Wednesday, December 29, 2010

On the Road Again...

...I just can't wait to NOT be on the road again... We have had quite the driving experience here lately. On December 18th we hopped in the car to drive to Chicago to pick Katie up for Christmas break. Jim thought seeing the lights in Chicago would help put him in the Christmas spirit. Was cold enough there to freeze spirits, let me tell you! But we did have fun shopping with Katie and picked up a few last minute gifts. Sunday we headed home for a couple days and celebrated our Christmas here on Tuesday night. At this point I should probably interject that we did ultimately purchase a small tree to decorate so that Katie could experience seeing all the presents spread out under the tree.

Wednesday at noon we loaded up the car and the dog and drove to Iowa to spend a few days with Jim's parents. We had great driving conditions on the way up and back, but got to experience 9 inches of snow on top of the existing 7 inches already on the ground in Charles City. A white Christmas indeed. We got home about 5 on Sunday, unloaded the car and the dog and then left for the Repertory Theater to see "Above the Tavern". This is a great play, and anyone who has experienced Catholic education would get a kick out of it.

Monday morning we got back in the car, sans the dog, and drove the 3 hours to Huntingburg to see Andy and Megan (as well as the rest of Megan's family) at the Englert's house. This was our only chance to see them and exchange gifts since they were leaving for D.C. the next day. We stayed for supper and got home around 10:30 that night. So 3 major road trips in 10 days, and my butt is begging for mercy! I don't want to go for a drive anytime soon.

Having said that, we had a wonderful Christmas and it was great to have the opportunity to see everyone. We are so blessed that all of our family is happy and healthy and that we could get together. Here's hoping for a great 2011!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Deck the Halls - Not!

I'm becoming something of a Scrooge. I really don't want to get a Christmas tree this year, and I am not at all interested in decorating the house. I have the big wreath on the front of the house and the Christmas flag in the pole, but that is it. This is the year that we travel to Iowa for Christmas. Every other year we alternate staying home versus going to Jim's hometown. The years we go to Iowa coincide with Andy and Megan going to Indiana, which works out well since I have no idea how we would ever get them to Charles City. But the down side is that they never get to see the grandparents, and that is just sad.

At any rate, it just seems like such a waste to go to all the effort of the decorations when we won't even be here to enjoy them. I think we may compromise and just buy a small tree this year. Or we are toying with just purchasing a small artificial tree. Jim has always been adamant that we have a real tree, but maybe he is now getting a little like Scrooge himself. I guess I'll just see how motivated we get this weekend. In the meantime, I need to get the Christmas letters in the mail. Ho, ho, ho...

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Back to the Empty Nest

The house is empty again. Even Jim and the dog are over at SWT right now. After a houseful of people and nonstop activity the last five days, it is nice and quiet here. Maybe too quiet.

Andy and Megan flew in last Wednesday morning, and after picking them up at the airport we drove to Pappy's to attempt to get some barbecue. Ever since Andy saw this restaurant on "Man Versus Food", he has been dying to go there. I dropped him and Megan off at the line forming outside the door and went to find a place to park. Before I even got out of the car, they were back at my door saying that a lady had come out of the restaurant advising that there were at least 100 people waiting inside for a table! Not having the time or the inclination to wait in the rain for that long, we went to Seamus McDaniels in Dogtown instead. We got home in time for us to let the dog out, then Jim and Andy went to Union Station to pick up Katie from the MegaBus stop. Megan and I waited at home for JoEllen and Bruce to arrive. Oh, and their dog, Casey.

We had a nice supper and then played Sequence for awhile. Thursday was non-stop action preparing the turkey and all the fixings, and then JoEllen and Bruce headed back home to Kansas City since she had to work the next day. On Friday morning Megan's mom, dad and two brothers drove over from Indiana to spend the day with us. The guys all went to Cabellas and the gals stayed here and got caught up. We ordered pizzas, watched some football and some of the group played Euchre for a bit before the Englert's had to leave. Friday night Jim and I went to the Webster Groves State Championship game at the Jones Dome (where Webster was beaten by a phenomenal Kansas City area football team), Andy went to the Casino Queen, and Katie and Megan hung out at the house.

Saturday Jim, Andy, Megan and I went to the botanical garden to see the train show while Katie did homework, then we went to our favorite Chinese restaurant for supper. Katie went back to Chicago on the train this morning, and we dropped Andy and Megan at the airport this afternoon. As soon as Jim gets back from the office we are going to the gym to see if we can undo some of the damage of five days worth of company. More than the bird was stuffed this holiday!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Being Neighborly

Down the street from me lives a woman who is 95 years old and living once again in the house she was born in. It's a fun story in and of itself as she (I'll call her V) is living with her 85 year old boyfriend (I'll call him D), who actually owns the house now. I was thinking that it would be really interesting to interview her to talk about what it was like growing up in Webster Groves. After all, she probably knew the Morton family who built my house. They lived here until 1938. I understand my neighbor's mind is very sharp, even if her body is failing her. And she loves to talk!

I was trying to figure out how to go about seeing if she would mind answering some questions for me. Well, yesterday while walking the dog I saw the boyfriend (tee, hee!) talking to his next door neighbor, whom I do know. Always one to try to answer when opportunity is knocking, I hurried up my friend's driveway to introduce myself. As I explained why I was interested in speaking with V, D quickly expressed that V would love to talk to me. She loves discussing old times. As she feels best in the afternoons, we agreed that I would just come over one day after Thanksgiving around 1:00. After D went back to working in his yard, my friend said, "You're going to write about this, aren't you?" It ends up that she knows a lot about the neighborhood as well, and she had some suggestions about other elderly people that I should interview before it's too late.

So I may be on to my next book idea. We'll see how this first interview goes.

Monday, November 8, 2010

I Got "High" Last Night

Last night we went to see the play "High" at the Repertory Theatre. I didn't know much about the play other than the fact that it starred Kathleen Turner and involved a young man with a drug addiction. Oh - and it was listed as being for mature audiences. I try not to talk to other people who have seen plays I am going to, and I don't read reviews because I so infrequently agree with them once I see the play (or a movie, for that matter). It was tricky with this one because lots of people were excited to have Turner in town, and our tickets are the last night's show. This play was actually written by a man who has a drug addiction, but who has been clean for 3 years now. There are predictions that it will head to Broadway, and I can see that happening.

There are only 3 actors in the play - a nun (played by Turner), a priest (Michael Berresse) and the young man (Evan Jonigkeit). While the subject matter is serious, there were some surprisingly funny moments in the play. The set was clever yet somber and didn't detract from the play. All 3 of the actors were excellent, with Jonigkeit doing an exceedingly credible job of portraying a drug addict. It was pretty obvious that Turner was not feeling well as she coughed a lot during the production. But she hung in there, and looked very relieved when her last line was delivered. The play has some interesting twists, and is definitely thought provoking. I "High"ly recommend it.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Elementary, My Dear Watson

This afternoon I gave a presentation on composting to a class of 25 4th graders in Cahokia, Illinois. My niece's daughter is in the class, and she had been bragging to her teacher about her aunt and uncle who own a composting facility. As the class has just finished discussing microbes and how they help to break things down, the teacher thought it would be perfect to have me come in and talk to the class. Normally I would just discuss the composting process, but Cordelia had told them I would be bringing my "trash" along, so I modified the program a bit to include recycling.

I talk to the students about the different kinds of landfills and recycling centers available, and then each gets to pick a piece of trash out of my garbage bag. They then have to decide which of the centers that I talked about would accept the "trash". They don't always get the category right, but at the end of the day the point is that of all the pounds of trash I brought along, nothing had to go to the sanitary landfill. It all could be recycled in one way or another.

From there I talk about backyard composting, and then expand on what we do at a commercial composting center. I have large photographs showing them the equipment we use as well as some of the places around town that have used our compost. But by far their favorite part of the presentation is when I bring out our worms so we can talk about vermicomposting. Kids love worms! We have a stacking vermicompost bin at our house, so I have to remove some of the worms and their compost and place them in my traveling worm bin. Everyone was allowed to come up and gently pick up worms if they so desired. Surprisingly most of the kids were game. And my favorite part is when the kids finally figure out that they have their hands in worm poop. Priceless!

But they were great, and I think they enjoyed talking about recycling and composting. And maybe a few will take something home from today and make some positive changes in their own lives.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Double Nickels

Thursday was my 55th birthday, and I had sort of thought about my blog post for the day. But then, as we know, shit happens (or compost happens as we say in our business). At 7:15 that morning I received a phone call from the compost center telling me that during the night someone stole one of our semi trucks and two of our walking floor trailers. Really? How does that happen? So the morning was spent talking with insurance companies, the police, etc.

Then good news came in the form of a phone call from an alert truck company owner who saw our truck parked across the street from his business in north St. Louis city. He put a call into his dispatch with our DOT number, and found out that we are the owners. He then called our facility with the location of the truck. Our guys call the St. Louis city police to check on it. Here's the interesting part - there was a flat bed trailer hooked to the back of the truck, and it had a large spool of stainless steel on it. Not our stuff! It ends up that this trailer and metal were stolen Sunday night from a business in Illinois. Weird...but he got his trailer back and we got our tractor back. So I did get a decent birthday present after all, which is great because then Jim and I headed off to boot camp for our usual Thursday night torture...I mean, workout.

Friday we drove down to Branson to be with my sister, brother-in-law and nephew for the weekend. On the way down I got a call from our site manager who told me that the two walking floor trailers had been located and were in East St. Louis. They had been found in the parking lot of the Casino Queen, and their security had them towed because they didn't belong there. They are now impounded as they are part of a crime spree where trailers are being stolen and sold for the scrap aluminum. I have to dig out a lot of documentation before they will release them to us on Monday. But all's well that ends well, and this ended very well for us.

So I have been able to relax and enjoy our stay down in Branson, where the weather is fantastic and so is the company. Double nickels might not be so bad after all!

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Show Me the Blog

On Saturday I attended the first ever Show Me the Blog conference. I first heard of it through a posting on Twitter, appropriately enough. At the time there wasn't much information about the meeting on the internet, but as it was the last day to qualify for the early registration fee I went with my gut and signed up anyway. Am I ever glad that I did! Danyelle Little ( put together a fantastic program. On Friday evening conference attendees and speakers gathered in the space of St. Louis Coworking on the 11th floor of the Shell Building downtown. Coworking is an interesting new concept, offering desk space (or just space to hang out) to entrepreneurs looking to get out of their home offices. It was great to be able to meet some people before the conference, and to be able to see what Coworking has to offer.

Saturday the room at the Maryland Heights Community Center was packed and humming with energy. Throughout the day we learned the secrets of successful bloggers on how to have a blog that is fun, profitable and interesting without sacrificing who we are as creators of the blog. The recurring theme seemed to be "Keep it real". The entire day was fantastic, and I very much enjoyed meeting all of the other bloggers and hearing about their stories. It was so odd to be in a room where everyone was constantly on their smart phones and/or laptops. What would normally seem rude in a conference was in fact encouraged. Attendees were tweeting about the speakers (and some awesome boots!) and the contacts they were making, so others who couldn't attend sort of felt like they were there. How cool is that?

So kudos to Danyelle and the other great people who helped her as she walked out on a limb to bring a conference of this magnitude to St. Louis. Can't wait for the next one!

Saturday, October 16, 2010

The "New" Guest Room

The painters arrived as promised on Thursday morning and began their prep work while I ran out to pick up the paint. I wanted to make sure I purchased the right finish for the woodwork and walls, so I waited to consult with the painters. After all, Porter Paint is just down the block from us. Jim assured the painters I would be back within a half hour with the paint. I joked that if I was not back within 15 minutes, they should call the cops. Famous last words... Off I went without my cell phone because, gee, Porter is right around the corner. I arrived at the paint store only to be told that someone had come in yesterday and purchased ALL of their cans of the woodwork paint that I needed. Seriously? It's white paint, dude, how can you be all out? He graciously called the closest store to see if they had a gallon for me. So off I headed north towards Clayton in rush hour traffic. With no phone to call the painters and let them know I would be delayed.

At the Clayton store I waited in line (of course there was no one else at the Webster store when I was there), and gave the gal the yellow paint can while telling her that they were holding the white paint for me. She looked at the yellow can and said that it would be 20 minutes for her to come up with the formula as their numbering system had changed. I bought the yellow paint from them a couple of years ago for the conservatory. I told her I couldn't wait an extra 20 minutes as I have 2 painters at my house standing around with their thumbs up their butts since they didn't have the paint I needed in the Webster store. I asked her to find an existing paint that came close to the same color and I'd just go with that. It didn't need to match exactly.

Once back with the paint the job went smoothly and the painters were done by 1:00. Friday Jim grabbed one of the young guys from his office and they went to pick up the bed and mattresses. They got it all set up in no time, and I put on all the new bedding. The room looks great, and now I have to ask myself if we made the room too comfortable. Will the company ever want to leave?

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The Nursery

The small bedroom is vacant of all furniture now, awaiting re-decorating. I was thinking back to the last time we did much of anything with that room. It was 1991 and I was pregnant with Katie. We painted the walls a very soft green and set up a crib, antique dresser that doubled as a changing table, and added the rocking chair that Jim gave me for Mother's Day that year. Four sheets of antique paper dolls were matted and framed and hung on the wall. A lot of rocking, story telling and singing of lullabies took place in that room. Eventually the crib came down and Katie graduated to the "big girl" bed, which remained in that room until we carried it upstairs.

We purchased a new full size bed last week, and it is ready to be picked up. We decided against trying to hassle with the antique wrought iron bed again. The painter is coming on Thursday, and I need to select a wall color. Today I picked out a quilt for the bed, and that will help me determine what color of yellow paint I want to go with for the walls. Fearful of the bed bug invasion, I immediately threw the quilt and matching pillow shams into the dryer. Supposedly putting any newly purchased garment in the dryer for 20 minutes will kill any bedbugs and their eggs. Ewwwww!

As for the roll top desk in the entry foyer? It went on craigslist last week, and we sold it for asking price last night. That was easy. Anyone need a wrought iron bed frame?

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

St. Louis Shuffle

We have been shuffling furniture around in the house. Katie took her trundle bed to college, so we needed to take the twin bed out of the small bedroom and move it upstairs to the third floor so she has a place to sleep when she comes home. Then we found out that we are having additional company for Thanksgiving, and with Andy and Megan here we will have no bed for the other guests. So we took a second look at the small bedroom and decided if we moved the dresser and my sewing machine/table up to Katie's room, we could set up a full size bed in the that bedroom. But first we had to move the roll top desk/chair and vanity table/chair out of Katie's room.

We now have a roll top desk in the entry foyer (anyone need a desk?), and a vanity table in the basement. The other items fit in Katie's room just fine, though I'm not sure she would agree. The small bedroom is now a blank slate. With nothing in there, it would be a perfect time to paint the room. And we are not sure what to do about a bed. We have an antique wrought iron bed frame in the basement we could use. The problem with it is that it was made during the time when people only had a feather mattress on their bed - no box spring. When you put both on the bed you practically need a step stool to be able to get into bed. Should we try to find a modified mattress/box spring or just start over with a new bed? Decisions, decisions...

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

A Tale of Three Sisters

Once upon a time three Post Oaks stood sentry over the property at 213 S. Maple Avenue. Since they appear in the 1902 photo of our house, I know that they were here long before the house was built. Post Oaks are extremely slow growing trees. When we bought the house in 1987, we named them the Three Sisters. Through the years the Sisters sheltered our home and planting beds, and provided an interesting backdrop when we photographed our children.

In recent years the middle sister began showing signs of her age. We had a tree specialist attach cabling a few years ago in an effort to give her more support. But despite our best efforts earlier this year Middle Sister gave up her post, so to speak. Her large decaying bulk was a magnet for every tree guy from here to Perryville. Oh wait...they were all from Perryville. At any rate, we finally accepted a "reasonable" quote from a younger guy who agreed to remove Sister, a large limb from South Sister which was hanging dangerously over our roof, another large oak in the backyard that had died and a small dead maple from the side yard. Today they came and did the work. Middle Sister has gone to the great mulch pile in the sky, and the two remaining Sisters appear bowed in grief. I hope they also don't die on our watch.

As the weather cools, the boys from Perryville will be back on my street, offering to sell parts of Sister for my fireplace. I paid to have her taken down and I can pay again to get her back as firewood. Only in America...

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Life & Death Experiences

On September 12th my niece's father-in-law died at the nursing home where he had been staying for the past couple of years. Ralph was 88 years old, but his mind and body had checked out a while back. I last saw him at our family Christmas gathering, and he was in tough shape then. One thing that hadn't faded was his sense of humor. He was quite a character! As Ralph and his wife Emily had no church of their own, my niece's pastor offered to have the funeral at their church in Cahokia. It was very touching and moving, especially considering the pastor had only met Ralph on a couple of occasions. One particular statement he made has stayed with me. "We can spend time or we can waste time, but we can never make time." As a veteran Marine of both WWII and the Korean War, Ralph was eligible to be buried at Jefferson Barracks Cemetery. They provided a full military ceremony, complete with the firing of the rifles and the playing of Taps. A military funeral is something that touches everyone in attendance, and there were no dry eyes in our group. R.I.P. Ralph - you earned it.

My mother-in-law turns 80 tomorrow, and we all traveled to Iowa last weekend to celebrate with her. Jim and I stopped at the St. Louis University Lay Education Center near Bowling Green on our way up to see what that was all about. It is a sculpture garden, and it has a cemetery next to it that was established in 1831. Very interesting! We also stopped at a few barn quilts on the way so that I could take some photographs. Unfortunately the day was dreary and we were on a bit of a schedule, so I only got to photograph 4 of them.

On Friday we attended the Charles City homecoming parade. It was fun to see all the kids in the parade, and strange to think that Jim would have been on the flatbed truck with the other football players more than 30 years ago. Saturday we hit the Farmer's Market in the morning and a quilt show in the afternoon before going to Mass. That night 10 of us took Lorraine out to supper in nearby New Hampton. Great food! Sunday Jim's sister had us all over for brunch before we had to leave for home.

Monday of this week my brother-in-law turned 65. On Saturday Jim and I will have 12 people here for a barbecue to celebrate this milestone. Emily will come, but we sure will miss Big Ralph!

Monday, September 6, 2010

A Moving Experience

At noon on Friday Jim and I picked up our Penske moving truck and brought it back to our house. One of the young guys from his office brought a friend over to help Jim get Katie's bed down from the 3rd floor and our old couch up from the basement. They ended up staying and in 40 minutes we had all of Katie's stuff loaded into the truck. At 4:00 we met up with Lauren's family to pick up the IKEA orders we had placed from a warehouse in Webster Groves. After placing those in the truck, we went to Lauren's house and got all of her stuff on board. By 5:30 Katie, Jim and I were placing our order at the Trainwreck Saloon for a last St. Louis family meal together.

Saturday morning Katie and I left our house at 8:00 to take Kirby to Cahokia, where my niece would take care of him while we were in Chicago. Jim called when he in the Penske truck and the DeGroots in their van hit the Poplar Street Bridge. Katie and I jumped back on the highway and we were on our way. We made really good time until we were about 80 miles outside of Chicago, which is when I-55 shut down. Both northbound lanes of the interstate came to a complete stop. As sirens blared and lights flashed behind us, all the cars and trucks crept as far to the shoulder as we possibly could, considering construction was going on and the shoulders were mushy roto millings.Several members of our group walked towards the accident scene, and as I stood by our car I saw the medi-vac helicopter approach. At that point southbound I-55 was closed as well so the helicopter could land.

I began to chat with the couple in the pretty Lexus ahead of me, and learned that they were returning to Naperville after attending a 50th anniversary party at the Whitmore Country Club in St. Louis on Friday. When I commented on how great it is that the couple has been together that long, the woman told me that she and her husband have know each other since they were 15. But both of them had married other people (in fact her first husband was in her second husband's first wedding!) - wow, you need a score card to follow all that. Her first husband had died of a heart attack at age 55, and her current husband's first wife had died of breast cancer 7 years ago. They had then become re-acquainted and later married.

I explained that our three vehicles were heading to Chicago to take the girls back to Columbia College. The man said that two of his children had graduated from there as well. Small world... By now our surveilance crew returned from the accident scene and said that they had seen body bags on the pavement, with at least one of them containing a body. There was also wet substance smeared across the highway, and this was before the fire department had done their job. Don't even want to speculate there. By the time it was all said and done, we spent an hour and a half stuck on the interstate. We called the apartment complex as we were scheduled to use the loading dock from 3-6, and there was no way we were going to be there by 3. They were very accommodating and said we could have extra time. As it turned out, we arrived at 4 and had everything moved in from the truck and the two vehicles by a little before 6 anyway. We started putting furniture together and at least had Katie's bed ready for her when we finally took off for our hotel room at 9:30 that night.

At the Hyatt, which offers a great rate for customers of Katie's apartment building, I heard the front desk clerk say something about executive room, and I assumed it is because I have a Hyatt customer card. But when we got to our room, we had a corner suite! Windows facing downtown and windows facing the lake, a whole living room area with a t.v, king size bed with another t.v., bathroom with two sinks, a large desk area, and a kitchen completed the suite. Very nice! After quick showers we fell into bed anxious for a good night's sleep after the stress of the day, but that was not to be. Let alone hearing doors slamming all night long, there were the most obnoxious people out in the halls. Different groups throughout the night laughing and talking loudly. At 5 a group of men coming in from their night on the town decided to hold a conversation in the hallway, followed shortly by another man who locked himself (or was locked out) of his room. Brother... This was not good as we were driving home on Sunday as soon as we finished putting Katie's furniture together and got her room to a reasonable stopping point. I did not want us to be another statistic on I-55 due to falling asleep at the wheel.

We started back on the apartment at 10:00, took a break to eat lunch with the other family at noon, and at 1:30 Lauren's family left to drive back to St. Louis. We stayed with Katie until 4:15 and then took the truck key back to the Penske rental place. (The guys had dropped the truck off Saturday night, but the lock box was broken and they were afraid to leave the key lest the truck be stolen.) By 4:35 we were on the road, and got home at 9:45.

The apartment really is lovely, and I hope that the three girls all have a great year together in Chicago. Meanwhile, I'm going to fluff my feathers in my empty nest.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

See You in September

It is hard to believe that today is the first day of September. I'm really thankful it has arrived what with the heat we have been experiencing this summer, but still the year is marching on its way. While most colleges have already begun, Katie's first day is not until the day after Labor Day. Since we ran into problems getting an apartment in Chicago, that is actually a good thing. We ultimately secured a three bedroom apartment in the building that Katie began looking at last April. It is a beautiful apartment, nicely appointed with stainless steel appliances and granite countertops. Didn't we all have that in college? Oh wait...I lived in the dorm for three years and then in a two bedroom trailer my senior year.

But that was then and this is now, and I am happy that Katie is in a building and area that I feel comfortable with, or as comfortable as any parent can feel with the world being what it is these days. Katie and I spent a good chunk of today picking up some last minute items. We'll still have shopping to do at Target once we get over there, but we picked up non-breakable, non-perishable items here.

Friday at noon I will pick up the moving truck (woo-hoo, haven't driven one of those since I moved Andy out to D.C. in 2007). One of the young guys from SWT is coming over at lunch time to help us get Katie's bed down from the third floor and the couch out of the basement. Then at 4:00 I'll take the truck to a new business in Webster Groves to pick up out IKEA order, along with the order from Katie's roommate. We'll finish loading the truck with all the girls' stuff Friday night as we want to be on the road by 9:00 Saturday morning. I'll leave slightly earlier as I am dropping Kirby off at my niece's house in Illinois. Her girls are excited to have Kirby spend the night with them.

Our move in time at the loading dock is 3:00. Sounds like the girls have recruited a number of friends so we should have many hands on dock - yuck, yuck. We'll need them as we have a lot of furniture to put together. Jim and I can pretty much stay as late as we need to on Sunday, and I know we need to not only go to Target but also the grocery store to get the pantry stocked.

I'm looking forward to meeting Katie's third roommate Fay from China. Hopefully this will be a good mix of personalities, and everyone will have a fun year.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Where East Meets West

Today the final five design teams presented their ideas for rejuvenating the arch grounds to the panel of judges who will select the winning design. It was open to the public, so I went downtown with Jim early this morning. The presentations had been moved to America's Center as it was felt there would be too large a crowd to hold it in the auditorium under the arch as had been originally planned. I think they forgot that by holding it on a week day, most working folks would not be able to attend. Even though the news reported 150 people in attendance this morning, I don't think there was anywhere near that number in the auditorium. Maybe they were counting all the people in the building?

Anyway, while I had seen the boards of each of the teams on the competition website, I had not had a chance to study them in person. That is the first thing I did this morning. Each of the design teams has come up with innovative ideas for connecting the the downtown area to the arch, and then across the river to East St. Louis. Some of the concepts seemed a little too far out there for St. Louis, but maybe that is just me. I preferred the designs that embraced the natural ecology of the St. Louis region.

Each team was given 45 minutes to present, and then allowed 30 minutes for q. & a. from the judges. (The audience was not allowed to ask any questions, or make any comments.) The first 2 teams presented in the morning, with a 30 minute break between presentations. I very much enjoyed the opportunity to have the one dimensional boards brought to life through the PowerPoint presentations of the teams. It was interesting to hear the thought process behind the designs. Jim and I went out for a quick lunch during the hour long lunch break and then I headed home. Honestly, I don't know how the judges sat through an additional 3 presentations after lunch. They went on until 6:30! My head was spinning after just 2. As all the presentations were videotaped, I figure I can watch the others at my leisure once they are posted on the competition's website.

All I can say is that no matter who wins, this is going to be huge for St. Louis. If they can find the money.

Friday, August 20, 2010

What a Card!

I can't believe I forgot to mention a low-light of our DC trip. Andy lent us his car to get to the Metro station on the days he was at work. When we tried to leave the parking lot at the Shady Grove Station on Thursday, we soon found out that you needed a Metro Card to exit - no cash or credit cards accepted. Jim had to go back into the station and purchase a Metro Card, which required a minimum amount of $10 to be loaded onto it. Interesting, since parking for the day is $4.25. The card worked fine upon leaving the lot that evening.

On Monday Katie, Maggie and I went back to DC on the Metro, parking again at the Shady Grove lot. When we arrived back at the station that night, I pulled up to the automated gate to use the balance on the Metro Card. At this point I had one car in line behind me. Holding the card to the magnetic reader, I got nothing but beeping noises. I pressed the card this way and that way to no avail. I'm starting to sweat (okay, I was already sweating from a day of tromping around in 90 degree heat) and I look in the rear view mirror to see about 30 cars behind me. By now the horns are starting to honk. There are no attendants in either of the two booths at this exit to help me out. There is no way for me to back up. It is starting to get ugly. "Get the fuck out of the way!", I hear yelled at me. Well, since you asked so nicely, let me just move out of the way - not! The man behind me was waving to the people behind him in an attempt to get them to back up. More horns begin honking, because that always helps. Additional slurs are shouted at me.

Finally, the man behind me manages to maneuver his car off to the side enough so that I can back up. I sheepishly crept over towards the other exit line, which does accept credit cards, oddly enough. The line at that exit was also backed up 20 cars or so. Do you think any of them would take pity on me and let me into the line? I guess that is what happens when you have a car with Maryland plates; everyone thought I should know better.

We finally escaped and headed back to Andy and Megan's house. My son then informs me that there is a $5 service fee to get one of those Metro Cards (because you can keep adding money to them), so that is why there was nothing left on the one Jim had bought. Oh, and by the way, you can check the balance on the card inside the station. Thanks for telling me now, son. Doh!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Vacation Ramification

Katie, Maggie and I flew back from DC today (Jim came home on Sunday). The flight left on time, there were no crying babies, and we even arrived on schedule. I was a little (okay, a LOT) amazed when the flight attendant announced not once but twice that we should pick up all our trash so they could be ready for the next flight, and then proceeded to ask us to lower the window shades, turn off the overhead lights, and open up the vents before leaving our seats. REALLY??? Is this my job now? Pay more for a ticket, pay to check my bag, receive no pretzels much less a meal, no pillow or blanket and then be expected to pick up the plane for them too? Unreal... Why don't they just pass the Dust Buster and we can vacuum on the way out.

We had a nice vacation though. Yesterday I headed to the National Archives to do some genealogical research, and the girls went to the Crime and Punishment Museum and then to the Spy Museum. It was hot but not super humid, so I did a bit of hiking around on my own when the archives turned out to be a bust for me.

Coming back to reality bites though. Listening to all the voice mail messages, going through a 5 inch stack of mail, watering the outdoor plants and getting started on the laundry took my vacation mood away pretty quickly. On the plus side, we got a 3 bedroom apartment lined up for Katie and her 2 roommates today, so that takes a big weight off of all of our shoulders. (Long story - the one we thought we had lined up all summer was snatched away from us.) Now if we can just convince the landlord to let us move in before the 6th since the girls start school on the 7th.

Back to the daily grind...

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Rainy Days and Sundays

Jim, Katie, Katie's friend Maggie and I are in Washington, D.C. to visit Andy and Megan. We arrived Wednesday night. The girls are staying with the kids and Jim and I are at a local Comfort Inn since Andy and Megan don't have a guest bed in their townhouse. There was a heck of a storm at 6 Thursday morning, with thunder, lightening and heavy rain. We heard 3 separate car alarms going off from the thunder-boomers.

Thursday the four of us went down to the city (Andy and Megan live in Gaithersburg, MD) for the day while Andy and Megan went to work. Jim and I went to the Mall to photograph the WWII Memorial for my dad's book while the girls did their thing, and then we met up after lunch at the Holocaust Museum. Wow - what can you so about that museum? Doesn't seem right to say I "enjoyed" the museum, but I can say unequivocally that it is very sobering and thought-provoking. After that we went to the Smithsonian Visitor's Center as I had always admired the brick castle-like appearance of the building but had never been in it. It is beautiful inside, and we also found some great ice cream. Good pick-me-up on a really hot afternoon. We also hit the Air and Space Museum before heading back towards the train. Unfortunately it began to pour, so we ducked under a building overhang for a bit. It was a soggy 45 minute train ride back to the Shady Grove Station where we had parked Andy's car.

Friday Andy took half a day off, so we drove first to Georgetown to try to score some Georgetown Cupcakes (made famous from the cable show DC Cupcakes), and found a several block long line waiting to get in. Passing on that idea we went on to Alexandria to have lunch at one of Andy's favorite restaurants. We stopped at the Jefferson and Roosevelt Memorials on our way back. While the day was cloudy and not great for picture-taking, it was pretty cool with a nice breeze. This time we hit the Georgetown Cupcake location in Bethesda about 4:30. There was still a long line at this location and it took us 40 minutes to get our dozen cupcakes. Wow - people here haven't heard that cupcakes are "out". I will say that the cupcakes are very good, but they have a cream cheese frosting, which is not my favorite. Pretty much ruined the cupcake for me.

Yesterday was spent at Gettysburg. Unfortunately we had to take 2 cars since there are 6 of us, and it is about 1.5 hours from their house to the visitors' center. We spent 4 hours driving the auto route, and it was fascinating! Again we had a gray day, but it was a comfortable temperature. Beats the heck out of the 97 degree temps back home. Today we intended to go to Mount Vernon, but it is very rainy again. Since it is nearly 2 hours away, we didn't want to gamble on doing a walking tour in the rain. We are going to play Yahtzee instead. Jim flies home at 6:55 today to rescue the dog-sitter, so we can't go too far anyway. The girls and I are coming home Tuesday.

On a side note, the storm I mentioned on Thursday apparently resulted in a lot of damage in Gaithersburg. A fairly significant number of people were without power. Lightening struck a tree which crashed on top of an apartment complex and caught on fire. At our hotel are a number of refugees from the complex. It has been heart-wrenching to listen to their stories in the breakfast room each morning. Today the Red Cross arrived as it sounds like the people have only been given rooms through tonight.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Google Me

The St. Louis Genealogical Society had a meeting at the Viking Hotel yesterday on how to Google your family tree. The speaker Dan Lynch has, in fact, written a book coincidentally (not!) named "Google Your Family Tree". He is an excellent speaker and I learned a lot about how to more efficiently and effectively use Google. I typically use the Yahoo search engine because I like my Yahoo home page, but now that I know the power behind Google I will be surfing a whole new wave. I had no idea that there are numerous filters available to help you get a better search result.

Another interesting thing involves something called "cached", and I don't mean in a "Show me the money!" kind of way. Have you ever clicked on a web link only to get the dreaded error message that says this website is not available? Well, off to the side of the link listed in the search is the word "cached". If you click on it you will be taken to the static pages of what used to be shown on the website. Perhaps the information you are looking for is there, or at least a contact person so you see about getting the information. If a plus sign (+) shows up under a link in your search, that indicates that Google thinks that particular website has other pages relevant to your search.

When Dan got to the part of his presentation covering Google maps, it got pretty exciting. And not only because the fire alarms went off and we had to vacate the building for half an hour. (Fire trucks came but never did hear if it was the real deal.) Anyway, Dan went live online for this segment and it was amazing. Imagine going to the town in Ireland where your ancestors were from - from your own home. Or how about looking for landmarks when you are heading out to a store or business you haven't been to in the past. OR...what about if your are doing house research and want to see what the house looks like now??? I need to blog about that on my house history website for sure.

All in all, a very productive use of my Saturday. Let the searching begin!

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Compost Happened Today

It turns out that I attended the birth of the Composting & Organics Association of Missouri today (at least I think that is the name we decided upon). COAM??? Our company had been invited to meet up with other people in the composting industry at the Lake of the Ozarks today. As Jim is off on his Epic Adventure 2010, tag...I was it. I left St. Louis at 6:10 this morning as I was concerned about the construction on I-44. As it turns out, traffic ran smoothly and I arrived at Tan-tar-a in plenty of time for the 10:00 start of the program. I used to travel to this resort once or twice a year when I worked at MOMEDICO. It was a popular meeting place for doctors and office managers. I didn't like the resort then, and I don't like the resort now. But that is neither here nor there.

Around 25 people attended the meeting from all across the state, with the exceptions of Northeastern and Northwestern Missouri. Perhaps compost doesn't happen in those two areas of the state. It was fascinating to here about the different composting operations. From pig poop to hot dog casings, it's being composted in this state. All I could think was "So many stories. Wouldn't this make a great book?" Oops...time to replace my author's hat with my composting hat.

The main reason for the meeting was to discuss the landfill owners 11th hour attempt to get the ban on yard waste repealed during the last legislative sessions. They tacked a multi-page amendment onto a non-related DNR bill at the last moment. Their rationale is that they need the yard waste in order to make methane gas which they want to capture and offer as an alternative fuel. But the real motivation is that their tipping fees are down since they no longer get yard waste. A local composting company hired a lobbyist and they were successful in getting the whole bill squashed. But the landfill operators are not going to go away, and will most likely come back with a new bill in the next session.

The thought is that if all the organic companies in the state bond together we can present the legislature first of all with a united front, and second of all can provide statistics indicating the benefits of the composting industry to the state in terms of employment numbers, taxes paid, etc. Our lobbyist can beat up your lobbyist...

As a group we decided to form an organization and we all need to look around and see who else should be involved. We will reconvene the end of September and see where we go from here. I just hope we meet in Jefferson City or Columbia next time.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

The Un-Dressing Room

This morning I went shopping at Kohl's. (Here's an insider tip: arrive at 10:00 on a Sunday morning. There were only three other cars in the parking lot.) Next month we are going to Washington, D.C. to see Andy and Megan, and I need a few things for the trip. A bag of my summer clothes mysteriously disappeared. Because we live in an old house we are pretty shy on closet space. Hence Jim and I put our winter clothes down in the basement in storage. I'm not sure what all was in the bag, but I first missed my "Got Albert?" Cardinals t-shirt. I LOVE that shirt and I have never seen anyone else with one on. Next I realized that my two summer nightgowns weren't with my other summer clothes. Then I missed a couple pairs of shorts...You get the drift.

So off to Kohl's I went with my 15% off coupon in hand. I picked up a couple of household items first before heading over to the petite section. Gathering up the items I wanted to try on, I headed for the dressing room. Other than a pair of jeans and two nightgowns, nothing else was working for me. I went back to petites for round two, adjusting sizes on the shorts and trying to clear the horror of seeing myself in triplicate in a swimsuit out of my mind. I took a new set of clothes to the dressing room, which was still gloriously empty, and was in my bra and underpants when I heard someone enter the space. Next thing I know I see the head of a man appearing over the top of the fitting room door. He thankfully was not looking my way, and I watched him in triplicate as I hurriedly stepped into some pants. I could hear him spraying the mirror at the end of the hallway outside of my door in preparation of cleaning it. Next thing I know, my door swings open. "Someone's in here!", I shouted just as he exclaimed, "Sorry!" He probably was sorry that he saw all of me in triplicate.

He proceeded to clean all the fitting rooms, including running the vacuum, even though I was in there. How odd...He apologized again as I finally made my way out. I was hoping to out-wait him, but he apparently was intent on doing a thorough job. Just my luck to run into a man who actually cleans.

But in the end I scored two pairs of jeans, two pairs of shorts and two nightgowns so I am set for the trip. Too bad I don't "Got Albert" though.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

The One That Got Away

One of the books I had autographed while at Book Expo in New York in May was entitled, "Confessions of a Compact Camera Shooter" with the tagline "Get Professional Quality Photos with Your Compact Camera". I joked with the author, Rick Sammon, that perhaps he could finally teach me what the camera classes had not. He replied that this is the book for me. We'll just see about that, mister!

A few weeks ago I was waiting for one of the cars to be serviced and I took along the Shooter book to read. Rick is a professional photographer who believes that anyone can take great pictures with a compact camera. By which he does NOT mean a point and shoot camera. Your camera must have some settings on it for this book to be of much benefit. Anyway, I had just read the section on how you should never go anywhere without your compact camera. After all, it will fit in your pocket, purse or briefcase, so there is never an excuse to be camera-free.

This came back to haunt me as I was walking the dog that very same day. I came upon the truck of a landscape contractor. He had the usual pickup truck, so nothing special there. What caught my eye was the trailer on the back of the truck. It was the typical mesh-like metal trailer, but on the back of the trailer was an assortment of items - dolls, action figures, small stuffed animals... Apparently whatever he finds in the yard as he mows gets attached to the back of the trailer. It was a moment...and I even knew what I would title my photo. "Yard Waste."

But where was my camera? Back at the house, of course. Had Rick Sammons taught me nothing? Apparently not, because Monday as I walked the dog along came same landscape contractor buzzing down our street. Was there a camera in my pocket? Nope. And just to further mock me, I had the dog out earlier than usual today since it is so hot, and the landscaper passed me again. I'm beginning to feel like Richard Dreyfuss in "American Grafitti" as he keeps getting a glimpse of Suzanne Somers in the '56 Thunderbird but can't seem to hook up with her. "Ain't That a Shame?"

Monday, July 12, 2010

Here Comes Santa Claus

On the way home from Cincinnati a couple of weeks ago, my sister and I stopped in at Santa Claus, IN. I had read about this "town" when I was researching places to have the rehearsal dinner for Andy and Megan, so I thought I would finally check it out. I knew about the amusement park, aptly named Holiday World, because Megan's younger brother has worked there through high school and college. We passed Holiday World on the way to Santa Claus.

We drove by Santa's Lodge while looking for the town. Nothing. I turned around and entered a strip mall across from the Lodge. A plethora of Santas greet you along the mall, and we stopped into the visitor's center to seek directions to the town. Turns out we were there. Talk about the commercialization of Christmas - Santa Claus has been reduced to a strip mall. Since we were there, we toured the Santa Museum and picked up a couple of post cards picturing Santas, of course. A few steps from the museum we located the Post Office and had our cards sent off postmarked "Santa Claus, Indiana". Jim's mom collects Santa Clauses, so I knew she would get a kick out of her post card. As there was nothing else to do in the vicinity, I snapped off pictures of all the Santas I could find, and there were many.

As we drove back towards the highway we could see a monastery perched on a hill. Another quick stop found us at the St. Benedict Monastery in Ferdinand, Indiana. It is gorgeous, and the cemetery was fascinating as well. We have it on our list to take a tour next time we go over to Cincinnati. The monastery? Priceless. Santa Claus? Not so much. Ho, ho, ho...

Saturday, July 10, 2010

The Key to a Lasting Marriage

We have had to do a bit of maintenance with the cars lately. My car and Katie's needed oil changes, and we had to replace the front tires on the car Katie drives. I always just wait for the car to be finished instead of trying to work around Jim's schedule for dropping the car off and then taking me back to get it. Last week our work pickup needed new tires as well. Jim needed to pick up a donor plaque for a project he is working on (which looks like a huge table in the bed of the pickup truck, I might add), so he wanted to get the tires done before that occurred. On Friday I followed him to the tire shop, drove him to work and headed home to get some work done. He was going to have someone from work take him to pick the truck up later that morning. Well, that didn't work out, so back I went to take him to get the truck.

This morning he headed out early to meet with his motorcycle gang as they are in the final planning phase of their week long ride to Wisconsin that takes place in a couple of weeks. I was still snuggled in bed enjoying my book when the phone rang. Never good news early on a Saturday. It was Jim, and the key had broken off as he was locking his gas tank. As this key also is used in the ignition, this was a big problem. Not only had he forgotten to take his backup key along, he had forgotten his phone as well. The station attendant was nice enough to let Jim borrow his cell phone to call me. And Jim was lucky that I had not started applying the color to my hair or I wouldn't have answered the phone.

Anyway, I found his cell phone and called wife #3 (I'm wife #1, his business partner Ted is #2 and his favorite riding partner Jim Diaz is #3), to explain that Jim would be late, went to the garage and found the backup key, slapped a ball cap on my head and took off for the Phillips gas station. Before I arrived there a sweet older couple from Arizona heard Jim discussing his problem with the attendant. They asked him if he needed some needle nose pliers. They proceeded to go to their motor home and return with three sets of pliers for him to try. He successfully removed the broken piece from the tank, so with me bringing the backup key to him, he was good to go.

Love means never whining when your Saturday plans are disrupted by your spouse - that is the key to a happy marriage. Now I'm off to wash the gray, if not the man, right out of my hair.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Weird Week

This week was already shortened due to returning from Cincinnati on Monday night. I had to play catch-up with my work, plus try to ready the house for Jim's sister and her fiance, who arrived on Friday and left around 3:30 this afternoon. We had an IRS issue with one of our trucks, so that necessitated a trip to the IRS office in Chesterfield. Mapquest could not identify the exact office of the only St. Louis County location for the IRS. Apparently the government always wants to know where you are, but doesn't want to be found itself. Mapquest gave me an approximate destination, which I thought would be close enough for government work. Yuck, yuck.

When I arrived at Town and Country Commons Thursday, I could not locate their office. After circling the over-sized strip mall parking lot a few times, I popped into Great Clips to see if they new where I could find the office, and a kind employee suggested I follow her as she was headed to the post office which was by the IRS office. It ends up that the Commons is on both sides of Clayton Road, and I needed to be on the north side not the south. After having my purse and files searched, I passed through a metal detector before being directed to the correct office. Apparently IRS agents get enough threats to warrant scanners. Imagine that. After waiting for my number to be called, I explained to the agent that we had made an error in filing our trucks last June 1 and had neglected to add a truck we had purchased in May 2009. The agent was saying he would just give me a waiver for last year so that I could get my cab card from the Missouri Department of Revenue. Hmmmm....was this a trap? I told the agent that we owed the money for last year because we had used the truck the past 12 months. He asked if we drove it less than 5,000 miles. Then he could still give me a waiver. We drove it more than that, so he said you know you will have the $550 fee plus interest and penalties. I know, believe me I know. I took my lumps, paid the fees and walked out with the paper that would allow me to get the new cab card from the state.

From there I had to deal with getting money moved around at the bank to purchase a new piece of equipment we had bought at an auction on Wednesday. Thankfully this machine is used for making soil and won't go on the roads, so the IRS won't be involved. I'll only have St. Louis County with their hand out for personal property taxes. I managed to get the monthly invoicing done Thursday afternoon. Then on Friday I again dealt with the bank to wire transfer money to the auction house. All of this was complicated by the fact that National City is now PNC. More hoops and less knowledge so far with this merger.

At any rate we had a nice visit with JoEllen and Bruce, who drove in from Kansas City. We grilled steaks Friday night and enjoyed eating out on the patio with the wonderful weather we were experiencing. Saturday we walked a couple of blocks and enjoyed the great hometown July 4th parade, which again included the Clydesdale's. Following lunch on the patio of McGuirks we headed to the Missouri Botanical Garden. Katie went along, and we were finally able to get a picture of her and me to go in the picture frame she purchased for me as a Mother's Day gift. Last night we walked up to watch the fireworks, and this morning I treated them to Gliers Goetta, which I had brought back from Cincinnati with me.

Tonight I am here with just Katie, enjoying some quiet time. Jim took the dog and went down to his partner's lake house for the evening. I am feeling tired and talked out, and just didn't feel up to going out. It will be an early night for me, I think. Independence, indeed.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

It's All Relative

My sister and I are in Cincinnati for our annual trip to visit relatives and get our local food fix. My mom still has 2 sisters and 1 brother living, and since we are the only branch of the family tree to plant new roots outside of Cincinnati, lots of cousins reside in this area. Our cousin Gene and his wife Rita are kind enough to put us up (or put up with us, perhaps) when we come to visit.

This year on our way over we went stopped at Fort Knox, Kentucky where my dad was processed for discharge from the Army Air Corp in WWII. Fort Knox is about 35 miles south of Louisville, so it really wasn't too far out of our way, and I wanted to take some photographs to add to the book I'm writing about my dad's service years. I had read online that the Patton Museum is located on the base, and it's free and open to the public. The museum was very interesting and contained memorabilia from all wars beginning with the Civil War. Patton's truck, which served as his office and his sleeping quarters, is there along with his personal papers and uniforms. It was interesting to see all the tanks and jeeps as it really brings home the scale of the vehicles.

Upon inquiring if there was any place that one could take some photographs of the base itself, a soldier brought out a map and showed us how few buildings remain on the base from the earlier years. But the church, water tower and hospital are still there. He said we could go down to the next gate to the visitors center and get a day pass to enter the base. Cool! We stopped at the center, and while I was getting together my driver's license, insurance card and vehicle registration, Kathy went into the visitors center. She quickly returned with a guard who informed us that no, you can't just drive around the base and take photos. He didn't know why the other soldier would have told us that. He did allow me to photograph the tank located with the "Fort Knox" sign, after giving me detailed instructions on where to stand and at what angle to shoot the photo. He then proceeded to watch me take the picture, basically for security purposes. He wanted to insure that I did not photograph the gate entering the fort.

We then headed north towards Cincinnati and stopped at Fort Thomas, Kentucky, which is where my dad was inducted into the military. There is a museum located in an old house here as well, but it had closed at 4:00 and we didn't make it to Fort Thomas until 4:30. I figured it was worth stopping anyway to see if we want to time our return to St. Louis to coincide with the noon opening time on Monday. The area is very historic and I was able to photograph the exteriors of the gymnasium, dining hall and water tower. This fort is only a few miles from Cincinnati, so I can see the museum on another visit is necessary. I think I got the pictures I need for the book.

Our first stop in Cincinnati is always Skyline Chili. Gene is on a golf trip this visit and Rita doesn't particularly care for it, so we told her we would just come to their house after we ate supper. We went to the Skyline near their house in Cleves, and we walked in to find Rita, her daughter Carrie and Carrie's 3 year old Jake eating there! What are the odds? Carrie is in town for a shower, and Rita explained that when she asked Carrie where she want to go to eat Jake said, "Well, we could always go to Skyline!" A boy after my own heart. When I went up to pay after eating the manager asked me how everything was, and I told him that I had driven 400 miles to have Skyline for supper. "Really?" he asked. I told him I was a fan on Skyline's facebook page and that I had been doing a countdown until I got to eat it. I had taken a picture of my meal and said I was going to post it that night. He reached down and gave me a four pack of Skyline in the cans as a gift. Isn't that awesome?

Saturday 15 of us met at the Golden Corral for lunch, which lasted from noon until 4:30. We always meet there when we come to town because first of all everyone can find something they like to eat, and second the retaurant never minds when we stay that long. This morning just four of us met at Price Hill Chili for breakfast, so Kathy and I could have our goetta. Yum! Tonight there will be a group of us that meet for supper, and then Kathy and I will head home tomorrow. Where I will promptly go on a diet!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The Neighborhood Pothead

No, I'm not talking about kids in the area who may be smoking marijuana for "medicinal purposes", although I'm sure they are out there. And in fact the man I am referring to may just have smoked a little too much weed in the 60's or 70's, which may explain his irrational behavior. It all started with 4 way stop sign at the corner of Elm and Swon, where this man happens to live. Mr. Hothead moved in a few years ago just as the city had decided to replace the stop signs with stop lights in preparation of the closure of Highway 40 for two years. Apparently it sounded like the stop lights would be temporary, and would be removed at the end of the construction. But the city left an opening by stating that the issue would be re-evaluated by the city council when I-64 (the former Highway 40) reopened. As soon as the stop lights went in, my husband and I figured they weren't going anywhere as they are nice stop lights - architecturally correct in size, scale and appearance for an historic community.

Over the two year time period studies were conducted by traffic consultants, and a review of accident reports was undertaken by the police department. It appeared conclusive that not only did traffic move a lot better on Elm, there were fewer traffic accidents at the intersection than when the stop signs were in place. As one of the earlier statistics (a lady ran her stop sign and t-boned my minivan - totaling it and sending us both to the hospital - in 2004), I knew how unsafe the old intersection had been. As rumors circulated that the lights were going to remain, signs illustrating a stop light with the "no" symbol through them popped up, and a flurry of letters to the editor of our local newspaper ensued. Each one began with "I live on the corner of Elm and Swon..." I told Jim that I never realized there were 10 houses on that corner! How did they all live on the corner of Elm and Swon? Especially since I knew the people in 2 of the houses were in favor of the lights.

In the end, the city council voted to keep the stop lights. No longer content to express his anger with his "no stop light" signage, Mr. Hothead placed a porcelain toilet in the corner of his lot closest to the stop light. And that is how my neighbor went from being a Hothead to a Pothead. He also added a quote, no doubt taken out of context, from a council woman on an additional sign. This all happened a couple of days before we were going to be on the house and garden tour. All I could think is that here we were going to be having people from all over the greater metropolitan area coming to our town, and this is what they were going to see. Plus, the day after the tour, the judges from America in Bloom were coming to look at Webster Groves as a potential recipient of the 2010 America in Bloom community. How was this going to look?

I called city hall and explained my concerns, and asked about the code for items placed in a front yard. I know we have a sign ordinance that must be complied with, but can you have a toilet out front? The woman said she would have a code enforcement officer stop by the house. This was on a Friday and two days later for the day of the tour, the signs and toilet were gone. Sadly, on Monday the toilet was back in full bloom along with a new sign quoting (misquoting?) the mayor. So the America in Bloom judges undoubtedly saw his pilgrimage, as he is on the main street of our town. I'm sure there is a photo of the display on their blog somewhere. But the tide is turning on old Pothead. Several letters to the editor last Friday were directed at him, basically stating that if all he has to complain about in life is a stop light then he should be counting his blessings. Another writer advised Pothead to "get a life". I just think our town is going to pot.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Pulling off the Surprise

Andy had been talking about coming home for a weekend this summer, hoping to coordinate his schedule with that of a Cardinals home game. After bouncing around some dates, he emailed me one night suggesting that he fly home for Father's Day weekend as a surprise for his dad. What did I think? And oh, by the way, did we have Cardinal tickets for that weekend? I told Andy that Jim and I were going to see "Wicked" Friday night (which was totally awesome, by the way) and he said that was fine since he didn't get into St. Louis until 8:00 and he would just have Katie come and pick him up. Okay, on to issue 2 - ball tickets. I called Jim's partner who advised that the only tickets they had for this weekend was Friday night. Well, that wasn't going to work. Our season tickets are shared by 3 different groups, and then we further split our group of tickets with an architectural firm. I called our friend Pat from the architectural office, and he said they didn't have the tickets for that weekend either. But Pat said he knows a lot of people with season tickets, and he would put out some feelers for me. I told him even if he could only get 2 seats, I would take them. He came through for me with 2 seats in the 5th row behind the Cardinal dugout. Nice! These are even a little closer than our own season tickets, which are great seats.

So now 5 people know of the surprise, but we told no one else. Loose lips sink ships, as I found out when Jim's sister spilled the beans regarding a surprise 40th birthday party I had put together some years back. Now all I needed to do was make sure Jim didn't have a motorcycle trip planned for this weekend. I was concerned because it had been 2 weeks since he was last able to ride, so I knew he would be antsy. The last I had heard he was just going to get together over breakfast with a small group of riders who are heading for a week long trip to Wisconsin next month. That would work just fine.

But then yesterday he drops on me that he is getting up at 5:30 on Saturday to meet his buddy and they were riding down to St. Genevieve to pick up another rider and head out for the day. Drats! Oh well, once he learned Andy was in town he could decide if he still wanted to go. When we got home from "Wicked" about 11:30, Andy popped into the kitchen from around the corner and Jim was dumbstruck. At first he thought Katie had a male friend over, and then it sunk in. He was quite surprised, so we pulled it off. Yay!

We didn't get to bed until 1:00 since we were catching up with Andy. He and Megan have not been here since Christmas, so there was a lot to discuss. The 5:30 alarm was pretty ugly this morning. As it ended up it was raining out, so they canceled the ride. At 7:00 the alarm company called to advise that the power was off at the composting facility. At that point, I decided to just get up. The rest of my family managed to sleep until after 9:00, the bums.

So now the guys are at the game, Katie is off to Jake's birthday party, and I have the house to myself. It just might be time for a bubble bath. Ahhhhhh....

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Tour de Webster

The Webster Groves House & Garden Tour to benefit the people of Haiti was on Sunday. When my friend Carol, who was the mastermind of the event, asked us to have our house on the tour a year and a half ago, it seemed like a good idea. As the date grew closer, we grew more

frantic. With me in New York for a week, followed days later by my brother and his girls staying with us for 8 days, we only had 5 free days before the event. I cleaned the inside of the house during the week, but we left the outside stuff for Saturday morning. Jim applied new mulch and tidied up the gardens while I washed windows, removed cobwebs and cleaned up the outdoor furniture. Then we headed out to pick up a couple of small indoor plants and the dining room table decorations, and returned to a monsoon! There went the mulch all over the sidewalks, and the windows and furniture looked like I had never touched them. Crap!

But we pulled it all together Sunday morning, cookies began arriving, and Carol came early with 2 girl scouts to help set up the lemonade, water and cookies we would be serving. I have to say I was very impressed with the woman who brought 4 trays of cookies, filled with homemade houses and flowers to tie in with the house/garden theme. (I need that house cookie cutter for my book signings!) Carol also set out some nuts and mints. Jim and I set up the 5 display boards we had created. We had placed photographs of the original owners along with pictures of the house through the years as changes we made to it.

A few minutes before 1:00 the first tour-goers arrived and it was steady until the end at 5:00. The people on the tour were super-friendly and very appreciative that we had opened up our house. They seemed to particularly enjoy looking at the photo boards. And I have to admit that after all the work we have done on the house over the past 23 years it was gratifying to hear all the compliments. We saw friends that we hadn't touched base with for awhile, and fellow author Anne Collins Milford of "How Not to Marry the Wrong Guy" acclaim showed up with her friends. I had set my books up for sale, with 20% going to the Haiti fund, and one woman said she came on the tour specifically to get my book :) I ended up selling 4, with a couple people saying they would come back to get a book as they were not carrying cash. (A woman called today and she is coming Thursday morning to buy one.)

In the end about 350 people purchased tickets for the tour, and they made (after expenses) over $5,500. Not bad for a first time effort! Jim and I really enjoyed talking to all the people, so we're glad we did it. We just don't ever want to do it again! For a thank you gift from the committee, we were presented with a basket hand woven by a Haitian artist containing coffee from Haiti, and a statue of a woman holding a baby while balancing a basket on her head (multi-tasking Haitian woman!) which was sculpted from soap stone also by a Haitian artist. What a way to bring the whole project full circle!

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Review of Chef Jake

Man, did Jake make an outstanding entree for Katie's birthday last night! I don't know what it is called, but since I bought the ingredients I know it contained penne pasta, prosciutto ham, Romano cheese, egg yolks, creme, onion and garlic. He served it with french bread and a Caesar salad, and I had purchased the large chocolate chip cookie Katie requested as her cake. The pasta was amazing! Definitely restaurant quality, but after watching him make it I decided no matter how good it tastes, I would probably never try it. It was a lot of work. There were seven kids here for dinner, and then a couple more came later after they got off work. I have to admit, it was fun having all the kids in the house again. (I just wish it hadn't been when I had cleaned the house in preparation for the house tour!) It is so quiet when Katie is off at school.

I don't think I mentioned that Katie has picked up an internship for the summer. She is working for a social media marketing company, and she goes to Clayton Monday thru Thursday from 9-5. She has only worked two days so far, but I think it is right up her alley. Several of her classes Freshman year dealt with social media and search engine optimization, so she definitely can put her knowledge to good use. She has two of her four summer classes completed already, so I don't think she'll have a problem keeping up with her classes and working that many hours. I'm very excited for her, and hoping that she can use some of her new skills on my website.

Jim and I sweated off a few pounds today getting ready for the house tour. Jim planted a few day lilies and put down some fresh leaf mulch, and I cleaned windows, swept cobwebs from the porches and washed off the patio furniture. In the afternoon we headed out to find something to put on the plates in the dining room, picked up a plant for a bare spot in the conservatory, and an additional plant to go on the table where tickets will be collected on the front porch. And then the storms came! The rain washed away most of the mulching Jim had done, and made a mess out of my newly cleaned windows and doors. Dammit! It's bad enough doing it once, without having to deal with it all again tomorrow morning. I'm afraid to look at the forecast since they were predicting rain all weekend. Hopefully the rain will hold off for the four hours of the tour. I told Jim once this event is over we need to have a series of parties here since everything will be looking so nice.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Going to a Garden Party...

...hope everyone will be there... Sunday is the Holy Redeemer House and Garden Tour raising money to support the medical and educational needs of our sister parish in Haiti. When my friend Carol planned this a year and a half ago, there was no major disaster in Haiti. Just the struggle to survive that Haitians face every day. With the earthquake that struck early in 2010, a lot of attention has been focused on this poor country, and the thinking is that more people will attend the tour due to the fact that proceeds are going to Haiti.

Jim and I committed early on to have our house on the tour, as long as it was understood that we would only open up the first floor of the house. Our upstairs is nothing to show off, plus I worry about people going up and down the steps. (You can take the girl out of the insurance industry but you can't take the fear of lawsuits out of the girl.) Since we put on a major addition two years ago and have begun to build some beautiful planting beds, I think we have enough to offer the tour-goers. Carol, being the over-achiever that she is, has six homes and gardens on the tour PLUS an additional five gardens. It will be a challenge for people to get to all the locations in a four hour time period.

Our garden closest to the street is still in recovery mode from having the street department tear it up while repairing the storm water lines. On Tuesday we had a bunch of shrubs delivered, and on Wednesday Jose and his crew came and installed all of them. I've been watering, and hopefully the plants will perk up a little more before Sunday. And don't even get me started on the damage the rabbits have caused.

I have a bit of cleaning left to do inside, but we will really have to focus on the outside tomorrow. Cobwebs need to be swept down and windows need to be cleaned. I also need to purchase the fresh flowers I want inside the house, and I am looking for a little something to put on each plate in the dining room. I am thinking about small ceramic pots with a marigold in each? Or maybe a flower shaped decorative candle? I have some cute clear glass dishes with matching cups that my mother-in-law gave me, which I will put at each place. That way I don't need to put out silverware and worry about it walking off. I'll come up with something.

In the meantime, I sent a bunch of photographs over to Jim's office, and he is placing them on two or three display boards. We will set them on easels out on the deck by the drinks and cookies, so people can study them as they eat. I am including the history of the Alexander Russell subdivision as well as the history of Lot 16, where our house is located. In addition there are photos of the original owners, and pictures of changes made to the house over the last 108 years. I will be selling copies of my book (hopefully!), with a 20% donation to the Haiti fund. Katie's friend Mary will be playing the keyboard and singing on the deck as well, so the ambiance should be good. Now - no rain!!!

Today is Katie's 19th birthday, and she is having a small group of friends here for dinner. Jake (a high school and college classmate) is cooking, so I picked up all the ingredients he needed this morning. He is so funny - he sent Katie a list of menus to choose from. She selected a pasta dish, and it sounds yummy. I'm hoping there will be enough for Jim and me to enjoy as well. Bon appetite!

Sunday, June 6, 2010

You Know What They Say About Company!

Old expressions usually have a kernel of truth to them. "Fish and company stink after 3 days" is one that is oft repeated. My brother arrived last Monday with his two girls ages 14 and 11. I haven't seen so much drama since I was involved in the theater department in high school! If the older one is listed as being in a relationship on Facebook, life is good. If she states that she is single, the whole household suffers. Her relationship status changed so many times in the past 7 days that I lost track of the count. Right now she is single, so it kinda sucks to be around her. I am so glad my kids didn't get into this kind of stuff in junior or senior high. I never realized how nice we had it in our house.

I tried to keep them busy during the week, and I had my niece's 14 year old over several days and a couple of nights as well. I am exhausted! Between trying to figure out what to feed everyone and coping with a family that doesn't ever go to bed before 1:00 a.m., it was quite the challenge for me. My niece came over this afternoon with her two girls, and she took everyone to the airport at 4:00. I found myself repeating the words of Martin Luther King, "Free at last, free at last...!" Now to clean and do all the sheets and towels - yippee...

I was already a week behind on my ORMI work due to being in New York, and with the guests here I am up to two weeks. I was trying to do a little each morning before the kids got up, but Thursday my computer decided it was not going to connect with the network at ORMI. I called the computer guy on Friday and he was booked until Monday. That meant no catching up over the weekend. Then this morning the internet was down. I spent an hour on the phone with AT&T tech support before fixing that issue. Part of that time was on hold waiting for my Indian techie. I love how they tell you that they are experiencing unusually high call volume today, so if I don't want to wait I can access help at Helloooooooo....if I had access to the internet I wouldn't need to be calling you, would I???

Two weeks of backed up work and four days until we are on the house/garden tour. Anyone have some Prozac they'd like to share?

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

What a Zoo!

My brother and his two daughters are visiting from Boulder for a week. His 18 year old son stayed home to take care of the 2 dogs, 2 cats and rat - purportedly. They flew in Monday afternoon and will leave next Monday night, taking my great-niece Molly back home with them for a couple of weeks. This afternoon Joe, Stephie and I went to the zoo. I had not been there for quite a while. In fact, the last time may have been the re-dedication of the Flight Cage, which Jim's company had worked on. I parked in the parking lot as I could not find any spots along the street. $11.00 to park!!! Unreal! I guess that's what you get when admission to the zoo is "free". Inside the zoo it really was not as crowded as I expected. Though it was warm out today, it was not overly oppressive like it can be in St. Louis. I don't know about the rest of them, but I had a great time snapping pictures with my new lens. Man, does it capture the moment!

Tomorrow the girls and I will go to Cahokia and pick up Molly and her sister Cordy from their last day of school. They get done at 11:00, and after that I'll take them to lunch and then swimming at the Lodge at Des Peres. My back-up plan is to take them to either the City Museum or the Magic House if it rains. My brother will go with us if we decide on either of the museums, but he is not interested in the pool scene. I think he is considering that a house with no kids in it sounds pretty good to him. Molly will spend the night here with us, but Julie (my niece) will come and take Cordy back home with her. My limit is three teenage girls at once. I'm hoping for no rain as laying at the pool with a book sounds less stressful than a trip to the museum with 4 girls.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Sleeping Double in a Single Bed

Good news first: my trip to New York was fantastic! Publishing University was even better than I had anticipated, and Book Expo America? One word - WOW! As I have described those meetings in detail in my Write Formation blog, I won't rehash them here. I had to leave Book Expo early in the afternoon on Thursday as I had a 4:30 flight back to St. Louis. I had checked my bag at Javits Center that morning so that I could take a cab directly to the airport and not have to go back to the hotel. But I now had an additional 50 pounds (or so it felt) of autographed and other free books to get back home. A heads up from a Book Expo veteran advised me to ship them back via the Fed Ex booth at the convention center. After standing in an inefficient, long line, I spent $40 to ship my "free" books back home.

In the cab on the way to the airport, the cabbie asked me if I had called the airline as some flights had been canceled due to storms. I called Katie and had her look up my flight on her computer, and American Airlines showed it to be on schedule. The weather in New York was fine, but apparently storms in the Midwest were causing problems. At the gate it was apparent the flight would be late as there was no plane there. At 5:20 we finally boarded, and the plane left the gate around 5:45. Then we sat out on the tarmac for 2 hours. I counted 17 planes on the runway ahead of us. In the meantime I chatted with the gal in the center seat next to me, and the guy in the end seat. The gal had grown up in Ferguson and was on her way home for a baby shower. Her own, as it ends up. She is 7 months pregnant with her first baby, and since she now lives in New York the family was hosting a virtual shower so that everything would be shipped to her home in New York. Smart! The guy was on his way back home to Chicago via St. Louis, which I thought was odd since there are lots of flights direct to Chicago out of LaGuardia.

After 2 hours the pilot took us back to the gate because nothing was flying out and with the new FAA guidelines he cannot keep us on the plane longer than 3 hours. He knew there was no way we would get out before the 3 hour timetable was up. If the plane returns to the gate, then the 3 hours can start over again. Back at the airport we were asked to wait 10 minutes until a decision would be made on whether we would fly out that night or not. Then we de-planed and they said it would be 8:45 before a decision would be made. Around 8:30 the flight was canceled. No flights heading west were allowed to leave that night.

The people on the plane who had smart phones were able to schedule their flights for the next day. Those of us stuck in yesterday's technology had to do it the old fashioned way - we stood in line. One sole AA rep was trying to handle the entire flight. My pregnant seat mate and I decided to go upstairs to the AA counter where there would be more agents available. Big mistake! Since all flights were canceled, the line was atrocious. We headed back downstairs to collect out luggage, and seat mate got both of her phones (yep, she carries two of them!) going on the AA 800 number. She finally got through, and after she booked her flight she took my information and changed my flight as well. She was able to get a direct flight at 9:00 p.m. Friday night. For me? A 5:30 p.m. flight to Dallas, with a flight from Dallas arriving in St. Louis at 11:30 p.m. Friday night. Are you kidding me? According to the agent, that was the best thing they could do.

The luggage finally arrived and I bid farewell to my pregnant friend and went to tackle the next issue. Where was I going to sleep that night? I waited for my turn at the Airport Hotels phone bank, asking each person I saw if they could recommend a decent place in the area. We were all in the same boat, with no idea of which way to sail. I struck up a conversation with a nice younger woman who also needed a place to stay. She had one hotel phone going and I had the other. We agreed that if either of us found a hotel with rooms, we would grab 2 of them. It was soon apparent that all the canceled flights had resulted in a run on neighboring hotels. A number of people headed back to NYC for the night. But new friend and I persisted. I was on hold with Holiday Inn Express when she struck gold with the Comfort Inn. YES! They had openings. Could we have 2 rooms? No, only 1 was available. I looked at my new BFF and said, "I'm not an axe murderess." She replied that she was not an axe murderess either, and with that we agreed to share a room. She told the man she would take a room with 2 beds. Uhhhhh.....the only room available was a king bed. Alrighty, then....We had agreed to share a room but did we want to share a bed? It was that or the airport floor. We booked the room ($180 per night for a Comfort Inn!) and headed out in the now rainy New York night to catch the shuttle.

At the Comfort Inn I called AA and again asked about a different flight. The frazzled agent said there were no direct flights available, but if I would hold she would check on some alternatives. She came back with a 10:00 a.m. US Airways flight to DC followed by an AA flight to St. Louis, arriving at 1:55. Much better than 11:30 p.m. My new BFF Michele and I settled in for the night, but I have to say I did not sleep well. I never did get any supper with all the delays at the airport, so my stomach was a little upset. I didn't want to pass gas and embarrass myself with my new BFF. Plus I was afraid that since I had slept so poorly on my trip I might snore. Also not a cool way to impress a new friend. Michele got up at 6:00 a.m. to make her flight, so we bid each other a safe trip. Slept with Michele on a first date and never even got her last name. I am such a slut!

I got to the airport at 8:00 only to discover that AA had neglected to tell US Airways that they were to be blessed by my presence. My blood pressure started to rise as the USA agent tried unsuccessfully to get through to an AA agent. He finally got the information he needed, and fortunately there was a seat for me on the 10:00 flight. As I headed to my gate I could hear a woman behind me sobbing. I was wondering if she missed her flight and was that upset? Then I realized if I missed my flight after all the delays I had already experienced and how tired I was, I probably would cry as well. A USA agent took the woman by the arm and led her to the agents at my gate. They apparently were able to calm her down and work things out for her. Then she came and sat down right next to me. I could not help but overhear her conversation as she made a phone call. Apparently her son is at Clemson and he and some other boys had been jumped around 2:00 that morning. He was severely beaten and had been transferred to a trauma center, and all she was able to get out of the nurse is that she would not be able to recognize him due to all the broken bones in his face. He was in a coma and they did not know if he had brain injuries. They had also called in a cardio-thoracic surgeon, which made me wonder if he had broken ribs and/or lung damage. It sounded like the son of Clemson's President might be involved, so it was being kept out of the press. As I listened to her heart-breaking story, I realized that it was no big deal that my flight had been canceled and I had been delayed by a day. Everyone in my family was safe and that was way more important. And I called my son in D.C. when I landed just to hear his voice and tell him that I love him.