"We're all just fragile threads, but what a tapestry we make." – Jerry Ellis

Archive for the ‘larks’ Category

A Nature-Made Mental Health Day

 

IMAG0761My friend and I had gone to Springfield to spend the day with our college-aged kids, but no definitive plan had been decided. Icy drizzle limited us to an indoor activity for our visit, so we crossed off an outing to the World’s Largest Fork. (Yes, this is an actual attraction in Springfield, and yes, I would love to see what it looks like).  After weighing our options for the Saturday afternoon before us, we decided to visit the Wonders of Wildlife Aquarium at Bass Pro Shops.

The Wildlife Aquarium at the museum has a 1.5-million-gallon aquarium that features 35,000 live fish, but there are also quite a few reptiles and birds sprinkled into the galleries.  Coming out of the swamp exhibit, I saw the above quote displayed on a sign.  The words are attributed to John Muir, known as a Scottish naturalist and preservationist who lived during the late 1800s.  As I wandered with our group throughout the exhibits, this quote stood out to me.  I loved the visual of how all of nature is knitted together, as if connecting everything with a single thread.  Just a little tug, a little awareness, and all things come together into focus.

Who knew puffer fish had such cute little teeth to smile with?

I’d had my phone out the entire visit, and even though it was being used as a camera, it made me realize how even the simple joy of witnessing nature was connected to some kind of technology for me.   There are times I am trying so hard to document an experience that I forget to actually live the experience as it’s happening.  I continued to take pictures for the rest of the galleries, but I made it a point to try to make the photography secondary to what I was seeing and who I was with at the moment.

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IMAG0731It was nice to not have a packed schedule for the day, just a late breakfast with the kids, an aquarium visit done at a leisurely pace and plenty of good conversation.  The weather wasn’t getting any better, and we didn’t want to get back home too late, so after a coffee stop we called it a day, gave the kids hugs and headed home.

I like to believe that the “single tug at nature” process had begun.  I suppose that once Mother Nature decided she had my attention with her beauty, she decided it was time to show me her power.  That Saturday, Nature was the one that had the power to make me quit rushing through things and stop to take a breath.

The freezing drizzle continued for the first part of the trip, but the roads were drivable.  As we continued down I-44, the windshield wipers were having a hard time keeping up with the precipitation.  Even with the temperature and the defroster blower on high, layers of ice began creeping across the windshield.  Then there were a couple of patches on the road that were sketchy.  Tractor trailer trucks either blew past us at normal highway speed or crept slowly along on the hills as the daylight started to fade.

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Any Missourian will tell you that snow is something a driver can reason with; ice is not. With this in mind,  we decided to listen to nature and stopped to spend the night at hotel rather than risk the ice.

Sometimes the To Do List needs to balance with the To Live list.  Instead of a white-knuckled drive home, I was able to spend time with a friend, enjoying a meal and relaxing with a bottle of wine, talking and laughing over YouTube videos and even getting a little work done, too.  (Yes, technology manages to be a part of my nature-scape.)

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This was one of my favorite exhibits of the day.  The jellyfish looked like floating creatures in a lava lamp.  So mesmerizing to watch.

I’m not sure John Muir envisioned the world as a place where getting a glimpse at nature takes as much effort as it does, but surely he saw how appreciating it needed to be intentional.   I doubt he would have guessed how much competition would be out there in our modern-day lives.  On most days I must admit I am guilty of being more dependent on my phone to get me through my day than a spectacular view of mysterious-looking jellyfish.

Thank goodness there are some fantastic nature screen savers out there.

The St. Louis Zoo

Love the Zebras!  So unique.

Love the Zebras! So unique.

Here lately, it’s a pretty amazing feat any time that all five of us in our family manage to do any family activity together besides the occasional meal at the dinner table. But a few Sundays ago, it happened to fall into place-the girls wanted to DO something besides hanging out at the house and Tyler happened to have the afternoon off when we had a Sunday afternoon at our disposal. So we went to the St. Louis Zoo.

Normally when we're at the Zoo, it's too hot or too cold and the cats are hiding somewhere.  It was great getting to see them out and about.

Normally when we’re at the Zoo, it’s too hot or too cold and the cats are hiding somewhere. It was great getting to see them out and about.

Out and about today!

If you’re not from St. Louis, let me tell you our Zoo, located in Forest Park, is absolutely amazing. Though you have to pay for parking if you choose to park in the Zoo’s lot, admission to the Zoo is still free. And our Zoo has a rich history (as does Forest Park in general). It started with the walk-thru flight cage, originally part of the 1904 World’s Fair. The City paid $3,500 for it back in 1917. You can check out the Zoo’s history at http://www.stlzoo.org .

So this guy in the Walk Thru Bird Cage was friendly.  He was mugging for the camera...even playing peekaboo!

This bird in the Walk Thru Bird Cage was friendly. He was mugging for the camera…even playing peekaboo!

Peek a Boo–A little blurry, but this little guy was a hoot!

Ask anyone who grew up in the St. Louis Metropolitan area, and they will probably recall school field trips as well as family visits to the Zoo. I remember in first grade we went there and when my kids were in elementary school they always did a Zoo field trip in third grade. Both of my Girl Scout troops participated in Snooze at the Zoo, where we spent the night at the Zoo participating in fun educational activities, including a night hike. They also hold this event for families as well—you can read about it on their website. My favorite part was being able to go through the herpatorium at night with flashlights covered in red plastic film as to not disturb any reptilian eyeballs. Seeing the snakes and amphibians poised in the eerie light had a certain creepiness factor unlike when you see them in the normal light of day. We learned a lot about how the Zoo operates and works with other Zoos in how they choose to breed the animals. Hint: Sometimes the females and males that would make great offspring do NOT like each other. Both times our troops went it was winter, so we slept inside the buildings (with Erin’s troop we slept right under the stuffed display of world-famous Phil the Gorilla) but they have these events in the summer, too, where you can sleep outside under the stars.  As a Girl Scout leader, it was one of the most enjoyable trips we have done…and there have been several.

The rhino seemed to be in a little bit of a bad mood.  It was hot though.

The rhino seemed to be in a little bit of a bad mood. It was hot though.

He must have felt better getting in the water.

He must have felt better getting in the water.

When we went as a family, we were able to see the Sea Lion show. The sea lions are my favorite. Even Tyler made the comment that they seem so happy, it just makes you happy to watch them. They re-opened the Sea Lion exhibit a few years back and now you actually walk through a tunnel that goes through the water tank where the sea lions are swimming around. I was a little bummed that they were off eating or something when we walked through, so we didn’t get to see them up close in the walk-through tunnel. But I have some great pics from the show.

The sea lion pups really know how to perform.

The sea lion pups really know how to perform.

Check out Mandy getting her treat.

Check out Mandy getting her treat.

I took some pictures with my phone camera and thought I’d share some of my favorites. Have a great weekend!

Owl pose for you.

“Owl” pose for you.

Oh, how dignified!

Oh, how dignified!

Lemurs are just hilarious to watch.  They were behind glass, so I didn't get the clearest pic, but he just looks SO relaxed!

Lemurs are just hilarious to watch. They were behind glass, so I didn’t get the clearest pic, but he just looks SO relaxed!

Check out his face! I’ll bet he was just DYING to say something about it being hump day, but couldn’t as it was the weekend.

The hyena didn't seem to be laughing...he was stalking something while we were watching him.  Very intense dude.

The hyena didn’t seem to be laughing…he was stalking something while we were watching him. Very intense dude.

Again, behind glass, so a little blurry.  However, he just looked "cozy" or something all curled up like that!

Again, behind glass, so a little blurry. However, he just looked “cozy” or something all curled up like that!

Vacation

Table Rock Lake

Table Rock Lake

In case you missed me last week (I kinda hope SOMEONE out there did), I was on vacation with my family at Table Rock Lake. My husband, Darrell, tells his boss he pays extra to NOT have phone/WiFi access while we’re there just so he gets some peace and quiet, but it does make it hard to do anything online. One day I got out the computer to write overlooking the beautiful view, but in addition to my laptop having technical difficulties, I found myself not wanting to miss out on precious time with our family. So I put it away. However, I did enjoy some wonderful time thinking of more things I wanted to explore in my writing, so I didn’t actually “lose” a week writing.

For one thing, my father-in-law, Mike, got some dragonfly pictures for me when we were out on the boat. So I swapped out the blog’s graphic. (Thanks, Dad) These are the gorgeous little creatures we always see out there at Point 15, near the St. James River. It’s kind of the end of the Lake, so it’s usually pretty quiet during the week with only a few other boaters. If we are ever able to have a vacation home, there are several in that little area in Cape Fair I would love to take off someone’s hands. Of course, that might be a loooong while—another thing we did on vacation was visit a college with Tyler (blog post forthcoming on that) Having three kids going through college in the next ten years will most likely preclude any second home purchases in the near future—as if that’s the only reason! Since we can’t afford to buy a house there, we did buy an island this year…and yes, it does fold up nicely on a shelf in the garage.

Harrelson Island

I am happy to report that I was able to get plenty of reading in while on vacation. Time spent reading is such a gift to me. So often I feel that I need to be writing, writing, writing, that I don’t balance it with reading very well. We also got in a lot of boat time—tube rides, water skiing, knee boarding and swimming. If you look really close at the picture in the big splash you’ll see me falling off the tube as the girls look on. Sympathetically, right?

a cropped Tube falling 2014

The most important thing about our vacation is the time our family spends together. It’s a nice surprise to have your seventeen-year-old son post a photo collage on Facebook saying he’s having a great time with his family. Our kids loving seeing their younger cousins, and just hanging out with their grandparents and aunt and uncle they don’t see as much as we’d all like. As a married couple, we’ve gone on this vacation annually for over 20 years, but Darrell’s family has been coming out here longer than that. Over the years, our once large group has gotten a bit smaller, but the lake vacation is a tradition our kids look forward to each and every year. Even if it’s the five of us sharing one tiny bathroom. Talk about your family bonding.

View from our Room

Weekend Larks

Emily and Erin on the float...they were the only ones who didn't get tipped by the boater!

Emily and Erin on the float…they were the only ones who didn’t get tipped by the boater!

One of my favorite things our family does in the summer is go on weekend larks. We don’t actually call them that, but “road trip” makes it sound like we’re going cross-country or something. What we do is more local than that, but fun just the same.

During the school year, between sports, school activities, Girl Scouts, etc., we usually find our weekends taken up with at least one day where we’re obligated to be somewhere. I love how in the summer we have a little more flexibility on weekends. While a whole weekend getaway is preferable, sometimes we can only do a Saturday or Sunday day away—a mini lark, I guess you could call it.

So last weekend, we got to have our Weekend Lark in the form of the Third Annual Float trip/Camp Pick up weekend. We started this tradition when both Emily and Erin used to go to camp in Vienna, Missouri, near Rolla. The first year, Darrell, Tyler and I came down on Friday night and rented a cabin at Meramec State Park. We picked the girls up as usual, but instead of going home like they expected, we took them to the cabin and went on a float trip for the day. They were so surprised and the whole weekend away from the normal refreshed us as a family.

The next year, our friends’ daughter went to camp with Erin, so we made it a multi-family trip. The cabins at the State Park were all booked, so we took a chance on a hotel in St. Clair that Darrell found called Budget Lodging. Their tagline is “A Touch of Class for Less”. Turns out, both our families love this little hotel. As far as accommodations go, it’s not anything fancy or unusual—clean rooms, nice breakfast, and swimming pool. But the charm of the place is not what you find at Super 8. Maybe because it’s a little like walking back into the late 1980s, complete with the picture of the proprietor, Letha Hickenbotham, at the front desk. The first time we were there, we were amazed to see they still had one of those credit card machines where you roll the handle over the carbons. And actual room keys, not the credit card kind. Now, staying at this cozy little hotel is just part of the fun of the weekend with the main event being the float trip.

Although a float trip on the weekend with kids can be a little bit of a vocabulary lesson for younger ears, the part of the river we float is usually pretty tame compared to some other places nearby. You do get a bit of a rowdy, partying crowd here and there. Most of the time it’s just college-age kids trying to impress one another, and they’re easy to tune out. We tipped our canoe this year, in part thanks to some guy with a small motorized boat that made enough wakes to flip it into the bank, but we came out unscathed—muddy and down two beers, but with great memories.

Because memories are what the Weekend Larks are all about. When I remember summers past with our family, those fun little larks are one of the things that stand out most to me. Stopping at gas stations that boast the “World’s Largest Rocking Chair” and not feeling guilty about snacking on a Zero candy bar for lunch. Picking places to stop based on the cleanliness of the bathroom and if you can pull to the gas pump easily with the boat. Radio stations in the middle of nowhere where you can hear the stock report, the gospel and the local obituaries read in a monotone voice as you’re driving home on Sunday morning. Lark traveling moments we still laugh about together.

So while I’ll never turn my nose up at a cruise or Caribbean island vacation, these larks—well, they’re special, too. What would summer be without them?

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