Monday, December 28, 2015

Family Fun at Christmas

Crown Candy Kitchen
On Tuesday the 22nd I took Andy and Megan to Crown Candy Kitchen so they could experience for the first time the yummy goodness of St. Louis' oldest candy store. Normally I get the BLT sandwich, which is so huge that I never order any ice cream to go with it. Megan and I decided to split a sandwich so that we could each get a shake, too. For the second time in a row I actually received a BL sandwich - there was no tomato. I really didn't mind as the tomatoes this time of year are usually not that good, but I probably should have said something. Andy noticed that the people in the booth behind us had tomato on their sandwiches. Strange... Megan and Andy were both amazed at the size of the BL, and of the shakes as well. I ended up taking more than half of my chocolate shake home with me.

BLT sandwich

BLT side view

We had barely walked in the door when Jim and Katie arrived from their trip to Iowa. Perfect timing! After spending time catching up, we had dinner and then played some card games.

Wednesday night it was our intention to drive through Tilles Park to see the Winter Wonderland lights. Apparently everyone else in St. Louis had the same idea. The cars were lined up from the park all the way beyond I-64, and both exit ramps on the interstate were backed up as far as the eye could see. When we saw a man's car overheat while waiting in line, we decided we were not going to wait to see what kind of additional back log that created. Instead we hopped on I-64 and went to Candy Cane Lane in the city. Located near Ted Drewes, this neighborhood tries to outdo itself each year. Two other streets, Angel Avenue and Snow Flake Street, are in the competition as well. The area is well worth seeing, with the added bonus of being near our favorite frozen custard stand, Ted Drewes. We stopped there for dessert, which in this case happened to be before dinner.

Candy Cane Lane
Ted Drewes
Gardenland Express
Thursday we headed out early to the Missouri Botanical Garden for one of our annual family traditions of visiting Gardenland Express, the indoor train exhibit that is set up each year at the garden. We all agreed that this was one of their better years. It was not at all crowded, and you could actually spend time admiring each of the different exhibits without a bunch of people in your way.

We decided to see if our lack of crowds luck would hold, and traveled next to the St. Louis Zoo. With the mild weather, I expected it to be packed. But we scored a parking spot along the street right outside the zoo, which indicated that not too many people were visiting the zoo on Christmas Eve. Jim's firm had worked on the design of the new polar bear exhibit, and none of us had seen it yet. It was nice to be able to check it out with the kids along. There is only one polar bear in the pen, but I understand that the males are pretty territorial so he may not have to ever share his space. He seemed content enough, I suppose. At any rate, it was a nice day to stroll through the zoo.

polar bear exhibit
St. Louis Zoo
Saturday I invited my sister and her family over to see the kids in the afternoon. They hadn't seen Katie for several years, so it is nice that the timetable worked out for some of them at least. We took one last family photo in front of the fireplace before Megan and Andy left that night to drive the three hours to her mom & dad's house in Indiana. Then at 6:30 Sunday morning we drove Katie to the airport to catch her plane back to LA. Now the house is all quiet again, and I am catching up on cleaning and doing laundry after having company for over a week. But what a great time we had!

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Bud Light Night

Anheuser-Busch Brewery
The Anheuser-Busch Brewery has put up Christmas lights at its St. Louis headquarters for the past 30 years. Visitors were allowed to drive their cars through the campus to admire the lights. Recently they added a walking tour feature. You can stand in line to get a wrist band, which entitles you to five free A-B products. If you aren't interested in the drinks, you can basically just walk right into the visitors center and then onto the grounds. Andy, Megan and I went on Sunday night as the walking tours are only available Thursday-Sunday. We arrived at 5:00 when it opens, and had a 20 minute wait to get our wrist bands. I have to say, it was well worth it. The evening was pretty mild, but they do have fire pits (you could purchase a s'mores kit if you so desired) as well as portable heaters set up so that you could warm up.

It was crowded, but not prohibitively so, and it was so much nicer to be able to view the lights at a walking pace instead of being in a line of cars. As the designated driver, I did not use all of my drink tickets, but I did enjoy trying the Bud Light Mang-O-Rita. We love the Lime-A-Rita flavor, and I have to say the mango is excellent as well. In fact, I bought a case the next day at the grocery store, so the A-B marketing plan is working well. Our original intention was to purchase some St. Louis cuisine at the visitors center for dinner, but the place was packed! We did not see any place to sit and eat, so we decided instead to go to a neighborhood restaurant by our house. While we didn't have a problem finding a place to park in the brewery lot when we arrived, by the time we left we could have sold our parking space. The line of cars waiting to get into and out of the lot was insane! So here is my bonus tip for visiting the brewery lights. Head towards the east end of the parking lot where the employee gates are located. As you approach the gate, it will automatically rise. No lines, no wait. You're welcome!

Brewery Lights

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

'Tis the Season

decorated mantle
The decorations are up, the Christmas cards are in the mail, and all of the presents have been purchased and wrapped, except for the ones that are still in transit from their various websites. I still need to clean the house, buy all the groceries and do my baking, but I am feeling pretty good about where I stand right now. Katie arrives late Friday night, and she and Jim are making an impromptu trip up to Iowa for a few days to see the grandparents. She has not been with them since her graduation in 2009, and she expressed a desire to go to Charles City. In the meantime, I will finish up things around here and meet Andy and Megan when they arrive on Sunday.

This week is packed with parties and dinner engagements, so I have a feeling time will fly by. The Women in Focus photography group had a party at the president's house. She requested that we each bring a 5x7 or 8x10 of one of our pictures in a plain envelope for a gift exchange. What a fun idea! I agonized over what photo to print as many of the women are extremely talented. I settled on an 8x10 of one of my butterfly photos because I figured that would appeal to anyone. It was taken in a cemetery in Louisville this summer. The lady who got it seemed to like it. The envelope I chose actually contained two 5x7 prints, representing the "Power" and "Light" signs that are etched into the old Union Electric building downtown along the north riverfront. It was fun to see all the pictures that people brought.

my picture 

interesting tree
Speaking of pictures, a friend called me up last Friday morning when the fog was as thick as pea soup and asked if I wanted to go shoot some photos at Bellefontaine Cemetery. Of course I said yes, and it was so odd because while there was a lot of fog on the way there, in the cemetery itself the fog was almost non-existent. The lighting was pretty moody, so I guess it was okay. I did find this tree to be very interesting, with its curly branches.

After we were done at the cemetery we grabbed some lunch at Crown Candy Kitchen. The line to get in was surprisingly short. I have never gotten seated so quickly there. Then my friend drove us to Wellston as there was an old trolley station that she thought I would enjoy seeing. Built around the turn of the century (I have seen 1901 and 1909 dates used), the Wellston Station must have been beautiful in its prime. It is in such disrepair that I doubt it could be saved at this point. What a shame!

Wellston Station

Friday, December 4, 2015

Much to be Thankful For

Lambert St. Louis Airport
We traveled to the Washington, DC area for Thanksgiving this year. We actually did this two years ago as well, and after that trip I swore I would not travel during one of the busiest flying time periods again. I am still a little baffled as to how this trip came to pass. But we had a travel voucher, and the kids had purchased a new home and a new puppy, so there you have it. We flew out on Wednesday, which surprisingly was not a blackout date for the voucher. When I checked into our flights Tuesday afternoon, I was elated that we each got TSA Pre-check. No long lines for us - yay! But when we arrived at the airport and went to check our bags, the place was empty! What the heck? Where were all the people? They certainly were not in the security line either, as we walked right through. No TSA was even necessary. As our flight was delayed and we had planned extra time due to the holiday, I was really grateful that we had a free pass to the Admirals Club. We were able to sit and enjoy coffee/tea, free wifi and snacks while waiting until it was time to board.

The flight was pretty uneventful, and Andy picked us up at the airport. Because there were three of us in his truck, he could use the HOV (high occupancy vehicle) lane, so traveling to his home was a breeze. Before we could check out the house, we first had to check out this guy.

Isn't he adorable? He is a seven month old papipoo - half papillon and half miniature poodle. He weighs all of seven pounds, and is so sweet. Jim and I enjoyed taking him for long walks to nearby Lake Accotink Park. With 493 acres and a 55 acre lake, we did not see it all but really enjoyed walking the hilly trails.

carousel in the park
Lake Accotink Park

Katie flew in from Los Angeles on Thursday afternoon, so we actually had our Thanksgiving dinner on Friday. It was Megan's first time making the full, traditional meal, and she did a great job!
Jim, me, Andy, Megan & Katie

We did some sight-seeing, including going to a couple of wineries, and played some card games in the evenings. Katie left on Monday to fly home, but with our voucher we could not leave until Tuesday. We did not get TSA Pre-check for the flight home, but the security line was not too long anyway. As our flight was delayed two hours, we were thankful to have a second pass for the Admirals Club.

We arrived home to find out that the furnace on the first floor had gone out. Fortunately the house sitter only had to put up with the chill for one day. That was not the case for us, but fortunately we have zoned heating and cooling, so the second floor was nice and toasty. Regardless, it was good to be home.

St. Louis