Sunday, August 14, 2016

Being Neigh-borly...

Secretariat
Kentucky Horse Park
...and on that note...

July 15, 2016

I think that slamming doors in a hotel is ignorant. So is filling your cooler with ice at 10 p.m. when you have a reasonable expectation that the rooms on either side of the ice room may possibly be trying to sleep. 

On that note, "ignorant" is also locating the ice room near sleeping rooms! 

Anyway. That being said, today was Lexington, KY. Lexington is beautiful and the area we were in was truly horse country. The shale dry-fit walls were amazing and we could easily have spent more time here. We headed out after breakfast to the Kentucky Horse Park. 

Mind you, Kid #2 said that he "wasn't a fan" of horses. Not specifically a dislike or fear, but as he said, "I have a healthy respect for something that weighs nearly 2000 pounds and has a mind of its own." OK. I can live with that. He promised me a slew of horse jokes and groan-worthy puns, but a funny thing happened on the way through the stables...

Be a Bono
Every. Single. Horse. Loved him. Seriously, I doubted my "horse mojo" with him around, because they flocked to him and ignored me. I think he might be a convert now. 

We took the trolley ride, visited a number of barns and actually got to pet easily a dozen horses. INCLUDING 2 - TWO - KENTUCKY DERBY WINNERS! (as a post-script, a friend went to the Horse Park 2 weeks after we did, and was not allowed to pet the Derby winners...I guess it's up to the grooms and how the horses feel that day)

Royal - unashamed...
Funny Cide and Be A Bono were out with handlers and we were allowed to get up close to them. We also got to pet the miniature horses (who cuddled up to The Kid with alacrity), the draft horses (finally, a horse or two taller than he is!) and two Marwari horses. These are very rare; there are about 20 of them in the US and 4 of them live at Kentucky Horse Park. 

We also touched the noses of a Lippizaner, Morgan, Percheron, Chincoteague Pony and a Saddlebred.

A Paint Horse
So what capped The Kid's conversion was an incident in The Big Barn (aside from his obvious change of heart when they all snuggled up to him...). We saw a stall door open and Royal, a huge black Percheron. He was drinking from one of those 5-gallon "pickle bucket" buckets and we asked his groom if we could pet him; she said, "Wait till I get done here, so I can be next to him." Ok - fair point. 

Well. Royal apparently didn't like the water. In a move which I couldn't have filmed unless the camera had been trained on him, he picked the bucket up by the lip and flipped it over his head. 

Pony before he bolted
Here's some context: There was easily FIFTY POUNDS of water in that bucket. His groom shook her finger at him and said, "Oh, ROYAL, you stinker!" I cracked up and looked at The Kid, saying, "Did you SEE that??" He was laughing so hard that he was leaning up against another stall. "I cannot BELIEVE he did that," he said. "Wow - now I know why they call it a 'horse laugh' -- he's grinning like he knew EXACTLY what he was doing," he said. Of course he knew what he was doing! 

Left: Morgan; Right: brown Marwari
On the way around, because now he wanted to see EVERY barn we could see, we stopped at the farrier's (blacksmith's) shop. We found, through conversation, that the blacksmith was from Lemont! and that The Kid knows his family from Providence Catholic High School! Small world... He did see the power of a peeved horse, however. The Chincoteague Pony was getting his hooves trimmed but one of the gardeners let loose with a weed whacker right outside the shop. The pony pulled the rope right off the wall and nearly took the blacksmith down as he tried to bolt. It was an experience, to be sure. 

Another draft horse
During our time in the park we saw the Man O War statue and The Kid commented on how "sturdy" Man O War was compared to the higher-strung more delicate thoroughbreds were lately. And the "stride display" they had was very interesting. They had three poles spaced a certain distance apart, and they represented John Henry, Man O War and Secretariat. John Henry's stride was 22'... Man O War's stride was 24'... and Secretariat's stride was 28' --- twenty-eight feet. And the average horse does this "stride" about 2,000 times in one race. 
Man O War

The last thing, before I forget. It's kind of priceless. We went into one of the rooms where they had examples of the different styles of riding: Western and English. They were on those 25-cent mechanical horses, but they were fully tacked-out, not just a molded saddle like the old-fashioned kiddie rides. 

So The Kid gets onto the Western style horse and tries to settle in. He grimaces, and says, "Now I know why the cowboys were grumpy...How DID they get comfortable??" I cracked up; he thought English was more comfortable, till he got into THAT saddle. I showed him how to settle in and he's still not confident that "the man-parts" don't get bashed a bit when the horse starts moving! 

Stopped at Limestone Blue in downtown Lexington on our way out of town. Tried to see a church - but it was locked up. The waitress at Limestone was making goo-goo eyes at my kid... and he knew it. And she KNEW he knew it!

I had the weirdest sandwich: grilled cheese. "What?" you say... Well, let's put it this way: whole-grain bread, grainy mustard, brie, grilled Brussels Sprouts and raspberry jam. Yep. 

It was delicious. 

On the way back to Illinois - Tuscola overnight then home - we realized:


  1. Mostly all farm-to-table restaurants on the trip.
  2. No churches this time.
  3. Only 1 cemetery.
Tuscola rolls the sidewalks up at 5 p.m. Not even a decent restaurant open, so we actually had milkshakes for dinner; we were ready to be home.


July 16, 2016... Home. Tired. Still friends... 

Saturday, August 06, 2016

Rain, Rain - Go AWAY!

July 14: A driving day. 

In driving rain. Seriously, vicious driving rain. Three states and three severe thunderstorms, to the point where we were driving down the highway at about 35 mph, with windshield wipers at max, and the safety flashers on. The wind was blowing us sideways and the thunder was shaking the truck. 

Soooooooo - Mammoth Cave was out. We got rained out. We left Batesville, MS at 7:30 a.m. and we got to Mammoth Cave close to 2 p.m. The last tours commence around 1:30 so that even though the storms were abating, we missed the chance to go into the caves. 

We weren't happy, but we were lucky that the rain came on a driving day, instead of a touring day. 

We skipped lunch to get to Mammoth, and having done that and realized that it was a no-go, we consoled ourselves with a recommendation from a friend: Red State BBQ. 

Seriously - it's a shack off the main highway in Lexington, KY and it's in front of a trailer park. I couldn't make it up. 

Red State is worth the wait! Delicious, and we got to sign the wall. The place is pretty low-slung, so The Kid actually got to sign the CEILING! Best. Baked beans. Ever. 

Ever. 

The Kid had a 3-meat blend, with coleslaw and baked beans. 

I had a Pulled Pork with coleslaw on it and mac & cheese. They had 3 kinds of sauce you could add - a spicy one that was kind of North Carolina style, a Memphis style and a mustard style. Of course, we dabbed a bit of each on separate bites to see which we preferred. The meat was tender and delicious - melt-in-mouth kind of meat. The baked beans were decadent. The coleslaw on the sandwich was just the right balance with carrots, red cabbage and a mayo-based dressing. 

The mac & cheese was - oddly enough - almost like my grandmother made. I was starving, but honestly it was just enough food. 

The hotel is ok. Well, honestly, meh...It's old. And huge, kind of like a capital "E" in shape with different wings. It's also a conference center, so there was a lot going on. I didn't hit the hot tub, because it was too far away. I will commend the desk staff for being incredibly friendly and gracious. 

I took a couple of walks up and down the halls to work out the kinks. I was a bit stiff from the nervousness I felt driving through the horrible weather. Should I have let The Kid drive? Probably. But I'm not sure he would have wanted to. 

Spent time recovering from our drive in; tomorrow is the Kentucky Horse Park. We're thinking about perhaps finding a Civil War cemetery before we head to Tuscola. The trip is winding down a bit, and that drive took a lot out of both of us. 

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Wake-Up Call...

Sunrise...I was up anyway!
So on July 13, we visited Ole Miss for starters. Which was a good thing because LAST year, it was at the tail end of the day. 

Not a great idea when it's 95* or more!

So what's with the title? Well... In the hotel, after a day spent in the sun and finally asleep. Till 1:48 a.m.

When the fire alarm goes off. 

Throughout the hotel. 

I shot out of bed like I had a rocket on my rear end. Stumbled to the phone and called the desk. 

I sincerely hope that the desk clerk was rattled and the laughter was because of nerves, because her response, with a nearly-full-throated cackle, was, "Oh yeah, no worries, just a problem with the alarm."
"2nd Place Trophy"

Really? Really. 

I think my heart calmed down somewhere around 4:30 a.m. It was a rough morning for both of us. 

Anyway. Ole Miss. 

We still parked at the Art Museum. Yeah, I know - I said I wasn't going to do that again, but we did it anyway. Went through the museum - and frankly, it wasn't anything new. They were still installing the newest exhibit, so it was a quicker visit than usual.

We walked to the Civil War cemetery. Here's the story: Once upon a time, a groundskeeper was told, "Go clean up that old cemetery at the back of campus."

So he did. He removed all the gravestones, stacked them neatly, and mowed the lawn, cleared the brush - cleaned it up. 

Lyceum
Yeah - smack your head. They wanted him to clean it up and leave the stones where they were. So now, there's a large monolith with all 472 names, since nobody ever took pictures or kept records of who was buried where. The cemetery has a lovely red brick wall, which matches the other buildings. It's a lovely memorial. Except there are still some graves that they're "not sure about" - so there may be more than 472 persons in that space... I think he probably lost his job. 

The cemetery is at the back of the campus, and we went into the Athletic Building to see if we could cut through. We couldn't, but we must've looked like death warmed over - the woman at the front desk plopped us into chairs and said, "Y'all use our air conditioning. Have some water. Rest. Sit and watch TV." The day clerk at the hotel could take lessons... Just sayin'... 

Long walk back to the front of campus and the museum, though we did stop in to the Library for a quick visit. First, to see (and photograph---shhhhhh!) the Second Shakespeare Folio, visit William, and talk to the librarian about the mysterious "general" and the slave cemetery. 

Second Shakespeare Folio
We took some shots of the Lyceum. When the school was first integrated, the young black man who was the first student created - as you can imagine - some unrest. James Meredith was a student in 1962. And gunfire erupted. In the door of the Lyceum, there are bullet holes. The Kid wanted to take pictures for his students (reminder to self: put the pics on your One Drive!).

The campus is stately, and is really a "tree campus" - one of the magnolias must easily be over 100 years old - even though it's not a "Heritage Tree" it clearly is a landmark. It makes me wish they grew up here, which they won't of course. The closest thing we have is a tulip tree. 


This shot of the magnolia flower is at the base of this tree. 

So as we're walking back to the front of the campus, we're just looking around, chatting. We didn't have a particular spot in mind to stop and visit; we were just on our way back to the car. 

Then we saw it. Simultaneously. And we stopped. Simultaneously. 

And burst out laughing. Simultaneously. 

The Trent Lott Leadership Institute. I kid you not. 

In case you've forgotten, Trent Lott was the Senate Minority Whip in 2007. He resigned. Relatively disgraced. He stuck his foot in his mouth praising Strom Thurmond's run for president and saying that if Strom had won the election, "we wouldn't have had all these problems over the years." Oh, and for fun, he's homophobic. (I figured you'd figure that out, since most of the men of his ilk are.)

Thurmond's campaign would have effectively tossed the Civil Rights Act out of the window. Of course, after the kerfuffle, he tried to repudiate his statements. But we have the tv-machine...

He also became a contestant on Dancing With the Stars. He lost that, too. 

Went back to town, hit Square Books because The Kid wanted to see if they had a book they SAID they had. Then I took a side trip to J. Olive for refills. Picked up souvenirs this time around, and then stopped at Ajax Diner for lunch. 

It is literally a hole in the wall. I only found it because of the awning. But it was another good pick. There were blue-plate specials, regional dishes, wait staff who were adorable, and daily specials, like "fresh garden tomatoes with spicy mayo dressing." After lunch and a little detective work, The Kid found a retro record store which required a pop-in visit. Then I hit the yarn store - The Kid sat outside checking his messages from school. 

When I got into the yarn store, I confirmed that they did indeed move from their prior location. The store owner was all, "How y'all doin'?" and asked me where I was from. I said, "Joliet area in Illinois," and she drops her jaw, and hollers, "Oh my God - I'm from Park Forest!" Not a trace of "southern." I just had to laugh. I bought a few things, and we decided that our very early wake-up call was enough today. 

Even though there's a nice pool, nobody used it. Every night we were there, I "dangled" - I dangled my legs in the "cool tub" hot tub area. It helped relax me. 

We've been watching the weather because "stuff" has been moving into the area for a few days. We head to Mammoth Cave tomorrow; we'll see if the weather holds. 

We may have to make an in-transit change of plans. 


Random Picture...

I know you've been missing these! I love crape myrtle trees. I miss the ones I had when I lived in VA. The ones outside our hotel were a beautiful deep garnet. The ones around my house in VA were pink. 

They're also known as "monkey slide" trees, because as they grow, the limbs are smooth. The bark is like satin. The downside is that when the blossoms drop off, they're sticky and can make a mess of your car. 

Since the hotel was relatively new, they were still in the "bush" stage. They'll do well out there; it's a very sunny location and with the humidity and the rain they get every year, it's a great spot for them. 

So before I left, I had to get a shot of these beauties. 












Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Another Surprise Visit...


So having done this trip last year, we considered ourselves "Oxford Veterans." We knew what we wanted to see and what we could skip with no problem. And that left us a few more spots where we could wriggle and have some new adventures. 

The hotel, the Comfort Suites in Batesville, was new. The Hampton Inn, where we stayed last year, was being renovated, though it was open. I don't think we had the ability to get rooms, so even though we missed out on the "dinner" that the Hampton had each night, we were -- OK, I was -- rewarded by an indoor pool and hot tub. 

Of course, now that we'd brought suits, The Kid says, "I'm not really a pool person." Ooooooo-KAY... But MOM loves a hot tub...That being said, I reserved most of the "tubbing" to the Batesville stay, because I wasn't sure if I was actually going to go IN and I wanted enough time for my suit to dry. The hot tub was actually a "cool tub" which was fine -- I don't do heat well, and the coolness was a balm to my achy legs. 

Our first night in Batesville was marred by the horrible, HORRIBLE clerk at the hotel. Obviously, she flunked "customer service" and should consider another career, rather than the "hospitality" field. She's not suited. Our rooms were true suites, and that was nice. Ceiling fans, a couch that was comfy enough to be a sleeper, a microwave & fridge... But then there was the A/C. It sounded like a jet plane. Every 7 minutes. I know because at one point, I timed it. 

I was up listening to it anyway... 

So our first trip was to the square. Square Books and Off Square Books...The only places to go for unusual books, new and used. 

Well, our ACTUAL first visit was to Mr. Bill... Is it a sin to hand him my Kindle? We paid our homage and I spied a beautiful magnolia next to the courthouse. It was so pretty against the red bricks. It was a huge tall one, too. I didn't change lenses, but I was still able to get a couple of nice shots of it. It's not like we didn't see a zillion magnolias. I just liked the way this one contrasted against the deep, glossy green leaves, and the warm red brick. It was almost greeting-card pretty, except that I was already broiling in the heat. 

The other thing that caught my eye was the lack of tourists. I was expecting more, but I recalled that last year we were closer to August - so perhaps there were more people getting their kids settled. We had a lot of space. Not too much traffic. Easy parking, too. 

After drooling and shopping at the bookstores, we toddled around the square a bit, and I noticed something else. 

Last year, The Kid and I talked non-stop. This time, he spent a lot more time on his phone, texting friends. Now, yeah, he's doing research for our side trips, but he was also on the phone with friends. A clear sign to me that it's time and I'm cherishing this last trip with him. At least for a while. 

After we finished our adventures in the square, I took off for the cemetery - and I found it right off! Amazing how your brain clicks in... Oxford is a city of traffic circles, and it's a little weird, but you eventually get used to it. 

We found something new. Pennies. 

Pennies on Faulkner's grave. They weren't there last year. But they were in abundance this year. Getting ahead of myself, even the reference librarian at Ole Miss wasn't sure why. 

Some poor soul brought a bottle of cinnamon whiskey to place on Bill's grave. Oh, no! Straight Jack, please! I did empty the cinnamon bottle - at the FOOT of his grave. I didn't want to corrupt the actual memorial with the erzatz whiskey. The Kid approved. 

We poked around at the cemetery for a bit. Both of us love a good historical cemetery. We visited Ma and Pa Faulkner - spelled Falkner - and looked at a number of memorials. The Kid decided he wants a bench. Near a tree. 

I want a repurposed one. I saw a memorial with a modern plaque, but clearly a repurposed monument, and it was cool. 

Slave cemetery
Slave gravestone
We actually stumbled upon a slave cemetery within the graveyard. And again, getting ahead of myself, a guest at the Ole Miss library said that "there was a Negro section" in that cemetery. Well, that section has been absorbed within the rest of the cemetery. The stones were small. Names only - no dates. All set within a certain spot, regimental. It was sad. A very strong reminder of the separateness of people, even in death, which is after all the great equalizer. Slave or master - each of them dies in their time. These graves appeared to be pretty sparse, too. I was surprised that they were even there - and that may sound odd, but I would have thought that a slave cemetery would have been in another place entirely. 

The other odd thing was: why didn't we notice this last year? I can't remember seeing it and neither can The Kid. 

I noticed family names on the gravestones in the slave area, so perhaps one or two families buried them there. Clearly, this is an area where slavery was alive and well during the time period, so I wonder whether there are other cemeteries in the area where slave graves are more in evidence. It's an interesting subject for consideration. If I do more traveling - like when I visit Kid #1 in Virginia, perhaps we'll find some evidence there as well.

Is it creepy to be drawn to cemeteries, particularly the older ones? I don't think so. 

We saw an open crypt - The Kid didn't want to peek in. I figured, what could happen? 

What was amazing was that in one section, I noticed "game cameras" bound to strategic trees. It depressed me to think that people were vandalizing the graves. The new mausoleum was finally done. It was like, "Wow - they finished that, didn't they?" It felt like we were visiting family, in a very strange way. I don't go visit my relatives, but I'll go to an old cemetery any day.

The cemetery was actually quite peaceful. We looked at the history of the place, and we saw the following: "A Civil War general is buried here." 

Ok -- which one?? Of course, I asked, and I swore I'd remember. The Kid thinks it's General Barksdale; I'm hearing "Livingston" in my head... But to the larger point, you're in the Deep South. Well, as Deep as we were going, at any rate, since Oxford is basically north Mississippi. But you're in Confederate country. Why would you NOT name the general? 

After tooling around, we found the grave of Barry Hannah, an author Kid #2 admires. So he brought Barry's book, set it at his stone, and we photographed. Someone left a black pen. You can see it just above the book. 

And there's a little angel who's surely in heaven. Look at all those names. This poor little mite lived one day. His parents gave him Old Testament names. I hope they found comfort in his marker. And I hope they visit it. Maybe they moved away. Maybe they just can't bear it. You can imagine all sorts of things with these graves. Some are cared for, some are not. Some have flowers, some don't. Some are older than old. Some are more modern, with lights, wind chimes, teddy bears - all kinds of ornamentation. It's a place to think about what happens after. 


We stopped at Lamar House, which we skipped last year. We skipped it because I was going to die of heat stroke and needing a bathroom -- not necessarily in that order. 

So of course, it was closed... But we saw the statue of Mr. Lamar, and we saw a "Heritage Tree" - a large, old, gorgeous Osage Orange. There are a number of these "heritage trees" around Oxford. They're a "heritage" tree if they're the largest, and oldest, of the particular specimen in the area. Lamar House celebrates the life of Lucius Quintus Cincinnatus Lamar - and now that I read up on him a bit, I'm not all that sure I'd be celebrating him... He wrote the Mississippi Secession Ordinance, opposed civil rights, and was generally what I would call a "good old boy." Not in the progressive sense. But anyway, I give Oxford credit for saving a historic home. 

The South is what it is and they believe what they believe. My boss's husband says Ole Miss is a "garbage school." But I think he's a bit of an elitist. It's known as "The Harvard of the South" and it's somewhere around 34 out of 100 in Princeton Review. 

Rowan Oak was next. We strolled the grounds and took our time. We didn't spend more than an hour there. As I noted: we knew where we wanted to go and we went there. 

That being said, we finally (after a few days of late, late lunches) went to lunch AT lunch! So this time, it was Neon Pig...an old-time butcher shop/grocery with a couple of trestle tables down the center where you eat with whoever shows up next to you. This place has the BEST burgers! The Kid had a burger and I had a BLT. The BLT used local bacon. The butcher shop was toward the back. The "grocery" was at the side, and it had labels: "your cabbage and carrots come from the Smith Farm on Rt. X." The butcher shop even said where the beef and pork came from. 

The menu board had duck prosciutto. For $250 a pound. Two hundred fifty dollars. A pound. 

Outflow of dam to Lower Sardis
Our afternoon trip was to Sardis - a town about 10 miles the other side of Batesville. There was a dam there. We like dams. 

Well. It was a dam. Oh my. A huge earthen dam. As we were driving along a 2-lane road, The Kid says, "where's the dam?" I pointed to the green "hill" -- and said, "There." 

We were on the Lower Sardis. This is the outflow. Lake Sardis, above and over the top, is huge. I mean, you can't see the top of it. 

Lake Sardis - the dam
We both decided that water is comforting. It was just nice to sit there and watch the water coming out. There were folks fishing near the outflow, and boats just putting around the lake. I would have enjoyed a pontoon ride. 

We drove around to see if we could find the access to the top of the dam, and we watched as this lake came into view. This is one of the largest earthen dams, and we just stood there in silence. Looking at the immensity of the lake. Imagining the magnitude of the project and who thought of it and how much it changed the landscape. 

The dam is to the right and behind
For some reason, the name "Sardis" rang bells with a Faulkner theme. I'm sure I'm confusing it with "Sartoris" and for all I know, that's what he did. 

On top, we watched swifts drive off a couple of hawks. I was snapping pictures left, right and center. A few did turn out, but I have to fiddle with them. And then the heat got to me. What probably happened was when I was taking the pictures, I was holding my breath. I tend to do that. Bad idea... Just sayin'. 

Hawks lose to Swifts
Before we left, I had put a wet washcloth into a baggie. That was good planning on my part. What we really needed was more water. So this time, we made yet another trip to Wal-Mart (that made 4 trips this time - more time in a Wal-Mart than I've spent in 20 years!), to stock up on water and get some dinner - we actually just had ice cream... The water was a necessity. Last year we brought water every morning, and we somehow had a brain burp this year. We certainly weren't going to spend $4/bottle at the hotel! 

Sardis was a nice find. If you were inclined, there's a lovely boat launch, a beach down the way, a recreational area and camping. 

For me? Air conditioning and a hotel, thanks! 















Saturday, July 23, 2016

Cairo - KAY-ro It's an Illinois Thing

Today we talk about Cairo, IL. Pronounced, I'm told, KAY-ro. If you pronounce it like the city in Egypt, you are immediately branded an "outsider" who doesn't know anything... It's an Illinois thing, particularly a SOUTHERN Illinois thing. 

Cairo is at the southern tip of Illinois, and at one end of town, we have the confluence of the Ohio River and the Mississippi River located at Ft. Defiance Park. 

We'd left Giant City State Park and were quite warm (to put it nicely). We came into town and immediately spotted the Cairo Public Library. It's a beautiful building surrounded by a high decorative wrought iron fence. 

The building is actually known as the Safford Building, in honor of a prominent Cairo citizen. It's in the Queen Anne style, which really stands out in the town. There are 2 statues on either side of the front door in niches - Clio, the Greek muse of history and Concordia, a Roman goddess of peace...there's also a beautiful (though when we were there, empty) fountain right in front of the door. 
Christmas angel

And there were lots of Christmas decorations. For some reason, they never removed the outside wreaths and fake florals in the pots. And we noticed that even though the outside of the building was gorgeous, you could see the rooms that were "storage areas" because, frankly, the junk was piled up and visible through the windows. 

The collection of books is kind of jammed into the first floor, toward the back of the building, with the kids' section prominently in the front part of the building - encouraging you to settle down and pick up a book. That back area is apparently new to the structure, and they claim 50,000+ books in the collection. 

The vestibule in the front is a cache of kitsch. And in a delicious irony, the computers are located there. And they're both out of order... So -- READ A BOOK!

There are beautiful stained glass windows and in a really stupid move, I didn't take a picture of the unique water fountain right inside the door: set with a beautifully vibrant mosaic - part of the WPA Art Project. I'm an idiot sometimes. Even though I mentioned it twice - I never thought to take a photo. 

I'm blaming the heat. 

There were a number of dioramas and exhibits of the area's river heritage on the first floor, and some really interesting displays of antique toys. 

The town loves its library - and cherishes the history. The old wood and the carvings up the balustrade; the smell of books and antiques; the light filtering through the windows...it was bookworm heaven. We even saw a "gambling table" (the one the Christmas angel is sitting on) from an old steamboat. 

As we went upstairs, we saw a rare find: a Tiffany grandfather clock. I'm talking very rare. As in -- according to Tiffany, there are only FOUR of these clocks that were ever produced. The librarian encouraged us to go upstairs and prowl around. There was a lot to see. From the enormous 14th century Italian rosewood credenza to the artwork, porcelain and portraits hanging everywhere you look, it was a feast for the eyes, even though we were having small sneezing fits because many of the vases held -- shall we say -- musty floral arrangements. 

Even though the exhibits were well cared for, there were signs that the building needed some help. And yeah, the flowers could've used dusting - or replacing. 

So upstairs we went, with that satisfying "creak, creak, creak" that an old staircase sings as you walk up to find the treasures on the next level. 

Another sign of the economic issues of Cairo lay in the fact that the upstairs was not air conditioned. Not that I'm a wimp. Well, yeah, I'm a wimp. 

But historically speaking - you've got antiques of some note up there. And no climate control, except for the Special Collections room, which was locked, much to the dismay of Kid #2.

This chandelier was in a "200-seat auditorium." Ummm. Only if they open all the doors and place those chairs all the way to the stairs, but whatever... The chandelier was once the centerpiece of the Cairo Opera House... which, if it still existed, we never found. We also saw President Jackson's desk - the one he used at the Bank of the United States, in Philly. 

In the auditorium are two regular baby grands - and again, it's troubling that these gorgeous pianos are kept in a hot (HOT!) room with large windows and sunlight streaming in. I can't imagine they're in tune...

But also -- there's this: a square grand piano... Yep. Over 100 years old, and according to the librarian, unable to be tuned. Most likely the sound board is in horrible shape, because it's in the same hot room as the other 2 pianos. 

I didn't play it - I was afraid of the Wrath of the Librarian...but she was perfectly lovely and said "all you'd hear was that it's horribly out of tune!"

Among the other treasures are pictures and various other items of note left to the library including collections of horses, china cats, a number of exotic fans from various countries and dating mostly during the era when women used fans not only as a device to cool off, but an accessory for flirtation, and some ancient pieces of pottery. 

It's an amazing place in a town that's clearly in trouble. We drove by the levy and I don't think either of us realized till we were leaving town just how vulnerable Cairo is. If the levy is breached, there's a gate at the railroad viaduct which will come down and effectively close off the town if the river floods. It's not as noticeable when you drive IN, but as you LEAVE, you can tell that it's a barrier that's placed between the two railroad trestles of the viaduct.

There's the Custom House, which we weren't able to tour, and a church that looked interesting. There were a few houses that were interesting as well, but there's this weird vibe in downtown Cairo. 

When I told my friend Shaun that we were going there, he looked at me and said, "be careful." I try to not have preconceived notions, but I see what he meant. 

There was a sense of quiet desperation in the town. And we didn't feel like lingering. We skipped Ft. Defiance; a few of the reviews mentioned how "remote" the site was, and we'd already had enough of the heat with our morning visit to Giant City. 

Before the Internet...

So kids... This is how you researched before The Google... This is a card catalog. In here is the entirety of the collection. It's a sign of the times that there's a poster telling you how to use it... 

In Kid #2's opinion, the level of "acceptability" of a library's collection is how much Vonnegut it has. He was unable to find anything, but I found two volumes. Small, but hey - I was fascinated by the history books they had and I was also able to dig through the "book sale" bin and help the library out a bit by bringing home a number of books... 

I also bought some post cards for my continuing quest of contacting legislators via post card. I mean, seriously - who sends postcards, right? I'm trying to get their attention and it's a hand-written Tweet because you only have a few square inches in which to get your message across. 

The library also still uses cards to check out the books. No bar codes here. 

It was a good way to start out our trip. 

















Friday, July 22, 2016

Hidden Gems...

2016 Faulkner-Fest is now done. We didn't go to the actual conference, but we did our own thing. 

It was actually easier this time, because we knew what we were doing. We ate, for the majority of the spots, in farm-to-table places. 

It's likely to be our last Faulkner Fest; Kid #2 is eager to go to other places, and I've enjoyed my time as travel partner, but it's time. 

I truly love both of my kids. I mean real visceral intense kind of love for beings that turned out, in spite of my own indifferent parenting, to be amazing adults. They're smart; intelligent (two vastly different properties, you know); compassionate; realistic; and caring. And I enjoy spending time with them. 

Traveling with Kid #2 is always a treat. Next year, it's going to be a visit to Kid #1, who now lives near the Smokey Mountains. He's eager to show me his life and it's going to be a great trip. 

There'll be a regular slew of pictures as we go forward over the next few posts. 

Giant City State Park...

Who knew this existed? Kid #2 found it. One of my students said that we missed "arguably the best fried chicken on the entire planet" but we were there in the morning, and lunch was several hours away. 

The lodge is gorgeous. Reminiscent of Starved Rock State Park, up in Utica, but no hotel. There are, instead, cabins, ranging from "luxury" to "lucky you have walls." It's all in what you expect - what level of camping or "glamping" you prefer. 

Me? I'm all about the "glamp." I sweated enough with the walking and the fact that we were far too far South... heat and humidity aren't my friends. 

So back to this part of the trip... There's a bison. No petting. Steps are hewn from timbers. The windows are the original hand-rolled glass. I bet it's gorgeous in the fall and in the winter, if there's snow. 

This park is part of the Shawnee National Forest, and we found it almost by accident because we weren't sure what we wanted to do. Our first day is usually "drive to a certain point, and spend the night, then find something to do." 

We spent the night in Marion, IL. Because Cairo (pronounced KAY-ro -- it's an Illinois thing...) is a depressed area, we were only actually going there to visit the Library and the Custom House. We thought about Ft. Defiance, with the confluence of two rivers, but then we found Giant City. 

We found a couple of trails that we thought we could knock out before going on. 

The first one, we turned back after about 4 yards - spiders as far as the eye could see. Thanks. No. So we went on the other one, seeking the Balance Rock and Giant City. You'll see why they call it Giant City in a moment...

Because Kid #2 had forgotten his camera batteries, he had control of my "real" camera. These are all shots I took from my phone. 

For the record, it was about 90* out with humidity somewhere near 95%. And not much breeze. Thankfully, lots of tree cover! 

Giant City was "made" by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), and in some of the areas, the workers carved their names into the rocks. I don't mind that kind of memorial. And I think, in many ways, we need the CCC back! Especially in light of states cutting budgets for parks and the free things you can do with your families. 

As you can see here, J.L. Parker was one of the workers pre-CCC... That's 1887. It was fascinating to see the various names and dates. Brings up the question of what's "history" and what's "vandalism." Here's an easy answer... Mr. Parker's name is something I'd consider as history. And some of the workers who carved their names in, with their CCC affiliation - those are also history. 


But then there's modern man. Kid #2 said, "Don't look at this..." and at first I thought it was something obscene. Well, it was. But not THAT kind of obscene. The bright yellow paint is "stupid human obscene." And sadly, there were a few of those. More than a few. 


This is where a "new" CCC could help - they could provide jobs, and clean up the idiocy. 

We had initially thought of taking 3 trails. Honestly, at the end of this one, which was labeled "moderate" but then in the brochure, "rugged," we were dripping wet and exhausted. It's not that we're not fit. We're not marathoners, but we're not slugs either. But the heat and humidity was a precursor to what we were going to find later as we got nearer to Oxford, MS. We laughingly called this our "training ground." 

We looked at each other and almost simultaneously said, "You know, I'm good here."

The rock formations were intriguing. The colors were vivid and the delineations were clear. If I knew more about geology, I could tell you more. But I don't. I appreciate the beauty. I appreciate the light and the shade. I appreciate the birds singing. The bees lazily pottering among the wildflowers. The sound of the leaves in the slight breeze that was that day. 


As we got farther down the trail, we began to understand, in spite of the pictures in the Visitor's Center, what they meant by Giant City. The formations got more and more muscular. More and more intimidating in a way. More and more God-placed-this-rock kind of feeling. 

It became less about what the CCC did and more about what they found as they were doing it. 

These formations gave you the impression that you were in an ancient city. And that at some point, you'd come across other people, perhaps marketing, or visiting, or going to or from some errand. 

There was no evidence of any other human being on the trail. We thought we'd come across others because there were people staying at the cabins, but we were alone on the route. Thinking about it, it was probably better that way. 

We walked along quietly, pointing out the various formations and plants. No chattering on cell phones. No rushing. No loud conversations and boisterous groups of people who were just "checking something off the tourist list" rather than actually sitting or walking or being in the space. 

Neither of us is anti-social. We both have jobs that require us to be "on" when we're working. Jobs that require us to be around people in various situations - for me, both good and bad. I enjoy my yoga students. I don't always enjoy my day job because it's very stressful and sometimes I have to tell people things they don't want to hear. I get yelled at sometimes, when the judge rules differently than what someone expects. Or when the lawyers haven't gotten back to them quickly enough. Or with the answer they want. 

My way to recharge is to be silent. As silent as I can be. 

My mom used to joke that I had "an anvil in [your] rear end" because I can sit for a long time and not speak or move. Meditation must have been meant for me from my youth!

This trip, especially in this spot, I was very appreciative of Kid #2's ability to be quiet. 

One of the more interesting spots is here... a before-and-after shot... This is the "before." I was supposed to go through this spot. Now, I'm not huge. But I am a tad claustrophobic. 

That splash of red on the other side is Kid #2. The big rock is perched on top of that little tip of rock. And there's a very tight set of rocks on either side. 


I took a deep breath, let it out and then focused on the other side... 

This shot here IS the other side, looking back. 

Gotta love those "accidental bucket list" items. I never thought I'd have found this kind of place. I never thought I'd find this kind of peace in this kind of place. 

I enjoyed this spot, and I would go back again - perhaps in much cooler weather - and tackle a few of those other trails. 

Random Picture...

So normally there'd be a cute dog picture or a picture of my garden. The garden, by the way, is going nuts. The veggies are insanely healthy. The herbs -- I have to figure out how to make infused vinegar or oil because we have far too much than we can use in a year!

But the flowers are a bit wilty. The heat's doing them no favors. There's a notable absence of butterflies, but lots of bees and wasps. Not a fan...

Anyway, as we left the park, I looked up. You know I love sky pictures. And here's a beauty. 

When you go on a trip, look at your local park system. Find something that you haven't heard of. Look around and see what's there. You'll find hidden gems each time. 

I guarantee it.