Thursday, December 4, 2014

Erica's #98 - Donate Blood

I've been a 4-times per year blood donor for a few years now - they make it easy by holding blood drives every quarter right in the building that I work in.  Little did I know that I'd have to give that up for a year after getting a tattoo in Seattle, Washington last year after our epic bicycle journey across America.  Washington happens to be a state where tattoo parlors are not regulated, which meant a one-year moratorium on my blood donations.

Thankfully, that moratorium was lifted in mid-September of this year.  I didn't schedule an appointment right away, but just a few weeks after I was eligible to donate again, my Uncle Fred passed away after a long battle with cancer.  In order to do something positive to celebrate his life, I logged on to the blood center's website, and made an appointment to donate - my Uncle needed several transfusions during his battle with cancer to keep him healthy, and I wanted to be able to provide another brave patient with the same gift.

I planned on doing just a regular old whole blood donation, but found out I was eligible to donate both red cells and platelets via apheresis (they take your blood and separate out the parts they want, then return the remainder into your body).  Platelets are particularly necessary for patients undergoing cancer treatments, so this seemed like an ideal situation and perfect way to honor my Uncle.

The apheresis takes a bit longer than a whole blood donation, and can make you feel cold (the blood re-entering your body isn't as warm as it was when it came out!), but other than that, I didn't notice much of a difference in the process or the way I felt during or after donating.

As my PSA - many people want to participate in something that gives back or helps others in their community, and some can't always afford the time or monetary donations to help in more traditional ways.  If you're eligible, get out there and donate blood - you never know whose life you may be saving, or when you or someone you love may rely on the kindness of strangers for the same gift.  It's a free, quick, and relatively painless way to do your good deed!
Fittingly - my Uncle Freddy as a child with my dad's bicycle :)

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Erica's #67 - Complete a 365 Day Photo Challenge

Have you ever started one of these, been really good about remembering to take a photo each day for a couple of weeks, then completely forgotten about it?  I had failed at this several times before, so I wrote it down this time - I'm much more likely to stick with something if I can check a box when I'm finished!

There's a handy app for this type of goal called Project 365.  The idea is simple - take a single photo each day for 365 days to document your year.  I began my project on October 14, 2013, with a simple and boring photo of the view of the trees that keep me company at my desk for about 240 days a year (it's the green one in the center of that screenshot above).

I'll be honest - there were a few days when I completely forgot to take a photo.  There are also a significant number of days where I remembered to take a photo at the last second, and it is a view of our television from the vantage point of my pillow in a dark room just before I dozed off to sleep.

The majority of them, however, remind me just how amazing our year was when I scroll back through the days and reflect on just how fun life really is, and how lucky we are to have some amazing people in it.  I'll let the photos do the talking now:

October 19, 2014 - The first time we saw our now pals Humming House live...

Meeting Pete for the first time (he promptly escaped from the car and ran into a McDonalds parking lot)

Louie and his best friend, my brother Ryan

Elton John live in Chicago

My parents and scrabble

Ryan holding Katy while watching Cooer's Christmas pageant

Raise the Roof Philadelphia

Drinks with Heidi


Birthday dinner with Emily and Katy and Coop

Happiest dogs at the park

Flying to Minneapolis for a weekend to visit Mel's college friends

Dinner in DC with Ruthi and Tracy

Katie Herzig show with Lisa, Heidi and Meredith

Nite ride with Mel's nephew Pete


Mount Vernon

Bid Delores

Off to Portland, OR

Raise the Roof Portland

Dinner with the bro and his lady friend Lisa

Crazy Cooper's birthday party

Seriously relaxed Louie

Shovels and Rope

And the very last photo - this ridiculously small rental Fiat my boss and I rode around in on a business trip to was laughable, every time...

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Erica's #89 - Play Mini Golf

Everyone's probably played the typical mini golf or putt-putt course - imitation grass on the putting greens, goofy animal-shaped obstacles, bridges that automatically draw up unexpectedly when you really needed to get your neon pink ball into that 18th hole in one shot.  Like a lot of the other things we do, we didn't go to your average, everyday mini golf course to complete this goal...

There is a place called Rustic Mini Golf near our house - I'd only been once before, probably over 8 years ago, but I remember having a blast.  This place was built in the 1930's, and features nothing but real grass and crushed limestone greens.  Most holes are quite a bit longer than your typical putt-putt course, with some par 5 holes.  It's totally the kind of place you could imagine your grandparents having gone on their first date!

We decided to enjoy this rustic spot during a lax afternoon celebrating our 3rd wedding anniversary last Sunday.  Since this place is so close to home, we also made up our minds to hop on our bikes and cycle there - it's about 4 miles each way with nary a hill to conquer bigger than a highway overpass = quite the variation from what we were used to last summer!

There were just a few more groups there when we arrived, and we played the 9-hole course followed by the first 9 of the 18-hole course to avoid the crowd.  It was a very fun, relaxing afternoon in a neat-o location!
And, for the record, Mel beat me, 75 to 77.  But who's counting :)

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Erica's #48 - Visit at least 10 more National Parks

Mel and I are National Park addicts. We have the park passport (yes, there is such a thing!), and we take any and every opportunity we can to experience a park we haven't been to before.  Without further ado, I'll give you a list of the new parks we visited:

1.  Mammoth Cave, KY - 3/9/2014 - I've lived just a few hours from Mammoth Cave for two decades now, but still hadn't ever visited.  We remedied that this Spring, on a quick day trip to view the cave!  We took the Historic Tour, which takes visitors past the most famous spots in the cave, including The Bottomless Pit and Fat Man's Misery (both of which live up to their names!).

2.  Mississippi River National Recreation Area, St. Paul, MN - 4/26/2014 - We stopped by here while visiting friends in Minneapolis this Spring.  The visitor center is in the lobby of the Science Museum of Minnesota, which we visited previously and loved.  The visitor center even has free fishing equipment to borrow if you want to try your hand at angling on the river!

3.  Lyndon Baines Johnson Memorial Grove, Washington, D.C. - 5/2/2014 - We took a very, very, very long walk from the Rosslyn Metro station just after we got off the plane to visit the grove.  It's situated in a nice location along the Potomac, and provides a quiet place for reflection just minutes from the hustle and bustle of D.C.  It's also a great place to view the Washington Monument.  We then walked almost all the way around the Pentagon to visit the memorial there, which was very sobering. It made for a long, long day!

4.  The White House, Washington, D.C. - 5/3/2014 - This is probably the coolest of the new National Parks we had the privilege to visit.  If you contact your Senator, you can request a tour of the White House.  We gave them an open-ended couple of months to try to get a tour set up, and they set us up for a Saturday afternoon in May - a beautiful time to visit our nation's capitol!  The tour of The White House is self-guided, and frankly pretty impressive.   It was the afternoon before the correspondent's dinner, so the President was likely at home, but we had no sightings of him :)

5.  Mary McLeod Bethune Council House National Historic Site, Washington, D.C. - 5/3/2014 - Mary Bethune was a leader in the Civil Rights movement, and the house was the first headquarters of The National Council of Negro Women.  She started a private school for African-American children in Florida, which turned into a university later on.  There were some very impressive photos of Mary McLeod Bethune with some of the most influential leaders of her time - President Roosevelt, Eleanor Roosevelt, and W.E.B. DuBois.

6.  African American Civil War Memorial, Washington, D.C. - 5/3/2014 - This is a newer Memorial and Museum, and is a really well done one.   There was a ton of information to take in, following the timeline of The Civil War.  There is also a very neat statue across the street.

7.  Frederick Douglass National Historic Site, Washington, D.C. - 5/3/2014 - Yes, May 3 was a busy day for us!  This site is across the river, so we hopped on the Metro to Anacostia, which, honestly isn't a great part of town.  We walked a LONG way to the site through a not great neighborhood, but I'm good at finding routes like this!  We were slightly late for our guided tour time, but we caught up with them to learn about the home and Douglass' family.  The house is situated on a gorgeous lot on a hill, with a view of D.C. and the river. Douglass escaped from slavery and spent his life fighting for equality and justice for all human beings - what a great example for everyone to live by!

8.  Cabrillo National Monument, San Diego, CA - 7/4/2014 - Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo was the first European to set foot on the West Coast.  We visited this park with my parents, spending our 4th of July weekend at their house about an hour and a half east of San Diego.  The pinnacle of the park is on a high peninsula, which provided sweeping views of San Diego Bay.  There is also a cool little lighthouse in the park.

9.  Hopewell Culture National Historic Park, Chillicothe, OH - 8/3/2014 - We stopped by here on our way home from the camping adventure.  The Hopewell people lived here almost two millenia ago, and the mounds of their homes, gathering places, and burial grounds are preserved in this park.

10.  Fort Vancouver National Historic Site, Vancouver, WA - 9/5/2014 - Fort Vancouver was a location of the Hudson Bay Company, a British territorial interest, which morphed into a barracks for the U.S. Army.  The army's goal was to provide peaceful settlement of the Oregon territory,which led to warring and displacing the American Indian population.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Mel's #31 and Erica's #2 - Visit Ohio Friends and Mel's #7 and Erica's #9 - Go Camping AND Erica's #12 - Take a Hike

We squeezed a hell of a lot of things into one short weekend!  We've been talking for quite a while about taking a trip to Ohio to visit some friends, Lisa and Meredith, who always end up coming to Indy when we get together (usually for concerts!), so we started to plan something mid-summer to make sure we made time to actually do it this year!  Somehow in a series of group texts to determine what weekend everyone was free, and what we should actually do, we came up with the idea of going camping together.

What started out as a discussion about "glamping" (staying in a cabin or cottage) turned into down and dirty tent camping.  We booked a spot at Hocking Hills State Park in Ohio for the first weekend in August, and now had something to look forward to for a few weeks.  Plans were made to lay out who had what camping accouterments, and who would bring what by way of one of the most important aspects of camping - the gastronomic necessities.

As a side note - most of you probably know that we biked across the country last summer, self-supported (which means carrying every last necessity on our bicycles).  The irony and juxtoposition of circumstances did not escape us as we packed bin after bin, bag after bag into my Jeep Grand Cherokee,until it was nearly stuffed to the gills with things we would have never contemplated needing for life on the road last summer.  Car camping and bicycle touring sure are two very, very different worlds.

For us, the drive to Hocking Hills was a relatively long one (about 4 hours), and we were disappointed to find that the folks who had been camping in our reserved spot the night before still hadn't evacuated the site,and also must have been out hiking, so the ranger couldn't ask them to pack it up and leave. After a tour of available sites guided by an extremely helpful ranger, we chose a new site (which was actually larger and included electricity, which we hadn't planned on having), and set up our giant tent.  I should mention that our tent is designed to sleep 12 people I believe, though that would be an extremely tight fit, with people packed head-to-foot in mummy bags - we felt very comfortable in it with two of us on each end of the tent on air mattresses and a large open space in the middle.  We were camping in the relative lap of luxury!
We ended up just hanging around the first night everyone arrive and cooking dinner over a campfire, chatting and catching up, mesmerized by the blue-red glow of a healthy fire, as humans have done for millenia.  We were awoken that  night by a furry bandit opening our coolers.  We heard the neighbors trying to shoo the cute-but-destructive creature away too, but apparently to no avail.  That little raccoon ate a dozen of their eggs.  He was confronted only with bottles of beer and some cucumbers in our cooler, and quickly abandoned all hope at our campsite, thank goodness!

We awoke the next morning to the threat of rain.  After an indulgent breakfast to rival your favorite Denny's Grand Slam meal, we decided to head out to hike to a cave called The Rock House.   Hiking through the damp, drizzly weather actually led an air of freshness and renewal to our hike - the smell of a forest after a recent rain is invigorating.  The cave itself was beautiful, as were the views from the many "windows" it contained.  Sure, graffiti is never a good thing, but I can't help but get caught up in imagining the visitors to this very spot over the past two centuries seeing the exact same views, but likely having a much more difficult time reaching the cave without luxuries like modern vehicles, parking lots, maintained trails, and tennis shoes.

After a wonderful lunch back at our campsite, we headed out to Old Man's Cave - one of the most famous sites in Hocking Hills State Park.  The downpour really set in during the afternoon hours - we decided to just embrace the rain and thunderstorm and head out to see the sights anyway.  Old Man's Cave is really more of an overhang, but the location is beautiful.  Huge protected "cave",with a creek running through, and a waterfall just yards away.  I could totally see living there, just as Richard Rowe (read: "Old Man") did in the early 1800's.  I had a glorious time stomping through the creek in my trail-running shoes, which didn't even matter since I was rain-soaked anyway. I was a kid in a candy shop, and loved every minute of it.

That evening was spent enjoying some libations, eating yet another delicious meal (not to mention some AMAZING cheese dip), and partaking in some raucous fun provided by Cards Against Humanity.  Top this off with s'mores around the fire, and there you have it folks, the perfect camping evening.

Sunday morning saw us trying to dry everything out to prepare to pack up, but not before a couple of final hikes - destinations: Ash Cave and Cedar Falls.  Ash Cave was stunning in it's beauty at the hour of the morning we arrived - the sunlight was filtered through the dewey morning air, which made for some gorgeous photo ops and views from inside the cave.  Cedar Falls wasn't really falling, but we did encounter a couple of entertaining turtles and a small amount of water coming over the falls.

Finally we admitted it was time to head home and back to reality.  This was a great weekend with fantastic friends, filled with some of the best nature has to offer, fun times, and lasting memories.  Meredith even packed a pair of high heels!  She wouldn't hike in them, much to our chagrin...

Mel's # 34 - Go To Disneyland

Leave it to me to be blogging about yet another adventure we took to a theme park.

While we were in SoCal visiting Erica’s parents, we decided to spend our last day there at Disneyland. Erica and her parents have been to Disneyland a number of times. In fact, Disneyland first opened the same year that Mary, Erica’s mom, was born. Erica’s family has a special connection to the original Magic Kingdom and I was thrilled to be there with them for my first time to Disneyland.

While planning this trip, I just automatically figured that Disneyland would be packed full of people. After all, it was the 4th of July weekend, so it seems like everything should be busy. As we entered Disney, we noticed that it didn’t seem like many people were there. In fact, I’ve never been to anything Disney-related and it not be packed full of people. So, when we virtually had no wait to get on Space Mountain twice in a row, we knew this day would be great. We initially thought we would have to utilize Disney’s Fastpass feature all day to even have a chance to get on all the rides we wanted to. We quickly realized this was completely unnecessary on this totally weird, empty day at Disney…even the Disney employees kept commenting on how few people were in the park!

We headed straight to Tomorrowland and enjoyed a ride on Star Tours, a 3-D Star Wars themed ride. We rode this a couple of other times throughout the day and enjoyed it every time. Plus, leave it to Disney to create several different scenarios within this ride, so you’re never quite experiencing the same ride twice. Of course, we circled back to Space Mountain, the ultimate Disney classic, quite a few times, as well.

There were apparently a few changes that Disney has made to Tomorrowland. Much to the disappointment of Erica and Mary, the Captain EO experience featuring Michael Jackson, has been replaced. Right now, the theater is showing a sneak preview of the upcoming movie Guardians of the Galaxy. As disappointing as this was, I have to admit that seeing this preview did make me want to go see Guardians when it is released in the theaters. Plus, let’s face it…I appreciate Michael Jackson, but should Disney ever bring back a Captain EO type attraction, they need to include Justin Timberlake.

Also, the Carousel of Progress is also somewhat Marvel-themed now. I’m not exactly sure what is in the Carousel of Progress now, but there are different times throughout the day where park visitors can show up for some kind of Captain America presentation, a Stark Industries (Iron Man) presentation, and see the Honda robot, Asimo. We decided to move on, but we did take a quick drive on Autopia. And yes, I could reach the pedals.

Next, we ran into our first real line of the day at the Matterhorn. The ride has two separate tracks and one track was having issues, causing the backup. While waiting in line and watching the mechanics fix the issue, one of the Disney park directors came over and chatted with us for a bit. He was a super nice guy and told us about the full size basketball court that the builders of the Matterhorn placed inside of the ride’s mountain top. We enjoyed the Matterhorn ride (Mary’s favorite), but as this big kid is getting older, these older rides can take their toll on knees, hips, and necks. I felt like I had just been through a gauntlet.

Our adventure then took us to Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, meant for kids, but still one of Erica’s favorites. She mentioned how there was one part of this ride as a kid that kind of scared her. The funny thing about this ride is that it isn’t much different than a fun-house type ride you would experience at a fair, but given that this is a 1955 original ride, you have to appreciate how many people of all ages have enjoyed this simple adventure. Oh, and we discovered that the part of the ride that scared Erica as a kid was the part where Mr. Toad is found guilty by an evil judge for his tom-foolery and gets sent to hell. Completely appropriate for children, right?

We headed towards Frontierland and got on Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. For me, this was one of my favorite rides in the park. It’s not your run of the mill, big roller-coaster that lasts for one minute. Though this coaster has small drops and no upside down loops, the theme of the ride really shines through and makes it wonderful for everyone. We may not have been defying gravity, but we had a blast on this ride and came back to it numerous times throughout the day.

I was really excited to get to experience the original Pirates of the Caribbean ride, displaying one of Walt Disney’s greatest achievements in animatronics. This one is actually quite different from the Disneyworld version, as it is bigger in scale and is a longer ride. Of course, the park has built in the character of Jack Sparrow and Davy Jones from the films based off of this idea. We noticed that there was a restaurant inside of the ride, near the boarding station, which we thought was really cool. Also, the building that houses the ride contains a special Disney Dream Suite, a luxurious experience I could only wish to have someday. I always thought it would be awesome to spend a night in a themepark. And now, I’m realizing maybe I should have put that on my list.

Next was the Haunted Mansion, another Disneyland original. I’ve always thought this was a really cool ride…it’s virtually Halloween year-round when you’re on this ride. It’s just cheesy enough to enjoy and scary enough to keep the kiddos entertained.

We ventured towards Adventureland and enjoyed the Jungle Cruise, followed by the Tarzan Treehouse, the Enchanted Tiki Room, and got Fastpasses to come back for the parks’ newest and probably most popular attraction right now, Indiana Jones Adventure. The Indiana Jones Ride seemed to have some technical issues throughout the day, and was easily the longest line we stood in, but it was pretty cool. Riders embark on an adventure to a newly discovered temple on a Jeep-like vehicle, facing the typical Indiana Jones type perils of large boulders, spears, fire, and snakes. Similar to Pirates of the Caribbean, an animatronic Indy makes several appearances throughout the ride…and was a pretty realistic looking young Harrison Ford.

We made a quick turn back to Fantasyland for our mandatory spin on It’s a Small World, followed by Peter Pan’s Flight, and a turn on King Arthur’s Carrousel. We also managed to get in a ride on Splash Mountain.

As far as food goes, we ate pizza early on in the day, followed by all sorts of delicious snacks like churros, cotton candy, and much more. For dinner, we couldn’t decide if we wanted to try to eat at the restaurant inside of the Pirates ride or do something else. Ultimately, we chowed down on some all you can eat BBQ in Frontierland. It was delicious.

We ended the day doing one of the things I looked forward to the most at Disney…Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln. What better way to entertain a big kid like me who is also super into history. Not only is the conception of this attraction historic, being revealed at the 1964 World’s Fair in New York, and in operation at Disneyland since 1965, but it is an ever-evolving work of animatronics and digital media. It is still incredible when that curtain opens and you can see such a life-like figure of Lincoln sitting and talking, only to be surprised as the autonomatronics figure stands, and moves seamlessly.  The whole presentation is incredible, but the Imagineers at Disney just keep getting better and better at making these figures so lifelike that it’s scary.

So, my first time at Disneyland was pretty amazing. Not only did we happen upon the good fortune of going on one of the parks’ least busiest of days, but we pretty much did everything…twice. And I couldn’t have asked for a better group of people to enjoy the day with, a group of big kids who love having fun. It was such a great day and I can’t wait to bring our kids here someday so I finally have an excuse to ride on the Dumbo ride without looking too ridiculous!