Friday, June 26, 2015

Missouri History Museum

It certainly has been a wet summer here in St.Louis!  We experienced that first-hand last week-end when we drove to Farmington to help John's sister Carolyn move.  One the way down there we passed the Meramec River, which has over-flowed its banks.  We also drove over a flooded road just outside of Farmington, and shortly after  it was closed to traffic.  On Sunday we drove to Carbondale, Illinois to visit our daughter Melissa and encountered several detours on that trip because of flooded roads.  Pictured below is a road near the Chester bridge, which is a major crossing of the Mississippi River between Missouri and Illinois.
Only one good thing about the rain and overcast skies is that we get a bit of a break from temperatures which hover around 90 degrees!  On Thursday of this week we sought cooler temperatures at the Missouri History Museum, which currently has a couple of wonderful exhibits.  The first one we toured is titled "A Walk in 1875 St.Louis".  The creation of this exhibit was generated by Compton and Dry's Pictorial St.Louis, a map depicting the streets of St.Louis in 1875.  It features every single home, building street and even tree in St.Louis in accurate perspective.  Eads Bridge is shown complete with larger than life size statues which were in the plans for the bridge, but never became reality.  The map divided the city into individual 11inch x 18 inch plates that could be pieced together.  For the exhibit they were blown up to 10x 30 feet.  Sections of the town on display are the riverfront, Soulard, Lucas Place, Midtown, Fairgrounds, old North, to name but a few.  Tower Grove is pictured below.
Tower Grove has a lot of trees and open land, however, in the upper left hand corner is Shaw's home.
In addition to the city maps the exhibit displays artifacts from 1875, pictured above is the podium from the Merchant's Exchange Building.  That building held the largest indoor space in the nation, in 1876 St.Louis hosted the Democratic National Convention.  It was the first national convention held west of the Mississippi.  Also, as part of this exhibit, we read  stories of how life was in 1875.  Many  of the common people lived on the riverfront and in the Soulard area in multiple family dwellings.  They shared outhouses, there was no piped in water.  Soulard was an eclectic neighborhood with residents speaking 12 different languages.  Many homeless children wandered the street, they were called "street Arabs".  It was not unusual for a child to hold down a full-time job at the age of 13. 
One could spend hours pouring over all the information regarding how people of St.Louis lived in 1875, and it is all quite interesting, but I soon needed a break and at that time a costumed lady walked through the exhibit announcing a play which was soon to start.  She played Charlotte Cushman, an actress who stopped on tour in St.Louis at the Olympic Theater on Broadway Avenue, one of two theaters in town in 1875.
We also spent time at the museum looking at the other exhibit, titled "State of Deception The Power of Nazi Propaganda". It was equally enlightening and fascinating.  However, after 4 hours inside I was ready to step outside and into the heat of the day.  Before leaving Forest Park we stopped at the Jewel Box to enjoy the beauty of the gardens and ponds.  Many colorful water lilies are now in bloom.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Summer Days in St.Louis

It is not our usual plan to stay in St.Louis during the hot days of summer.  However, a variety of circumstances has made it necessary for us to remain here, and that is fine with me because it allows us more visits with our daughter and grandson.  They spent the past week with us and we kept busy outside despite the very warm weather.   Last Tuesday we visited the St.Louis Zoo where our first stop was the Children's Zoo.  In the playground of this area I was pleased to see the concrete hippo which use to be located elsewhere in the zoo.  Through the years our children loved to climb up into the belly of the sculpture and then come out of its mouth.  Melissa could not get into it as she once was able to, but at least she could sit in it with her son Nathan.
Kali (pronounced "Cully"), a 21/2 year-old polar bear has been the star attraction at the St.Louis zoo this summer.  We made it our goal to arrive at the zoo early to see him at Polar Bear Point, a 16 million dollar pool and play area for the cub.  The male cub about 3-months old, was transported from Alaska two years ago when an Inupiaq hunter accidentally shot his mother.  He came to the zoo at the beginning of this month.  We waited in line for about a half hour before we were able to see him cavorting around in his pool and beach area.  The 850 pound bear looked just like an active pup as he ran from one play area to another.
It was quite warm, with the temperatures hitting near 90 degrees, the day we were at the zoo.  The next day we went to Grant's farm and the weather was even more uncomfortable!  Just knowing that at noon we would be given a free beer courtesy of the Busch family did keep us going, however.  We did make it a point to visit the Budweiser Clydesales horse in their stables, and took a tram ride through the deer park.  Also saw an Animal Encounters show and a variety of animal exhibits.  It was interesting to see one tortoise peek inside the shell of another, as if to say "Can't you come out and play?" 
 Nathan was able to feed the goats, although he did not appreciate their greediness and decided to run from them.  One goat tried to get his bottle back from Nathan, but Nathan refused to let him have it.
It was really good to be back at Grant's Farm, we certainly made many trips there over the years with our children.  And a bratwurst with a cold beer in the Bauernhof area always tops off the day!

Friday, June 5, 2015

Magic Lanterns at Missouri Botanical Gardens

The garden's first lantern festival was in 2012, our readers may remember my posting on that in July of that year.  That happening was such a success, the institution's biggest single event in its 154-year history, it was decided that there should be another one.  Wednesday evening we went to the garden with the purpose of hearing the country band Diesel Island, and instead spent a good part of our time while there looking at the  lantern sculptures.  There was no charge for the concert or for entrance to the gardens, the only downside to the evening was that the lanterns were not lit.  However, we still enjoyed seeing them- as well as many other people.  The garden had people picnicking and lounging everywhere, even in areas quite far from the concert shell.  I guess they, as well as we, were there for the beauty of the garden as well as for the lanterns.  And that is not to say that the music was bad, Diesel Island is a great band, one of the best country bands in St.Louis!
This year's lantern festival has new sculptures which, as before, are made of silk and porcelain.  Pictured above is the soaring dragon horse.  The scene covers the garden's central axis in front of the Climatron.  Horses with furry manes and velvet hoofs gallop toward dragon horses.  They light up and move, hopefully John and I will yet return some other evening to see that as well as the other lanterns lit.
 Pictured above is "Crane Paradise", featuring the red-crowned crane.  What I appreciated about the lantern festival this year is that many of the sculptures show the flora and fauna of China.  Interpretive signs near them mention the wetlands and nature preserves which China protects.  It is interesting to see that different perspective of a foreign country.  Also, Missouri Botanical has a collaborative relationship with the Shenghai Chenshan Botanical Garden.  Money raised from the festival helps to send scientists to study countries as Madagascar and China.
According to the Post Dispatch, the garden's president, Peter Jackson, wanted to connect the lanterns more closely with plants this year.  Rushes and cattails have been installed in the Wetland Wonders set, there are also cherry tree arches, chrysanthemums as well as dandelions.The sign near the sculpture (pictured above) notes that dandelions can be beneficial as their taproots bring up nutrients for shallower rooting plants. Recycled water bottles were used to make the dandelion sculptures.

As we were leaving the garden we walked through the visitor's enter and saw colorful large silk peonies displayed on the walls.  According to the article in the Post Dispatch, peonies were once banished in China because they did not bloom in the mid-February new year.  Now they are a symbol of wealth and honor.  There are 15 species of them found in China, of which 10 are not found elsewhere in the world.  It was during the 19th century that they, as well as lilacs, hydrangeas, primroses, and rhododendrons, were brought to the United States and Europe.  There is much to be learned and seen at the Missouri Botanical Gardens this summer!

Monday, June 1, 2015

Fairmont Park Racetrack

Whatever I know about horse racing I learned mainly by reading the novels of Dick Francis.  For those of you who do not know this author, Francis was a steeplechase jockey and crime writer who wrote novels on horse racing.  Unfortunately we did not encounter the intrigue and suspense usually found in his novels when we visited Fairmount Park, but still we had a great evening.
The park is located in Collinsville, Illinois and has been a tradition in this metro area since 1925.  It features a one mile oval dirt track.  The seven races we saw Saturday evening were mainly less than a mile, and over rather quickly.   The sport of horse racing is certainly an unknown for John and I, so we were quite fortunate to be in town when a group from our church decided to charter a bus for the trip to Fairmount Park.  The package deal for our group gave us a buffet supper as well as admission to the park ( admittance cost is low, $2.50 on weekends).  It was a rainy evening, and we had good seats right in our eating area, which was the Black Stallion Room.  There was no need for us to be outside, unless we wanted to be where the action was.  I ventured out occasionally, between raindrops.
John and I do not, as a rule, gamble.  As you may remember from my posting on Las Vegas, we did not drop one coin in that city as we wandered around the casinos.  However, on Saturday evening it just seemed that to enjoy the evening it was necessary to drop a few bucks.  A friend of mine looked at the race listings for the evening and thought maybe the approach should be to pick the horse who has the most winning stats for racing in "wet dirt".  After awhile, and loosing a few bucks, we decided that approach was not working.  Then John's interest was suddenly turned on, and he pointed out other nuances of horse betting, that perhaps it was not good to bet that a horse would just win, but that our odds would improve if we wagered that a horse would at least "place" (finish first or second) or "show" (finish first, second, or third).  John also pointed out to me that I should check out the stat of the jockeys, if they win in one race, they may win in subsequent races.  Then, suddenly in race 5, someone in our group pointed out that the horse Indanameofdafather had a religious connotation and perhaps that would be a good choice to bet on.  John and I won a few bucks in that race, as Indanameofthefather placed second.  Below John is showing off his winning ticket.
By the seventh race I realized that in the racing program, at the end of the listing of horses and riders for each race there are "mutuel ratings" which I should have been paying attention to.  Those ratings give a best guess on how the different horses would place.  So for race seven John and I paid close attention to those stats and wagered accordingly.  We bombed in our bets on that race, none of our picks even came close to winning!  Well, we had a fun evening and maybe next time we would be a bit more knowledgeable about the betting process.  And, as with any gambling, there is no sure-fire path to winning!