Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Day Three - the Land of Lincoln

Before we left St. Louis this morning, we walked across the street from our hotel to see the St. Louis Gateway Arch, the largest national monument in the United States, standing at 630 feet. None of the pictures I'd seen of this over-17,000-ton stainless steel structure prepared me for how magnificent it truly is. There's a tram that goes to the top, but two of us out-voted the third to NOT take the ride. With Luke's fear of elevators and my fear of heights, it didn't sound the least appealing to either one of us! The view was just beautiful from the ground, thank-you-very-much.

I had no idea that an entire museum lay beneath the ground between the two "legs" of the arch. The Museum of Westward Expansion is worth taking several hours to see. I was disappointed that I didn't plan more time there. It covers the entire history of our country's westward expansion and has some lively exhibits about St. Louis history. There are several dioramas with life-like robotic characters that each tell their story in history.

We took a final spin around the city, catching a glimpse of the stadium where the St. Louis Rams play, and then took I-72 up to Springfield, Illinois, to see the Lincoln Museum and Library.

The exhibits in the Lincoln Museum were stunning and we were informed and entertained by two presentations in the theaters there, each incorporating holograms and special effects. One exhibit room is filled with artifacts from significant events in the Lincolns' lives. To see the very hat that Lincoln wore, impressions from his own fingers worn in the brim, from 'tipping' his hat to people, was indescribable. The gloves that were in his pocket the night he was shot, stained with his blood. The dishes Mary Todd Lincoln ordered for the White House. It brought to life this couple who had previously been distant historical figures in my mind.
A few blocks from the museum is the Lincoln home, the only house the family owned and their residence for the 17 years prior to Abraham Lincoln's presidency.

Today was definitely a long day and probably the busiest of our road trip. It was nice to get to our hotel, have some supper at the Applebee's next door, and the kids took a dip in the pool. Tomorrow is a light travel day, so we'll sleep in a bit in the morning!

Monday, June 29, 2009

Day Two, St. Joe's to St. Louis

St. Joseph, Missouri, is located in the northeastern corner of the state, just over the eastern border of Kansas. The city is famous for being the original station for the Pony Express. A monument to this American institution graces a patch of lawn in the middle of an otherwise sea of concrete, a somewhat depressed area that is St. Joseph. Older, ornate buildings from the city’s past stand proudly, if a bit forlorn, in stark contrast to parking garages and boxy shaped, modern buildings. Highways and byways snake around the little city, with most of the travelers choosing to hurry on to bigger and newer places.

We stayed at a downtown hotel where the staff was as friendly and helpful as could be. The accommodations were clean and comfortable, cheerful and colorful in sharp contrast to the city outside. I thought that perhaps since it was a Sunday night, we’d caught the place asleep. But Monday morning didn’t bring a whole lot more activity. We easily found our way around to the monuments and places of interest that we wanted to see before getting back on the highway to continue our trip.

Today’s route through the state of Missouri was not nearly as scenic as yesterday’s, but that’s what you get when you travel on the interstate. It’s built for speed. The countryside would have been rather pretty, save for all the billboards. Much of the landscape was similar to western Kansas, but there were areas that were heavily wooded and dense with dark green trees, that I imagined them to be bushels upon bushels of broccoli!

Our destination today was St. Louis, primarily to see the Cardinals at play in Busch Stadium. It’s amazing how the promise of a baseball game will get a 16-year-old up and out of bed by 8:00 a.m. We drove the length of the state and arrived mid-afternoon, in time to explore the downtown area of St. Louis.

I should mention that we’ve planned our trip around hotels available using Dan’s free points for all the traveling he’s done in the past year. I felt bad that he wouldn’t benefit from all the stays, but he said it would be like a busman’s holiday to spend his vacation in a hotel for four nights in a row. So, we divvied up the points between all of the various hotel chains and had enough for one big splurge at a luxury hotel in downtown St. Louis. Our room has a view of Busch Stadium – much to my son’s delight – and is steps away from the Arch and the Museum of Westward Expansion – much to my delight. Emily is delighted to have found a friend to play with in the pool. So, we’re all happy.

Our hotel is right smack in the middle of the picture, just across the street from the ballpark.

The Cardinals have some of the most enthusiastic fans I've ever seen. At game time, the stadium was a sea of red. I searched in vain to see if there were any other teams represented among the crowd. There were a couple of Orioles and a few Giants (the opposing team.) And I have to say, during the seventh inning stretch, "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" was sung with such enthusiasm, it would have made a choir director weep. Great people, those Cards fans!

For the history buffs among you, St. Louis was once a city where dreams began. It was the gateway to the west, where thousands of Americans began their journeys to new lands in the western territories of the United States. The courthouse, which is just diagonal from our hotel, is filled with ghosts of history past. It was where the initial trial for the Dred Scot case was tried. And it was around this building that wagon trains gathered to prepare their way west, loading their beds with goods and lining up for the long journey ahead. A museum dedicated to these missions is located beneath the Arch, underground. Tomorrow, we’ll spend the morning exploring this area. And then we’ll take to the road again, heading off to the Land of Lincoln.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Day One

We made good on our plans to leave early this morning and were on the road by 6:30 a.m. It was a long day of travel, but a good one. We crossed 150 miles of Colorado prairie, heading east. The soft morning light glowed on golden fields of wheat, and thin, wispy clouds (mare's tails) lay in patches on the crystal blue sky.

Last night, Emily asked the question that I've been pushing to the back of my own mind. "What happens if the car breaks down?" I said, "Well, it's not like we'll be in the 'middle of nowhere.' We have tow insurance, and we'll just deal with whatever comes our way. It's an adventure, after all."

This morning, as we opted for the more scenic route of U.S. 36 rather than the busier I-70, we were the only car for miles and miles. A golden eagle flew overhead for a while. Later, a turkey led her brood of chicks across the road, causing us to slow a bit to let them pass. "Mom," said Emily, "I hate to tell you, but we're in the 'middle of nowhere.'"

Crossing over into Kansas, the scenery changed little, and the road was dotted with small towns every 20 or 30 miles. Deep green fields of corn flanked our path, broken up by fields of hay that had been mowed and baled into big, round bundles that looked like spools of thread tossed around the landscape. Luke was at the wheel and when we passed by the occasional pickup truck coming our way, the driver would lift a hand off the wheel in our direction. "Why is everyone waving at me?" asked Luke. It's what they do in the country, was my guess. He soon had the lazy hand wave down, signaling back.

We found the northern route through Kansas to be quite beautiful. Unlike the route along I-70, which is flat and rather unremarkable, U.S. 36 offers views of gently rolling hills, farmhouses with wrap-around porches, the occasional livestock, but mostly fields upon fields of corn, wheat and hay. A portion of the highway follows the old Pony Express trail. A cutout silhouetted Pony Express rider placed on top of a hill was fodder for the imagination and we wondered what it would have been like to ride through the state on horseback, Pawnee Indians at every turn. Okay, I was wondering -- aloud -- until I turned and looked at the kids, plugged into I-pods and DVD player, not hearing a word of my colorful musings and descriptions.

We drove through the little town of Norton, and like several other towns, the streets were paved with brick, the houses and yards neat as a pin. The town seemed to breathe in Sunday morning. It was very quiet, save for the crowd dispersing from the local church.

As we came to the eastern part of the state, the landscape slowly began to change with more trees and vegetation. It's funny that the kids noticed, on our first stop in Kansas (St. Francis) when we got out of the car, that the "air feels heavy." I guess we're so used to the dryer, mile high climate of Colorado.

Tomorrow morning, we'll spend some time exploring St. Joseph, the starting point for the Pony Express trail that weaved its way all the way to Sacramento. Although its chapter in history has become legendary, the Pony Express lasted only 18 months. St. Joseph was the starting point for more travelers to California gold towns than any other city, and its rather gloomy claim to fame is that it was the place Jesse James was shot and killed. The bullet hole still remains in the house that is now a museum. Not sure if we'll make it there or not!

The kids are taking their second dip of the evening in the hotel pool. We ordered pizza for supper and it feels good to have our feet on the ground. I'm sure everyone will sleep well tonight.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Our bags are packed

We're heading out bright and early tomorrow morning to get a good start on our summer vacation. The kids and I are driving cross country to the east coast (and back!), where my aunt has graciously invited us to join her for some beach time at the shore. From our neck of the woods, that's 1,800 miles each way. With lots of time on our hands this summer, we decided that driving would be a great opportunity to see some of our beautiful country. We've been so excited, planning our trip for months. It's hard to believe, it's finally here.

I made a lot of trips to the east coast when I was growing up. In the back of the conestoga station wagon with my three brothers, Pa at the reins wheel with Ma beside him, in her prairie skirt and bonnet Bermuda shorts and sunglasses. We played traveling Bingo with those little cards from the gas station, did the license plate game, and ate picnic lunches at rest stops and parks along the way.

This trip will be Luke and Em and myself in a 2002 Chevy van with AC! and a DVD player. We'll be visiting a few major league ballparks and an equal number of museums, including a few historical spots, such as the town where Dan's great-grandfather was a high school principal back in the day, and the National Air Force Museum to see the plane my dad was a crew member on during the Korean conflict.

The van is outfitted with new shocks and a couple new tires. Yesterday, the kids gave it the royal treatment, vacuuming and cleaning the interior, and giving the outside a good washing. The DVD player and cooler are plugged in and ready to go. The back of the van is packed with everything we'll need including snacks, drinks for the cooler, beach gear, baseball gear, books and videos. There's just enough room for the overnight bags that will go in tomorrow morning. (I have to say, it's been quite liberating to not have to weigh our bags or, even worse, have to cram everything into a carry on, measuring out shampoo and body lotion in little bottles that fit into a baggie. There are some advantages to being your own travel company!)

My plan is to post some pictures and updates, so we'll have a little journal of our trip when we get back. Dan will be holding down the fort at home, until the last few days when he'll meet us for part of the drive back. We miss him already:( But with the wonder of technology, we'll be talking to him on our cell phones, sharing our experiences along the way. The weeks will fly by before we know it, I'm sure.

Watch out, America, the Griswolds are back!

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Friday, June 19, 2009

Summer days

We're just finishing the second full week of summer vacation, and the first week without any outside activities except for a couple of softball games. It kind of reminds me of when my husband says something like, "I spent a month in Podunk, Nevada, one weekend."

Has it really been only two weeks of summer? It sounds like most of the people out in Bloggetyville are faring better than I am with this. Kids are building teepees, creating scrapbooks from homemade cameras, recreating Gettysburg, or wrangling cattle at the crack of down. Why don't I ever read about the kids who tease and bicker with their siblings all day? Why don't I read
about kids whose only goal for the summer is to beat the next level on their video games? Who feel the need to eat a meal every two hours? Who then proceed to cook that meal and leave the kitchen looking like. . . a recreation of the Battle of Gettysburg.

On Wednesday, I told my two kids that they had no choice, they were going to get off their lazy butts enjoy the outdoors and go for a bike ride. They said they didn't feel like it. I repeated that they had no choice. In fact, I told them to get on their bikes and just go somewhere. I didn't care where it was, but they had to be gone for an hour, at least, and if they came back early, they would each have a list of jobs to do.
** edited to add: my kids are 12 and 15. I wouldn't suggest doing this with 5-year-olds, though you might be tempted!

You would think I'd told them to wash the driveway with a toothbrush. They whined and moaned and complained, but to no avail. I thought to myself, I don't care if they ride down to the corner and just sit there for an hour, I want them out of the house!

They asked if they could stop and go out to lunch somewhere. Whaa-at?

Finally, I got them out the door so I could enjoy my Bon-Bons and a movie on Pay-per-View wash the kitchen floor. As I started to clean out the fridge, the phone rang. It was my daughter.

I don't even know why I'm asking you this . . .


We're-at-the-pet-shop-and-they-have-kittens-up-for-adoption-and-. . .


I told you. . . (this to Luke as she was hanging up the phone.)

About 20 minutes later, they got home. They came in the door, laughing, and with twice as much energy as they had when they left, even though they insisted it was so hot that "they thought they would die."

The next day I substituted some chores for the bike ride. And, oddly enough, today they both came up with something to do on their own.

I know my brothers and I must have driven my mother nuts during the summer. There was a reason that she hung the American flag on the first day of the school year, in celebration. But honestly, we were more creative in those days, coming up with things to do. We lived in a neighborhood full of kids. And none of us was allowed to play in the house! We had breakfast and it was "good-bye" until lunchtime (which consisted of a permanent menu of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and Kool-ade). There were plenty of places to roam, and when it became beastly hot, we were "lucky" that one of the families on the block had a big garage and Mrs. Gottschall would let us set up all our Barbie things inside and we'd create a town and play all afternoon. To us, it was as good as air conditioning. We just had to make sure we cleaned everything up at the end of the day so that Mr. Gottschall could park his car.

My brothers took to making their own fun, using car inner tubes (I wonder where they got them?) to float down the irrigation ditch near our house. They made it sound like so much fun, so I went along one time. ONE time. The water was muddy brown, the horse flies were as big as chipmunks, and the rope swing they told so many stories about hung over a big mud slide. No wonder my mom insisted they go "commando" and wear only their oldest shorts. She could never bleach their underwear clean again.

We took old sheets and made a tent in the backyard. It even had a flag pole to fly the American flag. My dad dubbed the place Camp Run-amok. One summer he took some soup cans and set them in the lawn, and we had our own miniature golf course. We signed up for the library reading program every summer. Unlike the programs today, where there are tiers of prizes that include passes to the swimming pool and coupons for ice cream, our "prize" was a certificate and our own American flag. We would make a trip to the library at least once a week, walking or taking our bikes, to get a new armload of books.

It sounds like we were a bunch of hooligans, compared to the kids nowadays. But we made our own fun because if we used the "B" word (bored), we were given jobs to do, something we dreaded and I'm sure my mother dreaded even more.

And those summers really didn't last all that long, because by the time we were in our teens, we were all working. I babysat as early as I could and then worked at Dairy Queen. My brothers all worked for the local lumber yard. And before we knew it the summer had flown by, and it was time for school to begin. And we always welcomed it when it did.

Sunday, June 14, 2009


I've been tagged by Diana at Sunshine on My Shoulders to make a list of six UNimportant things that make me happy. These are things that aren't vital to my life, but sure make it more enjoyable.

#1 Making sun tea. . . I love to drink it, as much as I like to hear, "Oh, good, Mom made tea." It's one of the small things that validates my being.

#2 Pentel pens. . .fine point, purple or black ink. I stock up on them. I hide them from the kids. I buy the rest of the family the cheaper pens, by the box, so they won't come looking for my pens.

#3 My neighbor, Pete. . .I'm sure he would be offended to think that he is on a list of UNimportant things, but what I really mean is our exchanges on Friday mornings when we take out our garbage cans. He's a retired Navy guy, one of those big, gruff looking fellows, but nice as can be. I love listening to him talking to his cats:)

#4 Fans . . as in ceiling fans. We have AC, but I would much rather have the windows open and fans going on a nice day.

#5 Magazines. . . these are SO unimportant, but I do love them, especially going through and clipping pictures that I like for decorating ideas or just because. I find them inspiring.

#6 Staples . . . the store. Yes, the entire store. It goes along the lines of the Pentel pens. I just love office supplies, the more fun the colors, the better. Sticky notes, markers, colored files, little push pins that look like old typewriter keys (yes, they have those and they're soooo cute). It puts a bit of whimsy into paying the bills and running a household.

I'm supposed to tag six people. I've noticed most of the people I would think to tag have already done this, except Xandra, and she's moving so I wouldn't dream of putting this on her! If you haven't been tagged then, THERE, you're it! Make your list and let me know in the comments so I can come by and check it out!

Monday, June 8, 2009

Monday, Monday

For Today...June 8, 2009

Outside my window... Today is sunny and warm, a slight breeze ruffles the aspen trees outside my window. A sharp contrast to the cloudy, chilly day yesterday when we were sandwiched between two counties that were pelted with hail and tornadoes.

I am thinking... how much I enjoy writing a daybook. It gives me time to pause and reflect.

I am thankful for... having my oldest son, Joe, home for the weekend. Yesterday, he and I went to lunch and then to a bookstore. We picked up Starbucks on the way home and then sat in the living room, reading our new books, exchanging comments and small talk. I've missed him in the past two months and don't want to think about how long it will be until his next visit.

From the kitchen... I wish I could describe the smells of some delicious bread being baked and soup cooking in the crockpot. Fresh vegetables in a basket, ready to be made into a salad. A luscious chocolate cake on my crystal pedestal plate. But in truth . . . just lots of dirty glasses and remnants of snacks from late night t.v.

I am wearing... pajamas.

I am reading... Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin

I am hoping... that the elves came last night and did all my work for me.

I am creating... sewing projects. Em is making pajamas and I'm sewing aprons.

I am praying... for a friend going in for an MRI, for my friend who is moving to a new home, for my family.

Around the house... T.V. on the Today Show, kids starting to move around, laundry half done, flowers blooming outside.

One of my favorite things... summer months, when each day is a bit different and we mix up our routine, getting the bare bones of a chore list done so that we can enjoy the fun time.

A few plans for the rest of the week... Emily starts Vacation Bible School this morning. She'll be a helper in the nursery, with the one-year-olds. Joe gets his braces off today (fingers crossed). Then he and Dan will head off to the airport, Joe going back to Tacoma and Dan heading to California for the week. Softball games for Em and baseball for Luke in the evenings. On Thursday, Luke and I are going to Grand Junction for the weekend for a baseball tournament.

Here is a picture thought I am sharing with you...

Monday, June 1, 2009

Yosemite National Park

For the past couple of months, Dan has been back and forth to California every other week on business. This weekend, I got to join him and we spent a couple of days at Yosemite National Park, one of the most beautiful places in the country.

First, though, we stopped to see Dan's sister, Carol, and her partner in life and crime, Sonja. They have a beautiful home that they've remodeled, with a couple of acres filled with all kinds of trees and a budding vineyard. Sonja is The.Best.Cook. and she made a fabulous dinner of filet mignon with some-kind-of-wonderful-sauce, grilled asparagus, a salad-to-die-for, and for dessert . . . there was the most delicious chocolate torte to celebrate our anniversary, which is actually tomorrow. We felt so cherished. Well, I was feeling cherished, Dan was just devouring his delicious dinner.

That night, we drove to the town where Dan spends half of his time these days and I got to see all the landmarks that he's told me about. Now, when we talk on the phone, I can picture where he's working. The next morning we arrived Yosemite. There aren't words to describe it all and my pictures will hardly do it justice.

Bridal Veil Falls. . .
This granite rock formation, called El Capitan, attracts climbers from all over the world. See the dark gray patch that is shaped like North America? To the left is a giant eyebrow, turned sideways. At the very bottom of the eyebrow. . .

. . .were some rock climbers. In the center of this picture. Just hanging there. If you click on the photo to enlarge it, you'll get a better view. Apparently, it can take a couple of days to climb to the top, so the climbers will sleep there!

There were the most spectacular trees! Ponderosa pine trees, cedar trees, and magnificent sequoias.

Look at this one. I'm 6'. Do the math. . .

We stayed at the Wanona Hotel. This was then. . .

This is now. . .

The motel is beautiful and rustic. The rooms are small, furnished sparingly with period style furniture, and most of the rooms have a shared bath -- which is not as bad as it sounds. The hotel provides plush, terry robes, and making a late night run to the ladies room, going outside and following the balcony to the end of the building is an adventure. The trees stand sentinel in the dark and the moist smell of cedar is invigorating. The breakfast we were served in the morning was a hearty buffet of eggs, meats, Belgian waffles, all kinds of fruit, pastries and scones. Dinner was delicious as well.

The dogwood was in full bloom. . .
Beautiful sights at every turn.
Our 25 years together seems like the blink of an eye, especially when compared to these beautiful giants that have been here for hundreds and even a couple thousand years. But, if I had a thousand years on this earth, I know just who I would choose to spend it with. I love you, Sweetie. Thanks for 25 years of happiness. xoxo