New Year – New Year

2015 New Year celebration

As far as end of the year wrap-ups go, I’m going to warn you in advance that this one is going to be a little depressing. For me 2014 was like the last few months of a failing relationship compared to how wonderful my summer romance with 2013 had been. Nothing horrible happened, but nothing remotely wonderful or life changing happened either. The year just never felt right to me, and I never seemed to get my ducks in a row as people are known to say here in the Midwest…

To begin with, I started the year off unemployed after moving back to my home state of Illinois, and although I found a job within a few months at a local newspaper, it took me 8 months to find a job in my field. So with my weekdays full of responsibility and a bank account that reflected my recent trip to Southeast Asia, I stuck close to home when it came to adventures.

Drinking The Kool-Aid

One thing I seemed to do a lot of this year was visit breweries with my beer geek father. Four Hands Brewing, Schlafly, Scratch Brewing Co., Perennial Artisan Ales, Ferguson Brewing Co., Recess Brewing, 4202-Main Street Brewing, and Prison Brews to name a few. I also went to a lot of beer events like the Lupulin Carnival and the Repeal of Prohibition, and was also inducted into my dads beer group… but don’t ask me any questions related to the production – taste – smell – ingredients, because I am quite literally just there for the beer.

Hiking

In an effort to work off all that beer I was drinking, I made multiple visits to both Pere Marquette State Park and Giant City Lodge during the Summer to rediscover my favorite trails and explore a few new ones. Since Illinois is a pretty flat state and neither location is nearby, I couldn’t get out to either as much as I would have liked, but thanks to the mild weather we’ve been experiencing, I was able to enjoy a few nice Fall days with my family at both locations.

Revisiting Local Attractions

Despite what you’ve all be hearing on the news about Saint Louis, it’s actually a pretty great town. Having grown up just 20 minutes from downtown in the “Metro-East”, I’ve been fortunate enough to experience the Gateway to the West an uncountable number of times throughout the years,  and it will always hold a special place in my heart. In the past 12 months I was able to revisit a few local favorites like the Missouri Botanical Gardens, the St. Louis Balloon Glow, and the Art Museum, as well as Cahokia Mounds in Collinsville IL., which I hadn’t been to since I was a child. I had hoped to get a little more local tourism done to share here on the blog with all of you, but got busy and wasn’t able to get everywhere I would have liked.

Heading To Jail

I also had the opportunity to visit the Missouri State Penitentiary in Jefferson City while my parents and I were visiting one of my brothers in Columbia, MO. Since I love old buildings – the ruined the better – it was the perfect place for me. Despite the hot day and even hotter interior, the rest of the family seemed to agree that it was an interesting tour. If you’re in the area I’d suggest checking it out.

Outside of all the things listed above, I also stayed up late to witness one of the many Blood Moons that happened this year, and got to tick off another item on my bucket list by completing the AFI 100 Years 100 Movies list. Unfortunately for me, this is where the happy part of the year ends. I actually just lost my job at the beginning of the week, and will now be ending my year the same way it began… unemployed.

While I find it a little ironic that I’m now closing out 2014 the same way I ushered it in, I can only hope that the new year will bring along all the possibilities and good fortune we hope for at the close of a less than fantastic year. As I prepare to celebrate the new year tonight and my 27th birthday on the 4th, it’s more than a little hard for me to admit that I’ve never felt more lost in all my life… even the time I drove around lost in Vietnam for hours pales in comparison to this. As of the moment I’m typing this sentence, I’m not sure what I’m going to do next, but will be sure to keep you all posted when I figure it out.

Wishing you all a very Happy and Prosperous New Year!!

Cheers – Susan

STL Balloon Glow

This past weekend St. Louis held its annual Great Forest Park Balloon Race in… well Forest Park. While the race itself takes place on Saturday – which isn’t so much a race as a contest to see which balloon can land closest to the Energizer Bunny balloon they’re all chasing at the start – a huge part of the event takes place Friday night. This is when the balloon glow happens.

The hot air balloons are set up in the center of some baseball diamonds near a tree-less section of the park, with stands for food and various vendors surrounding them. As the sun goes down, the illumination of the balloons being lit up is hard to ignore as you sit in traffic looking for a place to park… and you will be sitting in traffic. Trust me. The balloon glow is popular, so you should expect to see cars lining the roads in Forest Park hours before the event even begins. If you arrive just before it starts, while it’s happening, or just in time for the fireworks finale, you’ll probably be sitting in traffic. If that doesn’t seem appealing, then find a legal place to park (business owners will tow cars) and enjoy the walk. Luckily the weather this time of year is perfect for it.

With that being said this is a really great FREE event for people of all ages, especially photographers. You’re bound to have fun, and whether you’re armed with a fancy camera or a cell phone and Instagram like me, you’ll come away with some good memories and hopefully a few good photos.

 

 

Missouri State Penitentiary

Last weekend my parents and I took a family trip to visit one of my older brothers in Columbia, Missouri. The original plan was for my father and I to attend a beer event, but since he didn’t even attempt to purchase our tickets until the very last-minute, we had a free afternoon to kill instead. Since none of us had ever been the Jefferson City, MO. (which just happens to be Missouri’s capital fyi), we decided to make the 30 minute commute and spend the afternoon as tourists.

It was another sweltering Midwestern summer day in a series of sweltering Midwestern days, so with temperatures reaching well into the triple digits our options dwindled down to anything we thought might not result in four large puddles of Duncan-sized goo. I guess that’s why we decided to hit the slammer, visit the clink, or rather take a tour of the Missouri State Penitentiary.

Almost immediately you get the impression that this prison is both incredibly old and rundown. There are noticeable scars along the outside of the building, crumbling walls, broken bricks, and looming facades that make you feel much smaller than you had been upon exiting your car. I guess all of this makes sense in context though, considering that the original building to this prison was built between 1834 and 1836 when it officially opened its doors and accepted its first inmate.

In its current closed and sort of run-down state this prison is massive, which only added fuel to my excitement as we made our way inside. We were lucky enough to arrive just in time for the final tour of the day, but as it turns out the prison was never equipped with air-conditioning in its 168 years of operation, so it was just as hot inside the thick brick walls as it was outside.

After paying the admission fee of $12.00 per person and signing the required waiver, our tour began with some history about the original building and early days of the prison. As I said before, the prison opened in 1836 when it received its first and only prisoner, and grew to hold 52,000 inmates at its peak. Apparently in its early days of operation, the facility only employed a handful of people and the number of prisoners soon far outweighed the number of guards and staff members. We weren’t allowed to tour the front half of the prison where the women were once held, so we soon moved on to the oldest section of the prison still standing, known as A-Hall.

From everything I could gather from our tour, A-Hall seemed to be where a large portion of prisoners were housed up until the facility closed. In the early years of its operation, prison overcrowding forced up to 9 individuals to share a single cell. Having been inside dozens of them during our tour, I can tell you that they’re even smaller than they appear to be in photos. I could easily stretch my arms out and take up 3/4 of the space, and can hardly imagine how more than three people could fit inside comfortably.

After a lengthy set of stories and history from our guide, we were allowed to wander around all three stories of A-Hall, which once even housed the famous boxer Sonny Liston among many others. This cell block was made of solid concrete and metal with thick walls, peeling paint, and narrow passageways. There were paintings on both the furniture and walls, windows flooded in light, and thick air that seemed to be standing still. All in all this was not the kind of place you’d want to spend any length of time in.

A-Hall is even home to a “dungeon” in the basement where prisoners were locked in complete darkness for days at a time. We spent about 2 minutes standing in a cell with the lights out, and after having done so it’s easy to understand how multiple days of this could lead to insanity as was often reported among the inmates unlucky enough to be held downstairs.

Next we headed outside to hear a few stories about riots, escape attempts, fires, and forced labor before moving on to Housing Unit 3 (or maybe it was 1 … I can’t remember). This building actually resembled a modern-day prison, but like a really out-of-date one with a 1920’s tile job and paint peeling off of every surface. I honestly can’t remember anything that was said about this building except that it’s most famous prisoner was James Earl Ray.

Ray was sent to prison in 1966 for robbing a grocery store in St. Louis and escaped in a bakery truck the following year. Unfortunately Ray was never caught, and assassinated Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968. Apart from James Earl Ray and Sonny Liston, who I mentioned earlier, the prison was also home to gangster “Pretty Boy” Floyd and once even housed Blanche Barrow, who was the sister-in-law of Clyde Barrow – as in the now infamous Bonnie and Clyde.

Despite all the stories we were told, there was really only one that stuck out in my memory. In 1954 there was a HUGE riot at the prison which gained national attention and placed its policies and treatment of prisoners under scrutiny. Once everything had calmed down and peace was restored, a committee was then brought in to evaluate the prison. They found the prison to be outdated and recommended it be closed immediately. The prison didn’t officially closed its doors until 2004, a lengthy 50 years after it that recommendation was made.

Botanical Gardens and Art Museums

Since it’s finally Spring and nice weather has made the outside world tolerable again, my mother and I decided to take advantage of the beautiful day and spend an entire Saturday doing the things we both love to do.

Up first on our itinerary, was the Missouri Botanical Gardens in St. Louis. Because of the nice weather the place was crowded, so after finding a place to park and waiting in line for tickets we finally made our way inside. Now if you’ve never been to the Botanical Gardens, or even to St. Louis for that matter and love flowers, I highly recommend going. Right now there are many varieties of tulips, daffodils, azaleas, tree peony’s and dogwoods in bloom, and the place looks beautiful.

Mixed among the planters full of beautiful flowers are various statues, blown glass sculptures, fountains, and box hedge mazes which help add to the beauty surrounding you. There are also quite a few buildings to keep your interest, like a small lighthouse, the climatron with a tropical rain forest inside, and my mother’s favorite, the Tower Grove house which was built in 1849.

Another interesting section of the Botanical Gardens is the Japanese Garden. It has perfectly raked rock gardens, lotus flowers (which sadly aren’t in bloom until Summer), pagodas, a large pond full of koi fish who seem to be well fed, and not one but two iconic bridges. A lot of its flowering bushes and trees didn’t seem to be in bloom right now, but regardless the winding walkways and fresh smells of Spring were plenty of reason to enjoy this section of the gardens.

Since we were in a hurry to get to our next destination, the Japanese garden would be our last stop at the Botanical Gardens, but not before a few more flowers and sculptures along the path and a pass by the children’s area where there seems to be no lack of activity to keep little ones entertained.

Next we made our way to the St. Louis Art Museum, which proved harder to get to than usual thanks to a combination of nice weather and a large event taking place in Forest Park. Nevertheless, we made it with plenty of time to spare and purchased our tickets to the current exhibition of Impressionist France. Because of the great masters featured inside that are on loan to the museum, photography wasn’t allowed, so instead I will tell you wholeheartedly that if you love the work of masters such as Claude Monet, Edouard Manet, Edgar Degas, and Camille Pissarro then you’ll enjoy this exhibit.

There is also a lot of interesting and beautiful photography from 19th century France by the likes of individuals such as Gustave Le Gray who focused on seascapes and nautical scenes, and Charles Marville who captured the narrow streets and alleyways of a modern and industrialized Paris. The exhibit will be running until July 6, and is worth checking out if you’re in the area.

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Straight out of the exhibit, I practically dragged my mother to another beautiful piece of Impressionism which is always on display at the art museum, and is a personal favorite of mine. It really needs no introduction, but to be thorough I’ll introduce it anyway. The above is one of three panels of Monet’s Water Lilies, and is much more beautiful in person than it appears to be in the photo I took above with my phone (my camera’s batteries had sadly died by this point in the day).

After a respectful, yet not creepy amount of time feeling lost inside the beauty both created and captured by Monet, we made our way through a few sections of the museum including the decorative arts and design, arms and armor, European art, and American art collections before leaving just before the museum closed. We concluded our outing with dinner at Blueberry Hill in the Loop before heading home and finishing our evening off with some wine.

 

Repealing Prohibition

Although Prohibition was officially repealed in the United States on December 5, 1933, I found myself at Schlafly in downtown St. Louis this weekend, on a beautiful spring day celebrating my right to drink 81 years later.

To give you a little background, a nation wide ban on alcohol (prohibition) took place in the U.S. between 1920 and 1933 as covered under the 18th amendment to our constitution. After proving to be unsuccessful with known speakeasies in every city, the illegal transportation of alcohol from Canada, and widespread distilling taking place across the country, president Franklin D. Roosevelt signed a bill in March of 1933 to legalize beer and wine with low percentages of alcohol. A few months later in December, the addition of the 21st amendment ratified the 18th amendment and made spirits, hard liquors, and all beer and wine legal across the country.

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Taken from New York Daily News website

Now as I’ve mentioned before, my father and I have a mutual love of beer and often bond at beer events. This occasions is no exception, and although I wasn’t sure what to expect, I agreed to go with him and a family friend. We arrived to find the event in full swing under a large tent outside Schlafly’s Bottleworks location, and couldn’t wait to go inside. The event was crowded, so crowded in fact that you couldn’t hear the live jazz music playing or walk through the crowd without almost walking into someone. While this event seemed to feature fewer breweries than most my father and I attend, the extensive selection of Schlafly brews, and the other breweries featured had an excellent selection and made finding a drink easy to do.

 

SchlaflyGlassNow the last thing I’m going to say is that if you ever find yourself in St. Louis, you have to make a point to visit either Schlafly location (Taproom or Bottleworks) and grab a drink. It’s a local brand, and although their beers have extended past the borders of St. Louis, their delicious food has not. Even if they’re not hosting an event, Schlafly is well worth a visit and should make every travelers list when visiting St. Louis.