Cincinnati Children's Museum

The lovely Robin and I sure had a blast taking our four oldest grandkids (two of whom were visiting from California) to the Cincinnati Museum Center for an afternoon last week.
They had a blast. And we had a blast watching them have a blast.
They spent most of their time running around in the enchanted forest space (whatever it's called), which doesn't really lend itself to photos. But Robin managed to get a picture of them in the delightful little aquarium tunnel thingy (below) where they could watch fish and turtles and other critters from an underwater vantage point.

There is always so much to do and see at the Children's Museum and never enough time to squeeze it all in. As it was, we closed down the joint.

The Art of the Brick

With our two oldest grandkids visiting from California, the lovely Robin and I took on the challenge of taking them and their two oldest cousins (one-year-old Avery stayed home with her Daddy) to "The Art of the Brick" display at Cincinnati Museum Center. We didn't tell them where we were going, so when we pulled into the museum center drive, they all recognized the spot and cheered! So fun.
The Art of the Brick is a unique art display made up entirely of LEGO® pieces and the artist Nathan Sawaya's imagination. It features over 100 works of art and millions of LEGO bricks.
The Art of the Brick is the first major museum exhibition to use LEGO bricks as the sole art medium. Numerous classic works such as the Mona Lisa, Starry Night, The Scream, and American Gothic are reproduced in LEGOs, along with a massive Easter Island head, life-size human figures, and a twenty-foot-long T-Rex skeleton.

I love the photo above because it not only gave the kids a chance to enter into a piece of art but it also captures their personalities pretty well.
The display route empties into an activity room, where the kids played with LEGO pieces and made their own works of art--and action. Though it wasn't cheap, even with our family museum membership discount, it was a joy to do with the grandkids.

Liberty Center

What a joy it has been for the last week to have all our children and grandchildren together again! We took advantage of having Miles and Mia for a double sleepover last weekend and made our first visit to Liberty Center, the new shopping and residential complex north of Cincinnati.
Many stores and businesses are already open and the place was busy on a Sunday afternoon. We watched a small model train display, visited a creche scene, and mostly just enjoyed being together.
 There is a play area in the main mall, so of course we spent a good deal of time there. The grandkids didn't seem overly impressed by the "flying pigs" theme, but I thought it was a nice touch.

We had a great time and will surely return often. My only disappointment was that the interfaith chapel was not open. I could've used some prayer after a costly visit with the lovely Robin to Chico's clothing store.

Eight Shakespeare Venues

I have been reading, watching, and writing a lot of Shakespeare this Fall, which has caused me to reflect with gratitude on the many places I have been privileged to see the Bard's plays acted. Here is a quick list:
Dating back to 1995 (yes, I can remember back that far), the Belgrade Studio in Coventry, England (above), was the venue for my first (I think, maybe?) live theater Shakespeare experience: Twelfth Night, with the lovely Robin, Aaron, Aubrey, and our dear friend Nigel.
The lovely Robin and I saw Twelfth Night again at the Atlantic Theater Festival (above) in Wolfville, Nova Scotia (where I was also booked to speak to several hundred youth-type people). Sadly, this theater closed after the 2007 season.
We have enjoyed many wonderful productions and adaptations at Cincinnati Shakespeare Company: oh, let's see, Richard II, Hamlet, Much Ado, As You Like It, Two Gentlemen of Verona, Macbeth, King John, Henry V, Romeo and Juliet, Julius Caesar, Troilus and Cressida, and more. We were subscribers for many seasons, and hope to be so again, when the budget permits. 
It wasn't Shakespeare's script, but we had a blast seeing The Compleat Works of William Shakespeare at the Shakespeare Tavern in Atlanta, Georgia, a few years back. Hilarious. 
We've also seen Cincinnati Shakespeare Company productions in the outdoor amphitheater at Vinoklet Winery, in Colerain Township. The above was the 20014 production (I think) of A Midsummer Night's Dream, which we were thrilled to share with my brother and sister-in-law, Don and Arvilla. 
And an unbelievable joy and thrill was the Tony-winning Broadway production of Twelfth Night in New York City in 2014, with our brother Rick and brother-in-law Glenn. Incredible! 
Another venue for Cincinnati Shakespeare Company's Shakespeare-in-the-Park productions has been Eden Park's Seasongood Pavilion, which is a great spot. I think we've seen A Midsummer Night's DreamRomeo and Juliet, and Macbeth there. 
And just this past summer, I got to see my first Cincinnati Shakespeare Company's Shakespeare-in-the-Park production in Oxford at the Martin Luther King Jr. uptown park. Romeo and Juliet showed up too. 

So that's eight different Shakespeare venues. I would've guessed more, but I have high hopes of someday getting to the Globe in London (which we just missed on our 1995 England trip), the Blackfriars Theater of the American Shakespeare Center in Virginia, and the Stratford Festival in Toronto. Accepting donations now. 

Hoss Road, Baby

Some street names are just better than others. Take, for example, Hoss Road in Knox County, Ohio. It intersects at both ends with US 62, as high-quality roads should do. I took a few moments to ponder the wisdom of the folks who would name a road after me. May their tribe increase.

Ohio's Longest Covered Bridge

On our way home from a visit to Holmes County, Ohio, last weekend, the lovely Robin and I passed signs pointing to "Ohio's Longest Covered Bridge" just off US 62 near Brinkhaven, Ohio. So we stopped for a short visit, though the setting sun made a photo from our end difficult. And I didn't take the time to cross the Mohican River to get a shot from the other end. Sue me. 
According to my measurements, the Bridge of Dreams (according to the sign over the entrance) is 370 feet long. Okay, I didn't measure it, that's what my research tells me. It was built atop an old railroad bridge and is reputed to be the longest covered bridge in Ohio (as the signs say) and the second longest in the nation. It is on the 4-5 mile long Mohican Valley Trail between the Kokosing Gap and the Holmes County Trail in Knox County.

Zinck's Carriage House, Berlin, OH

On our latest--and very brief--visit to Holmes County, Ohio, the lovely Robin and I stayed in a room at Zinck's Carriage House (one of Zinck's Family of Inns, as it turns out) in Berlin.
It was one of the last available rooms in town (probably because everyone heard I was gonna be signing books on Saturday), so I felt lucky to grab Room #9 of 10 in the carriage house, down a quiet street just a short walk from downtown Berlin.
It was a comfortable room, below ground level. Though the family in the lodgings above us must've had a toddler set to "constant run and jump," it was an otherwise quiet and cozy place to spend the night, with a fake fireplace, complimentary robes (what, we weren't supposed to take them when we checked out?), and a two-person Jacuzzi. The breakfast, though nothing special and offered only in the dining area at Zinck's Inn, .4 miles away, was included.

Bagged Apple Pie at Berlin Farmstead

I've blogged before about the Berlin Farmstead restaurant (here), one of our favorite places to eat in Holmes County, Ohio. But on my most recent visit with the lovely Robin, this past weekend, we noticed something on the menu that had previously escaped our attention: "Bagged Apple Pie." What's that, you say? Well, we wondered the same thing. They actually bake the pie in a brown paper bag, then cut the bag away to cut and serve. It produces a unique top crust, sorta cobbler-like. Mmm mmm good.  

The Berlin Farmstead restaurant is located just off busy State Highway 62 at 4757 Township Rd 366 in Berlin, Ohio.

Holmes County's Largest Book Signing

I joined my Northkill coauthor, J. M. (Joan) Hochstetler yesterday at the annual Holmes County's Largest Book Signing, in which dozens of authors participate, hosted by Gospel Book Store in Berlin, Ohio. My distant cousin, Eli (Small) Hochstetler and the other folks at Gospel Book Store sure now how to do things right. It was a great day.
Joan and I signed and sold some books (kinda the idea, I know), met a bunch of new friends and distant family (including our distant relative, Marvin Miller, descendant of "Indian John" Miller, who is depicted in Northkill), and enjoyed ourselves immensely.
I always enjoy visits to Holmes County . . . soaking in the culture and ambiance of the unique Amish culture, reading The Budget (it's a newspaper like none other), and trying to keep the lovely Robin from buying everything she sees.
As you may be able to tell from the photo above, we also unveiled for the first time the cover of the second part of the Northkill Amish series, The Return, which is scheduled for release in Fall 2016. I think it's a great cover. What do you think?

NAMI Walk 2015

Yesterday morning, for the third time, I think, I joined my wife, daughter, three of our five grandchildren, and some of my wife's coworkers from Access Counseling Services for the 2015 5K NAMI Walk to benefit the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
It was a beautiful day for a walk, a bit chilly to start but plenty warm at the end. We started at the Fitton Center for the Arts in downtown Hamilton and enjoyed blue skies, the sparkling waters of the Great Miami River, and a good crowd the whole way to the lower dam, where we turned around. 
The grandkids behaved themselves admirably (as did I), and by a little after 11:00, we were headed home, glad once more to contribute to a worthy cause, and to support the lovely Robin and her good friends at Access.

Devils Tower

On our last full day of our recent sojourn in South Dakota last week, our hosts took the lovely Robin and me to Devils* Tower, in Wyoming. Devils Tower rises 1,267 feet above the Belle Fourche River in northeastern Wyoming. When we arrived on the grounds of the national monument (America's first, designated as such by President Teddy Roosevelt in 1906), we stopped to visit with some of the year-round residents of the place, in a sprawling prairie dog village. When we got out of the car, they came running to see us (though it's harmful to the critters when people feed them, people obviously do). We also resisted the temptation to take one or two home with us, partly since they carry plague-causing fleas and partly because they wouldn't fit in our luggage.
Devils Tower itself--or Bear Lodge, which is what the tribes in the region have called this place for centuries--is amazing to see. A sacred spot to the Lakota and other tribes of the area and an enticement to rock climbers from around the world, it dominates the beautiful landscape for miles around. A Kiowa legend tells the story of seven little girls who while playing some distance from their village were chased by some bears. The bears were just about to catch them when the girls jumped on a low rock. One girl prayed to the rock, "Take pity on us!" The rock began to grow upwards, pushing the girls higher and higher. When the bears jumped to reach the girls, they scratched the rock, digging their claws into the sides. The rock rose higher and higher until the girls were pushed up into the sky, where they are still, seven little stars in a group (The Pleiades). In the winter, in the middle of the night, the seven stars are right over this high rock. The Kiowa call this rock "Tso-aa," "tree rock."
After a brief visit to the visitor center, we took the 2.7 mile Red Beds Trail, that took us through the countryside, showing us some breathtaking vistas and occasionally winding out of sight of the tower. We kept our eye out for rattlesnakes, and happened upon a docile rabbit but otherwise saw only birds and squirrels.
What a great hike. No elevation to speak of, and clearly marked all the way. I tried to talk my companions into giving a shove to the balancing rock (above) at one of the turns, but they had no adventure in them at all. 
We encountered a number of native American prayer cloths and prayer bundles tied to branches or outcroppings, a reminder of the sacredness of the place to more than twenty tribes.

I'm so glad we went, and so grateful to Randy and Kathy for taking us. 

*Note to my writer (and OCD) friends: When Devils Tower became a national monument, the official paperwork contained no apostrophe. So the official name is not Devil's Tower or Devils' Tower but Devils Tower. So there. Since numerous tribes and Wyoming legislators have backed an effort to rename it, it may soon become, officially, Mato Tipila, "Bear Lodge." Serves it right.  

Mount Rushmore

Just over a week ago, the lovely Robin and I had the joy of visiting--for the first time, for both of us--Mount Rushmore, the monumental sculpture carved into the face of the mountain known to the Lakota Sioux as Six Grandfathers. Our hosts, Kathy and Randy, first took us to a spot that was apparently directly opposite the K Bar S Lodge where we stayed that week, as we were able to view from there the opposite profile of George Washington from the outline we could see from the lobby of the Lodge.

From there we made our way to the parking garage and stately entrance to the memorial grounds. The sixty-foot sculptures of the four U.S. presidents (George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, Abraham Lincoln) could be seen for the whole way up the flag-lined walk. Just magnificent. 

We were in time for a reenactment of the four presidents who posed (above), and then enjoyed a sumptuous meal with our group at the Carver's Cafe, before browsing the museum and then gathering in the amphitheater for the final lighting ceremony and flag lowering of the season! What a privilege and a joy. 

Bear Country USA

Bear Country USA is a drive-through wildlife park in the Black Hills of South Dakota, near Rapid City.  The lovely Robin and I visited last week with a couple new and good friends--and loved it! We saw wolves, bears, elk, buffalo, and other wildlife on the three mile drive. One big black bear lumbered right in front of our car, probably just to let us know who was boss.  

The grounds also feature a "babyland," where young ocelots, beavers, porcupines, red foxes, coyotes, bears, bobcats, and more are cared for. We happened to be there when feeding time began, which was fascinating to watch. 
I loved watching the red foxes--three females--and otters, among others. I could have pulled up a chair and just watched and watched. But, you know, they had a gift shop and--well, I have a wife. And grandkids. So...