Monday, November 15, 2010

Today Is My Son's Birthday: He is 33 Years Old!

Today is my son's birthday.  He is 33 years old.  I remember 33 years ago today.  You just don't forget days like that.  The birth of a son. 

Today his children sleep upstairs.  Today his wife waits in the hospital for his third child to be born.

Today he is in somewhere in Helmand Province in Afganistan.  With his men.  With his Marines. 

Today I am proud of my son. 

Before this extraordinary day Clint came home for a visit before leaving.  And we did ordinary things.  Watched OU play UC.  Racked leaves.  Watched Reeder at her gymnastics class.  Ate together.  Found our pumpkins for Halloween.  Together.  Ordinary times. Together.

And now we wait.  For Clint's children to awaken.  For Clint's third baby to be born.  For Clint to return home. 

Our map is in the dining room.

Our Blue Star is on our door.

We wait.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

It's Football Season in Ohio!

One of the really, really, really wonderful things about being back in Ohio is living so close to our niece Kelly and her beautiful family.  What joy they bring to our lives!  They live in the picturesque midwestern town of Bluffton about a 2 hour drive north from Cincinnati.  We look for excuses to visit!  One of our very favorite visits is in the fall when we join them for a high school football game!  Our very own "Friday Night Lights"!Now I need to brag a bit!  Our nephew-in-law is one of the coaches- so we're rather like "insiders" when we visit.  Even better, when we go to Bluffton for a game we always get to sit right on the 50 yard line right under the "press box".  They are the best seats in the house and they belong to Kelly and Pat, but we get to sit there.

But enough of the chatter- and off to the game! Of course there is the marching band!  And they are really, really good!

And huddles with the guys!

And here is Pat running off the field after a little "on field chat"!

And we all bundled up to stay warm!

And then on Saturday morning we were up early and off to volleyball with Darby! Well just maybe Don, Kelly, Lucas and me stopped off for coffee while Darby was warming up!  Nothing like the "Common Grounds" sitting at the corner of Main and Cherry streetes, just two blocks from Kelly & Pat's house.

And look at Darby play!

And of course her favorite fans!


Kelly took us on a tour of the Ricky Matter Strength and Fitness Center on the Bluffton campus.  Kelly directs the strength and endurance training for the young female athletes at Bluffton High School.  When Max and I were in high school no one would have ever thought that girls would be caught in a weight room improving their strength and endurance.  Weight rooms were in the basement where the wrestlers tried to sweat off that last few ounces so they could make weight for their next match.   But Bluffton has an absolutely wonderful fitness center built in honor of Ricky Matter, a young athlete who was tragically killed in a car wreck his freshman year.  The city rallied to his memory and built this fitness center and this year paid off the mortgage after only a few short years of fund raising.

"Morning After" the Friday night game!

But of course the best part is just always "hanging" with the family!  Always the best reason for a drive up north!

PS: Our grandniece Bailey started high school this year and is playing on the varsity girls basketball team.  We see many, many, many more trips north in our future!  Bailey is a real varsity prospect even though this is her freshman year.  She has worked hard all summer to recover from knee surgery and then to be the first of this year's team to complete a workout routine involving 20,000 shots in basketball.  She has great potential and desire, and that's what it takes to be great.  We are really looking forward to watching her develop over these next four years of high school basketball.  Our first game to see Bailey is coming up in early December.

Our girls!

The guys aren't so bad either, just busy and a little shy.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Minnesota Road Trip, take two

Our desire to go to Saint Paul and visit our niece Amy was very disappointing last July, We had great plans, but all were dashed by the untimely and very much too soon passing of my brother, Bill. So our trip last July turned into a a detour on our way to Oklahoma for Bill's funeral.
This time we planned the trip again for a long weekend leaving Cincinnati on Thursday, staying at a Bed and Breakfast near Madison, WI and then spending the weekend with Amy in Saint Paul. This time the trip was completed as planned, well almost.
The first day's drive to Stoughton, WI was uneventful and the Bed and Breakfast was just as expected-wonderful!  I just love, love, love to stay at different Bed and Breakfast's when we travel- each so unique- and the food is usually outstanding! The host was a gay old gent who loved to cook and make people feel welcome. We had dinner at the local "best of Stoughton" and then retired for a good nights sleep and then a wonderful breakfast from our host Carl. The drive to Saint Paul was a scenic 4 hour drive north across Wisconsin before finally crossing into Minnesota and Saint Paul. Amy was at home when we arrived making an apple pie in the kitchen. Max and I realized the situation and moved into the kitchen to help. Now Amy didn't need a lot of help.  She'd already done the hard part- the crust.  But we arrived in time for Don to chop the apples- with Amy's supervision of course!  I can follow directions.

A 30th birthday party for a neighbor was planned for the evening and Amy was in charge of the desserts. We ended up making two apple pies and a French Silk Pie. No problem for two great cooks and one peeler, chopper and cleaner upper (me).

And Amy and Don didn't mind at all licking the beaters from the French Silk Pie Filling!

And look how fantastic Amy's Apple Pies are! Notice the "30" on the lattice pie! Not only did they look great- but they tasted even better!

A party with Lucas' friends is always a treat. She has developed a neighborhood that is more like a social club. Her porch is the center of activity and folks seem to gravitate there for libations, talk, laughter, and just plain socializing. Even better, they are all just really nice people who welcomed us just like we lived next door. From that first night last summer just sitting on the porch- talking and laughing until way past our bedtime- we've just felt right at home.  It wasn't long this time until the neighbors had gathered and we were "at home" again.

And we mustn't forget the gorilla in the room- well rather the yard- the neighbor's yard!

Amy and Don getting "in the mood" for the party!

But this trip Lucas had plans to show us more than her neighbohood.

But before we were out and about we started the day with a great breakfast of Lucas' French toast and coffee.

Amy is a wonderful cook!  And we really got to enjoy that this trip!

After breakfast we headed out to explore the Twin Cities. The first stop was the Mill Museum. If you look at a map of St. Paul/Minneapolis, you will see that the Mississippi River flows right through the middle of the Twin Cities, and it is this river that provided the energy to build these cities. Little did I know that there was a natural water fall, the only one on the Mississippi, right in Minneapolis. It is now well contained and stabalized by concrete, but in the early years the St. Anthony Falls and the drop in the River was channeled to drive turbines that fueled the development of flour mills. That, along with the railroad James Hill built to the northwest, resulted in establishing the iconic names of General Mills, Gold Medal Flour, and Pillsbury. The railroads brought in the wheat and the river provided the energy to mill the wheat into flour. The amazing thing is that those mills didn't use electricity to drive the mills, the turbines were connected to a main drive belt that drove other belts that milled the wheat, collected the dust, drove the augars that moved the wheat, and packaged the finished flour. We toured the museum that was built upon the last active mill.  This mill was closed in 1965 and the building abandoned and then in 1991 the building was finally destroyed by an explosion and fire.
The Mill is absolutely fascinating!  I loved it!

We took the tour and really enjoyed hearing the story, seeing the displays, and looking at the views of the river.

And I loved these views DOWN, onto the patio.  It looked like a "50s" Barbie house!

I couldn't help but take the picture below.  We were high above they they seemed to be doing a photo shoot of pictures for Halloween.  Her little brother was in the eye of the camera
And the views of the river and the locks from the top of the Mill were pretty spectacular.

 The sign still stands and the brand still exists, but the Mill is just a shell.

And after the tour, Max worked hard to stimulate the economy by investing heavily in the museum gift shop. It was no doubt a perfect storm of a person who loves to bake in a museum store packed with everything baking. I tried to show restraint- but it was hard- why it was a "gift" shop with me in mind!

But we were not done- oh no!  We were only getting started.  Next it was to the Guthrie Theater and the elevator to the top for the absolutely stunning views!

The windows are tinted yellow so the place has this surreal feeling of being both real- and fantasy.

Then Saturday night we were off first for drinks in the Saint Paul Hotel. As you see, Amy was NOT WEARING sensible shoes... I was of course wearing sensible shoes!

And then we were off to Mancini's for dinner!  Mancini's was all we expected it to be, an old standard Italian restaraunt featuring steaks, red leather booths, a local band playing oldies with a few oldies also dancing, and purely native waitresses.  The menu was simple, the food was ample, and quickly served.

And you'd think we'd be done by now!  But not when we go to St. Paul!  We had one last stop (we were taking cabs this night- must have that designated driver!).  We finished off at Cafe Latte for desert!

And then we were up Sunday ready to start again!  There are just so many places that you really must see in St. Paul/Minneapolis!  And we tried to see as many as we could!
We started with breakfast in Hell's Kitchen!  Now here is a true dining adventure!  And the food was so amazing!  The homemade peanut butter was like a dream come true! I was so busy eating- and also being quite overwhelmed with the ambience- that I really didn't get any good pictures of the restaurant- but it was so much fun eating breakfast at the bar!  We were in the FAR SIDES room- what fun- the wall was covered- absolutely covered with the FAR SIDES cartoons- all with a "hell" theme!

Now I just have to tell you of Mitch Omar- the owner and creative force behind this amazing resaurant (his story is amazing - I bought the cookbook- and then read much of it in one sitting when I arrived back in Cincy- and am totally overwhelmed with the strength- intelligence- creativity of this beautiful man- you can read about his amazing life here!)  I'm a big fan! And can't wait for another visit on my return trip the Twin Cities!

And then we were off....

Check out the "empty suit"- think we've all met this person at some time in our life.  "Knock, Knock- who's there"....

And then finally to the James Hill HouseThe previously mentioned James Hill who built the rail roads to the northwest that brought in all of that wheat.  He was was one of those railroad barons who made millions and then built the biggest and most expensive house in Saint Paul.  We took the tour and it was amazing what they built in the early 1900's.  His house was the first in Saint Paul to have electricity.  And since he was a railroad man, the basement had two large boilers that looked somewhat like steam engines from a train that supplied heat to the house, and of course there was someone shoveling coal into those boilers on those cold Minnesota nights.

Well by now we were feeling just a bit tired...So decided we'd save some things for our next trip to Amy's.  We spent the rest of the day just watching movies and then eating pizza from Pizza Luce of course! I know you can't believe we were still had room to eat yet another meal.  I think I established a new personal best for great meals consumed in one short space of time!

But don't be mislead- what makes our trip north is our beautiful niece Amy- and the joy she brings.  Adventures with her just seem that much brighter- that much more interesting- that much more beautiful!  How very grateful we are! I'll never be sure if the Twin Cities is one of the most amazing places to visit- or rather if the world just somehow is a bit different when viewing from the bright light that shines upon it when you experience it with Amy!  Regardless, as long as Amy is there we will go back.