Monday, December 30, 2013

A Technological Christmas

Andy and Megan made it safely to our house on December 23rd, and we celebrated with Andy's favorite meal of Imo's Pizza. It is a must-have when he comes to town, so we figured we would just get it out of the way. On Christmas Eve Jim and I got a workout in at the rec center before the day's festivities began. I made my traditional Italian beef for supper, followed by our new tradition of Cranberry Cosmopolitans while opening gifts. As I mentioned before, Katie was unable to come home due to lack of vacation days, so we did the next best thing. I put my Macbook on the entry foyer steps where she normally sits during our gift exchange, with a Cosmo next to the computer for a virtual toast. Through the miracle of Skype we set up the laptop and my iPad so that she could see us opening the presents and we, in turn, could watch her open her gifts. It amazes me that we could keep in contact with her for over two hours at absolutely no cost to anyone. Thank you, inventor of Skype! Below is a fun gift I received to commemorate my trip to Switzerland this year. I really need to find the connection between this Kubler family and mine!

Kubler Absinthe
MoBot Train
While the kids were here we made our annual trip to the flower and train show at the Missouri Botanical Garden. It was lovely as always, and surprisingly uncrowded on the day after Christmas. We also visited the Art Museum to see the new addition for the first time. While I am not a fan of the architecture it was interesting to see the new exhibition space. I particularly like the exhibit shown below that looked like a fabric quilt but was in fact made from liquor bottle caps. The interactive glass block exhibit is cool as well.

Jim on repeat

I was, however, very offended by this painting.

Jim and I fly out to Los Angeles tomorrow to bring in the New Year with Katie. Kirby will remain here with his favorite dog sitters though he always prefers to be with Jim. Speaking of Kirby, here is the gift I had made for Jim. He loved it, as you might imagine.

Kirby mug
Happy New Year to my readers. May 2014 be everything you hope for and desire!

Friday, December 13, 2013

How Does Your Garden Glow?

For the first time ever the Missouri Botanical Garden is lighting up the night with hundreds of thousands of lights. I have had the opportunity to attend the Garden Glow twice so far, once on corporate sponsor night, and once for a photography class. Both nights were very cold, but that just adds to the ambiance of an outdoor light show. There is something so magical about walking through a large light display rather than just riding through it in your car. In keeping with their sustainable practices, the displays consist of energy-efficient LED lights. They are also using solar panels to recharge the AA batteries that power the lights. For the most part this seems to be working, although one path on my second night there was dark for a bit. I am sure that some tweaking will fix the issue. I highly recommend going to the Garden Glow, and pick a cold night if you can stand it. The crowds are much smaller, and there are warming fire pits throughout the displays. It is certain to get you in the Christmas spirit!

Friday, December 6, 2013

A Non-traditional Thanksgiving

Leavin' on a jet plane
When Jim and I were first married we alternated holidays with our parents on Thanksgiving and Christmas. We did not live in the same state as them, so both trips involved fairly long drives. The weather was often a problem for us. A few years after we had Andy, we decided it was too much to make both of those trips, so we stopped traveling on Thanksgiving. Sometimes whichever set of parents was not going to see us at Christmas came and visited us for Thanksgiving.

Andy and Megan have had the same tradition going since they got married, except they would normally fly home for Thanksgiving since it is a long drive from the Washington, DC area. This year they decided to stay in DC for Thanksgiving, as they will have a longer break at Christmas and will be able to spend several days with both families at that time. Jim and I flew out to see them instead. We have never flown on this holiday before, and so we were part of the 43.5 million people flying for Thanksgiving. Somehow we were given TSA pre-check clearance for the flight, and didn't have to stand in the long security line.

Since Katie is relatively new at her job, she did not have any time off accrued. But her boss said that if anyone wanted to work Thanksgiving day (it is an international company so their customers would not be closed), they could take Friday off instead. So she worked that day and then took a red eye from Los Angeles to DC, arriving around 6:00 a.m. Friday morning.

Washington Memorial
We got in Wednesday around dinner time, so Andy and Megan picked us up and we went out to eat. We decided to celebrate Thanksgiving on Friday when Katie could join us, so on Thursday we went downtown to look around. It was surprisingly busy considering most people should have been at home making their turkey dinners.

Friday was kind of a lazy day. The kids hit some door buster sales, but didn't really find too much. Jim and I took a long walk on a wonderful trail that is right by Andy and Megan's condo. We came upon a dog park that had to be five acres in size. It was amazing to see all the dogs playing with each other. For our Thanksgiving meal, Megan prepared Cornish hens with dressing, mashed potatoes and gravy, a lettuce salad, and green bean casserole. For dessert, Katie made sweet potato cupcakes with toasted marshmallow frosting, and Megan made a chocolate mousse pie. Delicious!

Thanksgiving Dinner
On Saturday we went back downtown to the United States Botanic Garden Conservatory. None of us had been there before. Part of the gardens are outside, but most of the displays are inside. As it was quite chilly, we were thankful for that. It was very crowded, but we managed to enjoy the experience anyway. From there I had suggested that we go see the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, which is across from Catholic University. I had seen reviews on TripAdvisor that said it was nicer than the Cathedral Basilica St. Louis, and I just couldn't imagine that being the case. I also commented on the fact that we always seem to seek out churches when we travel abroad and never take the time to see the ones here in the United States. Am I glad we went to see it! It is truly beautiful, and is at least on par with the cathedral here in St. Louis in the interior anyway.

Immaculate Conception Interior

Immaculate Conception
That night we had pizza in the condo, and played Five Crowns which is a card game. Jim and I played it for the first time this summer, so I picked up the game for the trip. We had a lot of fun playing, but I am just going to say that my family is pretty competitive!

Jim and I had a noon flight on Sunday, so after breakfast the kids took us to the airport. It was an easy traveling experience, despite the crowds. Katie's flight was early Monday morning, so the three of them had some time alone together, which was nice. They went to see the new Hunger Games movie, and then played cards that night.

It is hard to believe in a few short weeks Andy and Megan will be driving here for Christmas. We will miss Katie this year as she is unable to get any time off, and that makes me sad. Sounds like we will be having a non-traditional Christmas this year, too.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Born Too Soon

Today is a sad day in our family, as we should have been rejoicing the birth of a new baby girl. This was my niece's due date. Instead little Merida died during the beginning of the 5th month of pregnancy. No reason that anyone can see; she was perfectly formed when they forced the delivery back in June. It is impossible to understand. My niece has been taking it very hard, which is totally understandable. We live a great distance apart so I have been limited in the support I can offer. My thoughts and prayers have been with her and her family every single day. But on this hardest of all days I wrote a poem for Merida and posted it on my niece's Facebook wall.


There were no cries
Never got to look into her eyes
Held only for a little while
She was born too soon.

We ask the question why
Barely had time to say good-bye
She was perfect in every way
She was born too soon.

Missed every single day
The heartache won’t go away
For the daughter, sister, niece
She was born too soon.

Now rocked by angels above
Our hearts are filled with love
Gone but never forgotten
She was born too soon.

Friday, November 15, 2013

St. Louis Outlet Malls

My friend was off work Monday for Veteran's Day, so we decided to check out the two new outlet centers in the St. Louis area. Like a lot of people, I am curious to see if the area can support two of these malls. And I fervently hope they are not the kiss of death for Chesterfield Mall.  We decided to stop first at Taubman Prestige Outlets, which is accessed via I-64 from the Boone's Crossing exit. Traffic was slow in the right lane exiting onto Boone's Crossing, but sadly for the center most people turned left heading to Chesterfield Commons rather than right towards Taubman Prestige Outlets. Once we arrived at the center the parking lot was quite empty.

The center is set up in a horizontal fashion, similar to a strip mall, with two rows of stores facing each other. Currently there are 48 stores open, with a few more stating that they are coming soon. Billed as a dog friendly destination, there are numerous watering stations for dogs as well as waste disposal bags. As there is no grassy area, it doesn't take much imagination to figure out where the dogs will be doing their business. I have a dog, but this is not a place I can see taking him. Not every store allows you to bring dogs inside, and I would never tie him up while I shopped. Three restaurants are open in the food court: Japanese, Chinese and Italian. We decided to see what was offered at the other center, so we did not eat here.

I was hoping to get some Christmas shopping done, but all I ended up buying was a chew antler at the pet store for the dog and a card game at the game store to play over Thanksgiving.

dog station

one of several dog sculptures

children's play area
Next we headed over to St. Louis Premium Outlets. We hopped back on I-64 at Boone's Crossing and drove west to the next exit, Long Road. After crossing back over the highway, you turn right on Chesterfield Airport Road and follow the signs to the shopping center. The differences in the two centers was noticable immediately. The parking lots here were packed! The layout of the center to accomodate the 90 stores is very different as well. There are three rows of stores, with anchor buildings on each end. The center just has a whole different vibe to it. We went first to the food court since it was lunch time. There are five places serving food inside, and they are typical of the restaurants you would find in any mall food court. Hopefully there is a plan to open up restaurants near this center as well as the other one.

After eating we went in quite a few of the stores. My assessment is that the pricing does not appear to be much better than if you went into these stores in a mall location, particularly when the mall stores have a sale going on. I will add, however, that the Christopher & Banks store at this location is larger than any I have ever been in before, so that was something at least.

The bottom line for me is that I will not make the drive again to go shopping, unless I have guests visiting and they want to go out there. And if we only have time to make one stop, it would definitely be at the St. Louis Premium Outlet due to the larger variety of stores and general overall feel of the center.

fireplace & seating area

one leg of the center


Monday, November 4, 2013

Fall Colors and More

The fall colors in our area have not been as outstanding as in past years, but nevertheless this is my favorite season and I like going for a drive to photograph the changing landscape. We decided to combine a fall drive with a genealogy trip, something I am not able to talk my husband into very often. But he doesn't mind visiting cemeteries, so he was okay with coming along for the ride to an old cemetery. I have been tugging on a branch of my dad's tree recently, and found a link to some ancestors who are buried in the Denson Pioneer Cemetery located just north of Ursa, Illinois. The Hightower family can be traced back to early Virginia in the 1600s, and beyond that to the 1500s in England and Ireland. Of course, there is the small matter that I have to prove the lineage.

George Hightower, my fourth great-grandfather, and his family moved from Virginia to Kentucky sometime before the 1800 census was taken. George and his wife then moved to Ursa, Illinois prior to 1840, and two of their six adult children also moved there during this time period. I found the burial information on the on the website I highly recommend this website if you haven't already checked it out. Volunteers are photographing headstones, transcribing them and putting them on this website. It is very helpful in corroborating death dates and/or locating exactly where your ancestors are buried. Often family associations are listed in the description of the deceased as well.

Kirby in the pumpkin patch
We took a leisurely drive to Ursa on Sunday, stopping whenever the mood struck to take photographs. I feel fortunate that my husband is just as enthusiastic about taking pictures as I am. Otherwise, one of us would not have been having a good time yesterday. We took the dog along, and he is definitely not as enamored with pausing for photo ops. He also did something at the cemetery that probably has resulted in him not going along for the ride in the future. More on that below.

The fall colors actually seemed a little prettier the further north we traveled. The area near Hannibal was the nicest I have seen anywhere this fall. Mark Twain would definitely have had something to write about had he been looking at the beautiful colors this weekend.

Denson Pioneer Cemetery sign
We arrived at the cemetery shortly after lunch. I am glad that the findagrave website included instructions on how to get to it, as I have no doubt I would have been unable to locate it on my own. You exit the county highway onto a tractor path to reach the small cemetery, which is completely surrounded by cornfields. The farmer had already mowed down the corn stalks, which made me wonder if you could even see the cemetery during the spring and summer months. I wasn't sure exactly where my family members were buried in the cemetery but I needn't have worried as it is quite small.  We found the headstones rather quickly. The state of the stones is quite sad, and not just the ones belonging to my ancestors. You can tell that a veterans group (most likely) is replacing the stones of the men who served in the Civil War, as they look pretty new. But many of the remaining stones are broken and/or toppled over. I don't think it is vandalism but instead is the result of years of the elements taking their toll on the limestone or sandstone markers. Here are the stones of George and his wife, Frances Ann (Hall) Hightower, along with their son Austin and his wife Mary (Caldwell) Hightower. Also we found George and Frances Ann's daughter Mary and her husband John Riddel. And while we were photographing the stones, the dog decided to take a roll in the hay, so to speak. Unfortunately it wasn't hay but horse manure he found. Why someone was riding a horse in this precious cemetery is anyone's guess. Let me just say that it was an extremely long ride home with a smelly dog.

Mary Hightower              

Austin Hightower

John Riddel

Mary Riddel

Frances Ann Hightower                                                                                                    

George Hightower

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Cardinal Dynasty Versus the Duck Dynasty

Missouri Botanical Garden
If you live in St. Louis, you can't help but get caught up in everything that is Cardinals fever. After all, this is a baseball town, and when your team is going for the World Series championship for the 12th time, it is a big deal. They paint the town...well, red.

Jim and Andy
Our son flew in from Washington, D.C. to see his first ever World Series game with Jim. They were lucky enough to be at Saturday night's game, where the Cardinals won 5-4 with the now notorious obstruction call. They definitely saw a game that will be in the history books. The game that Jim and I saw last night? Not so much.
Jim and me at game 5

Yesterday was my birthday, and it was fun to celebrate it at a World Series game. Call me greedy, but I was hoping for a Cardinals victory as the icing on my birthday cake, so to speak. Instead the game was fairly ho-hum. Our defense was excellent, but our offense was just not there. The Red Sox deserved to win, that is for sure. But it was rather unpleasant to have four Sox fans right in front of us, and one loud-mouthed Red Sox fan a few rows back.

Willie Robertson
You know that it is a mediocre game when the fans are more interested in seeing what Duck Dynasty star Willie Robertson is up to rather than watching the critical game. In case you are wondering, Duck Dynasty is a reality show on television showcasing the Robertson family and their company that makes products for duck hunters. Yes, really. I have to admit that at times Willie was more entertaining the our boys in red.

While it is always a sight to see the Clydesdales parade around the warning track at Busch Stadium, the highlight of the night for me came when Tech Sergeant Angie Johnson sang "God Bless America" in the 7th inning. I have been following Angie since she was a contestant on Cee Lo's team on The Voice in 2012. I think she has amazing talent, and is just overall a really good person. In fact I believe so strongly in her that I backed a Kickstarter campaign she set up in order to record an album. She was so successful in that endeavor that she was ultimately picked up by Sony Music Nashville and her first CD is out. The fact that she is a Missouri gal and serves in the Missouri National Guard makes her all the more endearing to Show Me State fans.

So I am now a year older but the Cardinals are not a game closer to the World Series title. It will be interesting to see what the rest of 2013 holds in store for us.

Game 5 rally towel

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Who Let the Dog Out?

My husband took one of his week-long motorcycle trips with a couple of buddies last week. When he returned on Friday we hurriedly ate dinner and did the dishes because we were going to see "Evita" at the Fox Theatre that night. He took the dog out for a short walk before we left, and when he came back I noticed that he was pulling oddly on the dog's leash by the back steps. When I took a closer look I couldn't believe my eyes. Dangling from Kirby's collar was a dead squirrel. Oops! I forgot to warn Jim that there was a squirrel carcass in the driveway of our neighbor. It had been there over a week and they had not bothered to pick it up. I knew to cross the street before getting to that point because of course the dog immediately goes to anything that smells disgusting. But in the dark Jim did not see trouble up ahead. How in the world the thing got tangled in the dog's collar is a mystery. I imagine he rolled around on it.

So, how to get the squirrel off the collar without getting the dog worked up about it? I grabbed a broom (my good one, unfortunately) and swatted the squirrel with it. That worked, and gave me a whole new meaning to the term "flying squirrel". We then pulled the dog into the house, and oh my! The smell! It was all over the dog's face and neck, his collar, his leash, and my broom. We did a quick job of washing Kirby's face and leash, and I threw his collar in a cup with some detergent. The broom is still outside. It may not be salvageable. The dog's bath had to wait until after the play, so one can only imagine what else he rubbed himself on in the house while we were gone. Yuck! It is a good thing he is so cute, that is all I am going to say.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Putting Leaves on the Family Tree

Fall Maple tree
Since returning from my trip to Germany and Switzerland I have been spending a significant amount of time labeling my more than 2,000 photos and going through the various books, papers and DVDs provided to me by the wonderful hosts in my hometowns. I am so grateful that I sent emails home almost daily, documenting my adventures and including photos. Between the emails and my blog posts I have been able to identify most of the photos. Remembering the food in the photos would have been a big challenge without this help.

Rolf in Switzerland sent me a gedcom file of all of the Kubler names and dates he has found so far. (A gedcom file is basically a universal file format that allows you to share genealogical data between different genealogy software programs.) Theoretically, anyway. I was unable to get my software, Family Treemaker, to open the gedcom file, so I downloaded a free software program called Family Tree Builder. I think that is the software that Rolf was using, but I am not positive about that. With this free software I was able to open and import the file Rolf sent to me. The file contains 300 names, and probably more than 275 of those were new to me. The new names I then had to type into Family Treemaker so that all my tree would be in one place.

In placing all these new leaves on my family tree I was able to see the relationship between me and the cousins that I met while there. For example Josef and Susanne Kubler, who graciously had dinner with me twice while I was in Busserach, are my sixth cousins, once removed. How fun is that?

I am still working my way through the data provided to me in Insheim, Germany. I hope to finish up with that side of the family this weekend. Then I will concentrate on uploading my photos to so that I can put together a book about my trip while the memories are still fresh. It will be a joy to relive the trip through my photo book.

Monday, September 30, 2013

My Fairytale Trip and a Visit to the Palace

Before I get to my visit to the palace, I want to post a few photos of Speyer, where I stayed the last three nights of my trip. The rest of my tour group had arrived there on Friday, September 20th while I was in Switzerland. The only opportunity I had to look around Speyer was when I arrived from Switzerland on Sunday. There was so much to see in this city! It is one of the oldest cities in Germany with a beautiful old town area.

Speyer Cathedral

Cathedral interior

Street scene

Entrance gate

Through the gate
Entrance gates
Okay, my last full day in Germany was appropriately a visit to a palace - the Schwetzingen Palace to be exact. Located in Schwetzingen, Germany this palace was a simple summer home as the main palace in Mannheim consisted of a total floor area of six hectares (approximately 14.8 acres)! I didn't see a statistic on the size of Schwetzingen Palace, but some 40 rooms are open to the public for touring. We were not allowed to take photographs inside the palace, but truly the exterior gardens were the show stoppers anyway.

Facing palace left
Facing palace center

Facing palace right
Sculptured hedge
Pruned trees line a walkway
One of the 100 sculptures

View from the back of the palace
Fountain - one of many

Me on a bridge
Reflection in the lake
Seven of us traveled by train to Frankfurt on the 25th, and then on the same plane to Charlotte before going our separate ways back home. It seems appropriate to end my postings about this trip with this picture. Because as I reflect back on my travels the past two weeks searching for my ancestors and trying to understand the places they came from and why they left all that they knew behind, I learned something else as well. My family tree is no longer a flat piece of paper filled with names, dates and places. Those names were once people with hopes and dreams, joys and sorrows. And they are MY people. As I walked their streets, photographed their homes, cemeteries and places of worship, I could almost feel them beside me. Like the people in each of the towns I visited who were thrilled that someone from America was interested in where their ancestors came from, I sensed that my relatives, too, loved the fact that I had come to their "home". As I gazed around me I couldn't help but wonder about the last time that their eyes looked upon everything that they knew and loved. What was it like on that last day, knowing that most likely you would never see your family, friends or the land you loved again? I can only imagine, but I am so grateful for the opportunity to see their homeland through my own eyes. In sum, I went to Germany and Switzerland seeking my ancestors but I found a piece of myself as well. Until we meet again...