Friday, April 19, 2013

Westward Expansion - Day 3 and 4

Wow, where do I start?  Well, I guess I start at the beginning of Day 3!  This is a photo heavy post, and I ran out of time last night to get anything up, so I am up at almost 1:00 AM trying to catch up so tomorrow I don't make it even worse :-)

After the weather forecast calling for heavy rain, we anticipated our day at the Arch and our Riverboat Cruise to be a total bust.  Somehow though, we were spared, and though it had rained throughout the night, we had a brief several hour interlude that coincided perfectly with our adventures for the day.  What a gift that was! After sleeping in late, which was a delicious feeling for all of us, we arose and hightailed it to the Thomas Jefferson Westward Expansion Memorial Park, which is also where the St. Louis Arch is, as well as the Westward Expansion Museum.

Here we are, leaving Jorge behind and ready to hit the cobblestones!

We all were strangely fascinated with the streets and the signs of old life that were intermingled with modern life.

Here we are, ready to head up the elevator to the park.

Our first sight of the arch!

Kenny, checking out the stainless steel exterior.

The arch is really more impressive in person than I thought it would be.  Its shiny exterior soars high above you, graceful yet sturdy, and it is so large it is almost impossible to take it all in visually without being quite far  away from it.

Waiting for Dominick and Angela, who went off on a mission...

They had to go hide Dominick's Leatherman pocket knife tool, which he forgot to leave in Jorge!  As this is a  National Park and landmark, we had to go through security and so they hid it somewhere on the grounds to recover later. Yes, it was still there when we went to retrieve it.  They thought they were so sneaky :-)

Up...up...up in the arch!

Joshie is the budding photographer these days.

Olesya capturing the height sign.  At first, she was pretty scared to go up, but once there she got over her fear quickly and really enjoyed it.

We were waaaayyyy up there!

This is what we all traveled up the arch in, a little pod of sorts that holds up to five people.
Matthew called it a Porta Potty! HAHA!  Gotta admit, it sort of felt like it!

Then we entered the Museum, and spent some time exploring it.  The Museum is located underground, under the arch.

I just loved the above quote, and it is so practically stated that when one thinks about how we battle over land and claim territories, it all seems pretty selfish, doesn't it?

Matthew taking a picture of me taking a picture of him!

A man with a Russian accent stopped and asked if we wanted a picture with all of us in it!

We didn't take a carriage ride, but all the kids giggled as they saw the hooves on this horse.  Looks ready for Mardi Gras!

Kenny and Josh were concerned when they saw the man below who was homeless.  I love their big hearts.:

We were ready for our hour long Riverboat Cruise!

All aboard!

Olesya said, "It's not fair that boys don't get windy hair!!"

When the others went to the front, we three went to the side.

Joshie and Angela stole the camera from me and wanted pics of them with me.

So I got even and got pictures of...well...bottoms!

That was the end of Day 3...lovely weather, an educational and fun filled day, what more would we ask for?

Today dawned as rainy and cold as yesterday was to have been, in fact the Mississippi River rose a full foot overnight!  We were glad our day included mostly indoor activities, with one exception, so after dragging the girls out of bed (We always tease them!) we were off to see something unusual and not part of our Westward Expansion historical theme.  I had read online about the Cathedral Basilica St. Louis, thought it sounded fascinating, and after conferring with the clan we decided to take it in on a cold, blustery mid-morning.  

You might be asking what makes the Cathedral so special.  Well, let me share!  It was granted Basilica status,which is only conferred upon a few facilities and is based on more than an architectural style, but also on liturgy and other factors.  We went in expecting something quite different, based upon the exterior Romanesque architecture, but we hadn't even all walked into the Narthex before we each gasped aloud at what we saw.  With FOURTY ONE MILLION mosaic tiles throughout, we knew we were going to see something different, but we were blew away...totally speechless upon seeing it up close.  Here is a tiny little portion:

Below is where it sat among a larger work:

The entire ceiling of the Narthex area was in stunning mosaic tile.


But then, we walked through the large wooden doors, and beheld a sight that is hard to accurately photograph or describe:

Now mind you, every single image is mosaic tile...stunning, isn't it?

Josh laid on the floor trying to photograph this one above.  Olesya and Matthew were able to get a few solid shots of everything, but Angela's older digital camera which was graciously given to us by a friend just didn't have the technology to handle the extremely low light situation.  She vowed to get a better camera soon.

There is just no way to do this photographic justice.  I was awestruck.

I had a terrific Mom moment as I sat in the pew taking it all in as the silence fell around me. Joshie came up and snuggled under my arm.  I said, "This is really awesome, isn't it?  I don't know if I have ever seen anything quite as beautiful."  He sat quietly for a moment, then said, "It's pretty, but it isn't the prettiest thing I have ever seen."  Intrigued, I asked, "So what is the prettiest thing you have ever seen in your life? What do you think is the most beautiful ever?"

He didn't hesitate a moment when he reminded me of last summer, when he and I stood in the middle of a quiet highway and took these two photos:

Josh then said something I'll never forget:

"Momma, man can make some pretty cool things, but what God makes is much more amazing."

He's right, and I love that he thinks so.

Sitting elsewhere to try and take in a different view, I spotted this angel, with a banner which said something quite meaningful to me on this particular day.

Then as we turned to leave this stunning place, I was confronted with this:

How incongruent, I thought.  How tragic, I thought.
And I wondered what Jesus would have said about this tiny little box near the door of this massive, ornate cathedral built in honor of him.
I am betting he might have had a little something to say about it, and it brought me up short to even think about it.

From the Cathedral, we went over to the Budweiser plant, where we took the factory tour, saw the Clydesdales, and were enthralled by the bottling facility.  We learned statistics that were a bit one huge tank of beer (they have 66 of them, I believe) holds enough beer in it that someone would have to drink a beer every hour of every day...for 136 empty it.  They process almost 1900 cans of beer a minute off their line. If they stopped production at this plant, and didn't ship out any product, within 18 hours...HOURS...the entire midwest would be Bundweiser-less.  Surprisingly, the kids really enjoyed this tour, which we threw in as a filler because of being rained out.  Everyone agreed it was well worth it, and quite interesting to learn more about the manufacturing process of beer.

We ended our day on a crazy little adventure here in St. Louis, as our trip here wouldn't have been complete without seeing the grave and monument to William Clark.  Team LaJoy laughed that we were worried about getting a little wet for a few minutes when Lewis and Clark spent two years out in the elements, so we girded ourselves to get soaked and decided we HAD to get photos at the cemetery!  It was pouring as we drove over to Bellfontaine Cemetery, a humungous resting place of over 300 acres, and drove around trying to beat the clock as we had 15 minutes before the gates were to close, and we had to find Clark's grave.  Ahh HA!  We found it, and as if God was smiling down on our fortitude, the rain slowed to a drizzle just long enough for us to get out, traipse forward, and take a few shots:

One of our heroes.  We have all decided we actually preferred Meriweather Lewis to William Clark, but they both rank up there with Thomas Jefferson (Who totally still tops the list for all five kids!).  I love how they have enjoyed studying various people in history, and how they feel it has all come to life for them.  Standing at the Mississippi River, we all spoke of how it is hard to even begin to imagine how the Corps of Discovery made it going against the current.  This trip is helping them better understand what an undertaking of this magnitude required of the men (and woman!) who were part of the expedition. It was no joke, it was brutal, it was startling that they ever actually made it.  Seeing the land they traveled, the rivers they traveled, it makes it all real in a way nothing else can.  How grateful we are to our school program for making something  like this possible!!  

Reading headstones or Clark's relatives.  Pictured along with them is my dear, dear husband, who has gone along with every cockamamie scheme I have ever come up with...Let's go to Kazakhstan and get a kid!! "OK".  Let's get more! "OK".  Let's go to NY, DC and VA and cram as much as we can into 3 weeks, then let's come home with a young friend for a couple more weeks! "OK".  Let's follow the Lewis and Clark Trail for awhile and fit in a bunch of other cool things!, "OK".

Dominick, you bless me daily with your willingness to try anything, with your open mindedness, and with your love for your family.  I promise not to drag you anywhere else for awhile :-)

Kenny and Joshie taking a last photo of engraving on the monument.

Angela getting back into Jorge, who is serving us wonderfully for this journey!  Fuzzy dice and all!

As fun as it has been so far, and it HAS been fun, there are always the challenges along the way.  When we get off schedule, Kenny has a very difficult time holding it together.  We have noticed that when we are anywhere as a group for something like this, he stops being accountable for himself and instead zones out and lets "group think" guide him.  Several times in the past couple of days Matthew has had to corral Kenny, keeping him from being left behind or making sure he has whatever he needs like a jacket or some other item he left behind.  It is like Kenny has turned his brain off, and he is saying more things that make no sense, he is doing exactly what he was told not to do, and even though it is nothing major, I can't begin to tell you how frustrating it is when he gets to this place.  We can't let him go anywhere on his own, not cross a street, or walk through a parking lot, because he is so inattentive he will get injured.  He will leave everything behind and just walk away without his backpack or other items, and it is like his logic sensor is burnt out or going outside in the pouring rain without so much as a jacket.  It makes a trip like this more stressful than many might realize, because you are constantly on alert and worried about his safety.  We had a long talk with him this evening, and we are going to try a new tactic the next few days.  If he does something that is out of whack, if it is not life threatening no one is going to save him from it.  Raining out and no jacket?  You will be cold all day.  Forgot your backpack?  Sorry, guess you lost your wallet and everything in it.  He agreed that he thinks he is just turning off because he knows someone else will take care of it for him, and he also agreed that trying to build in natural consequences might help force him to become more aware.  It is so hard with a kid like Kenny, because some of this is not his fault, but sometimes he lets down in ways he doesn't need to and it makes what is already hard that much worse.  We'll see if there is improvement over the next few days, but prayers would be appreciated.

Angela and I had a wonderful conversation tonight by the pool, as she asked about why Olesya is as detached as she sometimes is. She shared with me that she feels like she doesn't know her own sister well at all, even though they live in the same room, and she is worried about her future. We talked about what might keep Olesya from wanting anyone to know her very well, and Angela wondered as do I if there are memories that are buried that hold her back.  We spoke intimately about Angela's early days with us and how terribly painful they were, and she said, "But you are 100% my mom now and I am totally comfortable with you about anything. I can talk to you about anything that is bothering me, and I don't feel like I need to hide from you at all.  I want Olesya to feel the same thing, because you will be the safest person she can ever share with, and it helps so much." Then she added, "Mom, you are really the perfect mom for us, for all of us.   I don't know another mom who would do all you do to help us, we all got very lucky to get you and Dad as our parents.  Don't feel bad about Olesya, it is her, not you, and someday I bet she will finally break down.  After all, I did!  No one else could have helped me do that but you, seriously, no one.  I felt so much better afterward.  She needs to learn how to be close to people."  As we walked away from the pool with four dripping kids in front of us, Angela put her arm around my shoulder and whispered, "Keep trying, Mom!"

Another sweet moment shared was last night with Matthew, as in the dark he crawled up on the bed with me and showed me a couple of cool You Tube videos.  Then he said, "Did you see this one, Mom?".  It was the one circulating through Facebook this week that Dove soap put together.  It depicts the contrast between how women view themselves so differently than others view them by having people describe themselves to an artist who doesn't see them, but draws their likeness from their description. Then someone who has met the woman comes in and the artist draws another rendering based upon that person's observations.  The two drawings of the same woman are then displayed side by side, where the contrast is impossible not to see.  Inevitably, the drawings of women describing themselves were far less attractive than the drawings created from the descriptions of others. It is a powerful statement about beauty, and how distorted our culture is that most women do not see themselves as anything other than less-than-satisfyingly attractive.  Matthew, sprawled out beside me looked at me seriously and said, "You need to watch this carefully, and the girls do, too. Make sure they do, Mom. It is important."

That our thirteen year old son understands at a deep level how hard it is to be a woman in our culture of perfection was surprising to me.  That he wanted to make certain that the women in his life never feel "less than" was deeply touching.

Family trips are never, ever solely about what you see or do.  They are opportunities in the making, where the familiar is left behind, and new insights are gained.  Monuments to national heroes are totally cool, monuments to family love are far more important, and are often not cast in stone, but are instead offered in little nuggets here and there, metaphors and symbols in kid language that lay bare the truths we need to know.  They are the real blessings gained from any trip taken together.


Anonymous said...

Prayers for each of you and for the synergy of the whole as you create this new adventure. We miss the you that left and await the new you that returns. Thanks for sharing the adventure.

Love you,

Anonymous said...

I use to have that same feeling about such grandeous churches in contrast with the poor until I was told something that I had not thought of before. In many, if not all cases, these building were built by contibutions from the people. Small and large, from the poor and rich. They all wanted these churches to speak to their children's children of the glory of God and so they sacrificed to make it happen. Because of this, the poorest today are able to soak in these magnificent works of art without charge. Where else would poor folks be able to see and take pleasure in such richness? If all the great art was stored in private collections only those with money would enjoy it. This is especially true where the disparity is greater but also here. On a more simple level, I compare it to a public library. Even the homeless people can get in out of the rain and enjoy a good read.

I am loving your trip journal! Traveling with you vicariusly ( or how ever you spell it ;-)

Teresa F.