Wednesday, August 31, 2016


My grandparents are getting up there in age. Grandpa's 87 and Grandma's 83. It seems like yesterday my brother and I were spending weeks with them in the summer going fishing and swimming while my parents got a break from parenting. Then they retired and moved down to Florida and we would get to visit them for a couple weeks in the spring and the fall when they drove their RV up to the farm on their way to far flung places. Finally they decided they weren't up for that anymore and sold their RV so in order to see them, we've been making annual pilgrimages down to Florida where we have met them along the panhandle coast for one week a year. However the last two years, they have been last minute no shows due to health issues so it has been awhile since my last visit with them.

We've been politely suggesting to them that perhaps it is time to think about moving back to Iowa so they can be close to family to help them out. I think my Grandma is open to it but thus far Grandpa has just refused. I can't blame him really because for the last couple decades, Florida has been their home and they had friends there. However, those friends have mostly passed away and Grandpa is getting closer to the point where Grandma won't be able to take care of him. Still, Grandpa has not been willing to discuss moving yet and Grandma, who grew up in a different era, is reluctant to put her foot down.

At least until recently. They have requested information on some retirement communities in the town where I live which is really the closest available to my mom, their daughter. They are looking for someplace where they can live independently in an apartment and then transition to assisted living, a nursing home and then the final transition to the next life. Fortunately, we have two such places here in town and I went to check them out and get information on both.

I'm pretty certain that 'they' actually means just Grandma and that Grandpa has no idea yet that she is even looking into such places. I've been imagining Grandma sticking a brochure into the book Grandpa is reading just like Ralphie slipped the ad for a Red Rider BB-gun into one of his mom's magazines in the movie A Christmas Story. Although she would never do such a thing, she should wop Grandpa up side the head with the brochures and tell him to choose or she is going to choose for him. It would be really nice to be able to stop by in the evenings to visit with my grandparents instead of the two and a half years it has been since the last few days I spent with them. Although my wife might disagree, I didn't inherit my Grandfather's or mother's stubbornness gene and I'm not going to hold my breath just yet.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Bad and Good News

Almost like a comedy bit, we were told that while my mom was a perfect candidate for the trial up at Mayo clinic, she can't be accepted because the test was already full and had unbeknownst to her doctor, filled up two weeks before she made her first trip up there. As an engineer involved in lots of math and tests, I couldn't understand the logic of limiting the number of data points in their trial. But later when I got to thinking about it, I know the PET scans are expensive and somebody is paying for them which is probably why it is only limited to so many people with stage III astrocytoma.

So it means that my mom will be getting the currently recognized standard treatment of six to seven weeks of radiation followed by a year or perhaps more of oral chemo treatments at the "local" cancer hospital, about a two plus hour drive from the farm and about an hour and a half from where I live. Definitely not ideal but when compared to the five plus hour drive up to Mayo, it is a lot closer.

As you read this, mom will have had her first meeting with their radiation oncologist and if things go as planned, her radiation treatments will probably be a week or two away. They have a nice apartment building for cancer patients to use free of charge while they are getting their treatments complete with their own private bedroom and a common area to interact with others going through the same thing. With one kid in school and the other not yet there (and mother-in-law not slated to return until October), I'm not sure I can be there all the time but I know I will be making the trip quite often while the oldest one is in school. Fortunately my parents have a community of friends who have all pledged to spend time staying with my mom so she has company. My brother and his wife, whose kids are young adults now, are also coming up to spend a month up here to help out on the farm and with mom.

It will be a busy time through September spent with my family for the most part. I have no problems with that.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Canning Shelves

After three years of not growing enough tomatoes to can, this year we are having a bumper crop and I've been canning like there is no tomorrow. Who knows, it might be another three years before we get another canning crop. So as I carried a case of newly canned salsa to add to the stash (one of several) and in doing so, I found two more cases of three year old salsa that I didn't know we had, this after spending a year eating store bought salsa (yuck), I knew something had to change. So I found some cheap 1 x material at the local big box store and got to work.

I'm a big fan of using Kreg screws and associated jig for building things like that but I was worried about the integrity of it with the weight of all my canned veggies on it so I decided to go old fashioned and make a dado joint in the side pieces. That with some glue should be all the support I need to hold up all those full canning jars. Fortunately, I have the simple jig you see clamped to the boards above. The bottom thinner board was much longer when I glued the stained guide rail (leftover from another project) to the thinner board. I then put a 3/4 dado bit in my router and cut it to size running my router along the fence. Now to get a perfect dado, I merely align it to the pencil line of where I want my dado and make a pass with the router. Easy as pie and I usually do a couple boards at once to speed up the process and make the shelves perfectly matched.

Just a gratuitous spider shot I took while out picking another 15 gallons of tomatoes to can. I couldn't get my phone camera to focus on him when looking down with the tomato plants in the background so I crouched down so I could get him against the sky. That worked out well.

Later the next day, this is how the canning storage area in our basement now looks. I built it in a narrow spot right inside the door where it was too shallow to stick actual shelves for storage and has just been a spot for storing flat folded cardboard boxes and a card table. For reference, the shelves are seven feet tall and five feet wide and 9-1/2" deep with a lip built in front to help support the shelves from bowing and preventing jar from accidentally falling to the floor. As you can see, thanks to a bumper crop of tomatoes, we are heavy on them right now and light on the fruits. I'm thinking about canning some apples this year to use in pies and such versus how I normally preserve them in the freezer.  I would also like to do some pickles sometime but I have lots of other pickled vegetables already so it isn't a necessity. All in all, I just feel a whole lot better about canning more things now that I have a way to easily access what I have and know how much left I have.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016


We had a free afternoon before my parents left to go on vacation followed by a visit to Mayo to begin preparations for Mom's cancer treatments. So we gathered up some food and met them partway at a small state park along the river that I have spent much time at. I have blogged about this in the past but above is the ford area that the Mormons crossed the river on their way out to Utah. The river is up this year but in most years you could probably walk across this area without difficulty. From here, there is a classic 2 mile hiking trail into town which I'm guessing I've walked a 100 times or more over the years. I have  yet to tire of it.

I watched a cooking show not to long ago and they had a challenge to make bibimbap which I have never heard before. It is a Korean staple of a variety of ingredients served over rice with a soft cooked egg on top. You mix it up after receiving it and the egg yolk kind of acts as the lubricant for the rest of the ingredients. I didn't have any Korean veggies but I did have some more American veggies of onions, peppers and mushrooms so I sauteed those all up with some chunks of grilled ribeye steak and although it didn't look colorful compared to the Korean versions, it was darn tasty. Since this blog post is a mixture of pictures, I thought bibimbap would be a good title.

Not a sharp picture of an insect on a picnic table along the river but pretty good considering I was using a phone camera and the wind was really shaking the little guy around. I wish I would have had my SLR with me and I would have been able to get a better shot.

The riverbanks are lined with old sycamore trees and I just love sitting below them listening to the leaves blow in the breeze and looking up through the green, white, browns into the deep blue sky just makes my mind wonder. Again, I apologize for the quality of the photo since it was taking on my phone.

Cooking blueberry pancakes on morning for breakfast, I found myself pondering pancake patterns. When I lightly spray the pan with an aerosol cooking spray, it produces patterns like above. If I don't spray for the second cake, it just produces and even browning. I was pondering the science of how aerosol cooking sprays produce such patterns and I'm not sure I have an answer.

Finally, we were coming back from the Iowa State Fair one evening and there was a gorgeous sunset going on behind me... unfortunately. However, I was heartened to find that my ten year old was really enjoying it instead of being glued to her Kindle and she asked to borrow my phone. While traveling around 70 mph down the road, my daughter snapped this picture through the side window when we turned south for a short time. I thought she did all right.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Life Continues

As all should when diagnosed with a illness that will most likely take your life, one should get a second opinion and my mom has. I don't know about elsewhere in this country but here in the Midwest, when you say cancer one automatically thinks of Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. So after securing an appointment, my parents made the long journey up there. Unfortunately, the diagnosis didn't change nor the prognosis. However, the doctor that might be treating my mom said he has one patient with the same thing who is going on 15 years and another handful pushing 7 to 8 years. All are well beyond the 3 year median statistic.

There is also hope that my mom may qualify for a new experimental radiation therapy. Currently, they create a MRI map of sorts of my mom's brain and a mold of her head to hold it in place. They they radiate the area of her brain where the cancer was and a few cells of it still remain. However, this is like cutting a tomato with a chainsaw. Sure it works but perhaps isn't the most effective way to go about it. The new therapy creates the map using a PET scan which is more more accurate about identifying any stray cancer cells left behind. With this information, they can blast more radiation in smaller areas with the hopes of killing more of the remaining cells without damage to the rest of the brain tissue. This is important because the area affected controls my mom's motor skills for the left side of her body.

My mom now has internet again and has researched all this and now knows the life expectancy for people with anaplastic astrocytomas which I think is a good thing. Hopefully it will allow her to get everything in order and do those things in life that up till now she has been putting off. I'm not sure what all those are but I do know I will do my best to allow them to come true. Overall, Mom's spirits are still high and we are all hoping for the slimmest chance of a miracle yet and enjoying life and each other while waiting.

My dad on the other hand has been taking things hard. I can see in his eyes the lack of sleep and the sadness of perhaps a couple decades of life without his companion of over 35 years. Smiles and humor, both trademarks of interacting with him are much harder to come by these days. I'm hoping all these things will improve as we all grapple with shock we have been dealt and move into the acceptance stages.

Friday, August 19, 2016


Months ago, I was asked to be on a committee for a bicycle vent coming to our city. It is an annual ride across Iowa now in its 44th year and we were hosting a stop over on its way to the Mississippi river. It meant lots of meetings to come up with a game plan for getting food vendors to serve all the people that would temporarily doubly our population for one night and organizing where and how they would get set up.

[Added just now when I discovered I forgot to write the rest of this post.]

The morning of the event, I was up before dawn and manning barricades to let the vendors into the rider area. Despite warnings to our local townfolk that roads were going to be closed and tens of thousands of bicyclists would be around, I was amazed at how many belligerent folks tried to talk their way through the barricades to get on the road the bicyclists were riding on and was completely packed with food and gear vendors.

After six hours of that and still before noon, some others came to relieve me including a police officer which stopped the belligerent folks from starting up, I spent several hours walking along the promenade helping vendors getting in their proper spaces and set up to serve food. Then the rush was on as bicyclists began arriving in the hundreds. I stayed for awhile to ensure there were no last minute problems, had some lunch myself and then crossed the bridge to downtown where I stopped in at the club at which I am a member and saw they were swamped with hungry riders as well. They needed help so I donned an apron and ran the bar for the next six hours serving drinks to very thirsty riders.

By the time I got out of there and walked up to the church where my wife was also working to serve hungry riders, I was beat. I ate some supper there, sat across the street in the park watching riders and pointing stray ones to what ever places they were looking for and then finally went home, well after dark. It was a very tiring but fulfilling day and according to many of the reports that day and the weeks after their stay, we ended up being the favorite overnight stop of the ride this year. I hope that means they come back soon.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Farm Crawl

Changing to a happier topic, a few weeks ago my home county held a farm crawl along a stretch of county roads that stretches from one county seat in a neighboring county to the local county seat. It is a blatant attempt to get people out to spend money along a stretch of country where none is typically spent but I didn't mind. The day was sunny and a bit warm but we had a good time. Besides an academy, the first west of Mississippi river, there was an Amish breakfast and a stop at the farm of a local doctor who lets artists set up and sale their wares. There was also this old barn which was just off roads I have traveled my entire life but had never seen before.

Talking with the lady stationed in the barn, I found out why. It had actually been moved here not long ago as a way to save it from rotting to the ground. In fact, she was leading an organization that was trying to save these old barns scattered throughout my home county. The first step was to sell a coffee table book with pictures of these barns to gain awareness and then to raise funds to help preserve them. Although I signed up to buy one of the coffee table books when they become available this fall, I'm not sure I will be donating to the cause of saving the barns despite my desire to save them. My problem is that giving money to private individuals to preserve barns for historical purposes has lots of drawbacks. It creates a dependence on the owner relying on the money and when the money dries up, nothing will have changed except the purchase of some time. I would be investing into a project in which I have no say. The owner could take the money, preserve the barn and then turn it into a strip joint and there would be nothing I could do about it. I actually think the lady telling us about this project was standing in the only real solution, moving the barns to places where they can be protected and preserved.

I can't help but find irony in this situation. Here I am, someone who would love to have one of these old barns behind my house but have none. Around me are those that do but are letting them rot into the ground. Right now I don't have the land to move one if I found one and had the money to do so. Perhaps someday, that will change and I can either build or move a barn that I can someday love... and then have my descendants let rot into the ground. Perhaps photographing and preserving pictures of these old barns is the best solution.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Being Mortal

Having seen a documentary on PBS of the same name as this post title a couple years before, I knew where to turn when I first learned of my mom's diagnosis. I had bought the book of the same name by Atul Gawande for my wife after seeing the documentary but had never read it myself. Unfortunately she had loaned it to a colleague of hers and probably won't get it back anytime soon so I bought another copy and began reading it again. It has really helped me digest what is probably in my family's future.

My dad said it best when he said that it isn't just my mom that has brain cancer but rather our whole family has it. We all are going to have to deal with it in our own different ways. Gawande's book "Being Mortal" deals a lot with how families and their doctors deal with terminal diseases and what questions families should address when living with one. My wife obtained another copy of the book from another colleague and gave it to my parents so right now we are all reading the book like a family book club. We haven't yet had the discussions addressed in the book but we will in due time.

Right now we only know generalized statistics and won't have any life estimates for some time. Looking at graphs of the prognosis of someone with anaplastic astrocytoma are grim but do contain some hope. As I noted in my previous post, only 50% of those diagnosed with it will be alive 2 to 3 years later. At five years, only 25% will still be alive. But at that five year mark the trend line almost flat lines going out to infinity. To me this offers hope that perhaps there is a 1 in 4 chance of treating this cancer to a draw. It may be for five, ten or more years but at least it is a draw that buys one more time. Definitely not great odds but also not without hope.

My mom however is in the "I'm going to beat this" mentality still and who am I to say no. I truly hope and will pray that she does even if everything I've read thus far says she won't. I do believe in the power of positive belief so for right now, I'm content to back her up when she says she will be cured with the upcoming treatments and life will return to normal until old age takes her. But I will be prepared for the day, if and when it arrives, when she realizes that time is getting shorter than she had hoped.

The most immediate side effect of all this is that we are spending a lot more time being together as a family. I've made more trips down to the farm in the last month to help with gardening preserves or just to visit that I normally do in a summer. It gives the kids and me a chance to be with my mom and just enjoy life. Since my mom can't drive for the next five months due to the seizure and my dad has a farm to run still, I have volunteered to do the grocery shopping and errand running for them during that time so I know I will get lots more time to spend on the farm. Another side effect is that before, hugs and I love you's were offered some of the time but not all the time. Now they have become mandatory. That is a side effect I can enjoy!

Friday, August 12, 2016


I've had this post in draft mode for a long time because I'm not sure if I wanted to tell this story. It is not one I really want to participate in but I have no choice in the matter. I have always found writing about my life cathartic. Perhaps it helps me make peace with the world around me or perhaps it just allows me to make sense of things. With this story in particular, I hope it will help me get through the grief process in a way that is healthy for me. Fortunately, I hope to have a number of years to write all of it.

In short, my mom has brain cancer and although treatable, it isn't curable. But let me go back to the beginning first.

My mom was at home working when she began experiencing stroke-like symptoms. Having been a former Medical First Responder, she knew the signs immediately and went to get my father working outside. Having had a SCAD heart attack history, it wasn't outside the realm of possibility even if the doctors have said that her internal veins are in pristine condition for someone her age. My dad took her to the closest hospital about 30 miles away and they soon gave her a clot buster as routine stroke medicine and arranged for her to be life flighted to the nearest trauma center another 100 miles down the road.

The weather conditions were horrible and so a helicopter couldn't go safely and she was put in an ambulance instead. She made it another 30 miles down the road and had a full blown seizure. One of the side effects of getting a clot buster which thins out bloods is getting brain bleeds and everyone thought that this is what had happened but when they stopped at the next hospital along the way for a MRI, she was cleared. She continued on eventually to the regional trauma center where I met her having recently arrived from  my aborted vacation.

I was much relieved to find my mom in the ER with four working limbs and talking although in a slightly slurred voice. The next two days would be full of tests for my mom and conferences with the doctors before she was told that she didn't have a stroke and instead had a mass in her head that had caused the stroke-like symptoms and the seizure. All the tests showed that it was either benign or a low grade tumor that could easily be dealt with. Fully recovered from the incident that started this whole affair, she stayed in the hospital an extra couple days while they got all these tests ordered just to speed things up and sent her home for a week before they would open her head up and do a biopsy.

A week later, my mom returned for her biopsy and after over five hours in the operating room, the doctors told us that they had removed all the mass that they could see. What? It went from getting a sample to removing the entire thing but I guess none of us (except my wife) worried about it. The doctors still said it looked low grade and was really slow growing. They told her it was most likely Diffuse Astrocytoma but they wouldn't know for sure until the results of the biopsy came back in a week to ten days.

Only when I got home and googled diffuse astrocytoma did I fully understand the gravity of the situation. The key word in the diagnosis is diffuse which means that like water, the cancer seeps into healthy tissues in the brain and has no clear boundaries. So while they removed most of the mass, they definitely couldn't get it all as they led us to believe. It also meant that it would keep coming back and eventually turn into a high grade or aggressively growing cancer and kill her. Although it varies greatly between patients and a multitude of factors, on average, people diagnosed with diffuse astrocytoma lived 7 to 10 years. What they mean in my language, is 50% of the people diagnosed with it will die in 7 to 10 years. Reading deeper, only 25% will live to see another 15 years.

It hit me that my mom was mortal and that most likely, she would no longer die of old age as I fully expected, as we all probably expect of our parents. My mom wouldn't live to reach the average life expectancy for a woman living in the heartland of America, but she would get within spitting distance and I guess I clutched to that as hope.

It was my understanding that the tests results we were waiting on were merely tests to see how the mass responded to various possible treatments that would help preserve my mom's quality of life as long as possible which we still thought was a long way away. So I wasn't expecting when I downloaded the report for my mom who was without internet at the time, to find that they had upgraded it from type II diffuse to type III anaplastic astrocytoma. From my previous research, I knew that anaplastic meant is was a high grade or aggressively growing cancer.

My wife and I drove down to the farm that night to break the news to my parents and it was perhaps one of the hardest drives down there I have ever had to do. I didn't have to break the news but I wanted to my mom to hear it from family and not from a doctor she has only met a few minutes after her brain surgery. We all had a good cry and promised that would be the last but I know it won't be.

As I said before, the prognosis for someone with brain cancer depends on so many things. In my mom's case, the caught it early, caught it still small sized and removed almost all of it, all things that help. However, age is against her though as an avid health nut who bicycles across the country regularly for fun, I'm guessing her body age is much younger than that of her driver's license. Also, the field of cancer is undergoing such a revolution, that even studies on longevity five years old are way out of date. Saying that, on average for someone with anaplastic astrocytoma, 50% will die within 2 to 3 years and only 25% will live to see 5 years. Statistics that I'm not sure I really can cope with these numbers just yet. I don't know if my mom knows any of this yet but she has been told by her regular doctor that this will absolutely eventually kill her.

So that's my story thus far. It takes six weeks for a brain to heal from surgery so my mom isn't eligible for treatment until the end of this month. She will meet with an oncologist at that time who might be able to give her a better time frame on life and also discuss treatment options. Treatments really don't improve your time frame for living but do increase your time frame for being symptom free, i.e. having quality of life. I do know though that every second I spend with my mom now is the most precious thing to me and I plan to take advantage of that.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Baked Cards

Although my great grandmother Amanda knew me, I have no memories of her since she died when I was not yet five years old. For most of my childhood, the only think I knew of her was that she owned a box fan and had written her name on it in permanent marker. Somehow, it became property of my family and was my own personal box fan when we lived in our old seven bedroom farmhouse with no air conditioning. I know a lot about her ancestors thanks to a wonderful book that my grandmother gave me years ago but know very little about Amanda. While processing sweetcorn on the farm with my mother earlier this year, we got to talking about Amanda and husband Charles and I asked my mom what Amanda was like.

My mom said she was a straight laced baptist and thought all her children were going to hell for letting their children, Amanda's grandchildren go astray. My mom said she has memories of playing card games with her cousins and the games getting a little wild. She said one time Amanda gathered up the playing cards, spread them on a cookie sheet and baked them!

Amanda once got hit by a train and though she survived the incident, she got busted up pretty badly and had lots of scabs all over her legs. I remember my grandma talking about how the family dog spent a lot of time licking at the scabs which all healed so nicely that my great grandmother Amanda always credited it with her recovery. I forgot all about that story until my mom retold it and now I think I should spend some time searching and see if I can find a newspaper article on the subject.

My great grandfather Charles spent most of his life working at a John Deere factory and smoking and thus died of lung cancer of his only remaining lung the year before I was born. His wife Amanda would live another six years and die of Parkinson's disease which at the time, they theorized may have been caused by the trauma of being hit by a train.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Mini Project

Excuse the signs being in the wrong order but here is a quick project I recently finished up. I made a pair of sandwich boards from scraps in my garage and some chalkboard paint that I donated for one of the organizations I am involved with. When I went to the store to get the chalkboard paint, I had a choice of green or black, neither of which really appealed to me. I asked if anyplace in town sold this kind of paint thinking they might have different colors when the owner said he also had tintable chalkboard paint in the storage room of the store. It cost $5 more but heck, I thought it was worth it to get something that popped just a little bit more.

The middle part is made out of MDF and the edging made from pine 2x4's ripped down to size. I put a dado in them and mitered the corners before giving everything a good coat of primer and putting a couple coats of some leftover exterior white paint on the edging. I then taped up the edging and painted the four outward facing sides with the blue chalkboard paint. I wrote the "Meeting Tonight" on them to demonstrate that they were chalkboards when presenting them to the organization.

My daughters really loved them and I think the next time I do some painting, I may have to turn a wall of their rooms into giant chalkboards and turn them loose with some sidewalk chalk. I bet I wouldn't see them for days.

Friday, August 5, 2016

Travel Worn

As you all know from previous posts, we were heading north to Chicago when I got the call about my mom and so we had to cut the journey short and spend the night at the hospital instead of in Chicago. The following day I took the rest of the family home and then went back to the hospital to be with my mom and spend the night with her. When I finally got home the following day, the last thing I wanted to do after a week and a half essentially on the road was to go to someone else's house but I sucked it up and went. Man was I glad I did.

Some friends of ours invited all ten of us over for supper along with several other folks and prepared authentic pho, friend skid and steamed sweet rice. It was as delicious as it looked and really hit the spot. After eating the above bowl of pho, I felt I was human again and ready to go back on the road. Fortunately, it just meant taking my brother-in-law and his family along with my mother-in-law to the airport and dropping them off for flights back to the Philippines. The silence of just the four of us when we got back home was deafening, something I never thought I would say. It was a great trip and my in-laws seemed like they really enjoyed their stay. My mother-in-law of course will be back in another couple months but by then, it will probably be a welcome change again. But for now, I plan on enjoying the silence of just two young girls and my wife!

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Land of Lincoln

Though this is my second trip to Springfield to visit all things Lincoln, this was my first trip to his tomb. I guess I never thought about visiting where he was buried until I read a book about the several attempted thefts of it and associated controversies and this time I decided a visit was in order. I recently got to visit the tombs of two U.S. presidents in my journey to the Boston area so it was nice to visit a third and pay my respects.

Unlike my recent trip to St. Louis, visiting the tomb of Abraham Lincoln and the only home he ever owned are completely free to the public. We enjoyed both of them. My only regret is that several people mentioned the museum on Abraham Lincoln as being spectacular and somehow I missed it until we were already gone. I guess it gives me an excuse to go back.

Lincoln's tomb contained many statues of him at various parts of his life that were really well done.

Judging from the people visiting the tomb while we were there, almost nobody walks to the backside of the tomb. There isn't much to see but there was a very ornate wrought iron door with stained glass on the backside.

Most people rubbed the nose of the large bust of Lincoln out in front of the tomb and quickly walked through the tomb. They completely missed the signs talking about the prior tomb where Lincoln and his son had been buried while the monument was being built.

In the old part of Springfield is the only house Lincoln ever owned. The park service has purchased several blocks and turned many of the original houses of Lincoln's era into museums worth visiting and of course, his own house into a virtual time capsule.

The house and furniture are more than 90% original to Lincoln and his family. In the room above, all the furniture was used by the man himself and this is the room where he learned that he was nominated to be the candidate for President. Below is his actual writing desk that he used and I can only imagine the stories it could tell. Having always wanted a dedicated writing desk but never having room for one, someday I would love to build a replica of the one below when I have the space to put it. Perhaps after the kids vacate the premises.

Monday, August 1, 2016

$ Gateway to the West $

Our third and final stop on the "free" St. Louis tour has always been the Gateway Arch. Now to be clear, riding to the top of the Arch to the observation platform has never been free in my lifetime but underground between the legs of the Arch is a nice museum that has always been free to peruse.

We pulled into our normal parking lot at the end of the long mall around the arch but everything was under construction. The signs pointing the way to the arch were pointing across many lanes of heavily trafficed roads that we would then have to cross back again closer to the arch. With five small children, we opted to walk down to the river, over and then back up the hill to the arch. Much longer but definitely much safer to traverse. When we got to the Arch, it was under heavy construction and their website said that we had to walk up the hill to the old historic courthouse to buy tickets to ride up to the top of the arch. I volunteered to make the walk and made it all the way up there only to learn that they had set up a ticket booth by the one leg I hadn't walked by to sell tickets. I walked down the hill towards that leg and made it to the park before my way was blocked. The only way to get to that leg was to walk back up the hill and then down it again by the other leg's closed entrance, back down towards the water and then back up again. In other words, I was within spitting distance and had to walk almost an entire mile long circle to get back.

Once there, we found out we now had to pay $3 per person just to get to the museum part which upon entering, was not even there. It had been moved temporarily up to the old courthouse. For the $3 per person, we got to visit the restrooms, gift shop and watch a movie on the making of the arch. Since my family had already been to the top, we just bought tickets for my brother-in-law and his family to make the trip up to the top while the rest of us perused the gift shop and watch the 20 minute movie twice. I suspect that when the remodeling gets down and the museum get reinstalled, the price for admission will probably increase quite drastically.

I'm not sure if the new monies are being applied towards the riverfront below the arch but they have been fixing it up and it looks beautiful again after years of neglect. It has become a place where you and your family feel safe to spend an afternoon walking and soaking in the sun.

Though I don't have any pictures, part of our St. Louis tour always involves a stop at my favorite BBQ joint in the world, Pappy's Smokehouse BBQ in the old part of town. The first time I stopped there, we had the entire place to ourselves. Every single time since, there has been a line clear around the block waiting for a table. This time we opted to phone in our order and just pick it up and take it back to our motel room. It was well worth the price of admission!