We have had a great time. Linda and I have watched barges go through a lock on the Mississippi River, toured the Missouri countryside, enjoyed local eateries, and visited the St. Louis Art Museum for an exhibit of Dutch Masters.
We have also spent lots of time with the twins, picking them up from daycare, visiting playgrounds, eating at Chick-fil-A, visiting train museums, Halloween costumes, and, of course, watching 3-year-old soccer.
All in all, it has been a pretty busy (and a pretty great) time for a couple of septuagenarians. But it ain’t over ’til it's over, and we still have some days scheduled in the Sam Houston National Forest which is conveniently near Lake Conroe and the boat.
This post is extra long. It is really two (or maybe three) posts combined as a result poor and non-existent internet connections. I just kept writing and adding photos, and it just grew. In fact, with the lack of useful internet service, we will probably be home by the time I send this out. Anyway, lots of words and lots of pictures. Don't forget to click on the pictures to see them full size. Enjoy!
Since we were married fifty years before grandchildren ever appeared on the scene, we have a lot of catching up to do. So we try to visit Missouri every spring and every fall for a few weeks. And now we have three grandkiddos with Baby Ben who was born this past April.
Tom and Jack are now 3-1/2 years-old and great fun to be around. We love to take them places and share experiences with them. Ben seems to be getting bigger every day, and we look forward to the time we can include him in our activities.
We try to maximize our time with the twins. We pick them up from daycare to take them to a playground or take them on little “field trips.” Sometimes we stop for a bit of lunch at Steak 'n Shake or Chick-fil-A. Paper hats, fold-up cars, coloring, and good eatin'. Life is good when you are three.
This fall the twins were part of a kinder soccer program. For an hour every Sunday they met with other three- and four- year-olds to learn the basics of soccer (no hands allowed, kick the ball to the net, etc.), practice their skills, and play a short game. It was wonderful. Somehow the coaches have been able to organize and teach these little people the basics of the game. Half of the hour is spent on skills and the other half is playing a game (no score kept) against another team. A liberal number of water breaks are sprinkled throughout the hour and there is a snack at the end of the game. The coaches are wonderful, it is all rather low key, and the kids seem to enjoy themselves. I find it all great fun.
While the practice session is surprisingly well organized, and the kiddos actually appear to be focused, the game is pretty much what you might expect from these wee folks. There is much running after the ball by the players grouped together in a tight mass. A few always seem to be a couple of steps ahead while another two or three always seem to be a step or two behind. And then there is always someone who would rather look at the grass or clouds. Here are some pix so you too can enjoy a bit of three-year-old soccer.
Who doesn’t like Halloween? With a chance to dress up and a sack full of candy to look forward to, it is bound to be a favorite time for kids. The twins are no different than anyone else. This year they dressed as astronauts in spacesuits complete with NASA patches and flags on the sleeve. To make it a family affair, Ben also had on his spacesuit. When they returned home they had big smiles and full sacks. It was a successful night.
Several weeks ago on our way to our campsite on Carlyle Lake in Illinois, we passed a strangely named road, Crackerneck Lane. We looked at each other and asked, “What the heck is a crackerneck?” Well, I think we now have it figured out.
While at Cuivre River State Park in Missouri, we were out touring and went down an unpaved road toward a Mississippi River viewing area – we were in search of a huge squadron of pelicans we had seen from afar. As we got close to the river we came to a small bridge with some folks fishing. There was a pickup truck parked on the bridge. There were two men with fishing rods at the guardrail. There was a woman sitting in a lawn chair on the bridge. There was a hound-dog sleeping in the middle of the bridge. It was a small bridge.
As we began across the bridge we received unfriendly looks from all. The dog had to move, the woman had to shift her lawn chair, and a number of fishing rods had to be repositioned. Linda lowered the window and asked, “Will this road take us to see the river?” After more than a moment or two there was a response of, “No.” Then after another long pause, “Road flooded.” Three words. Two long pauses. One hostile look.
The “Road flooded” comment did not mean the road down by the river. It meant the road right on the other side of the bridge. Sure enough, just 50 feet on the far side of the bridge we ran into the water-covered road. There was no way to turn around so we had to go back over bridge in reverse. What fun! More dirty looks. More grudging movement from the dog. Linda got out and guided me to make sure I threaded my way through the men, the
fishing rods, the woman, the lawn chair, the dog, and the parked pickup. It really is a very small bridge.
If one of these people had just warned us to not cross the bridge, it would have been easier for everyone. We would not have had to go in reverse back across the bridge. The dog would not have had to move. The woman could have remained in her chair, and the fishing rods could have stayed in place. Everyone would have been happy. How hard would that have been?
We’re pretty sure we met some crackernecks.
Moving goods down the Mississippi today is really not all that much different today than it was at the end of the Civil War. In the 1850s they started pushing barges – ones originally used on canals – with sternwheeler steamboats. They would even lash several together and move them as a unit.
Today, some 170 years later, they still lash barges together and push them up and down the river. Of course there are some differences. Today’s barge is 195 feet long and 35 feet wide with a typical “tow” being 15 barges lashed in a 5 x 3 pattern. Add the Tow boat to push them along, and the total length is close to 1200 feet – almost a quarter mile. And the first lock and dam was opened in 1907, some fifty years after they began using barges.
We watched a tow move through Lock & Dam 24 at Clarksville, Missouri where they have nice observation platform. Locks are typically 600 feet long and this means the tow has to go through in two passes (double-lockage), moving three barges through followed by the remaining two barges and the tow boat. Once through the lock, the barge tow is reassembled and continues on its way.
The tow we saw go through the lock was heading downriver and most likely carrying grain in its covered barges. But coming up the river and waiting its turn to go through the lock was a barge tow loaded with wind turbine blades. Big, 180 foot long blades for huge wind turbines that will be part of the country's new power grid. My inner math teacher burst forth momentarily to tell me that these turbines, will be about 400 feet in diameter and the tips of the blades will be traveling at over 60 mph when the turbine is rotating at just 5 revolutions per minute.
The Mississippi is all about transportation, and the railroad follows the river all the way to Minneapolis. This two-locomotive freight train of all hopper cars came past us while we were on the observation deck watching the barges at the lock.
In the small town of Clarksville the tracks are right next to the lock. Awesome. Barges in the lock and a full freight passing by with its whistle at full blast. A transportation junkie can see a lot of freight pass through this little river town without having to move.
We had a free day in our schedule and decided to wander the countryside looking for some possibilities to get a few interesting photos. I wasn't disappointed. Several buildings caught my eye and ended up in the camera.
This brick house appears to be post-Civil War in age. We had seen it on another day and went back for some pictures. It is closed up and deteriorated and most likely will be razed in the near future. But for the moment it still stands, and I won’t be the last person to stop and photograph it. I was able to get several good shots of the house. Here are two views, one in color and one in black-and-white.
Places like this grain elevator just seem to pop up in the middle of the farmland or at the edge of a small town. This one was in the farmland. The white barn in two of the photos was adjacent to the old brick house, and I took these photos while walking to the house. The small grain silos were near to the big elevator. This photo was taken from the open door of the car.
We visited the St. Louis Art Museum to see a special exhibit of Dutch Masters from the time of Rembrandt. It was a wonderful exhibit.
Alas, no photography was allowed. But I managed to capture the colorful art of autumn with some iPhone shots of these scarlet-leaved trees in front of the museum in all their glorious red. An identical line of red-hued trees bounds the other side of the large greensward to frame the front of the museum.
If you are as old as I am, you might remember your father (or grandfather) using the word calaboose when referring to a jail. It’s an old word, and not one you are likely to encounter today.
So it was with some surprise that I saw a sign in a small town pointing to the town’s calaboose (you just have to love the word). I obviously had to check it out. Sure enough, there along one of the streets was an oddly placed little stone building, hugging the sidewalk and very close to a small cottage. A one-room jail. A calaboose. Left over from another era.
This tree, alone in a plowed field, struck me with its solitude. We had driven past this field on the day we ran into our crackerneck friends on the bridge. Seeing the lone tree in the midst of the bare soil, I knew it was a picture I wanted. So we drove back on another day (Linda really is very indulgent) to capture this photo. There was a great sky and the sun was where I wanted it. For me, the result was just the image I had in mind.