Going, going .....gone...back

Vacation time. Hooah! We took a couple of weeks of leave, though I didn't get out of town on Monday like I planned since my PFT got rescheduled. Not happy about my score so planning to retest...but that's another story.

We made a big circle going first to TN where we received some promising news regarding my mom's fight with cancer. Then onward to St. Louis. This was our first big drive that we have ever taken both girls on together. We packed up enough clothes for the four of us for two weeks and one of us for a year (pre-teen on board) threw the dog in the fend for herself and took off.

We had a full agenda. First we visited with some of my wife's extended family that were also in town. Then we hit Grant's Farm. I noticed some changes already since Imbev has bought out AB. First there was a sign about reduced operating hours coming. And then they had Imbev beer on tap for the free samples in the beer garden. I stuck with Amber Rock. I still have to ask myself when considering how AB has been bought out if there is nothing sacred anymore. It was a topic of conversation more than once in St. Louis with my friends there.

Grants Farm is still worth the stop. A mini zoo of sorts on property once owned by President Grant. It features a train ride through areas where animals run free.

Over the weekend we visited with friends in Red Bud Illinois. My friend pastors a congregation there. He was the associate minister when I did my internship in Cape Girardeau many years ago. They are the god-parents for my oldest daughter.

I always have this sense of wonder when I go visit with them. They have a very nice church, parsonage, and school right out in the middle of the corn fields south of Red Bud in an area simply called Prarie. Here once finds a confessional Lutheran church focused on the provision of God's Word and Sacraments and pastoral care as people work to live out their vocations in God's creation. There is a beauty and a simplicity there.

Back in St. Louis we hit the zoo one day and the science center and the jewel box the next.

The butterfly garden was incredible. The zoo has made some serious upgrades since we were last there. Some of the exhibits are so real that you feel as if you are standing in the midst of the jungle quietly peeking through the overgrowth at the animals.

We saw some fairly typical animals.

And some less typical.

We hopped the train and made a mad dash around the zoo to arrive just in time to see this little cub being called in for lunch with his mother. So cute... at this age at least.
The zoo was great, even if I did have to pay 12 dolllars for four bottles of soda.

But admission was free.

The Jewel Box would have been disappointing except for the incredible water lilies out front.

I took my two girls through my old stomping grounds at Concordia Seminary.

And my wife fulfilled a dream of taking her children to a St. Louis landmark: Ted Drews. (and White Castle). Note: we all survived White Castle.

Of course we stopped at the world famous ARCH! on the way out of town.

We then drove north into central Illinois to visit my first parish, a dual parish of Trinity Lutheran in La Rose and St. John's Lutheran in Washburn. We hit the area just in time for dinner at Woody's and desert for the eyes as a huge thunderstorm rolled in from the west just at sunset. I snapped this photo sitting on the console in the middle of the car with my head sticking out the sun roof as my wife drove us into Varna.

Some things you just gotta do in the country.

Our days in Varna were like stepping back in a time machine. We stayed with some old friends in Varna Illinois. A very small town, but there are signs of growth here. Some new housing and the local grainery has expanded 5 fold. I enjoyed walking out early one morning to the local Casey's to get coffee and saying howdy to folks I hadn't seen in many a year. Some of them even recognized me.

I took my oldest daughter on a five mile walk down a gravel county road in the midst of the corn fields when we startled these black birds. Felt like a scene from the movie Day of the Bird there for a minute.

We had an old fashioned potluck with my former flock. Some of the folks looked like they hadn't aged a day. We laughed and shared stories and memories as well as expression how we missed some of those who had passed on.

I even met the pet squirrel of the folks we were staying with. Our host took one look at this photo and exclamed, "he's cute. Almost makes me want to like him."

This is Trinity Lutheran Church in LaRose. The place I preached my first sermon as a pastor. (They had the early service on Sunday mornings.)

This is St. John's Lutheran Church in Washburn IL. I was ordained here and my oldest daughter was baptized here by the same pastor I visited in Prairie Illinois.

Both churches haven't changed a bit. I feel like I could have walked in from years ago heading for my office.

And of course, before we left town, we introduced our youngest daughter to our nightly ritual when we lived in Washburn. We walked five blocks from the parsonage (across the street from the church) to the local Caseys and bought the girls a cookie.

Time catches up with us all, but in some places it seems to move a bit slower is all.