Best Nine of 2019

I love the trend of posting your best nine pics of a given year. Not only is it a chance to revisit some excellent memories and gather them all into one collage (remember making actual collages in the 90s, pasting together photos and stickers and ticket stubs? Am I dating myself?), but pulling together nine pictures from across a year reminds you just how blessed you are.

Maybe I’ve just had an extraordinarily *good* year. Maybe I’m just getting better at seeing the positives. Either way, this year I struggled to narrow down my 2019 experiences into nine thumbnail-sized shots. So what are blogs for, if not reminiscing?

At the beginning of the year, we got a perfect snow in St. Louis–enough to disrupt work for a day, not enough to put us on lockdown. One of the neighborhood restaurants opened its patio that night and provided free spiked hot chocolate/hot toddies around fire pits. Such a midwestern thing to do, and such spontaneous, snowy fun!

We also went to our first (and only) musical at the Fox Theatre while in the Lou. Fiddler on the Roof was every bit as magical as I remember it being when I watched it on VHS in middle school (moreso, since it was live, and I was old enough to appreciate what was going on in the story–I did NOT realize how dark it gets in Act II!).

Taking advantage of our location, we did a long weekend in the other Lou–touring bourbon distilleries, appreciating the baseball history, and visiting Churchill Downs. Louisville remains one of my favorite trips we’ve taken, and I can’t wait to visit again!

2019 saw the first newborn member inducted into the Olin Boys’ Club, as well as a whole host of get-togethers and adventures with our b-school buddies. These include Olin’s formal, graduation, and a trip to the Ozarks, to feature a few. The hubs turned 30, which we celebrated with bowling followed by a rooftop bar.

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We also enjoyed adult beverages in the street, because St. Louis.

We visited Chicago and continued an hour north to see Milwaukee (my favorite of the small cities we’ve visited since moving to St. Louis). We popped home in time to watch the Blues win the Stanley Cup. Then began our journey east.

After a pit stop in Indianapolis (and another, not-pictured, in Pittsburgh), we made it to our new home in DC. I worked on polishing my manuscript and query materials, and began seeking agent representation for my novel.

My brother visited during his (too) brief tour of the US before returning to Korea. I bravely (for me) explored DC on my own, between job-hunting and writing. And my in-laws (after at least 8 years of talking about it) *finally* bought a home in Old Town.

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We made it out to Rehoboth Beach, where we discovered we’re no longer used to the brilliance of a sun reflecting off ocean waves.

An agent responded to one of my queries, complimenting my writing sample and requesting more. I couldn’t stop smiling the entire walk home from our new favorite pizza place. My husband bought a car (unrelated, but almost as exciting for him).

Dear friends tied the knot. Others have growing families. I turned 30.

And celebrated with a parade. Okay, that was for the Nationals, since they won the World Series and all. I started a new job with a fun group of people. I watched so much Great British Baking Show that I was inspired…

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The challah that started it all!

I spent time with those adorable faces (and equally adorable sister- and brother-in-law, not pictured). I baked a lot more delicious stuff. Turns out, I’m a baker! #challahatyagirl

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As the year winds down, holiday parties are filling the calendar. Crazy to think there’s only a week left in 2019, and in the 2010s! What a decade it was. Here’s to the memories, friendships, and epic life changes!

And to 2020: No pressure. 😉

Grabbing a Bite at My Favorite Spot

The night is so cold, my ears start to ache before we’ve even crossed the street. Breath crystallizes in the light of a streetlamp and my nose throbs. My date ushers me through the door first, ever the gentleman, and I’m hit by a wall of heat and the rich scent of beer and well-polished wood.

The bartender pauses in her conversation with one of the local regulars to call a friendly, “Hey, how’s it going?” as we pass. We wave, still too frozen (not to mention far too hungry) for Midwestern small-talk. The floorboards are well-worn around the horseshoe bar, as if we needed a path to follow.

Tonight, we’re in luck: there are only a handful of people in line. Of course, if this is their first visit, we could still wait a half-hour to order, but I like our odds. My eyes wander the tap handles as I try to decide between my usual Citywide Pale Ale or a nice chocolate milk stout.

Aggressive music floats through the window into the kitchen, underscoring the conversation taking place there. This close, the smell of caramelizing ground beef makes my mouth water. Impatience sets me bouncing on the balls of my feet as the couple at the counter finalize their order.

“Hey, guys, long time no see,” he says when it’s our turn.

It’s been just over a week since our last visit. It feels like an eternity has passed.

The guys chitchat about the weather and how quiet it is tonight, despite the line that has multiplied behind us. Then comes the order: “Two double classics with everything and a side of regular fries.”

I pretend I might switch it up, but in the end, it’s always the same.

We snag two stools at the far corner of the bar, Thursday night football starting up on the screen behind us. Frigid winter air leaks through the seam of the door beneath the TV, but it’s toasty within my jacket. The phone nestles on the bar between us.

I’ve gone for the stout; he orders the pale ale. We people-watch and make up whispered stories about those in line, feet from where we sit. A raucous cheer sounds from the other side of the bar. I twist in time to catch the replay and curse my fantasy team.

The phone buzzes: order’s up! He slides from the stool and squeezes past the line to retrieve the scratched metal tray. My heart pounds with anticipation. Butter, onions, and sizzling beef cloud around us as he sets our burgers down.

The toasted bun is soft and buttery. The crisp edge of the smashed patties adds a delicate crunch, and melted American cheese wraps it all in salty, gooey luxury. No matter how much I savor every bite, the burger is gone within minutes, washed down with fat, golden fries—perfectly crisp exterior, soft carby interior—and a swallow of one of 4Hand’s finest brews.

My belly full and warm, my fingertips buzzing from the stout, we brave the cold once more to return home.

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Taking a Walk to Clear My Head

Today is one of those achingly beautiful days. The sky is painfully blue, a blue you could gladly drown in, and the sun bathes the multi-colored trees golden. Each breath is crisp with decaying leaves and the promise of frost.

Cars fly through the intersection. A golden-doodle pants at my side, distracted from the sight of the park across the street by a new person to smell. I bury my gloved hands deep in my coat pockets and tilt my face skyward. A light but insistent wind tugs at my earlobes and rubs the tip of my nose, but the sun’s warmth soothes away the sting.

It’s a day that reminds you you’re alive and demands you be happy about it.

The light changes, a shiny pickup and rusted old Honda blurring past anyway. Everyone waits a collective breath, then the dog leads the charge into the crosswalk. Two joggers pass, spurring the dog and its owner faster. I take my time. Forest Park waits patiently.

Inside the park, the sun dapples through slowly-dying leaves. I cross the bridges, first over the metrolink, then over the parkway, and descend to the Victorian footbridge. Wood planks echo underfoot. I take a moment to lean against the black metal railing. A chill seeps through the down of my jacket sleeves. The sun reflects off the water below, and on the far bank, a weeping willow flutters in the wind.

Two teenagers speed past on electric scooters, rumbling across the footbridge. Wisps of breathless conversation drift by as speed-walking moms push their strollers toward the ice rink. I turn right instead, gravel crunching beneath my boots. Here, without the burnt-hued trees shading the path, the sun sinks into my skin. Frigid air burns my nose with each inhalation. Every breath tastes of life.

By the time I reach the statue and pause for a vehicle headed down the road toward the Muny, my fingers are numb despite the gloves. Breath clouds in front of my face and my cheeks tingle. I turn and follow the path back along the creek, past a man calling for his black lab as his little boy cheers on the dog sloshing through the shallow current. Past a couple arguing on a bench near the pond with the fountain spraying rainbows between its jets. Back under tree-cover, a smile for the homeless man curling up on the bench surrounded by brambles and caught-leaves. Across the footbridge, pausing for a cyclist to cross my path. A grandmother helps a toddling child in a princess skirt climb the stairs to the pedestrian overpass. She trades a smile with me over her shoulder then cautions the little girl to “let the lady pass.”

A train blurs below as I cross the second bridge, its rails whistling protests against the cold metal. Somewhere, a fire crackles in a wood-burning fireplace, filling the air with the smoky-sweet scent of home.

It is a good day to be alive.

The OTHER Lou: Our Louisville Adventure

Maybe I’m being obnoxious by referring to Louisville, KY as the other Lou. I don’t remember my US history all that well (sorry, Mr. Jones!) but I’m fairly certain Louisville came before St. Louis, at least in terms of US Cities. (Ok, because I love history and hate being wrong, I had to turn to the ol’Google. Turns out Louisville was chartered in 1780, while the settlement of St. Louis was established in 1764 BUT [and here’s where that history lesson paid off] didn’t become a US city until the Louisiana Purchase of 1803. Thanks TJ!*)

Anyhoo, the hubs and I took advantage of the less-than-4-hour-drive for a long weekend mini-vacay (side note: I don’t know why I have to so aggressively defend the fact that Louisville is 4 hours from St. Louis. Several people have tried to dispute me on this *after* I’ve made the damn trip!). It was such a blast, despite the weather being pretty frigid. As my husband put it: we didn’t do a lot but we saw a lot.

We stayed at the 21C Museum Hotel which was awesome–there was a fun video wall in the elevator lobby, my brother in sculpture form near the entrance, and we were able to get drinks at the hotel bar and wander through the exhibits–which makes weird art SO MUCH more enjoyable. We giggled a lot, which is one of my favorite things to do with my husband.

Our hotel was right next to the Louisville Slugger museum. I come from a family of baseball fans (like, my mom’s dad built a baseball field into their farm when she was a kid). We wandered the gift shop and touched all the different bats and read the wall of plaques bearing the names of baseball greats and their favorite Louisville Slugger bat number. We did not tour the actual museum, but I got a picture of the giant bat out front.

We also made the short trip to Churchill Downs. It was really cool seeing the racetrack from the highway (and through the slats in the fence). We got some pics with the horse statue out front, and entered the lobby of the museum…in the middle of a feral pack of elementary school kids on a field trip. No thank you, we agreed to save the inside of Churchill Downs for another day.

We checked out several different neighborhoods. Our museum was on Main Street, which featured a lot of distilleries and restaurants and shops. It was an easy/long walk to NuLu, a hip neighborhood with funky antique shops, more distilleries and breweries, and some tasty food spots. We also walked through 4th Street Live, which was bumping with the Guy Fieris of the world. We made a few trips to Bardstown Road/the Original Highlands, which I liked a lot. It had a lower-key vibe that reminded me of some of my favorite St. Louis neighborhoods.

Ok, now for the good stuff, the real reason a person checks out Louisville (apart from maybe horses): the bourbon! I’ve enjoyed a few whiskey drinks on occasion before this trip, but had next to no knowledge about the nuances of whiskeys/bourbons/ryes. Now, I can say I really like bourbon. I like rye whiskey, too. I really like Old Fashioneds.

So first stop for us was Evan Williams, partly because it’s one of the best known names, partly because it was only about a block from the hotel, mostly (for me, at least) because he was Louisville’s first distiller! I wish I could have learned more history–I got that from a street placard–but we did not do the tour. We just hopped on the elevator with another group and slipped into the bar for the best Old Fashioned I’ve ever had. We also got to keep commemorative Evan Williams bourbon glasses. Score!

We also wandered far enough down “Whiskey Row” to find Peerless–a younger distillery (closed before prohibition but recently reopened)–where we did an $8 whiskey tasting. 4 whiskeys plus a commemorative glass and a dee-licious piece of chocolate–I was obsessed with this place. Bourbon is aged for 4 years, so theirs won’t be ready until this summer–we had their rye whiskey instead. I learned how the barrel soaks its own flavor into each batch, and theirs had such unique flavors that most of their bottles are single-barrel (meaning–duh–only from 1 barrel) rather than small batch (combining several barrels). They also keep it cask-strength–this got a little too chemistry-heavy for me to remember fully considering the whiskey-fog my brain was in, but something about letting the alcohol evaporate rather than diluting it with water so it gets to the legal ABV without diluting the flavors (maybe?). We bought a bottle of their rye (as well as some of those whiskey-infused chocolates).

The tour we booked ahead of time was at Angel’s Envy. That was a lot of fun–the most memorable part for me was when we dunked our fingers in a bottle of basically everclear. He had us smack those fingers on the palm of our other hand, then smell it (straight ethanol). Then we rubbed our hands together a couple times and smelled it. Now, I can’t remember the order, but one time it smelled like corn, another grains, and after more rubbing, fresh-baked bread. It was a really cool “science experiment” to show how adding heat changes it.

A couple other notable experiences: my favorite bourbon drink was probably the bourbon slushy at Feast BBQ. There was a terrify bathroom at galaxie bar–painted black and lit only by black light, glow-in-the-dark paint, and a tv set on static (can you say flashbacks to the first/only 15 min I watched of The Ring??). I really loved how the air smelled of peat, similar to the hops-smell around AB in Soulard.

It was a lot of fun, a really cute city with a surprising amount to do. We’ll definitely be back for more bourbon–and maybe a horse race!

 

*TJ is of course Thomas Jefferson, hands down most popular president in Missouri, if the number of references to Jefferson (including the capital) are any indication.

Lou Brew Reviews: Rockwell Beer Co.

We’ve got a new brewery in town and guys, I almost don’t want to post this because it’s already too popular. They’ve seemed to explode onto the scene and I’m pretty impressed, because their start was not a hot one.

They opened last year, right before all the colleges went on winter break. Everyone was in a festive mood and looking to blow off steam at any number of festively-decorated atmospheres. In that respect, it’s a great time to open your doors if you’re a fledgling brewery trying to get your name out. EXCEPT. None of their beers were ready.

And it’s location is…edgy. By that I mean, it’s on the very edge of a neighborhood that is known for it’s fun bars and less-than-savory goings-on in the wee hours of the morning. So on the outskirts, it’s a little less “fun” and more “grunge.” Trekking the extra 5 minutes out there after dark in the middle of winter only to discover all the available beers are ones we could get at any of our already-established-as-favorite bars was disappointing and confusing. All it seemed to do was show off the “bad” location and a seemingly disorganized business.

Fast forward to the first *really* nice day of the year, everyone and their mother is feeling outdoorsy, which in St. Louis means drinking on a patio! Civil Life is my husband’s go-to suggestion for this, since they’ve got a nice beirgarten-type set up, but I recalled a very spacious patio at the new brewery, so I suggested we check out Rockwell again.

Also, I’d had their saison with dinner the night before, and it was delish! They’ve distributed their beers to a ton of local bars, which, as a strategy, more than makes up for the fact there were 0 beers to try at their grand opening.

All those people and their mothers had the same idea I did; both the patio and the indoor area of Rockwell were pretty busy when we arrived. We got there *just* in time, though, because we didn’t have to wait for our first beers, but when we went back for our second drink, the line was wrapped all through the indoor space. It moved fast, and all the beers I tried were pretty awesome, so I highly recommend checking them out–and not being put off by the long line.

I could be wrong, but I think their food is provided by Brasserie, which means it’s all fantastic. For beers, along with the saison (Fabricious), the hubs loved their Bizniss Ethics and I really liked the Passing Clouds. I’m a little disappointed in myself that I didn’t try the Oxford Llama just for the name–next time for sure!

Lou Brew Reviews: 4Hands, Round 2

We recently revisited 4Hands in downtown St. Louis, and it was a lot of fun! My husband and I are big fans of their Single Speed blonde ale, but we also like City Wide (he the pils, me the pale ale).

My parents were in town and we wanted to give them a bit of the local beer scene flavor. We were going to do Schlafly (their tours are pretty fun and as I’ve said, their beer selection is fantastic), but they were setting up for a big weekend to-do. We ended up at 4Hands, because I like their beers and I remembered it was a fun atmosphere.

Mom and I loved the On Cue–Himalayan salt, cucumber, and hibiscus–but the men did NOT (the enjoyed their pilsners and free arcade games). Dad had a great time crushing it on Galaga while Mom and I played skee ball (even if it took us a little while to realize we had to push “start” for our points to start counting…). We giggled a lot and I may have panicked and way over-tipped the bartender at one point (you’re welcome for that 60% tip, sir) and it was a great time.

Something I think we figured out last time but forgot this go round: they have different drinks at the downstairs bar and the upstairs bar, but your tab is accessible through either. Just something to keep in mind if you start a tab downstairs then head up to the game area and decide to try a beer up there!

Lou Brew Reviews: Alpha Brewing

Do you love sour beers?

If you said yes — perfect! If you said no…that’s fine, too.

Alpha Brewing in the Tower Grove (ish?) area is worth a visit no matter your beer preference. They are known for their sours — the Delphian is amazing, and the Guava Brett will pucker even the most sour-lover’s taste buds — but they’ve got several great IPA, Stout, and Blonde Ale options as well. And some super-fun names. You better believe I tried the Hop, Lock & Drop It, the Troll Wheatwine, and the Fyler Flyer (which gets harder — or easier? — to order the more you have!).

I also really like that they offer a range of pours, so you can create your own flight — and/or just enjoy a *very* small glass of your favorite if you happen to be a lightweight like me. They have your normal-sized pours as well, of course, but I like that I have options, especially if day-drinking.

Alpha also offers live music shows on Thursdays and Saturdays. Their food looked pretty good, though we did not partake — they even have a Vegan night for the non-meat-eaters out there.

Their website claims “It’s not for everyone” but seriously, I think it’s my favorite local brewery. It’s tucked back in a neighborhood near Grand Ave, just out of the way enough to be a hidden gem while close enough to merit an easy trip.

Lou Brew Reviews: Modern Round 2

We went back to Modern Brewery during St. Louis’s Craft Beer Week. Mostly because we we’re headed to this BBQ event at 2nd Shift which was packed with people to the point both my husband and I got a little zap of anxiety and decided to retrace our steps, since we passed Modern on our way to 2nd Shift.

Also, my husband is still (sadly) allergic to cats, so I was already apprehensive about 2nd Shift since they have a few brewery cats running around.

And because of this, I can say with certainty Modern is just not my jam. This time around, I got the special release Birdman APA and my husband went with the Modern Man lager. Don’t get me wrong, Modern was packed with people. Their beer is clearly good.

I just don’t like it. Neither does my husband. And that’s okay. Saint Louis is full of great craft beers. There is more than enough for everyone to find something they love.

If anything, I’m a little thankful there’s one less place to choose from next time we’re discussing which brewery to visit. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t check it out for yourself when you get the chance!

Laumeier Sculpture Park

Because this blog is for rambling about what I love, and because I love Saint Louis (and because my husband might strangle me if I continue to wax poetic about our fair city to him on a daily basis), I’m coming at you with another fun St. Louis adventure.

I like how vague the punishment warning is. Maybe even better than the actual sculpture…

Laumeier Sculpture Park is not even 20 minutes outside the city. It’s a sprawling park with really cool sculptures (duh) and lots of open space for children and dogs to frolic, romantic picnics, or maybe a borderline-aggressive game of ultimate Frisbee. There are paved paths that wind between sections of the park so you can take a leisurely stroll through the grounds. OR if you’re feeling a bit more adventurous and looking for a more rustic trail, there are a few winding through the trees surrounding the park.

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We did not go into the hiking with any sort of plan, and mostly stuck to the Western Woodland Trail. We ran into a couple of dead-ends (ok, one was really just that we heard slithering sounds from the underbrush and I DO NOT DO SNAKES — which I shouted as I ran back the way we’d come — so technically that doesn’t count as a dead end. Also, my husband said it was probably just a squirrel. Then another path was a little overgrown and my husband wasn’t trying to get THAT rustic so he said there were probably snakes along that trail, too. Which was mean, but effective). The backtracking just helped get our blood pumping and made us feel like we were real explorers.

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Once upon a time, my dad hung our old computer in a tree in our backyard, followed by several old bikes and other random things that created a sort of avant-garde sculpture garden of our own. Because of this, my husband was quick to point out a sculpture in a tree during our hike and call that artist a copy cat.

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Whatever you’re into, this is such a great spot. Easy, breezy picnic in the sun, a day out with the kids, a sophisticated art-viewing, a hike through nature — Laumeier Sculpture Park can do that for you.

PS: It’s free!

Lou Brew Reviews: Schlafly Tap Room

Yesterday I took the VIP tour at Schlafly’s Tap Room — my husband got us tickets through the Beer and Wine Club at his grad school and it includes free tastings so YES PLEASE — and it was awesome.


Firstly, I’ve been to the Tap Room one other time (Stout and Oyster Festival), but I didn’t realize just how big the place is. There is a LOT of seating through several rooms. We got to go behind the windows into the room where the giant vats are (wearing safety goggles, of course), and then down into the basement where the real magic happens.

AJ was a pretty great tour guide. He was informative and clearly very passionate about craft beer. He mentioned a beer class he also gives, which I’d love to check out. Just based on his enthusiasm, I’m going to go ahead and recommend both the tour and the class.

The tasting was really fun. My husband is *obsessed* with Schlafly’s Kentucky Mule, which was one of the options during the tasting, so all his buddies got to sample and see why he isn’t crazy for talking it up so much. I also tried the Scotch Ale, which is ale aged in scotch barrels. It was really smoky, which wasn’t necessarily a bad thing (I vaguely remember telling people it tasted like the chicken taco I’d had earlier — still not a bad thing). I also had the Gruit, which was a delicious and refreshing sour (probably my favorite of the tasting), and one other from a bottle with a kind of shiny label whose name I can’t remember. Also, on the tour I had a (plastic) glass of the Pale Ale, which as I’ve said before, makes me so happy that I magically enjoy Pale Ales now.


P.S. My husband bought two bottles of the Kentucky Mule (they come in like wine-bottle size and are also I think 12% ABV?). I’m pretty sure he tried to say one of them was for one of his buddies, but we ended up bringing both home with us so I think he just pulled a fast one on me. I wasn’t in the most observant state of mind by that point.

It was a fun night!