Tuesday, December 31, 2013

2013 Roundup


We had a pretty stupendous 2013, and also a very relaxing December, which is why I'm whipping out the top 10 for New Year's Eve. I could do the real top 10 based on pageviews, but that's not really how I roll. Instead I give you, MY 10 Favorite Posts of 2013, because this site is really all about what I like.


10. The Mineral Springs is the one place that I'm glad we returned to in 2013. The tour was much improved from our first visit, and the museum has been significantly expanded. Definitely worth a stop next time you're in Alton!


9. One of my most fun posts this year was the Segen Blessing Monday Mystery. Thanks to reddit and the comments, the mystery is finally solved!


8. Our second visit to Missouri State Penitentiary was a lesson in shanks with Green on the History Tour. MSP is closed for repairs right now, but they will be back in 2014. Meanwhile, the museum is open, and that's all the reason you need to go to Prison Brews.


7. Salted caramel, bourbon drinks, and candied bacon are my three favorite foods. Needless to say, I crave that Bailey's Range milkshake approximately every other day.


6. I will say it again, the Vacuum Cleaner Museum is my favorite museum in Missouri. We drove to St James just to buy a vacuum cleaner from the outlet so we could visit the museum a second time this year.


5. Spending the night at the Lemp Mansion has been on my St Louis must-do list for a long time, and it was definitely one of our top 5 date for 2013. The Elsa Suite has a secret, and you should investigate that for yourself!


4. This portrait project at St Peter & Paul Cemetery was a learning experience in a number of ways. I still don't think I've done a good enough job of explaining how meaningful I find ceramic memorials to be, so in 2014 I'll try to do better.


3. The Epcot Flower & Garden Festival was so great in 2013 that we're going again in 2014. This picture has cheered me up on many a gloomy day. I hope they have those delicious salmon tartare biscuits again.


2. I've been to the Cave Restaurant many times, and I can tell you for sure that Enchanted Cave Christmas is the loveliest time of year to visit.


1. Seeing all (most) of Disneyland in one day was probably the most challenging thing we did this year, and also the silliest and most fun. If you have frequent flyer miles to burn, I highly recommend putting this on your bucket list. You'll never see anything like Cars Land in any other amusement park in the world.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Holidays at the Missouri Botanical Garden


New this year to the Missouri Botanical Garden is Garden Glow, a nighttime holiday light walk around the Gardens. There are lots of activities for kids, including a dance party! There are also firepits with smores stations and other refreshments.The Glow is open every night (except 12/24, 12/25, and 12/31) now through January 4, so there is still plenty of time to visit! See the website for additional details on hours & admission.



  

The real reason I wanted Francis to take pictures was the Gardenland Express annual train & poinsettia show. You can add Gardenland Express admission to the Garden Glow for an additional $4.







 I hope everyone has a safe, happy, and FUN holiday!

Thursday, December 19, 2013

River City Casino Gingerbread House


Special request this year! We talked about dining in the gingerbread house last year but couldn't get a reservation. Jolena reminded me this year, and I requested that Francis set up a date. Monday was the only night we could get, so if you find there are no more reservations to be had this year, I'll remind you next year!



Lewy Nine's Cafe at River City Casino is the host, and you have to call them directly (314-388-7625) to get a reservation for the gingerbread house. The reservation fee is $20 and 100% of that goes to Center for Hearing and Speech. The house seats four and has a special Gingerbread House Menu, or you can order off the regular menu.


I let out a tiny screech when I saw they have a lobster roll on the regular menu! I have been talking about my lobster roll craving for at least a month, and it's not an easy thing to find in St Louis. I know you will tell me Broadway Oyster Bar, but I am telling you, forget it and forget Yelp, Lewy Nine's lobster roll is AMAZING. It's not just a roll, it's like a tiny loaf of fried Hawaiian bread. Holy moly.


Francis got the prime rib. It's a $17 casino prime rib, which is to say, it's fine. I loved that you get a white tablecloth, real silverware, and electric candles on the table when you dine at the gingerbread house. The service was excellent and I think we will be eating at Lewy Nine's more often than the Great Food Exposition in the future. Worth noting: all the restaurants at River City Casino are above average, and they just opened a brand new hotel there!


Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Travel Tuesday: New Year's Eve in Branson


Francis and I did Branson NYE two years ago and had a blast. Of course, we got obscenely lucky in that it was 64 degrees on December 31, 2011, but hey! It's Missouri! If you don't like the weather, just wait 5 minutes, amiright? That was a gorgeous day at Waltzing Waters, which is a musical fountain spectacular, and one of Branson's longest running shows. The rest of the photos are from that trip (see all of them at Scenes From Branson's 76 Country Blvd.)

We haven't decided on our NYE plans yet, but were I to go back to Branson this year, here are a few things I would put on my list. Being as it's a mid-week holiday this year, I'd probably opt for an extra long weekend, especially since Silver Dollar City is only open until December 30. Silver Dollar City is my favorite place after Disney World, so I can't go to Branson without stopping there. This time of year is Old Time Christmas, which was recently named one of Good Morning America's Top 5 Places to Light Up the Holidays. The whole park is covered in lights and there are holiday shows and a parade every night the park is open (check the calendar for dates/times in December). Don't forget to check out Marvel Cave while you are there!



Nearby is the Shepherd of Hills Trail of Lights, which is the literal definition of awesome. We've been to a couple drive-through light displays in St Louis this year and nothing can hold a candle to the Shepherd of the Hills display. After you drive through, be sure to check out the view from Inspiration Tower. The Shepherd of the Hills is one of my favorite books of all time, and at the top of the tower you can see the various landmarks detailed in the book.

One place I have not visited myself but intend to do so on the next trip is the Veterans Memorial Museum. I am delighted to hear that they were able to reopen, after closing briefly back in August. Branson loves its veterans and military reunions, so a permanent closure would have been a very sad loss for the community. Of particular note is the world's largest war memorial bronze sculpture, featuring 50 life size statues storming a beach, each modeled after a combat soldier from each of the 50 states. It is over 70 feet long and weighs 15 tons! The museum is open from 9am-7pm through the end of December (except Christmas Eve, when they close early, and Christmas Day they are not open).


Unfortunately, Shoji Tabuchi's show closes down early in December, so you'll have to pick another nighttime show. For New Year's Eve, my personal pick would be the Kirby VanBurch Magical New Year's Eve show, which starts at 9 pm and includes dinner, non-alcoholic champagne, party favors, and a balloon drop.

There is so much to do in Branson, from the Hollywood Wax Museum and Ripley's Believe It Or Not Museum, to shows like Legends in Concert (remember that from Six Flags back in the day?) and the New Shanghai Circus, to activities like the indoor water parks at several resorts and miniature golf and go carts up and down the strip. You can easily fill a long weekend with the activities and shows on Explore Branson's Christmas & New Year's Eve schedule..What we did for NYE in 2011 was an early show (I'll spare them the non-recommendation) and then we went back to our condo on Table Rock Lake and had some drinks while watching televised festivities. At midnight we watched fireworks out on the Lake from our balcony, which I do recommend. If you'd like some tips for lakefront accommodations, free free to email me at beth.horton@worldtravelspecialists.biz!



Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Throwback Thursday: Weird Museums of the Internet



As I've been updating some old posts in the past few months, I realized it has been years since I last did a post about virtual museums. Once upon a time, just 5 years ago, a "Virtual Museum" was usually a list of html links, or a very basic site of poor design (Geocities or Angelfire, anyone?) The internet has come a long way since then, and become more accessible to more people, so now we have all manner of eccentric collections spread far and wide among blogs, Flickr galleries, and more professional websites. Here are some of my favorite recent finds. You can check out some of the past "virtual tours" at this link.

1. Gallery of Envelope Security Patterns - Yes, exactly that. High quality images of the patterns inside security envelopes. Personally, I'd never even considered that there is more than one pattern.

2. Floor Plans of TV Houses - I love projects like these. It's like it connects my job with pop culture. I could pour over these floor plans for days. You can order prints, too!

3. Gallery of American Motels - There are tons of awesome galleries on Lileks.com (remember The Gallery of Regrettable Foods? An internet classic!) This is not the only online collection of motel postcards, but it's the only one I've found that includes the messages people wrote on them.

4. International Toothpaste Museum - I really appreciate the detailed reviews here. You should learn something at a museum, don't you think?

5. Trailers From Hell - This site is just plain awesome! There are dozens if not hundreds (?) of movie trailers on this site. You can watch them with or without commentary, buy the movie posters and even the DVD, if available.

6. Library of Dust - This one is a fascinating project. This is a collection of photographs of copper cannisters that contain the cremains of patients of a state run psychiatric facility, which were never collected by their relatives. There's also a gallery of the asylum and objects found therein. Given the popularity of Glore Psychiatric Museum on this site, I figured this is one that many of you would be interested in.

7. Small Town Noir - "Small Time True Crime from New Castle, PA" features the mug shots and detailed stories of crooks of yesteryear. If you like Crimelibrary.com, you'll like this blog.

8. Archive of Repurposed Joysticks - While I was compiling this list, I clicked on hundreds of links, and many times I thought, "What in the world?" I feel like I should let you figure this one out on your own. There are 100 joysticks.

9. The Book Inscriptions Project - One for my nerds! A gallery of found notes written inside books. This site was looking for a new guardian as of March 2013. Maybe that is you?

10. The Ephemera of Dick Sheaf - I'm with Dick, I love ephemera. Here you will learn about all kinds of things you didn't know were a thing (Typotecture) or appreciate until now (People Holding Fish). Also see The Ephemera Society of America.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Fort Leonard Wood Museums: Chemical Corps

Francis here with some military postings for all you CCG fans. Beth and I recently went to Ft. Leonard Wood, Missouri, which is home of the United States Army Chemical Corps, Engineers and Military Police. Recently, museums have been built to honor and show the histories of these three storied branches of the Army. We'll be bringing you blog posts about each one of the branches.

The Chemical Corps.

The Chemical Corps of the US Military has been around since the late 1800s, but really saw a swell in numbers during the first world war.


Mortar were used as a delivery system for various kinds of chemical weapons. Gas masks weren't commonplace until 1917, and gas was being used by both sides regularly. Sometimes on a daily basis.


The Chemical Corps museum has a replica WW1 trench you walk through.


The level of detail in these museums is astounding. This chemical laboratory has relics from the time surrounding a very detailed wax statue. Most of the statues are wax figures like you would find in a celebrity wax museum. These figures are much more expensive than regular mannequins.




During WW1, the Cavalry still rode horses, and the chemicals could affect them as well. This display shows various protective masks used through a number of years. You can also see the protective masks working dogs wore to the left of the horse.


There are quite a few creepy artifacts in the museum, including this Disney designed Mickey Mouse gas mask. However, the design was meant to make protection against the very real threat of death by Mustard Gas a little less frightening to children.







Once WWII rolled around, chemical weapons were scarcely used on the battlefield by either side. However, the Chemical Corps helped in the development of flamethrowers and flame tanks.


Today, chemical alarms are constantly taking samples of the air. The slightest detection of something harmful in the air will set off gas alarms. However, in the past the chemical corps didn't have the advanced technology we enjoy today.



The wonderful atomic age and the creepiness that came with the constant fear of Nuclear attacks.


Modern day decontamination and MOPP (Mission Oriented Protective Posture) suits show how Soldiers today keep themselves safe in the event of a chemical attack. All Soldiers are trained to be proficient in dressing themselves quickly, decontaminating themselves and continuing on the mission. Today, Soldiers are even able to drink water from their canteens using a special straw attached to the front of the protective mask.


The locations of American Chemical stockpiles which are slowly being dismantled and destroyed. You can't exactly toss Sarin and Mustard gas into the ocean, so careful considerations are taken to make sure all the leftover chemicals are safely disposed of.

Chemical weapons are outlawed in the Geneva Convention, but Chemical Soldiers today use white smoke for concealment and CS, better known as tear gas, for riot control. Many Soldiers are also qualified in various Hazardous Material handling and helped during cleaning and decontamination during the anthrax attacks of 9/11.

The museums are open from 10 am to 4 pm Monday through Saturday. They are on the actual base of Ft. Leonard Wood, but free and open to the public. You'll need a valid photo ID to enter the base.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

St Louis Thanksgiving Day Parade



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Happy Thanksgiving! Here's a "Throwback Thursday" post from 2008, featuring one of my personal bucket list experiences: Balloon Wrangler in a parade. Ever since I was a little kid, I wanted to be one of the people that handles the giant balloons. I've done this twice with Annie's Hope, a non-profit that provides bereavement services to grieving children & teens, and these are still some of my all time favorite photos on the blog.

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Balloon wrangling AND a chance to see how a big parade is organized from behind the scenes! We were supposed to be down there by 7, but the parade didn't start until 8:45, so we had plenty of time for taking pictures.

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We were originally supposed to wrangle the Christmas ornament balloons, but I guess since we had plenty of volunteers, we were switch to the Blue Angel airplane.

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Fellow balloon wrangler Dana:

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Anchors away!

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That's the parade director at the podium (below). Floats and balloons and marching bands were coming from 3 different directions, and he is the guy who announces the next unit and reminds people to go to the curb to throw candy and things like that.

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The biggest surprise of the day was running. I had never been to the downtown parade before, so I had no idea that there is a tradition of spinning the balloons around. Some people even had elaborate "SPIN!" signs. I think we spun that giant airplane, by running in a big circle, at least 6 times, and that's a short parade route.

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I also have to give a shout out to the REAL balloon cowboys: the guys from Starbound Entertainment. I was wondering how the heck they just send volunteers out there with a giant balloon with no practice, and it turns out there are 1-2 guys from Starbound that are like the band leaders, watching out for obstacles and directing a large group in turning corners. One of our guys is in the blue sweatshirt below.

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At the end of the parade, they pull the plug and everyone winds up their lines.

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Then they use a vacuum to suck the air out.

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When all is said and done, these balloons fit into a bag the size of an army duffel!

So there you have it, balloon wrangling at the Christmas in St Louis Parade. One more thing to check off my list of lifelong ambitions!