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Dear St. Louis,

I’m leaving you.  Again.  We’ve been through this before, but this time it’s different.  Last time, I couldn’t wait to leave you, and swore I’d never return.  This time, you made it so hard to leave that the mere thought of leaving you was one of our top reasons we thought we’d stay.  Last time I left you, I was young and alone.  This time, I’m twice as old, and have been blessed with a wife and wonderful children.  Last time I thought I’d never be back.  This time, we swear we will return*.

*My son said in the car the other day out of the blue, “I think I’ll live in Missouri again someday.”

Regardless, we are leaving for Las Vegas again.  They made an offer we couldn’t refuse.  It is with a heavy heart we pack, we visit places we love for the last time, and say goodbye to many friends and family here.  But I suppose the fact that it’s hard this time means that it has been good.  And so with that, I’d like to say thank you and tell you why you’ve come to mean so much to our family.

Thank you, the Arch.  I think I’m starting here not because you’re my favorite thing about St. Louis (you’re not), but because of the history you represent and the opportunities you’ve given my family over the last few years.  You’re still visibly stunning, and I think you’ll only get better with your renovation connecting you with the rest of the city.  My seven year old son REALLY LOVES YOU and wants to visit you all the time, and I’m sorry I didn’t visit you as often as he would have liked.  Finally, I am looking forward to telling people it’s the ARCH not the St. Louis Arc…no joke, I’ve heard this more than once, and I will be more forceful in correcting these ignoramuses in the future.

Thank you, Missouri Botanical Gardens.  You are my favorite.  We have visited you so often through the years, and even joined you as a member for the last several years.  Heck, we visited you today for the last time.  We’ve LOVED the Chihuly glass exhibit, the Lantern Festival, the Christmas lights, and just regular afternoons strolling your beautiful grounds.  We’ve fed the koi, watched the bullfrogs in the Chinese Garden, and the geckos in the Climatron.  We’ve sampled the Best of Missouri Market, handled the hordes at the Japanese Festival, gotten lost in the maze, toured the Tower Grove house, and taken the Tram tour enough that I’m fairly positive I could give the tour.  But mostly, we loved the regular days where we stroll through the English Country Garden, and watch our kids race leaves that they place in the stream that runs through it.  My wife loves the irises that bloom in May, and I love the day lilies that are blooming as I write this.  I truly think it’s the best attraction in St. Louis and has something different every time you visit.

Thank you, Forest Park.  You are amazing.  The view from the top of Art Hill when the fountains are going below are spectacular.  But really it’s what’s inside you that counts.  The Zoo, Art Museum, History Museum, and Science Center.  With that said, here’s a mini message for each of you.  Thanks St. Louis Zoo, for the numerous days we’ve spent gawking at your spectacular creatures.  From the terrible tarantulas in the insectarium to the hilarious hippo habitat, you’ve entertained my family many times through the years.  I LOVE that you’re free.  However, sometimes your crowds make me hate you just a bit.  Also, until this weekend we’d never seen that sneaky cheetah…until this Sunday he appeared.  That was awesome.  Thanks, the Art Museum for letting people see some of the world’s greatest paintings for  once again, FREE.  I love your collection of George Caleb Bingham works showcasing Missouri in the 1800s.  More people should visit you.  Thanks, Missouri History Museum.  I feel like I should have used you more.  Thanks, the Science Center for both terrifying and thrilling my children.  Both my children had trouble with the T-Rex when they were younger (that poor triceratops has been waiting to be put out of his misery for years now), but have enjoyed your various exhibits as they have grown.  Hey, did I thank you for being free?  Overall, I’d like to thank the people of St. Louis City and County for subsidizing our visits through the years.  They voted in 1969 to have a portion of their property tax support these great institutions.  There is NO WAY such a thing would pass today, but man, it sure makes St. Louis a GREAT place to have kids.

Thank you, unique food.  St. Louis, you don’t get the credit you deserve.  You’ve got some great signature foods going for you.  Thanks Pork steaks, for being a super cheap, super delicious slab of meat to feed a crowd with.  Give me some Maull’s Sweet n Mild, a cold beer, and you’ve made my weekend.  Thanks, Gooey Butter Cake.  It’s pretty obvious why you’re good, and Tina from church makes it best.  Thanks, Provel cheese.  Don’t let the haters hate.  “It’s a processed cheese.  It’s too rubbery.  It tastes weird.”  They’re all just jealous.  Your rope goodness is perfect on salads, no one can touch you.  A St. Louis style Italian salad with Provel CANNOT be beat.  Our friend Tracy makes the ultimate salad with Zia’s dressing.  I could eat it all day long.  We are going to miss St. Louis style pizza.  My wonderful wife recently had an opportunity to photograph THE Imo family, and they were so kind and friendly.  It makes me feel even better about supporting a local product.  Here are my top five reasons St. Louis style pizza is fantastic.

1.  The small square pieces mean you can eat innumerable pieces before being full.  If I counted them, there are many times I’d be ashamed (maybe a little proud?) of what I’ve done.

2.  You can fold said squares into mini pizza sandwiches.  Delightful!

3.  You really taste the toppings, and not a mouthful of dough.

4.  The small pieces are easy to handle.

5.  It is NOT Chicago style pizza.  I do not want a giant dough blob with the cheese under a pile of greasy toppings that takes a thousand years to bake.  Boo.

Thank you, beer.  First off, although none of us were fans of the Belgians taking over AB, the side result of that has been some wonderful microbreweries starting up in the St. Louis area.  I’d especially like to thank Schlafly Kolsh and Urban Chestnut Zwickel for quenching my spring and summertime thirst.  Schlafly Pumpkin Ale for easing me through fall, and a wide variety of beers from O’Fallon, Schlafly, and Urban Chestnut for seeing me through the winters.  O’Fallon, bring back your Wee Heavy!  It was AMAZING.  Finally, Thank you, AB.  Your brewery tour is great.  It makes the Miller tour look like some guys threw a brewery together over a weekend.  Beautiful flowers, Clydesdales, stained glass, a spotless factory, and free beer make for a happy local and tourist alike.  Also, Grant’s Farm is quite possibly the best idea ever.  A ZOO WITH FREE BEER.  “Hey kids, here’s a dollar.  Go defend yourself against hungry baby goats.  Daddy’s going to have a beer then watch a ginormous African Elephant blow up a ballon, play a harmonica, and spray children with water.”  Presidents.  Mini-safari.  Ravenous goats.  Entertaining elephants.  Free beer.  Oh, AND GIANT HORSES.  It is the American dream in miniature.

Thank you, the arts.  First off, I’d like to thank the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra for offering dozens of memorable date nights for the lovely wife and I.  We have subscribed the last few years, and your programming has taken us through time and around the world through music.  I love the symphony because it gives me about 90 minutes of time to stop, listen, and think without distraction.  We will truly miss you.

The Fabulous Fox Theatre is stunning, and we’ve seen some great shows through the years.  I got a wow out of my daughter the first time I took her this year to see Alton Brown.  Finally, we JUST saw Circus Flora for the first time.  I’m sorry I’m such a fool for not visiting you sooner.

I’d like to thank the many restaurants that have enriched our daily experiences and broadened our children’s horizons.  There are a few of you I’d like to mention.  Thank you, The Bridge, for being so unique and fun.  Some of our favorite evenings out have either began or ended in your balcony seating.  I could eat your foccacia bread with assorted cheeses forever.  Thank you, Pastaria for being so good that my 10 year old daughter would choose to have her birthday dinner in your restaurant…who am I to argue with her on that?  Finally, I’d like to thank India Palace.  I still think you are one of the gems of the area.  If I said, “Hey, I’ve got an idea.  Let’s start a restaurant with a mildly intimidating ethnic cuisine.  Then let’s put it at the top floor of a slightly run down hotel that you need to take a vaguely marked elevator to get to.  Oh yeah, let’s make it hard to get to, with no obvious road access, even though you can see it from a major highway.  Oh, the restaurant used to have some Polynesian Tiki Bar theme?  KEEP IT!”  If I came up with that plan, I would fail.  Yet, you somehow manage to not just survive, but thrive.  It is the best buffet I’ve ever had.  I would eat it every day.  You have been wonderful to my kids.  They absolutely love it.  I have yet to go when you have charged me full price for both of them.  Thank you.

There are many more restaurants out there that we love, and I don’t want to leave anyone out, so I’d just like to say, GREAT JOB.  The food in St. Louis has gotten so much better the last nine years, and I think it’s only going to improve in the years to come.

Thank you, the Cardinals.  I will always be a baseball fan first, but you have worked your way into my whole family’s hearts.  Cards games are clean and I’ve never had to explain something bad to my kids later on.  The games are still (relatively) affordable, and the product is fantastic.  I try to explain that the Cardinals are to St. Louis what the Packers are to Green Bay.  It’s the closest thing I can compare it to.  We recently went to the new museum in Ballpark Village.  It brought me to tears.  The kids loved it.  Heck, I got to HOLD Stan Musial and Willie McGee’s bat.  You are a class act and we will continue to love you from afar.  We’ll always have 2006 and 2011!

And then there are the Rams and Blues.  Blues, keep trying hard, you can do it!  I wish I could take my kids to your games, but the things I’ve heard there may melt their delicate ears.  Rams, I like football, I’m just not sure if you guys like football.  It seems like you struggle with it.

Finally, I’d like to thank our family, friends, students, parents, and church members for enriching our lives so much since 2005.  You are truly what will keep us coming back.

Sincerely,

Jason, Sarah, Katie, and Brendan Crowder

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