The Great River Road – There and Back Again


Downtown St. Louis art.

You know about our Katy Trail adventures if you’ve been reading our blog, but Barry and I also had great experiences with family, friends, and Servas hosts when we were on the U.S. Mainland in the fall.

My family lives in the suburbs of St. Louis, so if the Cardinals are in town, they like seeing games.  When Barry and I were there, the Cards were playing the Chicago Cubs (my team – although my staunch Cardinal fan family don’t really understand).

Cardinal Fan!

Cardinal Fan! – a bit flamboyant one!


Chuck, Trish, and Jennie, all Cardinal fans!

One of the reasons we went to that particular game is because my great-niece Elle got to sing with her school choir during the seventh-inning stretch.


Elle, in the center, with her classmates.


Elle, left front, singing at the Cardinal stadium.


Cardinal home run!

The Cardinals won the game, but as a true Cub fan, I was pleased that the Cubs had scored (6 to 2).


Jared, a Maui “son,” drove up from Kentucky where he was working until the end of October and then heading off for India and Australia. We were happy to see him.


Val and Jared at Q’s in St. Charles.

We also spent a great afternoon of music in Festus, Missouri: Blue Grass, Cajun, Country, Blues . . .


Festus Music Festival.

Lyrics that stood out for me went something like, “I don’t have to worry about feeding my family tonight/ I just ran over a 10 pound possum in the road, all right!”  🙂

Then Barry and I started our car trip.   Our plan was to follow “The Great River Road”–the Mississippi River north to its source.

But first, we wanted to visit my cousin Elaine who now lives in Effingham, Illinois.  She always suggests surprising and interesting outings.  We went, for instance, to the Boos Butcher Block Factory.


Surrounded by beautiful and useful wood pieces, Norbert, me, and Elaine in the Boos factory showroom.


Barry and Kegan racing outside the Effingham library.


Firefly Grill, a very nice place to eat in Effingham, Illinois.  The restaurant uses Boos butcher blocks as tables too!

We always learn more about Riley family history when we visit Elaine.    She set us up to meet Don Riley, my grandpa’s nephew, and so a cousin to me, and his wife, Wilma.  Among others, he told us about Fern Riley, his big sister by four years.  Don said she could throw a ball further than any of the boys, and once she and friends made themselves very sick smoking something on top of a chicken coop while he stood as decoy if their mom came looking.

After high school, Fern started working at the Catholic hospital in town.  She loved it (and there is something of a family scandal that says she was thinking of becoming a nun–which just isn’t done in proper Protestant families).  She was working in the St. Anthony’s Hospital nursery the night in April 1949 when the fire swept through the building.

St. Anthony Hospital fire.

St. Anthony Hospital fire.


Book about the fire by Donna Riley Gordon, Don’s daughter.


Plaque in the nursery: Fern Riley tried to save nursery infants during the St. Anthony Hospital fire.

She could have saved herself, but instead she tried to rescue the infants.  Life magazine recognized her as a heroine.   She was 22.

As a result of that devastating fire that took the lives of 77 – patients, family members, responders, and staff – in just a few minutes, the fire codes for hospitals in the U.S. changed.  No more open stairways in hospitals, and   since then, hospitals in the U.S. must have electrical wire coating that won’t give off toxic fumes.  See more in Terror to Triumph by Donna Riley Gordon, Don Riley’s daughter.


Cousin Don with Barry and Elaine  explaining Riley history.  Fern, Donna, and many other Rileys are buried here.

Barry says that Don talks and walks like a Riley. 🙂

Then on to Chicago:

There besides the predictable and fun experiences of seeing friends, eating good food, and listening to music in Chicago, Barry and I went with friend Jeany to bicycle around the Chicago Botanical Garden.  We got involved in a Parks event to encourage city-dwellers to try new things.


Barry shot a bulls-eye on his first try!! Jeany and I didn’t do so well.


We saw lots of fish, turtles, and geese.


Blue heron too!

Of course, we spent time eating wonderful meals with great friends.


Chris, Aiden, Allie, me, and Jeany at Sunday brunch.


Kristine, me, Jeany, and Chris.

Chicago lakefront - Lake Michigan, a wonderful place to be.

Chicago lakefront – Lake Michigan, a wonderful place to be.


Chris on a bridge over the Chicago River.


The Chicago Bean at Millenium Park in Chicago.


Chicago school kids.

As part of our trip to visit friends, family, and “The Great River Road,” we also wanted to visit a few Servas hosts.  We picked a family who has for 25 years run an organic CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) farm in Wisconsin.  They were willing to host us on short notice, so off we went to Plymouth, Wisconsin.

The family provides fresh, organic vegetables to 800 families in the Milwaukee area!  We arrived on a day a big shipment had just been sent out, but Barry and I  still got to spend  a glorious, sunny day  working on the farm!


Kale and Swiss chard: organic and tasty!

Joanne and Angel in the fields.  Their CSI family spent a few hours working on the farm in exchange for boxes of organic produce!

In the fields, Angel, Joanne, and I crated freshly dug up carrots. Their CSA family spent a few hours working on the farm in exchange for boxes of organic produce!

Angel doesn't look happy, but I promise we were safe although it was my first time driving this farm cart.

I promise we were safe although it was my first time driving this farm cart.

These were the "seconds"; we picked them for the family to use during the winter.  The best ones had already gone off to Milwaukee xx.

These were the “seconds”; we picked them for the family to use during the winter. The best ones had already gone off to CSA families in Milwaukee.


Esther, Anneka, and Barry dicing sweet peppers for the freezer.


Tomatoes ripening on the vine.


The girls: Anneka, Esther, Bernadette, and Emily.


The family took us to the top of a nearby firefighting look-out tower so we could see the spectacular fall colors.


Fall in Wisconsin.


The view from the top of the fire look-out tower.


And the food on the farm? Healthy, delicious, fresh from the fields. Anneka and Peter after eating all their tomato basil soup!

Barry and I had wandered far from the Mississippi River; we were actually on the east side of Wisconsin, so we started heading west with a stop in Eau Claire to see our great family friend, Aunt Kathie.

"Aunt" Kathie

Aunt Kathie – we spent a delightful night and day with her.

We did find “The Great River Road” and got as far north as Duluth, Minnesota, but the weather was too cold and wet for me to ride my bike.

The Duluth Grill, featured in "Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives."

The Duluth Grill, featured in “Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives.”

The bikes stayed on the back of our car the rest of the trip :(

The bikes stayed on the back of our car the rest of the trip 😦

We did hear a “northern tale” when we stopped in a small town Minnesota diner that had been recommended for its pie.  Barry and I were the only outsiders there, and we could easily overhear one table of men telling of  a trap baited with M&M’s for the bears.  Instead of a bear, the trap owner found six wolves caught inside! Was this a tall tale?  Could bear and wolves like M&M’s too?


Are we just gullible tourists?

We wanted to see my brother Mike and his wife Erika who were coming in from Gainesville to St. Louis, so we started south.

Minneapolis xxx Sculpture Garden

Minneapolis  Sculpture Garden – fantastic.

Minneapolis Sculpture Garden - some were fun!

Minneapolis Sculpture Garden – some of the installations were fun!

Because we now rely on our GPS instead of actually looking at a map, we were quite surprised in our trip south from Minneapolis to find ourselves crossing a bridge into Wisconsin with a sign that said “Fountain City” to our left.  Now we had been in Fountain City to visit Servas hosts Joan and Jeff three summers earlier.  They are the ones who got us to canoe on the backwaters of the Mississippi River, something I’d wanted to do since I’d read of Huckleberry Finn’s adventures.  And they had come to visit us on Maui.  Barry and I couldn’t just drive on by although if we had looked at a map at all, we would have known where we were headed and given them some lead time.  Jeff answered the phone and said to come on over.  And we did, driving as slowly as possible the five miles or so to their house.

In true Servas hospitality, they brought out a great dinner and welcomed us into their home.


Fresh tomatoes from the garden here too and a yummy soup at Joan and Jeff’s.


Joan with her newest rescued raptor, a horned owl.

Joan and Jeff had been invited to a party on the Mississippi River, so Barry and I tagged along.  We liked the people and the home was spectacular, but what surprised me the most were all the roosting pelicans on the Mississippi!

Artist home on the Mississippi

Artist home on the Mississippi.  Going out to see the pelicans.


Joan and I got taken out in a motor boat to see the pelicans at sunset!


Hundreds of pelicans on the Mississippi River.


Pelicans at sunset.



Party on the Mississippi River – nice people, good food.

Also, Joan is now a quite excellent potter, so I got to go to class with her the next day.


Ceramic class


I got to try too. With much assistance, I now have a spoon holder and a small bowl thanks to Joan and Nancy.

Moving on back toward St. Louis, we found Effigy Mound National Park.   Native Americans built these mounds hundreds of years ago.  They are best seen from the air!


Animal and bird-shaped mounds were created by Native Americans.

Through all the colored leave my short hike to reach the mounds was magical.


Trail to the Effigy Mounds.


Effigy Mound Forest.


An effigy mound.


Fall in Wisconsin

SFlakew SFyellowleavesw

The Effigy Mounds Museum records the “discovery” of the mounds and shares wise words from Native Americans.

Black Hawk’s reminder, “I loved my villages, my cornfields, the home of my people, and that’s why I fought so hard for it.  It is yours now. Please take care of it.”


On the road back toward St. Louis, we saw this truck and another reminder.  Do you know how your dinner was treated?


Chickens bound for someone’s table 😦

Back in St. Louis, we found family, soccer games, good people.


Mike (who may never grow up), Erika, and Quinn.


Brianna playing soccer.

Bri and Al at a soccer game

Bri and coach and grandpa, Al, at a soccer game.


Soccer fans: Jennie, Barry, Mike, Erika, and Trish. Elle, Bri, and Bryce all played good games.


Vanessa, Jennie, Trish, and Elle


Carsyn, Ashlyn, Quinn, and Val.


Erika and Ryan


Barry and Chris


Cousins and friends: Elaine and Coleen.


Lori and Quinn


Quinn and friends.


Final St. Louis pizza with family: Al, Bri, Lori, Erika, Mike, and me.

Barry and I had a great Mainland trip and  look forward to our next visit.  There’s much more to see along the Great River Road, more Servas families to know, and always wonderful family and friends to visit.

We did get back to Maui in time for Halloween – and to spend time with friends and these two lovable characters before they left for Seattle, Washington, and we headed off for another adventure too.


Maui Halloween: Clair and John

We hope you get out on the road too.  There’s much to see, to learn, and to enjoy.

Aloha, Renée


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About reneeriley

Our blog was begun as a way to share our experiences in China. From August 2010 to July 2011, my husband, Barry Kristel, and I were at our University of Hawaii Maui College sister school, Zhejiang Agriculture and Forestry University in Lin'an, China, a city considered rural because it has only 500,000 people! We had a wonderful time. Then in February 2012, we returned to teach this time at our other sister school, Shanghai Normal University, in a city of over 21 million people. We've made many discoveries. Did you know that now Chinese girls, at least the ones who go to university, for the most part feel they are luckier than the Chinese boys? Did you know that Shanghai saved over 20,000 European Jews during WWII? Do you know how Chinese university students would deal with problems that come up in Dear Abby letters? What's it like to be on the Great Wall of China? Do you know how many Chinese girls had their feet bound and why? And we have recipes from many of the places we've visited. Among others, you can find instructions on how to fry cicadas from one of my ZAFU students and how to make chocolate-Kahlua waffles from my brother Mike in Gainesville. You can also look back to our earliest entry to see what we experienced in Oaxaca, Mexico, in 2006 during the mainly peaceful six months of protest until the Mexican government sent in the troops. Between our stays in China, Barry and I have been on the Mainland U.S. visiting family, friends and Servas hosts as we traveled home to Maui. We share those experiences too. Welcome to our blog! Aloha and Zài Jiàn, Renée and Barry

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