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Twenty-five Year Travels (or St. Louis for Survivors)

I have a lot to write about, not the least of which is a report on our mini vacation we took over the weekend and into this week.  So, I think I will write about the trip first and then do a separate post on the other stuff.

I’ve been telling the kids for awhile that sometime this summer we will go see the museums in Chicago.  I don’t really want to spend any time in Chicago itself, other than the time that we would be in the museums.  I wasn’t planning on going anywhere else.  I’ve been steadily putting aside money for our big trip in 2019 when we are going to go to the Creation Museum in Kentucky.    But…as we got into January this year, the specter of what would have been my 25th anniversary on Feb. 20 began to loom over me.  I really didn’t have the time to travel, but I really didn’t want to be home that day, either.  The 25th is kind of big one.  Paul and I were already beginning to talk about taking a cruise for that anniversary before he died.  He had always wanted to go on one and that sounded fun to me.  I don’t know if it would have worked out or not to go, but we would have done something big to celebrate our quarter century mark.

Last fall, Sam did a school project on the St. Louis Arch and it occurred to me that Missouri is located below Iowa and he might get a real kick out of seeing the Arch for real after researching it and building a lego model of it.  So, I did a bunch of research and last Saturday morning, we pulled out of the driveway and pointed the van south (well, east, then south).

Things were not off to an auspicious start, though, when we attempted to plug in the first address and discovered that my 4 year old GPS had suddenly decided that there is only one state in America now – Iowa.  David and I worked on that thing for nearly an hour, but could not get it to accept Missouri as a state.  I’ve never done an update on my GPS – this may be why I’ve been encouraged every year to do one.  Although, I think Missouri has been part of the Union for more than four years… So, I finally ran back into the house so I could print out a map off mapquest.  Of course, I had shut down my computer before locking up the house and my computer decided that when I turned it back on that it would be a lovely time to do a bunch of updates to the computer.  Argh!  But finally, we were on the road.

We ran into a little bit of snow down in the Mt. Pleasant area, but it was nothing serious.  I could still get in WHO radio at that point and they were talking about a snow squall that had sprung up north of Des Moines, resulting in another 50  car pile-up (there was one on that same stretch of interstate about 2 weeks ago). It made me glad we didn’t decide to go to Minneapolis this time! 

On the way down we found a Walmart and I bought a new GPS.  I knew I would need it for navigating the city and I did.  And then we eventually made it to our hotel and the kids were pleased to find out that our 3 - bed room that I had reserved was actually a suite with 2 separate rooms and bathrooms – and most importantly, TWO tvs.  So we had Boys room and a Girls room.

I spent some time doing some schoolwork that night in the room while David took the kids to the pool.   I also nailed down our plans for the next couple of days.  I had hoped to visit this church while down there, but I just didn’t see a way to make it work with our pre-bought Arch tickets.  We should have just gotten up earlier and made it work.  We were kind of at loose ends after eating breakfast so we did some driving around.  I needed to stop and get Lizzie some earplugs for swimming.  We just went into the first drug store we found after driving for a bit.

I had an inkling I might not be in the best area of town when I walked into the store and found that most items on the shelves were in locked cabinets – even things like shampoo and razors!  I got out of there in a hurry.  As I was backing out of my spot, to my horror, I backed into another car!  I have never done that in my life!  Well, once I did that to Paul’s truck but he parked it right behind my van so that was kind of his fault.  And it was decades ago, anyway.

I immediately swung around and parked the van, preparing to face the ire of whoever I hit.  Only there was nobody in the SUV.  I was guessing that I was the one who knocked out their taillight lens, but it’s hard to say because there were other things wrong on that vehicle, too.  I got out my insurance information and began jotting it down.  At that moment, this black lady walking into the store began to holler, “I saw what you did!”  I told her I was taking care of it but she told me she was going to “tell on you” and scurried into the store.  Whatever.  I wrote down the needed information and then walked over to the police car that was conveniently parked in the lot to see if cop thought I needed to do anything else.  Only, I then discovered there was no actual policeman in the car.  Apparently the car was parked there as a deterrent.  Another sign that this might not be the best section of town!  As I walked back to my van, an employee was walking into the store, so I gave her the paper on which I had written my information and she told me the SUV had been parked there for weeks and she didn’t know who it belonged to.  She took the paper and said if anyone claimed it, she’d give it to them.  She also told me to not worry about it.  I wasn’t going to, even though my heart was still pounding.  I handled it just fine, but those kind of incidents are always upsetting.

My van is just fine.  There is zero damage to it.  There is some black paint on it that rubbed off.  I need to find out how to get it off my van – maybe soap and water?  I haven’t tried to clean it yet.  So, I was thankful that it was nothing worse.  I think it would be awful to be in a car accident when you are not at home!  Although, I guess that's was AAA is for. This just served as a reminder to look better when I am in unfamiliar places. 

So, as my nerves settled, I drove into downtown St. Louis.  We were hoping to get some lunch before going to the arch, but it wasn’t that easy.  First, we had to find a place to park in the downtown and then we had to find a restaurant.  We stopped into a couple, but there just was not going to be enough time before we needed to present our tickets at the Arch.  Fortunately, we did have a big breakfast – which was good since we ended up not getting to eat until 5 that night!  It was a sunny, cool day in St. Louis.  We walked quite a bit as we attempted to find a place to eat.  Then we had to walk some more to get to the Arch.  But, wow – what a sight.  That thing is SO tall and shiny!  We had to go through security, which meant loading our coats and bags into airport trays and sending them through a scanner.  But they didn’t scan kids, so I guess if someone wanted to commit terrorism at the St. Louis Arch, they need to put the gun in a child’s coat and they’ll be fine.  We watched a 35 min. film about the building of the Arch, which I found fascinating.  The concept for having a memorial to westward expansion was birthed in 1933.  In 1948 a contract was awarded and ground was broken in 1962.  That took a long time to come to fruition!  Despite the harrowing conditions of building a thin monument so high off the ground not a single worker was ever killed.

Then, we got to go up into the Arch.  That made me slightly claustrophobic.  They load you into these little cars.  All of us fit into one, with Ellie sitting on someone’s lap.  It takes 4 minutes to reach the top of the Arch.  You get out and then you peer through these windows that aren’t even a foot wide, I don’t think.  You can see the Mississippi River on one side and downtown St. Louis on the other.  The kids were all suitably impressed.  It was a 3 minute ride down.  I suppose it would be faster if the cables broke. We were all able to get in for $39, which I thought was pretty good.  I found a coupon code on-line that allowed for a free kid’s admission to the Arch with the purchase of an adult ticket.  We had 3 adult tickets and 3 kids, so that worked out well!

After visiting the gift shop we then walked back to this restaurant we had been hoping to eat at earlier called “Bailey’s Grange.”  I loved the atmosphere of this place.  It’s in an industrial warehouse-type building but they’ve painted the interior a buttery yellow.  Painted milk cans hang from the ceiling, along with old window panes of etched and stained glass.  We were seated upstairs by a window, so we got to look down onto the street.  I loved the ambiance!  The food was ok – not bad, but not terrific, either.  But we were so hungry we ate every scrap!

On our way into town I had noticed that St. Louis has an IKEA.  I did not know that.  So, after eating Sunday we had to go there.  And for some reason, Sam and Lizzie claim that was the favorite part of their trip.  I really do not know why!  I love that store, though.  I did find a few things.  The way the kids swooned over the plastic bowls and plates I bought just made me laugh – you would think I had had them eating off the floor prior to picking up these things!  I did find a loft bed there I would really like to get for Lizzie.  Once I get done with school I am planning on painting Will’s old room and moving Lizzie into that.  I wonder if it might be worth it to visit the IKEA in Minneapolis or Ks City just to get the bed.  Or, I suppose I could order on-line, too.

So that was Sunday.  We ended up going back to our hotel, which was in a suburb of SL in the dark.  SL is a bigger city than Des Moines and I think their drivers are a little more crazy.  I breathed better once I was outside the city limits, but you know, I also felt really good.  It would be more comfortable for me to never drive anyplace that makes me nervous, but I felt somewhat victorious after I did that driving.  I can DO this!

The next day we woke up to rain.  And we were supposed to go to the zoo.  Well…we went anyway.  The zoo is nice.  And it’s free.  There are certain exhibits that you have to pay to see inside if you wish, but we ended up not paying a thing.  They had an hour where the petting zoo was free and another hour where the carousel was free so we took advantage of those things.  It’s a nice zoo.  If the weather had not been so crummy we probably would have stayed longer.  But it was pretty damp.  Sam’s shoes got so soaked that I ended up having to buy him another pair of socks ($15 – robbery!) at the gift shop. 

We went to a cafeteria in the zoo for lunch.  The one at the Omaha zoo is nicer.  This one was staffed by all black employees.  I doubt that was on purpose.  It was just something I noticed.  Actually, we saw lots of black people in SL.  I didn’t say a word about it, wondering if the girls would notice and both of them, at separate times, commented on it.  Most were perfectly nice and fussed over the girls.  We saw them everywhere – the hotel, the restaurants, the lady screaming at me outside CVS, IKEA, etc.  But there were a couple in this cafeteria that were on the short side.  They seemed very impatient with me and I don’t know if it’s because it was obvious I was not familiar with how the cafeteria worked, or if they were bothered that I had adopted black children, or if they just didn’t like rainy days.  It doesn’t help, either, that they talk very fast and in their jive-laden ebonics and with my hearing loss I had to ask them to repeat themselves.  A couple of them seemed very put out by that request.  So sue me.  I’m a middle aged white woman who can only hear out of one ear.  That’s the way it is.  Of course, in those kind of situations, I always find myself wondering if the attitude is more personal because I’m white and have black children.  I know some in the black community resent those kind of situations.  Last night, I was relating this to a friend and she suggested that it could have been, too, that it is assumed I am married to a black man.  But if that were true, the girls would be lighter in skin color.  Who knows!  Fortunately, the majority of black employees that we encountered down there were super nice. I bet I could have found some good hair stores down there - but they may not have been in the best neighborhoods, either, like here in Des Moines.  Better to stick to Amazon for that kind of stuff.

After lunch we headed back to the downtown and went to this place that I had read about on the internet simply called the City Museum.  The kids were kind of  moaning when I told them they were going because the idea of a museum didn’t sound that entertaining.  They had no idea what was waiting for them!  This place is a three story (plus a basement and outside in the summer months) wonderland for children.  It is a museum.  There were areas of paintings.  The curators of this place have collected old pieces of terra cotta and brick buildings with the intricate scroll work and placed them around the museum.  They have old signs still encased in chunks of brick that would say things like “Riverdale Savings and Loan” or “Hdw. Store.”  I suppose they could have created the things to look old and museum-quality, but I got the idea they were the real thing.  The floors are marble.  All over the building are mazes, tunnels, and slides.  You could be on the top floor, open up a tiny door, slide down a chute, and find yourself in the basement surrounded by strobe lights.  They have a room with just ramps where the kids (and adults) could run up and down these shiny, wood panels and then jump on a rope swing and fly across another part.  They had tunnels made out of re bar that would only fit a child.  They had one room that showcased a man’s lifetime collection of insects from Missouri.  Nearby, you could jump on a life size hamster wheel and then get off that and walk through an antique bank vault into a room with mirrored ceilings and purple lights.  There were little snack areas where you could purchase over-priced drinks and light meals. 

It was an awesome place.  I may have even gone down a slide or two.  Sam got  lost, briefly, for a few minutes.  He wasn’t real thrilled, as a result.  It was then that I realized that was why they gave you a wrist band with a place to write your phone number on your child’s wrist.  I had not noticed that when I put them on everyone. But we found him.

Honestly, in our safety-crazed world, I am kind of surprised this place is allowed to operate.  Kids were running up and down the ancient steps.  Any one of them could have fallen and split their face open.  They are hanging from several stories up in tubes made out of re bar.  The fatter kids could get stuck in the chutes.  There was no padding anywhere, no foam cubes at the bottom of metal slides.  But I never saw any bleeding children while I was there – just kids (and their parents) getting a real work-out as they jogged up three flights of stairs repeatedly.  It’s an amazing place and I would definitely like to go back sometime.  Sam says he won’t, though.

The next day was the 20th.   There were times during the day that I would stop and think, “Today would have my 25th anniversary.”  But it wasn’t really a painful thought – more of an observation.  Still, I am glad I had the distraction of the trip.  Had it been an ordinary day it might have hurt more.  We headed north towards home that morning and pulled off in Hannibal, Missouri, the home of Mark Twain.  I have always wanted to visit this place.  Unfortunately, it was raining in Missouri that day, which hampered me somewhat.  I mean, it was pouring.  Sometime I am going to go back with the kids in the warmer months.  They have two different caves that can be explored.  They have a steamboat and they have the Mark Twain childhood home and museum.  All these things cost money and I was kind of tired of spending, so I decided to just plan on coming back some other time.  But, I was able to go into a number of the little shops they have there – antique stores, gift shops, etc.  I couldn’t help but think how much fun Paul and I would have had exploring that town together – without kids.  Since it was raining I took one kid at a time with me into each store, which meant I had to trot back to the van every time I got done with a store.

The best food we had on the entire trip was in Hannibal at the Mark Twain Family Diner.  We’ll be back.

We had 3 ½ hours to go before we arrived home and I was hoping we would not run into any weather issues.  The kids did not have school on Monday because of President’s Day and I had arranged for them to be absent on Tuesday.  As it turned out, they cancelled school because of ice on Tuesday.  So they didn’t miss any school.  But by the time we got home, ice was not an issue – on the highways, anyway.  The streets here in town were pretty slick, though.  And the next day when I took the kids to school, the sidewalks and parking lots were horrible.  I could not believe they had not done a better job salting or laid out boards or something.  I had a death grip on Ellie and kids were slipping all over the place.  The next day there was still enough ice that I slipped on my way back to my van after dropping the kids off.  But I wasn’t hurt.  And nobody saw me.

 I hope.

That night I was very thankful to crawl into my bed.  I never sleep very well when I’m away from my Sleep Number and 3” Serta topper (just a little bit spoiled…).  It was still the 20th.  I turned on the tv to help my mind wind down and a sitcom was on in which a character suffers a miscarriage.  And before I knew it, I was sobbing and sobbing.  It could have been because once you experience the loss of a baby, you never forget – even if it has been 17 years.  It could have been fatigue.  It could have been menopause. It might have been relief after making it home safely.  I love making memories with my kids but there’s a certain amount of stress with planning things, traveling in unfamiliar areas, and trying to keep everyone safe. That’s tiring.   

But it might have been because it was supposed to be my 25th wedding anniversary.

But I was still ok.  And I’ll be ok next year on Feb. 20th.  And I’ll be ok 25 years from now, too.  I may keep traveling on those dates – doing what I need to in order to survive the day – but I will always be ok.



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