A Brief St. Louis Excursion

Blues vs Canucks. #stlwins

So, last year I joined the Human Anatomy & Physiology Society, mostly as a means of professional development, but also for some networking opportunities.  I didn’t do much with them last year, but this May’s annual meeting was to be in Columbus, OH on Memorial Day weekend.  The cost was going to be substantial, though Missouri Valley was going to cover most of it.

Anyway, a little over a month ago, HAPS sent out a note that a regional meeting was going to be held in St. Louis on March 24th for far less than the full-size meeting in May.  This weekend was also the start of Meg’s Spring Break, so it presented a unique opportunity to spend relatively little and get a weekend in St. Louis for Brooke and I.  Win-win all around.

After dropping the kids off in Columbia (thanks Mom and Dad!), we continued on to St. Louis.  Brooke’s parents were kind enough to share their season tickets to the Blues game Friday night, so we rushed in through good old fashioned St. Louis traffic (and rain…which exacerbated said traffic…) and made it just after the game started.  It turned out well for the “boys in blue,” as they ended up winning 4-1.  We had a good time!

We went to McGurk’s for dinner afterward (I was quite hungry…), as it was a few blocks up from the Airbnb we rented in Soulard, our old stomping grounds.  There were tons of folks there for some live music, but it was one of the few places we figured would still be serving food after 9:30 pm in the neighborhood.  Mmmmmm, tasty…

Human Anatomy & Physiology Society Central Regional Meeting

The next day, Brooke dropped me off at my conference while she went and ran some shopping errands and got some reading done at the apartment.  She had a rainy, albeit relaxing, day. 🙂

For my part, I really enjoyed the conference.  There were less than 50 people there, but the sessions were good at focusing on information retention and other teaching-related subjects, stuff that I can use some ideas on, as they’re what I’ve been thinking about quite a bit this semester.  I saw a few SLU grads from my tenure there, too, so it was a good opportunity to catch up and follow through with that “networking” I mentioned earlier.  Regardless, I came away excited about some new things I can try in the classroom.

Earthbound Brewing

The meeting was over around 4:00 pm, so we headed back to the apartment so I could change out of my “conference clothes,” allowing us to head out and see some of the microbreweries that have popped up since we moved in 2014.  First up, Earthbound Beer off of Cherokee Street.  The beers there looked interesting (and all of the sampler set we had were impressive!) and they also had some food (grabbed some BBQ nacho concoction…mmmm…) to tide us over until dinnertime.

Second, we went by Side Project Brewing in Maplewood.  The Maplewood Coffee Crawl was going on that day, so they had some extra “coffee beers” available, though they were barrel-aged and pretty “high octane.”  They were good, but not exactly what we were in the mood for when we knew we had to drive back to Soulard.  We also tried a saison and a farmhouse ale, both of which I enjoyed, but Brooke wasn’t as big a fan.  They were close to closing, so we weren’t there for all that long.  They seemed solid, but of the three we visited, it wasn’t our favorite.

Third, we hit up The U.R.B., Urban Chestnut’s Research Brewery.  I’d been to their bierhall across the street a few times, but a buddy from college recommended trying the research brewery, as they had pretty decent pizza, as well.  The concept is that Urban Chestnut tests three difference recipes and sells you three tasters for $1 (total) from which you are asked to answer some questions via digital survey on your phone.  This is all to help them get some feedback on their wares so they know what to scale up into a full release.

The option for Saturday were Radlers, which aren’t exactly our favorite.  One was more lemon, the other more grapefruit, and the third…I dunno…  The grapefruit one was the best, in our opinion, but all three were “drinkable.”

After we had those, we grabbed a pizza that was pretty solid.  It wasn’t Joanie’s or anything, but it was good.


The next morning, we hit up Hammerstone’s for breakfast before heading out (yum…).  Moseying around Soulard was pretty great and we hope we can get back there again soon.  The Airbnb we stayed in was really, really good, and was probably in the perfect place for us, so it was nice to re-live some of our favorite times, even if for only a few nights.

The drive home was uneventful, aside from stopping off at a few more shopping locations.  We had a great time!  Let’s hope we can do it again sometime!

Review: Avengers – Age of Ultron

Age of Ultron Banner

June 28, 2014. That’s the last time I saw a movie in theaters (X-Men: Days of Future Past, in case you were curious…).  To be frank, the movie theater here in Marshall isn’t exactly stellar for seeing big blockbuster flicks.  Sure, it’ll work in a pinch, but my students tell me they can hear the other movies coming from adjacent screenings, so it isn’t really ideal…

Thus, as I’m now out of classes for the semester, I took a trip into St. Louis to see Avengers: Age of Ultron with a buddy.  I enjoyed the original movie quite a bit, so I’ve been looking forward to this one since trailers first debuted.  While the first movie was just about everything I wanted to see in a confluence of Marvel franchises, the sequel is a bit more convoluted.

As in the previous film, Age of Ultron is informed by events from the other Marvel movies, most importantly, Captain America: The Winter Soldier.  The last remnants of Hydra are using Loki’s staff from the first Avengers movie (that they got from…somewhere…we aren’t told, though it’s kinda inferred, I guess…) to experiment on humans and the Avengers have “assembled” to get it back.  They reclaim the scepter after an encounter with new villains/heroes Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch, and then return to New York to celebrate.  In the process, Tony Stark discovers that the scepter has some unique properties that allow him to create an advanced artificial intelligence that, he hopes, could ultimately create machines to take over for the Avengers in defending Earth from threats.  He gets in over his head and Ultron is born: a robot capable of self-replication that can evade capture through the internet, who goes on to produce more machines in an effort to cleanse the Earth of a grave threat (i.e. humanity).

So, there’s four characters already.  We’ve also got the Hulk, Black Widow, Captain America, Thor, Nick Cage, War Machine, Hawkeye, Maria Hill, Hawkeye’s random wife, Falcon, Vision, Peggy Carter, Hemidal and Dr. Selvig to bring into the mix.

Just ruminate on that list for a moment.  Each of those characters is attached to an actor, and not a “no name” actor.  They don’t just show up for cameos: they show up for reciting lines.  These are folks that generally command high dollar contracts and I can’t imagine what’s written into their Marvel Cinematic Universe contracts to get them all to show up in one movie.

Unfortunately, this is the main problem I found with it: there are simply too many people.  It’s all in service of putting them in their own movies (Captain America: Civil War, primarily), and they aren’t all in it for extended lengths of time (Falcon shows up twice…War Machine shows up a few times…).  That is to say, the screen time isn’t massive for many of these additional folks, but every time they appear, that has to take time from the main Avengers from the previous movie, and I think this film suffers from it.

The action and effects are still great (and yes, I think IMAX 3D was worth it for this one), and the story itself isn’t terrible, though it isn’t as strong as Winter Soldier was.  While Winter Soldier makes a pretty clear point about government spying and whether threats should be eliminated before they’re actually guilty of something, this movie dances around its themes a bit more abstractly.  It wasn’t quite as funny as the previous Avengers movie either, though there are a few chuckle-worthy moments.  James Spader is pretty great as Ultron, though it kinda feels like he’s off in the background a bit more than I’d prefer.  The film sets up the conflict between Tony Stark and Steve Rogers that’s going to come up in Civil War, though I think it’s yet another facet to pile up on top of an already large movie.  Lastly, Scarlett Johansson has some great scenes, but quite a few of them this time are spent as a love interest or damsel-in-distress, so I think her character has been turned back compared with her appearances in previous MCU movies.

Ultimately, I still enjoyed it.  There were some awesome battles there interspersed, especially toward the end (obviously) and they even did a decent job working in some Agents of S.H.E.I.L.D. references.

I just hope Civil War, which is looking to be even bigger than this movie, will rein in all the guest appearances.  The guys that wrote and directed Winter Soldier (and did a great job) have Civil War and Avengers: Infinity War Parts I and II to hold together, so they’ve got their work cut out for them.

Moving On

We posted the news last week on Facebook but I haven’t had much time to write anything here about it.  However, for posterity’s sake, here goes:

We’re leaving St. Louis…again

This time, however, it’s so I can (finally) begin my first “grown up” job as Assistant Professor of Biology at Missouri Valley College in Marshall, MO.  I am charged with teaching Anatomy & Physiology I and II, as well as Principles of Anatomy & Physiology.  That’s going to be 15 credit hours worth of teaching each semester, so I’ve definitely got my work cut out for me.  It will absolutely be challenging, but I’m looking forward to moving off the lab bench for awhile and instead focusing on getting students to appreciate, if not love, physiology as I do.

When we moved to Iowa, Brooke had to leave Bridges CSS and, unfortunately, it took awhile before she was able to find anything comparable (or even acceptable…) doing similar things up north.  Thankfully, unbeknownst to us, Bridges CSS was in the process of buying Bridges of Missouri, their sister company based in Sedalia, MO, which just so happens to be 30 min south of Marshall.  Thus, with a stroke of providence or blind luck, she gets to keep doing what she loves while I begin this new adventure.  She will return to St. Louis once or twice a month to help facilitate the connection between these two arms of the company, but she’s already got her work cut out for her in integrating the workings of the two companies.  She’s excited to mix up what she’s been doing, too!

We’re on a pretty short time table now.  We spent the last few weekends in Sedalia and Marshall investigating houses (more “grown up” things we’re finally doing…) and we think we’ve settled on one that we’re going to make an offer on shortly.  My position officially begins August 1st, but I technically don’t have to be on campus until August 18th (school starts August 25th).  There are all kinds of challenges with pulling that off in a limited period of time, but we think we’re moving in the right direction and can make it happen.

Still, we’ve got a lot of packing to do…

Christmas 2013

What a pretty family. :-)
What a pretty family. 🙂

As Christmas fell in the middle of the week this year, our schedules were thrown into something of a tizzy.  Christmas in Columbia with my family was the weekend before, we still traveled to Louisiana, MO to spend Christmas Eve with Brooke’s grandparents, we returned to St. Louis for Christmas morning so the kids could open presents under their own tree, and then we went to Hannibal for yet another Christmas celebration this weekend.  That’s all with a second trip to Columbia for Meg and I between St. Louis and Hannibal destinations so I could see a few friends of mine from high school (good times had by all, by the way).

Needless to say, while the countless presents have been welcomed by our eldest, I’m sure the constant travel and disrupted sleep schedule has strained her.  Still, in some ways, it helps us by having easy things to keep her occupied for days when she’d otherwise be making me play “sleepover” with her, or “hide and seek” (wherein she lays on the floor and considers this to be “hiding”…).  It also helped all that traveling by having a new car to drive in

Regardless, we had a pretty great trip.  We received far too many presents, but that just goes to show how generous our two families are.  Meg really enjoyed opening presents four times in a week, so getting to spread these things out over a longer period of time than usual was nice for her.  Christmas just kept on coming!

Though I knew this phase of my life was coming, it’s starting to become even more evident that Christmas is becoming less and less “for me,” at least with regards to the “magic of Christmas.”  I’m not talking about the religious aspect of the holiday, but more the shift from childhood to adulthood, where Christmas was such a big deal for a large portion of my early life.  It still is, but now, it’s more of a big deal for my kids than it is for me.  I still love Christmas, don’t get me wrong, but it’s beginning to take on a new meaning: where it’s now my job to make Christmas magical for my kids rather than make it enjoyable for myself.  I hope that doesn’t sound “bah humbug”-ish, and maybe it’s just something I need to try and work on for next year, but it’s something I’ve been thinking about.

Still, watching Meg open her presents (and Calvin in the coming years…he was kinda useless at opening things this year…) was enough “magic” for me.  It wasn’t the same, watching someone else open presents as opposed to me opening presents, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be as meaningful.  It certainly was this year.

Merry Christmas, everyone. 🙂

St. Louis Brewers Heritage Festival


Brooke and I enjoy hitting up the Schlafly Bottleworks Cabin Fever festival each Winter when we can, as it’s a nice opportunity to try out some beers among friends and like-minded individuals.  Thankfully, living in St. Louis, there’s a similar festival being held on a nearly monthly basis, so the opportunity arose for me to go to this year’s St. Louis Brewers Heritage Festival in Forest Park.

This particular festival features breweries from the St. Louis area, so it isn’t just Schlafly that makes an appearance.  Just about every brewery around here, many of which I’ve visited, shows up with various beers.  In some cases, like Perennial, they didn’t bring the beer that I would have suggested, but at least they were represented.  Others had multiple styles available that covered the spectrum of their wares effectively.


I wasn’t a big fan of how this festival was organized, however.  The Schlafly-run festivals tend to have their beers organized alphabetically, so if you’re looking for a particular style or name of a beer, you can easily find it and try it.

The picture above illustrates the Brewers Heritage Festival’s “organization,” or lack thereof.  All the beers were hosted under large tents with long tables, and kegs of beer behind them.  Above each server was a sign displaying the maker of the beer, the style of beer, and the name of the beer.

And that was it.

You’ll note that in the image above, each beer was given a number.  So, the beers were organized numerically…yet…there was no number listed on any of the signs.  So, if you wanted to find Beer #24, you had to go to the tent that had beers #1-46, head toward the middle of the tent, look through the signs (that were not well-lit), and then find it.  Alternatively, you could physically count each sign until you found the number you wanted.

So, the lack of organization already left a negative impression on me.  Then, the rain began, complete with some lightning off to the West.  Though were in a torrential downpour for about 20 min or so, their website said “with over 7,000 sq. feet of tent space, two beer tents and one food tent, the festival continues rain or shine. There will be enough space and cover to protect from the rain.”  

They stopped serving beer.  There was no explanation as to why.

After about 20-30 min (and some chanting from the drunken crowd, along the lines of “Rain or Shine!  Rain or Shine!” and “Four More Beers!  Four More Beers!”), they relented and opened up the taps again.

But with more lightning off to the West and North (i.e. not above us), they shut down completely at 9:30 pm (2.5 hrs into a 4 hr event that folks paid $35 for).  Again, no announcements that everyone (anyone?) could hear.  No description of the policy.  Just shut down.

Which left a lot of drunk, pissed off people.  And to top it all off, it wasn’t raining anymore.  At all.

So yeah, I ended up getting to taste 10 beers that I came across randomly (as it was difficult to find the ones I wanted due to their lack of organization), and otherwise spent the rest of the time under a tent with a mob of angry people until they finally shut the whole thing down.  And many of them were audibly composing angry e-mails to the organizers for screwing up the weather policy so terribly.

On the plus side, Jay Nixon signed a bill allowing home brew to be served at festivals, so I was able to taste a few beers made from local home brewers.  They were quite good!  I didn’t get a chance to try more than two, but it was great to see that support for the local brewing community.

In all, I’d consider attending this festival again, but it may be a few years.  We’ll see how they respond to the negative e-mail I’m going to send them.

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.