Happiness Is…

Happiness is when your parents read your blog and give you something that brings back good memories. They saw the post about bulk candy at Fout’s Store and, while that store is long gone, they knew someplace else to go.

They went to Newman’s Grocery in Wellston, a family owned store that’s been in business since 1929. My folks were excited to present me with two small brown paper sacks of candy – chocolate covered peanuts and little chocolate stars!

They’re certainly not on the vegan diet but I do not care. I’ll ration and savor them and appreciate the fact I’m revisiting my childhood each time I open one of those little bags.

Good things really do come in small packages!

Santa, a Biplane, and Something To Be Excited About

Little kids like planes so I was pretty excited to hear that my barnstorming friend Dewey was helping with something special for kids in his community this Christmas. You see, he picked up Santa and gave him a lift to the airport in Springfield, Ohio on Sunday.

Santa and his elf spent that afternoon visiting with youngsters and learning their fondest Christmas wishes.

While Santa was tucked away with a line of kids in a warm airport terminal, Dewey was outside visiting with the kiddos and their parents. He fitted them all with aviator caps and goggles before lifting them up into the plane for photos.

Despite the cold, biting wind you only experience in western Ohio’s flat farmland (I’m from the hills where the wind can’t get up that much speed), groups of kids and adults came trooping outside for their turn with his 90 year old open air cockpit biplane.

I swear that many of them were just as excited to see the biplane as they were to meet Santa. The pilot seemed equally thrilled to give people the opportunity and to talk about the lost art of barnstorming.

He’s good with people and you can tell that there’s little he loves more than sharing his passion with others. It was fun to watch and I was happy to play a very small part that day.

A piece of me wishes I had something to be so excited about. I’m enthusiastic about lots of things and interested in almost any topic but there’s never been one thing that captured my enthusiasm so dramatically. Although, if I did something so cool as barnstorming in a fabulous old biplane, I might be singing a different tune.

Here’s a thought for today. If you have kiddos and you see a spark in them, you see that they’re excited about something, try nurturing that spark. Encourage them to learn and grow with that thing they love so much. It could turn into a career or maybe just a lifelong hobby. Either way, I’m guessing they’ll be happier than the rest of us who just bounce around from interest to interest.

And if Santa is coming to an airport near you, friends, go see him. There’s nothing cooler than seeing Santa climb out of an airplane.

Legendary Lights at Clifton Mill

Photo courtesy of the Dayton Daily News.

Photo courtesy of the Dayton Daily News.

If you enjoy Christmas lights, are anywhere near Ohio and haven’t experienced the Legendary Lights of Clifton Mill, you need to drop what you’re doing and go right now.

Seriously kids, it is a beautiful experience.

On a regular day, the historic mill in the village of Clifton is home to a nice restaurant. The mill was built in 1802 and there’s a very pretty covered bridge on site as well

But during the holidays it becomes a popular destination for kids of all ages. In addition to being adorned with four million lights, the property is home to a miniature village, vintage toy display and Santa Museum.

The lights are turned on with a single switch, making for a dramatic opening at 6 p.m. each night. But never fear if you can’t be there at 6. They turn off the lights twice an hour each evening, submerging the crowd into darkness, before flipping the switch and turning it on again. This allows everyone the opportunity to experience that special moment when everyone goes “oooh.”

They even have a laser light display that’s timed to the dramatic music of the Trans-Siberian Orchestra.

As much as I loved the lights, I may have loved the miniature village and Santa Museum of 3,600 unique Santas best.

This event is nationally recognized and they actually received a ton of publicity last year after winning a $50,000 prize on a tv show.

The introverts in the crowd will understand when I say that I didn’t love the crowd. I stopped here last year on my way home from an after Christmas road trip the last Saturday in December.

This was extremely poor timing.

My goodness, there where people everywhere and parking was a real challenge. While event parking is free, some enterprising neighbors sell yard and driveway parking so I happily tossed ten bucks at the problem in favor of parking just a block or two away.

I will absolutely go back but I would want my next visit to be on a weeknight when it’s not so busy.

If you go, they take plastic and cash. The cost is $10 per person but kids three and under are free.

I would aim for a weeknight as opposed to a weekend because it was almost too crowded to truly enjoy when I was there. I was fine on my own but would have worried about little kids getting stepped on or lost in the crowd.

While they do sell light concessions like hot dogs, popcorn and hot chocolate, the restaurant is closed and there’s nothing with any nutritional value. In other words, eat dinner before you go. Personally, I would go to Young’s Dairy about ten minutes up the road. They have a really good menu and a delicious veggie burger.

Visit the Clifton Mill website for a full history and all the details you need before you go. It’s under an hour from Columbus, thirty minutes from Dayton and ninety minutes from my community in Vinton County. And it’s well worth the drive.

If you want to make it an overnight adventure, there’s plenty to do in Dayton plus outlet mall shopping at nearby Jeffersonville and acres of planes at the Air Force Museum. Not to mention a gorgeous Frank Lloyd Wright Home in Springfield and an overwhelming amount of antiquing to be had in Springfield.

Geeze Louise, guys! I haven’t told you about any of those things. I’ll make a note to take you along on a Springfield antiquing trip and to the Wright house that happens to have a fun story of its own.

Please note that the above be picture is not my own. I thought I had taken pictures but am finding none so I borrowed a photo from the Dayton Daily News.

Now go and play your trip to see the big light display at Clifton Mill!

Lebanon’s Horse Drawn Carriage Parade And Festival

Lebanon, Ohio has the neatest Christmas celebration.

On the first Saturday of each December, they host an outdoor festival complete with live Christmas music, vendors and specials at some downtown businesses.

The highlight of the event is a pair of very special parades- a daytime parade and a candlelit night parade that both feature horses. There are no bands, floats or fire trucks – just horses pulling an assortment of wagons, sleighs, carts, Conestoga wagons and stage coaches. They have cute little ponies, majestic Clydesdales and everything in between.

It’s a sight to behold and I have wanted to go for sixteen years. Unfortunately a work commitment at a holiday event in my own hometown always prevented my participation – until this year, that is!

I spent Saturday roaming around town, browsing the shops and just soaking it all in. I spoke with a few locals including one woman who told me about the year Martha Stewart came to town and featured the parade on her show. She said it was always a great event but it really took off after receiving Martha’s unofficial seal of approval.

A lot of the participants go all out with decorating their wagons and dressing up the horses (and themselves) while playing recorded music. The sound of jingle bells could be heard all around too.

It’s just a fun, festive way to embrace the lighter side of the holiday season. Plus it’s free!

Tomorrow I’ll tell you about Christmas at nearby Clifton Mill. If you wanted to, you could squeeze both events into a day or maybe make it a weekend! Meanwhile, here are some parade photos!

If you go, the town has a ton of free parking but a high volume of festival goers can make parking a challenge. Some local organizations were selling parking for $10 so remember to take cash in case you need parking money. When I got there at 11 (the event started at 10:30 and the first parade wasn’t till 1), parking was already becoming an issue.

Also, lots of people put out their chairs early for the parade. You may want to do this to reserve yourself a front row seat. I opted to stand and managed to find a good spot but the parade was almost an hour long so a chair would have been nice.

This is a fun, festive environment where you see lots of people in their ugly Christmas sweaters, elf shoes and Santa hats so feel free to embrace your inner child and wear something Christmasy. Over the top will fit right in here!

Finally, remember that this is a busy, crowded event during peak hours. It’s also Christmas so chill, be kind to others and remember to just enjoy the hustle and bustle of the day. Seeing all those horses clop down the street will make it all worthwhile!

Check back tomorrow and we’ll go to Clifton Mill!

Mickey and Minnie

I spent part of Saturday wandering around the Christmas festivities in Lebanon, Ohio. I’ll tell you about their horse parade soon but thought you’d enjoy this picture today!

It was taken outside a local barbershop that was once a filling station called A Man’s Place.

Remembering Natalie

Frequent readers here know that this space is typically dedicated to positive topics – adventures, stories about my cat, the occasional pep talk and whatever else is on my mind.

The working theory is that there’s enough negativity in the world without my adding to it. But something happened this week that’s been weighing heavy on my mind and heart.

It’s time to talk about it.

On Monday morning, a woman that I knew was kidnapped and murdered by her estranged husband before he turned the gun on himself.

Today, loved ones will gather in a country church in the woods to remember a mother, daughter, sister and friend. Her little boy is an orphan. Friends are devastated. A community is in shock.

Things like this don’t happen here.

There’s a lot I’d like to say here. I would like to tell you about the failures of our justice system for not doing enough to stop domestic violence or about the complacency of regular people because we think it isn’t our place to get involved in a family matter and how we talk about these things as though it’s something to be kept secret. I would like to gripe about the concept of a restraining order, a document that’s not even worth the paper it’s printed on when someone is crazy and mean enough to want you dead.

But standing on my soap box won’t change anything.

There’s no way to change what has happened. Her parents will bury their daughter today. Her child will spend a lifetime without an amazing mother because of something his father did. No matter what we say, the world will be a darker place without our friend.

Natalie was a bright, happy person who took a sincere interest in everyone around her. You got the impression that she was thrilled to see you and never had a harsh word but instead always had a kind word or compliment.

She exuded true kindness and literally lit up a room. She had an energy about her that I only wish I could capture. And she had no idea how special she was.

When someone dies after an extended illness we like to point out they aren’t suffering anymore. When they’re very old, they had a long life and are in a better place.

There’s nothing to say here. I have nothing. She was 35, vibrant and kind – the sort of person we should all aspire to be.

Everywhere I go, people are talking about it, they’re tearful, they’re upset. They’re confused, angry and numb. All of us are struggling in our own way.

If you think that this sort of thing won’t happen to you or doesn’t involve you, think again. Domestic violence threatens us all. Your neighbor could be in danger. Your child or friend could be suffering and you may not even know it.

Have you ever wondered why a woman doesn’t just leave? This is why. Because it’s hard and it’s dangerous. Because women die when they have done nothing wrong. Because there are people out there who would rather kill the one they say they love than allow them to be free.

My heart is tired, friends.

I cannot fathom how her close friends and family are suffering today. And I can’t understand how someone could behave viciously toward the person they say they love.

Sadly, she isn’t the first person to be victim to this kind of senseless cruelty and she won’t be the last. Many of you reading probably at least known of similar stories.

My apologies for this sad and rambling story today. It isn’t nearly so fun as an adventure but life can’t always be fun. Sometimes it’s a confusing, tragic, horrifying place.

Make the best of today. Tomorrow is not promised.

Scout and the Christmas Tree

Having a rambunctious little cat has changed my life in ways I cannot begin to describe. But one thing I can describe is how it has changed Christmas. Years past saw a tree in nearly every room but that won’t be happening with an eight month old kitten.

He’s a good little cat and doesn’t get into a lot. Yet he’s still a kitten and all those fun things hanging off it would be tempting.

I plotted for weeks to design a tree situation he couldn’t knock down while climbing and swinging. Just when I thought I was ready for anything, he threw a curveball.

Turns out, he’s not interested in climbing so much as chewing on the pine.

He loves to chew on artificial pine. While it seems that he’s just chewing and not eating it, I don’t trust that he won’t try. And this is a chance I’m not prepared to take.

So there’s just one tree in my house this year (behind a closed door) and it’s devoted to my adventures. It’s my travel tree. I wrote all about it last year but, in a nut shell, I collect ornaments from my adventures. Each ornament is hung with a postcard that relates a trip memory.

Most of my ornaments aren’t real Christmas ornaments and I like it that way. There’s a stuffed jackalope bank from Douglas, Wyoming and a small metal airplane to mark my first biplane ride this year.

There’s a vintage snowman found at an Indiana antique store during last year’s antiquing adventures across the National Road. I even have a pennant from the Ernest Tubb Record Store in Nashville and a small handmade quilted piece from Ocracoke Island.

The list goes on and on and each ornament evokes countless memories – both happy and bittersweet. One new ornament represents the daily adventure of having Scout in my life.

The tree is now up and Scout gets supervised playtime in that room. So far he has only tried to chew and has batted at a couple of low hanging ornaments. I’m hoping he will outgrow that chewing thing and that next Christmas will be back to normal.

Meanwhile, if you’re interested, Click here to read last year’s description of the travel tree. Perhaps you’ll be inspired to start a new tradition of your own!