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.