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Friday, August 31, 2012

Sweet escape.

Chocolate Avenue.

Last week, Lauren and I took a two day trip to Hershey, PA with Grandma and Pappy Bruno. Mark opted out of this one, so Daisy, Marcus and Coconut could have company.

Chocolate World.

Unfortunately, I didn't get to take a lot of photos because I was very busy shuttling Lauren from ride to ride. Of course, we started our adventure with a visit to Chocolate World, and the can't miss chocolate factory tour ride. After the ride, Lauren hit me up for a Reese's stuffed frog and a personalized Kiss magnet from the gift shop.

Hershey Park.

Then, we headed to Hershey Park. I don't believe I've visited to Hershey Park since I was about 5 year old, but there were a couple of things that stuck in my mind that I couldn't wait to see.

Kissing Tower.

The first was the Kissing Tower, my favorite ride. You sit inside a large disc that slowly rotates to the top of the tower so you can see all around the area.

Kiss windows.

And who wouldn't love looking out of Kiss shaped windows? We rode it twice.

Sooper Dooper Looper.

The Sooper Dooper Looper is a looping roller coaster that's been around for almost as long as I have. I always associate it with a plastic cup that Mark's brother Mike always used to drink out of when they still lived at home. Believe it or not, I could have taken Lauren on it. Hershey's ride guidelines seem a lot more looser than what we have at our local amusement park, Kennywood.

I feel terrible that I didn't take a photo of Lauren's favorite ride, The Flying Falcon, but hopefully this video will give you the idea. Pappy suggested that we try it out because the line was rather short. As we were waiting, I almost bailed. I've gotten less daring in my old age, I don't like sustained heights and my stomach can't handle being spun in circles over and over again. But I was brave, and good thing too because she absolutely loved it. We rode it twice too - once during the day, and once during the night.

Hershey Park Music Express.

I'm amassing quite a collection of photos of every Music Express ride in existence. It is one of my favorites, after all.

Hershey Park ferris wheel.

The famous Hershey Park ferris wheel.

Lauren and Pappy.

And lastly, Lauren and Pappy (Grandma is camera shy).

And that's it! We're caught up to date. Now we can move on to Labor Day happenings and the first day of second grade!

A grand celebration.

Our troop.

On the weekend of August 18th, the City of Pittsburgh recognized 100 years of Girl Scouts with a Grand Celebration. About a third of our troop participated in Saturday's parade, which featured scouts of all ages from all around Western Pennsylvania.


Lauren will be bridging to Brownies this year. Check out all the cool things she did as a Daisy!


Here's a similar look at one our Brownie's sashes.


A Junior troop from our area of town marched behind us. They were really festive!

Necktie dress.

There were some Cadettes and Seniors in front of us who did a recycling theme. Check out her dress - it's made entirely of neckties!!

Cookie box skirt.

But wait - it gets better. This girl made a skirt entirely out of Girl Scout cookie boxes. How cool is that?!


Lauren waiting patiently for the parade to begin.

Marching band,

Of course, you can't have a parade without a marching band.

Double decker bus.

Or a double decker bus?!

Flower Power.

Celebrating the scouts of the '60s era.


Waving to their adoring fans.

A man and his dinosaur.

I don't think this man and his dinosaur friend knew what to make of us.

Cookie float.

Cookie float.

Golden girls.

Golden girls (The Gold Award is the highest honor you can earn in Girl Scouts.).


I call this, "Looking forward to the next 100 years."


Another version. I couldn't decide which one of these I liked better, so I'm posting both. I love the first one because of the uniformity of the girls standing in line, but I love the second one because the one girl is breaking the pattern and smiling for the camera.

Village people.

Zoar United Church of Christ.

On August 4th, we made our annual trek to Ohio for the Zoar Harvest Festival. I've blogged about The Village of Zoar several times through the years. As I reported last year, the village is in danger of either being destroyed or moved. It's protected by a levee that was built in the 1930's. The levee is in great disrepair and would cost a lot of money to fix. So other alternatives are being considered, such as moving the buildings or removing the levee entirely. The latter option would destroy 80% of the town.

The plight of Zoar is getting national attention, and has been placed on The National Historic Trust's top 11 most endangered places, right along side the hospital at Ellis Island, Princeton Battlefield and Joe Frazier's gym.

You can read more about the plight of Zoar here and here.

Bridge to Tomorrowland.

We took a different route this year, where we traveled briefly through West Virginia to get to Ohio. This very cool bridge is in Steubenville.

Potting supplies.

I've already taken several photos of the buildings in Zoar, so this year, I focused on the little details.

Secret garden.

Like birdhouses. There are loads of neat birdhouses in Zoar.


Colonial birdhouses.


Here's a horse hitch for

Special delivery.

This old, repurposed bicycle is a fixture of Zoar. It's been leaning against the picket fence as long as I can remember.

Sheep herding demo.

We also saw a lot of sheep behinds as they were fleeing from their lives in the herding demonstration. We learned that boarder collie Gail is the same age as Daisy.

Taking a dip.

Gail almost got all three ducks in the pool this time.

It's the journey, not the destination.

I spotted this sapling growing along side it's mother outside of an antique shop.

Porch cat.

And speaking of the antique shop, this kitty was lounging on its porch.


The town is always dressed up in red, white and blue for the festival.

Patriotic fan.

Rusty wheelbarrow.

Loved this old turquoise wheelbarrow leaning against the greenhouse in front of the famous Zoar garden.

Hay wagon.

The carriage in the Zoar garden is always a welcome sight.

Two friends gazing in the distance.

In addition to antique dealers, there are also craft artisans at the festival. One booth had all kinds of neat handmade wooden toys. I couldn't resist getting a stick horse for Lauren.

New friends.

As we walked through the festival, several people asked us where we got it.

Happy with her stick horse.

Lauren was quite pleased with it.

Way to go Lauren!

Bonus photo #1:  I didn't even know she joined a union...

Western Railway.

Bonus photo #2 - I took this on the way home. It's a railway bridge outside of the Fort Pitt Tunnel. I thought made a brilliant back drop to the flowers planted by the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy (who did a beautiful job).

A Legend in music.


I have the day off from work today, so I thought I'd use the time to post a couple of more updates.

Lauren is sitting next to me playing Minecraft on the iMac, while I've resorted to using a laptop. I had almost forgotten about this, but it's certainly worth mentioning. At the end of July, Lauren and I visited Heinz Hall to see the Pittsburgh Symphony perform The Legend of Zelda:  The Symphony of the Goddesses. At this point in the year, Lauren had been to Heinz Hall three times. I also hope to get her to the Benedum Center to see a show before the end of the year.

The symphony was composed of music from the various Legend of Zelda video games, which recently celebrated its 25th anniversary. In that span of 25 years, I've played just about every incarnation. One version in particular, The Legend of Zelda:  Ocarina of Time, is considered by many of the major gaming sites as the greatest video game of all time. It was so good in fact, that they redesigned the graphics and re-released it for Nintendo 3DS.

LoZ holds a special meaning for Lauren and myself. It's affectionately known in our house as the "puzzle game", as that's what Lauren began to call it when she was about three or four years old. This is because not only do you have to fight monsters in order to rescue Princess Zelda, you also have to solve many puzzles along the way. When Lauren was just a toddler, I can remember her waking from her nap while I would be in the middle of playing TLoZ:  The Wind Waker. I would retrieve her from bed, and sit her on my lap in front of the television. Then, she became enraptured with watching the game. Now, she can play the games independantly, and I honestly have to say that in a lot of ways, she's better than me (Although she still makes me fight the big monsters for her).

The Legend of Zelda: The Symphony of the Goddesses.

The music from the games is magical. The composer even maintained some of the themes from the original game in every version released to date, all the while adding more and more complex musical elements as time went on. To hear the music played by a full orchestra was amazing. While the orchestra played, they showed clips from the games on a large screen hanging above, which really enhanced the experience.

So here's to you Link, and 25 more years of adventures in Hyrule.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Happy campers.

Happy campers, oh yes we are.

So I may have been a little ambitious in my assertion that I'd have the blog caught up by the end of August. I sabotaged myself by purchasing the full PC version of Minecraft, so now Lauren is going to be camped out (Get it?) in front of the computer most of the time. Right now she's actually outside playing, so I thought I steal some quality time with the iMac.


Anyway, let's talk about camp. This is going to be a long story, so make yourself a snack and get comfortable. Now that summer is drawing to a close, I can say with certainty that our camping experience at Camp Redwing at the end of June was the highlight of the season. That's saying something, because we did a lot of fun things this summer. The program we attended was called "Me and My Gal." It was a mother / daughter weekend with a western theme. Myself and two other moms from our Girl Scout troop signed up to give it a try so that we could learn the ropes before camping as a troop. It was nice to have a Girl Scout adventure as just Lauren's mom rather than Troop Leader.

I have to admit that I was a pretty anxious leading up to it. I really didn't know what to expect, and right up until the moment we left, I stressed about packing (They provided us an extensive packing list so we would be prepared for any situation - A Girl Scout is always prepared, doncha know?). I make no secret that I am not an outdoors person. On top of that, camp was held on a weekend where the heat index was predicted to be around 110 degrees. Heat and I don't mix AT ALL. Especially that kind of heat.

Camp Redwing is only about a 45 minute drive from where we live, but it's a little ways off the beaten path. As we got closer to the camp, they had counselors stationed along the road greeting us with waves and smiles. It was a nice touch and a hint of what was to come.

After we arrived, they checked us over for lice and provided us our unit assignment. All but one unit at the camp is made up of platform tents. We, however, were very spoiled and assigned to Trails End, the sole yurt unit.

My scouts.

Lauren posing with her sister scouts.

Inside our yurt.

A yurt is basically a cross between a cabin and a tent. As you can see, it has a high ceiling with a dome that opens for ventilation, a finished floor, doors and windows.

Claiming her bunk at camp.

We were supposed to have a welcome session around a bonfire, but just as we got settled into our new living space, it started to pour. So they instead moved the event inside the mess hall so that we could get to know the councilors.

I cannot say enough about the amazing group of young women who run Camp Redwing. Girl Scouts recruit girls from all around the country, and even abroad (There were quite a few from Great Britain) to work at their camps. I think some companies could learn a thing or two from the team building and customer service training that the councilors must go through because they work together as a cohesive unit dedicated to making sure everyone has a safe, fun time. They share meals with the campers and never hesitate to chat with you. I lost count of how many times I was asked "Did you have fun doing such and such?" or "Did you sleep well last night?" The entire time we were there, no one was ever in a bad mood. On the last day, we were hanging out at the creek and told some of the councilors how impressed we were, especially with their positive attitudes. The one councilor laughed and replied, "Look at me - I'm floating in a creek. I have the best job in the world!"

Did I mention that they all have cute nicknames like Twizzler, Parker and Badger? *sigh* I so want to run away and become a camp councilor.

Back to reality. If it's one thing that Girl Scouts are known for, it songs and skits. The ladies of Camp Redwing entertained us for a full hour with traditional songs and silly skits of their own making. There is A LOT of singing and hand jiving at Girl Scout camp, especially during meals in the mess hall. Every councilor knew every lyric and could burst into song at a moments notice. They were like a seasoned theater troop that had worked together for years.

After the entertainment, some of the councilors took our daughters back to their units, while others stayed behind with us moms to give a presentation about the rules of camp and how to build our schedule for the next two days. That was the absolutely best part of camp. We got to pick between dozens of activities, and I mean dozens. Horseback riding, canoeing, swimming, many different crafts, ice cream making, hiking, etc. Basically, we could do whatever we wanted, when we wanted. By the time we finished, it was dark, so we headed back to our units.

Once we arrived, we found that the councilors had our daughters all ready for bed and in their pajamas. They were all sitting around a campfire, making s'mores and quietly singing songs. It was absolutely adorable.

Pink cowboy boots.

Now for the the worst part of camp. The bathrooms. Although they have stalls with doors, as expected, the facilities are outside. They are wired with electricity, but the lights attract every bug within miles. One morning, as I was helping Lauren overcome her hesitance about using the bathroom, I kicked what I thought was a leaf off of the seat and into the toilet. Then the leaf started to frantically flap its wings. Survival instincts kicked in and I tried to flush it. But the humongous moth refused to be flushed. And then Lauren refused to go to the bathroom. Luckily, we found the mess hall facilities to be a little more plusher - about the level of the restrooms found in a dive bar. They were heavenly.

Oh, and the sink. The sink is basically a long trough lined with faucets. It looked old enough that Juliette Gordon Lowe's scouts may have brushed their teeth there. I wish that I would have taken photos of the bathrooms, just for fun. Looking back I wish I would have take photos of a lot of things, but I was just too busy experiencing them. There's always next time.

All joking aside, eventually you do get past the grossness of the bathrooms and just go with it. After all, it's camping, not a luxury hotel.

When we woke up the next morning, we were pleasantly surprised to find that it was actually chilly outside! Despite the weather predictions, the rain cooled things down dramatically, so the entire weekend we had comfortable temperatures. It was truly a miracle.

Of course, we started every morning with breakfast at the mess hall. And oh, what food they serve at camp! At breakfast, we had pancakes, bacon, eggs, biscuits and gravy, home fries and a bunch of other things that I'm probably forgetting. There was also various breads, cereals and oatmeal. For Saturday lunch, we had lasagna, salad, garlic toast. On Sunday, there was chicken salad complete with french fries. They also had ala carte items at lunch like PB&J and even tuna casserole. It was pretty much all you can eat. And it was AWESOME. You eat family style, where each table has an assigned person called a "hopper" who goes up to the counter to retrieve platters of food for everyone. Then at the end of the meal, everyone helps clear and wash the dishes using big basins of soapy and clean water at the table. I was very proud of Lauren when she washed everyone's dishes during lunch one day.


After our hearty breakfast, we scheduled ourselves for an hour of friendship bracelet making. Then it was time for what we had all been looking forward to - horseback riding!

Grooming a horse.

First, the girls got to learn about horse grooming. This one was a retired thoroughbred named "Avert."

Getting acquainted.

Then, it was finally time to saddle up. Lauren's horse was named Jasmine.

 Coming in for a landing.

Here she is finishing up her ride around camp. I was glad to get this one photo of her on the horse because since the kids rode in line behind the adults, I couldn't see her.

Me and Gunther.

While the kids were led around on their horses, the adults had to fend for themselves. I never realized how big and powerful horses were until I had to get on one. I was very proud when I was able to hike myself up in the saddle on the first try. My horse was named Gunther. Poor Gunther had a cough and would occasionally let out a little wheeze as we rode around camp.

Posing with her new friend.

After horseback riding, we took a break for lunch, went swimming in the camp's lovely heated(!) pool for a couple of hours, and then went for a relaxing hayride.

Tie dyed t-shirts.

Then it was time for tie-dying. The camp has a dedicated building for arts and crafts. I was in heaven - this place had every crafting supply you could imagine. After we finished tie-dying, the councilor in charge just let us loose to make whatever we wanted. She was so patient - if we needed a supply, she would track it down. If we wanted to learn something new, she would sit down and teach us. Have I mentioned how wonderful the councilors were?

 Campfire for flag retirement ceremony.

After crafting, it was time for dinner at our units. The councilors then treated us to a cook out of hot dogs and hamburgers. Then, our daughters got to participate in a flag retirement ceremony.

 My little camper.

The big event of Saturday evening was the camp hoe down. The girls were prepared.

 Baby shark.

On the way, Lauren and her sister scout demonstrated for us the "Baby Shark" song that they learned by the camp fire the night before.

Walkin' to the hoe down.

Hammock love.

Taking a short break on the way to the hoe down. The girls loved to hang out in the colorful hammocks in front of the mess hall.

Suspension bridge.

To get to the field where the hoe down was held, we had to cross the suspension bridge over the creek.

Resting before the hoedown. 

Here I am with my fellow moms. Little did we know what was in store for us at the hoe down. We thought we would just sit in the grass and watch the girls. Oh, no. We ended up participating in what amounted to an hour of western style aerobics. Square dancing. The Hamster Dance. The Cha Cha Slide. It was both exhausting and an absolute blast. And yes, that's one of the councilors photo bombing behind us.
Candlelight ceremony. 

Saturday night was the most amazing part of all - everyone gathered to sing songs at the candlelight ceremony. Before bed each night, we sang Taps:

Green trees around us
Bright stars above
Friends all around us
In a world filled with love
Taps sounding softly
Hearts beating true
Camp Redwing sings goodnight to you.

 Me and my gal.

We spent Sunday morning canoeing, but I unfortunately didn't take my camera with me because I wasn't sure how wet things were going to get. However, I can assure you that I successfully navigated our canoe down the creek and back, and only managed to get stuck once.

And that concludes our summer camp adventure. Is it next summer yet?