Saturday, December 31, 2011

New Year's Eve

We do not do anything for New Year's Eve typically. We're just not that interested in putting our lives on the line due to drunk drivers. So we made a nice steak dinner (awesome to be able to grill out on December 31st!) and I am having a nice glass of wine as I sit at my computer. Today has been pretty introspective as I have spent the last two days scanning documents and photos of my ancestors and current family members. I had asked for a Flip-Pal Scanner as a present since I had seen one in action at the Federation of Genealogical Societies annual conference in Springfield earlier this year. It is amazingly light-weight, runs on batteries and scans 4" x 6" pictures like a champ. For larger documents or photos, you simply remove the cover, flip it over and scan the item in pieces. As long as you have properly overlapped the scans, the stitching software provided puts it all back together with no seams. Amazing!

Anyway, as you can gather I received one for Christmas so I have been putting it through its paces. It does a wonderful job, and I have been uploading the scans to my family tree. I have been thinking a lot about the people in the photos. What was their day like? How in the world did they manage to raise 8 (or 10 or 12) children? How did they feel when their children moved away to another state? All the strangers in the box and the stories that will remain untold. While our lives today may not seem all that important, down the road our descendants may be very interested in how we spent our time. What stories will you preserve in 2012?

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Christmas Unwrapped

Andy and Megan left for home at 8:00 this morning. They are anticipating a 13 hour drive. Ugh! Hopefully they will not run into any of the crummy weather that passed through here the other day. We had a really nice time with them. On Monday Megan's parents and two brothers drove over from Indiana to spend the afternoon and evening with us. We ordered in pizzas so that I would be able to enjoy myself and not spend the whole time in the kitchen.

Yesterday we went to the botanical garden to see the Gardenland Express Holiday Flower and Train exhibit. This is something we try to go to every year. I have to say that I was pretty disappointed this year, as were Andy and Megan. Playing off of the year long "Treemendous" theme at the garden, it was really an exhibit about trees with the trains playing a small supporting role. Jim thought it was the best ever, but then he is a landscape architect. We didn't spend much time at the garden, instead heading over to Gringo Jones and the Bug Store to do some browsing. On the plus side we did find some ceramic house numbers that we want to glue to the concrete steps down by the street in front of our house. Since our house sits so far back from the street it is hard for people to see our address. We had a nice brass sign down in the front planting bed for a few years, but after some kids stole it we decided we would go this route instead.

Katie is at a movie with a friend, so it is just the dog and me here at the house. It seems so quiet after the hustle and bustle of the past few days. I guess this is just the warm up for mid-January when Katie takes off again for the last part of her college program.

Friday, December 23, 2011

On the Eve of Christmas Eve

For some reason this year I had all my shopping and wrapping done early. I need to make one last stop at the grocery store tomorrow morning to pick up the meat for Christmas Eve dinner. I am going to go early so that I don't turn into a grouch. In fact, I think hubby and I are going to go workout at 7 a.m. and then hit the store right after. Andy and Megan are due to arrive around 12:30, and I still have to tidy up the guest bedroom and bath. But that shouldn't take me too long.

We picked Katie up at the airport Sunday night. The place was fairly quiet at 9:00 at night. Since we had arrived a little early we walked through the airport looking at the improvements. Nearly all the glass has been replaced from the tornado, though we were surprised to still see a few windows boarded up. What's up with that? The new waiting area for those picking up passengers from the D concourse is quite nice, as are the two new luggage carousels. I think all of those are being replaced eventually.

It has been great to have Katie home. Being able to connect with her via phone and Skype was great, but nothing beats being able to talk to your kids face to face. She is still a bit jet-lagged, but we managed to get some things accomplished this week. Most notably today we dealt with US Cellular. We had just purchased Katie a new phone that would work in China right before she left in August. Unfortunately it was stolen while she was there. US Cellular gave me the bad news that there was an issue with the $100 rebate, and also the insurance on the phone. They told me they would not replace this (expensive) phone. We had Katie buy a cheap phone in China so she could keep in touch with the other students, her teachers and her internship supervisor. I decided to wait until she came home to deal with US Cellular again. We worked with the store manager today and she immediately took care of both of the issues. She gave me the $100 credit, which has been applied to my bill, and gave Katie a replacement phone. Woo, hoo! I did not anticipate such a great outcome. Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night!

Saturday, December 17, 2011

The Grinch Who Stole Christmas

Last night was the office party. We went to the Moolah Bowl on Lindell for eating, drinking and bowling - not necessarily a winning combination, at least for my bowling game. The building is beautiful and contains a standard size (if there is such a thing any more) movie theater on the upper level, as well as a tiny theater that has couches and lounging chairs to sit on while you watch the show. In the lower level is the bowling alley, which was closed until 10:30 p.m. for our party. We had a really good time at the party, but I feel like I didn't get a chance to talk to everyone since you kind of had to stick around your bowling lane for when your turn came up. But it was fun nonetheless.

At 10:30 the doors opened and the local crowd came in to drink and/or bowl. It was definitely time for us to leave. I'm sure they were looking at Jim and me, wondering who let the old people in! We got out of there around 11:00 and came back to our car to find a nasty surprise. We had gotten a parking ticket! And so had all the other employees parked at the angled parking directly in front of the Moolah. I looked around for any kind of signage that would indicate we should not park there, and I didn't see any. One of the other employees noted that it was down about 10 cars or so from where I had parked. Not nice, St. Louis City police! If you are going to make the parking spaces in front of businesses permit parking only, then have the courtesy to post signage so we stand a chance of knowing this fact. It amazes me that with the city being in decline (not to mention the #1 murder capital in the US) they would do something like this. I can guarantee that we will have our next event in the county where employees can park by the venue for free.

Are you listening, Mayor Slay?

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Oh Christmas Tree

By last weekend I had all the decorations up, including the tree. We normally don't get our tree too early because we purchase a real one and the needles always seem to drop so soon. But we did get one slightly early this year since our weekends are super busy this year. During the week I got the Christmas cards and letters in the mail. I wish I could say I was done shopping, but that simply is not the case. I do have some gifts purchased and have ideas for a few more. Katie is really the stumper this year as she is not here to give me ideas. Since she is in finals this week, I won't bother her with prompting until later in the week. She gets home Sunday night, and I cannot wait to see her!

Friday night we went to see "The Rat Pack" at the Fox Theatre. It was really good - similar to "Jersey Boys" in that it was the music of the particular group, but without the background story of the guys in the group. I think I actually enjoyed it more than "Jersey Boys" due to that fact. It was like an old Las Vegas Show. However I did not enjoy the behavior of the woman sitting next to me. She was fairly quiet during the first half, but then I don't know what she was drinking (and perhaps smoking?) at intermission. During every song and some of the dialogue in the second act she would shout out "woo hoo!" (particularly during Dean Martin segments when he was discussing his drinks) I'm looking at her like "We are not at a Justin Bieber concert here!" It was truly annoying. I had to angle myself towards Jim so I didn't get drunk on her fumes. I might have anticipated something like that at the Pageant, but it was pretty ridiculous at the Fox.

Last night we attended a Christmas party for one of Jim's business groups. I had a really interesting time discussing traveling and genealogy with one of the couples there. It is nice to find some common ground with people you only see once a year. The food was amazing as always, and I simply loved the Oreo Truffles they had there. Oh my! I think Katie and I will need to make some of them when she gets home.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Sicker Than a Dog?

Yesterday after I worked out I ran to Target to pick up some household items and additional wrapping paper and gift tags. When I got home I immediately sniffed something in the air. And it was not a good something. The dog was laying in his customary place on the couch in the conservatory, looking as innocent as a new baby. Walking through the house with my nose in the air (literally), I found that the dog had gotten sick in the sitting room off of the front entryway. And I don't mean by vomiting, which would have been way easier to deal with in this case. Our house has lots of hardwood floors, with some tile thrown in. Does the dog utilize any of that floor space? Oh no...he chooses the oriental rug to do the deed. The one with the long, white fringe around the edges.

Grabbing a bucket with water, carpet cleaner and a cloth, I knelt in the middle of the rug to begin the cleanup. Big mistake, I realize as I feel something seeping through my jeans. Apparently there was some spraying that went on. Ewwww! Without going into more gory details, I did the best I could with the rug. But I'm thinking it may be making a trip to Woodard's this weekend for a professional job. I doubt I did a thorough enough job.

This time of year Kirby's allergies kick into high gear. He has tested positive for moderate allergic reaction to grasses (fescue, rye, bluegrass - basically everything in our yard) as well as evergreens (also abundant in our yard). But what seems to bother him the most is junipers. I always thought it was weird that his allergies are worse in the winter, when most things have died off. But guess what blooms December through February? Junipers! Who knew? So I have an appointment to take him into the vet today for a check-up. He will probably clean out his ears, which tend to get infected when the allergies kick in, and perhaps give Kirby a prednisone shot. That shot lasts about a month and really relieves his itching. Poor Kirby - today it is going to get worse before it gets better!

Monday, November 28, 2011

Bittersweet Thanksgiving

My in-laws invited us up to Iowa for Thanksgiving, which was really a blessing. This is the first time in 26 years that neither of our children were able to be with us for the holiday. Andy and Megan went to Indiana to be with Megan's parents, and Katie is in Shanghai for a semester abroad and internship. So it helped that we were able to spend the holiday with Jim's family. As usual we ate way too much, but everyone was happy and healthy and the weather was great. It even made it into the 60's on Thanksgiving Day, which for Iowa is saying something.

An added benefit of the visit was that we were able to take the Christmas presents up and drop them off, as well as bring ours back down here. So I can happily say that we are done shopping for Jim's side of the family. We also were able to bring back a chest of drawers that had belonged to Jim's great-grandmother. It has been in the family all this time, but the cousin who most recently had it no longer had a place for it. So it was offered up at the family reunion this summer, and we brought it back to Jim's dad. He very nicely refinished it and then gave it back to us! We are honored to have it, and now just need to find the perfect spot for it.

We have a lot to be thankful for this year. I am grateful for our wonderful families, my two super kids and daughter-in-law, and a husband who is also my best friend. My husband has a great business and I am having a blast writing and publishing books. Lots to be thankful for, indeed.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

House History Seminar

Yesterday I attended a 2 hour workshop on researching house history. It was put on by the St. Louis Genealogical Society and the speaker was from the Festus-Crystal City area. I have to admit it was a little disheartening that the organization to which I belong did not apparently even consider me for this speaking engagement. Especially since they sell my researching house history book in their shop. And since I had told them I would do a workshop if they were ever interested in having one on this topic. Sigh...

But I have to say that the gal who gave the talk (who is also a member, I might add) did a really good job, and she raised some issues that I had not considered before. And she was really sweet about letting everyone know about my book. Which I then quickly pointed out was available through the STLGS. I wish the speaker was from St. Louis as I think she and I have a lot in common. I would love to tag along with her on some of her jobs. She has her own consulting company for house research as well as genealogy.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Eyes Have It

Today was my annual eye exam. Everything went fine, but can I just say I hate having my eyes dilated. Especially when I am driving myself home afterwards. I don't care what they say, I don't think it is safe for people to drive after those drops go in. It was supposed to be cloudy today, which would have helped a lot. But as usual the forecasters were wrong and it was sunny and bright this morning.

Today they used the half percent formula instead of the one percent. The doctor said it would take about an hour and a half for my eyes to get back to normal. I will say that it was a bit easier to drive with these drops. I had placed their cheapo sunglasses behind my sunglasses, and that helped as well. But this picture is of my eye two hours after the drops went in. Evidently the eye drops work REALLY well on my eyes! It was several hours before I even felt comfortable to take the dog for a walk. Eye don't like it - eye really don't.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Kim's Cupcakes?

Tonight my niece and I took a cupcake decorating class at the Webster Groves Recreation Center. There were 10 of us in the room, which was about 4 too many for the space. It was crowded and hard to pass the decorating materials around. Added to that was the Zumba class going on in the next room, and that made it hard to hear.

The instructor did her best with the conditions she faced. She had prepared chocolate, vanilla, and spice cupcakes ahead of time. Then she made vanilla, chocolate and caramel frostings as well as several frostings with a more substantive base for making colored additions to our cupcakes. And lastly we worked with fondant, dying it and shaping it into roses.

As I looked at all the tools of the trade she had brought along for us to try, I realized that this would be a fairly expensive hobby to get into. It kind of reminded me of scrapbooking and all the stuff I have in drawers upstairs. And I could also see that cupcake decorating takes a lot of practice if you want to do it well. So I think that this is not something I will jump right into. DC Cupcakes has nothing to worry about. It was fun to be out with my niece for a couple of hours though. We rarely get to do that without either my sister or my great-nieces being along.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

No Trivial Matter

My friend invited Jim and me to be at her table for the Mother to Mother trivia night. The Mother to Mother program is a support group for women suffering from post partum adjustment disorder. I am not very good at trivia, but I am a winner when it comes to trivia table snacks, so that should count for something. Armed with margaritas, spinach artichoke dip and peanut butter bars, we headed to the Richmond Heights Community Center. In addition to my friend and her husband, the table consisted of the two ladies who live next door to them, and a friend of Diane's along with her friend, the Ringer. Ringer knew the answer to every question in 6 of the 8 categories. The exceptions were "Name that tune", where you had to name the song and the artist, and "Identify the candy bar", which consisted of photos of 10 different candy bars on a sheet of paper. The song selections were pathetic, but I think we still got 7 points there. The candy bars were really tough since since they had similarities to more than one candy bar. For example what I thought was a Heath Bar was actually the Skor candy bar. We only got three of the candy bars correct, but everyone else seemed to struggle with them as well.

At the end of the evening we came in first place, beating the second place team by 1 measly point. Unbelievable...For our wisdom and skill (ha, ha) we were awarded $200. As a group we decided to donate the money back to the organization. And we also decided to come back next year to defend our title!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Fall Back

Daylight savings time finally ended over the weekend, and it was time to Fall Back - our reminder to turn the clocks back one hour. Even though technically we gain an extra hour, my body never adjusts right away. It always takes about a week to get back in the time groove.

Our weather has been so pleasant that summer just doesn't want to let go of my garden. Here my Knock Off Roses blissfully bloom alongside the maple tree, which is exploding in fall color. My potted annuals are still blooming as well, so I am trying to enjoy all the colors before the first freeze takes us to the gray, denuded color palette of early winter.

We have two boxes of spring bulbs that Jim picked up somewhere a couple of years ago. I think I'll try to finally get them in the ground. Who knows if they are still any good, but I figure the ones that survived sitting in a box a couple of years will probably be nice bloomers. If the squirrels don't get them first!

Sunday, November 6, 2011

A Fall Drive

Jim and I went out for a fall drive yesterday hoping to catch the last of the fall color. Since we were out of town the past two weekends we sort of missed the peak season. We took Jim's fun little sports car, put the top down and turned the heat up, and away we went. Jim knows a lot of great back roads due to his motorcycle riding, so we headed out west towards Labadie. We had lunch at the Hawthorne Inn, and I have to say I just wanted to bottle our waitress. She was the most bubbly little thing! I ordered a french dip sandwich, and it came with sweet potato fries. Oh my gosh! Probably the best french dip I have ever had, and the fries were yummy as well. And I felt less guilty about eating them since they were sweet potatoes. Ha!

We headed back down the road and ended up at Klondike Park. I had no idea this park even existed. The 250 acre park is on the site of an old silica sand quarry. The Katy Trail ties into it so they have biking and walking paths all throughout the park. There was a boy scout troop camping out, so they
were having a great time riding their bikes along the trails. A family was taking their own portrait along one of the trails we walked, while on another we came upon a guy down on one knee popping the question to his gal. Since a professional photographer was there, I'm not sure how spontaneous it was but it was sweet nonetheless.

It was a great day for a drive, and nice to spend the afternoon alone with my own groom. No kids, no dog, just the two of us. Fun!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Folly Beach, South Carolina

Last week we were down in South Carolina on vacation, staying at a lovely 3 bedroom, 3 bath townhouse located at Folly Beach. We had actually planned to go there the first week of October, but when Andy called and said he would be in St. Louis the first weekend we changed our plans so that we could see him. We hadn't been with him and Megan since Christmas, and that was only for one day. The change ended up having consequences as our friends who were coming with us could only come for part of the week at the end of October, my sister fell and broke her shoulder in 3 places and I wasn't here for her surgery, and the Cardinals ended up in the World Series and Jim had a ticket to game 7.

But we didn't know all those things when we made the plans back in August. So Jim and I had the place to ourselves the first few days. The townhouse overlooks a wetlands area and the Folly River. It was a short walk into town for shopping and restaurants, as well as the Atlantic Ocean Beach.

The owner of the townhouse provided bicycles, so the first day we road around the island. On Tuesday we drove down to Savannah, Georgia which is about a 2 hour drive. We took the trolley tour around the old town area since you had on and off privileges. We definitely could have used more time here. On our way back to Folly Beach we stopped at Hilton Head, South Carolina. Neither of us was too impressed with this island. We ate at a restaurant at the western edge of the island so we could see the sunset. The sand fleas were biting so bad that we had to eat indoors.

Our friend Kathy arrived on Wednesday afternoon. We showed her around Folly Beach and had supper in town before heading home to watch the Cardinals play. On Thursday we toured the Magnolia House and Gardens, a beautiful plantation. Then we picked up Kathy's husband Paul at the airport. We went to a sport's bar and, I kid you not, they had skate boarding on all the television sets instead of the World Series. They did begrudgingly change one of the sets for us. Since a really crappy band was setting up, we ate quickly and went back to the townhouse to watch amazing game 6. I have to say that it sucked to be on eastern time for the games! Late nights...

On Friday we took a boat tour of Folly River and Morris Island, which is the closest you can get to the 6th oldest lighthouse in America. The day was sunny but very windy and a little cool. The island was desolate and we were the only ones there. The ride back was pleasant since we were no longer riding into the wind, and the dolphins played around the boat. That was very cool.
Saturday we spent the day looking around Charleston, and we did tour an old mansion as well. Then on Sunday we went back to Charleston and did the tour of Fort Sumter, which is where the first shot of the Civil War was fired. It was interesting, but would have been better had it not been so darn windy.

We came back home Sunday night, though we didn't get back to our house until 12:30 a.m. All in all, it was another fun vacation shared with good friends.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Cardinal Fever

Today I was passing through Lambert International Airport in St. Louis when I came upon this balloon archway supporting the St. Louis Cardinals efforts in the World Series. It is such a fun tribute to the Cardinals, and I found myself wondering if that is the concourse the team will be coming through when they come back from Texas.

I flew down to Charleston today for a visit to Folly Beach, and I went to a bar/grill for supper and to catch part of the game. Some guys in the bar, of course getting louder the more they drank, began to first make fun of this series because, after all, who cares about the Cardinals or the Rangers. I could ignore that, and their terrible attempts to sing along with the music in the bar, until they started the name calling. When Albert came up to bat, one of them shouted that Albert was just a fat, stupid fag. At that point I decided to leave and finish watching the game in my townhouse. It is hard to believe how ignorant people can be.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Once Around the Block

We had a block party yesterday, and 181 men, women and children were there! Wow! I'd like to take credit for the idea as a neighbor and I had tossed around the notion of shutting down Maple Avenue for a party. But two women over on Portland Terrace beat us to the punch and organized the whole thing. They included multiple blocks and went so far as to set up a directory of everyone who responded so that we know who lives where. They ordered up a large inflatable jump pumpkin for the bigger kids and someone provide a small inflatable castle for the little ones. Porters chicken and tea, lemonade and water was provided (we all chipped in $5 per adult and $3 per child to cover that and other miscellaneous expenses). Even numbered houses brought appetizers or side dishes, and odd numbered houses provided the desserts.

I walked over at 2:30 to help set up the tables and chairs and then headed back home to get Jim, the dessert and two chairs. Jim had just returned from an overnight motorcycle trip, so I had to wait for him to shower and change. Then we headed over to the party, which was in full swing by then. It was great to meet so many new people (new to me if not to the neighborhood), especially the lady across the street who has been using my book to research the history of their home. I know her husband quite well, but she is extremely shy so I have only waved to her in passing. I also met another man who recently wrote a book about why we climb mountains; a bit of psychology thrown in as I understand it. We are going to get together and chat.

The party broke up just after 7 so we were able to get home in time to watch the Cardinals. Unfortunately it was already 4-0 so we missed whatever the Cards did big in the first inning. It was an exciting game to watch nonetheless. Go Cards!

Friday, October 14, 2011

From Rally Towel to Crying Towel

 Jim and I attended the playoff game last night at Busch Stadium. I didn't think I would even get to go to one of these games because of the structure of our tickets. There are four seats which are owned by three different groups in order to split up the numerous games throughout the season. In addition the one-third that is owned by SWT is split half with an architecture firm. It is all good and fine until the Cardinals get into post-season play. Then everyone wants the tickets. As it ended up, SWT had two of the tickets for last night and Jim's partner was out of town. So I got to go!

We went downtown early so that we could get a parking spot. Our normal lot usually charges $10 to park but for the playoffs the price was $25. Yikes! We walked to a bar near the stadium and had a hamburger before going into the stadium. We were too late to see the Cardinals warming up, but got to see the Brewers doing their thing. When the guy next to me sat down, he easily took up 1/4 of my seat as well. Not even kidding here. Plus he had some medical condition that made him sound like a cat trying to hock up a hairball, followed by persistent coughing. All through the game. I never thought I would be happy to have the gals behind us get progressively louder the more they drank, but that at least helped defer the sound of the throat warbling going on next to me.

Besides that, it was fun to see the Clydesdales once again parading around the infield, and their wagon filled with baseballs instead of beer kegs. And the military acapella group performing the National Anthem (with all the correct words!) was truly beautiful. The Cardinals were even beautiful for the first couple of innings. Then it was like a different team had taken the field. What a disappointing outcome. We did not want to be the ones who brought home a loser! On the other hand, it was a fantastic night to be outside with my hubby, so the night wasn't a total loss.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The Boys Are Back in Town

Andy was home this weekend, and I can't believe we haven't see him or Megan since Christmas, and then only for one day when we drove over to Megan's hometown in Indiana so we could exchange gifts. Megan's folks have been out to D.C. twice since then, so we are definitely on the bad in-law list. Nick, who was Andy's best man, recently got married in New York by a Justice of the Peace, so his parents wanted to throw a reception for them here. (Well, in Jerseyville where they live actually.) Megan was unable to come because her graduate school classes meet every Saturday, so Andy came alone.

Andy thought that he was just coming to a party in the backyard of the house where Nick grew up, which he was told began at 6:00 on Saturday. On the way here Friday he received a text message from Nick telling him that he would need a suit for the pictures, and that he needed to be at their house by 1:00 for the photographer. Say what? Of course he did not have a suit tucked into his carry-on luggage. He brought khakis and a dress shirt, very appropriate for an outdoor party. He and Jim are nowhere near the same size, so I suggested that he call my nephew. Joe had a suit that fit Andy, so he borrowed that. He had to wear his tennis shoes with it since no one else has feet as big as his. What a combo! But we figured they could have him stand in the back for the pictures.

When he arrived at the house, he could tell that Nick had totally undersold the magnitude of the event. The "bridal party" gals had all had their hair and make-up done for the photos, which were taken both in the suits and then again in traditional Bhutanese clothes (Nick's wife is from Bhutan). For the guys, that meant wearing a gho, a knee length robe tied with a cloth belt known as a kera, and knee high socks. Andy thought it felt rather freeing! Following the pictures they went to a Catholic church where the couple was blessed by a priest. Following the ceremony they went back to the house for the party which was held in the backyard under a huge tent - the kind with the sides that roll down. A sound system provided music and amplifications for the toasts, one of which was given by Andy. The party continued until the wee hours of the morning, and Andy got back to our house at 5:00 a.m. Which we, fortunately, did not know about until the next morning.

Sunday we had all of my family over for a barbecue so that they could see Andy. They hadn't seen him since Thanksgiving, so it was nice to have a laid back event for everyone to catch up. The weather was great so we were able to eat outside and listen to the Cardinals game. Such as it was...Andy flew back home on Monday, so I had a little bit of time with him by myself that day. It was a great weekend, and only would have been better had Megan been able to join us.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Singing the Blues

Someone gave Jim two tickets to the opening Blues hockey game taking place last night. We decided to take the Metrolink down to see the game. We board the Metro at the Shrewsbury station, which is nice because it is the end of the line (or the beginning, whichever way you choose to look at it) so there is never a problem getting a seat. Everyone that boarded was garbed in Blues gear (except for Jim and me since we don't own any), and the two little boys ahead of us had their hair spray-painted blue as well. So cute! As the Metro continued on down the track, fewer and fewer Blues fans got on and instead a more interesting and diverse population boarded.

At the Skinker stop a man, two women and three kids got on. I think that the two women may have been sisters and the man was unrelated to them but was the father of two of the children. The one woman proceeded to get into an argument with the man, and the swear words began to fly. "That child over there means the world to me and them two kids there mean the world to you, but you don't give a fuck about us." The two little Blues boys watched with wide-eyed wonder as the yelling took place. As they exited two stops later she said to the man, "You can come or not, I don't really give a shit." Nice. The woman behind me commented, "This is like watching t.v." Sad but true.

On the platform waiting for the return Metro after the game, the girl next to us was telling the guy with her that she has only dealt with the police twice. Once because her license tags were expired and once when she went to them to have her ex arrested. When the guy asked what had happened she explained that her ex had threatened her in person and through phone messages and emails. Run, new boyfriend, run!

I was thinking that if I road the Metro every day, I could probably write an entire book about the behaviors and conversations I witnessed. Or at the very least, I could cancel my cable!

Saturday, October 8, 2011

You Don't Know What You've Got Til It's Gone

New neighbors moved in a few months ago. The previous family had lived in the house for 11 years, so we had a nice neighborly rhythm going on. Since we have been in our house for 24 years, we don't take to change very easily or perhaps very graciously. New neighbor has three girls (the oldest of whom is 14) all in private schools, two large dogs and an indoor/outdoor cat. Old neighbors had one boy and two indoor cats.

I have been trying to keep an open mind, but the one dog barks non-stop every time any of us steps foot in our own yard. I've tried to talk to him, let him sniff my hand, make up to him...all for naught. Annoys the crap out of me! Our dog barked at them the first time he saw them in their backyard, but after that he was like "whatever". They also replaced the front sections of their fence (which needed to be done) with new fencing that a) does not match the rest of the fence (including ours which matched their old fence), b) does not meet the fence code in our town, and c) was put up without getting a permit. Additionally they leave their trash cans out on the curb for days on end, when the city requires that you not put them out before 5 the day before pickup and remove them by the evening of pickup.

Anyway, just a few little things grating on my nerves until last night. First of all, our son is home for the first time since Thanksgiving so after we picked him up at the airport we went out to eat and hurried home to watch the Cardinals play. As we arrived home we saw a bonfire going in the yard next door and lots of kids around. The number of kids continued to swell until we had to turn our t.v. up so we could hear the game. All of a sudden we heard something that sounded at first like firecrackers going off but was instead a herd of kids clambering across our back deck. They took off around our house and out the side gate. What the hell? We went outside to check it out, and close the gates because God forbid they should do that after trespassing on our property. Kids were swarming up the private alley behind us, including some in cars. At a 14 year old's party?

We turned on all of our exterior lights, and that kept any more kids from coming into our back yard. I think the party was designed to end at 11:00, because cars started pulling up out front to pick up kids. I was looking out our upstairs front window just as a truck proceeded to jump the curb and drive through the neighbor's front yard - fortunately the house having the party. Again I say, what the hell! About five minutes later two police cars arrived, and were shortly joined by two additional cars. That sent the party-goers on their way pretty rapidly. A couple of parents came to pick up their kids while the police were there. Can you imagine being that mom or dad arriving to pick up your prince or princess and finding police at the party???

There were still kids in the backyard at midnight, when we finally turned out our bedroom light. I can only hope that having the police show up will discourage this couple from allowing any more parties at their house. Otherwise, with this being the oldest girl, the next few years will not be pleasant. After all the money and effort we have put into our property and plant material, I'll be the one calling the cops next time the little creeps step onto our yard.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The $138 Halloween Candy

Last week I decided that I was going to send our daughter a care package. I thought long and hard about what to send because there is a Walmart right outside the gates of her university in Shanghai. I know - how sad is that? So she can get pretty much whatever she needs there. But then I realized that since they don't celebrate (?) Halloween there, she probably could not buy any Halloween candy at Walmart. Thus was born the idea to send her a black and orange themed package. I purchased candy, some Halloween socks and some other fun novelty items to send that I thought the students from other countries might enjoy and boxed it all up.

After confirming that the "What can Brown do for You?" folks do actually deliver to China, yesterday I headed over to my neighborhood UPS store. The first thing the guy wanted to know is Katie's phone number. Since her Chinese phone number is about 14 digits long, I don't have it memorized. Nor do I have it in my cell phone since I hope to never call her in China. Strike 1. After weighing and measuring the box, he consulted his computer and proceeded to tell me that I should take it to the Post Office because they (PO) would only charge me $76 to ship the box. Strike 2. The downside, he added, is that while it would travel from here to China via the PO, once there the Chinese mail service would take over. No telling how long - or if - the box would get to her. But he was pretty sure it would. So I asked him what UPS would charge to ship it. Are you ready? $138! Strike 3 and your out. Or I'm outta here. I told him that I am not spending $76 much less $138 to send $10 worth of candy and other sundry items to my daughter. It's not like I'm shipping Mrs. Wryly's awesome cookies or anything. Get real!

I looked online and it appears I can get the small PO box and stuff it with as much as will fit in there. That box will ship to China for $13.25. That still seems like a lot, but I'll probably check that option out. The irony of the whole thing is that as I was pulling out of the parking lot, a PO truck pulled in front of the USP store and the driver entered the business. Have they joined forces or something?

Friday, September 30, 2011

Dadadada, dadadada...The Addams Family!

Tonight Jim and I saw The Addams Family at the Fox Theatre. It was a fun show, with some really strong voices in it. The set design was awesome, as were the costumes. Well, except that Morticia wore a dress so low cut and revealing that I was positive we were going to see a wardrobe malfunction. They must have had the dress glued to her boobs. I haven't seen that much flesh since I was in New Orleans for Mardis Gras. To me it was a little distracting and I thought they could have done a low cut dress without also cutting across half of her breasts. But I'm sure the males in the audience would disagree with me. There was also more than a bit of sexual innuendos in the script, which didn't necessarily bother me. But I felt sorry for the dad in front of me as he was trying to explain to his pre-teen daughter what some of the lines meant. Maybe they had some sort of disclaimer out there about the play perhaps not being suitable for children - I'm not sure. Those of us who remember the television show would have imagined that this play would be fun to attend as a family. I guess that wouldn't sell too well on Broadway though, huh? Too bad.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Scary Time

The first thing I do every morning is open up my iPad and review the headlines on Yahoo. The first thing I saw yesterday was that there had been an afternoon subway train accident in Shanghai. The article stated that 260 people had been injured! Calculating the 13 hour time difference, I realized that Katie takes the train about that time to get to her internship. I have no idea which line she takes from the campus to the business, but my mother's mind immediately assumed it was her line.

I checked my email next, and saw that I had gotten an email from Katie. Whew! But then I checked the time and saw that it was before the train accident. I sent her an emergency email asking her to email me ASAP. And then I waited. I realized that people in the dorm would not miss her for hours because of her internship. I decided to try calling her cell phone, which I had not attempted to do before now. The number wouldn't go through. I googled placing a call to China from the US and realized you need to enter a code to get you out of the country first. I tried the code and the number to no avail. Further research indicated that Katie might have given me the wrong country code for China, which is a little hard to believe since she is very detail-oriented. Regardless, I tried the number again with the alternate country code and got the recording of a very fast talking Chinese gal. I immediately hung up. But then I wondered, could that have been Katie? She probably does have her voice mail in Chinese while she is there.

While I was pondering that, Katie sent me an email. She was safe! In fact the train accident occurred on the one she normally takes, but she took a cab Tuesday for whatever reason. Her angel was definitely looking out for her! She had not heard about the accident yet, but her train ride back to campus from the internship was very delayed, and she had been annoyed by that since she didn't know why it was late. So thank you, God, and the little guardian angel you sent as well.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

The Ulimate Vanilla Cupcake Finale

In an earlier blog post I mentioned that I was one of 50 Explorers chosen by Stef at The Cupcake Project to test vanilla cupcake recipes in her search for the Ultimate Vanilla Cupcake. After the Explorers tried baking each recipe we completed a survey in an effort to find a cupcake that at least 80% of us deemed good enough to be called the Ultimate. The first recipe, which my husband, daughter and I disliked so much that frosting couldn't even save them, was given the Ultimate approval rating by only 29% of the Explorers. We eagerly awaited the arrival of recipe #2.

The second recipe required the use of a vanilla bean. This was a new experience for me, so I watched a YouTube video to see exactly how one harvests the vanilla from inside of a vanilla bean. It is a bit of a tricky process, with the vanilla sticking more to my knife and my fingers than I was prepared for. Regardless, this recipe was amazing! All three of us loved these cupcakes, and the highest compliment I can pay is to say that they did not even need frosting. And I love my frosting! I was certain that this recipe would be IT. Imagine my surprise when only 36% of my fellow Explorers agreed with me. I wondered how in the world Stef was going to improve on perfection with the next recipe.

For the third recipe we again used a vanilla bean, which was great because I had ordered a package of six beans online and had no idea what I would do with all of them. Katie had already left for South Korea at this point, so only Jim and I did the taste testing. While the cupcakes were very good, we did not feel like they held a candle to recipe #2. Again I was surprised when 66% of the Explorers thought that this recipe was the Ultimate.

At this point Stef had to decide whether she would ever get 80% of us to agree on a recipe. Considering that we all have different pans, ovens and brands of ingredients, not to mention taste preferences, perhaps 80% was an unrealistic goal. In the end she decided that if 2 out of 3 of us thought this recipe was the Ultimate, that was good enough. Recipe number 3 was crowned as king of vanilla cupcakes, and you can find the recipe here. While I am disappointed that my personal favorite was not selected as the best, I am very happy that I participated in this search for a great vanilla cupcake. Cupcakes from scratch no longer intimidate me, and I am eager to try some of the other fantastic recipes out on the Internet.

So for now, Wolter the Explorer signing out.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Nothing to Bark About

Every Thursday during the growing season they have a farmer's market in my town. This is only the second year so there are not a large number of booths yet, but it has grown some since last year. Today was doggie day at the market, with promises of treats for your pooch. Kirby and I walked up to the area of the market, which is a nice distance from our house. I'm not sure what I was expecting, but there was not too much going on. In addition to the regular booths, a groomer had a booth set up with a doggie bag for each four legged visitor. And an animal hospital had a vet available to answer questions. That was it. There were a couple of gals taking pictures, so Kirby may end up with his 15 minutes of fame somewhere. As cute as he is though, most of the camera time was going to a tie dyed dog at the groomer's booth. He was a pretty docile little guy, mostly hanging his head in shame at looking so ridiculous with his four colors of fur. We didn't hang around long. In fact we spent more time walking there and back than we did at the market. The dog days of summer it wasn't.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Who am I?

I have been feeling a little bit adrift lately. After my career in the insurance industry flowed seamlessly into working full time (or at least as full time as I wanted it to be) with our company Organic Resource Management, Inc., I was able to have my cake and eat it too. I worked out of the comfort of my home office and was available to our two children for carpool, field trips, being a room parent, Girl Scout leader, etc. It was perfect, and as the kids got older I was able to pursue my interest in researching and writing a book. Now our son has been married for four years and our daughter is in her senior year of college. And we sold our business last year after operating it for 18 years.

I love the fact that I can focus on my writing and publishing business now. But it is always a little awkward when we are out and someone asks me what I do. "I am an author and a publisher", I try to say with authority. And I know that I am! I guess I am just not feeling all that successful right now. Part of me has just a little built of guilt that I am not out seeking a full-time "real" job. Whatever that is. Sometimes I feel so invisible when we are at a gathering and the other people in the group are discussing the goings-on at work. Face it, not many people can relate to what I am doing. I guess I just need to hang around with more authors.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

September 11

Like most Americans I recall very distinctly what I was doing when the planes crashed into the towers in New York City. I had taken the kids to school, and had just sat down in our breakfast nook with a bowl of cereal. I had turned on "The Today Show" to catch up on the news before beginning my day. Katie Couric was reporting on the plane hitting the first tower, and they were speculating as to whether or not it had been pilot error. But as we watched live footage of the second plane hit the remaining tower, we all knew that the unthinkable had occurred - America was being attacked on its own soil. Like the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, it was a day etched forever in my memory.

It is hard to believe that ten years have elapsed since that fateful day in American history. This significant anniversary brought with it renewed fears that our enemies would capitalize on the media coverage of the day and launch another attack. I watched a bit of the news coverage this morning, but then had to turn it off as the media once again began to sensationalize everything all in the name of ratings.

My niece chose today to celebrate her daughter's upcoming 16th birthday. She thought about the date, and decided that we all needed something positive and happy for this day, instead of letting the terrorists win by hiding from our own shadows. In the midst of all the fear and negativity we live with right now, it was refreshing to enjoy the laughter of the teens and the innocence of all of the Hello Kitty gifts that Molly received.

But on our way home, Jim and I stopped at Forest Park to view the 9-11 memorial that had been created there. Nearly 3,000 flags, each bearing the name of a victim from September 11, 2001, dot the hillside in front of the St. Louis Art Museum. It is an amazing and moving site, and having a visual such as all the flags helps you to comprehend just how many people lost their lives that day. God Bless America!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Hunting Dead People

Today I traveled to Springfield, Illinois to attend the Federation of Genealogical Societies annual conference. I have never attended FGS before, but since it is being held within driving distance of St. Louis I decided to sign up this year. I have also never been to Springfield, except to fly past it on the drive to Chicago. It is kind of a drag to be here by myself, but when I entered the lobby of the hotel I found the Beldons from St. Louis. I have known them for nearly 30 years as Bob and Jim used to work together at HOK. We are going to have supper together tonight, so that will be great.

After I walked next door to the convention center to pick up my registration packet, I headed off with my map to do a little sight-seeing. I saw the old capital building as well as the new one, the Lincoln Presidential Library and the Lincoln Presidential Museum. I didn't get to Lincoln's boyhood home, but hopefully I can fit that in before I leave.

The genealogy sessions start tomorrow morning with a keynote address by the head of the National Archives, which should be very interesting. The meetings go all day, as well as all of Friday and Saturday. I will head home after the last session on Saturday, unless I am really dragging in the afternoon. In that case I will load up on caffeine and hit the road early. Looking forward to learning a lot!

Sunday, September 4, 2011

All in the Family

Labor Day weekend has been a lot of fun so far. On Saturday our daughter-in-law's parents came over to spend Saturday and Sunday with us. We are so blessed that we enjoy every member of Megan's family! We decided to grill hamburgers and brats for lunch since we were going to the Cardinals game which began at 3:15. I tried a new macaroni salad recipe that suggested you make it the night before. I appreciated that hint since I prefer to have as little as possible left to do once my company arrives. We also made an ice cream pie for dessert and that, too, could be made Friday night.

Saturday morning I was able to put together the french toast casserole that I wanted to serve Sunday morning, because it also is best made the day before and refrigerated. So all we had left to do was assemble the condiments and grill the meat. Of course the day would end up with high humidity and a temperature of 100 degrees at the ballpark. Whew! Fortunately our seats were in the shade by that time of the day. We ended up getting rained on though, which was a welcome relief from the heat. The temperature dropped and the Cards won the game - so, perfect!

Following the game we went to McGuirks for supper, and were actually able to score a table in their lovely patio area. It was a very pleasant night to eat outside. Then we headed back home for some dessert.

Sunday we had the french toast casserole, fruit and Canadian bacon for breakfast, and then decided to see what the crowds were like at the Missouri Botanical Garden. The Japanese Festival is going on this weekend, so I expected it to be packed. We did have to park in the far west lots, but once we got inside it was really not all that crowded. With a temperature of 68 degrees, what a difference from the day before at the game! Cheryl and Allen had never been before, so they very much enjoyed themselves. We definitely need to take them back in the spring or early summer when so much more is blooming, but the chance to see the festival was an opportunity that we didn't want to miss. We had a late lunch and then they had to hit the road for home. It was so wonderful to see them as we hadn't had a chance to visit since Christmas.

Tomorrow we also have tickets to the ballgame, so our friends are coming over for lunch and going to the game with us. With a predicted high of 75 degrees, it will be a wonderful day for the game. But I must say that I have been doing quite a bit of laboring on this Labor Day weekend. I'll be tired tomorrow night!

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Vanilla Cupcake Recipe 3

So the second cupcake recipe the Explorers tried was also deemed inferior and, as such, not worthy of the title "Ultimate Vanilla Cupcake". On Sunday I baked the cupcakes from recipe number 3. I am really curious to see the results of this one. Stef provides us with a thorough report at the end of each testing period, going over the results of the survey we each complete after we have baked and tested the cupcakes. She must be wondering if it is possible to have 80% of us agree on a recipe. It is a tough challenge because everyone has different tastes, ovens, mixers, etc.

While we were at the family reunion in Cincinnati, the wife of one of my cousins brought along two different kinds of cupcakes. They looked like they came from a bakery! I did not try the vanilla cupcake as I believe she said she modified a box mix for that one. At any rate it wouldn't have mattered. As soon as I heard triple chocolate on the second cupcake, I made a beeline for that tray of cupcakes. Made from scratch, I can sum up these cupcakes in three words - Oh My God! They were amazing! I got her email address, and I am going to see if she will share her recipe with me. They were to die for, that's all I'm saying.

Will we find a vanilla recipe to die for? Stay tuned...

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Family Fun

This weekend was the Crusham family reunion in Cincinnati. We could not leave for the trip until 5:30 Friday night since Jim had to be in Kirksville on a project all day. Knowing that he was already doing six hours of driving that day, I drank a lot of caffeine so I could handle the night driving by myself. I had done a Map Quest to the cousin's house where we would be staying, and it indicated that going over on I-70 through Indianapolis would save thirty minutes over going the I-64 route through Louisville. We always go I-64 because it is far less traveled, particularly by trucks, and is a much prettier drive than I-70. But since it was going to be mostly night driving and we were already arriving at my cousin's house after midnight due to the hour change, we decided to try I-70. Things were going pretty smoothly until we hit the middle of Indiana. Then there was road construction after road construction. And the truck drivers decided that seven miles away from where the left lane actually closed, everyone should already be staying in the right lane. One of them would sit in the left lane and block it. So for miles ahead, no one was in the left lane. Bottom line - the decision to save thirty minutes ended up costing us an hour and a half. We arrived at 1:30 a.m. Grrrr... Needless to say, we did not come home that route, and despite stopping two times made the return trip in 6 hours and 10 minutes.

We didn't need to get up early on Saturday, but I was awake at 7:00 anyway. Gene and Rita's eight year old grandson had his first football game of the season at noon, so Jim went with them to that. (Jim said it was a real hoot because there was a little cheer leading squad - eight year old girls dressed in cheer leading outfits - and parents in team booster chairs, etc.) Kathy, Skip and I headed to the park where the picnic was being held at 1:00. The weather was a little hot and humid, but the shelter had ceiling fans which helped a lot. There was a decent turnout for the reunion. Only three of the eight children in mom's family are still alive, which is why Kathy and I feel it is so important to go over when we can. I think the last reunion was three years ago, and since then the twin of the man in this picture has passed on. It was great to see everyone and catch up on what has been going on. My sister and I were just in Cincinnati in April but we only saw a handful of the relatives at that time.

On Sunday my cousin Gina (first cousin once removed!) and I met up to go to Spring Grove Cemetery to take pictures. No one else wanted to go out on a hot, sunny day and join us. Imagine that! Anyway, this cemetery is like the Bellefontaine Cemetery in St. Louis in that it contains the remains of the Who's Who of the city. Spring Grove is amazing, and may outdo our cemetery for the simple fact that the topography is so interesting. It is very hilly, and I lost count of how many small lakes were in it. Even though we were hot, dehydrated and bug-bitten, we had a great time there. I definitely will need to go back as we probably didn't see a fourth of the cemetery. After that I called to see what the rest of my family was up to, since they had been going to Newport on the Levee, a really cool shopping and dining location on the Kentucky side of the river. (Take note St. Louis - you could have an amazing destination like this!) They had eaten appetizers and had drinks outside along the river, so they weren't going to be ready to eat supper until 7 or so. Gina and I had not had lunch, so we decided to go to a little hole in the wall pizzeria. Her brother Tony came and joined us. We shared some great stories and some even better pizza. Yum!

Overall it was a great trip, but it was good to get home last night. The best ending to the evening came in the form of a phone call from Katie. It is the first time I have talked to her since she left for Seoul a week ago Saturday. She just called to ask quickly if I could get on skype, so we ended up finishing our conversation through the computer. God, I love technology! It was so great to be able to both see and talk to her. She is doing well, and loves Seoul. She is hoping that she will like Shanghai as much as she does her current home away from home. So far the only problem she has had is that she cannot buy an international sim card that will work in her phone (the brand new phone that the US Cellular folks assured me would work in Korea and China!) Katie does think that the problem only exists in Korea as they use a different type of card there. I hope she is right, because she will definitely need a phone for the four plus months she is in China. And I need her to have a phone while she is there. Phone home, KT!

Thursday, August 18, 2011

It's All Relative

This weekend we are heading to Cincinnati with my sister and brother-in-law for a Crusham family reunion. This is my mom's side of the family, and only one brother and two sisters remain of the nine children grandma and grandpa had. Each time I go to a reunion it seems that there is one less person in the group pictures. And I always wonder what will happen to the reunions when the last three siblings pass on. It doesn't seem like our generation is all that interested in large family gatherings. My sister and I make the trek from St. Louis every time a reunion is held, but cousins who live there in town can't be bothered to stop in even for a brief period.

Speaking of pictures, one of the many boxes I inherited when my dad died contains old family photos. I am in the process of scanning them so that I can share them with my siblings and other interested relatives. I first divided the photos up by family and created a bag for each of my three siblings. They mostly contain photos of their own families that they shared with mom and dad throughout the years. That was the easy part. The stack of photos I knew we all might be interested in I decided to make digital rather than making prints the others might not even care to have around. Scanning is a slow and tedious process, particularly since I feel the need to clean most of the photos up with a photo editing program.

I am not quite sure what to do with the scanned pictures when I am done. There will be too many to email to my siblings, plus I want the photos somewhere that my cousins can access them if they want. My Picassa account, where I post photos from the Missouri Botanical Garden and other public venues, has nearly 200 photos in it. Once you hit 200 photos, you have to pay an annual fee. I have a Shutterfly account where I import photos that I want to reprint or put into photo books, but I'm not sure if others can access the account or if they have to join Shutterfly just to look at my photos. I also don't know if any of my photos could then be downloaded by my relatives. It sounds like I have some research to do, which will take more time. But as I said, it's all relative.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Bon Voyage

Yesterday morning we took Katie to the airport for her flight to Seoul via Los Angeles. She managed to squeeze everything she needs for 5 months into one large suitcase, one small carry-on bag and a camera case. Unbelievable! I took nearly that much on our cruise earlier this year. As we have done with her and her brother on the first day of school since they started kindergarten, we took a photo on our back porch. (Obviously when the kids went to college we had to take the photo on the day they left for the school year.) It is hard to believe that this is the last one we will take since she is now a senior.

I got one ticked off text message from her in LA because Asian Air had given away the window seat she reserved months ago. Apparently they go by when you check in, and people began checking in at 5:30 a.m. for a 1:40 p.m. flight. What the heck? What is their point in even assigning seats ahead of time then? They may as well operate like Southwest - at least you know what you are getting there.

Anyway, she was put in an aisle seat, which she doesn't like due to the carts knocking you in the arm every time they come up and down the aisle. Of course, they do that a lot less than they used to since they barely serve you any more. I would still take that over a middle seat any day.She had a small little girl next to her, and she said while she wasn't bad she did kick the seat ahead of her most of the trip (12 hours and 30 minutes). And the mom said nothing...I got an email from her this morning letting me know that she arrived in Seoul safely. She will be staying at a friend's house there for 3 weeks prior to heading to Shanghai. She said the only wifi is in Ji's little sisters room, so I don't know how often I'll hear from her. She is buying an international sim card for her phone though, so I'm hopeful she'll be able to call me. The time difference will be a challenge, but we can work around it.

As a follow-up on the cupcake challenge, only 38% of the cupcake Explorers thought that recipe number 2 was the Ultimate, so it is on to recipe number 3. Whenever Stef figures out what that recipe is going to be. Onward, Wolter the Explorer!

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Family Heirlooms

Last weekend we attended the Wolterman Family Reunion at Lake Okoboji in Iowa. As I was already up in Iowa to be of assistance as my mother-in-law had surgery on her carotid artery, Jim drove up separately for the gala. We were excited about this year's reunion because first of all it was being held at a lake, so swimming and boating were involved. But secondly, one of Jim's cousins had sent out an email earlier indicating that she was no longer interested in keeping a dresser that had been Jim's great-grandparents. The email told the story (and included pictures!) of the dresser, and how it had been passed from generation to generation, often serving as a baby changing table - before they came up with all the fancy changing tables on the market today.

If you had an interest in the dresser, you simply had to let Kay know and she would bring the piece from her home in northern Illinois to the family reunion. If multiple people wanted the dresser, then all the names would be placed in a hat and a winner would be drawn. The caveat was that you had to be able to take the dresser home with you. No delivery would be available. Anyone who knows Jim and me, especially if they had seen our house and all the antiques, would know that we put our name in the hat. Besides the fact that this is an antique, we would have wanted it due to the provenance of the piece. Interestingly, Jim's dad was the first one to say he wanted it. Jim and I discussed this, and we decided that if our name was selected, we would give it to his dad. In my opinion, the piece should have been offered to the remaining siblings first.

Jim's folks were unable to attend the reunion, located two and a half hours from their home, due to Lorraine's surgery the previous week. As it turns out, that would make Jim and me the only Woltermans at the Wolterman reunion. Funny... None of our names were selected for the dresser, which went to a first cousin of Jim's up in Minnesota. We were disappointed, but we had a great time at the reunion that day. There was great conversation, good food, boating and swimming. The lodge in the state park was huge, with screened in windows, ceiling fans and loads of tables and chairs. In the evening we headed to a cousins lake home, and didn't get back to our hotel room in nearby Spencer until nearly midnight.

The next morning the cousin with the lake house hosted breakfast, and Jim took off on a jet ski with another cousin. Had I not showered and done my hair and make-up that morning, I would have gone along. I love to jet ski! When we arrived back at the lodge for lunch before heading home, we were told that the sisters (Jim's aunts) had decided that we should take the dresser because the person whose name was drawn was not even at the reunion, and her mom didn't have a car big enough to take it home nor was she at the lodge that day to make arrangements for the piece. So we loaded it up and took it back to Charles City with us. There may be some hard feelings from the one family member, but for now the piece is in my father-in-law's garage where he is anxious for the weather to cool so that he can restore it. It was meant to be!

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Vanilla Cupcake Recipe #2

Today I baked cupcakes following the second recipe of the Cupcake Project as Stef searches for the Ultimate Vanilla Cupcake. I learned some new tips from this recipe, and that was exciting for me. Katie helped in the kitchen by cleaning up the dishes as I dirtied them. It has been quite a while since we have been in the kitchen together, and it was great to have the time together. She leaves in 11 days for South Korea and China, and she'll be gone for four months so today's activities together were especially precious to me.

The three of us had cupcakes, without frosting per Cupcake Project's instructions, for dessert tonight. But you will have to wait until the end of the weekend to hear what we thought about them. This is too fun!

Friday, July 29, 2011

Cupcake Deux

We have been notified that the vanilla cupcakes we made were, in fact, not THE Ultimate Vanilla Cupcakes. Only 29% of the 50 bakers thought they were the best, and 80% had to think so in order for the cupcake recipe to be considered a winner. So Stef at the Cupcake Project is busy this week conjuring up a new recipe for us to try. We must bake the new cupcakes between August 1 and August 7 and report our results again via a survey. Since I am still out of town at my in-laws, I will need to bake mine when I get back to St. Louis. I think it is only fair that I use the same oven and pan that I cooked the first batch in. Wolter the Explorer is not finished with her adventures yet.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Corroded Artery

Last Wednesday I drove up to Charles City, Iowa because my mother-in-law was having surgery on her carotid artery Thursday. I came up by myself and am staying until the upcoming weekend because the Wolterman family reunion takes place this weekend in Okoboji. Jim will drive up this Thursday to see his mom and attend the reunion.

On surgery day we had to be in Mason City (a 45 minute drive from Charles City) at 9:00 a.m. for a surgery that was scheduled at 2:30. I'm sure this makes sense to someone, but certainly did not to any of us. Jim's sister works at the hospital in Mason City, so she took a couple of days off work to help out as well. The four of us (Mom, Dad, Jenean and me) left Charles City at 8:00. We waited in the surgical waiting room for awhile before they took Mom off to prep her. Then we waited in a pre-pre-op room for a couple of hours before finally moving to the pre-op room around noon. By now Jenean's husband had joined us so we sent the guys down to the cafeteria to get some lunch while Jenean and I waited with Mom. They had tried three times in the pre-pre-op room to get her IV in and finally decided to let the nurse in the pre-op room have a go at it since she is "the best" at doing it. During her sixth attempt the anesthesiologist came in for the pre-surgery conference, and he said he would like to try. After three unsuccessful tries, the nurse gave one last attempt and finally got it in. Now remember that for each attempt they had to give her a shot of lidocain, so the poor thing ultimately had 26 needles going into her! Then they needed to put in the arterial line, and that too was not going to be easy. At 2:20 they decided they were going to wait until she was under anesthesia to put it in since she was fairly traumatized by now.

After they wheeled her out for surgery, Jenean and I headed downstairs to eat. Oops - cafeteria fine dining ends at 2:00. So we had to settle for cold sandwiches out of a machine. Yippee. They did have a bag of pretzels and a Cherry Coke Zero, so all was not lost. Then it was back to the surgical waiting room. The surgeon came in at 4:45 to let us know that everything had gone well, and that Mom would be taken to a room in a couple of hours. When we finally got in to see her I was grateful that Jenean had warned us that she was very pale. Was she ever! But she was awake and able to talk to us. She felt nauseous and had some pain, but otherwise not too bad.

We stayed at the hospital until around 10:00, and then Dad and I headed back to Charles City. Jenean decided to spend the night in the room with Mom. I knew she wouldn't be getting much sleep, and I was grateful she had offered to stay. Friday morning we drove back over to Mason City, and we were able to spring Mom out of the hospital around 3:00. She looked so much better than the day before! Night and day difference.

So far she has done great. She is sleeping through the night and only taking one Tylenol with Codeine each night before bed. Otherwise she uses regular Tylenol during the day. We are very grateful for all the love and prayers people have sent her way. Obviously someone was listening! I have been enjoying having this time alone with my in-laws without the rest of my family here. But it will be nice to see Jim on Thursday.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

What a Crock!

Peach Butter
After finishing up with the cupcake challenge on Sunday, it was time to turn my attention to the 40 peaches that were sitting in the garage for ripening. Since I had already canned the other batch of peaches, this group was destined to become peach butter. Making peach butter is usually an all day ordeal as the concoction has to slowly cook, while quickly splashing every nearby surface with sticky goo, for hours. To my initial delight, I had found a recipe that enables you to use the crock pot. While there is still splattering involved, the website declared that you could put your peach mixture in the pot and cook it on medium all night (up to 12 hours), and then can the next morning. Woo, hoo! No more standing over a hot stove frequently stirring the peaches so they wouldn't burn on the bottom of the pan.

I followed the instructions, except that my crock pot has two settings: low and high. No medium. Hmmm...I elected to go with low since I knew I could let it cook a while longer in the morning if need be. The mixture is supposed to reduce by half. At 8:00 Monday morning it had maybe reduced an inch. This was 12 hours into the cooking time. I bumped my setting up to high and by 2:00 in the afternoon I still had a soupy mess. So out came two large pots and I ended up cooking it on the stove the rest of the afternoon anyway. What a crock! And the biggest sad side note to the whole story is that I only got 6 pints out of the whole batch. Such a lot of work for so little reward. Every year I wonder why I go to all the trouble when you can buy a jar of peach butter for a few bucks at the store. But then in the middle of the winter when we open up a jar I think, "Oh yeah, this is why I do it!" It is incredibly good stuff. So I might need to make another batch while peaches are in season.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Cupcake Update

So I got my batch of cupcakes made this morning. I waited until all three of the tasters were present for us each to try one. And the result is.... Sorry, you will have to wait until after the Explorers program closes to hear my review. But I can tell you that I was able to take the remaining cupcakes and frost them with Stef's recommendation of her chocolate cream cheese frosting. Here is what they looked like:

I have quite a bit of the frosting left. What shall I make next?

Cupcake Project Explorers

I was very excited to find out this morning that I was one of 50 people selected by the Cupcake Project to test what she hopes will be the Ultimate Vanilla Cupcake recipe. When Stef posted on her blog that she was looking for 50 people to be Cupcake Project Explorers, never did she imagine that she would end up with nearly 700 people throwing their oven mitts into the ring! As she narrowed down the list of hopefuls, she wanted to have a nice mix of novice, intermediate and expert bakers. I admitted in my submission that I have NEVER made a cupcake from scratch. A sad but very true statement. I suspect that is one of the reasons that I was chosen. But whatever the reason, I can't wait to mix things up!

In a nutshell, the rules are that we must follow the recipe exactly, we must make the cupcakes between July 17th and July 23rd, a feedback survey must be completed, and we cannot release the recipe until after Stef gives us the go-ahead. If 80% or more of the Explorers agree that this is the Ultimate Vanilla Cupcake, then Stef will declare it as such and let us release the recipe. If not, she will make modifications and the Explorers will try again. The Explorers are allowed to talk about the project however, so I am blogging, tweeting and Google-plusing about my experience.

My first step this morning was to come up with a name for myself during this experience. Kim the Explorer does not have the same ring as Dora the Explorer. Stef suggested Wolter the Explorer, so I shall hence become known as Wolter the Explorer. (At least for today.) Next up was a trip to the store as I did not have all the necessary ingredients on hand. I was chatting with my favorite checker about the test, and he was trying to convince me to bring a cupcake up to him so that he could lend his "expert" opinion. Ha! I told him I would let him know how they turned out next time I see him.

My batch of cupcakes is now in the oven. I will post an update later today.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Everything is Just Peachy

My daughter had her wisdom teeth taken out last Thursday. Did you know that, according to her oral surgeon, wisdom teeth are named such because they appear around the age of 18 when people should be gaining wisdom? Who thought of that crock of crap? At any rate, things went pretty well except for the fact that both nasal cavities were nicked in attempting to remove the long roots of the upper teeth. So she has a couple of stitches there as well as in her gums, and isn't supposed to blow her nose for a week. Good thing she was already over her cold. After seeing all she has gone through, I am really grateful that I never needed to have mine removed. I have all four but they never came down, and don't bother me at all. She is flying to Chicago on Wednesday to interview with 3 people at a communications agency that has offered her an internship in Shanghai while she is studying there this fall. This is the same agency that her class worked with in Prague this summer, so obviously they were impressed with her. I just hope that the flight poses no problems for her mouth. The surgeon said it was okay for her to fly.

Around playing Nurse Nancy, I picked up some peaches at the Kirkwood Farmers Market on Saturday. The vendor assured me that the peaches (which were seconds) would be ready to can on Sunday. Hah! They were barely ready to be canned today. It took me three hours to get the job done, and all I have to show for it are six quarts and one pint of peaches. Every year I wonder why I go to the trouble, but then in the winter when we open them up I remember why. So nice to have fresh peaches in the winter. I also make peach butter every year, so I need to go back out and get a second batch of peaches. I should have made the peach butter first, because it is an all-day ordeal as you have to cook the peaches for hours before canning them. Oh well. The peach butter is definitely worth all the work. I think I will wait for the weekend because then I might be able to coerce Jim into helping me peel and de-pit the peaches. Hate that part!

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Happy Birthday, America!

This past weekend seemed really long, which is a good thing. Saturday night we finally got around to celebrating Father's Day. Katie was in Prague and Jim on his motorcycle trip on the actual day. We took Jim to a new restaurant in Webster Groves called The Block. It is an interesting concept in that they have a small butcher shop inside the restaurant. So if you love their pork chops, say, you can buy fresh pork chops to go and they will tell you how to prepare them. It took me forever to locate their website (not good, restaurant owner!) so that I could see what their menu looks like. They bill themselves as a family restaurant, but the menu is definitely not kid-friendly. When my kids were young, they would not have liked anything on the menu. I never could find the hours on the website, so I had to call to see when they are open. (Not good, restaurant owner!)

When we arrived a little after 5:00 (this being the time they open), all of the wait staff was sitting in the dining room going over the specials for the evening. We were seated anyway, which was more than a little weird. I ordered the burger and fries with coleslaw, Katie got the mussels appetizer (see what traveling abroad does?), and Jim got the pork chops. I am not a very adventuresome eater, thus my dinner decision. But the burger was grass fed beef with a strange little spice in it, the fries had salt and pepper and something else on them - maybe sage or oregano? - and I don't know what was up with the slaw, which I usually love. Katie said her mussels were good, though not as fresh as Europe. Go figure, right? Jim loved his meal. So there you go...I would not rush back there, which is too bad. I like patronizing the local businesses.

The Block        

On Sunday we drove about 30 minutes from St. Louis to a friend's lake house. The day had been sunny and hotter than Hades, and we were looking forward to a boat ride and swimming in the lake. As we were driving, lightning lit up the sky and it began to rain. And it rained for the entire time we were there. So we were cooped up in a small house with 7 adults and 3 kids. But we played games and were still able to grill, so it turned out fine.

On the 4th Jim, Kirby and I walked over early to claim our spot on Gore for the Webster Groves parade. Fortunately I had brought umbrellas, as we ended up getting a nice little downpour for a bit. People improvised on keeping dry as you can see in the pictures.

But they were still able to get the parade in, and in fact it was not so ungodly hot for a change. Then in the evening we walked up to the railroad tracks behind Schnucks to watch the evening fireworks. I drug my tripod along as I wanted to see if I could get any decent photos of the fireworks if I used it. The show was really good, but only lasted 15 minutes. We spent that much time trying to navigate through the crowds to walk home. Is it really worth it? I found a super nice cell phone on the tracks as we were leaving, and debated what to do with it. The owner might come back for it. Or one of the PAS persons might steal it. Do I take it home? Take it into Schnucks and turn it in to the courtesy counter? I ended up bringing it back to the house with us. We turned it on and went through the contacts until we found Home. I called that number and probably really confused the man who answered the phone. He thought it might be his father-in-law's phone, which made no sense to me. Katie said it looked like a woman's phone, not a man's. I gave him my name and phone number to call if someone in his house reported it missing. Then the cell phone rang. To answer or not to answer, that is the question. Thinking it was probably just a friend calling, we didn't answer it. Katie went into the Facebook account through the phone and found the gal's name, along with the fact that she recently married the guy who had just tried calling the phone. (All of this felt like a huge invasion of privacy to me, but I couldn't see any way around it.) So I called him back and explained where I had found the phone. They had just been walking the tracks looking for it so they were still in the area, thankfully. They came by to pick it up, and we learned that they just bought a house a couple blocks away from us. They will be moving into it as soon as it passes inspection. All's well that ends well.