Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Travels With Dyanne & Christine, Told Mostly In Pictures

I got together with one of my very favorite friends recently, which doesn't sound like that big a deal unless you're me and are apparently liked better by people from a distance. Not only did I meet this friend FOR THE WHOLE WEEKEND, but we did it around the schedules of eight kids, two husbands and over 500 miles separating us, because sometimes, SOMETIMES, the stars align and all the pieces fall easily into place and that which would have ordinarily been a nightmare to coordinate became a piece of cake (quite literally, as it turned out).

Through the miracle of the interweb, Christine of In The Coop and I have become friends. Good friends. Pick up the phone and call or text the other one at any time friends. We've been lucky enough to meet up two other times, but it's never been long enough (and honestly, it still hasn't been), but two weeks ago, during a text conversation, we went from talking about how much we wish we could hang out and visit to Christine asking if I could meet her in St. Louis (go ahead and sing it, I'll wait...) on the 12th. Miraculously enough, I could and she could and we did.

We (Christine did all the work, not going to lie) arranged to stay in St. Charles, a lovely historic town on the Missouri River very near its meet-up with the Mississippi (more on that later) and halfway between the two of us. We left our respective homes just about the same time, expecting to arrive around 7:00 pm on Friday evening, but after enduring torrential rains, thunder and lightning (me) and miles and miles and MILES of road construction on the freeway (Christine), we both rolled into the hotel parking lot WITHIN TEN MINUTES OF EACH OTHER and only an hour and a half later than we intended.

Deciding on where to stay was really the only plan we made, other than eating often and in great quantities, but one of the many things she and I have in common is that we both love a good confluence, so after stuffing ourselves silly at breakfast, we hit the road to find the Missouri/Mississippi confluence, which was about 20 minutes away. Christine drove, I rode shotgun and handled navigation, mostly courtesy of Siri.

Drive, drive, drive, over the river and through the woods (not really, there weren't any woods where we were), past wetlands and corn fields and we were getting more and more excited at the prospect of seeing the two rivers meet when we came to a gate:

Christine with pouty face.

Guess what? We're not that easily deterred.

After learning from the workers at the nearby Audubon Center that there was a viewing tower across the river (as in the Mississippi River), we were off. Welcome to Illinois!

Wait! There's a lock. With a museum. And TOURS.

Lock on the Mississippi River at Alton, Illinois
(or Altonill, as Siri calls it).

Bummer. A sign in the gift shop says the elevator's broken, so tours are limited to an auxiliary lock. Never mind.

Drive, drive, drive. There's the tower. Where's the turn? Oops, back there (slight navigation failure with a happy ending). Turn around up ahead and - hey! A museum! A Lewis and Clark museum! 

Christine and I sitting on the front porch of the
replica of the cabin that Lewis and Clark might have
stayed in when they were preparing for their journey.

Back to the tower with a coupon courtesy of the nice volunteer in the museum. One dollar off for each of us for the $5 elevator ride (rather steep, no pun intended).

Trouper that she is, Christine laid on her back
on the sidewalk to get this shot. I would have
taken a picture of her doing it, but she
was using my phone for the pic.

Tower prices have gone up to six dollars.

Yer lookin' at the gen-u-ine confluence of
the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers.

The kid guy young man worker who took us up told us there is ANOTHER access to the confluence from the other (apparently unflooded) side, at the Columbia River Bottoms Conservation Area.  And we're off again!

Getting the most out of our $5 ride to the top.

We passed this place when we went to the lock. Turn in and let's check it out. It's a little creepy (although not as creepy as things to come).

It's the National Great Rivers Research & Education Center.
I looked it up. Nothing nefarious, although those pipes on
the right made me wonder if it was a front for Soylent Green.
The picture in the middle IS THE ACTUAL BUILDING.

Back to Missouri. Siri is directing us into the Columbia Bottoms Conservation Area. Hey, what happened to the pavement? Why did this turn into gravel? Didn't that kid say it was paved all the way? WHAT IS HAPPENING? Oh, look, there's a map on the back of this brochure. Oops! Hey, look, Siri was wrong. Drive, drive, drive, and...

We're getting closer....

Walk, walk, walk.


Mission accomplished, and it only took us four hours! After a walk (and rather large ice cream cones) in the historic district of St. Charles, we headed back to the hotel for showers (confluence hunting is hot, hard work), naps (see previous comment) and dinner at a local Italian restaurant (yum!). Then we did this:

And we used my big $12 winnings (from my $4 investment) to eat pie.

As we were about to fall asleep (after a rather interesting trip from the casino back to our hotel which included zig zagging through a quiet and not well-lit neighborhood - Siri seemed to be having fun with us again), I scrolled through "Things To Do In St. Charles" and found us an absolute GEM to visit the next morning.

It was raining.

Guys, this is a nuclear waste site. AND WE WALKED ON TOP OF IT. It's a pretty sad story, really, as it started as the world's largest explosives plant, built in 1940 and it displaced the people from three towns and many farms in between. After the War ended, the plant closed and ten years later a uranium ore processing facility was put there, operating for about ten years, at which time it was abandoned. Hazardous materials and equipment were left scattered all over the property for more than 20 years. In 1985, the U.S. Department of Energy started the long, slow clean up process, and by 2001, 1.5 million cubic yards of hazardous waste was entombed in a mound 75 feet tall. The area around it has been transformed back into natural prairie, and it's lovely and horrifying all at the same time. Oh, and there's a museum!

75 foot tall man-made mountain.

The path up.

On top. In the rain. And wind.

Christine venturing out onto the rock layer (there
are many, many layers below that, thank GOD).

Me not venturing very far, as I am
wearing the always-sensible flip flops.


A picture of a picture inside the museum that shows
just some of the toxic waste left behind. The
pond in the background was where they dumped
processed uranium ore.

Okay, just when you think you've seen it all, the women who worked in the museum (by the way, the museum building was where they once screened workers for radiation exposure) told us there were about 100 bunkers scattered all over land just down the road that were built during World War II. They were once part of the explosives factory property and now in the August Busch Conservation Area. Guess where we went?

How. Creepy. Is. This?

The door was ajar. I'm standing by the car,
prepared to call 911 (or hide) if a hand reaches
out through that crack and snatches
her inside.

Contrary to how this looks, I was NOT running away
like a baby; it had rained, it was muddy, and I was
hopping over mud puddles, trying not to get my
feet in it (flip flops, remember?).

A beautiful stand of native pine trees with a path
that was supposed to make a loop and circle back.
It did, in a manner of speaking, although it was
obvious that for years, hikers had simply
turned around and gone back at a certain point
and we ended up trail blazing and hoping there
was no poison ivy, since neither of us were
completely sure what it looked like.

Yeah, we off-roaded in a minivan, where
I learned Christine could drive in reverse
like a CHAMP.

Off-roading gets you to bunkers.

It also gets you a great view of the back of a bunker.

We headed back to St. Charles and had lunch at Lewis & Clark's (they're quite a thing around there) where we sat on an open porch on the third floor and where we could see the Missouri River. And then we ate cake. 

And then we had to say goodbye.

For now.

In the meantime, we'll be working on our GENIUS idea of becoming tour guides.

Stay tuned.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Who Needs A Whole List? I Just Needed ONE Thankful!

I have many things for which I could make a thankful list this week. I could say I'm thankful that I got to spend last weekend in St. Louis having the BEST time with my friend Christine (and there's a post nearly done about that). I could say I'm thankful for the trip I made on Monday to the state fair with my dad (and there's a post nearly done about THAT). Or how my daughter started her senior year in high school this week. And the College Boy headed back to school for HIS senior year. And then there's how I decided to try a different hair color just for kicks and it ended up being MUCH darker than I expected. MUCH. But it has faded some already and I kind of like it and have gotten several compliments on it, along with compliments for the new hair cut I got on Friday. I could also say I'm thankful the weather has been cooler this week, giving us a smidge of a taste of things to come. 

My two seniors, one high school,
one college. 

Instead of listing all those thankfuls, however, I am just going to put down one. And it's worth ten EASILY.

Today, after weeks and weeks of procrastination, the College Boy, with me cracking a whip over his head, finished his medical school application (which was L-E-N-G-T-H-Y and included a personal statement and lists of activities and descriptions of each) ...


It. Is. Done. For now, anyway. Now we wait to see if any of the schools he has applied to will want him, and then there will be secondary applications and probably MORE essays and more chances to procrastinate, but for now, for this very moment in time, the application is completed and submitted.

Thank you, God, for preventing me from strangling him throughout this process.

Click. SENT.

It's not too late to join the Ten Things of Thankful. Close, but not too late! Get busy and write 'em up!

Ten Things of Thankful

 Your hosts

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Oh, Marian Days, You Make Me So Thankful!

I'm back, in case anyone even noticed I'd been missing.  I took a few weeks off when my mom passed away (and if you haven't read my post from earlier this week where I talked about my mom, it would please me to no end if you would), but my mom loved reading my blog, so here I am. 

The past few years, my Ten Things of Thankful post for this first weekend in August has revolved around Marian Days, an annual gathering of Vietnamese Catholics in a neighboring town. Guess what? Same for this year. 

1. I ate a big ol' bowl of pho on Wednesday.

The broth is made from parts I don't want to know about.
End result is worth it.

I SUCK at using chopsticks.
It does not stop me from using them.

2. And Thursday.

3. And Friday.

4. And Saturday.

5. And maybe one or two (or three) boba smoothies.

Avocado boba smoothie. Not to be
confused with the nasty avocado chocolate smoothie I made during
the A to Z Challenge.

6. These Vietnamese Catholics converge upon the grounds of the headquarters of the Congregation of the Mother Co-Redemptrix for a four day pilgrimage honoring the Virgin Mary. Massive food tents are set up throughout the grounds, run by churches from all over the country. They all offer pretty much the same food, but we have our favorite and are always happy to get consistently delicious food each and every time.

Our favorite food vendor, from Port Arthur, Texas.

Fruit selections at a booth.

Those are jack fruit. They are bigger
than watermelon with a prickly rind
and a terrible odor.

Pork meatballs on the left. On the right,
a pork roll that can be purchased
 whole or by the slice....

A marketplace where trinkets, rosary beads,
fans, parasols, coolie hats, religious statues,
and more can be purchased. Most booths
are run by nuns from different Orders
as a fundraiser.

7. There is a mass held each evening, outdoors, with jumbotron screens all around. 70,000+ people attend (the town where it is held has a population of about 14,000), sitting in lawn chairs or perched on curbs or walls or just standing. It is a beautiful sight.

Some of the 70,000+ attendees at mass.

Those teeny figures on the stage are bishops
and not sure who else but they're important. 

At communion time, each priest (and there
were probably at least 50 that we could see)
was accompanied by a lay person holding an
umbrella with a lighted handle, sheltering
the priest and the host. 

8. It is the most peaceful, Godly event I have ever attended, yet, believe it or not, there were some protesters there. These extremist Christians (all two or three of them) had crudely made signs and stood on a (closed off) street on the fringes of the crowd during mass. No one paid much attention to them, as clearly they were complete idiots, but at least they kept their mouths shut and didn't disturb the service.

Two of the protesters, the man on the left in
the black t-shirt and the one on the right with,
well, the protest sign.

9. Don't let the outfits fool you. Nuns are a hoot.

"We are family. I've got all my sisters with me."

10. Only 51 more weeks until the next Marian Days festival!

What can you be thankful for this week? Write them down, link them up, you have until Sunday evening. Go!

Ten Things of Thankful

 Your hosts

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Because You Had No Way Of Knowing What She Was REALLY Like

Dear Nursing Home Staff:

Let me start out right now by saying how grateful I am for the tender, attentive care you gave my mother during the four weeks she spent with you before peacefully passing away on July 10. I know it can't be easy to deal with the very personal needs of strangers, but you always did it in the most dignified way, usually cheerfully, always professionally.

My mom came to you after about a year and a half of failing health, exacerbated with a fall in October, and ending with two falls within twelve hours in June. The patients you tend daily are not at the prime of their lives, and my mother was no exception. And that is unfortunate, because you would have really enjoyed knowing my mom the way she really was. Here's some of the reasons why:

My mom was an excellent story teller. She told my brother and me stories from the time we were small. We loved hearing about life during the end of the depression and during the War. We learned about rationing. About how tires were impossible to get, so flat tires happened with frequency, and everyone had a patch kit in the trunk. How IF you were lucky enough to get chewing gum, you saved that gum and chewed it for days, weeks, months. She told us about radio programs they enjoyed, about her father using work horses to farm, about going to the movies every Saturday. So. Many. Stories.

My mom had a great sense of humor. She found the funny in every day situations, even when those situations weren't intended to be humorous. For example, once when I was in college and home for the weekend, I (never a morning person) was coming down the (fortunately carpeted) stairs, slipped on the second step, and fell all the way down the stairs, bumping down each step on my backside and gaining quite a bit of momentum by the time I reached the bottom. In fact, I was going so quickly at that point that, when I hit the tiled entry hall floor at the foot of the stairs, I skidded across it and crashed into the front door just as my mom opened her bedroom door, which was adjacent to the entry hall. As my body came to rest in a moaning heap on the floor, she was laughing so hard so she could barely ask if I was all right (I was NOT - my tailbone has never been the same to this day). So, yes, thanks to my mom, everyone in our family tends to laugh first, check the person's well being second. (It's really not as cruel as it sounds, plus we tend to keep it within the family.)

My mom made the best vegetable soup you'll ever eat. 

My mom always noticed if you lost weight and complimented you on it. Conversely, she never, ever mentioned it when you gained weight, although she obviously noticed that as well.

My mom usually wore comfortable twill pants of some kind and a knit shirt of some kind, but some of these clothes she considered were for home use only, and even if she were only going to run up to the grocery store, she would change the "home" clothes for ones she thought more acceptable for going out of the house. 

My mom loved to shop. She was never extravagant. Her clothes were not elegant, but they were attractive and her outfits accessorized. She shopped sale racks and haunted the outlet mall. She loved Belk, Macy's, Dress Barn, and Bon Worth. She got furious with JCPenney a few years ago when they declined her store credit card for a purchase because it said "Mrs. Robert Vinyard" on it, and the clerk said it had to be imprinted with her own name. She was still spitting mad when she told me the story a few days later ("I've had this card for over forty years and this is how Penneys issued it to me! And it worked just fine LAST WEEK!"). 

My mother was a good friend to many. She even kept up with friends she knew from her childhood.  She listened. She offered advice only when asked and only after careful thought. She encouraged. She loved having coffee and visiting with friends. When I was a child, she did so around a kitchen table, either ours or another neighbors, as they were all car-less stay at home moms. For the past 30 years or so, since moving to Nevada (the town, not the state), she had a weekly coffee group that met on Thursday mornings. There could be anywhere from two to ten women there, drinking coffee, talking and laughing, at whichever venue was the current coffee spot (they went through several over the years, going from a local place that closed to Hardee's to McDonalds then back to Hardee's and then to a new local place). 

My mom loved to play games. She grew up playing games with her family, and she would play pretty much any game with us except for Monopoly and Chutes & Ladders, both of which she hated because they never ended. My mom and I played countless rounds of Yahtzee, Aggravation, Memory, Go Fish and Crazy 8s. In the late 1960s, she and some of her friends would bowl one morning a week, followed by an afternoon of bridge. My dad could play bridge, although he didn't care much for games EXCEPT Monopoly, and they would play once a month with other couple friends whose kids were MY friends. Those evenings were lots of fun, because there was always junk food and dip. She was in a couple of different bridge groups in Nevada (still the town), and she played up until last summer.

My mom loved cats. We had a cat in the house while I was growing up, and my parents inherited a cat of mine that I had in college and couldn't keep. He lived with them for about ten years, at which time they decided they were content with having grand cats instead of having one of their own. She loved having a cat in her lap, though, and when we talked on the phone, she always asked about the kitties. She spoiled my cats, too, buying them toys and letting them sit on the kitchen table and look out the window at the lake house, a HUGE no-no at our house, but what happens at Grandma's house....

There's so much more I could tell you, like how she always took care to make sure her hair and make up looked nice, even after she lost so much of her hair in her last few years. How she had a sweet tooth and always had candy and cookies stashed in different kitchen cabinets. How she enjoyed traveling, even after breaking her leg while on an Alaskan cruise with my dad before the ship had even left the dock and then hobbling around on it for two weeks before she got home and got treatment for it. And how she loved to sit on the deck at the lake house and drink coffee while watching boats go by. 

We wanted to keep her here with us at least a little longer, but Heaven needed her more. It seems there were cats needing a lap to curl up in and children needing a story and some ladies needing a fourth for bridge and someone was wanting a bowl of really good vegetable soup, so she left us for now, and we must now be content knowing we'll see her again some day.

So thank you again, Nursing Home Staff. You took great care of a great lady.