Friday, May 25, 2012

Summer Soundtrack

We’re approaching that magical time of year when sensible shoes are traded in for flip flops, outdoor (or Foreman) grills are prepped and ready, and vacation plans are in the works. Whether you’re headed to the beach, Branson, or the Jersey Shore, these are my picks for just the right Summer Soundtrack:

Margaritaville by Jimmy Buffett
The quintessential summer song, Margaritaville, conjures up memories of stress free, beach filled days “living on sponge cake…covered with oil.” Living in landlocked St. Louis, I haven’t spent much time on the beach, I certainly haven’t lived off sponge cake, nor have I been covered in oil, but I have spent a few vacation days in the tropical locales of Orlando and Gulf Shores. That counts, right? Either way, hearing this song instantly relaxes me and reminds me of lazy summer days and slow summer nights.

Sweet Home Alabama by Lynyrd Skynyrd
Simply hearing the opening chords to this 1974 hit by Southern rock band Lynyrd Skynyrd and I’m reminded of summer road trips and family float trips.  
Fun Fact: Of the three songwriters of Sweet Home Alabama, Ronnie Van Zant, Gary Rossington, and Ed King none of them were actually from Alabama.

Summer of ’69 by Bryan Adams
Whether written about the cultural revolution of the 1960’s or a subject a bit more intimate (wink, wink), songwriter Bryan Adams has never been clear on his inspiration for this 1980’s hit. Released in 1985, Summer of ’69, takes me back to the annual three month break from school when summer really did seem to “last forever.”

Free Fallin’ by Tom Petty
The video for Free Fallin’ is set on the beaches and in the backyards of California. With the Pacific Ocean as its backdrop, Free Fallin’ is a true anthem of summer when we all just want to be free of stress and obligations.

Rock and Roll by Eric Hutchinson
Singer-songwriter Eric Hutchinson was a virtual unknown when his single Rock and Roll hit the airwaves in 2008 and I’ve loved it ever since. It’s finger snapping, head bopping, lighthearted and just plain fun, just the way a summer song should be. 

Only Wanna Be With You by Hootie & the Blowfish
Released the summer before my freshman year of high school in July 1995, every time I hear Only Wanna Be With You, I’m transported to the football field at GCHS where I baked in the unforgiving Midwestern sun while practicing during band camp (Color Guard unite!). The hits of Hootie & The Blowfish continue to be an important part of my high school memories, but it all started with this summer hit from their album Cracked Rear View.

What’s on your summer soundtrack?

Friday, May 18, 2012

No Money, No Problem - My Top 5 Picks for Free Things To Do in The Lou

I might be the self-proclaimed CityDiva, but with four weddings this year, gas prices on the rise, and fears that the US will enter into a double-dip recession, even I’m on a budget these days.

When the gals and I are looking for something new to try or I have friends in from out of town, I’m always on the lookout for budget friendly inexpensive free things to do. Go ahead and call me cheap,, a leader in business forecasts and personal financial advice, recently ranked St. Louis as the #1 City for Cheapskates. After being ranked the saddest, worst dressed, and most dangerous city in America, we’ll take it!        

With seventy-nine unique neighborhoods in St. Louis, there’s always somewhere and something new to explore. Here are my Top 5 Picks for Free Things To Do in The Lou:

1.) The Saint Louis Art MuseumOriginally built for the 1904 World’s Fair, the Saint Louis Art Museum is home to priceless works of art by Van Gogh, Picasso, and Monet, among many others and houses fourteen unique collections ranging from Islamic Art to Decorative Arts and Design. The museum is one of the only free art museums in the country, keeping true to its exterior inscription, "Dedicated to Art and Free to All."

Lori and I visit the Saint Louis Art Museum in 2011 

2.) Brewery Tours: St. Louis is known as the home of the “King of Beers”, but the city once built on Budweiser, is now home to over fifteen different microbreweries. I’ve sampled my fair share (all in the name of research) and I recommend taking the free tours given by Anheuser-Busch and Schlafly Bottleworks. A brewery tour with free samples of beer at the end? I’ll drink to that!

Jamie and I all set to tour the historic Anheuser-Busch Brewery

3.) Shakespeare In The Park: Where art thou free performances of the works of William Shakespeare? Why, in Shakespeare Glen in Forest Park of course! This annual summer event is a must see for St. Louisans and tourists alike. Spread your blanket, prepare a picnic and relax under the St. Louis sky as award-winning performers present this year’s performance of Othello.

Enjoying the 2010 season of Shakespeare In The Park

4.) The St. Louis Holocaust Museum & Learning Center (HMLC): Having visited the Dachau and Mauthausen Concentration Camps when I lived in Europe in 2004, I know first-hand that a visit to one of these sacred spaces can leave a lasting impact. Often overlooked, the HMLC is a quiet, contemplative place filled with pictures, memorabilia and personal accounts from survivors of Hitler’s brutal regime. The HMLC is unique in that it focuses on Holocaust survivors who settled in St. Louis after World War II and whose families still live and thrive here.

5.) Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site: Located just fifteen minutes east of St. Louis in Cahokia, Illinois sits the largest prehistoric earthen construction north of Mexico. Designated a National Historic Landmark, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and listed on the National Register of Historic Places, Cahokia was once home to one of the largest cities in the world. The Mississippians who lived here between A.D. 700 and 1400 were part of the Illiniwek subtribe and created a vast community of mounds, homes, and plazas. The fate of these prehistoric Cahokians is unknown, but their legacy (including Woodhenge) lives on.  

Telling Time: The Illiniwek way

Honorable Mentions: These St. Louis hotspots didn’t make my top five, but shouldn’t be overlooked on your free trip around The Lou: Twilight Tuesdays at the Missouri History Museum, Laumeier Sculpture Park, Forest Park, St. Louis Walk of Fame, and City Garden.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

On Mother's Day and Dirty Rice

My mother has been a mother since 1962 when my oldest brother Steven was born. She was at home caring for her two young sons, Steven and Vincent, when Walter Cronkite interrupted the live broadcast of As the World Turns to deliver the news that President Kennedy had been assassinated. By 1970, with the addition of Lisa and Brian, my mom and dad were raising their four children in the small town of Madison, Illinois, an eastern suburb of St. Louis. Like most women of the era, my mom stayed at home while my dad worked and life was filled with parish picnics, backyard pool parties, and family summer vacations. Then, nineteen years after her first child was born, she gave birth to her last - me in 1981. Her family now complete, my mother watched her children marry, graduate college, begin careers, and have children of their own.

Today we’ll gather at my brother’s home, all fourteen of us, to eat, drink and celebrate with our mother on Mother’s Day – her fiftieth.

Mom and me, celebrating my 30th birthday in 2011

One of the recipes that my mom has handed down to me is her recipe for Dirty Rice. She serves it at nearly every family gathering and with only a few ingredients even new cooks like me can make it.

Kathy’s Dirty Rice

2 cups of Minute Rice
1 can of Beef Consommé
1 can of French Onion Soup
1 can of mushrooms (optional)
1 stick of butter
Mix and microwave, covered, for 15 minutes
Serves 6

Thursday, May 10, 2012

I Choose St. Louis

Everyone knows that I love St. Louis. I love eating at Ted Drewe’s on a hot summer night. I love the Cardinals. I love Forest Park and the free amenities that it offers (Free art museum? You bet. Free Shakespeare in the park? Indeed. Free seats at the Muny? If you arrive early enough!) I love the ease and accessibility of this commuter-friendly city. I love the quirky, weird and creative energy found at the City Museum. I love my neighborhood of Soulard. I love our world class symphony.

But St. Louis isn't perfect and, like any big city, has its share of issues. St. Louis and its drivers have been branded the Most Dangerous, our citizens the Saddest, and our locals the Worst Dressed. But despite all that, St. Louis certainly doesn’t suck. At least locals like Aaron Perlut, a Forbes Magazine contributor and Managing Partner at St. Louis-based Elasticity doesn’t think so. Aaron wrote the Forbes post St. Louis Doesn’t Suck in response to this piece in The Onion and in response to the growing negative reputation that often precedes our gateway city. 

For non-St. Louisans, you might ask, “With all of that negativity, why would anyone want to live there?” To answer that question and to "engage conversations with people from different segments of the region about all the great things happening in St. Louis", three locals created St. Louis for the LoveEric Ratinoff, Ben Kaplan, and Nicole Hudson Hollway wanted to "link people who care about improving the region, and [create a portal] to be an engine of innovation, collaboration, and forward progress for St. Louis."

I was recently asked to contribute to the #stlftl “I Choose St. Louis” campaign. Here’s why I choose St. Louis:

My name is Linda

I live in Soulard

If my neighborhood had a hashtag it would be #MoreThanJustMardiGras

I grew up in Granite City, IL

The best kept secret in St. Louis is our diverse and delicious food scene. Foodies unite!

I can't go too long without going to the Art Museum.

The thing about our region that I’m most proud of is the thriving arts scene.

A successful future for the St. Louis region depends upon civic pride from all corners of the city.

My greatest contribution to the region is/was/will be helping visitors and locals find those hidden St. Louis gems through my blog.

The first thing I show out-of-towners is the view from the Cielo Sky Terrace at the Four Seasons. The view of downtown is simply spectacular.

The hidden gem of St. Louis is Forest Park - Locals know about it, but visitors are always surprised by how big it is and how much there is to do there.

The heart and soul of St. Louis is the people who live here and make St. Louis home.

The true character of St. Louis is shown in the classy way we handle ourselves when we win...and when we lose.

The thing that has most improved about St. Louis in the last 5 years is Washington Avenue.

I choose St. Louis because it's where I went to high school. It's where I went to college. It's where I work and play. It's where my family lives. It's where my friends live. It's HOME.

To feel more of the St. Louis love, follow #stlftl on Facebook and twitter.

Monday, May 07, 2012

Fabulous Find: [RE]FRESH - A Fashion Coalition

A few Friday’s ago, fellow fashionista Sylvia and I attended the Fontbonne University (FBU) “ReNew, ReCycle, ReUse [RE]FRESH…ingly Affordable” Fashion Show at [RE]FRESH - A Fashion Coalition in Brentwood. Just like the catwalks of Paris and Milan, this fashion show had all of the glitz and glamour of Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week: The lights were bright, the music was loud, and the models strutted their stuff on the runway. But unlike the catwalks of Fashion Week, this fashion show served a dual purpose: To serve as the senior showcase for the FBU Fashion Merchandising program and to bring awareness to [RE]FRESH and the Foster and Adoptive Care Coalition (FACC).

For St. Louisans unfamiliar with [RE]FRESH, its purpose is to “provide new, repurposed and affordable clothing to teens and twenties, community service opportunities, and support for the FACC programs. The FACC is a 501(c)3 nonprofit agency that strives to create permanency in foster children’s lives by recruiting and retaining foster and adoptive families.” 

Sylvia, a FACC Junior Board member, and I at the [RE]FRESH Fashion Show
With the former director of [RE]FRESH, Jennifer Frey

In support of this unique boutique, the community donated everything from the wrap desk to the mannequins and volunteers donate their time to assist customers, style the store, and organize donated clothing. In addition to providing a trendy and inviting atmosphere for shoppers, the FACC volunteers also provide children and families with workshops, support groups, and life skills training.

A place where I can give back while shopping for affordable fashions? Now that's something I can buy into!

[RE]FRESH is open to the public during the weekends and all proceeds go to the Foster and Adoptive Care Coalition. Follow them on Facebook, twitter, and Pinterest.   

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

New Restaurant Wednesday: Aviary Cafe and Creperie {Springfield, MO Edition}

Last summer I visited the southwestern Missouri town of Springfield to spend a girl’s weekend with Ruthie. Located on the northern plateau of Ozark Mountain Country, the “Queen City of the Ozarks” isn’t exactly known for being a culinary hotspot. Springfield is best known for being the boyhood home of Brad Pitt, but it also boasts the original Bass Pro Shop, the campus of Missouri State University, and is the historical site of the first Civil War conflict west of the Mississippi River, the Battle of Wilson’s Creek.

On previous trips to Springfield, I’ve had drinks at Trolley's Bar*, sampled flaming sushi at Kai, After Dark, and chilled out with an “outrageous” ice cream cone at Emack and Bolios. Ruthie and I sampled our way through the “417” until we finally found the perfect little breakfast and brunch spot, the Aviary Cafe and Creperie.

The Aviary is located in the former Marquette Hotel in downtown Springfield and the building, built in the early 190o's, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The interior is shabby chic done right with weather-worn benches, white-washed accents and quirky art hanging on the walls. Adding an element of whimsy and fun are the tree branches that seem to sprout out of corners, behind seats, and even “grow” in the ladies restroom!

Chef John Allen brings locally grown and farm fresh ingredients to the table, along with homemade sweet and savory crepes and French favorites Pommes Frites and Soup a l'Oignon Gratinee. My Aux Nutella Crepes and Cappuccino were not for the faint of heart or for the diabetic, but they hit just the right spot on a sleepy Sunday morning. 

Stopping in Springfield on your way to Branson or on a trip down Historic Route 66? Plan a visit to the Aviary Café and Creperie. It’s tres délicieux.

*Springfield Fun Fact: Fans will recognize Trolley's from Season 2 of the hit ABC show, The Bachelor. Contestant Aaron Buerge (now married) is the co-owner.

{All photos taken with my iphone, using the Instagram app and the Sierra filter}