Notes From the Road

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There’s always a camera on the passenger seat during my road trips and it isn’t uncommon for me to circle back to snap a quick picture of something along the way.

This isn’t a problem in town as there’s almost always somewhere to park. It’s a little more challenging in rural areas, especially along state routes and other busy highways. I can’t tell you how many pictures I’ve missed simply because there’s no safe way to get off the road.

The other problem is that the best angle frequently isn’t from the road. But venturing onto private property isn’t an option so I just make do with available circumstances. Case in point: the above barn picture. It sits at the intersection of a state route and a country lane. I was able to pull off the berm of that country lane and grab this picture but I was dying to see it from another angle. Especially after catching a glimpse of this truck.

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Look at the patina on that truck! I was dying to see the headlights and grill but they faced away from the road and I didn’t want to go knock on the door and ask to take pictures. If I were a more serious photographer or if I had more time that day, maybe.

But that’s ok because the barn and the truck are pretty great anyway. And I can use my imagination for the rest.

A Native American Story You’ve Probably Never Heard

November is National American Indian Heritage Month, a perfect time to share a story that you won’t read in any school textbook.

You’ve likely heard about the Navajo Code Talkers, US Marines of Navajo descent who used their native tongue to baffle Japanese code breakers during World War II. Their work is credited with helping end the war years earlier than predicted. Despite their unique skills and heroic efforts, they were subject to racism and discrimination and were treated poorly to put it mildly.

Their work was top secret. Most Americans (including their fellow soldiers) didn’t realize there were native people serving in the military and didn’t know about their significant contributions to the war effort until years later.

Here’s the story you likely haven’t heard.

A chance encounter brought together a photographer and one of these Code Talkers in the mid-seventies.

The Code Talker was a man named Carl Gorman who picked up a hitchhiking photographer near Window Rock, Arizona. They became acquainted and the photographer showed interest in the culture and history of the Code Talkers.

He was invited to a Navajo Code Talkers Association meeting and was welcomed into the group. The photographer began following the Code Talkers to parades and other functions where they appeared, eventually becaming their official association photographer.

That photographer was a Japanese man whose father was a surviving Kamikaze pilot from World War II.

You read that correctly.

The Navajo Code Talkers welcomed to their tight knit community a stranger who descended from the very people they had worked so hard to defeat only a few decades earlier.

Eventually, photographer Kenji Kawano began a new project, photographing Code Talkers in their own environments – in their homes and workplaces.

Some proudly wore their uniforms. Others posed with portraits of their young selves. Some saluted for the camera, a few posed with their spouses. Kenji reached some too late – they were already deceased – so he photographed their families or their military portraits.

Some of these portraits were compiled in a book along with a quote from each man. This is how I learned the story.

I actually picked up the book “Warriors: Navajo Code Talkers” at the Crazy Horse Memorial this summer, thinking that it was just a nice book of photos to peruse on the plane. I had no idea that it would be such a moving experience to learn about the Code Talkers and the unlikely friend who would tell their story.

One of them spoke of how he was captured by U.S. Army soldiers who mistook his Navajo features as Japanese – a common problem for many of the Code Talkers.

Another spoke of how he continued to question why he had to kill and spoke of the psychological impact it had on him.

Another said that he joined up because there were no jobs on the Reservation.

The stories they tell often are only a sentence or two, sometimes a paragraph, making it an easy but significant read.

If you aren’t a reader but enjoy photography and want to know more about this topic, this book is the way to go. You’ll learn a lot and be moved. You’ll also walk away with a number of questions and perhaps even with a new world view. It certainly worked for me.

It gives me hope to think of the kindness the Code Talkers showed this young photographer. They didn’t have to invite him to their meetings or allow him to stick around for pictures. They certainly didn’t have to welcome this son of their one-time enemy into their homes.

Kenji said that it was a bit awkward at first. I imagine this is an understatement. But if this unlikely friendship could develop and flourish, there’s hope for us all. In this divided world we live in today where we have so little tolerance for people who hold different views than us, we can use all the hope we can get.

Read the book if you can. I promise you won’t regret it.

My Guide To Surviving Winter

It’s still fall but we are flirting with winter weather here in southern Ohio. Please don’t stop reading when I say this but winter makes my heart happy.

Here’s why.

Winter feels like Nature’s way of telling me to slow down, to rest and to appreciate the small joys of my home. I’ve been unwittingly practicing the Norwegian art of Hygge for years!

For the other three seasons, if the weather is tolerable I feel compelled to be active from dawn to dusk. Whether it be on a hike or an adventure or just an errand, it feels like time spent at home could be better used.

Since the time change, I’ve begun to nest here in my house on the ridge. It started as decluttering, finally taking cardboard and plastic to recycling and then taking quick glances around each room for unneeded things.

The next thing I knew, each kitchen cabinet was being emptied and boxes and bags filled up to give away. Coats for a drive at work, tops my mother might like, dvds and a big meat cleaver for my dad (it seemed a bit much for the vegetable eater here)

Now attention has turned to making things cozy. First I dropped new wax melts into all my scent burners. Winter means a mix of cinnamon, citrus and pine. Then I began putting out heavier throws for winter couch cuddling and the flannel sheets were washed and put on the bed.

Winter means more movies on the couch and books in bed so I’ve begun a new stack of books I really want to read this winter. I also pulled out some new jigsaw puzzles. There’s nothing better than sitting by the window on a snowy day to work on a puzzle. Although Scout likely won’t allow this to happen this year. Kittens have other uses for small items like puzzle pieces.

There will still be adventures on weekends when weather permits. There’s nothing better than a fast hike in the cold unless it’s a slow hike in the snow where you can look for animal tracks and enjoy the shimmering beauty of a world blanketed in snow.

There will be more time spent in local antique malls. Winter is when I allow myself to shop for records so I’ll rush home to clean and listen to my treasures. Maybe this is the year I’ll find that mid century console record player I’ve been looking for. It has to work and has to have great mid century lines. I’ll find the one someday.

This winter I’m planning a jaunt to Cincinnati to the Freedom Center and maybe another to Dayton for the Packard Museum. There are some terrific antique malls in both cities as well as other museums to make me wonder if I shouldn’t make these overnights rather than a quick out and back. I will appreciate these adventures more because they will be less common and will prevent cabin fever from setting in.

While there will still be adventures this winter, the focus will be at home. I want to find a vegan hot chocolate recipe and work on some soups. I want to curl up with my cat to watch a movie or catch up on my magazine reading. I want to take hot baths and listen to food music.

For me, winter is about being cozy and making things beautiful. Since I live in the country, it’s also about making do and being happy with what you have, an exercise in gratitude if I’ve ever heard of one.

I am grateful for this period of rest and quiet. It’s what I need to recharge from months of busyness and to prepare me for months more of adventure and exploration.

So while everyone is miserable because of the cold, snow and dark, I will be as happy as if it were 75 degrees and sunny. And I think that’s petty cool.

Life In Miniature: Railroad and Village at Carnegie Science Center

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My Pittsburgh pal Nichola knows her city inside and out. She also knows my tastes and put together a fabulous weekend of surprises at every turn – none more delightful than the Miniature Railroad and Village at the Carnegie Science Center.

This exhibit portrays the Pittsburgh area through the years from the 1880s through the 1930s. There are horse drawn vehicles, automobiles, airplanes and trains. There are thousands of fans in the stands at Forbes Field, thousands of trees, countless houses and buildings and even an amusement park complete with animated rides. In fact, the animations here are unbelievable.

The above picture shows their depiction of Frank Lloyd Wright’s landmark Falling Water. The photo below shows some of the biplanes found at a miniature airfield. The light in this picture is a little odd because the lighting in the room changes every few minutes, simulating sunrise to sunset to nightime and back to daylight allowing visitors to appreciate the stunning details in the daylight but also the magnificent glow of the night lighting as well.

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I loved the scene depicted below. It shows downtown Pittsburgh, the Monongahela Incline, some of the city’s famed bridges and numerous landmarks important to the city’s story.

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Incidentally, all of this started as a holiday display in the home of a Brookville, PA man named Charles Bowdish. That was in 1919. The display has moved a couple of times since then but the public is lucky that it has been at the Carnegie since 1992.

If you find yourself in Pittsburgh, the Carnegie Science Center is a really special place to pass some time. Earlier this week I told you about a Cold War era submarine that is docked here but the museum also has gemstones, robots and countless other fascinating things to look at besides this model railroad and village.

Want to learn more? Click here to read about the model railroad and explore their site further for more great information including how your kids can have a hands-on experience to learn while having fun! 

 

 

 

 

Scout and the Art of Compromise

Scout and I are working on our relationship.

He likes to chew on artificial pine, climb to the highest point in any room and knock off of every surface anything not nailed down. I like going home to find things where I left them and love the idea of not having a cat that swings from light fixtures like a little monkey.

So we’re going to compromise. We’ll do things his way.

For real guys, there is no compromise with a cat, especially an eight month old kitten with the playfulness of a baby and the strength of a small tiger.

He’s my little panther.

I lost him the other night. Searched the entire house until making it to the laundry room where I heard a faint jingle. And then up popped his little head!

Like a jack–in-the-box!

He’s cute, right? Of course, I didn’t think he was so cute the previous night when he was knocking vintage items off the top of my kitchen cabinets like a little maniac.

But he is a cat and cats weren’t designed to be down low. They are tiny little killing machines meant to climb high, hide stealthily, sharpen their claws and do as they please.

So instead of trying to stop what I call bad behavior, the new goal is to provide alternate opportunities.

Can you tell I work in marketing? I’m pretty good with a positive spin if you give me a minute to think it through.

So he wants to be up high? I’ve made the top of the linen closet comfortable for him. It’s the highest structure in the bathroom so he can survey his kingdom any time he likes.

If I’m foolish enough to leave a remote control or book on the coffee table, there’s no reason to believe it will be there when I come home. That’s just silly on my part as it is a cat’s duty to knock these things on the floor.

Those top shelf red containers in the laundry room will never have anything inside then because they provide a comfortable, warm and high place for a catnap and this seems to prevent him from trying to wiggle into an old wardrobe in that room or from climbing onto the clean towels in the linen closet. If he wants to roll around in my dirty clothes basket, who am I to argue? He’s not hurting anything.

However, we do have real and serious issues. For example, he chews on and tries to eat every bit of artificial pine in the house and most of the silk vines and flowers. All along, I’ve been scheming to design a Christmas tree situation that he can’t destroy but there’s little I can do about him trying to eat something he cannot digest.

Goodbye Christmas tree! Maybe we can revisit this next year…..

Anyway, the compromising seems to be going well. As long as Scout continues to get everything he wants, we should be fine!

Have a cat story to share? I would love to hear! Have you ever tried giving them a pot of fresh grass to distract them from eating artificial pine? This is my last resort.

Fall Foliage

Fall in southern Ohio is usually quite colorful and is a time that leaf peepers look forward to every year.

This year, not so much. It seemed like the leaves turned late but mostly they just turned brown and fell when the rain moved in.

But we did have a brief period of blue skies and pockets of color like the day I took this covered bridge photo near Lancaster.

The good news is that those pockets of color did seem especially nice next to all that green and brown and we came to appreciate the color more than we normally might if everything was vibrant.

Aboard the USS Requin

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Walking aboard the USS Requin is a little like stepping into another time and place. It’s now a part of the Carnegie Science Center in Pittsburgh but was once a very active submarine and home to eighty men at a time.

Commissioned in 1945, she entered service just days after the war ended and remained in service until the early seventies. Today she’s a floating museum and was manned by a very informative veteran the day I visited last year. He gave us a nice tour and overview of life aboard a submarine. If my memory is correct – he had served on a similar ship but not this specific one.

To say that the quarters are tight is an understatement. Let’s just say that I wouldn’t fare well in the Navy. My goodness, everything is so small! I can’t imagine sharing this space with ten people that I know well – much less 79 shipmates. But that’s exactly what went on here for more than 25 years.

You get a glimpse of life in the kitchen, in the captain’s quarters and in the life of the sailors who kept the ship running for each mission.

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It made me appreciate our nation’s veterans more than ever. Those active duty men and women who voluntarily put themselves in harm’s way every single day deserve better than our nation and our people give them.

After leaving the submarine, I felt bad that I didn’t have more questions for our host but, frankly, I was overwhelmed by the atmosphere and the close quarters. I was in awe of anyone who could live under the sea in this tin can for weeks and months at a time. As hard as I tried, I couldn’t imagine volunteering to serve here or in any number of dangerous and uncomfortable places that our nation’s military go everyday. Worse yet, I also can’t remember if I thought to thank him for his service to our country.

If you are a veteran, please know that I am grateful for your service. Thank you.

And if you talk to a veteran today, be sure to say thanks.

Want to touch a piece of military history? Click here to visit the USS Requin.