"We're all just fragile threads, but what a tapestry we make." – Jerry Ellis

Archive for the ‘Midwest’ Category

A Nature-Made Mental Health Day

 

IMAG0761My friend and I had gone to Springfield to spend the day with our college-aged kids, but no definitive plan had been decided. Icy drizzle limited us to an indoor activity for our visit, so we crossed off an outing to the World’s Largest Fork. (Yes, this is an actual attraction in Springfield, and yes, I would love to see what it looks like).  After weighing our options for the Saturday afternoon before us, we decided to visit the Wonders of Wildlife Aquarium at Bass Pro Shops.

The Wildlife Aquarium at the museum has a 1.5-million-gallon aquarium that features 35,000 live fish, but there are also quite a few reptiles and birds sprinkled into the galleries.  Coming out of the swamp exhibit, I saw the above quote displayed on a sign.  The words are attributed to John Muir, known as a Scottish naturalist and preservationist who lived during the late 1800s.  As I wandered with our group throughout the exhibits, this quote stood out to me.  I loved the visual of how all of nature is knitted together, as if connecting everything with a single thread.  Just a little tug, a little awareness, and all things come together into focus.

Who knew puffer fish had such cute little teeth to smile with?

I’d had my phone out the entire visit, and even though it was being used as a camera, it made me realize how even the simple joy of witnessing nature was connected to some kind of technology for me.   There are times I am trying so hard to document an experience that I forget to actually live the experience as it’s happening.  I continued to take pictures for the rest of the galleries, but I made it a point to try to make the photography secondary to what I was seeing and who I was with at the moment.

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IMAG0731It was nice to not have a packed schedule for the day, just a late breakfast with the kids, an aquarium visit done at a leisurely pace and plenty of good conversation.  The weather wasn’t getting any better, and we didn’t want to get back home too late, so after a coffee stop we called it a day, gave the kids hugs and headed home.

I like to believe that the “single tug at nature” process had begun.  I suppose that once Mother Nature decided she had my attention with her beauty, she decided it was time to show me her power.  That Saturday, Nature was the one that had the power to make me quit rushing through things and stop to take a breath.

The freezing drizzle continued for the first part of the trip, but the roads were drivable.  As we continued down I-44, the windshield wipers were having a hard time keeping up with the precipitation.  Even with the temperature and the defroster blower on high, layers of ice began creeping across the windshield.  Then there were a couple of patches on the road that were sketchy.  Tractor trailer trucks either blew past us at normal highway speed or crept slowly along on the hills as the daylight started to fade.

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Any Missourian will tell you that snow is something a driver can reason with; ice is not. With this in mind,  we decided to listen to nature and stopped to spend the night at hotel rather than risk the ice.

Sometimes the To Do List needs to balance with the To Live list.  Instead of a white-knuckled drive home, I was able to spend time with a friend, enjoying a meal and relaxing with a bottle of wine, talking and laughing over YouTube videos and even getting a little work done, too.  (Yes, technology manages to be a part of my nature-scape.)

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This was one of my favorite exhibits of the day.  The jellyfish looked like floating creatures in a lava lamp.  So mesmerizing to watch.

I’m not sure John Muir envisioned the world as a place where getting a glimpse at nature takes as much effort as it does, but surely he saw how appreciating it needed to be intentional.   I doubt he would have guessed how much competition would be out there in our modern-day lives.  On most days I must admit I am guilty of being more dependent on my phone to get me through my day than a spectacular view of mysterious-looking jellyfish.

Thank goodness there are some fantastic nature screen savers out there.

Velma, the Fraidy Cat

Velma again

After not having a cat for several years, this past March our family adopted a cat, Velma Kelly.  We kept the name that the animal rescue place had given her (she and her siblings were named after characters in the musical Chicago) and it seemed to suit her.  I’m not sure exactly what made me decide to get a cat that chilly day.  Erin and I had worked at a Girl Scout Cookie Booth in front of the Petsmart store, and when we were finished, we decided to take a look at the dogs and cats they have up for adoption.

When I first saw her in the bottom cat cage, her markings caught my eye.  I thought she was a beautiful little kitty.  I started talking to the woman from Heartland Animal Shelter about her, quickly dismissing the notion we’d ever own a cat again.  Several years ago we had taken in Darrell’s grandmother’s cats when she moved in with his parents, and while I loved them and all their silly feline-ways, I don’t think Darrell ever really connected with them.  Cindy Lou, who was such a sweet, laid-back cat, lived to be over 21 years old.

“We have two crazy dogs at home,” I told the lady from Heartland.  “I’d feel sorry for any cat we’d bring back to the house.”

Well, as it turned out, she was this cat’s foster mom, and they had dogs, too.  “Look,” she said, pulling out her phone.  And there was Ms. Velma, snuggled between two dogs on the couch.  The wheels began to turn.  Could this little kitty be the newest addition to our home?

I went on to explain how our two knuckleheads (my affectionate nickname for the collective Chester and Grendel), were awesome at our house, snuggling with us on the couch, fun to play with and overall great, loyal companions, but lacked social skills with other dogs, and sometimes people.

“Velma loves to sit on your lap and watch TV,” she told me.

Hmmm…I love to watch TV with snuggly pets! I thought to myself.  Visions of me planted on the couch surrounded by my furry friends started to form in my mind.  It was my version of Snow White and her birds and bunnies doing the housework—minus the effort chores take, of course.  “Can we see her?”  I asked.  After bringing up the dogs to make sure they’d be compatible and convincing my husband she’d be perfect for us, two hours and about $250 in cat paraphernalia later, we had ourselves a cat.

 

us on adoption day

Our family, minus Tyler, on adoption day.

Sadly, my Snow White fantasy remains unfulfilled.  I have yet to even get her to stay in the same room with me, let alone sit on my lap.  Velma is quite the Fraidy Cat.

I would say that it’s not without good reason.  The dogs, though not vicious towards her, are a little too curious for her liking—Grendel especially.  He watches her perched upon her cat tree in the family room and whines.  And he never misses the opportunity to give her a good chasing when he can.  To give you a visual, it’s all toenails for brakes across the slick floor followed by ass over teacups.

Grendel head through kitty cat door

This is a regular view from within her sanctuary (Erin’s room) for Velma. They say curiosity killed the cat…but what about the dog? She doesn’t even scratch his nose with her claws.

 

To give her sanctuary, we put in a kitty cat door opening into Erin’s room.  Erin is her human.  For the most part, she’s the one who feeds her, cleans out the kitty litter and as a result, gets all the snuggles I crave.  It’s very heartwarming to see Velma adore both Erin and Emily.  She lets them rub her belly and sometimes carry her around with them.  I’ve tried to be friends with Velma, but still she fears me.  It may be because the first two or three days she was home I was tasked with grabbing her out from behind any furniture, or it may be because she associates me with the dogs.  In any event, even though every time I reach my hand out to her, purposely giving her treats in my outstretched hand, she runs away as if I had just dumped boiling oil on her.

It reminds me of a story I heard a long time ago about a non-believer and some birds.  I searched for it and found it to be a Paul Harvey story.  The story goes that there was a man who was a good person, but found the Christmas story of baby Jesus in the manger hard to swallow, so he opted to not attend Christmas Eve service with the rest of his family.  After his family left, some birds had hit his window trying to get in during the snow storm.  He wanted to help them, but after various ways of trying to get them to safety, realized they were afraid of him.  The thought occurred to him that if he were a bird, they might be more willing to follow him and let him show them the way.  And he had his lightbulb moment of truly understanding the Christmas story.

I’m not sure Velma would like me any better if I were a cat, but I wish she would at least see that I only want her to be a happy part of our family.  Erin was gone this past week on a Mission Trip with Youth Group and now is in Florida with our friends, so I’ve been trying to take advantage of Velma’s loneliness.  The first time we took her to the vet for a checkup after we brought her home, the vet’s office bribed her with baby food.  Since she seemed to like it, this past week both Darrell and I have been trying to coax her to us with little spoonfuls of baby food chicken and gravy. When I feed her, I stroke her silky fur and tell her what a sweet kitty she is.  I play laser pointer with her and let her chase it until she’s worn out.  I sit on Erin’s bed and dangle the kitty fishing pole toy in front of her face to let her bat at the ribbons.  I keep the dogs at bay.

Friendship Goals

Velma’s obvious fear of me and other benevolent people has held her back from moments she might enjoy if she would just relax and not be afraid.  It’s frustrating, but in some ways I can relate a little.  While I’ve never run from the offer of tasty snacks, I have run from opportunities because of a fear of the unknown.  I am guilty of living in my comfort zone because stepping out of it brings the risk of failing and having to say, “That was a mistake.” Who wants to do that?  Or what can be even scarier at times—what if it is successful and I have to keep it up?

Fear has its place.  It keeps us from holding umbrellas on hilltops under trees in lightning storms and hanging out in dark alleys with wads of cash hanging out of our pockets.  But it can also hold us back from our potential—what we were meant to be.

I still haven’t won her over, but I think Velma’s at least accepting me as an Erin substitute this week.  With cats, I’ve learned not to try too hard—they are definitely the ones that like to play hard to get.  Friends have given me hope by saying that they’ve had cats that took over a year to get comfortable in their homes.  While I’ve resigned myself to the fact that she may not be sitting down on my lap and watching TV any time soon, I’m not convinced she won’t ever enjoy hanging out with us in some capacity as her trust in us grows.  Until then, I’ll celebrate the little victories with her like the few times she’ll sit on the stairs and watch me type on the computer.  Who knows?  Someday my Snow White moment with my furry friends may come true.

Velma with toy

Update:  I wrote this three days ago, but was waiting to do a final edit before I posted it.  In fact, it was still pulled up on my screen.  Velma must have read it and felt sorry.  Last night, I decided to read my book in Erin’s room to spend more quality time with the cat.  I didn’t get much reading done, because the game turned into her getting in between me and the book.  So I stopped trying to read and just scratched her behind her ears.  Long story short, I ended up sleeping in Erin’s room to keep the cat company and she is now my best friend.  I was tired this morning after Velma pawed and purred in my ear all night, but I had a thought that maybe the lesson here wasn’t just about fear holding us back.  Maybe it’s about meeting others who are unsure or timid wherever they are, including within their comfort zone, so that trust can become a part of the equation.  But I suppose that’s a whole other post.

Velma

More Thoughts on Bamboo Part 2 – Forget the Panda

potted bamboo

I never thought there would be a need for Part 2 of Bamboo Quest, but here I am, almost two years later and the battle between nature and woman continues.  I wrote a post that spring about my ongoing struggle with the bamboo I had planted based on the romantic notion of “The Fern and the Bamboo”.  I learned a tough lesson—don’t plan landscaping based on cheesy, albeit meaningful, poetic stories about nature.  You can read it here.

In the year between the first attempt at getting rid of it and now, it grew back.  The stalks themselves were not thicker—in fact, they got almost skinny-asparagus-looking, but there were many more of them.  I had spent hours digging up the stalks, presumably by the roots, to eradicate the bamboo from the side of the house.  Ironically, I believe that it actually helped aerate the remaining roots, because it spread up to the side of the house even faster, rounding the corner into the front landscaping.

Last summer, busy with Tyler’s graduation, not to mention completely frustrated with my inability to wipe it out, I just lived with it, trying in vain just to keep it contained to where it already had grown.  The best (or maybe the worst) thing about that side of the house is that I don’t really ever see it like I do the side next to the garage.  It’s times when I am cutting the grass or getting out the hose that I am reminded that I need to do something about that crazy bamboo.

Lilac

Must conquer bamboo before it strangles my Lilac Bush!

Late this winter, I started to plan what I was going to do about it.  I watched You Tube videos of people telling how they managed to get rid of that invasive plant.  One video I watched with a method I wanted to try was smothering it. The guy doing the video told of how he had left a piece of plywood on the ground and when he moved it a couple of days later, the bamboo had died.  I envisioned laying down thick, black plastic and putting gravel on top.  It seemed like a very do-able method, even if it involved a lot of gravel shoveling.  My fear was that this bionic plant would manage to pop right through the plastic anyway, and it’d be even harder to get to with the plastic barrier.  Another method, told to me by a friend who is actually a plant ecologist, was to cut it back close to the ground and pour full strength, concentrated weed killer in the stalks.  That seemed like an even better plan, and although I don’t like that it will be some time before I can plant anything there again if I sterilize the soil, I liked the idea of dousing it with the weed killer and spending the summer re-spraying as needed until it doesn’t come back.

So yesterday, I tackled the bamboo full force once again.  I prepared by going to Home Depot and buying the largest container of Round Up concentrate they sold as well as a long machete.  The machete purchase worried Darrell a bit.  Mostly because I think he thought I’d lose a digit or two—he knows me pretty well.  I had this idea of going all “Ghengis Kahn” on the bamboo, like a mighty warrior defending the homestead.  Instead, it was a pathetic version of sword-wielding with me slamming the machete into the toughened stalks and nicking them a tiny bit.  I could almost hear the bamboo laughing.  I changed my game plan after about a half hour of getting nowhere, and grabbed my little hacksaw that I use for cutting thicker branches when I’m pruning trees.  I’d grab a handful of bamboo, and saw at it like it was one large branch.  It went much quicker than individually cutting stalks and pulling them out, and left me with little stubs of bamboo sticking out of the ground.  With this method, at least when I was finished it looked like there had been some progress, even if it does grow back.  Rain was forecasted for the afternoon, so I hurriedly poured straight up Round Up concentrate directly on the stalks.  “Bottoms up,” I told the stalks.  I really hoped they were in a drinking mood.

Before - Right

Before

After - Right

After

This morning when I took a look, the remaining stubs had yellowed slightly, but didn’t look completely worse for wear.  I suppose only time will tell if it actually poisoned them completely.  I vowed to myself that I would make it a point to check on it throughout this season to see if there seems to be places where it’s getting its second…make that its third…wind.  Like any problem, hoping it will just go away on its own doesn’t work.  Again, another life lesson taught to me courtesy of yard work.  I never stop seeing metaphors for life in the yard and garden.

Before - Left

Before

After - Left

After

When I was finished, I saved a few stalks of the bamboo and put them in a pot.  I want to be able to be remind myself of how a seemingly small act like allowing something as innocent and seemingly beautiful as a slender stalk of bamboo into my space can turn out to have extreme repercussions that take a lot of work to remedy.  For now, that side along the house will remain minimal and barren, until the solution has run its course and I once again can plant something shade-loving (and much less invasive) there.  There is a bright side to this journey with the bamboo, though, in addition to those free life lessons it’s provided me.  Next winter, when it’s cold and nasty outside and I start getting the plant catalogs in the mail, I have a whole side of the house to design and plan.  Maybe a variety of Hostas or some native plants like False Indigos or Blue Lobuia.  And I’ll do my research in the plant section, not the poetry section.

Bags

We Could All Use a Snow Day

The view on Sunday evening

The view on Sunday evening

Unlike the northeastern part of the country, our winter here has not had as much snow as we have in the past few years. It’s been a cold one, but we haven’t had the kind of weather that keeps the kids home from school—much to Tyler’s dismay. Being a high school senior, he wouldn’t have to make up any snow days due to how graduation and finals are scheduled. I can’t say I blame him for being bummed, being that the past year the kids had so many make up snow days their last day of school ended up being nearly two weeks after it was originally scheduled.

Saturday we finally got a little snow—about 4 or 5 inches. Since the next day was not a school day, there wasn’t a snow day from school, of course, but I enjoyed my own kind of snow day—and it felt wonderful.

I haven’t been able to write for my blog lately because life has gotten way too busy. I hate saying that, because it sounds like an excuse. I also don’t like when people wear their “busy-ness” like a martyr. The truth is, I’m busy because I’ve gotten myself involved in more endeavors than what I probably should have, but for the most part, they’re all things I want to be doing. In short, my busy-ness is self-inflicted, so I shouldn’t complain. I only wish I did it with a little more graciousness!

A friend of mine told me a few years ago that “BUSY” is short for “Being Under Satan’s Yoke”, and I can see where that mindset comes from. Have you seen those “You’re-not-you-when-you’re-hungry” Snickers commercials where the person’s hunger transforms someone like Marsha Brady into Danny Trejo? That happens to me when I’m stressed out about being stretched too thin. (I’ll admit it’s me when I’m hungry too.)

Today’s snow day allowed me some time to happily decompress. I got some form design work done, did a little bit of laundry and straightening up…and threw in an hour or two of being a total bum. I read fluffy articles on the internet. I played Candy Crush on my phone. I leisurely drank my coffee and went and had another cup. I know that there were so many household tasks I could have done during that time, but I just couldn’t bring myself to do them, and I vowed to not feel guilty. This snow day was my mental health day.

The funny thing is, once I had that time just to goof off, I didn’t want to do that anymore. It’s like the end of the kids’ summer vacation—I love the lack of routine for a few weeks, but eventually I want to get back to doing the norm.

It’s March now, and although they’ve talked of freezing rain tonight, I’m not sure Tyler’s going to get his “no-make-up” senior snow day this school year. But I’m grateful for the snow day we did have.

The St. Louis Zoo

Love the Zebras!  So unique.

Love the Zebras! So unique.

Here lately, it’s a pretty amazing feat any time that all five of us in our family manage to do any family activity together besides the occasional meal at the dinner table. But a few Sundays ago, it happened to fall into place-the girls wanted to DO something besides hanging out at the house and Tyler happened to have the afternoon off when we had a Sunday afternoon at our disposal. So we went to the St. Louis Zoo.

Normally when we're at the Zoo, it's too hot or too cold and the cats are hiding somewhere.  It was great getting to see them out and about.

Normally when we’re at the Zoo, it’s too hot or too cold and the cats are hiding somewhere. It was great getting to see them out and about.

Out and about today!

If you’re not from St. Louis, let me tell you our Zoo, located in Forest Park, is absolutely amazing. Though you have to pay for parking if you choose to park in the Zoo’s lot, admission to the Zoo is still free. And our Zoo has a rich history (as does Forest Park in general). It started with the walk-thru flight cage, originally part of the 1904 World’s Fair. The City paid $3,500 for it back in 1917. You can check out the Zoo’s history at http://www.stlzoo.org .

So this guy in the Walk Thru Bird Cage was friendly.  He was mugging for the camera...even playing peekaboo!

This bird in the Walk Thru Bird Cage was friendly. He was mugging for the camera…even playing peekaboo!

Peek a Boo–A little blurry, but this little guy was a hoot!

Ask anyone who grew up in the St. Louis Metropolitan area, and they will probably recall school field trips as well as family visits to the Zoo. I remember in first grade we went there and when my kids were in elementary school they always did a Zoo field trip in third grade. Both of my Girl Scout troops participated in Snooze at the Zoo, where we spent the night at the Zoo participating in fun educational activities, including a night hike. They also hold this event for families as well—you can read about it on their website. My favorite part was being able to go through the herpatorium at night with flashlights covered in red plastic film as to not disturb any reptilian eyeballs. Seeing the snakes and amphibians poised in the eerie light had a certain creepiness factor unlike when you see them in the normal light of day. We learned a lot about how the Zoo operates and works with other Zoos in how they choose to breed the animals. Hint: Sometimes the females and males that would make great offspring do NOT like each other. Both times our troops went it was winter, so we slept inside the buildings (with Erin’s troop we slept right under the stuffed display of world-famous Phil the Gorilla) but they have these events in the summer, too, where you can sleep outside under the stars.  As a Girl Scout leader, it was one of the most enjoyable trips we have done…and there have been several.

The rhino seemed to be in a little bit of a bad mood.  It was hot though.

The rhino seemed to be in a little bit of a bad mood. It was hot though.

He must have felt better getting in the water.

He must have felt better getting in the water.

When we went as a family, we were able to see the Sea Lion show. The sea lions are my favorite. Even Tyler made the comment that they seem so happy, it just makes you happy to watch them. They re-opened the Sea Lion exhibit a few years back and now you actually walk through a tunnel that goes through the water tank where the sea lions are swimming around. I was a little bummed that they were off eating or something when we walked through, so we didn’t get to see them up close in the walk-through tunnel. But I have some great pics from the show.

The sea lion pups really know how to perform.

The sea lion pups really know how to perform.

Check out Mandy getting her treat.

Check out Mandy getting her treat.

I took some pictures with my phone camera and thought I’d share some of my favorites. Have a great weekend!

Owl pose for you.

“Owl” pose for you.

Oh, how dignified!

Oh, how dignified!

Lemurs are just hilarious to watch.  They were behind glass, so I didn't get the clearest pic, but he just looks SO relaxed!

Lemurs are just hilarious to watch. They were behind glass, so I didn’t get the clearest pic, but he just looks SO relaxed!

Check out his face! I’ll bet he was just DYING to say something about it being hump day, but couldn’t as it was the weekend.

The hyena didn't seem to be laughing...he was stalking something while we were watching him.  Very intense dude.

The hyena didn’t seem to be laughing…he was stalking something while we were watching him. Very intense dude.

Again, behind glass, so a little blurry.  However, he just looked "cozy" or something all curled up like that!

Again, behind glass, so a little blurry. However, he just looked “cozy” or something all curled up like that!

The Midwest is Tremendously Underrated

Table Rock Lake

Table Rock Lake

The Midwest, particularly Missouri, is tremendously underrated. Having lived my entire life as a Midwest gal, I will vouch for that. Sure, we don’t have California’s sunny beaches, Colorado’s beautiful mountain ranges or New York’s shopping and Broadway—we have to go on vacation for that kind of excitement! But we do have beautiful lakes, luscious green, rolling hills and trees and a four distinct seasons of weather.   I for one dislike Winter immensely, but I love how as much as we complain about the cold we complain about the hundred-degree days about six months later.

Missouri, one of the “flyover states”, particularly St. Louis, has a lot to offer that often goes overlooked. No, I’m not talking about the St. Louis Arch, although pretty awesome and unique, I’ve only been up in once when I was in high school, despite the fact I live about 45 minutes from downtown St. Louis. We have the world-renowned St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, the St. Louis Blues hockey team and our beloved St. Louis Cardinals. St. Louis has Forest Park, where the 1904 World’s Fair was held and is now a fabulous place for early morning runs, home of the St. Louis Zoo (free admission!) and history and art museums.

If that’s not your thing, Missouri has Table Rock Lake—our family’s favorite lake, as well as the Lake of the Ozarks and Mark Twain Lake. There are tons of small lakes for fishing and boating. Almost every weekend there are organized races to run, from 5Ks and up. There are tons of great restaurants here—particularly Italian restaurants on the Hill. Yum!

I also really love Rednecks—or hillbillies or hoosiers—whatever your preferred term. Please note that I use it with affection. They are also underrated in our suit and tie society. If you were in the middle of nowhere, with nothing but friends, an ATV and some beer, would you rather be with a redneck or a Wall Street stockbroker? To be sure, a redneck would find a way to make some fun. (If you’re the timid sort you might want to make sure there aren’t any bullets in his gun first.)

All my love of my home state aside, I’m secretly glad Missouri is a little underrated. Despite what you’ve heard from our lovely media lately, Ferguson, a suburb of St. Louis, is a beautiful area that is not full of thugs that burn down QTs. (My lifelong home church is located there!) And while almost every year St. Louis shows up on a list of Most Murders in the country and that sort of thing, I’d like to point out that most of the crimes that make those awful lists happen in the wee hours of early dawn with people that are up to no good. (I know, I know…it happens in the suburbs, too—I don’t live in a bubble.) After all, if we were perfect, we wouldn’t be Midwesterners.

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