Houston, we have some Unicorn Girls!

The Unicorn Girls robotics team from Vogt Elementary at their St. Louis Expo

Over the past few years, I have coached both First Lego League and First Lego League Jr. teams at Vogt Elementary. The older FLL team has always been called the Viper Bots. The younger team has changed its name over time: First they were the Sci Girls, then the LadyBots. This year they became the Unicorn Girls.

Well, we ended up having so many interested 1st-3rd grade girls that we had to add a second Jr. FLL team: the Unimermaids. It was quite an experience coaching these two teams, along with co-coaches Yoli and Heather Roberts, and our middle school helper, Ludi.

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Fall colors for International Josh Day

Our kids were off school (presumably in celebration of International Josh Day), so we took the Golden Eagle and Brussels ferries to Pere Marquette, Grafton, and Elsah.

This was our first time driving through Calhoun County, and it was really lovely. We had heard of it many times via the Farmers Market, since we often buy Calhoun County peaches. The rolling hills and curvy roads were lovely. I would love to go back and just walk there.

The River Road and Pere Marquette State Park had absolutely fantastic fall foliage. We saw some bright yellows and reds as we hiked up to McAdams Peak.

The leaves in Elsah were not as vibrant as I have seen in some previous years. We were also disappointed to find the General Store wasn’t open. Elsah always seems to be shut down on Mondays and Tuesdays. Oh well.

Return to the Club

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Editor’s note: This summer we spent a few days at the “clubhouse” built by my great-grandparents near Clearwater Lake. It was our first time back there in a few years. Though the lake was very high because of spring floods, we still had a great time. On our way home we visited the Johnson Shut-ins. Ludi shares a few memories from the trip:

When we got to the lake, my dad needed to buy supplies for fishing. The Lake was very high. The only way to reach the dock was by boat. Josie and Joseph rode a boat with him to go to the dock to buy stuff.

During our trip, my dad was whittling. I asked him if I could try. He had one or two extra pocket knives, so he let me use one that he got at church. That’s how I learned how to handle a pocketknife and how to whittle.

We hung up the hammock. We walked around. We went fishing near the top of the flood parking lot, then waded in the water after we finished fishing.

After several days, we packed up and got ready to go to the Johnson Shut-ins. There were these huge rocks there, so you could climb on top of a rock, and there would be water going over it. You could slide down it like it was a slide.

As you got deeper through, the water would get much deeper. It was fun because there were certain areas where there were big rocks together, so it was like a fort. Me, Josie, and Joseph would play in the fort and splash water at each other and stuff. Then there was a scary part: a family said they saw a snake. Me and Josie were really scared because I thought I saw a snake when we were heading back towards the shallow area, but we never did actually come across one.

“Jerusalem”

israel3

This morning Yoli and I had a rare kid-free couple of hours. We thought it would be fun to to see the new film Jerusalem on the Imax screen at the St. Louis Science Center.

The film is very nicely done. Narrated by Benedict Cumberbatch, it tries to show the different facets of Jerusalem through the inhabitants. The film features three girls: one Jewish, one Christian, and one Muslim, who talk about their lives in the different quarters of the old city. The film also features beautiful visuals, and a good helping of archaeology and sightseeing to explain why different faiths care so deeply about particular places.

Watching the film with Yoli transported me back to the year 2000. As the editor of the student newspaper at UMSL, I received a flyer in the mail inviting me to apply for a seminar in Israel for college newspaper editors sponsored by the American Jewish Committee. It didn’t take me long to decide to apply.

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Summer slipped by

Last year was a summer of waiting, as our house was rebuilt. This year was a summer of change.

The biggest change was unexpected and swift: My dad lost his job of 25 years, but in short order found a new job — in San Antonio. He and my mom finished a number of projects on their house and then put it up for sale. Thankfully they didn’t have to wait long, and before we knew it, they were preparing to move.

Amazingly this all coincided with our family’s already-planned vacation in Texas. My mom and dad showed up in San Antonio several days after we arrived, which allowed us to spend more time with them post-move than we otherwise would have.

Unfortunately, during our vacation I got news of impending layoffs at the Post-Dispatch. Each time we go through this is harrowing. This time moreso because I had heard rumors my own department would be affected, and because of the experience of seeing my dad lose his job. Thankfully, the rumor was false, and we gave a sigh of relief. But many talented friends and colleagues were let go.

There were other changes, too. First was our yard. It was pretty much a disaster after the tornado, pitted and weedy and laden with tree and construction debris. We hired a landscaping company to re-grade it and put down some sod. Little did we know we would be in for the worst drought St. Louis has seen in years. But thanks to Yoli’s faithful watering (and our neighbor’s granddaughter while we were in Texas), the grass survived. Now it is thriving.

As we wrote previously, all four of our kids took swimming lessons. When we were at Clearwater Lake with my parents and when we were at my Nan’s pool in San Antonio, the kids put the lessons into practice. We were thrilled to see their progress. Jadzia and Ludi have also become bike riders, though we still have work to do there.

This was also the kids’ first summer attending VBS. They attended two different VBS programs at Ferguson churches and had a blast.

During our trip to Texas, the kids visited the coast for the first time. And Jadzia was able to visit the Houston Space Center.

And just as quickly as that, school was upon us. Jadzia moved up to 2nd grade, and Ludi began kindergarten. Both are flourishing in their classes.

We were thrilled as two different friends had their weddings. I was honored to give a toast at the first wedding reception. The second wedding was held at the Shrine of St. Joseph in downtown St. Louis, which was significant to me because my immigrant Becker ancestors were married there in 1860.

But 12 hours after that second wedding, I was in a car with my brothers, driving through the night to San Antonio to mark the saddest change of the summer — my dad’s sister, my Aunt Carol, died. It wasn’t totally unexpected, but still it surprised us and hurt anyway. The blessing of all this was that the funeral brought us together with our parents and all my dad’s siblings for a few days. That doesn’t happen often.

So much happened. Summer slipped by.

Josie cruises through the play supermarket at San Antonio’s Children’s Museum.

Yoli and I at Mission Concepción.

Ludi celebrates her fifth birthday at Nan’s house.

Family photo of us (plus Grandma Renaud) in front of my mom and dad’s new house in San Antonio.

Josie enjoys the waves at Galveston Beach.

Yoli, Jadzia, and Xena pose at the Houston Space Center.

The kids got all dressed up for Doug and Kristin’s wedding reception.

We visited Tio Jonny and Tia Brittney at the St. Louis Zoo on Labor Day.

Ludi, Jadzia, and I after completing our first game of Monopoly — Lord of the Rings Monopoly, that is.

My dad, Aunt Joyce, Uncle Jerry, and Uncle Jim at the open house the night before the funeral for their sister, my Aunt Carol.

Justin, Dion, and Jon engage in a sports debate at lunch at my parents’ house after the funeral.

Grandma Renaud, Justin, me, mom and dad went out for steaks on my last night in San Antonio.