A Road Trip, Adventures, and Christmas

After a frantic, whirlwind photography season between Thanksgiving and the end of school, I was so ready for Christmas vacation! (Though getting ready for vacation was just a *tiny* bit stressful. Ahem. And that’s all I will say about that.) We decided to spend the holidays in Ohio to see Curtis’s mom and sister, and to see my Dad and his wife. Curtis, Dominic, Anna, and I packed up the minivan with approximately 17 suitcases, 6 backpacks, and 142 electronic devices and hit the road the day after school let out. Mom and Jenny stayed behind because of work so they took care of the house and the dogs (thanks, guys!). I was particularly anxious about how Anna would do. On our trip to Branson last summer, she must’ve asked us, “Are we there?” once every 5 1/2 minutes. But my mom came to the rescue and gave us our Christmas gifts early. Can you guess? Wait for it… wait for it… his AND hers iPads! OMG! I cried. I did!

We subscribed to the 3G service and Curtis rented half a dozen movies and downloaded them before we left. We already had oodles of fun apps and indulged in a few more. And do you know what? Those kids were so happy in the car. And that is a very good thing, since it took us 2 days, about 22 hours total, to drive to Dayton.

It didn’t take long for Anna to conk out for the first nap of the trip! Dominic always loves having the back bench seat to himself… he can spread out and not have his sister harass him.

I had my wide angle lens on for most of the trip. It was fun trying to shoot at 80 mph (and no, I was not driving).

The first evening on the road, I look in the back and see Anna playing on my iPad while Dominic is playing his Nintendo DS with headphones on. I just have to thank my mom again for her generosity, it made such a difference! You may recognize this photo since it was my Week 51 choice for Project 52 in 2011.

We expected to hit Memphis about 8:30 Saturday night. However, they had some serious road construction going on that delayed us over an hour and a half. I swear we sat dead-stopped for 10 minutes at a time, then would only creep forward less than 1/4 mile. Ugh! The kids were DONE by the time we checked into the hotel. After getting them settled, I had to go explore the square a little. Christmas lights, horse-drawn carriages, and a trolley. It was very picturesque!

This is the trolley station right in front of our hotel. I love night shooting, especially street photography.

The romance of travel waned completely on the second day and I took very few photos. We got into Dayton earlier than expected, stopped by my sister-in-law, Shelley’s, house, then checked into our wonderful hotel (Curtis had scouted out a suite when he visited in November) and crashed. Our suite had a small kitchen area stocked with dishes, stove, fridge, and dishwasher. We had a little dining area and separate living area as well as two bedrooms both with doors that closed. Ahhh. The kids enjoyed relaxing Monday morning.

Later Monday morning, we met my Dad at EnterTRAINment Junction, the world’s largest indoor train display located in West Chester. I started with my wide-angle, but quickly switched to my macro lens. This place was amazing! All of the models and scenery were hand-made and hand-painted. For Christmas, the staff had hidden tiny Santa figures all through the display cases and Dominic was trying to find them all.

I have to admit, I was just an enchanted as the children! The attention to detail was perfect.

An old-fashioned Main Street, with J. Snodgrass, MD, Upstairs, above the Dinner Bell.

Anna was showing me a train chugging by.

I’m not sure what material they used, but even the water looked realistic. All of the displays are based on local history.

Dominic and my dad. It was so nice getting to spend some time with him. We don’t get to see him often enough. After getting through the first train section, my camera battery died and I had left my backup battery at the hotel (I did not repeat that mistake again though I noticed my batteries are not holding a charge very long anymore). We visited with Santa in a different section and he was wonderful with the kids. We then met Dad’s wife, Dottie, for lunch and then went back to their house for the afternoon. A quiet evening at Shelley’s finished up our first day in Dayton.

On Tuesday, we went to the Boonshoft Museum of Discovery… a classic children’s museum with some dinosaur bones, space exploration, play areas, and to my surprise, a little zoo. Anna was very interested in the otters and meerkats. Here she is looking at the meerkats in a little area where you have to crawl in to see them. Needless to say, I did not follow her in.

I think the enchantment goes both ways here. 😉

It was just my MIL, Judy, and I were with Anna… we had lost everyone else for a long time. Finally, we found them and Dominic is getting his first experience with the otters. Aren’t they adorable?

I did not know that meerkats had long teeth like that. I’m pretty sure these guys were elderly based on how they were walking.

After the museum, we headed over to Shelley’s. She was out getting her hair done. Didn’t it turn out gorgeous? She is so pretty. She is a middle school history teacher and between her and her husband, they have four children.

Wednesday was a quiet day. Shelley had to work so Judy and I got a little shopping done, then my Dad and Dottie drove up to Dayton to join me, Curtis, and the kids for an early dinner at Skyline Chili. I have to eat Skyline once every time I visit. I love it! Wednesday night was our combined family night out including me, Curtis, Anna, Dominic, my dad and Dottie, Judy (my MIL), Shelley (my SIL), and her husband, John, and their kids, Myles, Christopher, Laura, and Lexi. We went to we went to Clifton Mill, an amazing display of Christmas lights surrounding the historic grist mill next to Little Miami River. Seeing the river banks and mill lined with lights was truly a magical experience. With kids ranging in age from four to fourteen, the spirit of the holidays was palpable as they absorbed the magic of the lights.

It was very crowded, cold, and WET. It had been raining for days and the ground was soggy.

One of the buildings was Santa’s Workshop. You could peer in the windows and see him working. Then he would take a break and pop up out of the chimney. Dominic was delighted with this! I could hear his voice above all others, “Santa, here I am! It’s me, Dominic! I’ve been a good boy this year!!!” It was precious.

Anna was equally awestruck. I love love love her expression here and the lights reflecting in her glasses.

The mill’s working water wheel was even lined with lights.

After walking through the display, we headed over to Young’s Diary, easily some of the best homemade ice cream I’ve ever had (though not quite as yummy as Amy’s Ice Cream here in Austin!). I let Dominic order whatever he wanted and he had his very first real ice cream cone.

Check out those sugar-high eyes and messy face! Oh my, he really enjoyed that cone!

I thought for sure that Anna would want to sit by me after the busy (and sensory-intensive) day we’d had. But imagine my delight to see her choose to sit with Laura and Laura’s friend! Laura is in 7th grade and played with Anna so patiently and with such kindness. To be quite honest, when I saw this scene, I choked back some tears. I never thought I’d see Anna sitting at a table with other girls having a real conversation.

The kids crashed hard once we finally got back to the hotel. We all slept in then headed over to Shelley’s around lunchtime. Shelley was off work finally for the Christmas break and she had gingerbread house kits set up for the kids to play with. I love how Laura, her friend, and Dominic created this house with Santa coming out of the roof. While the kids were occupied, I headed out solo to get our Christmas shopping done. I hadn’t bought anything substantive yet and this was four days before Christmas! Thursday evening, Curtis and Dominic spent the night at his sister’s house and I took Anna back to the hotel, got her to sleep, and had a marathon session of wrapping gifts and watched Christmas Vacation, a classic!

Friday, Anna slept in until 11 a.m.! Holy cow! We were wearing that child out. After lunch, Curtis and I went wandering around central Ohio in search of a covered bridge. We’d heard of one called Crybaby Bridge in the area and set off to find it. We drove a meandering route until we reached a dead end. Where was the bridge? All we saw was this river.

Ahhh, then we found these steps with a matching set across the river. The bridge had been moved or torn down.

I thought the moss looked interesting so I got in for a closer look with my macro lens.

What I thought was going to be a boring set of photos, turned into something pretty once I went macro. I love thesee tiny red berries nestled among the leaves. Then my battery died. Ugh! The spare? At Shelley’s house. ::smacks self in forehead::

We ended up having a very normal day with no other major excursions so that brings us to Saturday, Christmas Eve. I wanted to tell Laura thank you for being so sweet to Anna, so I offered to take a few photos of her. The weather outside wasn’t cooperative, so I experimented… I hung up a sheet in the basement and used my Speedlite as OCF (off-camera flash), bouncing the flash in the back of the room. This is a skill I’m still building and I’m suuuuper excited that I got a Cowboy Studio Brolly Box from my MIL for Christmas so my OCF lighting should look a lot better soon. Laura is a very pretty girl, both inside and out!

We went to Shelley’s church for Christmas Eve service. At the end of the service, everyone lit a candle and sang Silent Night. It was such a moving and beautiful moment to see this darkened church lit up with candles and everyone’s voices merged in fellowship as we celebrated the birth of Jesus. <3

So we end here on Christmas Eve. Christmas Day was a lovely, amazing day and though I did take a few photos, I mainly left my camera in  my bag to enjoy being with family. I was very, very impressed with both Anna and Dominic, as they took turns and watched politely as Shelley’s children opened their gifts. We had a delicious meal prepared by Shelley and Judy and had the entire family at the dinner table. We were all feeling especially blessed. After a good night’s sleep, we headed out in the morning to go home but decided to go a different route back to avoid the Memphis road construction. I had never seen the St. Louis Arch so that is the route we took to get home.

It was about 5 p.m. when we got to St. Louis, it was very cold, windy, and starting to rain. If you look really, really close you’ll see a tiny blue speck down by the water… that’s Dominic! There is a large park area near the monument with loads of tourists roaming about.

You may recognize this one… it was my Week 52 image for Project 52 in 2011. I liked the composition of this, the perspective. I did not get one traditional shot of the arch, and I’m kinda proud of that!

We chose not to go up inside the Arch because we were already behind schedule on the drive. So we walked all around it, then headed back to the car.

We hit some really nasty rain while driving and I could barely see the lines on the road, but we made it safely to Tulsa for the night. The next day we stopped off in Oklahoma City to see Curtis’s dad and his wife for a couple of hours. We made it back to Austin about 9 p.m. Whew!

Wednesday morning meant it was time to celebrate our Christmas! We didn’t give our gifts to the children in Ohio so we had lots more stuff to open. I put our tree up at my mom’s house… sigh, I love her wooden floors! I never had an opportunity to take a shot of the tree at night though, so here it is in the daylight. I shared some of my favorite ornaments and the stories behind them for my Week 50 post for Project 52 2011.

My mother loves wrapping gifts. She would make a business of it when she retires if she could make any money doing it. Each family member had a color scheme and everything coordinated with the tree. The black and white gifts were from Jenny who was very proud this year to spend her own money purchasing things.

I had a vision for recreating one of my all-time favorite Christmas photos by the incredibly talented Lisa Lucky, so I purchased matching striped jammies for the kids from Hanna Andersson. But I never really had an opportunity to take the photo because we were too busy before the trip, then too tired after. Oh well, there is always next year. They did look cute though!

Dominic did his own shopping at the Holiday Shoppe, a bazaar they bring to the elementary school each year. He bought Jenny a “Best Sister Ever” pin and Jenny was moved to tears. It was so sweet!

Jenny got Dominic a Pikachu hat. Snort!

Anna has been obsessing about chinchillas again. Oy! If you’ve been with me for a while, you might remember the great chinchilla obsession of 2010 (please don’t judge the photo quality too harshly back then).

Jenny was so happy to have us home and so full of love from giving, that she was glowing. As another gift, she let me take her photo after we were done with opening presents. I think she is so beautiful.

So that was our holiday season. We made it through with no major illnesses or meltdowns. We got to see family, spend lots of quality time together, and make some wonderful new memories. The kids did great on the trip and we are talking about doing another driving trip to see the Grand Canyon, maybe over spring break if we can save enough by then. I hope everyone else had as nice of a season and thanks for looking (and reading!) through my unusually long (and late) post… as you can see it was a lot of images to sort, edit, and describe. I just love taking pictures so much and it makes my heart happy to share them too. 🙂

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