. Since we were at the beginning of the line to get in, we were able to enter the stables to see the horses. Last year there was an incredibly long line to get in there, so we skipped it. I'm glad we were able to see it this year as the stables are beautiful. It was a fun evening, capped off by a visit to the downtown location of Sugarfire Smoke House. Jim and I had eaten there on Mother's Day, and the kids had heard a lot of good things about it so that was their selection.
Anheuser-Busch Brewery Lights

Friday we met my sister and her husband in Washington for lunch, and then we continued on to New Haven to visit Pinckney Bend Distillery where they offer whiskey and gin tastings. I don't like whiskey so I opted to just do the gin tasting while Jim chose the whiskey tasting. The kids all tried the everything selection. It was a fun change-up from going to wineries, that's for sure. We had dinner back at the house and then drove to Candy Cane Lane and Angel Avenue in south city to see all the decorated houses. Since we were that close to Ted Drewe's Frozen Custard, of course we made a stop there as well.

Donut Dispatch
A knock on the door a little after 8:00 Saturday morning heralded the arrival of a dozen donuts from Donut Dispatch. A new company in Webster Groves, they offer donut delivery on Saturday mornings only. The donuts were awesome! I was wondering aloud how this couple was able to make and sell donuts out of their house, as their label said it was a "Cottage Industry" and not inspected by the Health Department. Sure enough, on Tuesday I saw a notice on their Facebook page that they have been shut down by the city. It's too bad, but calling yourself a "Cottage Industry" does not exempt you from inspections or city licensing and taxes. Hopefully they will be able to find a commercial kitchen to continue their business.

Andy and Megan left following lunch on Saturday to begin their drive home. They stopped in Cambridge, Ohio for the night before continuing on to Virginia on Sunday. Katie flew home on Monday afternoon, so all is quiet in the house again. While we missed Kirby terribly this Christmas, I am grateful that we were able to see so many of our family members this holiday. Here's hoping for a wonderful 2017!