Blizzkrieg 2021

In some ways, the title of this post isn’t deserving of the “Blizzkrieg” title, as I’ve used it back in 2011 when we got almost 11″ of snow, and again in 2019 when we ended up with 12″ here in Marshall. Perhaps we’ll end up with a ton of snow another time this year but…

Today is not that day.

Indeed, the snow hasn’t been the problem this time around. Instead, the utter ridiculous extended cold temperatures are the problem, and I hereby propose that the relentless cold is worse.

Since last week in Marshall, we have spent most of our time in single-digit temperatures. Last week, we occasionally made it to 14 F, but that that was usually later in the day and due to cloud cover locking in something resembling “heat.” Over night, it always got crazy cold again and stayed there until mid- to late-afternoon. The wind chill has been consistently in the -10s F, and right now, it’s -26 F. Heck, it’s bad enough in the Midwest that Texas is fighting single-digit temperatures, and it’s causing brown outs with their power grid.

More locally, for this reason, the kids have been effectively off school for over a week. They were out on Monday and Tuesday last week outright, and then had remote learning Wednesday through Friday. Brooke did her best to get them started in the mornings, and then I came home and did my office hours remotely so I could keep an eye on them in the afternoons.

Because the temperatures have been so terrible, my running routine has been mostly shot to heck. I broke out the YakTrax I got for Christmas so I could try and put in some miles before the weekend arrived, but those only did so well. The roads actually improved a bit, but the YakTrax were really only useful on packed down snow and not so much exposed asphalt or slush. I’ve been relying on our kettle bell sets and the rowing machine downstairs to keep things going in the meantime…

Once this past weekend arrived, however, we were plunged into low single-digit weather with a high of 1 F multiple times. Right now, it’s still -1 F, which is the warmest it’s been all day. The kids are off school for President’s Day, but tomorrow will be another remote learning day for them. Things got so bad that Missouri Valley also went remote for these two days, which was fine for my lectures this morning, but less helpful for the lab days I’m supposed to have tomorrow.

The snow that’s been falling the last few days hasn’t been that terrible, but that’s only because it’s been so dry. I can go out and use a broom to sweep it off, but I’ve been doing that 2-3 times a day, with about an inch or more each time. I don’t know how much snow we’ve officially accumulated at this time, but I’ve got some pretty solid piles going next to the driveway and sidewalks. Out in front, with a ruler, I measure 4.5″ with it still falling, but the official total could be off from that due to the wind blowing it around.

The kids have largely taken to it all okay. We’re having to keep the heat cranked in the house, and I closed the curtains to try and block the drafts into this old house. Mom came to town on Friday to give the kids a break from me being around the house, and we think that helped them get through the weekend without any “attitude issues.” Brooke scheduled some activities for Valentine’s Day like making sugar cookies, waffles for dinner, and a family game of Hearts later in the day.

They also got a new game for the Switch to help entertain them a bit. It’s one of those times where it would normally be great to have a few snow days, but since it’s so cold outside, we can’t in good conscience send them out there!

As the forecast above indicates, later this week should get better. I’ll certainly be a lot happier when the kids are back in their routine, and I can go for a run without having to wear temporary cleats and long underwear. Believe you me, I’m ready for Spring!

State Park #14: Long Branch State Park

This post is part of an ongoing series summarizing each State Park in Missouri that our family has attended. We hope to visit each of 54 State Parks before the kids graduate from high school.

I think Brooke discovered Long Branch State Park when she was looking for beaches in Missouri for us to take the kids to last year (Edit: She used to go there when she was growing up, so she remembered it!). Strangely, I didn’t post anything about it at the time, but we re-visited the park again this year during the Summer, so I’ll include pictures from both trips (although, the kids were wearing the same stuff on both visits.

The park has quite a bit to offer, including camping, hiking trails, picnic areas, a playground, and a marina. But again, the only reason we go is to use the beach! The park is also close to Macon, MO, so it’s about an hour and a half from our house, giving us a bit of a “road trip” vibe to get there.

The beach area has a nice set of bathrooms and changing rooms close by, so it’s pretty easy to shower off before you get back in the car (I do not like sand in my car……especially when it’s new…).

Other than that, frankly, there isn’t that much more to say! We go for the beach, and as such we do beachy things, like let the kids do their thing while we read a magazine or listen to a baseball game. The first time we visited in August of 2019, it was a nice, hot, sunny day. When we visited in August of 2020, however, the clouds were out and it wasn’t quite as pleasant (also, pandemic….). Still, I suspect we’ll go back each year, as it’s a nice little excursion for a Saturday or Sunday!

State Park #13: Johnson’s Shut-Ins State Park

This post is part of an ongoing series summarizing each State Park in Missouri that our family has attended. We hope to visit each of 54 State Parks before the kids graduate from high school.

The final State Park we hit on our “Staycation 2020” trip this past Summer was Johnson’s Shut-Ins State Park. Technically, this was Meg and my second trip, as we stopped by there (and Elephant Rocks) in the Spring of 2019 during a visit with my college, but this was our first trip as a family. This place is formed as part of the Black River, and features a shallow portion where kids can play in, as well as deeper portions where bigger folks can float around. There are also plenty of rocks to climb on (carefully!), as well as water falls that you can interact with if you want to (as in, climb down there, get underneath them, and more).

The State Park has camping available, as well as a pretty new visitor center. Normally we would have visited their offerings, but as part of the pandemic, we wanted to isolate ourselves as much as possible.

Speaking of which, there were way too many people there that day! We had waited until Sunday afternoon to go, thinking that folks from St. Louis would be heading home, but apparently….not. Frankly, we were pretty disappointed with the experience when we went. We know it can be fun to go, but we had to park about a mile away and walk. Because of that, we couldn’t really take much stuff with us, and even the stuff we could take didn’t include water bottles, aluminum cans, food, etc.

Still, after the kids were done complaining about having to walk so far, they had fun floating in the Black River, letting the flow of the river take them over short distances, and trying to find fish under rocks. It was less fun for Brooke and I because the areas more appropriate for larger people (i.e. adults) were populated by way too many people, so we didn’t venture far from the areas where younger kids can hang out.

Next time we visit, we will be able to plan it out more effectively. Also, we will get there earlier in the day so we can leave food at the car and go back and forth when we need something. Obviously, by the time we make it back there, the kids will be older too (and there won’t be a pandemic….hopefully….), so we won’t have to keep an eye on them quite as carefully. It was a disappointing visit, for sure, but we know it’s a cool place normally. It just wasn’t “normal” this time!

State Park #12: Elephant Rocks State Park

This post is part of an ongoing series summarizing each State Park in Missouri that our family has attended. We hope to visit each of 54 State Parks before the kids graduate from high school.

As part of our “Staycation 2020” trip in August, we also stopped by Elephant Rocks State Park, as it was close to multiple other state parks we wanted to hit. Really, this park was most of the reason we wanted to take the trip in the first place, as it’s one of those things we both remembered doing when we were growing up, so we wanted the kids to get to experience it while they were still on the younger side of things.

Because of the ongoing pandemic, we tried getting there earlier in the morning so we could avoid the inevitable crowds, and for the most part, we definitely did. After being there awhile, there were more and more people coming in and it was getting harder to distance from them, so we really only stayed for the morning.

The park itself features gigantic granite boulders that naturally formed and were weathered over millennia. The largest of the rocks is 27 feet tall, 34 feet long, and 17 feet wide. Some of them are pretty difficult to climb, while others are shorter for kids to try to maneuver around.

There aren’t really any serious trails at this park, but there is a well-defined nature trail with various signs that are instructional for the surroundings. A lot of school kids get taken there, so much of the material focuses on geology, as well as the natural environment in that region. Our kids weren’t all that interested in the signs, though we did try to get Meg to get some interesting factoids from them. Calvin really just wanted to climb on things, but hey, that’s why we went!

There are some playgrounds there and a few picnic shelters, but we avoided those for obvious reasons. In more “normal times,” we could definitely spend almost all day there, though I would probably want the kids to be a little older before letting them go run off by themselves. It was a memorable part of the trip, for sure!

The Bathroom II: Plaster’s Revenge – Part I

When we first moved into the house, we had to have the toilet replaced upstairs so it would be usable by our four year old, and in the process, tiles were torn out and needed a fix. So, we embarked on our first remodel, and were thus introduced to the use of plaster to repair walls in the house. While we were satisfied at the time with the work we did, we’ve come a long way in removal of wallpaper, repair of plaster, and painting in other spaces of the house.

In the intervening years, the ceiling began peeling due to all the excessive moisture in the room. We also didn’t have a fan in there, so moisture tended to hang around, which wasn’t ideal for a space like that. With the remaining time left during my Winter Break, and the availability of our fathers around the holidays, we figured it was best to pull the trigger and go ahead and get it done while it was chillier outside, in the event we had to be without a shower for a few nights (spoiler alert: we were…).

On December 28th, we had a 12 sq. yd. dumpster delivered where we could put all the products of our destruction from the room. Last time, we stashed the tiles and leftover plaster behind the garage, and I ended up hauling it out to the curb each week until it was finally gone, so this time, we did our best to get rid of it all at once.

Mark had visited a few weeks earlier to check out the room and pull a few patches of trim so we could get a handle on what everything would entail. We planned to have Mark and Diana come out and stay in a hotel here in town for a few nights while they helped with drywall, and I had my Dad come out the day before to get the wiring done for a new power outlet and a new ceiling light+fan.

Before Dad could arrive, I had to get the demolition done. I spent Monday and Tuesday tearing out the long wall by the door, and then focused on getting the wall by the window down, followed by the ceiling. I did my best to keep the shower and toilet covered so they would be usable for as long as we could, but that only continued for another day. Our progress slowed down on Tuesday quite a bit, mostly because the ceiling took me some time to work around while not damaging things. We went ahead and pulled the toilet out and the old vanity, the latter of which we put out by the curb (it was gone by the next morning, so hopefully it found a new home).

Another thing: before Dad came, I had to pull up all the insulation from above the bathroom and, believe you me, it was the absolute worst!! Thank God we have a billion masks around here (for obvious reasons…), ’cause if I wasn’t wearing one, I would have inhaled all kinds of dust while pulling up insulation. But yeah, I think I ended up with 7 or 8 trash bags full of insulation by the time we were done with demolition, including from the outer walls in the bathroom itself.

Dad came by on Wednesday as planned and, as became the theme of the entire ordeal, things went slower than we wanted to. I went to the store a few times to get electrical boxes and Romex wire, while Dad took some measurements and figured out how to get the fan wired the way we wanted to the light switch. We had two switches first and expanded to three: one for the vanity light, one for the light/fain, and one for the nightlight built in to the fan. We also only had one electrical box in the room, so we daisy-chained it up and over to drop it down between the toilet and the new vanity (that we didn’t have yet…).

A note on that: we ordered a lot of the stuff to be delivered by Lowe’s, but weather got in the way and the delivery was delayed from Tuesday to Wednesday. It didn’t end up being a huge deal, but it was one more thing for me to pay attention to, distracting me from other aspects of the project. Brooke ordered drywall, trim, the vanity, and some other odds and ends, so that saved us the need to get the stuff ourselves (and rent/borrow a truck to do so with…). We picked up the vinyl floor we wanted from Menard’s the weekend prior, strapping it to the roof of the Outback. Worked out alright!

Anyway, demolition took three days. We had a few small bits to finish up on Thursday, but by the time Mark and Diana rolled in Thursday morning, we were pretty much ready for them!

But for that…we’ll wait for Part II… 🙂

State Park #11: Taum Sauk Mountain State Park

This post is part of an ongoing series summarizing each State Park in Missouri that our family has attended. We hope to visit each of 54 State Parks before the kids graduate from high school.

We visited Taum Sauk Mountain State Park as part of our “Staycation” 2020 trip, taking the opportunity to knock out a few parks that were close enough together for us to visit multiple in a single extended weekend. The “claim to fame” for Taum Sauk Mountain is that it’s the highest point in the state of Missouri. It’s found within the St. Francois Mountains and features a few trails through its 7,500 acres.

When we went, we really were just wanting to visit the “highest point,” but it took us a bit to find it. There wasn’t a really obvious sign or anything that said “highest point in Missouri this way!,” but we eventually found it.

After that, we walked along one of the trails . The Mina Sauk Falls trail is the one we tried, as it’s a loop that passes by a scenic overlook and some waterfalls. I can’t say the falls were that impressive, frankly, but they were a solid distraction for the kids to play in for a bit before we went to visit other sites. The Mina Sauk Falls trail follows along the Ozark Trail for a bit, which actually connects to Johnson’s Shut-Ins State Park, but we just did the short-ish loop. The trail itself was pretty rocky, so we had to be careful with how the kids were hiking, as some of the grades were a bit steep.

We’re glad we stopped by, but we’re also glad we didn’t plan an entire trip around Taum Sauk Mountain. After we did the loop trail, there wasn’t really much else to do there! No park office, the parking lot was gravel, and there were very few informational signs around. It was a nice little trail, but there are other parks nearby where there are more activities available!

Catching Up

So yeah, haven’t posted since September…..guess we’ve got some stuff to catch up on, eh?

Honestly, there’s been so much going on, I haven’t really known what to put up on the blog. The garden was done and we were all just doing day-to-day stuff at work, school, or around the house. One of many issues with an ongoing pandemic is that there are fewer milestone events worth mentioning for the record, as we find ourselves just figuratively treading water and trying to go from one day to the next. I’ll just recount some things about the last few months, though…

First of all, no infections in our little family of four, thankfully. The kids have only gone to stores like Walmart a few times, but we’ve mostly kept them at home unless there was a reason to take them alone (e.g. birthday presents, going to JCPenney for annual portraits, etc.). Any time we go anywhere, we’re still masked up, though around Marshall, many folks have gotten much more lax about it. Likely, this is why COVID cases have skyrocketed around here in recent weeks/months, though that’s true for Missouri and, frankly, the rest of the country, too.

However, the kids have been in and out of school, which has been a challenge to deal with. Their school district shifted to distance learning twice (now they’re in it for the rest of 2020, but plan to start in-person in early January), and Meg’s class has been quarantined twice this semester, so there were times where Calvin could go to his school, but Meg had to distance learn from home. Somewhat surprisingly, they’ve handled the back-and-forth shockingly well. We’ve left Meg mostly to her own devices in completing her work on Google Classroom and she got an award (and free pizza) for doing so well. Calvin has done well, too, but as a first grader, he just needs more engagement than a screen can provide. Still, both of our kids routinely say that they are in their daily Google Meet sessions with less than half of the rest of their class that is supposed to be there, so while my kids are doing alright, I know that there are countless more in our community and in the country as a whole that aren’t. We’re just lucky that our work schedules allow for a little more supervision and engagement as parents than some other families have.

On my end, the semester ended before Thanksgiving, which is crazy when you think about what a normal college schedule looks like. I ended up dealing with multiple students who were in and out of quarantine, which made it difficult to figure out when exams, lab practicals, and assignments could happen. Our school moved to a new LMS this semester, so I’ve been trying some new things in order to mitigate some of the scheduling issues. Overall, my students didn’t do as well this year as they’ve done in the past, so I’ve been trying to reevaluate the way I did things this past semester and see if I can make some improvements going forward. I guess that’s something I’m constantly reviewing anyway, but since I’m using the new LMS, I’m finding new tools that I didn’t use last semester but will use this time, so that’s at least kinda interesting.

A few months ago, Brooke scaled back her hours at work so she could start looking toward getting some counseling hours in toward her LPC. Working full time just doesn’t allow for the additional 15 hours a week that are required to actually get that certification in, so she’s taking a much needed break right now and will likely start getting those hours in once the new year starts. It’s been helpful having her around with more flexibility, as I could stay late for a meeting while Brooke could get home with the kids to make sure they were on a call at the right time, or get their lunches made, and so forth. The added flexibility has helped alleviate the stress we would otherwise be experiencing right now!

Last, but not least, Charlotte and Sam are getting along much better now. She’s been chasing him around a bit and, for the most part, he isn’t fighting back all that hard. Kinda an older brother being pestered by their significantly younger sibling, I guess. She’s also getting fatter…but not particularly bigger?

In closing, all I can say for sure is….I’m ready for things to get back to normal…..ug…….

Meet Charlotte

We’ve noticed over the past few months that Sam has been very….clingy…..at night…. Maybe it’s old age, maybe he misses Edie…who knows… But it got to the point where Brooke was wondering whether Sam needed a new friend. He’s also over 15 years old now, so while he could easily be with us for another 10 years (which is crazy to think about), Brooke thought that getting another cat now would give them enough time for Sam to “rub off” a bit on a new arrival.

She poked around the Humane Society’s website to look at what our options were. Since the pandemic took hold (or maybe before?), they have had cats in host homes where the foster “parent” can post about the cat’s personality quirks, how they deal with other animals and children, etc. It’s a much better system than having them locked in a cage where you really don’t get a good sense of what they’re actually like.

We drove to Columbia last Saturday to meet “Caramel Corn.” Granted, it’s been a long time since we had a young cat in the house, but dang she’s tiny compared to Sam! She seemed friendly enough and let Brooke and Calvin hold her, so that was a good start. We chatted a bit with the foster parent and then we were on our way!

“Caramel Corn” yowled in the car for most of the ride home. After awhile, she would close her eyes and pretend she wasn’t in the car…then she’d open her eyes again and start yowling again… So yeah, not a car rider.

Once we got her inside, Sam was sleeping on the couch, so we set the carrier down in view of him. At first, he didn’t really know what to think until he realized what was in the box….

There was quite a bit of hissing initially. For that first day, they avoided each other as best they could. Sam mostly stayed on the main floor, while “Caramel Corn” stayed downstairs in the basement. It was a struggle to get her upstairs! The litter box is down there, so it was fine, but with all the stuff down there, it’s tough to find her when she doesn’t want to be found! There was one point where we wondered if she escaped through some small hole to the outside of the house, but eventually we found her.

The next day, she wandered around a little bit more than before. Ate some of her food (Sam keeps going after it….we haven’t solved that problem just yet….). Used the litter box as she’s supposed to. But she still hung out down in the basement quite a bit! She liked playing with the cave crickets that are plaguing the basement at present.

Early that evening though, she came upstairs for some water, so I shut the door behind her so she had to stay upstairs and “socialize” a bit with her new family. She opened up quite a bit! She was still hesitant to hop up on the couch with us while we were watching TV, but she would walk past frequently and slow down enough for us to give her ear a scratch.

That second day, we still had much discussion about a name. We were looking for “old lady names,” as Edie was short for “Edith Anne,” and we think giving human names to our pets has been fun. One idea was “Max,” short for “Maxine.” Calvin wanted to keep calling her “Carmel,” but the rest of us weren’t down with that idea….

Eventually, Brooke came up with “Charlotte.” We don’t have a good short version of it yet, but perhaps we’ll settle on something after she gets used to the name.

The week has largely progressed with social improvements between the cats. Charlotte has been sleeping on the velvet bench at night, and sleeping on the couch when she doesn’t mind the kids petting her. She also uses the cat scratching stand!!! Sam never uses that thing!!

Speaking of which, Sam and Charlotte still aren’t quite “friendly” yet, but it’s to the point where Sam can walk past Charlotte on the couch while she’s sleeping, and she doesn’t swipe at him or wake up startled. There are other times, though, when Sam is on the table while we’re eating dinner and his tail dangles down below….down to a waiting Charlotte who is happy to start pawing at it. That usually doesn’t go as well….

Charlotte is fitting right in! We’re going to declaw her, which is something we didn’t do for Sam. To be fair, 15 years ago, we didn’t have “real furniture” that we wanted to protect from claws. If we’re going to have another cat for another 20 years…..we’d like to keep our nice couch looking that way….

She’s a sweetie! Looking forward to watching her grow!

Garden Update: 08.27.20

It’s been just over a month since the last update, and relative to where we were in July, things have definitely slowed down. Brooke planted beans and zucchini where we had the radishes and kale and those things are doing wonderfully. The soup bean pods just showed up this week, and the black beans are drying out quite a bit, so they’re going to be ready to pick soon. The zucchini have been doing well, way more than we actually want let alone need

As far as zucchini go, we’ve picked two or three like this every other day or so. It’s been pretty silly. It’s great to grow stuff and have them work really well…….but we only have so many things we want to use zucchini with (e.g. fried, bread, cookies…..muffins?)

Speaking of beans, our rattlesnake beans came back voluntarily! You can see some of them there at the top of this pic. We probably won’t end up with more than a handful of beans from the pods, but hey….we did almost literally zero work for these, so whatever.

Our peppers have been hit-or-miss. The “lunchbox peppers” Brooke planted are starting to come on pretty well now, so we’re getting a few of those every day or two. The bigger Margaret peppers have also come on better than last year, but still not tons of them. Obviously the green beans are way done, but there are still some pods growing on some of the plants. The sunflowers, though, look beautiful!

You can see some of the lunchbox peppers in orange , as well as a few tomatoes (more on that in a second). We also picked our granny smith apples! They were starting to brown at the top, so we didn’t want to let them go any longer. I picked 7 and sent them to Mom and Dad’s last weekend, so these represent the rest of the litter from the tree. We ended up with way more than we expected, and they seem to taste pretty good! Not as good as a gala apple or something, but hey….these were free(ish)!

Speaking of the tomatoes, we’ve been pretty disappointed this year. We got some really, really nice “slicer” tomatoes a few weeks ago, but since then, they’ve almost literally dried up. The cherry tomatoes are coming on very nicely, which has been good since Meg’s been home over summer, but other than that, the paste tomatoes Brooke planted have barely done anything, and the others have been one- or two-at-a-time, so never enough to process sauce or anything.

This gigantic plant is a volunteer. I’ve thought it was a watermelon for the past few weeks.

Things like this are what we’ve seen. Maybe 11 or 12 of them coming off that one plant.

Welp….we don’t think they’re watermelon anymore…

We found this out there, yellowing and, incidentally, rotting. Apparently, we’ve got a whole bunch of pumpkins growing!

That’s enough for now! Maybe one or two more posts as we finish out this year’s growing season. One last thing I should probably mention so we remember when these were planted…

Brooke ordered more strawberries! They’re June-bearing berries from Jung Seeds, this time. Since we got such a good yield this year from the existing plants, we want to keep things rolling by refreshing the plants from time to time. Hopefully we’ll end up with more than we did this year!

“Staycation” 2020

We had this grand plan in mind for our vacation this year. Reservations were made, days were claimed to be taken off, and tents were being bought in preparation for the journey. The plan was that we would drive out to Yellowstone National Park and camp at one of their campgrounds, then stay at an Airbnb closer to Grand Teton National Park for another few days, then circle down through Colorado and see Brooke’s cousin.

Well, we all know how that turned out, right?

The kids and I still needed to get out of the house though, and Brooke has an innate need to go on a road trip every year, so we decided to knock a few more state parks off our list and head out to Pilot Knob, MO, where we could stay in a motel (with a swimming pool), and hit up 3 state parks while we were in one central area. Pilot Knob is pretty close to Elephant Rocks State Park, Taum Sauk Mountain State Park, and Johnson’s Shut-Ins State Park, so we’d be able to spend part of the day at each one while we went for an extended weekend. We actually drove through Onandoga Cave State Park, but because they weren’t doing cave tours, we figured we should just go back there when all of this is finally over…

So yeah, because we’ve got a whole other thread of posts for state park visits, I’m going to make separate posts about those. Here, I’m going to speak more broadly about the trip.

Pilot Knob is about 4.5 hrs from Marshall, and luckily for us, St. James, MO is on the way, so we stopped off at our favorite winery in the state, Heinrichshaus, to pick up some bottles. While we were there, we had a picnic lunch and enjoyed being out of the car for a bit. It was a pretty short stop, but it had been a few years since we were last there (Meg and I stopped in last Spring on the return trip from an excursion with my Biology students,, but we didn’t exactly “stock up”).

That afternoon, we stopped off at the Huzzah Conservation Area to play in the water for a bit. Really, it was just an excuse for Brooke and I to relax with our feet in the water and let the kids mess around in a fast-moving float trip river.

We only stayed for an hour or so, but the kids could have done that all afternoon. They’d float their bodies while their hands kinda shuffled them along with the current, and then they’d do it again, and again, and again. It was like sledding.

There weren’t many options for where to stay in Pilot Knob or Ironton (which is practically attached…), and we weren’t thrilled with the prospect of camping in late-July humidity, so Brooke booked us a room at the Fort Davidson Hotel. It has an attached restaurant with a nice patio, it had exterior access to the room, and it had an outdoor pool, so we figured it was a relatively safe bet. The place turned out to be pretty nice, all things considered! We had an issue with the toilet constantly running, but the owner of the hotel came right over and took care of it for us. That night, I went out to Casey’s to get pizza, so the kids were more than satisfied.

The next morning, we went to Elephant Rocks (more on that in another post), and thankfully, it wasn’t all that crowded. More folks kept showing up and, as we were being responsible human beings, we tried avoiding others to the best of our ability, so it was good that we went relatively early so we could leave before the crowds got really bad.

That afternoon was mostly spent out by the pool! The kids were pretty proud of themselves swimming in the 11 ft deep end of the pool for much of the time. Meg was able to get diving sticks from the very bottom, though it took her some practice to get there. Calvin touched the bottom a few times, but again, he hadn’t really done that before, so diving from the surface was tough!

That night, we ate at the attached restaurant. We had the option of eating inside or outside, but the patio was nice enough and the weather wasn’t too bad, so we were comfortable. The kids got some Fitz’s soft drinks and their beer selection was surprisingly decent, considering how far Pilot Knob is from….er….anywhere… And my fried catfish was spectacular.

Across the street from the restaurant sits the namesake of the hotel: Fort Davidson. It was my first “earthen fort” that I’d ever visited, so there wasn’t really all that much to see aside from a hill with grass on it in the shape of a square. Apparently, the Union were holding the fort and then lost a battle with the Confederacy, who then subsequently took over.

So yeah, it was a nice evening stroll after eating way too much. An excuse to walk around a bit like normal people for a change. 🙂

The next morning, we went to Taum Sauk Mountain, and that afternoon, we went to Johnson’s Shut-Ins. Again, I’ll have separate posts about those, but here, I’ll point out that Taum Sauk was a nice little hike where we got to sit and enjoy some small waterfalls, but Johnson’s Shut-Ins was a madhouse. We figured on a Sunday afternoon, the “St. Louis Crowd” would have waned a bit as they were all heading back home, but nope…totally wrong on that one… We had to park almost a mile away from the main area of the park, and it was very difficult to maintain any form of social distancing, let alone 6 ft. We only stayed for an hour or so, and while the kids would have liked to have stayed a little more (and seen more of the park), we just didn’t feel comfortable.

So we went back to the hotel and swam there again! 🙂

That evening, we went to a Mexican restaurant in Ironton called Checo’s that was pretty good. Not a lot of good mask-wearing in that building either, but we were seated relatively far from anyone else, so we felt at least okay about it.

In the evenings, we played some games that we brought alone. The first night, we played Skip-Bo, which is a family favorite. The second night, we played a family edition of Trivial Pursuit that actually worked shockingly well. The kids get their own set of cards separate from the adult-level cards, and we think they did a good job of getting that mix right.

Monday morning, we decided to hit up Meremec Caverns on our return trip home, as Onandoga Cave was closed and we had played up how cool caves can be (literally and figuratively).

The kids definitely enjoyed it! I’m not sure I’ve ever been there, though I’ve been to others in the state like Mark Twain Cave, Bridal Cave, and Jacob’s Cave. Like those, this one is definitely a tourist trap, but again, it provided a bit of “spectacle” for the kids to experience. Hopefully they’ll remember it!

We were wearing masks, but very few others in our tour group was. Our tour guide did, but most of the folks with us weren’t doing their part. When we passed other tour groups, it looked like there were others there wearing them, but the majority of the visitors didn’t have them on. Definitely disconcerting.

Again, I think the kids enjoyed it quite a bit, and they did a great job of following directions and listening to the tour guide as he pointed out various aspects of the cave. They also very much enjoyed when they turned all the lights out, just how dark it gets in there. Of course, as we were vacationing in southern Missouri in late-July, we didn’t have jackets with us…..so next time, we should try to remember to bring long sleeves. Calving got a little chilly after being in there for an hour, but overall, they did a good job!

After we finished at Meremec Caverns, we continued home via Highway 50! Mostly, it’s because that was a different route than we took to get home (it also rained quite a bit on our return trip, so that was lovely…..), but the real reason was that we would pass through Jefferson City a little after lunch time:

For the record, Brooke did not eat that entire banana split. Meg did eat the mint chocolate chip sundae in its entirety, though. And she didn’t throw up, for the record.

That’s it! We had a ton of laundry to do after this, but for an extended weekend trip, it was “good enough” to tide us over until next year. We’ll have to double back and get to Yellowstone eventually, but assuming things get better in time, next year’s plan is a drive along the Pacific Coast Highway ending at Disneyland!