Sunday, July 31, 2016


A couple weeks ago my dad and I made an impromptu trip to see my sister, Karen, in Missouri.

Casino in Iowa

Dad eating an unfortunately dry sandwich. I knew I should have made some for the trip.

My dad visited my sister a couple years ago with my sister's other son, Jeremy. I saw my sister last when she came up to Minnesota for our brother's funeral years ago, but I hadn't been to Missouri in about 20 years. When I was 18, I made my first solo road trip there and continued to visit yearly for a number of years after that. I'm not sure why I stopped, or why it's been so long since I've been back, but I'm glad I went.

My sister has moved since I last visited and now lives on 5 acres west of St. Louis. It's an idyllic spot with winding roads through wooded ridges. She has a big yard with a pool, two ponds filled with loud croaking frogs, and a small foresty area with a walking path that weaves through it. I loved it, but I knew my dad loved it even more. It almost made me want to move him out there. The only downside being that there was no place along the road for him to take his daily walk (and of course, that I wouldn't have him near me in MN).

Part of the pathway through their forest part of the yard. 
It's a long drive there and I worried that it would take it's toll on my eyes, and my back, and my head... and all those other places I tend to hurt, but I managed ok. My dad didn't drive, and I didn't expect him to, but I was especially surprised that he didn't once comment on my speed. Occasionally, he would look at his watch and calculate in his head  how how far we should be. "I'm guessing we're at about 200 miles now", he'd share and he'd never be more that 20 miles off. He only became more precise on the way home.

Some may think this is a boring drive (I used to). Iowa is corn field after corn field after soybean field, but the ditches were filled with beautiful wildflowers. I loved it and if we weren't on a mission I might have stopped to take pictures of it. Besides the wildflowers we saw all sorts of hawks and eagles flying overhead. While the roads were mostly filled with semi trucks, the skys were filled with birds. Not sure I've ever seen so many birds on a road trip before. My dad also made interesting commentary based on the scenery. "Look at all those fox tails. The cows used to eat it and it would get all bunched up in their mouths. We'd have to stick our hands in the cow's mouths to clean them up", he'd comment and then follow up with other stories of the farm.

I could tell when we were nearing Missouri because a map told me so, but my dad knew because he noticed a change in the terrain - brushier, less farmland. He is in touch with the land in ways that I don't ever think I will be, but I guess that's what happens when you grow up on a farm.

Once we got to my sister's house and said our hello's and started to unpack, we realized that my dad was missing two key medications. So after after calling a very helpful Kevin the pharmacist at Target and rushing to go get them (with my sister telling me to drive faster from the back seat, and my dad in the passenger seat scolding me for driving too fast) we headed back to my sister's house.

But on the way home my sister suggested we stop at a spot she thought I might want to take pictures at. She knew that I was starting a photography class while I was there and she and her family made every effort to allow me opportunities to photograph stuff. There was no shortage of pictures taken on this trip which might account for why this post has taken me two weeks to get together. Our stop near the river was beautiful and I don't feel like I did it justice, but I'm glad we stopped. It's a spot that I'd love to go back to, which was probably the overwhelming theme of this trip. I love where I live, but this part of country just screamed 'nature' and 'photograph me'.

Another theme of the trip: My dad always had one of the flosser/toothpick things in his mouth... and  Menards shirt on.

The plan for the next day was to have my niece, Ashley, her husband, and their three little boys come over. The morning was spent, well... not doing much, and it was lovely. It was hot there and we spent a lot of time outdoors, but it was still nice to just hang out.

We spent many of our hours at my sister's entertained by her many animals: 2 cats, 1 dog, 2 snakes (and live rats to feed them), 2 large fish tanks, and 5 birds. I think I got them all. I spent some time in the morning with the outdoor cat, FuzzyDusty, and couldn't stop thinking about how much my cat obsessed daughter would have loved to meet this cat. She was super sweet, but had a dislike of the shutter sound my camera made so I feel lucky to have gotten the pictures I did.

Back inside, the birds entertained us. My sister and brother in law, Jack, took Splash and Cameron out one by one. Splash was a little lover and when in his cage would follow you around depending on what side of his cage you were standing on. I also got to hold him a little bit, but he likes to give you little, painful nips so that didn't last long.

Cameron is the big African Grey. He had a former home where he learned quite the colorful language (motherf'er, etc) which he supplemented with TV ads and things he learned from Jack and Karen. He even takes on their voices, and imitates the telephone and the alarm quite well. By the end of the time we spent there, he was also imitating my dad's "hey, hey..". I slept in the same room with these two and was surprised at how quiet they were all night and how entertaining they were all day. I've never wanted a bird before, but I got a kick out of these guys.


Cameron James and Jack

I was told that this bird doesn't like women and that he bites hard so it was a little unnerving to have him walking right at me, but he was more interested in my camera than in me.

After playing with birds we prepared for a BBQ with the family by going to the store, my sister cleaning out the pool and then dad buying us lunch... and me taking pictures.

I know I got a late start in life on the parenting thing (and my sister is almost 13 years older than me), but it's weird to know that my niece's middle child just turned the same age as my daughter. Her oldest is 10, and her youngest is about one and she has one on the way. She may have her hands full (she also owns a dog grooming company), but she and her husband are great parents to these boys. I was smitten with all of them, but I think 6 year old Aiden was my buddy while I was there. He kept asking me to come and talk with him about video games while he was in the pool and to take his picture.

I regret not getting a picture of my dad with all three boys.

My sister checking out how to play this Pokemon Go thing.

Cameron (yes, he has the same name as the bird) loved having his picture taken too. I'd take a picture and then he'd have to look at it on the back of the camera. Pretty amazing this for a little one, I'm sure.

The ponds

I got down low to take pictures and was attacked by a baby.

The next day my sister made us another fantastic breakfast and then we had our turn in the pool while my dad yelled at me every few minutes about how I was going to get burnt. I stayed in the shade as much as possible, but I did get ever so slightly red, but not red enough for my dad to say "I told you so". Always a dad, always a daughter.

And then Ashley and the boys came over again. There was more pool time for the boys and more requests for me to come chat with them.

Talking with my nephew.

It was hot while we were in Missouri... about 95 or more each day, but it would cool down to about 92 by 10:00 pm. I used to like this weather, but not as much anymore.We did spend a lot of time outdoors, but I was grateful for the pool and for the air conditioned house. My dad spent more time outside than any of us and said "It's nice out, it's not that hot." Yeah, okay dad.

He walked this driveway a lot.

I almost walked right into this. I walked into more spider webs while there than I have in my entire life. 

Oh, and while I didn't get any pictures, of the fish, dog, snakes, or the 2 doves, I did get a picture of of their other bird, Pappy.

He doesn't like women either. What's with these birds?

Tiger, the indoor cat, wanted nothing to do with me... or people.

On our last full day there we drove into the Loop neighborhood in St. Louis where we ate lunch, walked around in the 95 degree heat and did a little shopping.

The Loop features artists and other famous people who are from St. Louis. There were plaques along the sidewalk with names and outstanding details about that particular person.

Later that day, I headed across the street to say hi to the neighbor's horse and Shetland pony.

Oh, and my brother in law drove me to this cool bridge over the Big river just so I could take pictures. Love that they were all so willing to make sure I got some pictures.

There were hundreds of Swallows in the air.

It doesn't seem like we did a lot while we visited, but we got to hang out together and that was the whole point of this trip. I sort of regret not bringing Jesse and Riley, but at the same time I could then spend time focused on my sister and dad. Plus, now I have an excuse to go back and bring them next time.

We spent our last night hanging outside with FuzzyDusty, relaxing, talking about the past and the future. There were no distractions from the computer or the kid... it was just one last chance to connect with this family of mine. I've been so used to spending time with my dad and Jesse and Riley and my in-laws that I'd forgotten what it was like to spend time with my sister and my dad. While she and I may be very different people, she's an important part of my life and I'm grateful that my dad and I had a chance to visit with her and her family.