Saturday, October 30, 2010

Flat Stanley Project

Earlier this year, I got a curious request from the daughter of a friend of ours.  Her class was reading Flat Stanley and wanted to send him to me.  I first had to Google the guy to see what I was getting into and then quickly agreed to one of the coolest projects I’ve done recently.
See, Stanley got, um, flattened by a falling bulletin board.  This new identity lets him slide under, over and through tight spaces, including being mailed to new places.  The children's book, written in 1964, became an international phenom in the mid 90’s when a third grade teacher in Canada created a pen-pal project to allow school kids to practice literacy and track Stanley’s travels.
Abriah sent us her personalized Flat Stanley, along with a list of questions and a Flat Stanley to decorate.  We answered her questions and then took Flat Stanley out on the streets of Amman for a meet and greet.  The response was better than I could have anticipated.  Young and old were intrigued and excited about getting their picture with Stanley!
After an afternoon of touring, we dropped the two Stanleys, along with some brochures about Jordan, at the Post Office and wished them luck.  Abriah’s teacher got them in good form and they proved to be a hit at school!  We got a full description of Stanley's adventure from Abriah when we had dinner with her family recently and got to see our Stanley again... Drop by Flat Stanley's album to see his tour!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Two Things Thursday

Wow... crazy run-around... that's usually the pace in Jordan and this trip's been no different.  I'm rooming with Nathan, who has been an ideal roomie... perfectly happy to hang out in his space with his Mac and me in mine.  And he makes a mean banana bread or chicken fried rice.  Definitely a domesticated dude.  So, knowing that I haven't put in my time in Petra quite yet (insert heavy irony here), I offered to play guide and introduce him to the Rose Red City.  
This was to be, I believe, my sixth time to venture through the hallowed walls of the siq and stand before the majestic Treasury.  We kicked off at an ungodly 7.30AM and were on Abdullah's camels by 11AM (yep, I've got a Bedouin guy on speed-dial).  It was a GORGEOUS day with blue skies, cool breezes.  We explored up the mountain behind the buffet restaurant, rode the donkeys up to the Monastery and even got some time in on the Urn Tomb.  I'd not been up on that side of the park before and was amazed at the size of the rooms.  We were back in Amman by 9PM and gratefully collapsed into bed.

And Second:
So, the whole reason it's been crazy run-around is that our national conference wrapped up on Monday night.  This year we had services in Amman, Husn and Marka.  This required some schlepping of gear from one location to another, but overall seemed much less harried than previous years.  (This  is heavily influenced by the fact I arrived two days prior and thus had very little to do with the prep work).  Brad Reed did a fantastic job in pulpit and we had great services all around.  For an added bonus,  Adam came in to visit for a few days in the midst of it all.  I was especially happy with the turnout for Husn, which was held at the YWCA in town.  Four were baptized after that service.

This week I've been prepping to leave, cleaning out closets and running errands.  I went with Mylen and Nathan to OWWA (the Filipino woman's shelter) and had the opportunity to speak to them.  It was beautiful to see over 50 ladies worshiping the Lord.  There's over 120 ladies living in a 4-story building, with more coming every day.  The employees requested us to pray that they would have favor with the government to stop the illegal trafficking of domestic workers into the country.  It's a massive problem all over the globe.
I'll be preaching in Friday and Sunday's services, so I appreciate your prayers.  God's doing awesome things in the Middle East!

Friday, October 22, 2010

SUZI: Punctuality is the Art of Kings

My dad not only expected punctuality, he demanded it.  If he said we were leaving the house at 6 a.m. for a vacation, we had better have been in the car at 5:55 a.m. because at 6 (if not before) we were pulling out of the driveway.  No questions asked.

It takes great discipline to be on time; you have to quit what you're doing to move yourself along.  It takes planning; you must schedule your day well and include enough time for the travel to get to where you need to go.  It shows respect to those who are waiting for you; their time is as valuable as yours so you won't keep them waiting.  A Czech proverb says, "Punctuality is the art of kings."  Being on time is a noble habit.

Normally, I'm a pretty punctual person.  At least I was as of six months ago.  Some how, though, I've found myself running late more than I ever have in my life since Cooper has arrived.  It's normally based on one of the follow things:

1)  Cooper is asleep.  Who in their right mind would wake this child when he finally fell asleep?

2)  Cooper has just filled a clean diaper.  Again.

3)  When Cooper filled that diaper for the second or third time, he managed to get it on his clothes.  Or mine.  This requires an outfit change for at least one of us.

4)  Cooper has spit up some doughy, curdled milk concoction that can't be simply wiped off.  Another costume change.

These are merely the primary reasons among many, many subsequent ones.

Recently as I was running late (I believe reason #3 was the culprit that day), I felt such a sweet presence of the Lord.  The thought of His love for me was so overwhelming.  He loves me whether I'm late or on time.  There's nothing I can do to change His love for me.  I can't ever be perfect enough to make Him love me more.  He loves me even when I'm late.

It's so easy to say the words "the Lord loves me unconditionally."  But somehow in that moment, the reality of that statement took hold more than ever before.  I realized that I do things trying to ensure His love.  The fact is, I don't have to.

Of course, it doesn't mean that He's pleased with everything we do or that He accepts things against His Word.  But He's certainly not standing over us with a lightening bold ready to zap us.  I'm so thankful to know such a kind God.

Does all of this mean that I'm going to quit trying to be a punctual person?  Absolutely not!  That noble habit is still what I'm aiming for - some days its just pushed aside while I change a diaper or two.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Two Things Thursday

Item Uno

So, I'm back in Amman and to add to the fun, I've got Adam Hunley to run around with... it's just a very good day.  I got in just fine and blew thru immigration using my residency card from last time I was here.  I then waited for mine to show up till after every other bag was off the plane.  It's always nice to roll into a city and feel comfortable enough to stop by and grab groceries on the way home.  We spent the today roaming around downtown with Nathan, who hadn't seen much of the area there.  That jaunt's not complete without some mansaf at Cairo restaurant which just put a pretty li'l bow on the afternoon.  We prepped tonight and will hit the day running tomorrow for the first day of conference services.

Item Dos

It's 3AM.  I'm wide awake.  WHY?  You may ask?  Well, it's the beauty of that tiny, internal clock that runs around with you and, when it winds down, causes you to *yawn* and drop dreamily into cozy-land.  It takes longer to adjust than you think you need, and when you swap sides of the world, as I just did, it thinks, "Oh, it's still Missouri time, let's go out and play!"  When your mind is saying, "About the time Brad gets up to preach tomorrow, I'm gonna fall outta my chair in a sleep-deprived stupor!"

Fun times with the jet-lag, ladies & gents. Fun times...

So, do you have a fave way of dealing with time-zone changes?  Post 'em up and let's compare notes!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Newsletter Update

We send out a newsletter to our supporters periodically to keep them updated on our activities... Seeing as I haven't talked much about any of our current plans, I thought I'd post this as a beginning to that conversation.  More to come!

Monday, October 18, 2010

Why I didn't change my own Alternator

I had some work done on the Escape last week and felt the need to share this little tidbit.  Now, I love my truck (above in Arizona)... what with it's 160,330 miles and unlimited uses.  It's hauled everything from popcorn machines to kayaks to table saws... and once hauled me in the back deck on the way to St. Louis.

So, when the battery light started coming on periodically and our friends at Autozone said the alternator wasn't charging at full capacity, I decided I'd try some DIY with Dad in the garage.  Then I pulled up the following directions.  By the time I got to the part about removing the front axle, my eyes had glazed over and I knew I was outta my league.  Off to Gibbs Garage it went, where they reported it "took a little longer than we expected."


1. Block the tires, set the emergency/parking brake, and put the truck up on jack stands and remove the front wheel.
2. Remove the black plastic splash shield from underneath the right side of the engine. It's held on by about 5 M8 bolts, and one Phillips head screw.
3. Remove the serpentine belt. With the cover off, from underneath you can put a 3/8" drive socket into the tensioner pulley.
3. Next you need to remove the front axle. Do it in one piece. Loosen the 32mm nut that assembles the shaft to the spindle. Back the nut off so about half the threads can be seen- you will hit the head of the nut to get it to go back through the spindle. Remove the front (15mm) and rear (I used a 3/4" but it was slightly too large) bolts holding the lower control arm to the frame. I pulled the assembly away from the truck at this time and braced it. Use a socket on the nut. This will star the process. After it started to go through I used the jack handle until the axle went back through the spindle. Now remove the 2 nuts (10mm) holding the half-shaft bearing and slide the front axle out of the trans-axle case in one piece. PLACE A CATCH CAN UNDER THE AXLE, YOU WILL LOSE FLUID!!
4. (YOU DID DISCONNECT THE NEGATIVE BATTERY CABLE, right?) There are 2 plastic snap clips holding the back splash guard for the alternator. A flat head screwdriver will pry these out and and if you're carefull you can reuse them. There are (3) M13's holding the alternator, two on bottom, one on top (do the top one first, it's easier to hold the alternator up to get the last bolt out. Remove these bolts and slide the alternator out of the way. (Try using different extensions and a u-joint on the ratchet, they can help in different combinations. This will also help when you are removing the alternator bracket.
5. Now, that the alternator is unbolted, you need to take off the alternator bracket. There are 3 (10mm) bolts that go from the rear into the engine block. The top can be seen from under the truck. The next one is below and the third is easily remove from the side of the car near the wheel.
6. Once the bracket is out, you can you have a little more room to get to the electrical connections. Be careful with the regulator connector, you need to push inn the tab that holds it in. I used a flat screw drive on the tab to release the lock. If you look at the new alternator and you will see a square hole in the connector where the lock engages the connector). The positive wire is held on by a 10mm nut.
Put it all back together. You will lose a little over a quart of tranny fluid so you may want to pick that up when you get the alternator.
The hardest part for me was literally unplugging the alternator. There is no extra wire so getting in there to push the tab and pull the plug was rough.
Total time from start to finish was 2hours 15minutes from the time I broke the first lugnut until I started the truck, this included a run to the auto store to empty my oil container so I could catch the tranny fluid and a 10 minute break for some water. It was about 90 degrees and very humid. I used all hand tools, no air. I'd be happy to go another 6 years and 180,000 miles before I had to replace this thing again, especially in the summer when my other truck is broken down and taking up the space in my air conditioned shop.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Two Things Thursday

Numero Uno

What an amazing drama that unfolded out in the badlands of the Chilean mine-scape.  As with freeway chases and little dogs stuck out on a frozen lake, the world sat down with their take-out dinners and gaped and guessed and guffawed for the entire 69 days leading up to the emotional final 24 hours.  Truly, it's amazing that these 33 guys were able to be pulled from depths at all, much less after 2+ months of captivity.  It will be interesting to see how Chile changes on the world stage... and how the industry changes as a whole.
There were a few personalities that stuck out to me... Chilean President Pinera, who swore he'd hug every neck that came up the shaft and then pulled an all-nighter doing so. Luis Urzua, the shift foreman and last man out, who kept order and morale up for the first 17 days and then organized the rescue from below. Mario, second miner out and absolute rock star in my opinion.  He brought up rocks to hand out as gifts and stage dived into the fence line full of rescuers... and then gave a point blank assessment of the situation:

"I was with God, and I was with the devil. They fought, and God won."

And a Second Thing
Cooper and I went to Rothwell Park for some Big Guy/Li'l Guy time a few days ago.  He got a chance to play in the leaves and swing and talk to geese.  I know he's not gonna remember one second of that day, but it's got to be adding some levels to his foundational development.  I never understood why parents would take their kids on a trip to Everest or Branson when they weren't able to comprehend where they were or enjoy the surroundings.  Makes perfect sense to me now... bag the kid up, we're going on an expedition!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Cooper Shots

Somehow, time got away from me and I didn't get Cooper's 5 month photos published.  Actually, I know how time got away from me, but there's no reason to go pointing fingers or laying blame at doorsteps, you know, that partisan kinda thing and all.
Anyway, last month we went into the shoot with the intent of doing our normal, lay-the-kid-on-his-back-and-shoot-til-something-cute-shows-up routine.  But instead we got this:

So glad we could communicate that to each other: I don't like laying down anymore...
Cooper's contract now specifically states:
"Model will not be required to lay on back during scheduled photo shoots or a serious and absolute conniption will be thrown, alerting the neighbors that you are terrible parents.  And you don't want that."

So we started with sitting up, but first had to get him to quit grabbing the camera:

All our hard work paid off... and once again we captured the beauty and mystique that embodies a growing boy... we thought about trying to capture the other part of that mystique that happens at 3AM, but it was too dark and the flash would have blinded us all, probably causing me to trip into the changing table, and coming away with a handful (if I'm lucky) of the Goo-That-Requires-Showering.  So, you don't get to see that part.  Although, feel free to stop by for a personal experience anytime you happen to have late night cravings.  Bring some Steak-n-Shake if you do.

Monday, October 11, 2010

SUZI: Pay it Forward?

Several days ago I got a cold.  I can usually feel when they're coming on, but this time it seemed to just come out of no where.  It was the classic cold yuck - stuffy nose, sore throat, sneezing and coughing.  I even had a temperature; something I haven't had in a long time.  I was achy all over.  Needless to say, I didn't want to do too much.  I kept suggesting to Cooper, "Hey...let's go sit on the floor and play with those fun blocks again."  I was able to semi-lay down while stacking blocks over and over again.  Cooper was a good sport about it. 

I was really hoping he wouldn't get it too.  I'm not sure how I thought that could even be possible considering he is constantly trying to chew on my hands and touch all over my face.  As much as I tried to keep my hands washed, the inevitable happened.  Cooper spent a day sneezing, and I kept telling myself that surely there was just a lot of dust in the air.  Yea. 

When Cooper is sick he's needy as can be.  He doesn't want to be set down at all.  He wants to sit in your lap while playing; next to you is not close enough.  Sleep is miserable because he wants his pacifier but then rubs his nose because it is stuffy which knocks the pacifier out.  It's a vicious cycle that isn't pretty.

We're both getting better now, and we know that this is just one of those unpleasant parts of life that you have to deal with.  We're hoping we don't pass it on to Scott, who did start sneezing last night.  But of course, he's sneezing because it's just really dusty, right?

Sunday, October 10, 2010

SUZI: An Anniversary

One year ago today, early in the morning, I received a call that forever changed my life.  We had been in Jordan for five days when we got the news that my dad had suddenly, and very unexpectedly, died.  Scott immediately started making phone calls to the airlines.  Once he finished, we had twenty minutes to get dressed, pack and head out the door.  It's funny what you pack in moments like those.  We realized later that we had all kinds of electronics but no chargers to most of them.  We had odds and ends of clothing.  No matter what we had or didn't have in our suitcases, we were miraculously home 24 hours later.

When you lose someone as significant as a parent, there's a whole host of mixed emotions that flood you.  You feel empty with the loss, yet full for the privilege of knowing the person.  You feel alone yet connected to those who remain - tied together with the cords of a shared life.  You feel the quiet of the absence yet the memories of a life speak volumes.

There's not a day that goes by that I don't think of my dad.  The chemist.  The baker.  The airplane maker.  The camper and outdoor enthusiast.  The bridge player.  The one who was curious about just so many things.  He packed so much into his life.

So, on this one year anniversary of his death, we remember his full life and how it profoundly shaped ours. 

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Two Things Thursday

Hmm... TTT... Two Things Thursday.

Shall we start a little ongoing ditty with that?  Two completely different subjects discussed in two paragraphs each. This sounds fun...  Of course, I'll have to write up a process on how to remember to have two things to discuss every Thursday (I have complete confidence in those skills).  And, just to up the ante, the first person to remind me, on the following Friday, that I've forgotten TTT will receive a Valuable PRIZE.  Yep, we're crossing the line into interactive blogging.   That's where you, our dear readers, get involved.

I become attached to various products and brands and tend to be extremely loyal.  I got all excited about G-Tech hard drives when I switched over to Mac a few years ago and have had a 250GB as my primary Firewire bus-driven media storage for some time.  All movies, music and pictures started there and then backed up to a 1TB Seagate in a Rosewill case.  Several weeks ago, I'd run outta space and excitedly upgraded to a 500GB.  BTW, I name all my drives after comic characters: Silver Surfer (500GB), Rogue (250GB), Cyclops (500GB), Wolverine (1TB), The Thing (16GB usb), etc. Call me a geek, but these are the things that make me happy.
Wednesday, I noticed that Cyclops had mysteriously dismounted and to my dismay wouldn't power back up.  Naturally, I hadn't backed it up since I bought it and panic ensued.  After trying all manner of cable options and resisting the urge to throw it thru the sheetrock (WWMSD?), I rang up G-Tech to get an RMA for that vaunted 3-year warranty.  My next call was to Mac Xperts who, for a small fee, pulled the drive apart and dumped everything back onto Rogue.  Cyclops will take a little trip and come back a happier camper.  Let this be your warning: BACK UP YOUR STUFF!

Cooper headed in to see Nurse Jackie for a couple of pokes today.  She came out to the waiting room to make friends with him before we eased into the exam room for the dirty business.  Cooper had to know something was up.  There was just way too much happiness and frivolity.  Sure enough, his suspicions were confirmed when, seconds after this shot, he got two of his own.  One for each thigh.  And then we had to stick around in the room for a bit while tears were dried up.  There's just nothing worse than that open-mouth, silent scream.
I was there when he was born, but I still can't get involved in the nitty-gritty medical stuff.  When Nurse Jackie pulled out the syringes, I thought, "MAN, those things are huge," and kinda eased around where I could block out the actual puncture and, you know, focus on Cooper.  We've got two more sessions this year and then a break until 9 months.  Cooper and I are both pretty happy about that.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

SUZI: Mom Stuff I love... and the Other Stuff

Things I love as a mom:
~ Nuk Genius Pacifiers
They are definitely more expensive, but there are bigger air holes and the outside piece is smaller.  Right now, Cooper is slobbering a ton which causes him to break out where his pacifier sits.  The Genius Pacifier helps cut down on that.  Plus, how can you resist a pacifier called the "Genius"?
~ Huggies Overnight Diapers
These have saved us from wet PJs for many nights.  That also means no wet sheets and less "emergency" diaper changes.  And that's a wonderful thing.
~ Cooper's Laugh
Cooper is laughing more and more over simple things.  We were recently at a Wendy's, and Cooper was sitting contentedly in his car seat on the floor next to my chair (this is an amazing feat in and of itself).  I was saying ridiculous thing to him like "bababababa" or leaning and in saying "HELLO!"  Apparently it was just too hilarious, and Cooper was laughing nearly histerically.  Scott said he could hear him across the store.  While I'm sorry to be an obnoxious parent to all the people around me, I thoroughly enjoyed watching him laugh.

Things I so do not love:
~ PJs with a lot of snaps
Cooper hates footed PJs.  If I put footed PJs on him, he tries to pull the footed part off.  The futility is absolutely frustrating to him (although slightly hilarious to me).  I have some that seem super comfy that are un-footed, but they have snaps.  A lot of them.  13 to be exact.  Did the manufactures try snapping 13 snaps in near darkness at 4AM?  This was the best design they could come up with?  Really?  Isn't there a "testing closet" they can slip into, turn off the light and then say, "Wow, 13... That's just not gonna work!" 
~ Changing leaky diapers in public
I don't mind changing diapers.  It's not my favorite thing, but it certainly isn't my least favorite thing in the world.  But I really don't like doing it in public when Cooper has had an accident, and it is all over his clothes.  Where do you even start?  At home I can rinse him off, but it isn't that easy in public.  There's all the stuff you need and never quite enough room for it all - changing pad, diaper cream, a "cover" (lest Cooper let loose again on everything), diaper, wipes, baggie for the soiled clothes, new clothes.  What do you start you take off the clothes or get the diaper...all while trying to keep it from spreading?  Ick.  [If you are ever in the Columbia, MO mall and need to change a diaper, make sure to use the bathrooms near the Food Court.  I've never seen such family-friendly bathrooms anywhere.  There's even a nursing room complete with a rocking chair (which by the way, you can also use as a "shelf" for all of your things when using the changing station right next to it.  It definitley makes the public changing much easier.)]
~ Checking on the baby and, instead, waking him up
Like I just did.  I heard a cry on the monitor.  I waited to see if he cried again.  He didn't.  This would indicate that he went back to sleep, and that I should not check on him.  But what if he quit crying because something is wrong?  This reasoning makes absolutely no sense to someone who gets sleep on a regular basis.  For those of us who don't sleep much, this makes perfect sense.  When I went into the room, the door squeaked...loudly.  This woke the baby up.  This is not the first time I have done such madness.  I have also kicked the crib on accident when "sneaking" away after checking on the baby.  
I am my own worst enemy.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Roots & Blues & BBQ

Columbia has hosted an annual Bluesfest for the past four years.  Now, any food-lover knows you can't have the Blues without BBQ... and I've mourned my absence every year!  This year, I managed be in town and joined my Uncle Ray from Houston for the Roots N Blues N BBQ Festival
Uncle Ray is a blues loving fanatic and can quote, chapter & verse, all manner of blues history and legend.  His vacations are spent festival hopping... complete with hat!  I don't claim any stake in the genre other than it's the background music to every BBQ joint I've been to... So, when Uncle Ray made a specific trip up to Columbia's first Blues Fest, I knew they were on to something good.  In fact, I remember Bonnie, Ray's daughter/my cousin, talking about going to hear blues music with her dad and thinking, "Now, that's gotta be something on my bucket list."  Fast forward four years... I'm in the country and Ray's made plans again to come to RBB... scratch one off the list!  Hoorah!
Now, I love live music.  There's something about being in a crowd with a connection to a performer that's just organic on the simplest of levels.  Wipe away all the lights and gear and massive staging and we're back around our ancestor's campfire with an a cappella storyteller spinning lines of lore, captivating the kids and keeping the adults up late into the night.  These types of events bring us out of our home theaters and back under the stars where we belong.  We're social creatures, by & far.  It's good for us to communicate at eye level.
I didn't know what to expect from the performances, but I tucked myself into Ray's back pocket and tagged along through his set list, the big draw being Tab Benoit from Houma, LA.  We set up on the center line in the intersection of Locust & Seventh and enjoyed a decent performance from one set, endured an awful performance from a second set and then nearly froze through Tab's set.  In between shows, I sampled Smokin' Chick's and Lutz's brisket & pulled pork (way too fatty and decent, respectively), plus a bag of mini donuts, fried on the spot and covered in cinna-sugar.  (I also hit the portapotties 3x... it was cold!)  By all accounts, it wasn't "laugh-out-loud, goosebump good" as Uncle Ray would say (I missed Saturday's much better performances), but I was terribly impressed with Boone County National Bank's vision and Thumper Entertainment's organization to put on what's become an annual and very successful festival.  We may not have a cypress swamp nearby, but last weekend there were some good times in bayou off Broadway!  Check out the rest of the night here...

Monday, October 4, 2010

SUZI: Overnights & Weekends Away

Scott, Cooper and I enjoyed a wonderful and relaxing weekend in St. Louis.  We stayed for free at a Sheraton in Clayton (thanks to our Starwood Points!).  This was Cooper's first time to stay in a hotel, and as I packed I realized that I needed to haul more than I realized.  We had more stuff than I have ever had for a two night stay - bags and bags containing way too many diapers, a white noise machine to help Cooper block out the noise, about 17 changes of clothes, toys, and just a whole boatload of miscellaneous just-in-case items.
I got the experience of walking through the Sheraton lobby with a giant, three-foot-long, fuzzy white stuffed bunny...that was a new experience and one that garnered more than a few knowing smiles.  Cooper loves to fall asleep while holding one of the ears, so you better believe that was coming with us.  We quickly settled into our room and set up our "systems" - a diapering area, play center, sleep area (thanks to a crib delivered to our room) etc.  Doesn't everyone immediately put systems in place wherever they are?  
In the evening we spread out a towel and fed Cooper his rice cereal - it was wonderfully messy.  There was only a shower in the room, so we decided to give him a quick bath in the sink.  It took all four of our hands moving as fast as possible to keep him from sliding all over the place and turning those faucets on.  It also quickly dawned on us that when Cooper went to bed our day was done.  Obviously, the lights had to be out and the noise had to be minimal.  We debated about flushing the toilet.  There was a lot of gesturing and near-silent whispering.  Cooper slept relatively well considering the circumstances.

Sunday we enjoyed a wonderful service at Winds of Pentecost church followed by some yummy BBQ eaten in our hotel room.  I love eating restaurant food in hotels.  (I also love going through the drive-thru and eating the food in my car in the parking lot, but that's another story.)  The evening was quiet with a repeat performance on Cooper's sink bath.  It wasn't any easier the second time around.  There was more whispering and gesturing. 

Monday morning we planned to go to the Botanical Gardens but needed some breakfast before heading out.  There was a St. Louis Bread Company Community Cafe just a couple blocks from where we were staying, so we strolled through streets busy with people in suits to get a bite to eat.  This Bread Co was unlike any other I had been to.  There were signs inside declaring that it was a "community" store.  When the cashier rang up our order, he told us the "suggested" price.  Apparently, you don't have to pay if you don't have the money.  There are clear boxes in various places around the store where you put your cash.  The cashier is only there to handle credit cards.  There was a table by the door full of day-old loaves of bread and bagels.  You could take what you wanted and leave a donation if you could.  The store even had a different felt like a community.  The workers were unbelievably nice - they helped us carry our food to the table when they saw we were balancing a stroller and a baby.  People came by and talked to Cooper.  The workers chatted with us.  Someone held the door open for me when I was leaving with the stroller.  I left with the feeling that I wanted to do something to help somebody.

Our next stop was the Botanical Gardens.  This was a place that my family used to visit, so it was very special for me to take Cooper there for the first time.  I realize that he will remember absolutely nothing about the trip, but I love that he's being exposed to these places from a very young age.  Scott and I used to debate the benefit of dragging young children to places they will never remember, but surely these experiences make an impression on them even if they can't remember them.  We strolled around and let him put his hands in the fountains and pound on rocks as we pointed out flowers, trees, butterflies and birds.  We fed the fish and enjoyed the sunshine.  By the time we left Cooper was a bit dirty and definitely in need of a nap.  As we were leaving, I thought about my dad and the excitement I always felt when we took a trip to St. Louis when I was a child.  I felt so happy and full being able to share some of these places with my sweet boy and favorite guy.