Traveling the Bourbon Trail

Me, Ryan (right) and Mike (front)
Me, Ryan (right) and Mike (front)

I met Ryan 8 years ago at a wedding and we soon started getting together “virtually” for playing video games. At the wedding, we found that we had some similar interests in various kinds of games and have been playing together ever since. In many ways, it’s odd that one of my best friends is one that I’d only physically met a single time, but there are even more people that I’d met through Ryan that, until recently, I also knew very well yet had never actually met.

Last year, our little gaming group (which consists of around 8-10 people) had discussed trying to meet up somewhere.  We’ve got some people up in Minnesota, one in Alabama, one in Ohio, three closer to the East coast, and me here in Missouri.  At the time, the Bourbon Trail in Kentucky seemed like the logical place to try and meet up, though some other options had been tossed around.  We couldn’t pull it off for last year, but we made a bigger push to get something together this time.  We couldn’t get all of those people together, but 5 of us met up in Frankfort, KY last weekend to visit some distilleries.

Woodford Reserve
Woodford Reserve

I’ve been brewing beer for quite awhile, so I had a handle on what the basic process of distilling entails.  There were some interesting differences between the different distilleries we visited however, including their history, architecture, barrel placement, and so on.

One thing they’ll tell you at these distilleries is that “bourbon” is distinct from “whiskey” in that it must only be aged in new, charred oak barrels (there are a few other requirements, but it’s one of the things that sets “bourbon” apart from “Tennessee Whiskey” like Jack Daniels).

We stayed at an airbnb apartment in Frankfort very close to Buffalo Trace Distillery, which is one of the oldest continuously operating distilleries in the country.  Unlike many others, they still produced bourbon during Prohibition because they had a Federal license to produce spirits for “medicinal purposes.”  We took the regular tour and then a “ghost tour” that evening, learning a bit about various potential “spirits” that live amongst the other “spirits.”

The sour mash at Woodford Reserve
The sour mash at Woodford Reserve

Unfortunately, while we got to see all the barrel houses at Buffalo Trace, they shut down their distilling operation in July and August due to the heat.  We got to see a working distillery at Woodford Reserve, our next destination.  This place was quite a bit more “corporate” in feel, and though distilleries have been present on the property for quite awhile, the current product, Woodford Reserve, has only existed since the 1990s.  Still, bourbon is made in the traditional way and it’s a large operation that you can see in action.  This distillery was one of two locations where we saw the sour mash bubbling about, where yeast began the fermentation process.  This part of bourbon-making only takes a few days, after which it’s distilled down (read: boiled to the point where the water is separated from the alcohol) and then loaded into barrels.

So many barrels...
So many barrels…

Those barrels will hang out for a period of years.  At Buffalo Trace, some barrels are kept up in the top of their barrel houses, but they can only be kept there for up to 6 years because the heat ages the bourbon faster.  The 10-12 year (or older) product is kept within the first few floors, where aging takes longer and the flavor profile changes over that period.  Ultimately, this means that some bourbons are aged at the top, some are aged in the middle, and some are aged at the bottom.  Woodford Reserve, on the other hand, rotates their barrels from the top to the bottom so the flavor remains consistent between each bottle they make.

That first day, we also hit up Wild Turkey, but we couldn’t catch a tour in the time we had.  We did participate in a tasting, however.  I can’t say the portions were great, and it was probably my least favorite of the locations, but I’m still glad we stopped by.

From left to right: Paul, Ryan and Mike.

The next day, we went to Maker’s Mark and found them to be pretty similar to Woodford Reserve in terms of their history vs corporate balance.  They’re also a large operation and the tour was pretty cool, especially the part where they explain their trademark wax topping that they pull off for each bottle.  Apparently, a worker can dip something like 100 of those bottles a minute before they pass through a cooling box that solidifies the wax prior to packaging.

Maker’s Mark was a really nice facility, though their buildings are all mostly black and sheet metal instead of brick.  You can tell it’s a newer facility, and they’ve got a more “corporate” feel.  Incidentally, they only had one or two barrel aging buildings on that portion of the property and, as we left, a few miles away, we saw 10s of more buildings where they were aging bourbon.

From left to right: Ryan, Josh, Mike and Paul.
From left to right: Ryan, Josh, Mike and Paul.

The last place we went was Heaven Hill, a company I wasn’t really familiar with, but apparently they own Evan Williams (a bourbon I am familiar with).  By the time we got there, they weren’t holding tours, but they were having a Bourbon Connoisseur’s Tasting of sorts.  It was the most expensive of the tastings ($20…), but you got 4 healthy doses of different bourbons and you got more information about the barrels, the aging, the differences in how bourbons are produced (like, what grains you add to them), and so on.  For example, we tasted a “25-year-whiskey” that, normally, I’d assume would taste really good…but this was apparently an accidental batch that was forgotten for 10 years in the wrong part of the barrel aging house.  The distiller aged it a bit longer in a different barrel (one that wasn’t oak, so it didn’t count as “bourbon” anymore), but it was salvageable as a teaching tool.  It didn’t taste nearly as good as it should after that much aging, which just goes to show that “25 years” isn’t necessarily great.

Heaven Hill Distillery
Heaven Hill Distillery

Of the places we went, I think we were universal in our love for Buffalo Trace and for the tasting we had at Heaven Hill.  It isn’t that the other places were bad, but the corporate feel of Maker’s Mark and Woodford Reserve really showed.  As I told the guys, it reminded me of the Anheuser-Busch tour in St. Louis: the beer isn’t that great, but the tour is still fascinating just to see it all at scale.  It’s still valuable information, but perhaps didn’t have the “character” we were looking for.

We also heard great things about Jim Beam Distillery and their tour options, but unfortunately, we just couldn’t fit it in.  Next year!

Ultimately, we had a great time.  We fit some video games in at night and hit up some of the restaurants in the Frankfort area (Bourbon on Main was pretty good…great bourbon list, too…  Buddy’s Pizza was also quite good.)  Hopefully we can get together like this next year or the following year and get more folks to join us.

Hannibal Cannibal

See? I run!
See? I run!

A few weeks ago, I ran my first 5K! My first “official” one, at least (I ran more than 5 km per day for 5 days in a row before actually running this race…).  Brooke’s family has run in the Hannibal Cannibal for the past few years, a fundraiser for the local hospital that always takes place on the Saturday morning of Tom Sawyer Days, which is held around July 4th.  This particular 5K is notable because of it’s “Lover’s Leap” climb, which is a steep 100 ft elevation that kinda sneaks up on you.  I’d never tried this course before (obviously), so though I knew how difficult the HW-79 portion would be (another hill, but a bit slower in grade), yet I wasn’t sure how Lover’s Leap would go.  I didn’t quite make it up to the top without stopping, but I made it further than I would have had I not been training.  Jogging around our neighborhood here gave me a little practice with hills, but for next year, I’ll have a better idea of what to prep for.

Baumann Brigade!
Baumann Brigade!

Again, the Baumanns (Baumenn?) run this 5K frequently and Mallory and Diana both placed in their divisions (yay!).  We’re all running a 5K in Colorado (Mallory’s doing a half marathon), so in some ways, this was a good trial run for us, or at least for those of us that have never actually run a 5K before…

S Health's display.
S Health’s display.

Also, a brief  aside, but I got a new fitness tracker in late June.  The Samsung Gear Fit 2 has a built-in GPS function and barometer that I find particularly useful, as it’s able to keep track changes in elevation, as well as running times.  For that race, my official time was 26:51 with an average pace of 8:39/mi.  My Gear Fit 2 recorded 8:39/mi as well, though the distance was off because I started it before actually crossing the starting line.  For the most part, I’ve been pleased with the performance of the tracker, though its battery life leaves something to be desired.

Overall, I placed 7th out of 18 in my age group, so I felt pretty good about that.  A 27 min 5K is respectable, though I’d have to work quite a bit to beat the 19:48 winning time in my group…  To get to the top 3 and win a medal, I need to shoot for 23:27, though, I’ll move up in age bracket next year where they actually ran a bit faster than those numbers this time around (ranging from 20:13 to 22:02 for the top 3).  There probably won’t be a medal in my future for awhile, but I suppose that isn’t the point of running a 5K, eh?

Lastly, I should note that Brooke’s also planning on doing the 5K in Colorado, though she thinks she may have hurt her ankle and may not be able to actually run for it.  The ankle’s on the mend, but while it’s been swollen, she hasn’t been able to go jogging all that much.  Perhaps we’ll get her in the Cannibal in time for next year!

State Park #1: Katy Trail 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.

Biking on the Katy Trail
Biking on the Katy Trail last summer

Katy Trail State Park is a 240 mile shared-use trail converted from the Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad.  Growing up in Columbia, it’s a site I visited multiple times with my family (at the Rocheport section), but Brooke and I made multiple visits to the St. Charles section of the trail shortly after moving to St. Louis.  Now that we live in Marshall, we live about 30 minutes away from the Sedalia portion of the trail, ironically making it closer than it has ever been to the two of us.

As Brooke and I are the only two in the house capable of riding a bicycle (sans training wheels…), we picked up a trailer for my bike last year that we can put the kids in.  It folds up in the back of our Forester pretty easily, though by the time you put our bikes on the roof rack of the car and the front tires of said bikes in the back with the folded-up trailer, we’re mostly out of room (i.e. we can go to Sedalia, Boonville or Rocheport pretty easily, but not much further, as we don’t have room for overnight bags).

For now, the kids like riding in the trailer and we use it on trips to the local playground here in Marshall.  Meg is 6, but is still relatively small, so she fit in the trailer easily last year and this year – next summer may be a different story.  Hopefully, we can get Meg riding her bike over the next year, but Calvin will still be able to use the trailer for years to come.

Honestly, there isn’t much to write about here.  The trail picture above is what it looks like for 240 miles.  It goes through/near some small towns, sometimes there are bathroom facilities available (though usually not), some sections are shaded while others aren’t.  It’s a great State Park to visit, but personally, we like biking on it more than anything else.  It’s a “mixed use” trail, so we see walkers and joggers frequently, though closer to cities – the further you get from the cities, the more likely you’ll find bikers.  Some sections, especially near the State Fairgrounds in Sedalia, also allow for horses, but we don’t often see them on the trail.

Ultimately, it’s a really awesome resource that’s unique in that quite a few Missourians have been on it, likely without knowing it’s a State Park.  It isn’t a “single destination” like the other State Parks because it spans the entire state (as in, you can live in Kansas City or you can live in St. Louis, and you can visit the same park while only driving for 20 or 30 minutes to get there).  I suspect the kids will both have fond memories of this one.

Grand Tour of Missouri State Parks

Look at those happy campers!
Look at those happy campers!

We like to think of ourselves as “outdoorsy” types and, thankfully, we’ve got a really good Department of Natural Resources in Missouri to provide us with some great opportunities around the state.  When we traveled the Oregon Trail last year, Brooke and I found that many other states out that direction had some very unimpressive parks to visit, especially with regards to how much they charge to camp there relative to the quality of the facilities provided.  Thankfully, Missouri has cheap rates (even for non-residents), and some really nice places to visit.

Therefore, we decided it would be cool to hit every state park in Missouri before both kids graduate from high school.  There are 54 state parks and another 33 historic sites, many of which are also associated with the parks.  We’ve already visited a few of them as a family of four, so if we visit a few each year, we should be able to pull it off rather easily.  We’ll probably camp at most of them, but some of them like Rock Bridge State Park and Van Meter State Park, we may just visit.

Over the next few weeks, I’m going to be making a few posts about previous visits that both kids have been present for, so you may see some old pictures showing up.  Apparently, I didn’t post about many of those trips, so I guess I need to catch up.  Still, this will be a lengthy series of posts, so enjoy!

And Then There Were Two…

Brooke's New Baby! ...but is it her favorite baby? You'd have to ask her...
Brooke’s New Baby! …but is it her favorite baby? You’d have to ask her…

Back in early November, 2014, I wrote

When we bought Brooke’s 2006 Scion xA new, the plan was (and is) to “drive it into the ground,” or at least as close as we can. We’ve got about 97,000 mi on it now and had almost zero issues with it. The one issue we did have was with the blower motor resistor, and I was able to fix that myself. We’ll probably end up replacing it eventually, but likely not until we’re done making payments on the Subaru.

Weeeeeeelllllll, we made it to 140,000 mi and Brooke’s 2006 Scion xA was starting to squeal a bit more.  Was it just a loose belt?  Probably.  But we’ve been talking about it for quite awhile and Brooke’s been getting a little more cognizant of the fact that she’s the director of an agency and is driving consumers around with a car that has seen some better days.

The original plan was to keep that car for 10 years and then start looking, and that’s what we did.  Brooke and I had been investigating some other options, like the Volkswagen Golf or the Ford Focus hatchback, but more and more, the Subaru Impreza seemed like the mix she was looking for.  Part of this was the fact that we already have a Subaru and love it.  The Forester is based on the same platform as the current model of the Impreza, so driving one is very similar to the other (though the Forester sits a few inches higher).

Back when I got the Forester in 2013, the main thing I wanted was a moonroof.  This time around, Brooke wanted leather seats.  When comparing the leather options on the Impreza versus the Golf or Focus, the Impreza just made more sense as, for the same amount of money, you got the bonus of all-wheel drive on the Impreza where you didn’t on the Golf or Focus.  Also, the resale value on the Impreza is second-to-none compared with the Golf and Focus, especially at the Limited trim level we ended up getting.

The big reason we went ahead and pulled the trigger is because we figured we could get a decent deal on one now, while waiting a few months would force us into the brand new 2017 model.  Don’t get me wrong, that new model looks pretty nice, but there hasn’t been a price announced, and with all the new features they are advertising, it would likely be more expensive than the current version is.  On a related note, because the new model is coming, you can’t easily choose options on a 2016 model anymore, so if we waited until July, we probably wouldn’t be able to find this specific car anymore, at least not without having it transported across the country.

So yeah, Brooke was in Columbia last Friday morning, went by Subaru to ask them some questions and ask a few questions.  She went on a test-drive of this car (that she already checked out online before going) and fell in love.  The process ended up taking 3 hours, but the dealership bought her some Fazoli’s to keep her in her seat so they could close the deal.  It’s the little things.

Side-view
Side-view

Regardless, it’s a sharp little car! It definitely feels smaller to me relative to the forester, but the back seats are just as roomy, so the kids can actually grow into this car, whereas in the Scion, they were just about as big as any person could be and still sit comfortably for long periods.  She also finally has cruise control again, so with all the traveling she’s been doing recently, she won’t be quite as insane.  This model also comes with the 7″ touchscreen option and some better Bluetooth connectivity than our Forester does, though we didn’t spring for their EyeSight adaptive cruise control option.

She loves it!  Hopefully Calvin ends up liking this car when he gets it in 12 years… 🙂

The Boy Who Never Sleeps

Two cute kids. Not sleeping.
Two cute kids. Not sleeping.

I’ve been writing this post in my head for weeks now, but things never seemed to settle down perfectly, so I kept putting it off.

Basically, Brooke and I split time sleeping on Calvin’s floor for, like, 8 months this year.  He simply did not want to sleep alone, and while you could get him to sleep, the minute he’d wake up, he wouldn’t go back down (willingly) unless someone was with him.  This also made it nearly impossible to leave his room (or we’d fall asleep waiting for him to finally pass out).  We tried a few things, including removing his crib because he was getting too large to lay in there without waking him up.  He fell asleep on the floor one night, so we went with it and made a little “nest,” of sorts, in the corner for him to sleep on.

Ultimately, we relented and began just sleeping on the floor with him.  I moved a backpacking-style air mattress in there, Brooke laid down multiple comforters, and one of us would just take turns going in sometime between 1:00 am and 4:00 am and staying with him until it was time to get up.

Finally, finally, we got sick of it.  On Calvin’s birthday, we gave him a small toddler bed.  We figured this would be the opportunity to start fresh in a “new situation,” where we rearrange his room a bit, put him in the bed, and make him sleep in it.

Shockingly, the process of getting him to sleep in it didn’t go as terribly as we’d expected.  That first night was somewhat challenging, but even within the first few days, he was sleeping in the bed by himself for 6 hours at a time.  It took us a bit to get into a routine of one of us sitting with him with books or YouTube videos before he’d let us leave his room without crying.  There were some times when he’d try to follow us out and we’d have to sit there, holding his door shut, so he couldn’t escape.  Early on, this didn’t happen all that often though, and he’d actually stay in his bed for awhile.

“Awhile” is a critical point, though, as 4:00 am would roll around and he’d decide “I’m awake!” and he’d leave his room.  We had a door knob protector on, but those old door knobs are useless and the protector would stick in such a way that Calvin could get right past it.

Occasionally, he’d go into Meg’s room and wake her up, wanting to play.

More recently, we picked up a special alarm clock that changes colors depending on whether it’s time to get up or not.  He mostly ignores whether it’s “yellow” (stay in bed) or “green” (time to get up), even though he’ll tell you what those colors mean.  We think the clock has helped, to some degree, as we know what time it is so, if he’s crying at 5:00 am and wants to leave his room, we can use the walkie-talkie function on the baby monitor and tell him to stay in bed “until the light turns ‘green’.”

Overall, we’re doing much better.  Both of us are getting far more sleep than we were at this time last year, and we’re getting to stay in our beds for longer on successive nights than we have since Calvin was born.  Occasionally, we still need to go in there and help him find his lost stuffed animal in the middle of the night, but for the most part, he’s sleeping quite a bit better than he has in awhile!

As a brief aside, over Thanksgiving this year, Meg and Calvin slept in the same rooms for 4 nights and actually did remarkably well!  We tried it once at our house a few weeks ago and it was a literal nightmare, but on the road, Meg was actually pretty good at keeping him in his room and knowing whether it was okay to get up and play or not.  Since she can actually tell time, she knew whether it was okay to get up and play with toys in their room but not actually leave the room, and other policies like that.  Perhaps we’ll be able to move to bunk beds sometime in 2016!

Hobbes

The real thing...
The real thing…

We had a few names rolling around in our heads when we settled upon “Calvin,” but while there are a few reasons why we ultimately went with it, the most obvious reference for our generation is the Calvin and Hobbes comic strip.  I was a relatively big fan growing up and still have multiple book compilations in my office.

Well, when the “Calvin” name was announced, the comic strip was obviously mentioned, and we were asked whether we were going to give him a “Hobbes.”  Famously, Bill Watterson, author of the comic, never licensed his materials to third-parties, so you can’t buy an official “Hobbes” stuff animal.  Etsy has had some recently, but when I just searched, they were no longer available, so perhaps the lawyers made a few phone calls…

Anyway, Calvin was going to turn 2 (today, as of this posting, incidentally…happy birthday, buddy!) and Brooke and I wanted to get him the stuffed animal.  Brooke found a pattern at Instructables and wanted to give it a try, as the material was reasonable and the stuffed animals on Etsy were generally not (some reaching as high as $150).

Every project has a beginning...
Every project has a beginning…

She actually took care of the initial work when I was gone at work for an evening,taking care of the bulk of the work before the kids were even in bed (as the sewing machine is right outside their bedrooms).  This didn’t take all that long, though if she were going to do it again, she’d watch the head a bit more closely, as it’s more round than the real thing.

A little closer...
A little closer…

She had to sew the arms, legs and head on by hand, but that wasn’t the time-consuming part: that went to the stripes.  Each stripe had to be done by hand, so she spent many evenings sitting in front of the TV, sewing each stripe on.  The whole thing wasn’t quite done by the time we had Calvin’s birthday party this past weekend in Columbia, so she took all her materials along to work on.  Finally, after many nights of work (most nights for around three weeks?), she finished up, just in time to give it to him.

All done!
All done!

Pretty good, right?!  For my part, I’m pretty impressed.  It looks quite a bit like the real thing and just as good as most of the options available on Etsy (when you can find them).  Brooke also personalized a little “Cal” onto the bottom of it, forever marking this “Hobbes” for this “Calvin.”

DSC_0081

At least, to the only person that matters, he’s perfect. 🙂

Happy birthday, Calvin (and Hobbes)!

Another Important Milestone

Meg, hogging the camera...and Calvin, focusing on the goose in front of him
Meg, hogging the camera…and Calvin, focusing on the goose in front of him

Last night, Meg had a church kids event to go to.  I took her, expecting to need to wait until the event got going.  The organizer was there, along with a few kids, but they were going to wait upstairs for more kids to get there before getting started.

I asked Meg if she wanted me to stay for a bit.

“No.  Bye, Daddy.”

Hug, kiss, and I was out the door.  With Meg left in a new situation with mostly new people.  Bonkers.

We’ve struggled with leaving Meg places for, oh, her entire life.  Any time we’d switch to a new school, we’d have to plan for, literally, weeks of struggling to get her situated and used to the new place and new people.  Every morning, we’d have to build in an extra 10 minutes or so in order to extract ourselves from the “dropping off” stage of our day.  By the end of the session, be it school or some kind of day camp, she’d be just fine!  But that initial “drop off” would be a huge hassle, as Meg tried to exert her dominance and ultimately would fail.

We expected the same thing with Kindergarten this year.  As recently as a few months ago, it took a few weeks before she’d stay at the YMCA without throwing a fit.  We had to resort to bribery to get her to do it.  And last year when we started at the Lab School, even with taking Calvin along to the same place, she’d cry as we tried to leave.

Yet Kindergarten?  Shockingly, it only took a day.  After only one day, she was good to go.  Yes, there was crying that first morning, but after she realized there were a few people she knew in her class, she did alright.

And at church last night?  A place we’ve attended a few times, but never in this context and never with these kids?  I was practically shoved out the door.

Likely, this was because the adult is a woman who’s also a Kindergarten teacher and who we’ve connected with on Sunday mornings.  But still, this is like a whole other child.  One I don’t recognize.

One who’s growing up.

And we couldn’t be happier!

Kindergarten

Cute little girl! ...who spilled syrup on her dress on the first day of school...
Cute little girl! …who spilled syrup on her dress on the first day of school…

A big day in the Linsenbardt household!  And a long time coming…

For the past few weeks, Meg has been pretty apprehensive about starting Kindergarten.  Then again, we run through this every time a new school comes into play, and this has happened more than a few times to her.  As the drill usually goes, on the first day, things are fine until you get to the room you’re going to leave her in, then she wells up with tears, and then she starts bawling…with a mix of a few screams…  Typically, you end up just leaving her there, crying, because the teacher says “It’s okay – just go.”  Eventually, she makes it through the day and you pick her up, and you repeat the same process for 2 or 3 weeks.

So far as the first day is concerned, today was no different.

Again, she’s been dreading this for a bit, telling us she didn’t want to go, that she wasn’t excited, that she was scared of going to Kindergarten.  Perhaps we noticed it more because she’s been home with me (near constantly) for the past month, so it’s inescapable.  Last night, when Mimi called to say “good luck,” Meg at least said she was excited, though that’s the first time I’d heard that expression from her.  Perhaps the Open House on Monday night helped a bit, introducing her to the new environment, her new teacher, and that at least one or two old friends from her previous preschool would be in her class.  Either way, yesterday was seeming a bit better.

Today?  Well, she got up, she ate her waffles, I bribed her with 5 M&Ms to get the picture above (which totally has syrup spilled on her dress…lovely…), and then we left for school.  Brooke and I both went this time, though Brooke will take over “drop-offs” from now on and I’ll handle “pick-ups.”

We got there and walked toward her classroom and were then directed toward the gym.  We unfortunately didn’t make this clear to Meg that there was a good possibility they’d gather in the gym before going to their classroom, so it’s likely that disrupted her plans a bit.

Before we even hit the gym, the tears were already rolling.

To save some text here, I’ll just say that it took about 10 min for us to get out of there.  Her teacher came in to help her feel more comfortable (and offer that she could help hand out name tags to her peers), and when that wasn’t quite enough, I offered to take her to Dairy Queen today after school.

That calmed her down.  Bribery will get you everywhere with Kindergarteners.

Ultimately, we survived the first part of what will be a long, long story this year!

Good luck, Meg!