St. Louis Area Top 10

Almost 28 years ago we arrived in St. Louis Lambert Airport on a hot and muggy day in June, our two little girls in tow, on a flight from Frankfurt, Germany. It was to be Cal’s last military assignment. We had family here, my two sisters and their families. For a time my mother lived here too, several years in a nursing home until she passed. We were a cross roads for other family members coming through town. The girls had older cousins and there were family gatherings and all of life’s busy-ness. When we arrived, Cal and I had not lived anywhere in our lives much longer than 5 years, and we were in our mid-30’s. We are both nomadic people at heart; it boggles both of our minds that we stayed here this long. But there were kids to raise, educations to finish, and careers to maintain. Now the girls are grown and gone, living in other cities. Most of our extended family have left too except for one of my sisters, her husband, and her daughter, husband and kids.

I have always loved the St. Louis area. My sister Diana moved here in the late sixties and it was so exciting to visit her, two brothers who were also here for awhile, and the “big city” from my small-town home in Ohio. Although I’m ready to move on now, I thought I’d leave a list of our favorite places. St. Louis is mostly known for the Arch, pictured at top. That’s been a great place to visit but not on our top 10. Without further ado:

#10–St. Charles County Parks, and St. Peters City Parks. This was a new discovery in the past year when we had our apartment here. Our impression of this area “west of the Missouri river” was that of burgeoning subdivisions, chain stores and restaurants, and way too much suburban spread. What we did not know was how St. Peters has created wonderful walking paths in and among the housing, through woods and prairies and around little lakes, and sometimes we could walk or ride a bike without an awareness that civilization was close by. Even with COVID and more people wanting to get outside, we were able to find paths that were not crowded. Many county parks have been created by original family farms left to the county for that purpose, with more miles of trails and some interesting things to see.

#9–Ice Cream! Ted Drewes, of course! Then there is Fritz’s, and Doozle’s, and Skeeter’s. I know, it’s more than one. But they all make a mighty fine concrete, especially hot fudge and peanut butter flavor.

#8–Wineries–Hands down for us, Montel Winery in Augusta. Take a pretty day, a scenic drive down Route 94, then have some lunch on their patio overlooking the valley. All of that would be wonderful, but there are several great wines to go along with it. And maybe some live music too. We’ve whiled away many happy hours here.

#7–Restaurants–Many more than one here, too, and the favorites have changed over the years. For Chinese dine-in and dim sum – Lulu’s in University City. Chinese takeout – a new favorite, China King in St. Peter’s. Mexican – Casa Juarez in Maryland Heights, Casa Mia in St. Peters, and for mariachi and margaritas, El Maguey in Bridgeton. Gyros – Sweet Spot, Bridgeton. Barbeque – Sugarfire both in Olivette and in St. Charles, and Pappy’s downtown and (new) in St. Peters. Pizza – Pantera’s in O’Fallon and Racanelli’s in St. Peters (you won’t find us eating “St. Louis style” pizza). Best for lunch – Joe Fassi’s on the Hill, and Gioa’s Deli both on the Hill and in Creve Coeur. Now you’ll have to excuse me, I think I need a lunch break….

#6–Driving the River Road from Alton to Pere Marquette, IL has given us so many wonderful memories. The bluffs on the Mississippi River are imposing and tower over the road. Barges are moving their loads up and down the river and there are yacht parties and waterskiers. There is hiking and perhaps a picnic lunch upon arrival at Pere Marquette. Or lunch in a restaurant overlooking the river in Grafton, or at Fin Inn when we had kids, where they could view the fish in the tanks right at the table. Also some antique shopping in Grafton. But the primary focus of this trip for us was usually apple picking near Grafton, usually on Labor Day Monday, and we would patronize the small orchards. These have all but disappeared now, so we go to Eckert’s and pick the Jonathan variety of apples. Then put the car on a ferry to go home. A free ferry goes over the Illinois River to Calhoun County, where we could buy peaches in August, and enjoy the hilly drive through the countryside. Then another ferry over the Mississippi to St. Charles County.

#5–The Bluff Rd, also in Illinois, and this one is Cal’s choice because this was his favorite scenic motorcycle ride along the bluffs south from the bridge coming from I255. There was an area where there were old open mines above the road, and fresh cool air would come pouring out. He would stop in Prairie du Rocher for lunch at Lisa’s Market Street Grill. It also makes a great afternoon drive in the car. There are a couple of hiking trails along the way and Ft. Prairie Du Rocher to see. A close second favorite drive for him was on Highway 94 north of St. Charles.

#4–A sneak peak to #3 will show our favorite, Forest Park. The Muny, which is in Forest Park, is in a category all its own. It’s America’s largest outdoor theatre and we have seen numerous musicals there. It makes for magical summer nights. We would pay for seats when there was a children’s musical, but when the girls were older they and I would pick up supper somewhere and sit in line for hours for the free seats. And then, we went back to paying for seats because after all, who wants to sit in the summer heat 2 hours to use binoculars for the show? But it was all fun. Close mentions for entertainment in Forest Park: the Shakespeare Festival which takes place before the Muny opens, and the St. Louis Symphony concert on Art Hill in September.

#3–Forest Park and this is huge but if I listed everything it would take up my top 10. The Art Museum, the Science Center, the Zoo, the beauty of the park in all seasons, the trails for biking and hiking.

#2–After seeing the pictures above, local St. Louisans will know the #2 top spot, Missouri Botanical Gardens. It is a place of beauty in all seasons. We have been to other gardens all around the US and nothing ever compares. The first picture I posted is from a postcard I sent my parents way back in 1975 when I was here visiting. As you can see by comparing it to the next one, they’ve added many improvements in the years since then. The second is a more recent postcard and shows the “onions” in the water from the Chihuly glass exhibit that was a favorite a few years ago. The onions became a permanent fixture, as did the “sunshine” glass in the next picture in the Rose Garden. We work off all of the benefits from walking through the garden by visiting Joe Fassi’s, as noted in #7.

#1–The honor goes to the Katy Trail, and no one who knows us would be surprised. The Katy Trail runs 240 miles across Missouri and we have ridden all of it, round trip, over a period of years. We enjoyed incredible scenery, bed and breakfasts, historic hotels, and local restaurants, funky attractions, the fun of discovering the state mile by mile, and have a bushel of incredible memories. Much of it goes right through the St. Louis area so we have walked or biked some sections many times.

A huge tip of the hat goes to both Atonement and Shepherd of the Hills Lutheran Churches, who provided us with spiritual nourishment, friendship and support, and became our community.

Thanks for the memories, St. Louis.

And now, the trip begins. We are on the road, and my next posts will be from our new journey.

All The Way Down to Austin

The last of the 2020 trips we wanted to take was to Austin to visit our daughter Katie and her boyfriend. It was the roughly the same distance as the Colorado trip, necessitating two over-400-mile travel days. And it was over Thanksgiving, so there was celebrating to do. Covid presented its challenges, though. We hiked and visited parks, but when the weather turned cooler and rainy after Thanksgiving, there wasn’t much to do. Still, we enjoyed seeing our daughter, her boyfriend, and their apartment, and even a cooler day in Texas is (usually) warmer than Missouri. I always love being in Texas, and I have a history of pleasant memories there.

The RV park we stayed at made us feel welcome! But oh…the leveling was rough. We knew it wasn’t going to be good. The leveling blocks on this side were nothing compared to what we had to do on the other side. Admittedly we had to have some help for this one.

We will be back in the spring, and visited an RV park nearby that we liked much better than the one we were staying in. We took a little walk in Lakeway City Park near there. They had some nice trails, and we will be visiting again when this area becomes our home for a month.

The day that was the most fun for me, aside from our delicious Thanksgiving feast!, was our visit to explore two state parks southeast of Austin with Katie. The first was Bastrop SP. The second, Buescher SP, was only 10 miles away from there.

The above two pictures are of Bastrop SP. The pines are loblolly pines and are the western-most stand of them in the US. Pre-pioneer era, this part of Texas was covered with them. The structure above is of CCC construction, which Bastrop has a lot of. I’m a huge fan of CCC buildings, as often they are interesting to look at, but they also cause me to engage in some wishful thinking that the CCC program could be reinvented today to shore up our nation’s parks.

Bastrop was devastated by a massive forest fire in 2011. The fire affected 96% of the park, but only 30% was intensely burned, thanks to previous fire management. Charred trees could still be seen, but loblollies are sprouting on their own, or being assisted with plantings and prescribed burning. One of the campgrounds has been rebuilt, but the RV sites looked to be limited. I don’t know if that was because of COVID or if the rebuilding project is not yet complete.

There appears to be some decent hiking in this park with trails of varying lengths. It was starting to rain, though, and it was lunchtime. Just outside of Bastrop’s front gate lies the Roadhouse Bastrop, renowned for their hamburgers. They were open for inside dining, but Katie advised us that the inside was small and tight, as was the patio, and we all are COVID-cautious people. After we called in our order, they brought it right to us in our car, and we took it back to the park to eat. The hamburgers were indeed delicious, with many tasty toppings available.

The second state park, Buescher, was not as badly affected by the fire, but charred trees could still be seen. The rain and the clouds mostly moved away, so we got in a little hike on Pine Gulch Trail. We were right in the loblollies (I like the name of this pine tree about as much as the pine trees themselves). The below pictures are of our Pine Gulch hike. We didn’t go far as the day was getting on, and doubled back on another trail which had a lot of interesting and varied rocks below our feet. For the hike, our car was parked by a beautiful overlook.

Our final stop for the day was Berdoll Pecan Farm, where you can get a pecan pie in a vending machine. To say that Cal loves pecan pie is a vast understatement, so he was very interested in this prospect! However, the sun was directly striking the vending machine and we weren’t real sure if it was a good idea to purchase one from there. I guess if it was late in the evening before a holiday, and one had a massive pie fail with a houseful of company coming, this would be a great bailout. We opted to go in the store to buy ours for our Thanksgiving dinner. And it was delicious!

Time is hastening on, and it has now been some months since this trip. I have retired, and Cal and I are just now embarking on our full-time RV journey. This is part of what the blog is really all about, and it is an exciting time for us. More adventures to come!

An Autumn Visit to Rend Lake, IL

When we were still pop-up trailer camping and our girls were young, we spent a weekend camping at Rend Lake. My memories of that weekend aren’t great. It was early May, rainy and cold. The trees in the campground were sparse and new. Fast forward to current day, and some friends of ours claim this as one of their favorite camping spots. What I didn’t know then, pre-Google era, was that Rend Lake has many campgrounds, and this one is called South Sandusky. It was not where we had been before. So, a month after our Colorado trip, so we were ready for another weekend out.

These two pictures above are of the Pine Tree Loop for camping, and it is full of pine trees which are not indigenous to this part of Illinois. This is where our friends like to camp and I thought it was a little crowded, but oh…that pine tree smell. It made me feel like I was out West again!

This was our site, in Cottonwood Loop, where our door opened to nothing but the tree-lined meadow above. The deer entertained us each morning. We were on the first road just beyond the entrance to the park, at the first site, so we could see the back end of the campground hosts’ trailers off at a distance, and a road in front of those, where campers entered the park. In busier summer days that could be an issue, but late in October, there was not much of that.

The other huge surprise was at the end of our little camping loop road. There was the lake, and the pelicans that you see in the top picture and below! What a surprise! All through the weekend, I would take a walk down the road to check on them. They were on their migratory route and stay at Rend Lake for about 2 months. Those pelicans really made the weekend for me. Here are a couple more pictures, because I was constantly photographing them.

South Sandusky campground also has a bike trail. Although our first morning was warm and sunny, there was a storm predicted to roll in later that day. I wanted to be sure we got our ride in, so off we went. Our biking experience in the last few years has been rails-to-trails and fairly flat. This trail was hilly, and I was very much regretting my Covid-era lack of exercise. I will be in much better shape next year, I am sure, when Covid is over. Still, the trail was beautiful. We had several glimpses of the lake, fall color was in the trees, and there were those same pine trees along a stretch of the trail. I would guess they were put there when the park was built. At our turn-around point, our friends in the pelican pod had a fly-over just above us to say hello.

Rend Lake was created by damming the Big Muddy River in the mid-60’s as a way to both provide drinking water and to prevent flooding for the area. Hence, you have a lake with square corners. This was just one part of it, though. The lake is 13 miles at its maximum length. It was built by the Corps of Engineers, and they also operate all five of the campgrounds around the lake.

We had dinner, breakfast, and lunch cooked and eaten out-of-doors at this point, but then the beautiful weather was over. A massive front rolled in which brought wind and rain for the afternoon. Behind it came the cold weather. It’s funny how different our attitude about weather is, now that we have a 5th wheel! We shrug it off, go inside, turn on the fireplace, and view the weather from our windows. The next morning we took a drive around the lake, stopping at the Visitors Center and checking out their little museum in our masks. We had the place to ourselves. We drove across the dam and tried to find our former camping spot without any success. Well, it was a long time ago. Campgrounds change, and trees grow.

I love being outdoors as much as I can when we are RVing, but back at home you’d be hard pressed to find me taking a walk when it’s anything less than fifty degrees out. That’s what it dropped down to here, but I had to check on my pelicans. We walked in the opposite direction of the bike trail, where we had a different view of the lake. The pelicans weren’t there. Hopefully they found a drier and less windy place to roost than their usual mud bar. The picture below has no pelicans. The people that you see in the picture below are standing at the end of our camping road, which is where I first discovered them.

There were a lot of wooly caterpillars on the trail. Supposedly, if their rusty band is wide, it will be a mild winter. I’m hoping that this wooly’s prediction will come true!

Taking to the Road – Colorado Bound

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We’re very thankful to have an RV. With the pandemic, there would have been no other way to safely see our grandson and his parents this fall. It was exciting taking Sam and Frodo on our first real road trip, about 900 miles away to Denver. The per-day mileage was approximately 425 miles each way for two days, which is at the upper limit for a day’s travel. A travel day pulling an RV is longer than one in a car. The truck and 5th wheel together move slower, for one thing – a great lumbering beast going down the highway – and it is tiresome for the driver. Every stop along the way takes a little more time, and there are more stops for gas, at approximately 14 miles per gallon. I’m still working, and allocating precious vacation days, so spreading the trip out over more days was impossible.

Road trippin’ in Kansas

The picture of Cherry Creek State Park at the top is not mine, but from a postcard. You’d have to sit in the middle of the lake on a very clear day to get that view! The dam obscures the the city behind it. Still, it’s a pretty park, a bubble of an oasis in the south-eastern suburbs of Denver. We were assigned one site for one night, and then we moved to another for the next six. After walking all the camping loops in the park, we decided we liked our site the best. Was that because we were in it?

Our site at Cherry Creek State Park

The park has so much to do. The big draw, of course, is the lake, and there is a large beach and also a marina. But in addition to that, there are numerous trails for biking, hiking, and strolling, and a natural wetlands preserve. We had been here for a Sunday afternoon hike before, but this time we honestly did not explore the park much. Our bikes never got off the rack, and it’s a perfect park for that. It’s unusual for us, but we were busy with our little grandson! Because of Covid-19, it had been 9 long months since we’d seen him, and he had just had his first birthday. We did get take a enjoyable walk outside of our campground one morning.

It was beginning to look like fall, for sure. This very bright tree was near our first site where we stayed only one night.
A view of Cherry Creek Lake and marina from the beach
Hazy mountains, because of forest fires to the west and north
Our resident turkey
Magpies are a common bird in the park

One morning, a cyclist stopped in front of our site and started talking about RV’s with Cal. I joined them for the end of the conversation after I saw our daughter and grandson off after a big breakfast. It was a encounter we may have forgotten about, until later in the morning our daughter said she had talked to this cyclist’s wife! She is a colleague of hers that she doesn’t know well and has hardly spoken to. They’d had a Zoom meeting that morning and there was a breakout session where she was paired with this woman, and they started chatting. Heather shared that her folks were staying in an RV in Cherry Creek SP, and the other woman thought that was interesting because her husband had just talked to some very nice RVers that morning at Cherry Creek! They were David and Kerry, who were in market for an RV and really wanted to look inside one. We invited them over one evening for a tour, socially distant with masks on of course, until we all took this picture together. It’s a small world, indeed! I hope by now they have made their purchase and we wish them well.

Of course, it was all about our grandson Teddy, and his Moms of course, for that week. Getting away from work in the RV was the extra bonus. We greatly enjoyed our time there with them and our stay at Cherry Creek.

The fireplace is so fascinating!
Teddy’s second picnic ever

RV Weekending in the Summer of 2020

Early morning at our city RV park

As Labor Day comes to a close, so does the summer of 2020. If you’ve followed the news through this historic summer, you know it hasn’t been exactly uplifting. So we must all try to stay uplifted in our own lives. Having Frodo and Sam has helped to do that for us. From June all the way through the end of last month, we were out in the RV just about every other weekend. When we’re not there, it gives us something to look forward to. When we’ve been out, we’ve found respite from the times we’ve been living in.

We’ve been to our local 370 Lakeside RV park three times and though not woodsy or particularly scenic, I’ve enjoyed the wetlands, the birds, and the bike trail around the lake. It’s close to home so it’s been a good place to learn our new RV’ing skills. We had epic rainstorms on two of our Saturday nights and on Sunday morning of the last one, the entire picnic pad at our site was a miniature lake–and the only one in the park to still be wet! We were really glad that our tenting days are over. The next pictures are from our various weekends there.

Geese at dawn
The early bird catches the rainbow
Blue heron in the wetlands
A goose in our backyard for the entire weekend
Seen on the bike trail

There was also an Onandaga State Park weekend with some friends of ours, Kris and Rusty Thompson, and their granddaughter, Alexandra. We were able to share a family site, thank you very much to them. When you have a kid around, it’s absolutely obligatory to have a campfire. When it’s 95 degrees out even at dusk, though, what do you do? Well, if you’re RV’ing, you have can use an electrical outlet to have your fan going!

Social distancing while enjoying the fire…and the fan.

Part of what made Onandaga fun was this manic cardinal who kept attacking our window. He returned often through the weekend. It wasn’t the first time we’ve seen this behavior in a cardinal, and I did feel a little sorry for the poor confused little guy.

Our family campsite at Onandaga

We stayed at another state park, Cuivre River, which is a park we had tented with our girls a couple of times back in the day. It was a different business altogether driving the long narrow road through the park with a 34 foot RV. Together with a tightly packed campground, it wasn’t our favorite stay of the summer, but we did enjoy two great hikes with trailheads just off the RV camping area. One was a prairie walk and the flowers were in bloom. These pictures are from those hikes, and the last picture is from the one commercial RV park we stayed at, Lazy Day.

Morning on the prairie
Hiking through the tall prairie grass
We were on a trail aptly called “Mossy Trail”.
Campsite at Cuivre River, a challenge for leveling..complete with a great big stump!
Here we are!

An Ozark fishing pond

Frodo and Sam

With our successful home sale and move to the apartment, all systems were go. I looked forward to starting to plan a trip to Hawaii and other international travel for the next year. We were all settled in for just two weeks when COVID 19 became a reality in everyone’s life. My company told everyone to go home, work remotely, and not come back to the office. The gym that I had just joined closed down. And it wasn’t long before Hawaii mandated a two week quarantine for anyone arriving. We enjoyed Saturday walks and bike rides in various parks which, Cal being retired, he was enjoying every day. With COVID isolation, getting outside was the only thing to do. I had started wondering if we were going to be able to travel over any ocean the following year. A flight to Denver to see our grandson was canceled. And so was our family reunion planned for Washington state in July.

After a few weeks, we noticed an RV motorhome in the parking lot behind us on Thursday afternoons. On Friday morning it was gone, only to return again on Sunday, and then disappear. An idea began to germinate. What if…?

I started seeing Cal spending a lot of time on his notepad researching RV’s and Ford trucks. We both came around to the idea, he sooner than I, that an RV would put us in our own little bubble so we could keep traveling. He did the research, took me out to see his favorites, we had endless “what if” discussions, and in May we found ourselves to be the proud owners of a Montana High Country 5th wheel and a Ford Super Duty 350 truck. Frodo is the truck, and Samwise Gamgee is the “5er” (RV lingo for our 5th wheel) following him along, just like in the Lord of the Rings ( We were fans of the book before the movie ever came out, by the way).

It may have seemed like a sudden, impetuous move. But it was an idea we had played around with for years. We used to go to one or two RV shows a year until we pretty much decided what we wanted. I have nine siblings and 3 of them have had RVs, two of them living the life full-time and now on the other side of it, so we’ve had many years to observe, discuss and plan. It just wasn’t supposed to happen this soon. Life has a way of planning things for you when you least expect it, right? And who could’ve expected the COVID pandemic?

Here are some views from the inside:

Our new living room/dining room/kitchen combo
Looking back towards the door and the bedroom
Straight ahead, that’s a picture window to the side of the king-size bed. But from the outside, it doesn’t look like a window. If you look at the picture of the RV, it’s where “Montana” is splashed across the front. At first it was a drawback for us, but now we think it’s awesome. We can sit on the bed and have a bird’s -eye view of the kingdom.
Our view from the living room window, which is even better in the back row of the park.

Right now there is no better feeling than getting Sam all set up and unhooked from Frodo, and stepping into that RV for the first time on a Friday afternoon. And we’re always sorry to leave on Sunday. There’s no place like Sam!

Downsizing and Stuff

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Much of life has passed since my Guatemala blogs. They aren’t finished, and I would like to pick them up again…sometime. But for now, I’d like to catch up on my life because much has happened along the way.

In the beginning of February, as planned, we put our 4 bedroom home on the market. By the time the first weekend was up, we had a contract and by the beginning of March, we were starting a new chapter in our little two bedroom apartment. How does everything fit?? A year prior, the house was full of STUFF, which is the reason for the title of today’s blog. Literally, stuff.

Cal and I have been married for almost 41 years, and as late stage baby boomers, I’ve always been amazed at how, unintentionally, we fit into the demographics of our age. We accumulated in our 20’s and 30’s, aided by two 4 year (almost-) stints of living in Germany. I was delighted at all the things I could purchase while living in Europe. Not only that, but while there we did a lot of volksmarching. There were volksmarching clubs all over Europe, but especially Germany. One weekend a year, a club would sponsor a self-guided walk around their town with a distance of either 10 or 20 kilometers. There was an award for completing the walk, and they would publish a brochure giving particulars of the walk with a picture of the award. On any given weekend, there were several volksmarches to choose from. The walk was a great way to see the countryside, and the food waiting at the end was to die for. I still remember the times I tucked into a nice warm bowl of thick soup with a big fat sausage sticking out from the bowl, a hearty slice of rye bread, and a choice of home-made tortes for dessert…mmmm….but I’m digressing. The first time we were there, the awards were mainly decorative medals. By the second time, the awards morphed into plates, beer mugs, various souvenirs, often locally made. All total, we had over 100 beer mugs, countless decorative plates and other volksmarching trinkets, plus a cuckoo clock, Christmas pyramid, nutcrackers (2 of which were bar stools), other European tchotchkes, and a huge wall unit called a “schrank” to put it all in.

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Other items up for downsizing: tons of books. Crafting and scrapbooking supplies. Cal had a whole garage full of stuff. We still had kid’s toys and games. Not to mention the fact that I started saving up stuff way before I needed to for a garage sale, instead of shedding along the way.

That whole thing about your kids not wanting your stuff? That was us as well. To give our girls credit, they did take some things. My older daughter pointed out that she did not possess many of the memories that came with the purchases of items that were so special to me and I thought should be special to her, too. She was right, of course. She doesn’t need my stuff, and like many people her age, she prefers to accumulate experiences. She took the useful things ( the schrank – yay!), and our other daughter was interested in a few of the funky, off-the-wall items (the sword I bought for Cal in Turkey, for instance). Last summer we sent a U-Haul truck out to Denver to put those items in storage for them.

Which left a whole lot of stuff for a 3 day garage sale. Deciding what to give up involved a lot of soul searching on my part. It all looked great in our big, 2400 square foot house, but so much of it was representative of a past that we were finished with. Admittedly, I had to give a long hard look at some things before parting with them. There were things I’d had since I was a child. I took some pictures and said goodbye.

If you have ever had a garage sale, you know it is an exhausting business. Some stuff sold, a lot of it didn’t. We could have set everything out for more weekends if we had wanted to. We sold some things on E-bay and Marketplace. Several boxes of books went to a church book sale. Cal made 8 trips to the thrift shop in our little Camry. Lots of stuff went for free. Most of our shelving units went to an elated young person for her first apartment. Hardly anyone was interested in our awesome beer mugs.

What is so amazing, here in our little apartment, is that the rest of it fits! We were lucky to find an apartment with a large 2nd bedroom. There are boxes stacked 2/3 of the way to the ceiling along one wall. I have a suspicion that some day, I will open some of those boxes, and I won’t even want those things either. Because there is another part to this story, and I will save it for next time.

Colorful Chichicastenango, Guatemala

The Sunday Market

We had a two and a half hour van ride to Chichicastenango (from now on, just Chichi!) from Antigua. Chichi has Guatemala’s largest “Sunday” market. On Sundays, everyone goes to church, and while they are at their church in town, they visit a Sunday market to do their weekly shopping. It is a festive occasion; besides worshipping and shopping, there is a whole lot of socializing going on. The ride to Chichi itself was pure entertainment. Whole families were out in their Sunday best, heading for churches and smaller Sunday markets in the towns we passed. They were out walking, waiting for – or crowded into – brilliantly painted school buses, or jammed into “tuktuks” – motorized covered bikes. Some men were in white shirts and black pants, women were wearing colorful embroidered shirts and skirts, and the little girls in their ribbons and braids were just too cute. You would not believe how many people can stand in the pack of a pickup.

All manner of things are sold at the Sunday market. There is not only produce, but raw chickens, dead and alive. Ladies making tortillas with white, yellow or black corn, and cooking them over a fire. Colorful booths full of traditional clothing, table covers, all kinds of woven fabric goods, home goods, anything you could imagine. And in the middle of a tightly packed crowd, there may be a religious procession making its way through the market. Guatemalans like processions.

When a vendor opens her cloth like this, she is trying to get you to buy it. And she doesn’t like to take “no” for an answer.
Everything momentarily stops for the procession.

Chichicastenango has one of the largest Mayan populations in Guatemala. Our guide for the day was a Mayan named Sebastian. He took us to the church of St. Thomas, which was part Catholic and part Mayan, built in the 1500’s. The Mayans had their candles lit on the floor down the center aisle. Outside, they would light fires for worship: sugar first, then bundles of sticks, corn, 4 eggs north south east and west, and candles stuck in the coals. Many market stalls were selling the necessities for the fires.

At Home in Antigua Guatemala

3a 20180910_065556Part of a week long stay while learning Spanish in Antigua is the stay with a Guatemalan family.  In the weeks leading up to the trip, I was questioning my sanity in deciding to do this:  would we have to use outside facilities?  What if we had to eat rice and beans all week?  What if the family wasn’t nice, or there were other students, young and more advanced, who would be conversing in rapid Spanish all the time?

I didn’t give too much ear to my worries, and I’m glad I did not: we were extremely lucky.  The owners of the home, who I’ll call Senor and Senora, were retired.  He had a little coffee farm to keep himself occupied, and went there every day while Senora kept the home.  One of their daughters lived with them together with her husband, a 7 year old boy, and their very adorable little one year old girl.  The only time we saw the family was at meal times.

The home, like most others, was behind a wall and two or three other residences.  It was built in what formerly was the open courtyard.

At night, everyone’s cars lined up in the driveway with only enough room to walk by.  I always wondered how they decided who was going to be first one out in the morning!

After you walked all the way down the long drive, a turn to the right took you to a small yard where the entrance to the kitchen and dining room was, and then steps up to two small rooms, each with a bathroom, so Linda and I each had our own rooms.  The view from our little concrete deck was amazing, as you can see in the top picture and in the others below.3a 20180910_164212

We were so excited to wake up and see a smoking volcano!  We took pictures of it every day because the view was always changing.  Our joy at this became tempered with the realization that this was none other than Fuego, the volcano that cost so many people their lives and did so much damage in June of this year.

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There were other things to look at off the deck, too, besides the ripening of the oranges that you see in the tree in the above picture.

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Our neighbor working in his little orchard

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An early morning visitor

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A cross-shaped garden

Our hosts, sometimes just Senora, would eat with us and converse through every meal. They were warm and welcoming. Yes, we most often had beans, rice and tortillas, but it was always served with other foods, deliciously prepared, never too much or too little.  We learned the names of the foods we were eating and all the fruit served at breakfast:  banana, watermelon, cantaloupe, papaya, mango and pineapple.  Most of it is available year round in Guatemala.  My sister enjoyed Senor’s coffee, fresh from his farm.

I will admit to one flaw in the whole thing:  I am a shower-in-the-morning person, and I like my showers HOT.  Most were tepid at best, cold at worst.  But everything else being what it was, and my little room so cozy, it was not much to complain about.  Except at 6AM!

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Up Next:  A Day in Colorful Chichicastenango

Learning Spanish in Guatemala

img_0529.jpgWhat do you do when you decide to take your language learning to another level?  For me, the answer was to go learn it in another country, and I concentrated my search on Central America.  For the next part, I enlisted a companion traveler: my sister, who is also a learner of Spanish.

An Internet search led me to Don Pedro Spanish School in Antigua, Guatemala.  Two websites were great for this:  I found Don Pedro on  And Trip Advisor verified for me that the school was legit. Lots of people had had a good learning experience. I also liked Don Pedro because they ran an after-school program for children as well, providing lunch, dinner, homework assistance and other activities. One of the first things we did upon arriving in Antigua was to locate the school, which turned out to be just a short walk from our “casa”, the house and the Guatamalan family with whom we were staying for the week.

Whew! It exists!

The doors on the streets in Antigua generally opened to courtyards, and so it was at Don Pedro.  It was enclosed upon entering, but opened up onto a “courtyard”. There were tables and chairs on the sides under a tin roof, trees and vegetation in the open area, and several resident turtles.

For less than the cost of a round trip plane ticket, I could study at Don Pedro one-on-one with a teacher for 4 hours every morning for 5 days. There were activities in the afternoon that I could join if I wanted to. And I’m including in this cost the week’s stay with a family, which covered all meals except Sunday.

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The view for my week of study, which included an avocado tree.

2a-img_0528-e1540233162979.jpgI learned much from my teacher Helida.  Besides reviewing everything I have learned so far, we also enjoyed good conversation about our lives.  I strained to translate as she spoke and also tried to watch my grammar as I conversed with her.  She quickly discerned my weak spots and reviewed everything I had learned (and should have remembered) to that point.  I received a blank notebook to write in, and there were no texts except from books she would pull from their office for specific learning exercises.  Unfortunately, a week is really only enough to get one’s feet wet.  By the end of the week, I felt like we were finally ready to move on to some new learning.  My sister, Linda, who is a faithful Duolingo student, also felt that her Spanish improved through the week. Over dinner conversation, our family told me that at my level, one month in Antigua would have been necessary for fluency.  For someone with no Spanish background, it would take 3 months.  And people do stay that long.

My teacher, Helida, and I

Linda and I volunteered one afternoon to work with the children in the after school program.  As part of that, we assisted in making the tortillas to go with their lunch. I turned out to be a pretty good tortilla pat-ter.  It maybe would be a super power for me, if I needed to make tortillas every day.


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Here’s Linda patting those tortillas.

After lunch, we both assisted students with their homework. I helped a young man with his English homework and also tried keeping a little girl focused on her writing project.  I was rewarded with a big grin when she had it completed.

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The area where the children have their after-school program.  When they were there, all the tables were pushed together.

Antigua in particular, and Guatemala in general, is rife with Spanish learning schools.  Antigua was downplayed by many people for the fact that it is a tourist town, and you may not get a full immersion experience.  My experience was that if I wanted to speak Spanish all day long, I could.  And, if you’re not happy with a school, you can (and many people do) just go find another school in town, or travel to another town that has one.  I would love to return, and if I do, I would not hesitate to return to Don Pedro.

Stay tuned for next time:  A Stay with a Guatemalan family