Monday, June 29, 2015

Missouri State Park Adventures: Onondaga Cave

Last summer our family participated in Cakeway to the West -- a fun way to celebrate St. Louis' 250 anniversary and an excuse to visit many landmarks and museums that we had never been to before. This year, we are extending our love for learning about the Show Me State by visiting as many Missouri State parks as we can before the kids return to school.

On Saturday, we began our tour with a trip to Onondaga Cave State Park.  Located about 60 miles from St. Louis, the cave is a national natural landmark and truly an underground wonder.  Our adventure began in the visitor's center with a five minute introductory video.  Next, our trained guide led us on a 90 minute tour over lighted, paved walkways as he explained the history of the cave and pointed out unique geologic formations such as "cave bacon".

Metal railings made the nearly one mile trek easier as we traveled down slippery paths to reach depths of 180 feet below the surface and trudged up steep inclines to view the "lily pad room" located just 15 feet below the surface. It was a really enjoyable trip for all of us and we look forward to visiting the park again as they host many unique events throughout the year including; hummingbird banding, flintknapping demonstrations and an underground music series.

Fun fact: Missouri has more than 6,000 caves (second only to Tennessee which has 10,000+).

Natalie puts her hand on the "touch rock" the only place you may touch while in the caves as the oils from our skin greatly affects the formations.

An unusual sight - a tiny plant growing in the caves.

Noah and Nat in the Lily Pad room

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Film Photography: Old But Not Outdated

Over the years I’ve done some digging into my family tree and discovered while I’m mostly of German/Polish descent, upon further investigation, I realized there is also some dinosaur running through my veins, too.  I’m not sure of the type -- definitely not T-Rex with my gangling arms, but… okay, now I’m just pulling your arm, I mean leg.  

I call myself a dinosaur because I tend to cling to dated or out-of-fashion ways of doing things. For instance, as a writer I naturally LOVE the written word. I devour stories like they were a box of bonbons.  Sometimes I become so engrossed in a plot that the characters begin to feel like old friends.  I remember going through a period of mourning when I finished the Harry Potter series. I wanted to stay at Hogwarts just a little while longer. I think anyone who is an active reader can empathize with feeling connected with a story. However, unlike most, I’ve failed to hop on the Kindle train.  I know digital devices are handy and convenient, but when reading I prefer to feel the weight of a book in my hands and hear the rustle of paper as I plow through a storyline.  I have similar feelings about letter writing. In an age where public schools are vastly removing cursive from the curriculum, I concede there is still joy to be had in receiving a happy birthday text or email for a job well done.  However, I will always prefer sending and receiving handwritten snail mail.  For me, there’s a bit of a thrill that comes from seeing a colorful envelope in an old friend’s penmanship among the bills and junk mail.  

Recently, I’ve discovered my preference for dying arts also extends to film photography.   About a month ago, my family had a photo session with Natalie Ulrich.  It had been about 18 months since she had last taken our photos.  When I set up our appointment, Natalie shared that she had made some changes to her business – mainly that she had switched from digital to film photography. I didn’t think much of it at the time. I figured it was simply a choice she made in the tools she used to produce her work. I never considered there would be a noticeable difference in the results.  Imagine my surprise when I began comparing the photos she had taken of our family with her digital camera against those she took recently using film.  While I love all the photos -- I simply prefer those taken using her vintage film camera.  For me, the skin tones seem more natural and creamy.  The colors, textures and details in our hair and clothing more vibrant and authentic. 
So, although I prefer the images that film photography can produce, I will continue to enjoy using my digital camera.  But, seeing these photos – it’s clear while film may be an old way of doing things, there is nothing outdated about its results.

Natalie Ulrich Photography: digital (left) vs. film

Sunday, June 21, 2015

13 Years: A Tapestry of Memories

"So...tomorrow is the day?" asked Steve
"Yes," I replied.

After 13 years, I realize that Steve and I have become being married.
We use fewer words with each other -- not because we don't have anything to say, rather we already know much of each others scripts. While an outsider would have trouble keeping up with our abbreviated interactions, for us, it's normal.

"Did you call her about the thing?"
"Are we supposed to bring the stuff?"
"I think so."

Oftentimes, we don't even need words.  Like good card players, we know each others tells. 
A raised brow = proceed with caution, I'm tired and really don't want to mow the lawn
A well-placed sigh = please don't make me ask you to put your dishes in the dishwasher

Traditional 13th year gifts call for lace or for a modern take -- textiles and clothing.  However, I knew the way to my love's heart was through his stomach and decided to make him his favorite pie instead, coconut cream. Natalie, who is always looking for any excuse to organize a party (I have no idea where she gets this), wanted to know all about our wedding day in Maui.

"Please, please, please! Can we get some decorations?" begged Natalie.

Luckily, Dollar Tree had an aisle-full of Luau-inspired party ware. That evening, she insisted on setting up a spot for Steve and I in the living room and told me she and Noah would eat in the kitchen. While Steve and I enjoyed Chinese take-out served by our 8 year old, the kids dined on pizza. Natalie wanted to be our server so we could "relax".  She even got out our dice and encouraged us to play Yahtzee and sip our wine in peace. After dinner she found some Don Ho and Israel Kamakawiwo'ole on Pandora and performed a little Hawaiian dance for us.

As Steve handed me my card he said, "I didn't know whether to get you a sympathy card or an anniversary card."

The only sympathy needed is for those who haven't had the opportunity to share their life with someone.  So, while no lace was exchanged, over the years we have created a tapestry of rich memories -- woven together are good times and bad, support and love. 

Happy Anniversary, Steve!

Natalie looked up the Hawaiian word for dinner.
"Would you like an appetizer?" asked our grass-skirted server.
Good fortunes

Friday, June 12, 2015

Deep Thoughts From Noah #61

Noah: Dang it!  I forgot to put my tooth under my pillow!

Natalie: Noah, you know mom is the Tooth Fairy.

Noah: I know...but, I want to think what I want to think.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Scio Time: A Good Time

Last week my family traveled...back in time.


Well, maybe not back in time...rather back to a slower time.

We headed northeast to my husband Steve's hometown or village as it's called in Scio, OH.  A place where everybody knows your name and probably what you ate for dinner the night before. With less than 200 families residing in the area, it's safe to say the town has more cows than people, but what they lack in numbers they certainly make up for in personality...many with nicknames like a set of sisters affectionately known as Pickle, Fritz and Buck. 

We stayed with his parents in their red brick ranch -- built in part by Steve's father, Rex, nearly 50 years ago. Their home rests on a hill and is surrounded by green pastures and horses grazing a few feet from their property line.  Several times a day, the kids and I would wave to their Amish neighbors who passed by their home in horse-drawn buggies. In the back corner of their lot sits the fur shed.  Back in the 70s and 80s, trapping was  serious business for Steve's family as his dad's work as a construction operator was seasonal.  Trapping helped supplement their income and played a big role in whether Santa visited their house or not.

During our visit we stopped in the Custer Museum in New Rumley, OH a stone's throw from Scio and the birthplace of the famous general. Later in the week we road-tripped about an hour west in Holmes County which holds the distinction of having the largest Amish population in the world.  We shopped at an Amish flea market that sold a mishmash of Chinese import items, country crafts and an array of Amish fried pies and cheese.  Before heading back, we made a pit-stop at Breitenbach Winery for a bottle of dandelion wine.

Our days were uncomplicated yet developed into a pleasant routine.  The kids discovered wiffle ball and had Steve and I huffing and puffing around make-shift bases of bushes and such.  We brought with us dozens of library books and lazily consumed stories and gallons of sweet tea along with untold amounts of bacon and red meat. In the evenings Steve and Natalie caught lightning bugs and laid in the grass counting stars.  Nearly every night we made a trip into town to visit The B&F Dairy Bar.  A mom and pop, fast food and ice cream stand started by Steve's parents and their friend Beamer in 1971.  Today Steve's older sister, Jo and her husband, Marc run the business which features an extensive menu of more than 60 food items including burgers, sandwiches, pizza, hillbilly dogs, Gyro bites and fried green beans.  But, if there is something your stomach desires that your eyes don't find on the menu -- just ask and Jo and her team will be happy to make your fried food dreams come true.  This also applies to their dairy treats which range from sundaes, banana splits, sno cones and deep fried cookie dough bites to milk shakes sized junior to a 44 oz. monster. Drink two of those bad boys and she'll give you a third one for free.

While in Scio we celebrated Noah's 12th birthday with a Mario theme.  Natalie created a treasure hunt for him complete with Mario-inspired characters she and I formed from modeling clay.  Thankfully Steve and his Dad built a bonfire despite the threat of rain. While the weather conditions dampened the kids' clothes it had no affect on their moods.  They happily roasted their dogs in the Spring showers.  Steve's younger sister Chris and her daughter, Heather organized a slew of party games and a scavenger hunt.  They also filled 100 water balloons that kept the kids busy for nearly an hour. Good times.

We took two days to complete our 550 mile return trip home.  We stayed overnight in Indianapolis and spent the next day exploring their Children's Museum. The museum is a cross between the St. Louis Science Center, the Magic House and the American Museum of Natural History.  It features five floors of hands-on exhibits.  While Noah enjoyed the Dinosphere attractions, Natalie felt most at home in the Take Me There: China exhibit.

We are now back home, but haven't quite returned to warp speed.  Instead we are slow and steady --  though this doesn't come natural to me, our trip has definitely given me a better appreciation for it.

On our way to Grandma and Grandpa's house

A  building bigger then a breadbox...
Dresden, OH (about 2 hours from Scio)
Downtown Scio
We saw all kinds of wildlife.

General George Armstrong Custer Monument
New Rumley, OH
Fishing at the Scio American Legion pond
We spotted a monster carp, but he got away.
Natalie made friends with lots of creepy crawlies.
Amish Country
Even the Amish need to run out for a loaf of bread once in a while.
Noah and Natalie sporting their purchases from the Amish Flea Market
For Noah - a houndstooth fedora. For Nat - a scarf of the world "Because when I'm a screenwriter I will be traveling"
German Heritage Museum in Walnut Creek, OH
Aunt Chris takes their order at the B&F Dairy Bar.
Noah talks to his great grandpa, Bud Albright.
"Mom, is it okay if I say a prayer for him?"
We also visited the Felgenhauer side in New Cumberland, OH
Play ball!
Homemade Boxtrolls
Noah and Nat's great uncle Gib and great aunt Henrietta drove two hours from Columbus, OH to meet them for the day.
Aunt Joanne introduced the kids to sparklers. Both the kids were a bit apprehensive at first.
"Mom, aren't these a hazard?" asked Noah.

Nat sends Noah on a birthday treasure hunt.

Water Balloon Wars
Noah with his cousin Heather and her husband Michael
Happy 12th Noah!

Children's Museum of Indianapolis

Nat learns to make flip cartoons in the Hollywood exhibit.
The kids stand next to the largest water clock in North America.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Musings From Natalie #114

Natalie: Mom, do you think I will be a great screenwriter someday?

Me: Of course!

Natalie: Do you think I'll be great enough that kids will dress up like my characters on Halloween?