Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Cool Time in St. Louis

Hi Kids,

Miss Elaine and I spent last week in St. Louis, Missouri. It's on the eastern border of the state -- on the west bank of the Mississippi River. Before 1803, the Mississippi River was the western border of the United States. The Louisiana Purchase added a big chunk of the lands to the west (including all of Oklahoma except the panhandle) to the U.S. No one really knew much about what was out here so Lewis and Clark and other members of their Corps of Discovery were sent by President Jefferson to check things out. And they started in St. Louis, which was then just a small French settlement. St. Louis became the gateway to the West.

Over 60 years ago, some people decided that a monument to Jefferson should be built. A competition was opened for designs for the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial. A Finnish-American architect, Eero Saarinen's plans for a stainless steel arch were chosen. Construction began in 1963 and was completed two-and-a-half years later in 1965. It wasn't until it was done that Saarinen realized that his construction looked like an entryway -- and it became nicknamed "Gateway Arch."

The Arch is 630 feet tall and 630 feet wide at the base. There is an observation room inside the top of the arch. Each leg has a tram which takes visitors to the top. This is me looking out one of the little windows in the observation room. Below you can see the historic Old Courthouse.

This is me with a National Park ranger.

Over a century after the Louisiana Purchase, one of America's most famous roads came through St. Louis. Sometimes called "The Mother Road," it went from Chicago to Santa Monica, California. It went through eight states including Missouri and Oklahoma. And it goes through Edmond. By the 1950s, the interstate system made Route 66 less important -- but it still has great historic importance. Look how narrow the highway is!

This is an old bridge over the Mississippi River. Did you see me on top of the sign?

Later we went to another famous place on Route 66. Ted Drewes opened a frozen custard stand on Route 66 in 1929. Ted would close the stand in the winter and open a Christmas tree lot. His ice cream was so popular that people wanted it even in the winter!

The frozen custard (ice cream made with eggs) is so thick and rich that you can turn the cup upside down and it won't run out. They call it a "concrete." Vanilla is the only flavor you can get -- but you can get lots of add-ins. The one Miss Elaine bought me is called "Cardinal Sin" and has frozen custard, sour cherries and hot fudge. Yum!

If you think that's cool, you should have been with us that evening. We went to a hockey game. We got to go down and see the ice. Miss Elaine sat me on the ice to take my picture. Wow! I have a fur coat but I can tell you -- I almost froze my tail!

I'll be writing you more about my adventures in the next few days!



Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Outdoors Bear

Hi Kids,
I like it when Miss Elaine takes me to museums and art galleries but I LOVE it when we get to play outdoors! Last week Miss Elaine and I visited Canyon of the Eagles on Lake Buchanan northwest of Austin, Texas. There are so many things to do there and even though we stayed several days we didn't have time to do them all.

We had a cool cabin with a porch overlooking the lake. This is me enjoying the view. We were so busy I never got to rock in the rocking chair! We arrived in the late afternoon and joined the group as it started getting dark for an Owl Prowl. It had to be just at the right time -- after the other little birds had gone to bed (so the owls wouldn't eat them!) but before it got too dark to see the owls.

Did you know that owls eat little birds and rodents but they can't digest the bones or hair so they barf them up. Have you ever had a cat with a hairball? The barf is kind of like that -- they call it "owl pellets." The naturalist had several dried pellets and she let Miss Elaine put on gloves and pull the pellet apart. Sure enough, there were some tiny bones in it.

As it got darker, the naturalist put on a recording of a screech owl and soon a real owl flew down to see what was going on! It started talking back to the recorder. Then another owl arrived and they started hooting to each other! The owls didn't seem to be afraid of us and let us get close enough to take this picture.

The next morning we took a boat trip up the Colorado River (this is the Colorado River in Texas, not the big Colorado River that goes through the Grand Canyon). We saw lots of birds including five bald eagles. This is me with Miss Cindy, one of our hosts for the trip.

The next day we got to go kayaking on the river. We were at a really pretty place where Fall Creek falls into the river -- see the waterfalls! I hope you liked the video at the top of my post. I was a little worried because Miss Elaine was messing with the camera instead of holding me tight. And, if you'll notice, she did not put a life jacket on me.

Here I am with J.P. Burchett with Buchanan Adventure Tours. He was teaching us how to geocache. Can you see the GPS I'm wearing? Do you know what GPS stands for?

Geocaching is a combination of a hike and a treasure hunt. You use the GPS to find the location of a hidden treasure (cache). You never know what will be inside the cache container, which could be a metal box or coffee can or a plastic cylinder.

Here's a cache we found -- it was hidden under some rocks.

Inside our cache we found some beads, a cardinal feather, a rubber worm and a little notebook and pen to write our names and the date we found the cache. The rule is, you can take something out of the cache if you replace it with something of equal value. We didn't have anything so we just closed it up and hid it again. This is Miss Eileen, another travel writer.

We had another adventure at Longhorn Caverns State Park. We had to walk down some steps to the entrance to the cave. This is an unusual cave in that it was created by swiftly moving water carving through the rock. There aren't very many stalactites or stalagmites in this cave -- those formations are created by water slowly seeping through rock and removing minerals. You can see in this picture that most of the walls are smoothed by the water. But you can also see some small icicles that were created by slow, dripping water.

This cave formation is called "The Bear" -- it seemed like a good place to get my picture taken. Here are two more travel writers, Miss Kendra and Miss Connie. They held me so Miss Elaine could take my picture.

Very few creatures live in the cave -- but there were a few bats. This is an eastern pipistrelle bat and he's hibernating.

One big room in the cave is full of calcite crystals. When people first saw them they thought they were diamonds. Were they disappointed! They are pretty, though. And they look magical with colored lights on them.

One night (Miss Elaine put me to bed early!) Miss Elaine and her friends went to the observatory in the park. They had two big telescopes and Miss Elaine got to look at the moon, Jupiter, Uranus, the Pleiades, the Andromeda galaxy and two nebula. Maybe next time she goes, I'll be big enough to stay up late. I wasn't too sad -- after all the fun I had, I was really tired. And my bed felt really good.



Sunday, November 14, 2010

Fluffy's Scrapbook

Hi Kids,

I had lots of adventures in England. Here are pictures from some of my explorations. The picture above is of Mount's Bay from Madron Hill. This is the hill we walked up to go to the Trafalgar service -- more about that later. That island in the bay -- with the castle on top -- is Saint Michael's Mount. That's how the bay got its name. The town on the right side of the picture (which you can barely see) is Penzance. The village on the left side of the photo is Marazion.
One day we went to a cider farm -- that's me on a whole lot of apples. The land is owned by Prince Charles but he rented it to a friend of Miss Zoe (that's Miss Elaine's daughter). Her friend, Andy, grows apple trees and makes apple cider.

Later that week, we went to an Apple Fair in Penzance. There were all sorts of things made of apples -- including Andy's cider, apple cakes and cookies. There were many kinds of apples. People there think how things taste is more important than how they look -- so some of the apples look funny, but they're really good.

Penzance is on the south coast of England -- on the English Channel between England and France. There are many beautiful spots on the coast. This is at the Minack Theatre near Porthcurno. The theatre is carved out of the rocky coast. That's my family -- Miss Elaine and Mr. Jack, Miss Zoe and her husband, Mr. Simon.

One night we went to a special restaurant called The Meadery. Mead is an ancient drink made with honey. It's alcoholic, so, of course, I didn't drink any of it.

They have great food here and yummy desserts. This dessert has ice cream, toffee sauce, honey comb and crushed meringue. Mr. Simon and Miss Zoe let me taste theirs. Miss Elaine and Mr. Jack ate theirs all by themselves.

One of the coolest things we did was go to a special church service commemorating the victory of the English Navy over the French and Spanish fleets in 1805. The commander, Admiral Lord Nelson, died in the battle, so they remembered him, too. A group from a nearby Navy base brought their band and a group of sailors. The service was in a very old church -- over 600 years old. The music was beautiful and I loved the sailors -- I think they loved me, too!

Miss Elaine isn't very good at working with video but if you click on the start button of the video below, it should work. The picture is a little fuzzy -- but I think it's fun to hear the band!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

What's the Name of Your House?

Dear Kids,

Did you know that lots of people in England name their houses? We're staying in April Cottage. It's on a little lane called Pleasant Place in Penzance in the southwest of England. Miss Elaine's daughter Zoe lives in Penzance with her husband. They live in an apartment -- in England an apartment is called a flat -- people don't name their flats.

This is me in front of the cottage. It's very old. People used to be lots shorter so, if you'll notice, the door is shorter than modern doors. Miss Elaine can touch the beams in the ceiling on the first floor -- and she's short.

People in England live a lot like we do -- though many homes are very old and historic -- many are very modern. When the towns were built, there were no cars so the streets are often very narrow. It's hard to find parking places and most people just walk places. The stores carry almost everything you could find in the U.S. and some things you can't. As you can see, the grocery store looks just like ours. We're using a small cart but they have big ones, too.

This is Alex. She checked out our groceries. She has a chair to sit on. That seems like a good idea. I bet the checkers at our grocery stores wish they had chairs!

Miss Elaine is having trouble with one of her hands. We are visiting the Chinese doctor. They do something called acupuncture. Dr. Tang has special needles that she sticks in Miss Elaine's hands and arms. They do not hurt. I hope miss Elaine's hand gets better! The Chinese doctor also recommends herbs and medicines. See all the jars of herbs behind me?

This is Xiao Mei, she knows how to mix the herbs and medicines. Her son is Mi Lan; he's 14 and can speak both English and Chinese. He wants to come to America because he thinks we have more video games. The little girl came to get medicine for her mother's cough.

Today Miss Elaine took me to a pub for lunch. Pubs are a very old English tradition. This pub, The First and Last, is almost 200 years old! Pubs are places where local people get together as much for visiting with their friends as for the food.

The man who owns the pub is called a publican. This is Andy. He showed me his stuffed cow! I don't know why he thought I'd be interested in a stuffed toy but I was polite and posed for a picture with Andy and the cow.

I got to meet some of the people Miss Zoe works with -- these are John, Wendy and Andy. They were interested in hearing about you. They wanted my picture to show their children. Isn't that nice?

I really like England!

Friday, October 8, 2010

Silver Dollar City

Hi Kids,

I'll bet some of you have been to Silver Dollar City in Branson. This was my first visit and I was excited! I saw lots of craftspeople making things the way they did in the old days. This man is called a cooper -- he makes barrels and buckets.

We went to a wood-carver's studio and I found these bears. They weren't very talkative and they weren't cuddly at all.

This lady is making soap. It was very hot and didn't smell very good. After it cooks, she will put it in a tray and let it get hard. Then she cuts it in bars. It doesn't make bubbles at all -- but it will get you clean.

Miss Elaine is not much fun -- she wouldn't go on any of the fast rides. At least she did take me on the train ride. Some bad men tried to rob the train -- it was just a joke, though. I wasn't scared.

I had a really good day. The weather was beautiful and, as you can see, there were lots of pretty fall decorations.



Saturday, September 18, 2010

Fluffy and the Big Boys

Hi Kids,

I just went to Stillwater -- no, not Oklahoma -- Minnesota with Miss Elaine. Stillwater was an important town in the lumber industry in the late 1800s and early 1900s. We stayed in a house that belonged to the daughter of one of the most important men in town. His name was Isaac Staples and his daughter was named Aurora.

Stillwater is on the St. Croix (pronounced "croy") River. The loggers used to float huge logs down the river to the sawmills in Stillwater and beyond.

A bridge crosses the river -- Wisconsin is on the other side. It has two towers. The section of the bridge between the towers can go up like an elevator when a big boat needs to get under it. Drivers hate it because they have to wait for the bridge to go up and down but I thought it was really cool.
I got to go in a boat on the river. It was a gondola -- a special kind of boat that is from Venice, Italy. It was pretty surprising to find one in Minnesota but it was nice, too. The lady with us is Jean Friedl. She was our hostess and showed us around Stillwater.

Here's my favorite thing -- Stillwater has a Teddy Bear Park. Miss Elaine made me pose with the big teddy statues. I didn't mind. Then she put me on the slide. I was tired of posing so I slid down all on my own. I wanted to stay and play longer but Miss Elaine said we had to go back to work. Sometimes it's tough being a traveling bear!


Sunday, September 12, 2010

Fluffy Goes to Florida

Hi Kids -- and Mr. Wonderful, Vanilla, Teddy and Oso,

I'm so glad I have a name -- and I think it suits me. I AM fluffy (although I have to say I am a bit jealous that my brother bear got named Mr. Wonderful. After all, I'm pretty wonderful myself.) I'm getting ready to go on a trip this week -- to Minnesota. But I wanted to tell you about the trip Miss Elaine took me on right before school started.

You can see the beach in front of our hotel at the top of this post. We stayed at the hotel at Amelia Island Plantation. Amelia Island is off the east coast of Florida about as far north as you can get. The Plantation is on the south end of the island and has lots of places for people to stay -- or live. And the nice thing is, the people who built the area left so many trees. This is the oldest tree on the island. It's between 300 and 400 years old.

Miss Elaine thinks the beach at Amelia Island is wonderful -- she went out every morning to watch the sun come up over the water. I stayed in bed. I DO NOT LIKE SAND IN MY FUR!

She took me with her when she visited the nature center and I saw a turtle.

Miss Elaine took a Segway tour and she didn't take me -- she didn't have an extra hand to hold me with. Did you know that Segways were invented by a man who invented a wheel chair that could climb stairs?

One afternoon we went to Fernandina Beach, the main town on the island. Amelia Island was once a haven (that means a safe place) for pirates. We found several pirate statues and Miss Elaine made me sit on them. I would like to find some buried treasure -- but not if I have to dig in the sand.