St Louis is an amazingly family-friendly city with a lot a free activities suitable for the whole family, like tours of the Anheuser-Busch brewery. We did the tour which is something I'm sure I'm forbidden to write about on the internet, being a high school teacher. It was amazingly clean, and I learned a lot about the science involved in producing a lager as well as a lot of interesting history about the company. My least favorite part was the two full-sized samples of free beer at the end. It was Molly's favorite because there was a soda fountain for the kids. The bar manager took a liking to her and brought us extra pretzels, a key chain and little papers for her to color on. He winked and told me that if there was anything else we needed to let him know. I took that to mean that I could have a third, fourth, and fifth sample if I so desired. I'm sure my mom is glad that there are kind people looking out for us wherever we go.
We found a playground to explore for awhile and then had lunch in the Hill. The Hill is St Louis' little Italy. I ordered a local favorite, the Special, at Amaghetti's deli. There was walk-up ordering in their quaint courtyard adjacent to the restaurant.
We didn't have time for these free St Louis attractions, but hope to visit them in the future: Grant's Farm, Purina Farms, the zoo, science center, art museum, and sculpture park.
We drove on to Branson as storm clouds rolled in from the west. We didn't encounter much severe weather, but I couldn't help but think about the Joplin tornado as we drove closer and closer to the devastated area.
We arrived at our campground, set up our tent in the heat and went to check out the jumping pillow and pool. Again, Molly was a super-sleeper in the tent.
We were in four states today. Today was primarily a travel day. Molly slept as we crossed the Mississippi, and I spent twenty minutes organizing and cleaning the car parked in front of the hotel while she dozed. I drove my friends crazy the previous night trying to find a hotel in St Louis. The other accomodations for our return trip were pretty easy to make, but it was very difficult to find much of anything less than $100/night, even in the surrounding towns. I ended up purchasing a room through hotwire.com at the Holiday Inn Select downtown. It ended up being a very nice hotel with a few drawbacks. There was no free breakfast, and we had to pay for parking. The front desk staff members were highly impersonal, and our hallway smelled of smoke. The location, room, and pool were excellent though. We had a relaxing time in the pool (most of the other guests were going to the Cardinals game and the hotel was quiet) and ordered St Louis style pizza to our room from a local favorite. The pizza has a very thin, crackerlike crust with a mixture of three types of cheese. It gets our mark of approval!
We started the day off with a visit to the Toledo zoo with Uncle Tim and our friends Cindy and Vaughn. The first few exhibits that we saw had different animals than those at our zoo: wolves, polar bears and seals. The zoo also had a lot of interactive play area s and displays. There was also a baby elephant that was just a few weeks old!
We then drove to Kettering, OH to visit good friends. Tricia has a cooking blog which you can read here. She made us a terrific dinner of marinated steak topped with mango salsa, twice baked potatoes with broccoli and grape salad with candied walnuts. Of course, it was all fantastic. Their kids are adorable, and Molly enjoyed playing with them.
Help, I need a thesaurus! Upon rereading, I noticed I used the word yummy to describe all three meals of this day!
This was a super-fun day! We said good-bye to the kids and headed for a quick visit with Aunt Donna. She had coffee for us and some yummy goodies. Big T met us there; besides wanting to see Aunt Donna, I think he somehow foreknew that she would have Hostess cupcakes.
We then went to visit with our long-term next-door neighbors, Carole and Bill. Molly had a great time running around with their granddaughter, feeding a horse, seeing a baby peacock, and picking mulberries from the tree. They fed us a yummy lunch and then we went to Calder dairy. We loved going to this farm for ice cream growing up, and it is even better now.
Seeing my dad's old barn brought a twinge of sadness and a swelling of heart. I remember his peaceful presence as he labored there. I also stalked my childhood home for a few moments as I parked on the street and recalled the decades I spent in the house that built me.
We headed to Uncle Tim's house while Molly got another car nap. We had some yummy burgers before he went with us to our hotel. He had a free night to use up before the end of the month, and he bestowed it upon us. Unfortunately the night ended somewhat roughly and thanks to us, I warned him that his diamond level reward status with Marriott might be in jeopardy. Not really. I don't have time for the whole story here, but here's a short synopsis: markers. down comforter. screaming. 10:20 pm.
Molly spent the whole day hanging out with her second cousins. They are very sweet kids, and she had a blast with them. We went to a t-ball game, beef jerky store- to prepare for my visit to Tim’s house, and an old-fashioned drive in A&W in Dexter, MI. It was a super-fun and relaxing day.
This was the view down the country road where I've been taking my morning runs. We had a relaxing day and had delicious hamburgers and mudpie courtesy of Traci, Papere's daughter.
Another afternoon nap was on tap for Molly while we drove to my Uncle Matt and Aunt Ilene's. They were up for spoiling Molly as we went out for dinner, to the park and for ice cream. It was so nice going to sleep with an open window and waking up with sun coming through the leaves and hearing the squaking red winged black birds wake me up.
On this visit, we only have two of Molly's great-grandmas to visit since Grandma Agnes went to heaven. We visited GG Kelly and Grandma Cook today. Of course, Aunt Mary was a highlight, too! We had to have some Topopo salad at El Azteco. I drove around campus while Molly napped. Our day ended with our third Michigan campfire complete with s'mores.
We spent the day hanging out at MaMere and PaPere's. In the evening, we visted with Kristi, Mike, and Angela, some friends from church. Molly had fun with Mike and Kristi's boys. I don't have any pictures to post, but everyone looks fantastic these days, as expected.
Molly had a fun morning at Auntie Katie's house. I made a quick trip to a visit a long-time friend, Elizabeth. After lunch we headed to Lansing. Molly had a nice nap in the car, and we met my friend Kim at the Lansing City Market. We visited our favorite cheese vendor for some white stilton with cranberries and some other yummy goodies. What a fantastic trip- we've stopped at two lovely cheese retailers. We also bought some local strawberries that were picked this morning. And, of course, we made the obligatory visits to the restrooms and bubble gum machine. We then headed to Roma Bakery for some excellent cannoli.
We finished our day at MaMere and PaPere's. They had an early birthday party for Molly complete with presents, cake and balloons.
Our second night of camping was fantastic. We slept well on a new, leak-free mattress. It was cool and overcast, and Molly played well while I packed up the campsite. We walked again to the beach to play. It is hard to say good-bye to the lake because it is so calm and beautiful and very unlike anything we have in Texas.
We had a nice drive to Auntie Katie's house with Molly taking a car-nap. Once there, we enjoyed doing laundry and bathing.
Apart from the brand-new air mattress that leaked all of its air during the night, we had a fantastic time camping. The first night was quite cold, but Molly slept really well in the tent snuggled up to me. We found a good source for morning coffee and cocoa, and enjoyed terrific beach weather. It was so peaceful, and Molly enjoyed playing in the sand. Even more than sand-play, she loved running on the beach! One of Molly's favorite people, Auntie Katie, met us at our campsite to play and have dinner. We made hotdogs, corn on the cob, and smores in the fire. Terrific!
We spent Sunday relaxing with our friends. After lunch and church we hit a park with the kids and an awesome market called Brennan's. We stocked up on lots of yummy Wisconsin cheese. Without a nap, the kids went to bed early, and Angela and I enjoyed a relaxing conversation with warm cherry pie and tea. It doesn't get much better! Angela is a kindred spirit, and I was so blessed with these days with her!
The last time I saw Terah, my college roommate, was at our graduation in 1997. She was a great host, and we had a fun time meeting her husband and children. The highlight of our visit was the Korean culture picnic we attended. The food was excellent, and all of the kids happily ate the traditional Korean dishes. We arrived at the home of dear friends in Menomonee Falls this afternoon.