Monday, October 31, 2011

It's true: You can't go home again.

I was in the sixth grade when I moved to Kansas City with my parents; we had relocated there a couple of times before, but we always ended up going back to north Missouri.  In 1956, we came to stay.  
Two of my dad's brothers lived with their families in tiny apartments in the unincorporated area called "Harlem".  Our actual address was Kansas City;  Harlem wasn't the most desirable place to live.  
There were four apartments in the two-story building where my uncles lived; they were in the first-floor apartments, and we rented one of the two apartments on the second story.  From my parents' bedroom there, I could look across the Missouri River and see the Kansas City skyline, so close I could almost touch it.  I loved seeing the huge coffee can atop the Folgers building.  My favorite, though, was the light on the Kansas City Power and Light building that changed colors all the time.  
I slept on the couch during our short time at the apartment, because there were only three rooms:  a bedroom, a living room, and the kitchen; all the rooms were tiny.  The bathroom was downstairs, and we shared it with other occupants of the building.  I say "bathroom", but there was no bathtub or shower.  Only a sink and a toilet.  I think maybe Uncle Cecil's family had a bathroom of their own.  They had more kids, so they definitely needed it!  
Cliff had some business to take care of in North Kansas City today, and I asked him to take me on a sentimental journey to Harlem.  He's much more willing to do silly things like that, now that he's retired.  

This building sits where the apartment house was.  Notice the street name on the sign:  "Harlem Road".  Looking up the street on the left-hand side of the picture, you can almost see the location of the house my parents bought later on... the first home they ever owned.  

That house sat approximately in this spot.  There are very few people living in Harlem now, although we did find a few.

 Way over there.  Houses!

Cliff turned down the road so we could see whether people lived in them.  Yes, the houses are occupied.  These are the sort of houses I remember seeing in Harlem in 1956.  

Finally, I found something that hasn't changed much!  Harlem Baptist Church.  My cousin Alice used to sing in the choir here, alongside her grandmother.  I wonder who attends nowadays, and where they come from.  There certainly aren't enough people living in Harlem to keep a church going.  
More than anything, I would love to have gone to the top of the levee like I used to so I could take a picture of the skyline as it looks from Harlem.  

However, the levee is fenced off.    

No more walking to the other side of the levee with my Allen cousins.

No more climbing up those steps that lead to the A.S.B. bridge.  

Another one of my harebrained schemes

If you read through the two posts I did about the prison tour, you already know I gave it five stars and a thumbs-up.  Cliff would agree on this.
What you don't know is that I have whined about wanting to go to Jefferson City for at least two years.  Even before I learned about the prison tour, I wanted to visit the State Capitol building, which I had not entered since I was a teenager.  
Cliff said it was another one of my harebrained schemes, and kept putting me off.  
I purchased our tickets for the prison tour a couple of months ago, choosing the noon tour.  As the day approached, I suggested to Cliff that we leave early and visit the Capitol before we went to take our tour; after all, the old prison is only a block or two away from it.  
It's a two-hour drive to Jeff City from here; we arrived around 9:30 A.M.  I told Cliff that gave us about an hour and forty-five minutes to spend in the Capitol building, because we needed to allow time to eat our picnic lunch in the car, and have a cup of coffee from the thermos.  Honestly, I didn't think it would take more than an hour to walk around and look at whatever was there.  

I didn't know there's a Missouri State Museum inside.  This consists of several different rooms on at least two levels.  We made it through one. single. room.  Cliff found it all so fascinating, he read everything there was to read about each exhibit in that room.  

Now, normally I would have been reading right along with him, but I had to remind him every once in awhile that we had to watch the time.  My thoughts were that I'd never get him back to Jefferson City again, so we should take a quick look through all the rooms and be done with it.  
That didn't happen.  
Am I complaining?  No way, because Cliff only went on this day trip to shut me up; he did not expect to enjoy it himself.  Now he is promising me that we will return, and that we'll spend the whole day, if need be, at the State Museum inside the Capitol.  
It happens often:  I come up with an idea for a destination, he calls it a harebrained scheme, and in the end, he enjoys it even more than I do.  Don't try getting him to admit it, though.  That won't happen.  

Elephant Rocks State Park

Last time we were in St. Louis, Charlene and Pat took us on a 130-mile ride through some beautiful country to Elephant Rocks State Park.  

When the Ozark plateau was formed during a great uplifting of the entire area about 250 million years ago, the vertical cracks (or joints) between the rocks became more pronounced. Time and weather took its toll, clearing the weakest pieces out of the joints and laying the immense, oblong blocks of granite bare to the elements. Slowly, the corners were worn away to give the boulders their smooth rounded shape, and trees and shrubs grew in the cracks to help enlarge the joints and wear away the surface of the rock. Physical and chemical weathering has also created circular depressions called tinajitas which hold temporary pools of water and often house tadpoles.
There is no record of the actual number of “elephants” inhabiting the park. Old ones erode away and new elephants wait beneath the cracks and joints of the granite hillside. The park’s pink patriarch, Dumbo, is 27 feet tall, 35 feet long and 17 feet wide, weighing in at a colossal 680 tons!
Anyway, this was something the likes of which Cliff and I had never seen before.  In the 1800's, granite was taken from this place for use in many buildings in St. Louis, and for the governor's mansion in Jefferson City.  Meanwhile, big boulders were left behind to amaze the people in the twenty-first century.
Workers in the 1800's left behind inscriptions in the rocks.

There are paths all over the park, giving easy access to the scenic areas.

Wow, what a view.  This was one spot where I actually saw an elephant.  See the third rock back?  It looks like an elephant's head and trunk.

I wonder if this fellow even imagined that people would be reading his inscription in 2011.

This is my profile picture right now on Facebook.

On the way home, we stopped here to eat.  It may not look like much, but they make a pizza from fresh ingredients that will knock your socks off.   
Keep in mind that Cliff and I are on a budget; we really can't afford to head off to Wyoming, but we surely do have some great places to visit right here in Missouri and the surrounding states.  And that's affordable!

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Interesting facts about the Missouri State Penitentiary

Our tour guide had many stories to tell about people who spent time in the institution during the years it was open, from 1836 to 2004.  Pretty Boy Floyd spent time there after he was apprehended for robbing a bank.  

Sonny Liston once called this cell home.  

The man in this picture, "Firebug" Johnson, kept trying to set fire to the prison.  As a last resort, they put him in the dungeon. 

Yes, a real dungeon.  "Firebug" spent years there.  

Kate Richards O'Hare, a socialist, made the mistake of giving an anti-war speech in 1917; it was against the law to undermine war efforts, so she was sentenced to five years in the Missouri State Prison.  She published two books while she was incarcerated, and finally had her sentence commuted by President Coolidge.  She went on to become the assistant prison director of a California prison.  

James Earl Ray escaped from the prison at Jefferson City in a bread truck, and a  year later shot and killed Martin Luther King.  

The couple who kidnapped and killed Bobby Greenlease in 1953 died side by side in the gas chamber at this prison.  
I heard so many interesting stories yesterday, my mind can't hold them all.  Seriously, if you have the chance, take this tour.  You have to buy the tickets ahead of time on the website, because the group size has to be limited.  We took the two-hour tour; there is also a four-hour tour, but I was afraid it would be more walking than I wanted to do; besides, it cost a lot more money.  Now I almost wish I had gone ahead and spent the money, because I could have listened to the stories all day long.  

 This building opened for business in 1836, the first prison west of the Mississippi.  If only those walls could talk!

Saturday, October 29, 2011

I went to prison today; I ended up in the gas chamber

In Jefferson City, Missouri, there is an old prison you can tour.  It closed in 2004; it's a piece of history that I've wanted to see for a long time.  Today was the day.

 Don't try escaping by way of the Missouri River; the guards will shine lights down there and catch you.

Ah, the cold, gray face of the prison.  I can almost hear Johnny Cash singing "Folsom Prison Blues".

The crowded cells.  

Knives made in secret by conniving inmates, some of which were actually used to kill people.

 You can imagine my trepidation as we approached the (shudder) GAS CHAMBER!

 Suddenly, there I was; and I hadn't even been offered a final meal.  Yes, it seats two, and a few times there were some double gassings.  The two people who kidnapped Bobby Greenlease in 1953 got to die together.  My Russian Friend, Meesha, did an informative entry some time back about the Greenlease kidnapping; click HERE to read it.

When you gotta go, you gotta go  (get gassed, that is).  I jest, but the guy said it was a particularly cruel way to die.

I recommend this tour to everybody!  You will not be sorry.  Our guide worked in the prison from the early seventies until it closed in 2004; he is passionate about the history of the place, and he has fascinating stories to tell.  I took a very short video of him, just so you can see how enthusiastic he is; that enthusiasm never flagged during the whole two-and-a-half hour tour.

The oldest of the buildings on the place was constructed eight years before Custer's last stand.  
You HAVE to go, I tell you!  Click HERE for information.

Friday, October 28, 2011

I'm saving money

When Cliff's sister moved here, she asked him if he'd put up some clotheslines for her.  I quit hanging clothes outside on the line when I went back to work, years ago.  Back about the same time I quit milking all those cows and raising baby calves.  
It was nice to have those clotheslines there, right next door.  I like to hang sheets outside; that's about the only thing I used the lines for, at first.  Then in the last year I decided to get serious:  Unless we are having a series of rainy days, everything now goes on the clothesline.  I have an electric dryer, so I figured I'd be saving a few pennies by not using it.  
About three months ago, I began washing my clothes in tap-cold water, with the exception of the overalls Cliff wears when he's working on tractors and getting all greasy;  my water heater is electric, too.  
Since I pay the same amount year-round on my electric bill ($128 monthly), I wasn't sure how much I was saving, but I knew I had to be making some sort of dent in my overall bill.  
Poking around on the Kansas City Power and Light website where I pay my bill, I found out exactly how much I've saved in the past year, because there's a comparison chart.

On the left is the current year; on the right, the previous year.  Even though last month we had our biggest bill ever, over the year we have reduced our usage by 19% (this information is below the chart).  And I didn't really start waging war on our electrical usage until perhaps mid-summer.   
I wonder if I can do even better next year.

The woman with no face: Part 2

Almost two years ago, I did an entry about Charla Nash, "the woman with no face".  She was brutally attacked by her friend's chimpanzee and badly disfigured and blinded.  She lost both hands.
I've noticed over the past few days an increasing number of folks have been googling "the woman with no face" and ending up on the entry I did about Charla.  A big proportion of these people are in the United Kingdom.
I figured Charla must have been in the news lately in order to stir up this renewed interest.  Perhaps she died?  So I did a little googling of my own.
She's had a successful face transplant.  She received a hand transplant at the same time, but that didn't work out for her.  
So, for all of you visiters looking for information about Charla Nash, here's the update from two months ago.

Also, this news item.

Thursday, October 27, 2011


My ex-daughter-in-law gave me a coupon for a free dinner at Outback; I was delighted, since that's one of my favorite places to eat.  There were stipulations to the coupon:  It must be used Monday through Thursday, and I had two weeks to use it.  
Today is the last opportunity to get my free dinner, and it doesn't look to me like we'll be getting it.  
Of course, it goes without saying that we'd have to buy one dinner, because Cliff is not going to sit in the car while I eat.  Still, we could choose one of the cheaper meals, drink water, and get by for ten bucks; but then the right thing to do is tip the waiter or waitress for two meals, even though you are only paying for one.  Because they are serving two people.  I doubt we'd get out of there for less than $15, and you can buy a lot of beans, canned or frozen vegetables, and bananas for that amount of money.  
Then there's the fact that Outback doesn't open until 4 P.M.  If we eat out, we like to do so at mid-day.  
Besides, we have a freezer full of meat here at home that my Jersey cow has graciously provided us.

 I made sure my hand was in the picture so you can see the size of the roasts we get from a yearling, half-Jersey steer.  It isn't a lot of meat, but then we are two old folks who don't need a lot of meat.

Here it is in a two-quart pan, ready to cook.  
It's amazing how my attitudes about eating out have changed.  We recently met Cliff's cousin and his wife in Sedalia at Golden Corral.  I was eagerly looking forward to all the choices, especially the fattening desserts, since I don't allow myself to make many calorie-laden desserts these days.  
As I considered what I was eating, I realized there was nothing on my plate that was outstanding in taste.  The meat and vegetables were too salty, and the desserts were mediocre.  When given a choice, I usually choose fruit pie and ice cream:  This pie crust wasn't flaky, there weren't enough spices in the apple filling, and the ice cream wasn't really ice cream... more like ice milk.  
I need to pay more attention to what I am eating when a meal is costing us $25.   
Because I wanted to taste decent apple pie one more time before I die, I made one Sunday.  We each had one 1/8 sized piece of pie each day, and then the grandson happened by and helped himself to a bigger piece.  The pie is gone now, but I can honestly say it was a dessert that was worth the calories and the effort.  
Dang it, I could live on apple pie and ice cream.  
Today it's back to red beans and rice.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011


Dave, who blogs at Hyperblogal, decided to be a wise guy and mess with my header.  Maybe my readers will get a smile out of this.

Illinois river ride

We love visiting Cliff's sister and her husband.  It is amazing that a town the size of St. Louis has so many wonderful motorcycle roads within a short drive from the city; Pat and Charlene always have a new route for us to try when we're there.  However, we like to try and sneak in a ride to Mel's, wherever else we might go.

Once you cross the Mississippi River and get through Alton, Illinois, it's a perfect ride along the river.  You can make the ride as long or as short as you like, but we try to ride at least as far as Mel's, which is in the town of Hardin.

This is a bar we passed in Grafton, near the beginning of our river ride.  I personally think it's a bad idea to drive a motorcycle drunk, but I guess people do it all the time.  When we took our motorcycle safety course, we learned that a huge percentage of motorcycle accidents involve alcohol.
There are bars and restaurants all along this highway (Illinois 100) with bands playing and people enjoying life.  There are many places where you can take a ferry across the Mississippi back to Missouri.

As we rode toward Hardin, at least a dozen classic cars about the same vintage as this one passed us.

When we reached Mel's, those cars were in the parking lot.

Cliff especially liked this one.

My header picture

I've received more comments on the above picture, I believe, than any header picture I've ever used.  
The amazing thing about it is that when it was taken, a couple of weeks ago, hardly any leaves had changed in Missouri.  
As we came out of our tent at Lake of the Ozarks State Park that morning, we noticed the reflections on the water and walked down to the lake to take pictures.  If you think the picture is lovely, you should have seen it in person; it was almost breathtaking.
We have noticed that the leaves seem to be prettiest on riverbanks or near lakes.  
Early in the month, I read predictions that mid-October would be the best time for leaf color in Missouri, and that it was to be an outstanding year for pretty autumn foliage.  From what we've seen, the peak color arrived a week later than predicted, and it doesn't seem to be such a great year for pretty foliage.  I think part of the problem is that we had some high winds that stripped some trees before the color could change.   

Monday, October 24, 2011

I've reached Nirvana. I've been to Heaven.

We recently spent some time in St. Louis with Cliff's sister and her husband.  The weather was great, and we rode motorcycles together just like in the old days when they lived nearby.

It was so great to see them riding ahead of us, and to hear that Harley roar.  
But the high point of our ride that day was when we ate dinner at Mel's Illinois Riverdock Restaurant.  Seriously, you need to go there.  Get plane tickets to St. Louis and rent a car.  Drive across the country.  Get a boat and ride up the Mississippi River to Mel's.  I don't care how you get there, but you NEED to go.  
Cliff and I shared a Philly-brisket sandwich.  It was perfect, but the dessert topped anything I've ever eaten in my life:  The best carrot cake in the universe!

By the way, the coffee was perfect too... just strong enough.  Oh, and don't forget the good conversation with our favorite couple.  

However, my dear sister-in-law left this much because she couldn't eat another bite.  Neither could I, or I would have finished it for her.

Cliff finished his.  I had to ask him to stop chewing so I could take this picture.  That's why he looks so silly.  I think he was making fun of me and my camera.  

Do we look like our bellies are full?  Well, trust me:  they are.  
I have instructed my loved ones to scatter my ashes on Mel's parking lot when I'm dead.  Of course, the location of my final resting place changes often, so don't worry if I choose another place tomorrow.  I was seriously under the influence of carrot cake.
If you eat at the Riverdock Diner, be sure to tell them Donna sent you.