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!