Sunday, October 31, 2010

Happy Halloween!

For your amusement, a blast from the past: excerpts from Let's Have a Good Time: A Plan Book for Successful Socials, by Olive Cameron (Cincinnati: Standard Publishing Co., 1938), 91-96.

There's a section in the book for "A Party a Month," and for October, of course, one of the suggestions is a "Halloween Frolic."

A Halloween party for your society is an excellent idea, as it has long ago been proven that affairs of this nature are always beneficial, not only in a social way, but they are sure to radiate interest to the extent of an increase in membership. Don't omit the decorations--black cats, bats, owls, witches, black-and-yellow paper festoons, jack-o'-lanterns, etc.

The suggested games and activities include a game of "Halloween Similes" to act out in pantomime ("silent as a ghost"; "as blind as a bat"; "as sour as an apple"); "Toss the Ball" (into a cut-out jack-o'-lantern's mouth); and "Corn Relay" (don't drop the handful of loose kernels as you pass it from one to the next).


But then there's this!

Queen of Halloween.--All guests, one at a time, must appear before the Queen of Halloween. Kneel and lift the right hand for her blessing. The queen, with pasteboard crown, sits on her throne over in the corner. She wears on her right hand a glove, which has sewed in its palm a copper wire, off the end of which has been scraped the insulation [ha ha ha!--note the grammatical gymnastics to avoid ending that sentence with a preposition!]. This wire runs around back of her to the floor, where it is connected with a battery. This battery is so arranged that the queen can throw on the current by stepping on a switch. The switch and battery, of course, are covered by her dress. As the victim kneels and extends his hand, the queen grasps it as if to shake hands, throws on the switch and the subject leaps to his feet with a wild yell.


And this!

Apple Antics.--This will prove a most amusing race for the boys as participants and for the girls as spectators. An apple is provided for each boy and is placed on a newspaper on the floor. With his hands tied behind him, each boy endeavors to eat his apple first, in hog fashion.

I think this would indeed be amusing to watch!

Happy Halloween, everyone!

P.S. Please keep your pets indoors tonight. Dogs and cats don't appreciate Halloween nearly as much as we do.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Tonight's the Night

. . . Of the first hard freeze--or so they say.

Of all the places in Central Missouri, our house and yard seem to be the least likely to experience predicted frost and freezes, because we're on a hill, and cold air doesn't settle in here like it does in the hollows. Plus we're in town and have lots of asphalt and concrete to warm the place up.

But do you really want to take chances where they're talking "freeze"? We have the blue-ribbon elephant ears to think about, and they might be older than I am. And then there are the hibiscus. And the big scheffleras, and the brugmansias, the philodendrons, aloes, orchids, begonias, dracaenas, and more.

God, we have too many plants. (Anyone want some? Free to a good home . . .)

Some years, we're smart about it, and we set aside a weekend, in early or middle October, to move the plants. That way, we're not out there the day right before the freeze-night, all in a rush.

One year, we didn't start digging up the elephant ears until after dark, when it was already starting to get quite cold, and the ground was wet. I'd already taken my lenses out and was wearing my hated glasses, which were steaming up and slipping down my face as I was sweating.

Wow, did that suck! It was definitely a "10" on the cussometer.

You would think we would have learned our lesson, right? I mean, for the love of God, please, let's get it done before we have to.

Well, today we "had to." And no, it was not convenient for us, not at all.

True, it wasn't raining (hooray!) or snowing (hooray!), and the ground wasn't soggy (hooray!)--but we both have head colds. Yep. We both started feeling crappy at about the same time yesterday afternoon, and we're still in that horrible "coming down with it" stage. All day today we've been sinking.

You know what it's like when you're just at the beginning of the cold. Stuffy, puffy, painful. That sense of "Oh, no." We've both had sinus headaches all day. I honestly feel like shit. But the show must go on, right? Save the plants!

Dad was our hero--I'm almost ashamed to admit it--he came over and did all the digging, and he helped us with the lifting, while we moved plants, carting them from the backyard to the garage, and scratched our heads and tried to figure out where everything was going to go. At least for tonight.

We seriously have too many plants.

Seriously: Want some?

So I was at it all day, pretty much--I took a "break" in midafternoon to buy cold remedies, orange juice, and tissues. It should have felt like a break, but instead it felt like a huge amount of work, even just to change temporarily out of my dirty gardening duds and into something presentable enough for K-Mart.

There is a good chance we'll wake up tomorrow and find absolutely no sign of frost or freeze--that has happened before--I'm not kidding about this yard having a relatively warm microclimate.

But as I explained in my previous post, I tend to err on the side of caution these days. Taking chances can lead to regret.

So by now it's all done--well, mostly. There are a few plants that we left outside--a little schefflera and a little philodendron that we're sick of moving in and out. Sorry, plants--nice knowin' ya.

And the "chatter" roses are blooming quite profusely now--I usually cut them so we can enjoy the clusters of flowers indoors, instead of them getting socked by the freeze. But eh: pretty as they are, I don't think I could smell them now, anyway.

Hibiscus Stories

This might seem a bit odd for a midwesterner, but I've been thinking about hibiscus the past few weeks. Like so much else, there is a recent trigger that has caused the past to flavor my current thoughts.

The trigger has been the luxurious blooms that our two hibiscus shrubs have begun to produce. (Yes, they're finally blooming, now that it's getting time to trim them back and bring them inside so they don't freeze.) (I don't think I've quite figured out how to make them happy enough to bloom all summer long.) (I'm still learning.)

One of the hibiscus is a peachy orange, single one, that we purchased, so there's not much of a story with it. The other one has more of a history.

It's pink, double, and bears large flowers. And it's only bloomed for us a few times. We are not its original owners. It used to belong to a friend of mine, whose mother gave it to her in about 1995, I think. (Or was it the late eighties?) It was blooming profusely at the time.

My friend knew how to take care of plants enough to keep them alive, but I don't think she was particularly good to them. This hibiscus never went outdoors, never drank sweet rainwater. She kept it on the floor next to the sliding door to her back patio, where it got lots of sun but nevertheless showed its need by pressing its leaves and branches against the glass. It was there for years.

She watered it, but I don't think she fertilized it. I don't think she ever repotted it, either. It never bloomed for her, that I know of.

We acquired it in about 2006, when my friend moved, and the first thing we did was repot it and set it outside, and it started blooming almost immediately. And I think that's the last time it bloomed for us.

Starting last year, we've been removing it and our other hibiscus from their pots and planting them directly into the soil in a flowerbed next to our house during the growing season. I think that's made a big difference. It's special ground, I think.

Here's where the past enters the story--as you know, this was my Grandma Schroeder's house since 1930, and she was a garden clubber, green-thumb kind of lady. Her yard was like a botanical garden. And she had hibiscus, too.

In fact, they outlived her. She had acquired her hibiscus in the 1950s, as I understand it. By the time Grandma died in 2000, she had two, and they were veritable little trees, with a trunk diameter of about one and a half or two inches.

One of them had been a gift to her from her neighbor Clara Renner, who happens to be my other grandma. This was before my parents had married--from what I know it was just a simple neighborly gift, the way gardeners share plants with each other.

Each spring, Grandma would plant her hibiscus in the soil, often right where we're planting our hibiscus today. How many summertime parties did we have in her backyard, with her red and yellow hibiscus glowing against the pure white stucco wall? Grandma would gush over them.

On special occasions--like when she was entertaining visitors even such as us--Grandma liked to pluck a hibiscus flower and stick it in her hair, or attach it to her blouse.

She also used them as a garnish on her fruit platters.

When I was young, Grandma Schroeder's hibiscus were a subject of chiding and lecturing twice a year by my parents and uncles and aunts. In spring these large pots had to go outside, and in fall, they had to come back in. Sometimes Grandma lugged them up to the third floor. And she'd often move them herself--hence the lectures from her children: "You did that by yourself? Why didn't you let us help you? What if you had fallen? They're too heavy!"

Grandma was obstinate back then--"Well, I just wanted to get them in, and I didn't want to bother you . . ."--but in later years, of course, she welcomed the help.

What happened to Grandma's hibiscus? I hate to tell you, because it's kind of sad. About five or six months after Grandma died, it was getting close to frost and freezing. Her yard and plants had been kept up by my dad and my uncle, and at that point I was seriously considering buying the house.

And of course, I remembered the hibiscus--but it was too late. It was already dark, and getting late, when I learned on the news that the first freeze was predicted for that evening. I called my dad, who has much more experience than I in interpreting the weather forecast and bringing in plants. We discussed it and decided that even though a freeze was predicted, the hibiscus should make it through the night.

Indeed--they were located against the house, and the house is located in town, surrounded by concrete, and usually we're the last ones in the region to experience frosts and freezes. When the weather forecast says "frost," we usually go, "yeah, sure."

But Grandma's hibiscus did freeze that night.

I wish that my foresight could be something just a little closer to 20/20.

I was sad to lose them. And it was more than losing another connection to my Grandma. It had to do with the death of mature, beautiful, living things that depended on us. I felt we had somehow betrayed them, considering all the care they had received for half a century. They were fine, and going strong, and they died just because I chose not to drive a half hour to Jefferson City at ten o'clock at night and drag them a few yards into shelter.

But there's no going back, of course; you live and learn. Sometimes those freeze warnings do indeed mean that it will freeze.

And anyway, we do have our own hibiscus, now, with their own stories and colors, to lug in and out each fall and spring, to delight us with their blossoms, no matter how profuse or rare, to take their nourishment in this charmed soil.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Lutheran Apples

One of the reasons I'm such a huge fan of autumn is that it's the season for apples. You already know I have a "thing" for fruits, and apples are the king of fruits in our country. Apple pie. Applesauce. Apple juice, which is a common sweetener for nearly everything, such as juices that claim to be "100 percent fruit juice" but need sweetening anyway.

But this time of year, especially, we think of hot cider and of caramel apples. And bobbing for apples! --That's only done at Halloween parties, right? And personally, I think of going on a nice, long hike, and carrying an apple in my jacket pocket. You know what I mean--those days when you think, "Life can't get much better than this."

We just received a big bunch of apples from my mom, who received a much bigger bunch of apples from the Lutherans here in Jeff City. There's a new parochial school--Calvary Lutheran High School--and they're raising funds for constructing their own building.

Mom told me that Principal Erich Ahlers personally helped load the apples into her car.

Where did the apples come from? It turns out that Christine Hollingsworth (nee Rasa), the mother of a recent CLHS graduate, has family in Lexington, Missouri, who are apple growers. (Lexington, by the way, has a fascinating history--plus it is perhaps the state's oldest and largest apple-growing region.)

Hollingsworth's grandparents, Robert and Laura Rasa, founded Rasa Orchards in 1933, and the orchards are now being run by three of their five children. They have a retail market open during both peach and apple seasons. Their apple market will be open through November. But call first; see comment #1 below. (Suddenly, a trip to Lexington for history and apples sounds like a great idea, doesn't it!)

So naturally the school has an annual apple sale. They take orders around early October, and the apples arrive about the middle of October.

The Lutheran school sells 'em by the bushel, half-bushel, or peck, and this year they offered five varieties: Granny Smith, Fuji, Golden Delicious, Red Delicious, and Jonathan. I don't think they're organic--so it's not a perfect world--but they are lovely apples, not banged up and bruised, and absolutely fresh.

They were also selling pints and quarts of apple butter, so you don't have to stand around a backyard campfire all day, pushing a big sassafras spoon around a copper kettle full of apple mush. So convenient!

Mom, who is basically "once a Lutheran, always a Lutheran," got a half-bushel each of Jonathans, Fujis, and Golden Delicious. Whoa! I think they must be making bushels a lot bigger than they used to. That's a lot of apples for Mom and Dad to eat on their own! . . . So they share. My parents are incredibly generous.

I'm excited about it. I put a bunch of them into a nice basket out on the back porch--just because they look pretty. They look delicious out there. I can stand in the kitchen, doing dishes, and look out the window, and there they are, smiling at me, those luscious apples.

But it is a bit of a challenge--a glorious challenge--to find ways to enjoy them before they get tired and brown. Fortunately, apples lend themselves to all sorts of applications, sweet and savory. I can make a kuchen. They can disappear into bread. They can go into a stir-fry. Ever make "Himmel und Erde"? It is exciting to think of the possibilities. I shall become the George Washington Carver of apples!

What a hardship!

What a treat!

P.S. Oct. 25: I've amended this post slightly, since Christine Hollingsworth set me straight on some of my facts. Thank you, Christine! And best regards to the CLHS community!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Year of the Mushroom: It Never Really Ended

Today, I'm picking up on the subject of my last entry, where I described how Sue and I used to have an annual theme. It started with my unofficial "Year of the Star," after I finished grad school and discovered I really missed "learning things."

When we lived in Columbia, our apartment was in a low area, next to a field and a creek, and we had lots and lots of spiders. I combated my instinctive arachnophobia by reading and learning about spiders. I shared what I'd learned with Sue. That year, which we later called "Year of the Spider," we even had a big lovely argiope on our tomatoes.

Somehow, learning their different names, and preceding each with "Mrs." (because, again, nearly all the ones you see are females), removed their anonymity and made them less scary. Mrs. Cyclosa. Mrs. Araneus. Mrs. Agelenopsis. And audacious Mrs. Phidippus with her groovy tetrachromatic color-vision goggles.

Yes, over the course of a whole year, we stopped to look at just about every single spider we saw, and tried to identify it. And we often fed them, too!

The first time we decided to designate a "Year of the" beforehand was in 1999. Neither of us had much of a clue about mushrooms and other fungi, so we set out consciously to spend a year with the shrooms.

We read mushroom books (and there are a lot of incredibly fun, popular science books about them!)--we started noticing them, "seeing" them.

And, amazingly enough, in August 1999, the annual conference of the North American Mycological Association was held right here in Missouri! We didn't join, but we did make it down to Cape Girardeau to witness some of the events.

But 1999 was a dry year, and overall it was kind of a bust for mushrooms. So we gave it another go--and 2000 became "Year of the Mushroom," too. It turned out to be a good thing--1999 gave us the preparation, the study, the exposure. In 2000, we got out in the woods!

Yep. It was great. We had our first-ever morel hunt, and I learned how to cook morels, too. That spring we found enough to make several dishes, from a delicious Asian stir-fry, to the good ol' "sauté in butter and garlic and add to chicken" stand-by (you can never go wrong with that), to Ozarkian Classique (cut 'em, soak 'em in salted water, rinse, drain, dip in egg, dredge in cornmeal, deep-fry in Crisco or canola, and salt).

We attended a great class--"Mushroom Mystique"--led by Ken Gilberg, held at Shaw's Arboretum. It was a lecture followed by a foray, after which all the shrooms we collected were ID'd by the master!

And we had a great time that year at the international grocery stores! The Italians, Germans, and Russians love mushrooms--and so do the Asians. We found all types--canned, dried, fresh. And they all have great names. Even the Mexicans have a favorite culinary fungus: corn smut (huitlacoche) is a delicacy to them!

We got a "grow-your-own shiitakes" kit. My mom bought me a special "mushroom cleaning brush." I made sushi rolls featuring mushrooms. At Christmas, I suddenly noticed how many ornaments (especially Old World ones) depict mushrooms (often those poisonous/hallucinogenic red-capped Agaricus species).

We never got very good at identifying mushrooms--mainly out of lack of interest. It's not like I'm starving and need to determine which mushrooms are edible. We had plenty to learn about them, culturally, biologically, ecologically.

Did you know that we'd probably be drowning in a sea of fallen branches, sticks, twigs, and leaves, if it weren't for fungi's amazing decomposition powers?

And did you know that some researchers think that the witch trials of old Europe resulted from "flying" hallucinations, excruciating burning sensations, and tissue damage caused by widespread ergot poisoning? (Ergot's a fungus that attacks grain crops.) The folks, being as superstitious as all get-out, attributed their maladies to witchcraft.

And did you know that tall people aren't very good at mushroom hunting? Short people--children especially!--are much better! Some folks think that "Easter egg hunting" evolved from annual springtime morel hunts.

There is so much to appreciate. Indeed, I think there are more absolutely fascinating "gee-whiz" stories about fungi than there are about plants and animals combined.

No, we didn't need to get into mycology so far that we would have to analyze spores microscopically. And the spore prints we made were mainly just for fun.

I made a spore print of a big gilled mushroom that was about five inches across--then I realized I could photocopy the spore print and make, well, "art" out of it. Very cool.

In August of that year there was a big news story out of Oregon, where biologists had determined they'd found the "largest living thing." It was the vast, subterranean mycelium of a "tree-killing mushroom," Armillaria ostoyae, often called the honey mushroom. They're supposed to be edible, but I'm not eager to try them.

I'm pretty sure those are the same doggone things that killed one of our young maples, and the serviceberry we'd planted. We get big clumps of them in our yard, wherever a tree used to be. Doggone it!

I'm kind of mad at them, and I worry that they're going to attack more trees in our yard . . . but I still find their exuberant masses of golden caps a source of wonder. I can't help but enjoy them.

So here it is, 2010, a decade after we had our second "Year of the Mushroom," and when we see a shroom, or a turkeytail, or a yellow blob of witch's butter, we still stop to appreciate the structure, the color, the texture. We still look 'em up in the books. We still have "mushroom consciousness." Hooray!

Throughout this post, I've included pictures of mushrooms that I've taken this fall. Just as spring is the best time to appreciate wildflowers, fall is an excellent time to look for mushrooms. I hope you've enjoyed the pictures as much as I enjoyed taking them!

Note: Just to make it perfectly clear--none of the mushrooms pictured on this blog post are being identified, and I am absolutely not telling you what you can or cannot eat. Consult a real expert for that--I'm just an enthusiastic enthusiast! With a camera!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

My Year of the Star (1991)

Today is part 1 of me telling you something of my past shenanigans. If you know me, you probably already know about this stuff; sorry if it’s boring. If this is old news to you, check back in a week or so.

But if you don’t know me very well, maybe you’ll think this is pretty cool. I recommend trying it yourself, especially if you’ve got kids.

Before Sue and I bought the house—before home repairs, and finding ways to pay for them, became our number-one pastime (come on, smile—life could be worse, right?)—we used to have a “theme” each year.

It was like our very own “continuing education” seminar. It was always about natural history. Each year we’d pick some category of things in the natural world, and make it our theme for the year. We’d focus on it, read about it, plan activities around it. Whatever the theme was, we’d be conscious of it the whole year.

Making it an annual cycle makes sense when you’re learning about natural things. From the progression of the constellations to the lives of mosses, you need all four seasons to witness a complete cycle, the thing in all stages of life, in all positions and forms.

One year, we learned about spiders. One year, it was all trees. And we actually had two years where we studied mushrooms and fungi. Naturally, we only scratched the surface of these subjects, but we did learn more than most people know, and we also gained something in the way of consciousness—after spending a year focusing on something, you are pretty much always going to be aware of it.

This annual “focus” emerged from my sense of “withdrawal” after I got my master’s degree. I had loved taking “ology” classes: ornithology, mammalogy, ichthyology, invertebrate zoology, plant ecology, and so on. Each semester immersed me in some wonderful new realm.

After spending months intensively studying something—say, plant taxonomy—you can’t go outside without keeping an eye out for novel plants, or noting and appreciating the familiar, characteristic structures of, say, a flower in the mustard family—4 petals, 4 sepals, tetradynamous stamens, the seeds enclosed in a silique. Good ol’ mustard flower.

And suddenly it seemed mustard flowers were everywhere—though before I took the class, I usually saw only weeds.

Each class opened my eyes, caused me to appreciate a chunk of this fantastically diverse world. Georgia O’Keeffe is famous for saying, “Nobody sees a flower really; it is so small. We haven’t time, and to see takes time—like to have a friend takes time.” Taking those “ology” classes caused me to take that time, and taking that time made the world into something like a friend.

So when I got done with my schoolin’, I quickly realized I was missing something: learning. That year (and this was the perfect time for it, as I was between school and my first job, and I was living in Arizona), was for me the Year of the Star.

I had never taken an astronomy class, and I had never seriously studied the night sky. So for that year, I made it a point to drive into the desert at least once a week and learn the constellations, and the names of the stars. I quizzed myself on them, naming all I could before opening my book and trying to learn some more.

I kept abreast of interesting events—bright stars being occulted by the moon, times when two or three planets drew close in the sky, meteor showers, the moons of Jupiter, lunar and solar eclipses, and much more. Whatever I could witness without a telescope.

I read books and magazines by day; by night, I spent hours supine on the hood of my Civic, off the side of the road, looking through binoculars. This was way out on an Indian reservation, in open range, where small bands of horses would sometimes drift quietly past. Clear, dark skies. Later, at 2 or 3 in the morning, I’d sit in the Waffle House on Baseline and I-10 and write notes in my journal, sketching the lights I saw in the sky.

Once, I convinced a new “friend” I’d met at a bar to leave that smoky dive and join me on one of my stargazing outings. In retrospect, it must have seemed like an invitation to do far more, but in the end we both had a wonderful and innocent time, out in the quiet night, talking and taking in the mystery of it all.

Ever since my year of saturating myself with the stars in the night sky, I find myself looking upward at night, noting the phase of the moon, mentally rehearsing star names to myself, renewing my acquaintance.

And I experience a sense of reunion when I’m up late enough to see, reaching above the eastern horizon, a favorite constellation from the coming season—stars not seen since they vanished with the sun beneath the western horizon months ago. Seeing Sirius in October is like spying the first wildflower of the spring, or noting the first tinges of gold on leaves in mid-September.

And even more than this, I discovered that I am somehow deeply comforted by the fact that no matter where I go (unless I travel far into the southern hemisphere), the constellations and planets will always be there with me, doing their thing, predictable clockwork overhead.

On some level, it’s a terribly romantic concept, to think that we all—you, me, and all the ones we love, and all the ones we have trouble with—live beneath the same stars, the same silent heavens.

(Yes, I'm going somewhere with this. Check back again in a few days.)

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Getting Out of Dodge: To Paris, Florida, Santa Fe, Mexico . . .

Last weekend was the homecoming for Lincoln University, and since we live near downtown and on a major beeline to the university, our home promised even less solace and solitude than usual. Lots of cars. And honestly? I've been needing to get away. The interior of the house reflects the mess inside my head, and I live and work at home. I needed to get out of my cage.

Friday night was a big Lincoln homecoming shindig with fireworks--fun to watch from our third-floor windows--but the steady traffic on Broadway and the expressway, the sirens of numerous emergency vehicles, and voices of passersby below our windows kept us up late.

Saturday would begin with the big parade. We decided to get out of town before all that even started.

We were planning just a quick morning trip to the Pinnacles Youth Park north of Columbia, but as it turned out, we kept going . . .

You know how it is. Sometimes, once you start driving away from your house, your work, you just keep going. You can't stop and turn around until you're exhausted, until the idea of your own bed starts sounding like a good idea again.

It was a big loop, and when I tell you where we went, you'll laugh. Look how far we got!

Paris . . . Florida . . . Santa Fe . . . Mexico. . . . We were like world travelers!

One of the reasons Missouri got such place-names was because this area was a major stepping-off point for westering travelers in the 1800s. Missouri also has a Taos, a Nevada (pronounced "nuh-VAY-duh," of course), a Louisiana, a California, and many others.

Amid our "intercontinental" travels yesterday, we also paid homage to perhaps the most famous Missourian ever: Samuel L. Clemens--Mark Twain.

We also learned a little about transportation history and engineering by visiting the Union Covered Bridge, our state's one surviving example of a Burr-arch truss bridge, now a Missouri State Historic Site.

I'm not going to go into much detail here, since there is already plenty of information available on other websites (links provided below). If you're in Columbia and are wanting to take a pleasant day trip over picturesque roads, this makes a nice loop and a varied day.

1. The Pinnacles Youth Park is about twelve miles north of Columbia on Highway 63. Allow yourself a couple of hours there to visit the nifty shelf cave and, best, to explore the pinnacles themselves. To do the latter, be prepared to clamber among big rocks high above the creek below. Acrophobes need not apply. Also, crossing the creek could potentially get your feet wet--be prepared for that.

2. North on 63, then east on Highway 22 to Centralia. North from Centralia on Route C to the Union Covered Bridge. Unlike Ohio and Indiana (for instance), Missouri doesn't have many surviving covered bridges (we have only four). This is the only one in Missouri with a Burr-arch truss design and horizontal siding, so it's extra special. It's in a peaceful setting near shimmering soybean fields, and an interpretive kiosk will educate you about how these bridges were designed. There are no picnic tables or trash cans, but this would be a pleasant place for lunch.

You'll notice in my photo that some siding is missing from the bridge. The DNR had to remove it in 2008 when a big flash flood threatened to destroy the bridge. They're currently trying to find funding to repair it.

3. North on C and east on 24 to Paris, Missouri. Paris is an attractive town with lovely historic homes. The banners on utility poles in Paris have a little picture of the Eiffel Tower on them, but that's about where visible connection to the City of Light ends. You will not find a single French restaurant in the city of Paris. There is a Subway, however. (I'm partial to the Cold Cut Combo; and to be honest, I wasn't in the mood for snails, anyway.)

4. From Paris, take Highway 154 east into Mark Twain State Park. Following signs for the Mark Twain Birthplace, head north on Route E. The Mark Twain Birthplace Shrine is in the state park, on a peninsula with a scenic view of Mark Twain Lake (a reservoir created by Clarence Cannon Dam, which impounded the Salt River). This would be another good place for a picnic lunch.

The humble, two-room clapboard house in which the author of America's most famous novel was born is sheltered by a modern structure with a sweeping, pointed roof. There is also a museum in the building with many artifacts of Twain's life (from furniture to original letters and manuscripts and much more) and an A/V presentation telling the story of Twain's life.

5. Florida, Missouri, the birthplace of Mark Twain, is very close to the Birthplace Shrine. A historical marker in this tiny town shows the original location of the little house where, during the 1835 visit of Halley's Comet, Mark Twain arrived into this world--a couple of months before he was expected. If you want to spend more time around here, there is a hiking trail nearby.

6. Retrace your route south on E to D, then west on D to Santa Fe. There isn't much here, folks. Just as there's no cuisine française in Paris, there isn't even a Taco Bell in Santa Fe. No place for nopales, or chili rellenos, or chili verde. There's not even a Subway. But here's a picture of the post office, to prove that we went to Santa Fe on Saturday.

7. From Santa Fe, continue west on D to Route ZZ. It's a scenic drive southwest on Route ZZ, which traces the Salt River. It joins briefly with Route Z before connecting to Highway 15, which you can take all the way to Mexico. Mexico is indeed a little south of Santa Fe, which is kinda fitting. Mexico, compared to the other places so far on this trip, is a bustling metropolis, with restaurants and everything. If you're looking for something to "do" there, the first, most natural thing, is to visit the Audrain County Historical Society Museum and its lovely, landscaped grounds, which include several other historic structures.

Mexico was famous for Tom Bass, a nationally known and respected horse breeder and trainer. The respect that people gave him during his life is more remarkable, given the time period, since he was black. Rex McDonald, a championship show horse, is buried on the park grounds.

There is also an interesting piece of machinery there--a brick-producing machine that was used in the early years by the A. P. Green Company, a manufacturer of bricks and one of Mexico's most important industries. The machine lies in state here, with a plaque from the company thanking it for its years of selfless, dedicated service. (I guess a gold watch wasn't very fitting.)

8. From Mexico, we drove south on Highway 54 through Auxvasse to I-70, and thence home. The sun was setting, and the bed was going to feel extra cozy after all that hiking, sight-seeing, and time in the driver's seat. Got me a snoot full of fresh air, I did.

Bonus Information You Just Have to Read!

People in Mexico, Missouri, insist that you not call them Mexicans. That term is reserved for people who are from the nation of Mexico. So, you might ask, what do people from Mexico, Missouri, call themselves? Mexicoans. That extra syllable makes all the difference.

Which means that a native of the country of Mexico, who is living in Mexico, Missouri, is a "Mexican Mexicoan."

Or! When you go to dinner at a Mexican restaurant in Mexico, Mo., technically, you are eating "Mexicoan Mexican food."

Or! When Senator Bond (who is from Mexico, Missouri) goes on a junket down to our neighbor to the south, he is a "Mexicoan visiting the Mexicans." Get it?

Meanwhile . . . I have it on very good authority that people in Paris, Missouri, are not called "Parisians." Indeed! Are you ready for this? They are--Parisites.