Archives for the month of: July, 2014

It’s hard for me to believe that I’d never spent much time in St. Louis since I’ve been by, through or around it many times, so I stopped for a quick day there, studying up on the history and geography of the city as I traveled.  First, you have to see the Arch, gateway to the West.  What a great structure, simple and pure in its message.  I’m so glad it’s surrounded by a park and all the museum, gift shop, ticketing, etc is located underground.   DSC_0220You approach the arch and look out to the Mississippi River.DSC_0192Entering the pods to go to the top of the arch is like being in a sci-fi movie…DSC_0199…but the view from the top is 30 miles in each direction.DSC_0205The arch is glorious in all lights and weather.DSC_0190The history of St. Louis is intertwined with the expansion of our country west with the Mississippi River an important part.DSC_0223From the old LaClere’s Landing, the neighborhoods expand westward, each a piece in the map of history.  The Hill had been recommended to us as a “must go to” place for Italian food.  This area developed around the Italian immigrants who mined the hills.DSC_0231  Today it is a wonderful neighborhood of extreme pride and an Italian restaurant on just about every block, sometimes on every corner of an intersection.  DSC_0234I tried to find out which ones were the best and they all got great reviews.  We settled on this one for a lunch of toasted ravioli, a local favorite.IMG_4978IMG_4979Yummy!  We left the neighborhood with its Bocce ClubDSC_0232and drove around the city with all its diversity.  There are the French homes around Lafayette SquareDSC_0240and brick homes around the city that matched my image of St. Louis from before I arrived.  Downtown is the wonderful old train station, now a hotel…DSC_0227and the beautiful areas around the University of St. Louis where this old standpipe at the Compton Hill Reservoir rose above us as we drove.DSC_0238Driving around, there were so many signs of the city that tell some of its story, like this one from the days when it was sometimes referred to as Mound City for the many ancient Native American mounds in the area,DSC_0260or this old bath house.  We know there were at least six of them.DSC_0253Or this Farmer’s Market sign.  That’s an OLD business…DSC_0274I can’t leave out the food and drink that are St. Louis traditions, starting with the beers…DSC_0263with the gargoyles on the building across from the iconic Anheiser Busch structures.DSC_0273 DSC_0272There are Ted Drewe’s famous custard shoppes with frozen custard called the “concrete” because you can turn it upside down and your spoon won’t fall out…DSC_0268and ooey gooey butter cakes.  This one was ranked #1 in St. Louis for the past six years.  I attest to its deliciousness.DSC_0270

Crown Candy is famous for its Heart Stopping BLT along with its candies.  I went in but didn’t eat anything.  An old soda shop that brings lines every day.DSC_0247We ate some St. Louis BarBQue in the old industrial area.  Their most popular item was Snoots (pig snouts).  While I stood there, every call was for snoots.  They’re kind of like pork rinds, crispy.  I figured I HAD to try them.  How bad could they be if everyone was ordering them? They were good.  IMG_4974I passed this bottle sign every day, situated at a busy place near Rams stadium.  I liked everything about it.DSC_0258We ended our day with a baseball game, watching the St. Louis Cardinals.  I’d grown up listening to the games on the radio.  The new stadium is great, easy to get around, the crowd friendly and relaxed.  IMG_4981From the stadium, you can see the Arch, a few blocks away, always framing the city.DSC_0282St Louis is celebrating its 250th birthday this year.  Decorated birthday cakes are in front of businesses around town in support of this momentous occasion.  There is so much more to see and do in St. Louis, but I’m happy I got to enjoy the birthday party.  It’s an intriguing, entertaining city.DSC_0250

Mark Twain and Laura Ingalls Wilder lived in Missouri.  He was born there, she died there.  They both wrote fiction based on their childhood.  Last week I visited both of their homes and came home with a renewed fascination with these two remarkable people.

I had been to Hannibal 15 years ago with my son.  He was working with an improv comedy group in college and I told him he needed to learn more about one of the greatest stand up comedians, Mark Twain.  We spent an afternoon in Hannibal, listening to Hal Holbrook’s tape on the way back to school, a couple of hours away.

Nothing much had changed at Mark Twain’s boyhood home since I had been there, which is a good thing.  The night we arrived, I sat on a bench at twilight in front of his home and looked down the street at the Mississippi River while I ate huckleberry ice cream.  It seemed like the perfect way to start the visit.  The white picket fence had a bucket with brushes tied to it so you could take your picture while pretending to whitewash the famous fence.  Last time I visited, the fence had extended further, but they’ve built a lovely garden on what was an empty lot.

DSC_0075The house is well preserved.  I saw pictures around town of Mark Twain standing in front of the house on his last visit to Hannibal in 1902.  He’d come a long way from his days as young Sam Clemens.  My favorite picture was of the photographers and reporters taking pictures of him as he visited, while young boys and townspeople looked on.  He was a rock star in his hannibal visit boyhood home I had strolled up and down the streets and the river, taking it all in once again.  The mighty Mississippi that I first learned about through his books spread out before me.  The hill where Tom and Huck played to my left, the building where young Clemens first worked for a printer in front of me, his father’s courtroom beside me.

In the morning, I took the tour of the house again, picking out the window he climbed out, as described in Tom Sawyer.  Before you go through the house, there is a nice interpretive center that gives a timeline of his life and gives the background on what in his books is taken from his life, which people he used for the characters.

We visited the other museum downtown with its nice interactive area that would appeal to children and its collection of first editions and copies of Twain’s books in many languages.  My favorite is the collection of the Norman Rockwell paintings that were the illustrations for one of the reprints of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn.  What a match of two great artists with their sense of humor and small town living.  I only wish they also had some of the originals of another Missouri artist who illustrated the books at another time, Thomas Hart Benton.IMG_4969

This trip, I took the riverboat cruise to get the feel of being on the Mississippi.  It’s a strong, wide body of water and there is a peace about floating along its waters.  I must admit that I was thinking of kids on rafts being in the middle of this current.  I shook my head at the dangers.  Later, I captured a photo of this little town on the river from Lovers Leap bluff with the riverboat coming in and a train rolling by. I could live easily with the sound of the boats and the trains.  DSC_0133Before I left town, I looked up the street towards the statue of Tom and Huck, the first statue dedicated to fictional characters in the United States, and the hill where Sam Clemens played.  Even with the hardships his family endured, his childhood was idyllic in his memory.  I took a graduate level class on Twain in college, but my travels through the places he wrote about, Hannibal, Virginia City, San Francisco, and more, bring him to life just as he brought those places to life for all those who delight in his writing.DSC_0144

On my way home from this trip to Missouri and Kentucky, I found that we would pass by Mansfield, MO, where the Laura Ingalls Wilder home and museum are located.  I came to her books later in life when my oldest daughter was reading them.  I picked one up, read the whole series and searched for more.  I found a biography of what her real life was like, much harsher than the books in childhood.  Mansfield is where she and her husband, Almanzo, her precious Manley as she called him, and her remarkable daughter, Rose, settled.  Once again, the museum was a delight, filled with so many actual items from their lives along with a timeline of both Laura and Rose’s lives.  DSC_0344The family that got out of the van next to our car in the parking lot looked like they had stepped out of Laura’s time, but they were Amish, a family paying tribute.  Other little girls scampered around the grounds, wearing sunbonnets and long dresses, playing Laura from the books and television series.DSC_0346I was reminded that Laura didn’t start writing the books until she was 65, when the stock market crash had wiped Laura and Almanzo out of their investments in their retirement.  Then she wrote one about every two years, writing into her 80s.  Once again, the museum helped sort out fact from the written memoirs, bringing new dimensions to the stories.  And I gained new knowledge and appreciation for the accomplishments of the remarkable Rose Wilder Lane, Laura and Almanzo’s only surviving child, herself a renowned author, journalist, and political activist.

Our guide through the farm house and the little rock house that Rose built for her parents was a delight, an older woman who had actually known Laura and brought so much life to the tours.  She was all that I love about small towns and Missourians with her openness, friendliness and sense of humor.  I love the fact that Almanzo built the entire farmhouse in stages, using materials from the farm, taking 18 years to complete it.  I love that the counters and cabinets in the kitchen were designed for his small wife, who was only 4’11”.  He was only 5’4″, so everything was to scale.  No wonder she was nicknamed “Half Pint” by her Pa.  He built much of the furniture, including chairs that were low to the ground.  I felt I knew Laura after seeing her favorite collections of china and the things she treasured around her, including her beloved library.  I love the fact that she only got a refrigerator a year before she died.  We take such things for granted.  It’s typical that Rose bought the refrigerator, always wanting to bring her parents into the modern world. DSC_0348The little rock house that was a Christmas gift from Rose to her parents was built from a Sears & Roebuck plan using rocks from the property, supervised by Almanzo.  This is the house where Laura actually wrote her first four books in the Little House series, marching up the hill to the farmhouse to discuss them with Rose, who helped with editing and shaping these stories for publication.  DSC_0353I would love to have listened to these two strong willed women argue over the drafts of the books, each fighting for one change or another. And Almanzo, walking with his cane since his stroke early in their marriage, walked down the rock stairs to the field below to milk the goats and carry the milk to the other end of the field to store in the spring house.  I also love that Rose bought them a car in 1923 and they loved it, using it to take trips to California and Minnesota and nearby Springfield whenever they felt like getting out.  Almanzo and Laura were the true story of how our country grew.  Unknown

I hadn’t planned to visit both places when I left home, but they made nice bookends to the trip.  Two of my favorites when I read their works and even more beloved now that I can see them in their homes and know so much more about them as real people who looked back on their childhoods, discarded the worst memories and transformed the best into stories that continue to inspire readers of all ages today, teaching us about the strength of human nature, the joy in relationships, and the humor in mankind.  Classics in every sense of the word.

I’m on the road again for a short trip.  I’m not that young, but I still get around pretty well, love driving trips, love exploring new things.  I can keep up pretty well with my grandkids, which is my goal.

You’ve all seen them when you travel, the bus loads of old people on tour,  you’ve probably tried to avoid them when you can, along with bus loads of noisy kids.  They’re both a nuisance, you may think.

This week I was in Hannibal, Missouri.  If I have to tell you the main reason people travel there, then you need to look it up.  At the hotel where I was staying, there was a bus load of Geezers, Geezers from Kentucky.  I need to remind you that these are my people, I am one of them, some are younger than I am, I can actually relate to them.  I watched them, wearing their name-badges around their necks, waiting to go to their next meal or  their next tour, visiting with each other, laughing and telling stories.

My thoughts on the Geezers on the bus was “Good for them!!!”  They don’t feel safe driving anymore, they don’t want to deal with reservations and bags, but they want to be out seeing and doing.  Some of them had canes or creaked along, but they were out there doing it!  They weren’t sitting around thinking about their lives, they were out there experiencing it.  And laughing and learning and enjoying friends and making new ones.  Thank you for these tours, for the bus drivers who take care of them, for the people who take them.

The other Geezers I watched in Hannibal on a Monday in July were the ones who were traveling with family. A few had brought a young grandchild along.  I watched a boy about 8 rolling his eyes while his grandfather explained about Mark Twain and Tom Sawyer as we stood near the famous whitewashed fence.  Someday, that boy may bring his grandson here, too.  Hopefully, the memories will be strong when he looks back.  The grandparents were loving watching their grandchildren ride on a riverboat for the first time, taking pictures, a gift for all generations.

As I travel around, I’m grateful I can still get there on my own, but I’m happy for my contemporaries and my elders, because there are still a lot of people older than I am, who are out there.

On a Monday night, visitors gathered to listen to a band play old tunes in front of an ice cream parlor.  Many were older, sitting on benches, humming along.  Lovely.image

As Willie Nelson, a Geezer if there ever was one, sings “I can’t wait to get on the road again.”

I hope I never outgrow the joy of discovering new things, new people, new experiences.  I find myself, in my, hmmm, late 60s (GADS!) rediscovering things I remember from past years.  I’m sure my perspective is different now that I’ve got more years behind me than before me and I’m not distracted by taking care of kids or working all the time.  I’m more relaxed and more open to all there is out there.

Last weekend, I took my youngest grandchild, not quite 5, on a short road trip to the Oklahoma City Zoo and then on to the Sam Noble Museum of Natural History on the campus of the University of Oklahoma in Norman.  I’ve taken my other grandchildren, but it’s been a few years, so it was refreshing for me to revisit these places again.  Watching a child, you have to wonder what goes on in their heads…

Seeing a wild bird, a lorakeet here, up close, and feeding it…DSC_0068 DSC_0071feeling it sit on your arm…DSC_0076watching a rhino baby nurse…DSC_0087or looking into the eyes of an orangutan…DSC_0112Is the concept of dinosaurs more real when you stand next to one?DSC_0150And doesn’t a strawberry milkshake help the brain process all the new experiences?DSC_0166I’m always looking for new places to go and old ones to revisit.  And then I come home and wonder at all I’ve seen in my life.  Lovely.

My 4 year old granddaughter and I went to the Oklahoma City Zoo last weekend for a little road trip.  I love zoos and watching human families as much as the animals, so it’s fun to have another round at going with a little one.  Our special treat was to see the 3 week old Indian rhinoceros baby.DSC_0093It reached 100 degrees that day, but, like all mommas, this one had made sure her little one was covered in sun screen or mud.DSC_0084He was still nursing, so he didn’t get far from Momma Rhino.  Bless her heart.  She didn’t look too happy at the crowd watching, but that had to be the least of it since she’d carried him for 450 days and he’d been 120 pounds at birth.  He’s still her baby.  And, what a cutie he is…DSC_0094One of the gorillas had a new baby, too.  A little older than the rhino baby, but she was leaning over it very protectively when we got to the window.  She watched the crowd then laid down beside him, watching her precious child sleep, as we’ve all done.  DSC_0100One of the best part of learning at the zoo is getting to experience such tender moments with the animals.  They love their babies and protect them just as we do.  We learn that we’re all here on this planet with the same goals as parents…give them birth, watch over them, give them tools to survive, and then let them go into the dangerous world out there.

Love the Mommas.  And the Daddys.  Of all species.

When I was a girl, we played jacks all the time.  It was great because you could play it alone or with friends and we were all good at it and we must have played for hours at a time.  If you have forgotten or don’t know what the game of jacks is, here’s a picture…a999c612de30bea465280ea595439046I hadn’t thought about jacks in years and, when I did, I texted my daughters to make sure I had taught them how to play.  One responded that she remembered it, but didn’t play much.  I was feeling like a failure as a mother at that point, but vowed to teach my granddaughters, even though one is probably too old to get into it at this point.

Finding a set took a little while since we don’t have dime stores around any more.  The sets I remembered as a child had the red rubber ball seen in the photo, but we preferred a golf ball, which we always had around the house.  I finally found a set in town, but it only had eight jacks and I remembered more and had a tiny, hard rubber ball.  We tended to play with double sets as we got better and were looking for more challenges.  The set had good sturdy jacks, not the light ones they started making way back.  You have to start with good jacks – I remember that.  And, I had a golf ball I could use.

We played several games…regular jacks, pigs in the pen (which I loved), cherries in the basket, round the world, and whatever game kids could invent.

Last night, I took my eight jacks and a golf ball and sat down on my sidewalk to see if I could still play.  It took a few times for my memory to kick in, but it was all coming back.  I had to adjust for the fact my fingernails are longer and were scratching the pavement, but somehow I figured out how to stop that.  Actually, the hardest thing…don’t laugh…was that the ball tended to bounce away and this old lady doesn’t get up as fast as she used to.  I don’t remember that being part of the game.  When you’re little, your back doesn’t hurt and you bounce up and down with ease.  Sigh.

Anyway, it was coming back to me more quickly than I thought.  I need to practice, but I can still do it.

When I was trying to find jacks, which you can get online, I saw an article on how good the game is, how it teaches children dexterity.  I am sure that my parents never read an article on the benefits of the game and that we wouldn’t have thought much about it.  For gosh sakes, of course it was good for us.  It’s fun!  photo



Over the Fourth of July, I was watching some of my grandchildren, ages 4 to 15,interact with each other and other kids around.  I have a friend who believes that kids make up games and rules that are always fair.  He believes it’s instinctive for them to be fair when left alone by adults.  I remember this from my childhood and watched these modern day kids who are poster children for organized sports and activities.

Guess what?  They still like to play.  First, at the swimming pool, the 14 and 15 year old made up dunking games, where they dunked each other, basketball games played with a small ball, a large beach ball, whatever they could find.  DSC_0409Then there were games on the slide with the ball, games off the diving board, and games with a sister/cousin and her friend.  They never stopped moving.DSC_0400DSC_0420DSC_0413Everything was discussed for a few minutes and then they played.  And played, moving from one part of the pool to the other with a new idea.  The next day, we added a 12 year old and a four year old cousin to the mix.  This changed it up a bit while they learned the new rules.DSC_0013DSC_0023There was no complaining about being bored, no arguments, no tears or whining.  Later, we met for dinner and I brought Pop-Its or Bang Pops, about 50 boxes of them.  They found more ways to pop them than I could imagine.  Very creative popping going on…DSC_0006DSC_0007And we ended the day with hundreds of kids waiting for the fireworks display.  Impromptu games of soccer and frisbee broke out with boys and girls of all ages playing their own version, mindful of the difference in ages and sizes, but all playing.  They didn’t ask names or wait to be introduced, they just threw a ball out there and it began.  They must have played for an hour or two without anybody stopping before they came back to the blankets at dark.  DSC_0020When I watch kids, all kids, playing like this, free of adults to hover over them or tell them what they are supposed to be doing, it gives me great hope.  If kids can figure out how to get along, shouldn’t we all be able to?  If kids can play together, shouldn’t we be able to live together, even with our differences?  Our children have wonderful imaginations when left to use them.  I’m hoping they use those imaginations plus the happy memories they have to build an even better world.

As their grandmother, all I know is that they are just so much fun to watch!

Oklahoma is home to 38 Native American tribes, second in number of tribes only to California.  Our town and city names reflect the languages and influence on our history and there seems to be more and more positive appreciation of their individual heritages and customs.

There are many tribal headquarters as you pass through our state, but one of the biggest and newest is the Chickasaw Cultural Center in Sulphur, down in south central Oklahoma. 
DSC_0217Blocks from the Chickasaw National Recreation Area, you find a beautiful contemporary center with exhibits, meeting places, research center, and a cafe, art galleries and beautifully landscaped grounds.  The first thing we saw was corn growing on the roof of one of the buildings.  How wonderfully appropriate!DSC_0221We were greeted with signs in English and Chickasaw…DSC_0246DSC_0220and bronze tributes to the tribe…DSC_0224DSC_0228The exhibit hall had the latest in interactive displays showing the history and heritage of the tribe.DSC_0225My favorite were the various boards where you could press a copper disc and hear the words spoken in Chickasaw as well as used in a sentence.IMG_4909There was a model village with explanations spoken in each building.DSC_0232The day we were there, the center was hosting a children’s festival, one of the best I have seen.  There was so  much for kids and families to do and learn and everyone was friendly and inviting.  I loved watching some of the young men demonstrating stickball games, which I had learned in the center were more than just for fun in the tribes in the old days.DSC_0244To top off the whole exciting experience, the Chickasaw also own a chocolate factory, Bedre, located a few miles down the road on the interstate in Davis.  They are the only tribe to own a chocolate factory and the products are truly excellent.  They sell to stores such as Neiman-Marcus, so you know that it’s special.DSC_0216IMG_4922I’ve traveled many places on this planet and I keep finding beautiful spots close to home.  Every state has them for us to discover, so I’m not claiming we’re unique, but it’s fun to go down the road and make new memories close to home.  If you’re crossing our state or coming to spend awhile, don’t miss our not so hidden surprises.  As the Chickasaw say, “Chockma!”DSC_0245

Getting off the interstates takes you along some great secondary roads that lead to new adventures everywhere you go.  My friend and I travelled within Oklahoma, going south where both of our families have roots.

Her grandfather lived in Seminole, so we explored the downtown and found it full of treasures.  The streets are all brick…DSC_0111There are old signs to delight…DSC_0101And the bus station still functions…DSC_0113DSC_0105My friend was raised in Oregon, but has lived in Oklahoma during her adult life.  She acknowledged the beauty of the countryside as we drove, but was especially taken with Turner Falls.  She said she hadn’t believed that there was such a place in Oklahoma.  I grew up going by Turner Falls so it was a return to my childhood for me.DSC_0123DSC_0139The swimming hole wasn’t as crowded when we arrived around dinner time, so we enjoyed the beauty with just a few swimmers in the water.  We stopped at the old overlook, complete with the sign I remembered from my childhood.  Who has Curio Shops anymore?DSC_0144 DSC_0261We also discovered the place where everyone seemed to be stopping.  No wonder – they were delicious!DSC_0258 IMG_4920Our trip south ended in Ardmore, where my mother was born and I spent much of my childhood visiting my grandmother, aunts and uncles.  We took the old road in rather than the interstate.  The road through the Arbuckles that scared me as a child because it seemed high and had no shoulders and semis came at you around every curve was now a lovely drive into town.  When we saw the old standpipe in the distance, I felt one of those shivers of memory that go through you when you see something so familiar.DSC_0262There was so many memories in Ardmore and so much to learn about my family’s history there.  Downtown looked like it was hanging on..DSC_0199I found the bank where my uncle worked.  Walking through those doors as a child and seeing the brass cages where the tellers sat was most impressive.DSC_0191The high school where my mother graduated was still standing at least…DSC_0165And there were signs and places that I remembered well…DSC_0194 DSC_0195 DSC_0200 DSC_0205Central Park was across from my family’s historic home, long gone, but historic because it was built in the 1880s and was also the site of one of their wagon yards, one of the early ones in town.  I played in the park on this stage many a time since my aunt and uncle lived in the family house across the street until it was sold and replaced with an office, now an art gallery.DSC_0176I found both of the houses I remember my grandmother living in, changed but still recognizable, and the memories continued to flow.  A trip to the delightful museum left me with new insights to the place where my great-grandparents traveled from Texas to take their place in this new city.  DSC_0207My visit to the cemetery was touching as they all are buried neatly together, probably visited by nobody for many years since we all live in other parts of the state and country.  I have mixed feelings about cemeteries these days for that and other reasons.

We left Ardmore, driving to Sulphur and stopped at the Chickasaw National Recreations Area.  When I was a child, this was Platt National Park, the smallest national park in America.  We stopped for the Sulphur Springs, which stunk, and for the lovely creeks and waterfalls.  Today, this has all been encompassed into the larger area which includes the Lake of the Arbuckles and is a huge recreation area.  I chose to revisit the old Platt site, including the Nature Center.  The historic signature Lincoln Bridge is still there…DSC_0352The sites of the old Sulphur Springs are there, although many of them are dried up due to the ongoing drought in this area of the country.DSC_0295Even with springs and creeks dried up, we found beauty and water flowing.  There were wildflowers like the Indian Blanket and others…DSC_0271DSC_0293DSC_0279DSC_0339Birds and animals greeted us without fear in this protected area…DSC_0305 DSC_0314 DSC_0331And I ended this visit dipping my feet in a cool stream on a summer day…DSC_0366We drove home a different way, seeing small towns like Bowlegs and Wetova…DSC_0372…and a peek at Okemah, home of Woody Guthrie, before heading home after a delightfully beautiful road trip.DSC_0375