Day three: No, seriously. Where the #@%$ is the– Oh, there it is.

All right. Day three. We were serious now. We’d had it confirmed that the maps were useless. We’d been told that the pioneer cemetery up by the Sunsinger was off the path behind the statue – the one we’d looked down but hadn’t chosen because it hadn’t had a map – and that the pioneer cemetery at the south end of the park couldn’t actually be reached from within the park, it had to be driven to from one of the country roads that borders the park there.

We were sure this was going to be a quick trip. We’d head out to the Sunsinger, duck down the correct path (finally!), see the cemetery, and drive around to the other one. And luck seemed to be with us – the road to the Sunsinger was open the whole way, saving us the time of walking from the Centaur to the Sunsinger to start our path. It’d be quick – an hour tops, right?

Wrong! We walked down the path to the point where it split into two directions. The guy Dad talked to hadn’t said anything about choosing a direction, so we went to the left for a little bit. It seemed to be heading back into the park after a while so we turned back and went back to the Sunsinger path and then took the right trail. That ended at a house. So we decided to go back the other way and follow the left path further on. We figured we’d covered every trail that was anywhere near where the map showed the cemetery to be except for this one and therefore, through sheer process of elimination, we were bound to find it this time.

It met up with the path that goes off to the right from the Sunsinger, the one we’d taken on day two, so we turned right and went on to the next fork in the road and then headed left again. Unfortunately, there was still no cemetery. We’d found a path that met up with the river, followed it for a bit, and then headed back to the Centaur. And this time we weren’t parked at the Centaur, so we’d have to walk all the way back to the Sunsinger to the car.

But there was a little old man sitting by the Centaur and as we passed Dad asked him if he knew where the pioneer cemetery was. His reply? “Up towards the Sunsinger. Walk along the road and look east and you’ll see the headstones.” We sort of scoffed to ourselves – how could the cemetery been there? We’d walked circles around the area and seen nothing – but we had to walk that way anyway to get back to the car, so we’d keep our eyes open.

We found what seemed to be a trail head with four concrete trail markers so we started down that and it turned out to be the little ravine we’d seen from the bottom on the path we’d been on during day 2, so we headed back to the road, walked a little bit further and there, clear as day, right where the map said it should be (that was the most galling part), was the pioneer cemetery.

This one is the smaller of the two, with only about 8 graves or so, and the stones are harder to read. This one, for an infant son who died in 1850, is the easiest to read of the group. So after a look around there, it was back to the car to see if we could get to the other one – the one that couldn’t be reached from inside the park.

We did. This one was a bit bigger, with maybe 20 graves that seem to have weathered the years a bit more successfully though they’re only about 30 years younger than the stones at the other cemetery. It seemed to be three or four families all buried in rows here complete with headstones and footstones. I think the most interesting set was that of John West who lived to be in his 70s and outlived his entire family, including a daughter (aged 30, I think), a son (aged 20), and three wives, two of whom were named Hannah.

So it took us three days and god knows how much walking and I’m definitely embarrassed by how easily the terrible map and useless trailer markers confused us, but we finally achieved our goal (and managed to get a bit of exercise along the way, too, which always helps, especially this time of year). And, of course, hopefully now we’ll remember where they both are if we ever want to go back again.

Day two: Where the HELL is the pioneer cemetery?!

On our second day out, we decided to go searching for the cemetery that was up by the Sunsinger. Our adventure started out by hitting a roadblock. Literally. The road that goes out to the Sunsinger is notoriously terrible and they had closed it off with a sign that said we were welcome to walk on past that point but that the quality of the road was too bad to allow cars through. So we parked at the Centaur and walked on down the road out to the Sunsinger because we both had it in our heads that the pioneer cemetery there was off a path to the right of the Sunsinger.

As you can see from the map, there is no path to the right of the Sunsinger. The path behind him didn’t have a map, so although we looked down it for a few minutes, we decided to head on to the path to the left. Fortunately, there was a map there and we’d lucked out! All we had to do was follow the path away from the statue, make a left and then it looked like we should run into a smaller path that led to the cemetery. Sounds easy, right?

Wrong! We walked and walked and scared some deer and walked some more and thought we saw a fox and walked and walked and walked.

About halfway down the trail, where the path to the cemetery should have been, we did see a small path-ish thing leading off to the left of the trail, but it was more of a ravine than anything and we decided that it wasn’t really a path. At any rate, we were sure we were too close to the road at that point – we figured we should be able to see the headstones if it really had been nearby and it was a pretty steep bluff above us, not very prime real estate for a cemetery, so we continued on. And eventually ended up back at the Centaur.

We were both a little stiff still from all the walking we’d done the previous day – it was muddy both days (when is Allerton not muddy, though) and were were getting frustrated by the extraordinarily unhelpful maps and baffling trailmarkers that seemed to be using leagues or furlongs as far as we could tell – so we decided to pack it in and call it a day instead of walking down the road a bit to see if there was a path off of that that might lead to the cemetery. Dad had Rotary the next day and said he knew a few people he could ask about the cemetery’s location – frankly, we were starting to think maybe they’d let the paths grow over them (the maps in the park haven’t been updated since 2003).

Tired but determined, we headed back home to rest up for the following day’s hike and gather information so we could triumph over our adversaries. Here’s what we had walked by the end of day two looking for a cemetery.

Day one: Where is the pioneer cemetery?

The weather here was really nice the day after Christmas, so my dad and I wandered out to Allerton park to walk around a bit. So we bundled up, packed up Dad’s camera, and headed out! We ended up at the parking lot near the bridge that’s out and, after a look at the map at the trailhead, decided we’d see if we could find the pioneer cemetery that was located near the southern edge of the park. I’d been there once years and years ago during a school field trip and hadn’t ever been able to stumble across it since then. But with the location marked on the map, we were sure we’d be there in no time.

We started out kind of slowly because we kept stopping to take pictures. Dad does pottery and likes to include grasses, leaves, and other miscellaneous plants on his pieces so he was looking for some inspiration. I was just fiddling around.

We kept coming across turnoffs that didn’t seem to be on the map – Allerton borders private property at certain places and we kept having to backtrack when we’d come across a house or take a path that was actually a driveway. At least it wasn’t too chilly of a day! We kept shedding hats and gloves as we walked further and further and the clouds got darker and darker. Eventually we hit the parking lot at the south end of the park (toward the bottom of the map that may or may not be cut off in the photo up there) and, after taking a look at the map again, decided we must be nearly on top of the pioneer cemetery at last. All we had to do was follow the trail and take every left we came to – we should be there in no time! Right?

Wrong. Eventually we knew we were heading in completely the wrong direction for the elusive pioneer cemetery, but it was starting to get late and we’d been out for about an hour and a half already so we decided to head back to the car. The problem was that we were about as far from our starting point as was possible to be. Dad suggested that we go back the way we came, but I wanted to at least finish the day having seen the river since it was clear we had missed the pioneer cemetery somewhere along the way.

You’ll notice that, despite the fact that I wanted to see the river, there are no pictures of the river. By the time we reached the point where our path met the river, we were exhausted and mostly focused on not dying before we got back to the car. Which we managed to do, three hours after we had started walking. We’d only meant to be out for an hour so we hadn’t brought any water or snacks or anything and we ended up being out over the lunch hour, so by the time we got back, we were starving! I’m always worried I’ll die in a situation like that because I’d be so embarrassed! I’m a Girl Scout, I really should know better.

So at the end of day 1, here’s what we had walked in our search for one of the pioneer cemeteries in the park (there’s another one over by the Sunsinger. Allegedly.).

Jim Henson’s Fantasic World is fantastic, indeed!

A few weekends ago, Heather, Liz, Alicia, and I went to Peoria to see Jim Henson’s Fantastic World at the Lakeview Museum.

It was really interesting to get a look at Jim Henson’s background and see the progression from his beginning in commercials (which featured many Muppet ancestors) to the Muppets to Sesame Street to Fraggle Rock and the more experimental movies (Labyrinth and Dark Crystal).

They had some Muppets there (notably Rowlf, a Kermit, and Bert and Ernie), but most of the visuals were his sketches and storyboards for characters and commercials and a lot of his early work in graphic design and some of his experimental works in film that didn’t necessarily feature puppetry.

It’s amazing to get these glimpses into such an amazing mind – one which was not only so creative, but also so ambitious and determined that the world would see his ideas (he wrote many proposals and scripts that never went anywhere before he finally pitched The Muppet Show).

And I really, really want to know why puppets and the Muppets in particular are so endearing and enduring.  Why are we so eager to forget about the people that we know are there, that we know are moving their mouths and their arms, and accept the Muppets as creatures? Their eyes don’t move, their mouths only open and close, and their faces have very limited ranges of visible emotion and yet, somehow, he was able to create characters that have souls and personalities! WHY?!?!?!

The exhibition itself (and this may have been a limitation of the space it was occupying) was somewhat difficult to follow – the flow wasn’t quite clear. As you can see above, I’m a bit confused about the timeline of his creations and am trying to be a bit vague about it all because the flow of the exhibit, which was sectioned into his life, early work, Muppets, Sesame Street, his non-puppet films and interests, the Fraggles, and the films, was not easy to follow. I mean, we saw everything, but it wasn’t very clear which section followed which.

I think this exhibit is on tour from the Smithsonian and has been since 2007, so I’m not sure how much longer it has to go, but if it comes near you, I’d really recommend going to see it.

What an amazing guy.

How could I forget the most exciting part of Chicago?!


No, seriously. While I was waiting in the car for Claire to bring our bags out of the first hotel so we could repark and move into the second hotel, a blonde woman wearing big sunglasses and, literally, a garbage bag gown, walked past the car with two security guys, a photographer, and a couple of people carrying a variety of photography equipment.

‘Huh. I wonder if that was Lady GaGa,’ I thought.

Then little clusters of people with their phones out started hurrying past and I heard one guy on his phone say that it WAS Lady GaGa!

So, yeah, I may have kind of actually seen Lady GaGa randomly on the streets of Chicago on her way to a photo shoot.

It was pretty awesome.


So while Claire was still here, we went to Indianapolis for a day. Which was really fun! Indianapolis is a very pretty city – they have canals there! Although their peddle boats are way too expensive. But still! We started off at the Indiana Museum which was very interesting – we learned all about how Indiana was settled and their involvement in the Civil War (they’re very into the Civil War, apparently) and famous Indian…ians? We also saw an IMAX movie about the Hubble which was actually pretty cool!

Then, despite it being super, SUPER hot, we walked to the capital building and took a self tour – it’s actually a very pretty capital building – they were clever and put a stained glass window underneath their dome. Why has no one else thought of doing this?

Then we walked even further, despite the heat, to see the Civil War monument. We walked through the museum which outlines Indiana’s involvement in the war in great detail and Claire pretended to be a Civil War wife.

Then we realized that we could climb the tower of the monument. They charge you $2 to take the elevator up, though, so consoling ourselves with the fact that we’d both climbed many a tall European monument (e.g., St. Paul’s [numerous times], the monument of the great fire of London [Claire has a certificate to prove it!], Notre Dame, and St. Peter’s), we figured this would be no sweat. We…were a little bit wrong.

We made it, but we would like to testify that it’s much taller than it looks!

In which I get my yearly allotment of outdoors in less than an hour.

We started off the morning by going berry picking at a local farm. It…was not my favorite thing that we’ve done so far. There was lots and lots of mud – like the kind of mud that you sink into – and lots of lots of bugs.

That is an acceptable bug. Most of the ones we experienced were not. Claire, not being put off by any sort of nature, was a trooper and did most of our collecting.

Claire is triumphant! After about an hour or so we had the above tomato, some raspberries, some blueberries, a handful of parsley, three ears of corn, and a lone blackberry Claire harvested. But we had to keep moving because we had lots of cooking ahead of us.

We went to see The Merry Wives of Windsor as part of the Illinois Shakespeare Festival in Bloomington and decided to bring along the world’s greatest picnic EVER! Claire ended up doing most of the work and my brownies did not turn out which was very disappointing – they’re in the fridge at the moment and we’re going to try to do some salvage attempts tomorrow – but she turned out quite a tasty feast! We had a cheese plate which included brie, Babybels, colby monterey jack, and mozzarella with fruit, crackers, and bread; cucumber, goat cheese, and sprouts sandwiches; hummus, tomato, spring mix salad, and avocado sandwiches; a super-yummy pasta salad; a very tasty fruit salad; and gourmet lemonade with fruit ice cubes. We ate like kings.

Oh, and the play was very good, too, but now I’m ready for bed. The End.

Alas, there were no quacking rats this time…

Once more, we headed off into the rain – we really lucked out with the weather for Six Flags and the arch! – but it didn’t matter because we were going to a place where it is 60 degrees year-round! If you’ve driven anywhere vaguely near Missouri, you’ve seen the billboards – we were off to Meramec Caverns!

And, as you can see, Meramec Caverns, along with having one of the rarest cave formations in the world (its famous ‘wine table’ – the only other example of it is in a cave in Capri [I think…it was there or in Cyprus]) and one of the largest (and most ridiculously used – the infamous opera curtain). Oh, and it was also a hideout for the similarly infamous Jesse James and his James Gang – to whom I am related (distantly – unless you were lying, Dad?). Our guide was very good – definitely a silver fox – I found myself oddly attracted to him – though I felt like he had a lot more information he could have given us (we were on a tour with quite a few children and I think he may have dumbed it down a bit so as not to bore them). And I had forgotten quite how over-the-top patriotic the little show they do at the opera curtain was – they play the Missouri state song and then a recording of Kate Smith singing ‘God Bless America’ while the guide flips lots of switches in time to the music to make the colored lights shining on the curtain change. And it ends with an American flag being projected on it.

Claire and I laughed – not like cruelly, more like a chuckle at how unsubtle it all was, but I think he heard us and I felt a little bad about it. But it really is ridiculous. But it’s still privately owned, so I guess they can do whatever they want with it!

And then it was back through St. Louis for…the Anheuser-Busch brewery for a tour!

We got to see the Clydesdales – which are much HUGER than I imagined them being – I always thought they were just, you know, slightly bigger than normal horses. THEY ARE NOT. They’re six feet tall at the shoulder and weigh 2,000 lbs! THEY’RE HUGE!

And I kind of want one.

We learned a lot about brewing beer and the history of the Anheuser-Busch corporation which was actually pretty interesting – they managed to stay afloat during Prohibition by selling bread yeast  – they were still the top seller of baker’s yeast up until the early 1990s! – and nonalcoholic drinks. And of course, we got to taste a beer – I thought they’d have more exotic beers for us to taste, but I guess that wouldn’t work if they actually wanted to sell beer, so it was pretty much their typical brands – Bud and Bud Light, but they had one that had lime in it and it was really nice! And I don’t even like beer!

Claire took this photo - isn't it pretty?

Oh, I’m getting old!

Today we were at Six Flags and we really lucked out! We were there when the park opened and the whole day we didn’t wait in a line longer than 5 minutes. And the weather was great, too! Warm enough for the water tides – which are totally my favorites – but not unbearable.

We got completely, entirely soaked on the Tidal Wave (seeing that wave come at you when you’re standing on the bridge is so awesome!) and I finally got wet on the river rapids ride! That never happens! Or, if it does, it just splashes up over the side and lands in my lap. But this time, Claire and I ended up in the waterfall! It was very exciting. Then we went on the log flume ride which is an old favorite, even though it’s not nearly as splashy as the Tidal Wave (though really, what is?!) except for the time my physics class went to the Six Flags in Chicago for Physics Day – my group went on the log ride and I was in the back. Not going to get wet there, right? Right! Unless the three people in front of you all duck.

A big storm front rolled in a little after lunch and cooled everything off. It really looked very ominous – it got very dark and pretty chilly and the wind picked up quickly – and they closed the water rides for a while. But it cleared up without a drop of rain in about 45 minutes or so.

By this time, I was fading fast. Gimme a break, I’m very nearly 30 years old – after 6 hours in an amusement park, it’s time for a nap! Plus I was tired of having my neck bones realigned by the roller coasters (see my freakish neck in the accompanying photo). Stop judging me – I’m old! So we went on Batman (which has a ridiculously long walk up to it when there’s no line) and the Superman Tower of Power (a free-fall ride) one last time, got Claire a corndog and a soft frozen lemonade (OMG so good!) for me, and headed home, exhausted.

Tomorrow we’re off to Meramac Caverns and the Anheuser-Busch brewery!

Not a museum!

We are in St. Louis!

Originally our plan was to start at the arch and then move on to the St. Louis City Museum, but from a little outside of Springfield all the way into St. Louis, we hit a pretty big thunderstorm, so we decided to head to the museum first and try to wait out the weather so we could actually see things from the arch.

And, it turns out, I use the word ‘museum’ loosely. The City Museum is basically a combination of a pretty impressive indoor children’s playground, an architectural museum that seemed to be made up of bits that have fallen off of buildings over the years, collections of doorknobs, and random crap that people have unearthed around the city, including but not limited to, keys, pottery, old arcade games, a bug collection, a female mannequin with a demon’s head, and an old peep show…thing.

Turns out what we wanted was the Missouri History Museum which was very educational and taught us all about the 1904 World’s Fair, Charles Lindbergh, and the city itself. Also, being greeted by a violinist was a very nice change from the screaming children of the City Museum.

By the time we were done at the History Museum and had taken a little drive around the park where the World’s Fair was held, the storm had passed and the sun was out so we were off to the arch! To stand in line! Forever!

But finally we had our tickets! Before we rode the tram to the top of the arch, we saw a giant movie about Lewis and Clark which was really good and now I’m going to have to read some more about them – any recommendations, Janis? After your book, of course! Also, can you tell us what happened to Lewis’ dog? He sort of disappeared halfway through the film and we were worried about him!

Tomorrow we’re off to Six Flags – cross your fingers that we don’t overheat (it’s supposed to be 94 degrees tomorrow)!

Dammit! Still patriotic…

Yesterday we went to Springfield to see the Lincoln museum.

Why do I look like I'm trying to flirt with him?!

It’s really a very well done and well thought-out museum – the flow of everything is very smooth and really gives you a sense of context about his life. They do approach overuse of fake figures, though they haven’t quite crossed the line. And the little presentations are very good, too – though the Lincoln’s Eyes one is a little heavy-handed…

I don’t know why, but nearly every exhibit made me cry! What’s wrong with me?! I mean, I knew the Civil War in Four Minutes thing would get – gets me every damn time! – but I teared up a little at the presentation about the Lincoln Library, for crying out loud! I don’t know, something about longevity and the mystery of it and connections to the past, blah blah blah. At any rate, it got me.

We also saw your book there, Janis! Claire was very impressed that I knew a real life author (and that you were kind enough to include me in your acknowledgements – you’ll totally be in mine if I ever get published!). 🙂

So if you find yourself in Springfield, I’d recommend stopping by the museum – we didn’t go to Mr. Lincoln’s Neighborhood, but I remember it fairly fondly from many a school trip. Just don’t get too close to Abe – he’s mine!

Take me out to the ball game!

I wanted to take Claire to a baseball game – the quintessential American pasttime – but we didn’t want the cost of a major league baseball game, so Claire, Liz, Rachel, and I went to see a Frontier League game in nearby Normal instead!

And it was really fun! I mean, the Cornbelters weren’t super great – I think it took them until the third inning to get anybody on base – and the crowd was unsettlingly subdued – seriously, no one was cheering for anything, but the stadium was very nice and we got beer and hot dogs and peanuts and I consumed my five-year allotment of vat cheese in the space of about a half an hour and the weather was perfect and we got to sing Take Me Out to the Ball Game during the seventh inning stretch and all for about what you’d pay for one soda at a major league baseball game.

So I count that a success and a bargain!

Except now I totally have to detox because of all that vat cheese. It tastes good at the time but then the self-loathing sets in.

But it was worth it!


The Last Novel by David Markson

I actually finished this on the first plane trip on our way to Hawaii, but decided that it deserved more formatting than I could provide using Edward’s WordPress app, so here you go, a bit later than intended.

I love David Markson. LOVE. I don’t think I’ve ever mentioned it here before, but I do. I saw one of his books on someone’s shelf once – I think it was Reader’s Block – and exclaimed, ‘Oh, I love David Markson!’ and they responded with ‘Have you read it?!’ in a voice of such disdain and disbelief (whether directed toward me or David Markson, I’m not sure [why would I say it if I hadn’t read it?!]) that I couldn’t help but be a little offended (on his behalf as well as mine).

To me, reading a David Markson novel (except for Wittgenstein’s Mistress, I think) is what I imagine reading a Philip Glass piece would be like (and I don’t mean reading the music, I mean reading the music). They’re made up of little…factoids, for lack of a better term, about people, usually artists and literary figures – I don’t know whether or not they’re actually true (though one of them in this books leads me to believe they are – despite that, I treat them like I do Wikipedia – if it confirms what I thought, I believe it, otherwise, if I do end up passing the info along, I make sure to preface it with ‘Well, according to Wikipedia…’) – that, when taken as a whole, eventually tell a story. And occasionally they are little notes from the narrator/author.

Well, a theme, I guess, is more accurate.

The reason I liken his writing to Philip Glass’ music is that, as you begin reading, you can’t really see where it’s going and sometimes things seem to be repeated (in one of his books, this happens occasionally word for word until you reach the end and realize that they’ve gradually been changing and becoming less accurate and coherent – brilliant!) until there is a moment (like in Dickens, too) when suddenly everything falls into place and, looking back over what you’ve read, it seems so obvious but you couldn’t have reached that conclusion until you reached that particular moment. I doubt that makes sense, but it will if you pick up a David Markson book.

For example:

Enrico Fermi once wrote an entire full-length textbook on atomic physics in pencil – without an eraser. (24)

The first opera Toscanini ever saw, at the age of four, was Un Ballo in Maschera. The last opera Toscanini ever conducted, at the age of eighty-seven, was Un Ballo in Maschera. (25)

Poor England, when such a despicable abortion is named genius.

Said Thomas Carlyle of Charles Lamb.

Anybody can be nobody.

Said Eugene V. Debs.

Novelist’s personal genre. For all its seeming fragmentation, nonetheless obstinately cross-referential and of cryptic interconnective syntax.

Wondering why one is surprised to realize that Thoreau was dead at forty-five.

A lament of Schopenhauer’s:

Over how frequently the mere purchase of a book is mistaken for the appropriation of its contents. (51).

There are too many that I marked to share with you, but you get the idea. Better yet, I hope you’re intrigued enough to pick one up (Wittgenstein’s Mistress is more of a traditional novel, at least in format – I wouldn’t know for sure, though, as I haven’t read it yet [stop judging me, Schopenhauer!]). I can’t recommend him enough (despite the fact that, in the end, he’s usually a little bleak).

My rating: A+

And, look, he mentions my favorite person:

Freud’s addiction to cocaine.

Sherlock Holmes’. (107)

IR Fantasy

Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones

Seeing as this is considered a classic in the canon of kids’ books, I can’t believe it took me this long to finally read it! Especially since it was so good!

It kind of has a fable-y quality to its style, but it also turns things a little sideways – Sophie comes from a place full of fairytales (wizards and witches, demons, seven-league boots, etc.) and, being the eldest of three, is resigned to a uneventful life. Of course that’s not what happens otherwise she wouldn’t have a book written about her!

Full of engaging characters who aren’t always what they seem (but sometimes are), I would highly recommend it.

My rating: A-

Holmes Wouldn’t Mind Being Used Like That

When Mom and I travel, we like to take along our cribbage board (there was a pretty carved wooden one in the gift shop of the Surfrider for $150, but that’s too good for us – on the one we have, I play with mismatched pegs and we use a broken toothpick to keep track of the games) and have a tournament – and seeing as we are both pretty competitive (my mom wouldn’t even let me win at Candyland when I was little), things can get pretty intense!

In the picture here, I’m about to take a decisive lead from which she was unable to recover and nudging me ahead 4 games to 3.

Holmes (which I just noticed was written by Bill Blackbeard, IDEK!) makes a good table – and extra points go to anyone who can decipher the design on the back of our Carnival cards. Mom insists it’s the ship’s smokestacks, but I’m just not seeing it…