Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The Legend of the Piasa Bird

As a child, I knew when traveling on the Great River Road just the right time to look for the Piasa Bird. At that time it was about halfway up the road to my aunt's house. It was painted high up on the cliff wall - a famed, colorful, scary birdlike beast!

The Piasa Bird is now closer to Alton and resides on the cliffs above the Indian Caves, at least that's what we always called them. My father investigated those caves as a boy.

Now they are fenced off for safety.

The great bird has been repainted above the caves and a sign tells of it's legend. An explorer, Jacques Marguette, in 1673, discovered a painting of two "water monsters" on the bluffs of the Mississippi River.

Later in 1836, John Russell, a novelist, wrote about a legendary dragon-like creature the Piasa, "the bird that devours men."

Devours men? Oh, dear. Women? Children??? The original paintings were Native American. What led to the telling of this story? Was it passed down through the generations? Surely the story of the creature was greatly enhanced through time? Wasn't it??? Is there a kernal of truth? It's what makes seeing the bird depiction so interesting and why so many people stop to investigate.

Just to Say Hello

Hello Everyone,
Just a quick note. I didn't intend to take a break from blogging. The other parts of my life became very, very busy. I was working on my part of the preparation for a fund-raising carnival at Youngest's school. I was also trying to scale the side of a mountain of homework for my two math classes. Keeping my house together, my kid's fed and my kid's at the right locations for practices and games had not been forgotten. And...I have become fascinated with the...ok, I'm going to confess...the news! I've been a real news junky these last two weeks. If I turn on my computer, I check the latest polls, read the headline articles and check on various political blogs. I've watched CNN more in the last month than I believe in my whole lifetime. It's been captivating, interesting and at times, frustrating. So there you have it. Sorry to be out of touch and I hope to have a new story for you soon.

Monday, September 22, 2008

The Great River Road

Over the Labor Day weekend, my husband, my kids and I traveled to St. Louis to visit my family. On Saturday, we loaded up a crew: grandpa, aunt Pam, us and two cousins, Marshall and Ellie.

We drove to Alton just across the Mississippi River on the Illinois side. My parents were both born and raised in the neighboring town of Wood River, Illinois and two of my aunts lived on the north edge of Alton up The Great River Road.

The River Road has many family stories woven into it's path. It is also well-known for the bike trail that follows the road north through many quaint, little towns.

As a child we drove the river road many times each year on the way to my aunt's homes up beyond the cliffs. This day we picked up my father's sister, Jean and headed up the road to Grafton, Illinois. Along the way we passed the turn-off to Piasa Creek where my grandfather had built a fishing cabin with his father. Many 4th of July's were spent at that cabin.

In Grafton, we ate lunch at the Finn Inn, which has a unique atmosphere...

All sorts of Mississippi River fish keep you company in large tanks at the end of the booths. We devoured fried catfish and buffalo, corn fritters and fries. Yummo, as long as you could keep your mind off your cholesterol level.

Don't they look full and happy?!?!

You may have heard of Grafton this summer, when it flooded. This isn't the first flood for Grafton, yet it's unique setting keeps it's residents determined to stay. So determined many of the homes and businesses are built on stilts.

Grafton has grown significantly since my more youthful days. This lighthouse is new as are many restaurants, and art and antiques shops. With it's proximity to St. Louis, the beautiful drive to reach it, the curious shops and wonderful food, Grafton has become a popular destination town. For me it remains woven into my memories. I so enjoyed taking my kids there.

I have a few more stories for from this trip: the legend of the Piasa Bird and the Geode Man. Coming soon.

Friday, September 19, 2008

The Parking Lot

As most of you know, I'm a student these days. I've returned to Kansas State University to earn a second degree in Education. It's my hope to be a high school math teacher. Going back to school at 40-something is an unusual experience. My perspective is clearly very different than the typical college student's. First I cry as I write my tuition check and then am neurotically determined to earn straight As.

K-State calls me a non-traditional student. I beg your parden. I guess that's better than over-achieving nutjob. Anyway, as a non-traditional student, I do not live on campus or even in the same town for that matter. I need to drive to campus on school days and do the Parking Lot Sit. The Sit is an activity involving positioning your car at the end of one of the rows of parked cars and waiting. When someone walks to his or her car to leave, the person waiting the longest puts on a blinker and creeps toward the space. This signals to all the other Sitters that this spot will be taken...BY ME. Back off. I know Judo and could hurt you. It can become exceptionally tense.

It's very thrilling to Sit and as those who know me well understand, I don't do waiting very well. I much prefer to be just on time...well, ok... I'm usually a little late. Being a little late just does not work when you need a coveted parking space. So I arrive early and... I wait.

I observe many things as I wait...the young student driving the brand new Suburban or the cute blonde in the Jaguar??? I also grit my teeth at the students who choose to not do the Sit, but instead troll the lanes, driving up and down hoping to see someone starting his or her car. These rude co-eds then try to jump their car into the space before the students who have been patiently waiting. Grrrr.

Today I saw a girl that just made me giggle. This morning's weather was lovely and as I Sat I turned off my engine (no adding to global warming when it's not necessary) and waited with my window down. I began to hear a periodic soft chirp. Hmmm. I then saw a girl wandering around in the parking lot scanning for her car. As she got closer I couldn't help but chuckle. When she finally discovered her car, a wide, relieved smile spread across her face. I can get away with giggling, oh, yes, I can. You see I'm that girl quite regularly.

at the ball diamonds...

at the grocery store...

at Target...

at the Mall.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

A Beautiful Morning

It was a cool, peaceful, misty morning,

tinged with the smell of...


Oh, am I glad the dogs sleep inside!

Monday, September 15, 2008

My Boys Enjoyed Clothing Shopping - I Think Not!

I've entered the Twilight Zone, when it comes to keeping clothes on the backs of my boys. It's a strange and eery place for a girl like me who begged and begged her mother for clothes. I'm a gal who enjoys shopping, not in a neurotic way, I just enjoy acquiring the essential items.

My boys detest clothes shopping. They will shoe shop any day of the week, but mention clothes and, oh boy, you will witness every form of resistance. If you find a way to get them to go, they don't like to look at the clothes, they don't like to tell you which they like, and they definitely don't like to try on the clothes...and about this time a mother's brain begins to melt.

In years past, this refusal to shop was not a problem. I would shop for them and they would wear the clothes. Something has taken hold of these boys. They will no longer grab just ANYTHING to pull over their heads and onto their legs. They have become selective...AWARE.

So what's a mother to do? It's a truly bizarre dilemma. I'm still begging. Now I beg MY CHILDREN to go shopping with me! To accomplish this I've first, laid down the law: an outfit is worn for only one day. You'll have to trust me when I say one day is MORE than enough. Next, I have explained that if they do not go, they will have to wear last year's jeans when it gets cold, even if said jeans are three or four inches too short. Finally, I was simply forced to explain to them they will need to wear what I select for them NO MATTER WHAT, if they refuse to shop!

They agreed to go yesterday! To my great fortune, their father was home and in a moment of weakness, he agreed to go, too! As we entered the mall, my hands began to sweat and my heart to pound. Would I leave this mall with my sanity? I tried a strategy designed to make it easier on both my husband and me. "I will take Youngest (the child who needed the most clothing) with me and you take Middleman and Oldest to the store they like and we will meet." The ole' "divide and conquer" strategy.

Youngest seemed to like this approach. When we arrived at the store, I began by asking him of the shirts in a particular display which color combo did he like best. He pointed. I quickly grabbed his size. Onto the next grouping. Same approach, same result. Whew, this was going well. Jeans...dreaded jeans. Who knew a slight color variation could be so upsetting to pre-teen and teenage boys? A stroke of luck, however. All the jeans displayed were very close in color...grabbed a few sizes and we headed for the fitting rooms. Youngest was beyond cooperative!!! We left the store with some new clothes that he liked AND agreed to wear!

We met the rest of the crew and found they also were successful...a pair of jeans for each boy. We were able to work Oldest into selecting a shirt and some boxers (sorry son, I have inadvertantly revealed your boxer/brief preference). I may have learned the most valuable lesson of all today. The time to go shoe shopping is when only one child needs one pair of shoes... ha ha ha, that happens a lot, hee hee hee ho ho ho...like almost never! Picking up that one pair was amazingly easy. We made it out of the mall alive.

My plan is too study what we bought today very, very carefully. When it is time for the boys to have more than one pair of jeans that fits, I will go to the mall ALONE and buy EXACT duplicates. By then they will probably prefer some variation... refuse to wear them... and I will check myself into the local mental facility.

Friday, September 12, 2008

The Besto Pesto

Do you have a coffee group? Having coffee with your friends involves the sharing of great wisdom, not to mention laughs. Occasionally, gifts!

At this morning's coffee, Sarah brought me this wad of fragrant Basil from her garden.

I threw in the basil I had left in my garden and the pesto making began in earnest.

Basil Pesto
2 cups basil leaves, packed down
1/3 cup pinenuts
1/4 cup parmesian cheese
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

If the pinenuts are not chopped, place in food processor and pulse to chop. Add cheese, garlic, salt and pepper and 1/2 the basil. Pulse. Add the rest of the basil. Pour oil in with processor running until it forms a spread.

Refrigerate and use within several days or freeze and use within 3 months.

I broke out the Quisinart, which was a wedding gift from my in-laws. They've tried for years to convince me to keep it on my counter, but the only appliance that has been a fixture is my husband's coffeemaker. But y'know, they may be on to something... ideas bounced around in my head as I processed. Pizza dough may be next.

When Marjory learned that I wanted to freeze the Pesto, she suggested freezing it in an ice cube tray. Once it's frozen, pop out the cubes and place in a freezer bag. I will then have go-to Pesto for soups and sauces, or I can use several cubes with pasta. Brilliant! I have to admit to having a hard time putting that tray in the freezer after hearing the dishes the gals prepare with Pesto, but I did it. My plan is to pull some cubes out in the deep, dead, cold of winter.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

A Garden Tour at My Sister's

My sister, Pam, loves gardening and a few years ago completed the Master Gardener program in Indiana. She now lives in St. Louis and has been transforming the yard of her new home. It is gorgeeeous, simply gorgeous!

This little bed greets you as you drive up. It's at the front edge of the yard telling you there's more beauty to see.

Pam has been working inside and outside on making her new house an inviting, beautiful, refreshing home. She added a picture window to her family room looking out over the back yard and here's what you see.

Walk out onto the patio and this burst of color and texture grabs your attention.

As you stroll into the backyard, you're greated with all kinds of lovely plantings. The mulch she uses is this new stuff called "Black Gold". It's not oily, I swear! It's like a black peat moss or rich, dark soil. Only it's magical, because she says it stays in place and seems to control the weeds better than traditional bark mulch.

Look at this...those weepy, bushes that are really trees are just too cool!

Do you see that bush in the back with the fushcia flowers? That little number has caught the eye of my husband. He wants to plant them here in Kansas.

They are Crepe Myrtle (with my poor spelling I first typed Crape Myrtle...drop the first e...now there's a plant you want in your yard - ha). I've been asking around and what I've learned is they are a little tempermental here... a little too windy and a little too cold in the winter. They will grow here, but every few years they decide they are perennials instead of bushes and die back to the ground. We can live with that, 'cause you need to keep the guy who does all the heavy lifting very, very happy! If he wants some Crepe Myrtle, he's getting some!

Touring gardens is inspiring, with different plant varieties to investigate. How it's all put together, for me, is the most intriguing part. Pam has that gift. She is able to group plants in ways that make a whole garden bed interesting and beautiful. I love watching her gardens evolve and am currently plotting a way to extract her creative genes and inject them into me...we are sisters, so it should work!

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Ralph Waldo Emerson Wrote It and Kevin Lives It

My cousin, Joy, on my father's side, has one daughter and identical-twin sons. One of these sons, Kevin, headed to New York City when he finished college. You might think to find fame as an actor on broadway or fortune working on Wall Street, but he endeavors at something significantly more important.

Here's Kevin with my Mom in October of 2007.

Kevin first worked at a long-term intensive residential drug and alcohol rehab facility for prison-involved men. Now he serves as Assistant Director of Palladia Inc.'s. Dreitzer Women's and Children's Program (http://www.palladiainc.org/). Kevin emailed his family and friends explaining that the facility is a 26 bed long term intensive residential drug and alcohol rehab for single women. These women have been in prison, homeless, and have chronic substance abuse and psychiatric issues. They move into the facility with their very young children ages 0-4. He added that Dreitzer is an exceptionally pioneering and innovative program that offers women the rare opportunity to receive intensive treatment while also living with and caring for their children. Sadly, there continues to only be a handful of such programs in the country despite the growing need for them.

What a remarkable young man!

At the end of his emails, Kevin includes the following quote that truly embodies the person he is and offers inspiration.

-- "To laugh often and much, to win the respect of the intelligent and the affection of children, to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends, to appreciate beauty, to find the best in others, to leave the world a bit better, to redeem a social condition, to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded."
Ralph Waldo Emerson

Friday, September 5, 2008

I've Got a Secret...about Frozen Custard

I've got a secret, well...ok...not really, especially if you live in St. Louis! I know the location of the best frozen custard in this here small world.

Ted Drewes

Ted started his business many, many moons ago. Before a few folks discovered his luscious, rich, unforgetable treat, he operated out of a tiny building, like a little shed, during the summer and then in the winter he used his parking lot to sell Christmas trees.

When you have something truly special word travels...and travels and travels. Fast forward to today and a trip to Ted Drewes (worked into all of our St. Louis visits) greets you with this...

You know what I really love? Ted won't franchise! I bet he's been asked about a gazillion times, too! He did have some of his products in local grocery stores at one time, but mainly he sticks with his two locations - the original on Chippewa and a second on Grand Ave.

The base recipe is guarded in a vault, I imagine. The add-in list and speciality concretes are listed on a big board on the side of the building. My sister had Tirimizzou, a nod to her alma mater the University of Missouri. The kids had a variety...chocolate to snickers. As for me, I had my all time favorite: Chocolate Chip. I know what you are thinking...she traveled all that way and she had Chocolate Chip!!! You'll have to trust me on this one...it's the closest thing to nirvana that I've found. They take chocolate syrup and swirl it into the custard. The chocolate freezes ever so slightly and melts in your mouth releasing waves of chocolate goodness.

So...on your next visit to St. Louis or if you're within one, maybe two...no I'm thinkin' three hours of St. Luois, head straight to Ted Drewes on Chippewa Road. Tell them Jenny sent you. It won't actually get you anything... except maybe a strange look.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Guess Who Turned...Another Year Older?

My Dad!

His birthday falls around Labor Day, which gave us a great opportunity to travel to St. Louis to all gather and celebrate.

My sister is a truly talented cook and she prepared an incredible meal including Grilled Beef Tenderloin, Garden Salad, Risotto, Roasted Potatoes and Fruit Salad. Following the meal we anxiously awaited dessert of Chocolate Layer Cake and Blackberry Cobbler. One of my Dad's favorites is Blackberry Cobbler and I tried a new recipe that far surpassed my expectations.

Time came to blow out some birthday candles.

"Uhhh...could I get a little help here?"

"Hmmm...some more help, please. Does anyone have a bucket of water...a fire hose?" Oh, my sneaky sister! My brother finally got those perpetual lighting wax sticks out with a glass of water.

We enjoyed the lovely evening on my sister's patio and then gathered for more conversation in the living room.

Don't kids usually last longer than the adults...

Happy Birthday, Dad! We look forward to many more.