On Ending ‘The Connection’ at WHUMC

These remarks were delivered by me as part of a “testimonial” during our regular church service today.  I thought it appropriate to post them here, as well.  I’ll probably write more on the subject eventually, but for right now, just know that our regular Sunday morning church service, The Connection, will be ending next week as we consolidate the two regular church services into a single one, beginning officially in January.  We have some details to work out on what this service will look like, but in short, what we’ve been doing at Webster Hills for the last few years will cease to be after next Sunday.

Brooke and I moved to St. Louis after graduating college in 2005 so I could start graduate school at Saint Louis University.  We were both active in the Wesley Foundation at Truman State University and wanted to continue in the Methodist church after moving.  We had a few criteria in the kind of church we were looking for, but above all else, we sought a church that had not only a worship service geared toward more “contemporary” music and liturgy, but specifically a service that did not occur at the same time as Sunday School.  Of the churches in the southern half of St. Louis, the only option we found was Webster Hills UMC.  While this was the initial reason to attend, we found the congregation to be warm and inviting, the music to be similar to what we knew from our days at the Wesley House, and the opportunities to participate and contribute to the overall mission of the church to be plentiful.

For the next several years, our experience with the band, service, and church as a whole evolved to encompass not only participating in the music, but the altar design, management of the media system, and more.  In short, just about everything that goes on before and after this service, we have had our hands on at some point or another.  Ultimately, we were involved in leading the band on an interim basis between our previous worship director, Yanela Sheets, and Ryan Gibbs, a period that also saw a re-envisioning of the service and this space, including the introduction of more comfortable chairs, carpets, the crosses, and other facets that has hopefully made this space and worship service more inviting to the regular congregants and newcomers alike.

To say that this service has meant a great deal to my family would be an understatement.  Between 2005 and 2010, we put ourselves into what evolved into The Connection, and The Connection and its congregants became a part of us.  However, in 2010, we moved to Iowa after I completed my graduate work, yet our new church home never felt quite the same.  Webster Hills was still where we belonged.  And as fate would have it, the opportunity arose to return to St. Louis in late-2011, and thankfully, there was still The Connection, with open arms for any and all who wished to participate.

I keep using the term “participate” because Brooke and I feel that one of the great strengths of this service, over just about any we have ever attended, is that everyone can contribute in their own way, everyone can come as they are, and everyone is welcome.  In some ways, it’s the embodiment of Jesus’ most profound teachings: all people are welcome at the table, all they have to do is take that step forward and accept it.

As many of you know, this service will be ending next Sunday.  While it disappoints me greatly, at the same time, I trust that the spirit this service has embodied will continue to thrive, just in another form, at another place, at another time.  The opportunities to contribute toward the body and soul of this church are still plentiful, and as the sun sets on The Connection, something new is on the horizon, something that can and will do great things.

It’s been said that the night is darkest just before the dawn.  Apparently, that phrase comes from the English theologian, Thomas Fuller, though honestly, I know it from Harvey Dent in “The Dark Knight.”  Regardless, it’s a phrase that comes to mind in thinking about endings like this one, and the potential beginnings yet to come.  Brooke and I have always sought to contribute as best as we can, using whatever talents we have available to us.  The Connection afforded us that possibility, and we are eternally grateful for it.  Though this service will be ending soon, we will look upon it fondly as some small thing we could do, together, to help bring others closer to Christ.

Neuroscience 2012

A shot from inside the conference hall, looking toward the poster boards.

Yeah, yeah, I know this happened almost a month ago now, but I’ve been meaning to post something about my trip to New Orleans and just haven’t had a ton of spare time to get it done.  Better late than never, eh?

It’s been almost three years since I last attended the annual Society for Neuroscience meeting.  On previous occasions, I’d gone to San Diego (2007), Washington, D.C. (2008), and then my last one in Chicago (2009).  Ever since starting grad school at SLU, I’d heard stories about “the last one in New Orleans” (that will go undescribed here…), but unfortunately, due to Hurricane Katrina, the SfN meeting couldn’t return on schedule.

That is, until 2012, when, coincidentally, I had my next chance to go.

Taking a step back, the reason why this conference is held in a few specific cities is that there are only a few specific cities capable of hosting about 28,500 conference attendees.  New Orleans was one such city, and taking it out of the rotation meant that Chicago had to be substituted, as it had a conference center large enough, and also enough hotels within a reasonable distance to hold all those people.  Unfortunately, Chicago’s conference center just isn’t in a very good location and its overall configuration isn’t ideal for this particular convention (the locations of stair cases, the number of floors, etc).  The logistics of handling 28,500 people can be handled much easier in New Orleans, San Diego, and D.C., at least so far as I’ve seen.

Regardless, I flew down on Friday, October 12th and returned on Wednesday, October 17th.  I presented a poster during the very first session, Saturday afternoon, and had a bit more traffic than I expected to have, as most attendees are arriving on Saturday and/or Sunday and could easily miss my poster.  Still, it was nice to get it out of the way early, freeing up additional time for the rest of the week.  Overall, I attended some good talks, wrote plenty of notes, and got a few ideas on new experiments to run.

Crescent City Blues and BBQ Festival

 Of course, this is New Orleans, after all, so the meeting wasn’t where all the fun was had.  I was splitting time between lab members from here at Wash U, and others from SLU.  Mostly, that split depended on what time of the evening it was: if it was early, it was the Wash U crowd, and if it was late, it was the SLU crowd.  One important exception was Friday night, after watching the Cardinals win Game 5 of the Wild Card Series against the Washington Nationals, we stayed out a bit late.  That weekend, there was a BBQ & Blues Festival going on, so we stopped by for some good food and tunes on Friday and Saturday evening for dinner.  They had it set up with a series of tents hosting a variety of different wares, and then a live stage with different musicians taking their turns.

I should remind you that Brooke and I took a trip to New Orleans in 2005, just after we got married and before Katrina rolled through, so I had already done much of the “touristy” things you’re supposed to do on a visit to the area.  This time was more focused on the food and night life (and science, of course… :-)).   I still stopped by Central Grocery for a muffuletta, had some Pasta Jambalaya at Crescent City Brewhouse, and had Po’ Boys from a few different vendors.  Needless to say, the food was spectacular.

I tried an oyster, though.  That was, perhaps, the absolute worst thing I have ever ingested.  Never.  Again.

Bourbon Street...er...late at night...

Again, last time around, Brooke was still falling asleep around 9:00 pm (well, she still does, to a degree, but she can stay up later now than she used to…), so we didn’t really stay out late.  This time, however, I was hanging out with night owls, so we hit up a variety of different establishments up and down Bourbon Street and, believe you me, I was genuinely surprised at the number of people out at 2:00 am on a Sunday night in mid-October.  I can’t imagine what it would be like during Mardi Gras.  The number of folks we saw in Soulard for a single day for Mardi Gras in February was probably approaching what I was seeing on a given weekend in October in New Orleans, and I don’t think the number of people was directly related to the number of geeky scientists that also happened to be in town.

Regardless, I had a really fun time down in New Orleans.  The city seemed a bit nicer than it was in 2005, the populace seemed genuinely happy to have us all there (28,500 people bring in a lot of sales tax revenue), and I think the conference, as a whole, was glad to go someplace warm, instead of Chicago.  It was great to hang out with good friends in a different setting, learn some new stuff at a large science conference, and “get away for awhile” (though, Brooke did a good job potty training Meg in my absence!!).  I hope I get the opportunity to go back sometime!

Family Vacation, Part III

Meg wanted to take faux naps on just about every bed she tried...

While camping was the priority for our little excursion to Minnesota, we knew we’d be close to Minneapolis and wanted to spend a night in a hotel.  You know, a place with warm showers and a swimming pool.  Brooke found a nice one near the Mall of America that had two rooms, so Meg could go to bed at a reasonable time (and we wouldn’t have to go with her at 8:00ish…).

Of course, we couldn’t actually check into the hotel until 3:00 pm, so we hit up Northern Brewer, where I’ve been buying my beer-making materials for the past few years, to pick up a few supplies.  It was a little surreal going to their completely normal looking storefront, when I’m used to viewing them exclusively as a website.  Needless to say, they were very knowledgeable and friendly and I wish they had a store here in St. Louis, but alas.

Afterwards, we went to Ikea, where Brooke had a few things on her list, but mostly, we wanted to look at a new bed for Meg.  She’s still in her crib and has very little interest in moving out of said crib, but while we were up there, we wanted to see what they had in the ways of child-sized beds, or adult beds that would work well for someone under 3 ft tall.  The one pictured above is the one we’re leaning toward right now.  Cheap and short, and has “slats” you can use instead of a box spring (which won’t fit up our house stairs, unfortunately, so slats is the way we’d go).

Brooke and Meg by the amusement park

Ikea is located next to the Mall of America, so that was the next stop.  This is the second time we’d visited the MoA, but it’s still a sight to behold.  Probably the kind of place I’d avoid at all costs if I actually lived in Minneapolis, but still…seeing a full-featured amusement park in the middle of a 3-story mall is pretty impressive no matter how many times you see it.

We weren’t there for anything in particular.  If I recall, we made it out of there spending under $40, and that was including Dippin’ Dots and a set of Legos for Meg.

We killed quite a bit of time doing this...

This is actually where most of our time was spent at the Mall.  We went through the Lego Store and grabbed a “Duplo Farm Set” that Meg greatly enjoy(ed/s).  Outside the store, however, they set up multiple circular tables with large bowls in the middle filled with Legos.  Some tables had the smaller blocks, but others had the large Duplo blocks.  We spent at least an hour outside the store with Meg watching other kids, and building her own “bit, bit, bit, bit towah” on the table.  I think we made a believer out of her. :-)

We went back to the hotel after awhile, grabbed some showers (and Meg even requested a nap, which was a welcome change…), and then ended up going back to the MoA for dinner.  Unfortunately, there’s just about nothing in the way of “local restaurants” around that area, and we didn’t want to drive all that far into the city to find a restaurant, potentially dealing with a cranky toddler as the evening drew to a close.  We found a place in the Mall that was “okay” (really, better than expected…but still…), and then returned to the hotel so Meg could do some swimming.

While Brooke and Meg swam, I went on a mission to find beer.  Specifically, Surly beer.  It’s a brewery I’d heard of, but had never been able to get because they only sell it in Minnesota and, apparently, only at certain places.  I say “apparently” because I tried multiple stores.  I went to a gas station first and found an extremely limited beer selection.  Then, I went to a Wal-Mart that had such a limited beer selection, they actually had no beer.  Finally, I found a liquor store that was kind enough to point out that Minnesota actually only sells ~3% alcohol beers at gas stations and grocery stores if at all.

Seriously, Minnesota.  You’re filled with Lutherans.  How is this even possible.

Regardless, the liquor store I went to had Summit Brewing beers, but no Surly, and as it was the third place I’d tried that night, I just stuck with Summit Oktoberfest (which was very good).  The next day, I heeded the advice of the Surly website, which had a list of liquor stores that carry their beer (apparently for good reason…) and found a place on our way out of town where I could get their wares (which were very good, by the way).

Jimmy Ann, Meg and Brooke having ice cream at Kava House in Swisher, IA

For the last leg of the trip, we stayed the night back in Swisher.  It hasn’t quite been a year since we moved, but it still felt like we’d been away for awhile.  We stayed with Jimmy Ann, whom we know from our old church.  It was a great visit and we had a very nice time seeing her, and she’s always happy to get to spend some time with Meg.  We went to church on Sunday morning, said “hi” to the folks there, and then made our way back down to St. Louis, getting home late-afternoon.

All in all, it was a pretty nice trip!  It was a new experience, taking an extended vacation (and camping trip) with a toddler, but I think we came out of it mostly unscathed.  I think 5 days was just about long enough for us to be on the road, moving from place to place, and I don’t think I’d change much about the way we did things.

Until next year!  Any suggestions on where to go?!

Family Vacation, Part II

Hiking on The River Trail

On our second day of vacation at Interstate State Park, we opted to give hiking a try.  Again, this is one of those things where it’s difficult to know how well, exactly, Meg will do on an extended hiking trip, but we figured it was something to do besides playing with rocks.  As a baby shower gift, we received this huge child backpack doohickey that fits much like a frame backpack and can carry children up to 50 lbs (supposedly…though how you carry that much, I dunno…).  Regardless, we tested the rig out a few weeks prior to see how Meg would take to it and she seemed pretty cool with the idea of riding in a saddle on Mama and Daddy’s respective backs.

In the end, she did remarkably well!  She asked to get down a few times, but not all that often.  She liked removing my hat and putting it on her head, but for the most part, she was entertained just sitting in the pack and looking at our surroundings.  She sang a bit to pass the time, too, which is always amusing (except at 4:30 am).

Taking a rain break at a local community center.

One of the songs Meg particularly enjoyed singing was “Rain, Rain, Go Away,” as we ended up getting caught in a reasonably heavy bout of rain.  Most of the hike, it was just a drizzle, but right around the point we were to be out in the open, about halfway through the ~4 mi trek, the heavens opened up a bit more.  Thankfully, the trail ended at an empty community center in Taylor Falls, MN, so we took a brief respite while the rain clouds passed overhead.  It was a good time to introduce Meg to trail mix (which she loves now…) and let her walk around a bit before continuing on.

This, my friends, is a "pothole."

The trail passed by an area with some interesting geological formations known as glacial potholes.  The Minnesota DNR has a video up describing them if you’re interested.  While you’d be right to think of potholes on the road when you think of these things, in reality, they refer to formations in volcanic rock (basalt) where rivers fed by glacial runoff slowly drilled down in a vortex fashion, making deep holes in the river bed.  As the glaciers receded, the potholes were exposed, leaving us with formations like those pictured here.

Looking up through the bottom of one

The potholes truly came in all shapes and sizes.  There were deep craters, some filled with water, and other areas that were more open after sections had collapsed over the millenia. Because some had collapsed in on themselves, visitors are able to safely get down into the area and look up from the bottoms of some without needing a ladder to gain access.  The sides of the potholes were very smooth, indicative of water slowly scraping away the rough edges of the rock as it bored down.

The area reminded us of Elephant Rocks, a state park here in Missouri that neither of us have visited in years.  We’ll probably try to get down there in the next year or so, now.

Making Mimimi her breakfast...

The rest of the hike back to camp was uneventful.  Really, the rest of the day was uneventful, with us laying in the tent trying to get Meg to take a nap (she didn’t…but Brooke did…grrrr…).  The rain held off for the rest of the day, which was very nice for ensuring the tent would be packed up dry the next morning.

But before I get to that, I thought I should briefly describe what was going on in the picture above.  Recently, we found out that Meg has an imaginary friend named “Mimimi.”  When we were visiting the potholes, Meg took it upon herself to walk back and forth on this walkway to her kitchen to make Mimimi her breakfast.  She’d tell Brooke and me to stay back while she walked toward the rock-formed archway, where she made some hand gestures, and then came back and delivered the imaginary cereal to her imaginary friend.

Things like this occurred for most of the trip to Minnesota.  I just thought I’d mention it here for posterity, so we can remind her of it when we meet her first boyfriend. ;-)

Regardless, Day Two was fun.  A 4 mi hike was definitely lengthy, especially with a 25 lb child on your back, but we had a good time, got some exercise, and got to see some cool stuff.  Well worth it!

Family Vacation, Part I

Our pretty huge tent. It served us well!

Brooke and I went with the rest of the Baumann clan to the Dominican Republic earlier in the summer, but we wanted to take a few days to go somewhere as a family with Meg.  As both of us grew up enjoying camping with our respective families, it seemed right that we’d make an attempt to do this with our two-year-old.  Thus, Brooke looked around for options up north, where the weather would be a bit cooler, but also a place near some urban center just in case Meg didn’t take to tent camping as well as we’d hope.  The general Minneapolis area was a logical selection, and Interstate State Park fit the bill for a place “close enough yet far enough,” just in case some of our plans would have to be scrapped.

So we left Edie, Sam and the chickens in St. Louis under the care of Rachel (thanks!) and headed up to Hannibal on Tuesday night to stay with Brooke’s parents.  We got up at 5:00 am (ew…) and started heading north the following day.  Meg did not go back to sleep, so I sat in the back of the Sportage to entertain her.  She was a bit grouchy until we stopped in Cedar Rapids for breakfast a few hours later.  After that, she was in a much better mood…and so was her Dad. :-)

We kept going, having lunch at a rest stop after crossing into Minnesota, then finally made it to our destination around 3:30 pm.  By the time we’d unloaded the car, got the tent set up, and started a fire to make some dinner, the rain was starting to move in.  While there was a 30% chance of rain that night, I don’t think we were anticipating it really starting (or continuing…) that early.

Thankfully, however, we got a pretty large tent with a screened section.

A view from "Meg's room," facing the middle portion of the tent, then Meg and Brooke out in the screened section.

We actually already had a tent (or two), but wanted to get one with two rooms so Meg could go to sleep before the two of us did.  We ended up with a Coleman Weathermaster Screened 6 tent.  I think “6 person” is a bit generous, but it will easily fit us and a few extra kids comfortably.  This particular tent came with the screened portion that was nice to have in a “light rain” situation.  You wouldn’t want to store gear in there, though, as it will definitely get wet.  The tent also came with a “hinged door,” making entry and exit from the tent easy and quiet.

The rain let up for the evening hours, but picked up again overnight.  It actually stormed to a degree, but the wind never got too bad.  We stayed dry, and that’s what was important!

Meg went to sleep around 8:00, which was shockingly easy to accomplish.  We bought a battery powered night light for her room and put out some blankets and a sleeping bag for her and that worked pretty well.  However, Meg woke up around 4:30 am and wouldn’t go back to sleep.  Brooke was able to get a bit more shut-eye, but Meg’s “singing” kept me up.  Yay…

Dutch oven cooking!

The next day, we went on a lengthy hike…but I’ll talk about that in another post.  I wanted to mention the dutch oven first. :-)

When I was in scouts, we had a full stable of cast iron dutch ovens of all sizes.  We used them to make just about everything, so I got a decent amount of experience using them.  Brooke will talk about each meal in separate posts as usual, but I wanted to briefly mention how it worked.  We picked this one up from Amazon for $25, which was pretty reasonable compared with what we saw at Cabela’s and other camping stores.  It holds 4 quarts, which is also a pretty good size for making most things ranging from soups to cobblers to biscuits and gravy. While you can put the oven directly on wood coals, we brought along some charcoal to help manage things a bit.  I got some charcoal going first, then put the dutch oven directly on the coals, and finally moved some of the charcoal onto the lid of the dutch oven, allowing for heat on the bottom and the top.  It worked about as well as expected, effectively heating the different meals.  I kinda wish we’d taken Brooke’s infrared thermometer along so we could get a better idea of just how hot it got in that oven, but believe you me, it got everything toasty warm!

That's Meg, holding a Pepsi bottle cap, transferring rocks from her shovel to her bucket...

The last thing I wanted to mention here was Meg and her rocks.  We brought some toys and books along for her, but we needed something to keep her entertained while we did cooking, cleaning, setting up the site, and so on.  Thankfully, our campsite was next to a gravel pad for parking the car.  First, we gave her a red 16 oz cup and asked her to fill it with rocks.  This entertained her for most of that first night.  The next day, she returned to this activity, but now did it with her sandbox bucket and shovel…and a blue bottle cap from a Pepsi.  She’d transfer rocks from the ground to the shovel to the blue cap to her bucket.

I can’t count all the hours this took up.

Generally speaking, we were able to keep Meg entertained better than we expected.  From books to puzzles to rocks to the aforementioned hiking trip, she actually held up remarkably well, only asking to “go home” on the first day, and only once.  Besides that time, she seemed to take to the “camping experience” quite well!  Her napping was non-existent, but we kinda expected that.  Thursday afternoon, we hung out in the tent for awhile to help her quiet down some and that was the best we could do.  While she didn’t sleep well that first night, she slept very well the second night.

There are a few more posts coming about our camping trip.  The hiking trip will be next, followed by our excursion to Minneapolis for a day!

On Negotiations and Stalling

Be honest: does this look like the face of a devious individual to you?

I haven’t posted about Meg in awhile, at least, not directly.  She’s not quite two-and-a-half yet, but we’re already dealing with the wheels inside her head turning.

You know, the wheels trying to streamroll you…

Maybe a month ago, give or take, we noticed Meg starting to stall quite a bit.  Stalling before bedtime, stalling to get her clothes on to go to school, stalling to come inside, and so on.  This isn’t just a “ooooo, something shiny!” kind of distraction: this is an intentional, and deliberate attempt to slow down the inevitable.  She knows what’s coming and uses her cuteness to delay just about anything we need to do.  She’s gotten quite good at this as well, working it in so you hardly notice you’re allowing her to stall you into another song, or another story, or another cracker, or another drink of milk.

Furthermore, and more recently, she’s begun “negotiating.”  This one is a bit more rudimentary, I think, where she doesn’t really get the finer points of haggling, but you can tell she’s thinking it through.  Especially before bed, when she asks for “3 books,” specifically, knowing that “3” is more than “2,” let alone “1,” so if she asks for more, she’s more likely to get what she asks, or at least an extra book beyond the one we usually read her.  The same thing goes for songs, as we sometimes sing to (or with) her before bed.  We’ll say “one more song,” we’ll sing it, and then she’ll ask for another, specific, song.

She’s also been known to ask for “moneys for ma ewefan-t” [elephant], a mechanical bank that makes an elephant noise when you add a coin to it.  “Three moneys!,” she’ll say.  So yes, I’m already having to bribe my child.  Thankfully, at this point, she doesn’t really know the difference between a penny and a quarter…

When any of these things don’t work, however, she’s begun throwing fits, though now, it’s a little easier to stop them (to a degree…it’s never “easy”…).  Meg doesn’t cry, per se, but she definitely yells.  Loudly.  Now, I end up having to count to five and threaten a time out…and right around “four,” she stops.

So yeah, my nearly 2.5-year-old is “gaming the system.”  I guess I wasn’t expecting such things until she was at least three, if not four.

In some ways, of course, it’s nice to see this in a kid her age.  She’s learning to challenge authority, to question things, to problem solve, to “get around The System.”  At its core, it’s simple adaptation: where you learn you don’t have to simply accept what’s happening in front of you and you can attempt to change it, or at least influence it.

I guess I just didn’t expect it in a nearly 2.5-year-old.

She could teach some adults out there a thing or two about adaptation. :-)

Meet Me At The Muny

The view of "Aladdin" from our seats.

We lived in St. Louis for 5 years and never actually went to The Muny, an amphitheater at Forest Park known for its stage productions during the summer.  Thus, for Father’s Day this year, “Meg” got us all tickets to go see “Aladdin,” a musical based on the 1992 Disney movie.

Let’s all allow “1992” to sink in for a moment…

Regardless, this was going to be the first time we’d ever tried keeping Meg up far past her bedtime.  We tested the waters a bit on the 4th of July, getting her to bed around 9:30, and that seemed to be pretty close to the limit.  Muny productions typically start at 8:15 pm (weather permitting), so we knew we wouldn’t be able to finish the whole thing, but we thought it’d be a nice family outing, and something else to test Meg’s reaction to large crowds and big events.  All told, she did a pretty great job.

"More cheese crackers, Mama?"

We ate at a Mexican restaurant before going to Forest Park to walk around a bit.  The stroller ride helped keep Meg entertained (who opted to not take a nap that day, mind you…) while we waited to go into the amphitheater.  By the time 7:45 rolled around, we were heading in, found our seats, and Brooke opened up some snacks for Meg.  The weather started out pretty hot, right around 90 F, but a front moved in north of St. Louis that dropped the temp to 80 F in about 10 min.  By the time the show started, it was surprisingly comfortable!

The show itself was “alright.”  Perhaps it’s my affection for the 1992 movie, but the changes that had to be made to the story in order to make it work on a stage weren’t the ones I’d have gone with.  The primary offender was the replacement of Abu (the monkey) with three “friends” of Aladdin, who served as narrators, to some degree, and also comic relief.  They, and the Genie, had “updated” some jokes for the 21st century, making some of the dialog a bit more topical, but many of them were less amusing for me than they intended.  By the time we left, I felt like we’d hardly even seen the character of Aladdin, and seen far more of the “friends” and of Jasmine (who did a remarkable job, sounding very much like the character from the movie).  The Genie, also, was not Robin Williams, and to me, tried a bit too hard to not differentiate himself from the example set 20 years ago.  He did alright, but again, I’m just used to the Genie I grew up with.

This production also added songs to the show.  Some of these songs, supposedly, were originally intended for the movie, but were then dropped.  A few of them, though, seemed like they didn’t fit all that well (which is maybe why they weren’t in the movie in the first place).  The musical performances were good, overall, but again, there was probably a reason some of those were dropped 20 years ago.  I could have gone with less music, personally.

Meg was getting pretty tired (and louder…), so we left at Intermission.  Appropriately, Intermission was set at the point in the story when the Genie turns Aladdin into a prince, so we got through a good chunk of the story.  Daddy got to carry Meg out, sleeping, on his shoulder, and we had her home and in bed just before 10:00.  She did a good job!

All in all, I think we all had a good time.  It was a good family outing for us, despite the late-ish starting time!

The guy in back was running really, really fast...

July Garden Update

The midwest is still going through something of a drought, and while the weather has certainly improved since having 10 consecutive days over 100 F, we still haven’t gotten much rain.

That said, the garden and chickens have mostly survived.  With regards to the garden, the peas stopped producing about a month ago.  I think we ended up with more peas than we got in Iowa last year, but not by too much.  We’ve been getting green beans for the past few weeks as well, likely getting somewhere between 10 and 12 pints-worth (Brooke has canned 8 pints thus far).  There are still more coming on, but we can already tell we won’t get anywhere near the (proportional) amount we got last year in Iowa.  Same goes for the tomatoes.  You can see in the picture above that the plants on the left are considerably smaller than those on the right.  The right-hand ones seem to be a “cherry tomato” variety, as they’re pretty small, but still taste pretty decent.  The ones on the left are the romas, the variety Brooke prefers using for canning.  Sadly, while we’ve got some on there, it sure doesn’t seem like we’ll get all that many.

Aside from beans and tomatoes, we’ve still got a good number of green peppers coming on, as well as some squash and cucumbers.  Brooke’s having to water the garden somewhat often just to keep things alive, and we’ve got a good deal of weeding to take care of sometime.  I guess, considering the weather this summer, we’re pleased with the amount of stuff we’ve gotten, but it’s still a difficult shift from last year’s bounty.

The chickens aren’t laying eggs yet, which is quite disappointing, though not terribly surprising.  Last year, the surviving chicken didn’t start laying eggs until right around now, but it’s also worth noting that chickens generally don’t like laying eggs in crazy hot weather.  I’m checking every morning to see if they’ve started laying, as the weather has cooled a little bit, but no dice yet.  Believe you me, I’m ready for some fresh eggs!

They’re nice and fat now, though, and they enjoy running around our yard.  We probably still need to clip their wings again, but aside from one (brief) escape attempt from the large, white chicken, they’ve been pretty content to stay in our yard.  The extreme heat has kept them in shady spots, though, so they tend to stay put.

Regardless, it’s a far cry from last year’s haul, but we’re making do!

A Brief Reflection on Turning 30

I remember when my Mom turned 30.  Kristen and I were out playing in the back yard and we saw all our aunts, uncles and cousins from the Plochberger side of the family driving up and quietly moving toward the house to surprise her.  Infamously, Kristen, not understanding what was going on, rushed to head inside to tell Mom that everyone had showed up.  I had to stop her before getting inside and, as she was 4 at the time, it wasn’t too hard for me to catch her.  The Plochberger side of the family has traditionally been very good at donning black clothes, putting up signs saying “Over The Hill,” and making a remarkably big deal of family members turning 30, largely under my late Aunt Sara’s guidance.

Now, it’s 23 years later and it’s my turn.  Now that I think about it, we haven’t had a 30th birthday in the family for quite awhile (Mom was the youngest in the family with brothers and sisters far into high school at the time she was born, so we had cousins turning 30 before I was even 10) and, as I live in St. Louis and they all live a few hours away, we won’t be celebrating like that.  Heck, practically no one I know celebrates 30 anymore like that, as people live to be much older now and 30 is almost like any other birthday.  Even 40, to some degree, is a non-issue.

It seems like, in the past 20 years, 30 became the new 50.

Makes me wonder, in another 20 years, if 50 will be the new 70…before I even get there…

In any case, it will be weird to say that I’m in my 30s, but in the end, I don’t see it as a huge shift.  There was obviously a time that I did, but now that I’m here, it doesn’t really mean much.  The only thing that sticks out in my mind is the fact that I’m now 30 and am still, technically, “in training” for my career, though this is commonplace in the field and to be expected.  It’s also a bit different in that I remember my Mom’s 30th birthday (and so does Kristen), but Meg won’t remember mine.  Again, a sign of the times when the average age of getting married and having kids is getting later and later.

Other than that, it’s just another year with two new digits to write, rather than just one.  And that’s fine by me!

It is rather disappointing to have this day fall in the middle of the week, though, as it makes celebrating a bit more difficult.  Brooke, Meg and I will go to the Bottleworks tonight, methinks, which is always a good time, so far as I’m concerned.  This past weekend, my family came to town to help celebrate (that, and Father’s Day, of course), and that was a great time.  In the end, it’s still more fun than last year, as we’re closer to friends and family here in St. Louis, and it’s a birthday that feels at least a little more meaningful than 29.

Regardless, I’m ready to hit this particular milestone.  At the very least, I don’t have to say I’m in my 20s anymore and can try to act like an adult.  ;-)