muckefuck: (zhongkui)
As flight delays go, it was really nothing to complain about. Instead of being the death of slow cuts I'm used to, it was nicely straightforward: shortly before 2 p.m., I got a message that my 5:35 flight would be departing at 7:50 that evening. At 5 p.m., they were still saying it would depart at 7:50. So even though I was only guaranteed a seat if I was physically in the terminal at the time of scheduled departure, I hung around Sis' house until about 6 p.m. and had no more time to kill at the airport than normal.

I almost wished for a little more after bantering with the cheery white-haired man in the Steelers cap at the Schlafly's/Past House bar. If only I'd been feeling up to taking a drink off the sweet camp bartender. The worst part of the whole experience was the completely unnecessary panic I put myself through by misreading the Departures board right before entring security. But I was through so quickly it only lasted about fifteen minutes before I reached the gate and discover my mistake. Once again, I even had reason to compliment the agent who gave me my pat-down (taking me immediately, rather than making me stand around awkwardly like Midway seems to make a habit of).

I was able to pack leisurely, see a bit more of the boys before going, and even fit in a couple more games of Ultimate One-Night Werewolf and visit with a couple of BIL's old friends. The evening before, after getting waxed playing Carcassonne, I reminded him of the courtesy he and his wife normally pay of allowing me to win the last game we play together. "Well, this might not be the last," he said. And, sure enough, I won both games today (and would've lost the next one, since I was a werewolf both times and would've been killed outright the next time just on general principle).

All in all, better than expected given the crap-ass start to the day. At first, I thought we'd lucked out of more construction noises, but they simply started an hour later. I was so tired, though, I was able to go back to sleep mid-morning in spite of them, which should've been my first clue something was not quite right. By the time Dad arrived to take me to lunch, I knew skipping my zinc yesterday had been a mistake and my cold was not amused at being held at bay so long. Perversely, he decided to take me to a sports bar known for its meat-loaded deli sandwiches; I had potato pancakes and a salad, did my best not to lose my voiced shouting over the din, and counted the moments until we were back in the car.

I probably would've felt just as miserable at the zoo with the young'uns, but at least it would've gotten me out into the sunlight and unnaturally warm air. (The high today was over 10°C.) Dad was as low-energy as me, but he's in at least his third month of it. At least he did have a chance to show me the waterscape he's working on, but it was a little depressing to see how modest its size was given how long he's been working on it. It's sad to see an man as active as him losing his vigour. (He thinks he'll bounce back to where he was as soon as the infection's gone and his course of antibiotics is finished; I'm not so sure.)

The crowning luxury of the day was being met at the airport by [livejournal.com profile] bunj and e. and ferried back home. [livejournal.com profile] monshu was coincidentally waking up right as we arrived, but twenty minutes or less of chat drained him and sent him back downstairs to sleep some more. Something about his medication is not quite right if it's wiping him out like this. His appetite is gone again and I think a call to his primary is in order--except he's still in Pakistan and it will have to be the covering doctor. Still, much easier to do that from here rather than 300 miles away.
muckefuck: (zhongkui)
Could it be? Have the hammers and nailguns next door ceased? The next-door neighbours are building their dreamhouse. When I arrived, they had the first floor framed. Sis wasn't sure if they were taking the week off or not. They weren't here yesterday, but then it rained all day. That open question got a definitive answer at 6:53 this morning when we heard the pounding of a maul followed by the sound of rafters being hammered into place. There were...ahem...compensations (photos to follow), but on the whole I'd rather have had the zzz's.

Figures that this would happen after the first night of bad sleep. My cold has moved into the laryngitis-and-lingering-cough stage, just in time for the family Christmas party this eve. It kept me up (but, thankfully, no one else) past midnight and I was really hoping to sleep in or--barring that--get a nap. This is my chance. It's also the only chance I've had to log on in fourteen hours, thus this entry.

At least cooking went better today. With sleep not an option, I decided to knock out the red cabbage. It's simmering on the stove and my back is, amazingly, not screaming. Knowing how much slicing and dicing is involved, I forced myself to do as much sitting at the table as I could. It feels a bit awkward, but you can't argue with the results. And this is on top of helping out ECI make the waffles for the breakfast feast.

I'm annoyed I can't talk to [livejournal.com profile] monshu right now, but at least I can text him. He was meeting an old colleague today and I'm curious for a report, but looks like I'll need to wait a while. In the meantime, let's go for the power nap.
muckefuck: (zhongkui)
It wouldn't be a proper visit with my family if it didn't involve at least one madcap trip to a store involving (a) erroneous directions; (b) awful weather; (c) a pressing deadline; or (d) all three. In this case, the driver was my mother (who didn't bother to write down the address and--despite having lived here almost here entire life--didn't realise Broadway is one-way through downtown), the weather was rain, and the deadline was a five o'clock closing time for the chef supply store hidden among the warehouses of the Near North Riverfront. Almost by chance, we stumbled upon the converted tractor warehouse now stuffed with wholesale restaurant equipment. Cooking Christmas dinner should be a noticeably less stressful assignment than in previous years.

Unfortunately, I had none of the new equipment while manning the stove tonight. Still, it would've turned out okay had I not been sabotaged by stick margarine (which exists why exactly?) disguised as unsalted butter. So it was one ugly frittata, but it tasted okay, and whatever emptiness left in anyone's bellies after sharing it out with my older brother (who's perfected the knack of being around Sis' place right around dinnertime) was plugged by baklava and Christmas cookies from the large and still growing store tucked behind the stove.

Afterwards we cleared the table for games, but what with trying to get the kids clean as well as put to bed, it was a while before we got started. Still, we had time for two rounds of Survive. I won the first handily, which--as usual--resulted in a target painted on my backside, so I got totally waxed in Round 2. We also had a game of Troyes on Saturday, one of those accounting-heavy German boardgames which appealed to me mostly on account of the ornate board and mediaeval theme.
muckefuck: (zhongkui)
Twenty-four hours in St Louis and the most exciting thing so far is that I narrowly avoided a spill down the basement stairs as I went to fetch my jeans from the dryer. (What was I thinking bringing only one pair?) Yesterday Sis drove me directly from the airport to the hospital. Seems our father's managed to get himself infected with a rare strain of Mycobacterium and his wife wanted us along for his meeting with the orthopedist to make sure we heard everything he did.

I expected that would take maybe half an hour. By the time he'd been x-rayed, sent up to the pathologist, and what-have-you, two hours had passed. Good thing [livejournal.com profile] monshu had sent me off with some homemade soda bread and fried chicken! We went direct from the hospital to the middle school, and from there back to the family abode. I did my best to stay aloof from the chaos, though I did get sucked into a Doctor Who two-parter alongside AWI, one of the two old enough to be allowed to watch it. (It took me a moment to realised the reason he was so insistent that we join him is that he was scared to watch Weeping Angels alone.)

By the time it was just me, Sis, and Mom rehashing family history around the dining room table, I was so drowsy that I nearly went to sleep right there. Instead, I went up to AWI's room and slept as soundly as I ever have in this house. Napping didn't really work out this morning, so I'm going to get cleaned up and do the Loop with my older brother. Then tonight I'll be escorting Mom to the rehearsal dinner. Something tells me I'm really going to need that nap tomorrow.
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Now I realise that critiquing the restaurants your relatives take you to is a bit like getting all art critic on their heirlooms, but it's not that often that I visit St Louis and end up eating out each day. And I promise to be gentle and try to leave some of that big-city snideness behind.

Mom dibbed us the first night (which was good, because we weren't sure whether she was invited to any of the events or not and she wasn't). She's the worst when it comes to making sure we have an Experience, but I think we did alright. I was fine with her first pick, Coco Louco Brasil, because I remember with fondness Chef Carvalho's Café Brasil in Rock Hill (which I just learned went under when he lost his liquor licence). But it's in the Central West End (a nightlife area) and she didn't make reservations on a Friday night. The last thing I wanted to do after a day of travel was subject the Old Man to a long wait for a noisy table, so we went for her alternative.

This was an "upscale Thai" place "within walking distance". Now, ⅘ of a mile (1.3 km) is nothing to me--I walk that far to lunch and back most days--but St Louis has hills and Mom goes most days without walking more than 200 steps, so she was huffing and puffing before we were halfway there. But it was quiet ("half dead" you could say) and we got a nice table in the corner. The name was Blue Elephant, which must be some sort of Thai topos because that was the name of the sprucest of the stealth-free three Thai places near us.

It was a first for me: a Thai restaurant without Thais. The fresh-scrubbed corn-fed boy waiting on us stammered in confusion when I ordered a "gai tom kha" for my mother. (The menu calls it "coconut soup".) Of course, being interrupted by someone in the kitchen tracking down a to-go order just after he got his pad out probably didn't help. (He was terribly apologetic, but it was odd all the same.) And a Thai restaurant without Thais is also apparently one without green tea either (another first).

Still, [livejournal.com profile] monshu's red curry chicken wasn't particularly dumbed-down. The cinnamon pork was one of the few dishes which (a) I hadn't seen elsewhere and (b) didn't incorporate tomatoes, so I split it with Mom, knowing full well there was a good chance it would be too one-note, and it was. At least the breading wasn't overdone and it was juicy enough. The shu mai were forgettable (despite lofty claims of incorporating real crab meat) and they were out of the signature dumplings, but their close cousins were tasty and interesting.

Mom and I both had a hankering for ice cream afterwards, so we decided to stroll vaguely homewards and keep our eyes peeled, which is how we stumbled into Pomme. It sprawls comfortably across a couple of storefronts and looks like a nice place for a drink, alfresco or otherwise. We had their apple, pear, and orange sorbets--all made in house--while the Old Man was true to form and had the chocolate cake. Very satisfying. The server, a charming cub, talked up the owner's apple pie made from homegrown apples, which sounds like it merits a return trip.

Saturday night was the big celebratory meal at Spiro's, a Greek place with several locations. Given that we were returning to Dad's for ice cream cake (was he turning 70 or 7?) it would've been logical to book the one near their house. My brother followed this logic and arrived late, but not as late as my brother-in-law who relied on my oral directions to a location I've never been in St Charles County instead of Googling them himself. (I make no apologies!) The one perk was that the owner's family was partying on the other side of a partition from us and he came by to offer his good wishes.

I'd say the food was up to Chicago Greektown standards. My swordfish wasn't remotely "medium rare", but I ordered it that way figuring they'd overcook it, so it was still fine. My BIL's beef fared much better and the vegetable sides came with a very un-Greek brightness and crispness. First time I had saganaki in a Titan's age and it was less salty than I remembered. Calamari was fine, fried ravioli was less doughy than usual, but the pita with the hummus tasted awful for some reason, like it was underleavened.

My chief disappointment (apart from missing my chance to order a No 12) was that my stepmom never followed through on getting someone to entertain the kneebiters. So instead of having one big adult conversation for a change we had the usual breaking up into family groups (my sister's kids on one arm of the horseshoe table, my stepsister's on the other). What with the delayed start, the kitchen was in full swing and entrees took some time coming out, so by the time we got back to the house it was half-an-hour before wee ones' bedtime. But these are all cavils given that Dad and his wife looked completely chuffed the whole time.

I told [livejournal.com profile] monshu we could do whatever he wanted with the bulk of the weekend and his only requests were for some time with my stepmom and some with my sister. Sunday, we took care of both of those. Sis and her man were originally going to take us out to Momos, a "Greek tapas place" in U City, but she figured we wouldn't want Greek two nights in a row and suggested their favourite fondue place in the Delmar Loop instead. I ignored the bitchy voice in my head which says that fondue is a rube's idea of fine dining and agreed.

It's called The Melting Pot (aren't they all?) and I managed to be amused rather than annoyed the third time we were asked, "Have you dined with us before?" and "Are we celebrating something?", respectively. Fortunately, we were able to share the "feast for two", which my sister assured us fed at least three. She wasn't kidding. Their special "America"-themed menu appealed to none of us, so we went with the "Wisconsin Trio" for our cheese course. Sadly, more dominated by the butterkäse than the buttermilk bleu. (Fontina was the silent partner.)

For the main course, we had a pot of hot oil, five meats, two batters, and six sauces. I was the first to give the thick gray sesame batter a try and it sat ignored after that. The tempura was better, but without flour to dredge the meat it didn't have much sticking power. The best of the sauces was something I thought was hot mustard but was apparently a curry mayo. When it came to desert, I ignored their advice and dunked my cheesecake rather than just drizzling it. No regrets about how that turned out!

At least now I understand my sister's gift of a raclette set last year. [livejournal.com profile] monshu and I were shaking our heads at the ridiculousness of it all, but that was before I knew fondue was one of her and her husband's favourite treats. Now that I can look at it as a sincere effort to share something that they love with us, it's totally sweet.
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Had I been in town this weekend, I would've devoted some time to preparing the garden for winter: harvesting verbena and salad greens, mulching rosemary and thyme, trimming back sorrel and clematis, etc. But I wasn't here to take advantage of the nice weather before it turned cold. Before I went to bed last night, there was snow on the ground. That doesn't necessarily mean it's time to give up--last year several plants survived dustings of snow into the end of December--but I suspect it was accompanied by a freeze as well.

In a way, going down to St Louis was like going back in time a couple of weeks. The foliage increased as we went south, reaching a tipping point around Springfield. In St Louis, most of the trees still held their leaves. Particularly lovely were the oaks (even the crappy pin oaks, which I think of as being a boring dull brown); we have so few around here that I forgot what nice background trees they are, providing a russet backdrop for the more vibrant maples, gums, ashes, etc. Chicago has a lot more yellow in its autumnal treescape--and not usually the bright yellow of a really gorgeous cottonwood either.

Given that, it's a real shame I wasn't able to fit in a stroll around my sister's neighbourhood. I don't think I ever noticed before how many firebushes grew there nor how large they were. Japanese maples were popular, too, and in more variety than I've seen where I live. At least we did take a spin around in the car more than once. No substitute for exploring on foot, of course, but a reminder how worth doing it is.
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Family weekend survived; details to follow.

Last challenge left: return trip to Chicago. [Involves both a cab ride to the station and the unpredictably of boarding an Amtrak train arriving from two states away.]
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You know it's a good vacation when you get to explain the Northern Cities Vowel Shift to friends and family not once but twice. Naturally, my St Louis relatives aren't aware of how the second formant has been dropping for their /ɑ/ vowels, but this is something I keep an ear out for. I'm always ready to tease [livejournal.com profile] monshu, for instance, any time his "top" sounds too much like "tap".

Most regional variation in English is confined to the vowels and the easiest way to sketch a dialect is to outline the mergers and splits among its lexical sets, something I learned about from reading John C. Wells' Accents of English. Just knowing, for instance, that my speech has the pin-pen and hurry-furry mergers but not cot-caught and has /ɔn/ for on rather than /ɑn/ gives you a pretty good idea what part of the country I'm from. But, of course, features like these don't necessarily remain static, even when (unlike me) you do stay in one place.

One of the defining features of the St Louis accent, for instance, used to be the merger of /ɑr/ with /ɔr/ rather than /or/. Or, to put it in terms of lexical sets, it had the card-cord merger rather than the horse-hoarse one. This is the source of the city's most celebrated shibboleth, "Highway Farty" for US40 (now I-64). Sadly, my recent trip confirmed that it's on the way out. I had a good chat with my mother's eldest brother at the family Christmas dinner and heard him say not only "farty" but also "arder" and "arganisation". I only consistently have it in the name of Forest Park (St Louis' answer to Central Park in NYC) and my nephews don't seem to have it at all.

In general, it feels like my vowels are collapsing before coda /r/. This is part of a larger tendency in English; only some Irish and Scottish accents really preserve a full range of vowels in this position. I can make the marry-merry distinction when need be (and I do in the names of New York friends, like Barry from Queens), but that's a learned affectation. In my natural speech, I not only have horse-hoarse but also pour-poor. Nuphy even accused me of merging /ɔr/ with /ʌr/ in some cases, so he couldn't tell whether I was talking about "shorts" or "shirts".
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  • The Father Can't really tell you because I didn't see him this trip. There was a possibility of getting together Tuesday but he ended up having to work--half a day, as I discovered ten minutes into an attempted nap when he called me to announce that he was free. That's great--what are we going to do with the hour or so I have before my train leaves? Moreover, I didn't really sweat it, because I'll be seeing him again this weekend and then (for reasons previously explained) again next weekend. So he has nothing to complain about--which isn't to say he won't. Watch this space!
  • The Stepmother Frightened everyone with a sudden fall which kept her off the plane for New York. Early reports were frightening, but it sounds like she escaped with only bruises--including a nice big shiner. This weekend I'll have a chance to inspect it myself.
  • The Mother Should be the subject of an entry all her own. Surprisingly together overall--twice I found myself fuming at the prospect of being made late only to have her get us there bang on time after all. Her house was pretty tragic when I entred, but it was quite a bit better before I left, and little thanks to me. I had a comfortable bed to sleep in for a change but no hot water for showering, so that's sort of a wash.
  • The Brother Took everyone aback by insisting on the coming to the wedding reception and behaved himself rather well. His awkward attempts at conversation were made worse by the crappy acoustics, which also did him no favours on the audiohallucination front, but he refrained from abusing the availability of alcohol. We missed a chance to hang out on Sunday but spent a good chunk of time together chatting on Monday, and for once it was something reasonably engaging to me. So, score!
  • The Other Brother Talked to me for all of five minutes after the wedding ceremony regarding the meeting with Mom's financial advisor. I gather he and Mom had a good visit on Friday, which cheers me considerably, and he and his wife seem to have had some fun at the reception despite being trapped at a table with some of our less favourite cousins.
  • The Sister Actually had two hours with me with no children present--half of which was taken up with errands and through all of which I was fairly zombified. But she was beaming at the wedding reception and was, as always, a great sport at having half the family invade her house on short notice.
    • #1 Son Still a tattletale who inexplicably thinks it should be interesting for you to watch him play a game you don't care to understand. But kept on an even keel the whole time and seemed genuinely excited to have me around.
    • #2 Son Remarkably affectionate; seemed like I couldn't take up a position on the couch without him wanting to snuggle up against me. Also fascinated by my nails.
    • #3 Son Only one major meltdown this trip. Still trying to break his mother's spirit with the potty. Fascinated by my nails to the point where Mommy is going to have a tough time explaining to him and ECI why they aren't allowed to grow theirs long like Unca Da.
    • #4 Son OMG HE IS SO CUTE AND SWEET I COULD JUST PLOTZ
  • The Brother-In-Law Still a model of forbearance. Happily stayed up playing games (and unperturbed when I HANDED HIM HIS ASS) and took it in stride having company on his evening constitutional.
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I'm back. From stepping out of my sister's back door until stepping back into mine was 8 hours almost to the minute--and that's with near-perfect connexions. (Amtrak only 10 minutes late, catching a 151 with two minutes to spare.) So, yes, doable but not exactly superconvenient. Better start checking Southwest for Christmas specials now!

It was a good visit, although not without its frustrations. Chief among them was finding out yesterday that my dad got his dates messed up and is coming up this weekend, not next. That is to say, he's coming up both weekends, since I'm not switching around our Door County plans at the last minute simply because he doesn't grok calendar technology.

Also, it's official: My brother is Just Another Relative to me now. Probably the less said about that the better. On the other hand--in a heartwarming and unexpected development--my uncle is now my pal. He's hoping I can lure him up to Chicago sometime for fun and nightlife!
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Brrr, what the hell happened? When I left today, I felt a little foolish throwing on an overshirt. I even wondered if I should wear shorts to work and change into slacks in the bathroom, as is my wont during the dog days. Good thing I didn't--I was just outside and regretting that I hadn't put more on. The sun has gone away, mist is moving in from the lake, and it feels about twenty degrees colder than it did three hours ago. If this is citywide rather than simply a special treat for us up here on the North Shore, it's going to scotch my plans for dining al fresco tonight.

Or I could doggedly push ahead with that to bookend the perversity of our dinner last night in the back room of an Irish pub--with a fireplace, no less! (Albeit unlit.) But when you've got a minyan, you take what you can get. Besides, I did have a bit of dining outside earlier when I ate the cheapest polish of my life: $1.27 (sold by weight at the meat counter of Gene's) plus 50¢ for the bun. The only downside was the lack of mustard. Oh, and I guess the lukewarmity, but that doesn't bother me when it's eighty degrees in the shade.

The pub was the Grafton, dálta an scéil, which has a good beer selection and a passable fish and chips. I was there with my Famous Author Friend and his posse, fresh from a "reading" at the local branch library which, perversely, didn't actually involve him reading a passage from his book (although he did read out a couple of the quotes he'd included). I was sitting between my buddy from Shreveport, craving distraction after a tough day at the knowledge mines, and FAF's high-school friend, who it turns out is from St Louis. He was absolutely incredulous that I not only recognised the name of his street, Tholozan, but knew right where it was and the history and etymology of the name.

I told him about my great-great-grandfather, who drowned in the Mississippi by Carondelet while trying to scavenge some driftwood. One of the more chilling facts I gleaned from FAF's talk on river as it was before the steamboat age is that the water is so cold, a man overboard was basically given up for lost. Actually, I should say "is", because he tells me that after giving a reading in St Louis, a man whose son works on a river barge came up and told him that that is still the case.
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We got a later start than we wanted because Mom needed my sister to do some shopping and the only time they could fit it in was mid-afternoon. The time wasn't wasted--Dad and I spent it mostly out in the sunshine watching OGI pretend to be driving Dad's truck. A Chinese girl road by on her bike as her father weeded a lawn two doors up. By the time we hit the road, the bad weather predicted was moving in. Dad wasn't concerned: he figured the front would blow through pretty quickly and then all we'd have to face was a little drizzle.

Having learned his lesson from our last trip together, he had a sheaf of printed maps for me. He even offered a choice of routes. I spent far too much time on I-70 in my youth and remembered it as a built-up yawn, so I plumped for the southern route. Besides, that gave us a chance to stop in at Powder Valley so I could buy my father the Missouri Conservation Department titles I'd promised to get him for Christmas. We hadn't even reached the Meremac before I began to see the large stands of flowering dogwoods I'd been yearning for all this time. With almost perfect timing, we made it to Powder Valley right as the thunderstorms hit and with plenty of time to browse the bookstore before they closed. They'd added more exhibits even since my father's last visit, so we took a whirlwind tour before heading out again.

At this point, the road leaves the hills (and the dramatic highway cuts they necessitate) for a bit and follows the course of the river for a while. There are at least two dozen parks and conservation areas scattered about, several of them running right up to the highway, so even though you drive past Six Flags there's still plenty of pretty scenery.

Around the time we hit St James, we were peckish enough to begin looking for places to eat. My eyes were caught by a billboard announcing "COOKIN FROM STRATCH: Try our pan-fried chicken!" But we didn't see another sign for it before Rolla, so we turned off there to look for something to eat and ended up having a pretty terrible meal at Lee's Chicken because there was no parking at the local steakhouse and the Knights of Columbus fish fry across the street held no allure for me, since the conviction that catfish should not be eaten by humans is one of the few points of commonality between me and Orthodox Jewry when it comes to proscribed foods. Naturally, we were no sooner back on the road when I spotted Cooking From Scratch at the next exit.

We had a choice of turn-offs, too, but we'd missed the first one, so we headed on to Waynesville only to find the exit closed. Fortunately, there were detour signs so we managed to make it off in time and find the state route we needed with a minimum of casting about. But the overcast skies meant that night was coming on earlier than we'd hoped and we resigned ourselves to making it to the campsite in the dark. Our cabin was in Lake of the Ozarks State Park, which is the largest in the entire Missouri system. We discovered what this meant when, half an hour after driving through the entrance, we still hadn't reached the campsite. It would've helped immensely if someone had told me its proper name was "The Outpost" but we managed to make only one catastrophic wrong turn. The drive was atmospheric, ghostly clouds of mist rising above the road only to vanish as we drove through them. From time to time, we would pass an area of standing water and hear the croaking of bullfrogs.

By the time we reached the end of the road, it was after 8 o'clock. The drizzle had gotten heavier, and as Dad worked at lighting a fire with only kindling and no paper, I loaded up the gear into a cart provided to negotiate the last forty yards or so to the cabin door. One thing that was not among it was bath towels, and driving into town to buy more at this point was not in the cards. But Dad soon had a roaring fire going and eventually we had water hot enough to steep tea in. Dad had brought a battery-powered radio and he switched it on, inviting me to find a music station. "Probably won't find anything but country around here." Actually I found anything but--the station that came in best was blasting Zeppelin. Eventually, I found a surprisingly listenable indie station which I assumed was broadcasting from Rolla but turned out to be in KC.

We were both tired and knew we'd want an early start the next day, but neither of us wanted to be the first to put and end to the conversation and discover if the foam mattresses in the loft were able to offer a decent night's sleep. It must've been eleven or so when we finally turned in.
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  • Mom: worryingly crazy. Part of the reason for coming down when I did was to give some impetus to her efforts to get back on track, but we hardly spent any time together from the time she picked me from the airport and we fixed dinner together. My sister had me booked on Friday and then Dad was taking for two days, but we'd arranged that I'd stay with her Sunday night. But at the eleventh hour--literally--she confessed that her condo was in no fit state for company and asked if I could stay with my sister again. We were supposed to meet at a family funeral the next morning, but she never showed; I called her at Communion and she told me she was awake but just "couldn't get moving". We arranged to meet at the house afterward and have her drive me to the airport, but by noon I was making fallback plans. She finally did show and was apologetic in the car, but the whole thing had me a little concerned, even though my sister assured me this is how it's been for a while.
  • Older Brother: increasingly crazy. I'd only been there a few hours when he admittedly openly to my mother that he was taking about two-thirds the dosage of his anti-psychotic as proscribed by his doctor. "So I guess you're not interested in coming to Chicago," I said, since it's agreed we won't even talk about a visit until he's in full compliance. He shrugged and said, "I guess not." So that's it, we've lost our last leverage with him. On Sunday, he dropped an f-bomb in front of the rugrats--a surprising lapse in judgment for him--so I pulled him to the other room, which gave my sister the opportunity she'd been looking for to ask him if he was once again shtupping the con-artist who'd attached herself to him a couple years ago. Sadly, yes. "We use condoms," he said, so we tried to impress upon him their fallibility, especially now that she's on antibiotics so the pill isn't an option. All in all, very dispiriting.
  • Dad: not so crazy. His wife came by on Monday and gave me her sob story about how he ruined her birthday by withdrawing and dropping the ball. She wanted to know what he'd been like on our trip together and I honestly told her as good as gold. A little huffy-puffy on the steeper slopes, but sound overall, keeping his cool even when we got lost in the dark a couple times. (Sure is easier to direct him when I'm in the actual car with him.) The only real point of concern were the diverging stories they gave us about her upcoming surgery; some better communication needs to happen there.
  • Sis: Trying her best not to go crazy. So besides our crazy mother and crazy brother, she's got her four sons, two of whom have spring allergies so bad she runs the aircon and makes them wash their hands after being outside. IMI is her biggest trial; less tantrumy than last I saw him, but his resistance to toilet training has just about broken her. Despite being two, the littlest one only causes a fuss when he can't go play outside (but what a fuss!) and the two oldest are pretty self-sufficient these days.
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The trip back to Chicago was as smooth as supermarket yoghurt. Southwest said my plane was ten minutes delayed, but after my Christmas debacle I refused to believe them and in fact it left on time. I caught the Orange Line by a whisker and the Devon bus as well, getting me home in good time for the best meal I've had in a week. (Last night I ate reubens; tonight we toasted our own multigrain pita chips and then spread them with bleu cheese and honey-soaked walnuts and pinenuts. I don't mean to dis hospitality, but seriously no contest.)

Much to blog about Missouri, including the complete wildflower roster from our day in Ha Ha Tonka and the freshly-updated Crazy Report (executive preview: lots more crazy!). But of course I'm exhausted so all I have for now is this charming video from Diego and Uncle Betty. Never heard of Manel before, but I'm interested in hearing more. And Sergi López has never looked hotter!

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Earlier in the week, I was lamenting leaving Chicago just at the point that spring was arriving. But when Thursday morning came, I was so happy to go. With those overcast skies and blustery chill, it was like the city wanted me out.

St Louis is another world. Spring is sprung here--almost all the trees are leafing, if they aren't in bloom it's because they've already finished. Had I come in last weekend, I would've been greated by a row of Bradford pears in full array. As it was, even the redbuds were past peak. "As long as I see dogwoods," I told my mother, "I'll be happy."

Damn, was I ever happy! They are every bit as gorgeous as I remember--and the scent of them is even better. After lunch, we took the two youngest for a stroll about the neighbourhood so I could take in all the flowers. Daffodils are mostly faded, but the tulips are only just past peak. We saw phlox and bluebells, and there were even a couple of flags out in on a sunny slope. But the real glory of her neighbourhood is the azaleas. There seems to be only one variety that does well in Chicago, so I forget what they're capable of. But there's a house on the corner with the most amazingly vibrant reds that I could talk about nothing else for minutes.

The downside is that the horrible pin oaks are blooming and the pollen is even bothering me, so I can't imagine how real allergy sufferers feel. My sister's boys are hopped up on Zyrtec and she has to run the AC even though the temps yesterday were absolutely perfect. I went out again with the littlest one and watched him chase a cottontail across the neighbour's lawn.

Today is crazy: in less than an hour, I'm due at EWI's school to help run their class carnival. Then I might have to do babysitter duty while Sis and Mom run to the store, and after that Dad and I head off for Ha Ha Tonka. If it's any prettier down there than it is right here, I doubt I'll be able to stand it.
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When you see the headline "St. Louis Shootout Ends with US Marshal and Suspect Dead" and you're from St Louis, the first question in your mind is, obviously, Where did this happen? Clearly it's a question the fine journalists at ABC should have spent perhaps a moment or two more answering, because here's what they wrote:
The officers were attempting to serve an arrest warrant at the suspect's home in the St. Louis suburb called Dutchtown when the man opened fire with a semi-automatic pistol as the officers tried to enter the home.
From Wikipedia:
Dutchtown is a neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri.
That's right, this is a howler on a par with "the Chicago suburb called Bridgeport".

(For locals who don't already know: it was in the 3100 block of Osage.)

Booked my tickets last night for a trip back there in April. Dad wants to take me down to Lake of the Ozarks to hike for wildflowers in Ha Ha Tonka. Still haven't decided whether I'll stay with Mom at all. I've done so the last several visits, but that's because it's about the only thing that seems to motivate her to clean up her place any more.
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A couple hours later than I intended to, I set out today to stock up on the last few necessities for tomorrow. The window of dry weather was just closing, but I was in a good mood because I'd had the genius idea of swinging by Metropolis for a coveted hazelnut mocha on the way. It didn't even bother me having to wait because they'd mistakenly made a small instead of the medium I'd ordered. (The charmingly apologetic barrista gave me a coupon for a free drink "if you decide to come back again." As if anything short of zombie hordes could keep me away.)

The grocery store really wasn't half as crazy as I'd anticipated. The man in line in front of me at the deli grumbled about shortages, but everything I'd come for was still in stock. I even found some (mediocre young) manchego, and as I was preparing to move on I overheard someone say, "You said it's called 'Provel'?" These words came from an employee who had the duty of informing a shopper that, not only did they not have any, they'd never even heard of it.

Naturally, I couldn't resist jumping in to say, "You can't get it here. It's only sold in St Louis." "I'm from St Louis!" said the sweet-faced woman with a half-full cart. "So am I. And you can't find Provel cheese up here. They only make it for the St Louis market." She shook my hand. "Always nice to meet a homeboy!" I told her how my sister had put together a care package for a friend of hers in DC and included a healthy chunk of Oberle provel; she told me she needed it for her sister's salad recipe. (A surprise to me, since I'd never heard of anyone using it for anything but St Louis-style pizza.)

"Thanks for telling me that," she said in leaving, "since I was going to try some more stores for it." "I've never seen it in Chicago," I told her. "You'll have to have someone mail it to you!"
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Just found out today that the house I lived in when I was in primary school was sold again for a quarter of a million dollars. As this blog entry points out, it's one of the "Forty Thieves" (or, rather the Thirty-Eight Thieves, which is a smaller attrition rate than I would've expected in a city where fine old brick buildings were vanishing at the rate of over a hundred a year until rather recently). These were houses all built to the same plan with yellow bricks salvaged from a pavilion at the 1904 World's Fair. It made me proud to be so closely connected to what I soon figured out was The Most Important Thing To Happen In St Louis Ever. (Seriously, I don't think even Knoxville goes on as much about its World's Fair as St Louis does.) When strolling or riding around Richmond Heights, I would always keep my eyes peeled for other Thieves and would get a thrill whenever I spotted one.

I can't imagine what it looks like inside any more. My parents sold it to a classmate of my father's who restored it beautifully. I barely recognised the it last time we visited, but that was partly because of how much smaller everything looked. Yet I dreamed about it just a few days ago. (Or, rather, a study in a converted porch which reminded me strongly of the room off the kitchen in that house.) And I've got so many associations that are inextricably tied to it. I can't see peonies or daylilies or even common plantains without thinking of the ones in the front yard there and handling a croquet mallet always reminds me of the gonzo games I played there with my siblings.
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Jan. 25th, 2010 03:38 pm

Feed me!

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I ate well while I was in STL but badly. There was so much nourishment around that I hardly had a moment's hunger, but much of it was unhealthy and what wasn't was like the one restaurant-bought item I had, a filling but bland brisket sandwich from the café around the corner. The single best meal I had was my sister's homemade pizza on Friday night; she made whole-wheat crust in the bread machine and I ate mostly of the onion-green pepper-mushroom-bacon pizza I topped for Mom. The single worst was the sandwich I bought at Burger King in the terminal (because I didn't see the California Pizza Kitchen next door) and I had to turn down Mom's offer to make me a sandwich because her bread was mouldy. (Wait, I guess that makes two restaurant-bought meals.) So you can well imagine how thrilled I was to walk in the door last night and find a pot of [livejournal.com profile] monshu's split pea soup bubbling on the stove. He uses hamhocks for the stock and--at my request--celeriac in place of the celery.

I don't know why, but in the last few years I've almost completely gone off celery. It was never my favourite, but the texture didn't used to annoy me like it does now. I lay the blame for my newfound aversion to carrots at the feet of [livejournal.com profile] rootbeer1, though. Many years ago now, he outlined his new South Beachy diet and it had carrots on the forbidden list on account of their high sugar content. That caused me to cut down my consumption to the point where I started picking them out of dishes and now I find myself slightly repelled by the very taste of them. It's ironic, because together with iceberg lettuce, you're talking a substantial proportion of the veggies I consumed when I was young and didn't eat stuff like artichokes, asparagus chard, brussels sprouts, culantro, endive, mustard greens, parsnips, zucchini and lots of other stuff that I either disliked or simply hadn't been introduced to yet.
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The first time it was suggested I spend the night at my sister's, I readily agreed but resigned myself to a sleepless night. After all, I'd be taking the bottom bunk in the boys' room. How much sleeping could actually occur under those conditions?

Turns out it was a better night's sleep than on my mother's lumpy futon. By the time I hit the hay the boys were completely gone; when I awoke, I found that they'd slipped out of bed and down the stairs without my even noticing--unheard of given what a light sleeper I am. So when it was suggested that I spend another night, I readily agreed.

This visit was a friendly ambush for my mother. Sis picked me up from the airport yesterday and we snuck in while Mom was lunching. Sis gathered up the clothes out of the bathtub while I tossed out three year-old yoghurt from the fridge. But the futon had become an exploded filing cabinet, so rather than force my mom to tidy up on her birthday, I crashed at my sister's again.

All was well until I snuck out to pee six hours after turning in and found the eldest awake. His roused his brother ECI, who took his turn after me and then crawled alongside me in the lower bunk. He was asleep almost instantly and I had five lovely minutes of warmth and peace. Then AWI returned.

He clambered up asked where his brother was; I had to tell him three times ECI had moved down the the lower bunk. He jumped around up there. Then he crawled into bed beside us and spazzed out until he woke up his brother. At first I thought he was just struggling to get comfortable, but when I heard ECI say, "AWI, stop tickling me!" I knew something was up.

I told him several times to lie still or get out of the bed and go downstairs. He left--and then came back with a flashlight to shine in our faces. To drive him from the room, I had to whip out the nuclear option (i.e. "I'ma tell yo momma"). It worked, but by now, any hopes of getting another decent couple of hours were completely dashed.

I never thought I'd say it, but that lumpy futon is starting to look surprisingly good.
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