Write Anywhere #73

Two more stops on my August adventure to make it back home. Have you seen where I’ve been so far?

The moments spent with BAM and his parents flew by. Though life would always be different for them, they began to fall into the regular routine of their lives. Time for Nani to get out from underfoot.

Sent off with big hugs and a few tears, I headed out early on a Wednesday, with lots of time for reflection during the eight-hour drive. I decided to take a quick detour to a place that had been calling me to exit the interstate and explore it for decades.

Write Anywhere #73: In A Cave

Meramec Caverns, entrance

leading the way to the caverns

Meramac Caverns has long been on my ‘explore this’ list. I can remember from my youth the billboards and barn roofs painted with the familiar advertisement along Interstate 44, which follows much of the path of the original Route 66 through Missouri.


Meremac Caverns Barn advertisement, photo courtesy Brett Moore, Creative Commons

Meramac Caverns is the largest cave system in Missouri, which is known as ‘The Cave State’ with about 6,000 identified caves. After exiting the interstate, I followed a beautiful tree-lined road about ten miles to the entrance.

Meramec Caverns, entrance and stores, Missouri, photo by kristin nador

Meramec Caverns from the outside

The outside of the cave looks rather kitschy, with some storefronts, a restaurant, and a ton of gaudy souvenirs for purchase, but once you walk into the actual cave system itself, the atmosphere changes, literally. Even though it was ninety+ degrees outside, plus high humidity from an abundance of rain the day before, inside the cave the temperature stays at a steady and cool sixty degrees.

At first I thought I’d get the chance to walk through the cave on a self-guided tour, but it ended up being much bigger than I thought. All visitors must take the tour with a uniformed guide. Our group gathered to about 75 people before they herded us into the first wide opening.

Meramec Caverns, The Ballroom, Missouri, photo by kristin nador

The Ballroom

According to historical accounts this area of the cave held an abundance of saltpeter, also known as potassium nitrate, an important ingredient in gunpowder. It was mined for saltpeter from the 1700’s right through to the Civil War.

While the cavern was in Union hands, a small contingent of Confederate soldiers attacked the Army’s mining venture. Legend has it that one of those soldiers was the infamous bank robber Jesse James, who along with his brother Frank, later used the cave to hide from the law. The owner of the cave, Lester Dill, found some artifacts that were traced to a train robbery at Gadshill, Missouri that Jesse James was known to have been involved in, so it could be true.

After its saltpeter days up through the 1940’s the huge entrance was given a floor and used as a dance hall, and today is known as the ‘Ballroom’. They built a stage for bands to play Saturday night dances and Sunday night gospel singalongs. The echoes in the room would make for a freaky awesome sound. Wonder what some modern-day electric guitars might sound like?

After the Ballroom, the tour guide took us back further into the cave system, and the air became damper, and of course, it was pitch black without lights. The guides would flip a switch and lights came on ahead of us, then flip another and the lights turned off behind us. I could see why they didn’t want people just wandering around on their own. The roar of an underground river bouncing off the cave walls combined with the dark gave me a bit of vertigo. The group had to cross a bridge over the river (which was really the size of a large creek) and I have to admit I tried to hold on tight to the rails. Only problem, everything is coated with a film of dampness, so that didn’t make me feel any more secure.

Several areas offered a close-up look at stalagmites and stalagtites, the perfect recipe of water and minerals that happen in limestone caves, dripping and growing centimeter by centimeter over thousands of years. They placed clear plastic walls between visitors and mineral formations to prevent any contact with them, as something as innocuous as skin oils can damage them and stunt their growth. It was very hard to take any good photos in the dark and cramped conditions (seventy-five people trying to look at the same rock in a cave is cramped!) but here are a few that turned out:

Meramec Caverns, stalagmites and stalagtites, Missouri, photo by kristin nador

stalagmites and stalagtites with a pool of water

Botryoid mineral formations, Meramec Caverns, Missouri, photo by kristin nador

Botryoid formations: grape-shaped

large stalagmite, Meramec Caverns, Missouri, photo by kristin nador

large stalagmite

We moved up and down throughout the cave system, and at one point a climb of almost forty very steep stairs had the tour guide asking ‘those with knee and cardiac issues’ to wait at the bottom. I climbed the stairs huffing and puffing with most of the group to view the famous ‘Wine Table’. It’s a very rare formation, with only one other in the world in Italy. My lungs did not appreciate the rarity, but instead complained about how out of shape their owner was.

The final stop on the tour was the spectacular Stage Curtain. You can tell where it gets its name:

Stage Curtain, Meramec Caverns, Missouri, photo by kristin nador

The Stage Curtain

And harking back to a time when Americans were much more easily entertained, we sat down in theatre seats in front of the Stage Curtain for a light show.

Hokey and simplistic now, it was a technological thrill during its time. It’s the original light show owner Lester Dill installed to showcase this natural wonder. The tour guide has to throw switches for all the lights throughout the show, so if you are there in person, you mostly hear the clicking of the switches. Dill was very proud that Kate Smith actually came to sing ‘God Bless America’ there in front of the Stage Curtain in the 1940’s, and the governor of Missouri gifted the cave with the American Flag light. They can only leave it on now for 25 seconds or the bulb burns out.

After the tour guide led us back to the start of our journey, I found a bench near the tour start, and pulled out my phone. It was a little too dark to see my own writing on paper, so with a note-taking app, I wrote down some of my impressions and worked on  sensory phrases that described what I experienced. A scene in my in-progress historical fiction calls for my protagonist to sneak into a series of limestone caves being used to store and age kegs of beer, and the sensory phrases I came up with will hopefully enhance that scene. My lungs appreciated the bench rest as well.

The strangest part of my visit to Meramec Caverns had to be coming out of the cave into the noonday sun. It took a while to adjust to the brightness and the heat seemed so much hotter than it should have after spending almost two hours in the cool of the caverns.

I headed out back onto Interstate 44 with plenty of time to spare to make it back to Tulsa. Or so I thought. The last and most bizarre part of my adventure would start only about thirty miles ahead.

Where did you write this week?

Write Anywhere #72

It’s been a long time getting through my August adventure. We’re almost there! If you’d like to follow along from the beginning check out the following posts. If you’re up to date, start right after the jump:


Musician Daughter and Musician-in-Law had to make a decision. Just a week before, they lost their baby to miscarriage. Now their son Destined-To-Be-A-Musician’s (BAM for short) second birthday was days away. Would it be right to have a festive party while still mourning their loss? Would it feel right? Would friends and family understand? They didn’t want to deprive BAM, but the thought of birthdays seemed too much, the heart wounds still too raw.

We all decided to focus on the positive for BAM’s sake, and instead of an all-out birthday party, we planned for a casual day at a favorite local attraction. BAM could have a fun time, oblivious to the inner turmoil of his parents, and the bittersweet reminders did not have to sting quite so sharply.

Write Anywhere #72: Grant’s Farm

Hardscrabble U.S. Grant Cabin

‘Hardscrabble’ Ulysses S. Grant Cabin, near St. Louis, Missouri, public domain

Grant’s Farm is a 281-acre animal reserve nestled at the edge of south St. Louis owned by the Busch family of Anheuser-Busch company fame. Part of the acreage was the original homestead of Ulysses S. Grant, General of the Northern Armies during the Civil War and the 18th president of the United States. The cabin he built in the 1850’s before he became president, nicknamed ‘Hardscrabble’, still stands and can be viewed on a tram tour of the park. Visiting the park is free except for parking and buying food if you choose.

This is where we took BAM for his big day, and he couldn’t have cared less about all that history. There were more interesting things for a 2-year old to think about.

Tram at Grant's Farm, St. Louis, Missouri

BAM and tram

The first thing to fascinate BAM was the tram itself. Never having been in anything like it, he enjoyed the open-air ride and spotting animals along the path to the main park area.

Grant's Farm, roaming animals, St. Louis, MO

our view from the tram

When we reached the main park, which is more like a zoo than a farm, we encountered the goat pens. For fifty cents you could purchase baby bottles with milk to feed the goats. BAM didn’t understand the point of standing in line with all those interesting goats running around, and let us know he was not pleased.  But the wait paid off when he got to feed the hungry goats. At first he got confused and thought Mama wanted HIM to drink the baby bottle. Didn’t he graduate to sippy cups already? But then he watched the other children and got the hang of it.

boy bottle feeding goats, Grant's Farm, St. Louis, MO photo by kristin nador

greedy goats

I worried the pushy goats might overwhelm BAM, and the many flies he feared that hung out with those goats, but seeing other kids involved and the novelty of these silly critters drinking baby bottles kept him focused. He even wanted to give some of the goats a brushing.

brushing the goat

brushing the goat

Next we saw a macaw show, and BAM was fascinated enough with the birds to sit still for all of 10 minutes. That’s a long time for a two-year old!

Macaw on rollerskates, Grant's Farm, St. Louis, Missouri photo by kristin nador

Macaw on skates!

After the show BAM spotted the carousel. His parents didn’t want to take the ride, because his last visit to a merry-go-round ended in tears. Well, this one did, too, but not because he was afraid, but because he didn’t want it to end! Turning two gives you a different perspective on life, I suppose. 🙂

carousel at Grant's Farm, St. Louis, MO photo by kristin nador

fun on the carousel

We walked through more animal exhibits, with monkeys, elephants, and a camel ride. BAM took a quick stop at the ducks and geese for more feeding.

feeding geese Grant's Farm, St. Louis, MO photo by kristin nador

feeding geese

BAM had fun throwing the food, but the heat was getting to all of us. Time for a snow cone break! And free beer (limit 2) for the adults!

Umbrella in the biergarten, Grant's Farm, St. Louis, MO photo by kristin nador

getting some shade

At the end of the day we took BAM to the famous Clydesdales paddocks, but he didn’t want to get too close. Goats are okay, but horses are something else altogether.

young clydesdales, Grant's Farm, St. Louis, MO photo by kristin nador

beautiful young Clydesdales

I wrote by documenting the day in a journal-type book that I will give to BAM in the future. Sometimes writing is not creating fictional worlds but just a way to be a witness to real life. As BAM and I ran around Grant’s Farm together, and his parents saw his happy smiles, I felt I witnessed a small bit of healing start that day as well.

Where did you write this week?

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Examining the Root of Fear: Guest Post at Oklahoma Women Bloggers

Happy Monday, Friends!

It’s October, the month for spooky, scary things, and over at Oklahoma Women Bloggers, we are sharing our fears. Today my post is up, and I confess where death first became a looming concern I couldn’t shake. I hope you’ll stop by to check it out:

Medical Center, Hypochondria, and Living Past 20

Oklahoma Women Bloggers is a great online community for women. If you live in Oklahoma, you should consider joining us. If you don’t, they can point you in the right direction for similar groups in your state.

Do you have any phobias? How did/do you deal with it?

Write Anywhere #71

Here’s another twist on my interesting August adventure. I hope it inspires you to look for creativity and inspiration wherever you might find yourself. If you aren’t up-to-date on the trip so far, you can follow along through these past blog posts:

On my drive back into town, I stopped at the stop light in front of one of the two biggest employers in town: the Federal Prison. The other is a Christian college. The prison houses minimum security federal prisoners. Bet there are a lot of stories in there. On the right corner I spotted a brown road sign that said ‘Tourist Attraction: Marcoot Creamery 3 miles.’ On a whim I took a right and decided to follow the signs and see what I would find.

Write Anywhere #71: Creamery

Marcoot Creamery, Greenville, Illinois, photo by kristin nador, kristin nador writes anywhere

Marcoot Jersey Creamery

The street became a two-lane blacktop and soybean, corn, and wheat crops made a patchwork of the fields as I continued on farther into the rural landscape. Three turkey buzzards refused to allow me to take their picture, my payback for rudely interrupting their roadkill dinner. I passed dilapidated and abandoned farms and wondered if this creamery might look like its neighbors.

abandoned barn, Greenville, Illinois photo by kristin nador, for kristin nador writes anywhere blog

ghost barn

Just when I decided to turn around, over a hill stood the dairy farm.

working dairy farm

working dairy farm

Marcoot Jersey Creamery continues the tradition of dairy farming started seven generations before by their Swiss ancestors. The comfort of the storefront filled with cheeses and ice creams offered a cool respite from the August heat. Since I was the only tourist for the moment, I was given a casual tour of the cheese-making going on that day.


chopping the curds

chopping the curds

The best part of the tour: samples! Cheese, cheese curds, cheese spreads, and beer cheese. Yum!

Then it was back out into the heat for a self-guided tour of the calf barn. Even with large fans going it was full of flies, but are these guys cute or what:

Jersey calf, Marcoot Creamery, Greenville, Illinois, photo by kristin nador

big brown eyes

Jersey calf #2, Marcoot Creamery, Greenville, Illinois, photo by kristin nador

so sweet

I didn’t do any writing at the dairy farm, but I journaled about it later. I thought I’d take BAM back there for the tour and an ice cream cone, until discovering one of the few things he has a thing about: flies. Oh well, maybe when you’re older, BAM.

Where did you write this week?

Write Anywhere #70

We’re halfway through the crazy journey I took in August. Have you been traveling with me? If not, you can follow along with these blog posts:

The next day I decided to help out by making my famous (and mostly foolproof) lasagna. I went to the local IGA for the ingredients, but still had plenty of time to myself before DTBAM (Destined-To-Be-A-Musician) got out of preschool. I thought I’d explore some of the local roadways that spread out like dusty veins from the main artery that is Interstate 70, and ended up in a spot perfect for a little writing.

Write Anywhere #70: Under A Bridge

train bridge in Pocahontas, Illinois photo by kristin nador

little bridge in a little town

Following the outer road along the interstate, I ended up in a little town called Pocahontas. I didn’t know anything about Pocahontas, other than it’s name listed on a green road sign on I-70, and the towering Powhatan Restaurant sign you can see from the highway.

Pocahontas is a village, with a current population of 850. That reminded me of the town my grandparents lived in many years ago: Ashley, Illinois, population 650. I remember looking for the sign each summer when we visited, wondering if the population number had changed. It never did.

travel creative journey to City of Pocahontas Illinois population sign photo by kristin nador

Not much to see in Pocahontas, but they do have a claim to fame. Country singer Gretchen Wilson was born and raised in Pocahontas, and even wrote a song about it, Pocahontas Proud. Pocahontas makes the most of this famous connection, with the local park renamed Gretchen Wilson Park and a sign when you enter the town.

I drove down one of the main streets for two or three blocks and discovered the undersides of a bridge full of creativity.

bridge Pocahontas Illinois

I found a spot to park my car, walked back to the bridge, and sat on the curb in front of the mural with my notebook. I wrote for about 20 minutes, and was disappointed no one drove past. The bridge held up train tracks , and I hoped a train might rumble over, but all was peace and quiet. I guess not too much happens in a lot of small towns. At least that we know about. 😉

Did you discover a place that fueled your creativity this week?

Write Anywhere #69

This post continues the narrative of my August adventures. If you missed the beginning of the story here’s the lineup:

I stayed another week with Musician Daughter and her family. When DTBAM went to his preschool class, I had free time during the day. Since Musician Daughter doesn’t have internet (the coverage is too sketchy in this small town to be worth the price) I decided to check out the local library, hoping they might have joined the 21st century. I discovered the quirky little landmark offered a perfect place to connect with the outside world – and write.

Continue reading

Write Anywhere #68

This post continues my August travel adventure and personal inner journey. If you’d like to find out how I got here, check out Write Anywhere #66 and Write Anywhere #67.

After Musician Daughter recovered physically, she and Musician-In-Law took a weekend to spend alone together. It’s hard dealing with complicated emotions in the midst of an active two year old. That’s where ‘Nani’ could be the most help. I got an entire weekend with Destined-To-Be-A-Musician.

Write Anywhere #68: Cornfield

Cornfield, Southern Illinois, USA photo by kristin nador

Cornfield from the balcony

BAM, I’ll call him for short, lives up to this nickname. When he enters a room, BAM, he’s there, and everyone knows it. Cutest little dickens you ever saw, but every grandma says that about their grandchild. I live up to the stereotype. I spent each waking minute making sure we stuck to BAM’s schedule as much as possible. He is a creature of habit, and if his habits are askew, the world is askew. BAM is a happy child about 92% of the time. But his 8% unhappy will rock your world. Fortunately our weekend together fell into the happy zone.

child coloring, photo by kristin nador

He’s discovered circles

We had a great time playing at the park, building with blocks, coloring with giant crayons, and watching SpongeBob SquarePants until I thought my head would explode. We ate ‘noonoos’ (noodles) and ‘nanas’ (bananas) and a ‘brrgr’ from McDonalds. We drove to a nearby town and raced through WalMart in our ‘vroom vroom’ cart. Late in the afternoons we’d chase each other in the grass behind the apartment complex. The complex backs to a cornfield. Seems all of southern Illinois is cornfields. The ripening corn stood about seven feet tall. BAM ran, laughing and squealing, until he’d make a dead stop at the cornfield wall, with a look of confusion on his face. I tried to get him to venture with me into a row, but he’s smart. No corn jungle for him.

After a wonderful day full of fun, games, and grandma’s slobbery kisses, BAM dutifully took a bath and settled down in his bed each night. That’s when I caught my breath.

I sat in the dark on the apartment balcony, facing the cornfield. The night sounds were at once relaxing but with an edge of mystery: the hum of cicadas, the corn stalks snapping in the breeze, an owl’s hoot somewhere in the night, and the occasional rumble of an eighteen-wheeler along the interstate.

I’d scribble a few lines in my journal, mostly about gratitude and simple joys. After a while that pesky imagination whirred into motion as I stared the twenty feet lit by security lights to the cornfield, then past the cornfield wall and into the dark. I remembered this and scared myself.

Then I got the beginnings of a spooky story about cornfields and Indian ghosts (Remember the Indian burial ground?) with BAM and I.

Too many cornfields can make you silly I suppose.

Where did you write this week? 

Write Anywhere #67

This post continues my August travel adventure and personal inner journey. If you’d like to start from the beginning, click here. I hope you’ll come along and discover like I did, that you can find the fuel for creativity anywhere, in any situation, if you choose to keep your heart open and make room for it.

Musician Daughter’s voice broke as I listened on my cell phone. She stumbled with the words emergency room, blood tests, and ultrasound. No medical explanation, they told her.

Then the loneliest of words: miscarriage.

“Should I come now?” I asked, working to keep my voice steady.

“No, wait. I think we’ll be okay.”

I called her each day for three days, wanting to offer love and support, but also not wanting to intrude on this most intimate of wakes between husband and wife.

For three days I grieved, I cried, I prayed, I prepared. I lamented the 441 miles between us, which might as well have been a million. I imagined how they felt, and cried some more. I grieved for life lost, for hope crushed, for hearts broken.

Then,'”Could you come now? We need some help.”

“Of course. I’ll be there tomorrow.”

Write Anywhere #67: Rest Stop

Mural, Missouri Rest Stop

Mural, Missouri Rest Stop

I packed my Prius and headed out first thing in the morning. The drive from Oklahoma to southern Illinois, six hours for the normal driver, takes me over eight hours because of my back issues and all the stretch stops I have to make. I didn’t mind. It gave me time. I needed time to empty myself of myself. Musician Daughter, Musician-in-Law and Destined To Be A Musician didn’t need someone else to worry about, care for, or be uncomfortable around. I had to button down my own emotions to be able to let them release theirs. I needed to think about the words. What words could I say?

My first rest stop on the trip was just over the Oklahoma-Missouri border, about 90 minutes into the trip. It’s a nice rest stop, with clean bathrooms, cozy couches, fresh coffee, and rows of travel brochures. I walked several laps around the sidewalks and did my physical therapy stretches where I could, to a few quizzical stares. I walked into the visitor center, and a welcome hostess asked me where I was headed, and if I needed help finding a travel brochure.

“Thanks, I know where I’m going.”

The rest stop had a Route 66 theme, and offered weary travelers picnic tables, each covered with a nostalgic diner or gas station-designed gazebo.

Rest Stop, Missouri Interstate 44 photo by kristin nador

I strolled through the empty shelters, watching eighteen wheelers pull in and out of the parking lot, and reflecting on my own nostalgia: Musician Daughter when she was a baby, a toddler, a young girl. When I could soothe any hurt with a band-aid, a hug, or a cookie.

I felt empty and helpless, her pain now beyond a mother’s consolation. I sat down at a picnic table and got out my notebook, and wrote words. Words to the heavens, words to darkness’s depths, words not to be shared, but words to wash the debris of grief from the wound in my heart.

I had the liberty to grieve later, now I needed to help them with their grief that couldn’t be postponed, each time they passed a nursery never to be used. They didn’t need another person asking questions, wanting details, offering polite sympathies.

I watched an old man get out of a car and make his way to a picnic table. A scruffy three-legged dog hobbled behind him. The dog sat at the man’s feet while he lit up a cigarette. The man began to cough, and the dog put a paw on his knee. The man rubbed the dog’s head, and he relaxed and laid down across his feet.

rest stop interstate 44 missouri photo by kristin nador

I realized they didn’t need to hear any more words. They just needed someone to be there, when they need a hug, or a hand to hold. Or when they didn’t. Someone to let them cry. They needed a safe ear to listen to their words, if they chose to memorialize with them, when words are so inadequate, but all we have.

I headed back out to the interstate, wedging my car among tractor-trailers, and moving towards the next rest stop, and the next. As the sun settled behind me in the West, I reached my destination. Arms ready for any and all hugs requested.

Where did you write this week?

What Diana Nyad Can Teach Us About Unwavering Passion, Writing, and Life

triathletes, Kailua-Kona, Hawaii (Oct. 15, 2005) U.S. Navy, public domain

triathletes, Kailua-Kona, Hawaii (Oct. 15, 2005) U.S. Navy, public domain

On Monday, September 2, 2013, author, journalist, motivational speaker, and endurance swimmer Diana Nyad was the first person to swim from Cuba to Florida without a shark cage.

Diana Nyad website

Here are some interesting facts about that sentence:

Diana Nyad tried to complete this swim four other times. She finally did it.  At age 64.

Spending 53 hours straight swimming 110 miles from Havana, Cuba to Key West, Florida, facing sharks, rough Gulf Stream currents, and the stinging jellyfish that derailed her last three tries, Nyad walked up on shore and announced she had three messages:

  1.  “Never give up.”
  2.  “You’re never too old to chase your dreams.”
  3.  “It looks like a solitary sport, but it’s a team.”

Once Diana decided to chase her dream, she wasn’t going to let go. She trained day after day, month after month, year after year. Even when the dream looked crushed. Repeatedly.

See  what she says is her ‘unwavering passion’ here:

What dream are you willing to chase? What book longs to be written? What obstacle are you willing to overcome? What work are you willing to do to make it happen? 

Dreams without hard work are nebulous fantasies that float away.

Diana could have given up after her first attempt. She could have admitted to failure at her second attempt. It would have been understandable for her to determine that her dream was out of reach after her third and fourth attempt. She could have blamed the jellyfish, the lightning storms, old age closing in. She could have blamed her asthma.

But she says for over thirty years she pictured herself walking up on the Florida shore.

What do you visualize yourself accomplishing? What do you see coming to pass in your mind’s eye when reality gives a different view? What vision of hope do you have for yourself and your life?

Diana didn’t train alone. She didn’t make her final attempt to cross the ocean alone. She had a team of 35 people believing in her dream with her, supporting and working alongside her.

Writing, like endurance swimming, seems like a solitary sport, but it ultimately takes a team.

Who is your dream team? Who believes in you and your vision? Who can you lean on when dream crushers come your way?

Surround yourself with those who want to believe and invest in you and your dream.

Diana Nyad never gave up. Maybe some people thought she was crazy. But she did what she set out to do. And proved it’s never too late.

What dream will you never give up?