Friday, October 15, 2010

Rock Eddy Bluff Farm

A few years ago, our friends Dona and Paul took a rustic vacation to a little place called Rock Eddy Bluff Farm which is located near Dixon, MO along the Gasconade River. After they talked so positively about the time that they spent there, I'd always wanted to go. We finally got the chance last weekend and we had a wonderful time! We rented Turkey Ridge Cottage, an intimately roomy three bedroom cabin with most of the modern conveniences except TV (actually, there is one in one of the bedrooms but it's mostly a DVD player for the kids). Oh, and Turkey Ridge has no internet access! Admittedly, I have a cell phone with a data plan so my email, news, and Facebook was never too far away :) But, really, you don't need to be plugged in while you're here. It's beautiful. It's peaceful. It's isolated. It begs you to relax and cleanse your body and soul. I highly recommend going. In fact, I know that we'll go back again this winter. I'm sure that it will be even lovelier. For those of you that might an even more rustic experience, like our friends Dona and Paul, you can rent one of two cabins that are much more primitive and off the grid. Your choice. Either way, just go. You won't regret it.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Book Review: Love is a Mix Tape by Rob Sheffield

Rob Sheffield's book is part memoir, part pop culture non-fiction. While the memoir part (Sheffield writes about his relationship with his wife and her unexpected death) touched me, much more than I expected it would, it was the pop culture, mix tape part that really, truly spoke to me. All those mix tapes! Many made, many received. Wow. The musical memories that this book brings back. But not just those formed around mix tapes. I remember whole albums that defined certain periods in my life; those that intensified specific moments or emotions. Certain singles, too, have had the same effect. Wow, again. That music has always been important in my life is entirely unquestionable. That I never realized how intertwined it is to my memories is surprising. Who knew that my life had a soundtrack! I'm not sure how this book ended up on my must-read list and why, once it did, it was ordered immediately. But I'm so glad that it did.

Friday, October 01, 2010

Better Late Than Never

Here are the photos from our Henske family Labor Day celebration at Bandana's Barbecue. Like Mom Henske said, "It is always fun to let Bandana's do all the labor."

Saturday, September 04, 2010

Book Review: The Old Man Who Read Love Stories by Luis Sepulveda

This summer I reread one of my favorite books of all time, The Old Man Who Read Love Stories. This novel is two things: a simple story about an old man, who does read romance novels, who is called upon to save his village after an ocelot begins killing its inhabitants and, much, much more subtlety, a fable about the destruction of the rain forest. Whatever your feelings about either of those things, you must read it because it is quite simply one of the most vivid, straightforward, and beautifully, beautifully written pieces of fiction that I have ever read.

P.S. I just learned that this novel was made into a movie in 2001 starring Richard Dreyfus. It appears to have had a limited release abroad. Although I am tempted to see it, I probably won't. I don't want to ruin how my mind already imagines the old man and the rain forest to be. But, if you see it, let me know what you think.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Been Lazy, Been Busy Part III

Not only did we have a great time celebrating a birthday this summer but we also received the super exciting news that Bill's youngest brother and his wife, Joe and Lauren, are expecting their first child at the end of January. (I attached the announcement from Joe's new position for those of you that haven't seen it yet via Facebook). Joe and Lauren, who are relocating back to Chicago from Nashville, visited recently St. Louis so the local Henskes took the opportunity to celebrate with them.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Been Lazy, Been Busy Part II

In July, Mom Henske celebrated a birthday so we decided to celebrate it Obama-style by going to Pi Pizzeria in Kirkwood for a special pizza lunch. We all also admired (and posed for a number of photos around and with) the beautifully tasty trademarked Garfield and friends cookie bouquet sent to Mom Henske from Aunt Pat in El Paso.

Caught Giving Their Best Gorilla Impression (4 Above)

Pi Pizzeria is Fun! (3 Above)

Lovin' the Cookies! (4 Above)

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Been Lazy, Been Busy Part I

Wow. This summer has come and gone. Yeah, I know, I say that every year. But, this year it is with a little more regret than usual. I had several big goals for this summer that went unfulfilled. One was to get into shape (at least a little). Failed. One was to be a more active blogger. Failed. One was to get around town and do more (hence the goal to be a more active blogger). Failed. One was to read a few more books. Failed. That said, it was a great, great summer too so I have lots to share with you. Here is what I'll call "Been Lazy, Been Busy, Part I."

(Above) The annual World's Largest Catsup Bottle Festival is always a small-town hoot! Here's our yearly "Willa as a Bottle of Catsup" photo. Enjoy.

(Above) We saw the exhibit "The Mourners, Tomb Sculptures from the Court of Burgundy" at the St. Louis Art Museum. How was it? Small and wonderfully carved and detailed sculptures. (Photo courtesy of France 24 International News)

(Three Above) Family fun on a beautiful night outside the St. Louis Art Museum/Art Hill after seeing the exhibit.

(Three Above) Annual rocket launch at Forest Park with the Misslefits Rocketry Club. Willa's rocket, Tammy, was awarded her second trophy for excellence. Sadly, this was Tammy's last flight as she landed, about 20 feet above ground level, in a big Oak tree in Forest Park and could not be retrieved :(

(Above) I learned how to make spring rolls, as well as some other yummy vegetarian delights, from some awesome local chefs at the Vegetarian Cooking retreat at MABA. I loved that the focus was on vegetarian eating, sustainability, eating locally & organically, and eating for sustenance. (Photo from Floyd the Food Guy)

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Writers Workshop

Recently, Bill and I participated in a writers workshop that was jointly sponsored by our district and the Clayton school district. I signed up, eager to learn about the writers notebook, the writers workshop, and to work on crafting my own personal writing. I can say, without a doubt, that the workshop was everything that I hoped it would be. Very, very worthwhile. Bill. Well, Bill says that he signed up because he was, as we call it in my district, voluntold. Voluntold, for those of you not familiar with the word, is when you think that your participation is a voluntary but it is not. Happens all the time in my district. So the workshop? Not off to a good start for Bill. But he went with a positively neutral attitude, after all, we were also getting paid to attend. Still, I think that he enjoyed it. And, his writing was some of the best received during the two weeks. Thinking that he might have had a change of heart about the experience, I asked if he would go again next year. You can probably guess what his answer was. If not, here it is: NO.

If you are interested in reading more about writing, the writers notebook, or the writers workshop, these three books listed are a good starting point.

Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg - This book is a great place for the beginner writer, or even one in need of a refresher, to start thinking about the writing process, specifically the creative, getting-going part of the writing process. Goldberg gives the reader useful advice, encouragement, and inspiration. When I finished her book, I felt like I could write anything. But, as a warning, I should mention that Goldberg can be a little warm & fuzzy and philosophical. Initially, I found her style a bit off putting but I got beyond it and enjoyed what she had to say.

The Writer's Notebook by Ralph Fletcher - Ralph Fletcher is a big name in the world of writing and the writers notebook so I thought it fitting that I read at least one of his books during the workshop. In this book, Fletcher talks writers notebook - what it is, what it isn't, how to use it, how not to use it. Very, very helpful information if you are considering starting/using a writers notebook. Fletcher's book is geared toward teachers of elementary-middle grades but don't let that stop you from reading this even if you're not in the target audience. It is a quick, easy, but worthwhile read.

Nonfiction Craft Lessons, Teaching Information Writing Grades K-8 by Joann Portalupi and Ralph Fletcher - If you teach nonfiction, informational writing this is a great resource. It's written for the elementary/middle grades but the material and lessons are universal. In the first part of the book, the authors set up the nonfiction writing process. Lots of useful step by step instructions with great descriptions and suggestions for teachers. Even if you consider yourself sufficiently schooled in the art of teaching nonfiction writing, this book is a solid reminder of the process and how it should be done. The second half of the book consists of mini-lessons that you can use in the classroom to scaffold kids writing and help them become successful writers of nonfiction. This part is divided into two parts, K-4 and 5-8. I only read the 5-8 section and found the information to be very relevant to me on a professional (teacher of 11th graders) and personal (writer of nonfiction) level.

Saturday, July 03, 2010

Tower Grove Farmers Market

We finally made it to the market for the first time this summer! In July! I can't believe that it took so long for us to get there. Great experience as usual. Fresh produce, fresh cheeses, fresh meats, and freshly made food, coffee, tea, and other other edible treats. And, I can't forget the great artisans too! The market's grown a lot over the years. More vendors and larger crowds. They also have yoga outside at the back side of the pavilion at 9am each Saturday. I've never been but I hear that they've had nearly 100 people every Saturday. That must be an amazing sight to see! There's also entertainment; today a bluegrass band was playing. I'd be remiss if I didn't also mention the wading pool and fountain. The pool and the possibility of running into school and neighborhood friends is the only way that we can get Willa excited about going. We mostly looked around today. Since we garden too there isn't a whole lot at the market that we don't already have growing in our backyard. Today, we brought home fresh goat cheese, green beans, corn, and peaches.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Creamy Jello Treat

The family walked to Jay's International Grocery on Grand Avenue the other night. The custom is that, in addition to the stuff that's on the list, each person gets to pick out one item that goes unchallenged (legality and safety being the exceptions of course). As you might guess, this item typically ends up being some sweet treat. Bill picked a black licorice candy bar. Winner! I picked a chocolate and coconut candy bar -- like Mounds but without the high fructose corn syrup. Also a winner! Willa's pick? A box of strawberry flavored DoFu. That's right, DoFu. As you can see in the photos above DoFu is a creamy jello-like product that is prepared in the same way as jello except you add milk. I say "jello-like" because DoFu is actually made from seaweed, not jello and not tofu (as I had originally suspected). The box directions recommend that you serve DoFu with fruit or whipped cream. We didn't have any fruit in the house that would complement the DoFu and the whipped cream in the frig was pretty much a relic from the Cold War. Having no other garnishing options, we dug into the DoFu au naturel. So, how did it taste? Take a look at Willa's expression in photo #4. Yes, it was that bad.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Upcoming Events

Willa and Bill at the City Garden, June 2010

I typically write about things that I do after I've done them. This works out well for two reasons: #1, most things that I do are ongoing kind of events (meaning that you still have time to do them if you feel so inclined after reading my post) and #2, most of you are probably getting your ideas and inspirations about what to do in and around St. Louis on your own so you don't need advance notice. That said though, I do like to occasionally post things here that I'm going to do in the future when there are a lot of them coming up. So, here's my big, but still brief, list of summer activities. Maybe something will catch your attention.

1. Circus Flora. We actually went last Saturday but I encourage you to go if you haven't as it is, as always, a visually stunning and impressive experience. Circus Flora is definitely a local cultural gem. Oh, and this is the last week so hop to it!

2. Off Broadway Kids Concert Series. We're seeing Justin Roberts and the Not Ready for Naptime Players this Saturday. Most of these concerts were initially free but due to their overwhelming popularity you now have to get tickets in advance. Yay! for musicians making money! And, yay! that kids music doesn't suck anymore!

3. Whitaker Music Festival 2010. The Whitaker Music Festival at the Missouri Botanical Garden is always a summer favorite in St. Louis. If you don't make it to at least one concert a summer you're a, well, er, you're missing out. We're planning on meeting some friends to see the Dogtown Allstars on July 7th.

4. While we're talking music, here are a few other free music venues that we're planning to hit up this summer. First, at the St. Louis Zoo is the Jungle Boogie Friday Night Concert Series. Lots of bands in their lineup so you're sure to find something that you like. Then, our friend and fab music educator, Lori Burkhardt, plays sax in the University City Summer Concert Band. They play mostly on Tuesdays nights and are a lot of fun to go and see in the Loop. Next up, and much closer to our home, in Tower Grove Park (although they play in St. Louis parks all over the city), you'll find the Compton Heights Band playing on Musical Mondays during the summer. We're especially excited about the July 5th concert -- cannons and Sousa! If you haven't been, bring a chair or blanket and enjoy the show. There are actually many, many other free venues and concert series in St. Louis to go and hear great music. These are just the ones that I plan to attend. If you have a free favorite, drop me a line so I can check it out!

5. Speaking of Tower Grove Park, my neighborhood park (yes, I'm bursting with pride about this lovely treasure!), there are a ton of fun things to do here this summer. You can check their website for details but here are a few of the things that you'll see me doing - For the kids, you have the playgrounds, wading pool and pop jets. There is also the weekly Children's Concert Series on Wednesday mornings at 9:30am. In addition to the Compton Heights Musical Mondays, you can do monthly outdoor movie nights at the pool pavilion, the Tower Grove Farmer's Market on Saturday mornings, carriage rides, have lunch at Cafe Madeleine (in historic Piper Palm House where Bill and I were married!) or an alfresco Farmers Market Dinner on Thursdays on the Plaza. And, these are just the regularly scheduled events in the park. There are many super single event activities in the park as well.

6. St. Louis PrideFest. This is super fun event! And, gay or not, it's a great way to support LGBT's and show solidarity. We especially like the parade, which is at noon on Sunday. Yes, as in this Sunday, June 27th. Check out their website for the festival details. My helpful hints? Go early to get a good spot, bring lots of water to keep you hydrated, and wear sunscreen!

7. Also, at Tower Grove Park is the Festival of Nations on August 28th and 29th for "the region’s premier multicultural celebration, featuring more than 40 ethnic food booths,non-stop dance and music, children’s arts and crafts, and an international bazaar with unique gifts from around the world." Great fun but excellent, excellent food! Come early because the food vendors routinely sell out.

8. LouFest Music Festival. New this year to St. Louis is the LouFest in Forest Park on August 28th and 29th (same weekend at the Festival of Nations). As their website states: 2 days, 2 stages, 18 bands. Sounds promising.

9. Frontyard Features. A new trend in the last few years in St. Louis has been watching movies outdoors. FYF shows movies all over the St. Louis area while Laumeier Sculpture Park has been hosting its own 2010 Music + Movies every Friday well. For more information about other outdoor movies (and theatre too) click here.

10. The Muny. The 2010 season looks like a winner! Especially for kids and kids at heart! Beauty and the Beast is running now through the 30th of June. I would have liked to have seen this one myself. Never having seen the Disney movie before I think that it might have enjoyed it more. But, I don't think that we'll get to the Muny before the 30th. We are, though, thinking about seeing Cats in July. Willa loves the musical Cats. She's only watched the filmed version starring Elaine Page and John Mills so seeing it live should be a visual treat. Willa also loves The Sound of Music. Do-re-mi! Love that song. Have you seen the flash mob doing this one in Belgium? Click here if you haven't! This is so much fun! But back to Willa. She's only seen the Julie Andrews version of Sound but, I think, would really enjoy seeing it performed live. It runs in July as well.

11. City Garden. Love, love this place! We've already been a number of times this year and will go a hundred more before summer is over. And, this year, I vow to visit the Terrace View restaurant.

12. St. Louis Art Museum. The new main exhibit is called The Mourners: Tomb Sculptures from the Court of Burgundy. Can't quite figure out if this show will be an interesting one or not. But, it sounds like it might. Plus, supporting the arts in St. Louis (and in general) is just the right thing to do. So go. The exhibit opened June 20th and is here all summer.

13. Missouri History Museum. If you haven't yet seen the Vatican Splendors exhibit, and I haven't yet, you should get there before it leaves town. Set your judgments about Catholicism, the Pope, and all things churchy & scandalous aside and go see this exhibit. From the Missouri History Museum's website, "comprised of nearly 200 rare artworks, historical objects and cultural artifacts from the collections of the Vatican, many of which have never been allowed outside of Rome, and including special objects never before on display, even at the Vatican. The collection includes mosaics; paintings; frescoes; works by well-known sculptors; intricately embroidered silk vestments; precious objects from the Papal Mass; historical maps and documents; and historical objects from three major basilicas in Rome." You'll regret missing this once in a lifetime exhibit. It runs through September 12, 2010.

14. Miscellaneous. I've totally run out of steam so I'm stopping here. Please leave a comment if you have any other great ideas, events, festivals, etc. that I should include and/or try and do myself. There will undoubtedly be many things that come up over the course of the summer that I will post info about. If you made it this far, thanks for reading!

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Patience as the Antidote to Anger

Photos from the MABA website

My best friends have always been anger and sarcasm so you can imagine how difficult it was to admit that maybe it was time to meet some new friends. So, wouldn't you know MABA made it a lot easier for me by setting up this meditation retreat about, as you might have guessed by the title of this post, cultivating patience instead of anger. I had no sooner signed up when I started having second thoughts. I mean, I'm not really angry, right? Anger seems so serious. Anger is out of control. Anger is always ranting or yelling or fuming about something. Sure, I do live in a relatively persistent, relatively harmless, relatively low grade state of ticked-off. Who doesn't really? I mean, I'm human after all -- I get mad! I have a family that irritates me at times (I'm sure the feeling is mutual). I teach self-centered, gimme, gimme, gimme teenagers that irritate me at times (ditto). And, if that weren't bad enough, I live in a place where it seems that I am constantly surrounded by racist tea baggers and people with anti-community, anti-environment, and pro-greed and corruption ideas and behaviors. But angry? Okay, okay, okay. You're right. I am angry. I am ranting and fuming. So, I went to the retreat. And, what did I learn? I learned that it's a lot harder to be patient that it is to be angry. I learned that it is possible to be patient without being powerless. I learned that you can still do the right thing -- be a passionate and an out spoken activist -- while still cultivating patience. And, most importantly, I learned that learning this patience stuff could take me awhile.

Friday, June 18, 2010

The (Un)Inspired Decorator

I've always taken a utilitarian approach to any home decorating that needed to be done. Couch? Check. Bed? Check. Dining room table? Check. You get the idea. Yet, that's not to say that I've never considered the color or the beauty or the form of an object, a fabric, or a piece of furniture that I purchased. In fact, I have a lot of objects around the house that were very carefully and very thoughtfully selected based almost solely upon their stylistic contribution to the room. And, I have (sometimes) made sure that the various things in each room, or in the house as a whole, complement the overall aesthetic that I'm trying to achieve. But, what I mean by 'utilitarian' is that I've never decorated a room, or an apartment, or a house using a theme (like Country French, Cottage, or Mid Century Modern, for example). Not that I would either. But, this summer has me reading my friend Joi's decorating/style blog quite a bit as well as many of the others style blogs that she has recommended on her blog roll. And while she and many of the others have not subscribed to a particular theme either they all have a terrific sense of how to put the various pieces of a room together quite artfully --- bringing me to the painful realization that I need to give a lot of thought to the decor of my house. Plus, Joi (pronounced Joey) and many of the other decorating/style bloggers are taking on these decor improvement projects on their own and on the cheap -- two things that I can get on board with (well, mostly the latter). I also like that a lot of them are using Craig's List and thrift stores finds not just because they can be cheap but because it's the right thing to do for the environment.

Bottom line, is that I've become obsessed with revamping my house's style. Doing that on a small to non-existent budget will be a challenge though. So this is what I've decided that I can do:

1. I'm suffering from a I-have-too-much-stuff problem so sorting our what stays and what goes in each room is a definite must.
2. I like color! And I currently live with a lot of it so I need to evaluate how I feel about the colors of my walls in the house. Specifically, I'm wondering if things connect and complement as much as I thought they did when I had it painted nearly 4 years ago.
3. Accessories! I really want to focus on lighting and curtains. The big plan is to splurge on some nice fabric and make my own curtains for the living and dining rooms. I'd also like to find a nice pendant or shade for my ceiling light in the living room. Not sure what I'm looking for yet, but I think I'll know when I see it.
4. I like everything about my bathroom except (maybe) the ceiling light and (definitely) the linen cabinet. I like the look of this Ikea light (shown in above photo) but I'm not sure if it's too big for the room. Plus, the closest Ikea is like a 5 hour drive from here! I'm not sure about the style of the linen cabinet but the only requirement is that it not have a glass front. We have that now and I'm tired of people seeing my mess!

Doesn't seem like a lot of stuff to do but, for me, this is a super duper daunting task. Especially because I have no idea where to start! I've tried to recruit Joi to come help me get started. But, girlfriend is very busy getting her Masters on so I'll probably have to go solo on this. Unless someone out there wants to volunteer? Do I hear a 'yes'?

Monday, June 14, 2010

Lettuce and Broccoli!

The spring garden crops that we planted have just about peaked, especially the lettuce. And, while I feel bad that we wasted a lot of lettuce this season (unfortunately, we just didn't get around to eating a lot of it), we've been jamming on the broccoli. Even Willa - Miss I-only-eat-three-things -is sold on its tasty green goodness. Come on, I dare you to find a person who could not resist eating this broccoli.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Book Review: Disturbing the Peace by Richard Yates

Yes, as you can see, I am still obsessed with Richard Yates's novels. Love, love, love him. My goal is to try and read them all this summer. Not sure if that is going to happen but you gotta have a goal, right?

Anyway, here's the book summary. In Disturbing the Peace, Yates introduces us to John Wilder, an insecure thirty-something ad executive who, we learn right away, is in the middle of a midlife crisis - think unhappy marriage, job dissatisfaction, personal dissatisfaction, extramarital affairs, and booze -- lots and lots of booze. But, it quickly becomes clear that Wilder's crisis isn't really of the midlife variety. Rather, it's that he is flat out delusional. In other words, the man is mad - mad as insane, mad as addicted. Mad, mad, mad. Now, that's a good story line, if you ask me.

And, here's the review. Right from the start, Disturbing the Peace had a much different feel that the two previous Yates's novels that I've read (here and here). Yes, Yates still writes about ordinary, flawed characters who lives gravitate from a sense of normalcy to urgency, from order to chaos, from acceptance to rebellion. And, yes, Yates still writes great characters that involve us -- as clinical, distant observers and as close observers who feel, sometimes intensely, the experiences and emotions of the characters. But, Disturbing was different in two noticeable ways. First, the pace of it was much quicker; it kinda reminded me of an episode of ER - many more fast paced, crazy ER peaks, but consistently balanced by the slower paced valleys of the characters lives outside of the ER. Now, yes I do know that I wrote previously about how Yates creates a sense of urgency in all of his books, all of his main characters. And, this is true here too. Yet, it still feels different. Dare I say more urgent? Another difference? None of the characters were likable. Not a single one. And, I really wanted to like someone, his wife, his mistress, even Wilder.

As an aside, if anyone has read, or reads, Disturbing the Peace and would care to comment on the significance (or not) of including the peripheral storyline of race relations in this novel, please, please leave me a comment. I would love to read your thoughts.

Monday, June 07, 2010

Crop Mob in Millstadt, Illinois

Bill and Willa recently had the awesome opportunity to participate in a crop mob. Actually, they participated along with a group of MRH staffers and students. If you haven't heard of a crop mob, you're probably not alone. I'm not sure how popular they are in the Midwest, let alone St. Louis. But, this is how it works: a group of people volunteer their time and labor at a small farm to help build and support community relationships or make agricultural improvements. In this particular instance, our MRH group wanted to volunteer their labor because the farmer was struggling due to the recent loss of her husband. Wow. Goosebumps. Just writing about this make me feel beyond terrific! It's such a wonderfully meaningful way to contribute something positive to people in your community. And, what a great opportunity for kids (and everyone really!) to discover the joy of being able to help those in need, forming lasting connections with others through service, and, for many, creating a relationship with (or new appreciation of) the land and the natural world.