Wednesday, October 18, 2017

College Reunion

Jim's fraternity had a reunion last weekend in conjunction with the Iowa State vs. Kansas football game. We drove up to Ames on Friday, arriving in time to check into our hotel and freshen up before going to the Iowa State University Alumni Building to meet up with the guys and their significant others. Some people we had not seen in nearly 40 years, while others we met as recently as the Total Eclipse in August. It was great to catch up, and it helped that I am Facebook friends with a number of them. It certainly makes it easier to break the ice.

Alpha Sigma Phi
While we had beautiful weather on the drive up to Iowa, all of that changed once we got to Ames. There was a gentle mist on Friday night, but Saturday's forecast was 100% chance of rain. And rain it did. We tailgated with the group at the motor home of one of the fraternity brothers before heading to our seats. The last thing you want to hear on a crappy day is the announcement of a 30 minute start time. Fortunately we had heard the forecast and came somewhat prepared, but even with some rain gear on it was not the most fun I've ever had. We watched the first half of the game and enjoyed the halftime entertainment before taking off for somewhere dry and warm for a late lunch. Iowa State was leading 24-0 at that point. The final score of the game was 45-0. Wow!

Meredith Mansion
After lunch we drove to Des Moines with another couple, meeting up with some friends who live in the area. Jim and I spent Sunday walking (or perhaps I should say driving) down memory lane. We found the school where I attended kindergarten, stopped by Holy Trinity which was our home parish and where I went to school 1st-7th grades, and checked out Meredith and Hoover where I spent 8th-12th grades. Then we drove to St. Mary of Nazareth, where my family attended church when the new parish was established in 1964 on 11 acres of what had been Meredith (of Meredith Publishing Company) farm. This is where Jim and I were married, and had our reception in what was once the Meredith family mansion.

Des Moines house
We also visited my old home and stopped at nearby Woodlawn Park where I spent so many hours first as a child and later with my niece and nephews or children I was babysitting. The house has been repainted and the park totally redone. It all goes to show that while you can go home again, home may not look like you remember it.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Worldwide Photowalk 2017

Before getting to Worldwide Photowalk day, I have to mention that the opening play at the Fox Theatre this year is The Bodyguard. As much as I enjoyed the film version starring Whitney Houston and Kevin Costner, I had a hard time thinking that a theater performance could come close to replicating the movie. I was so wrong. This production is magical, with phenomenal dancing, singing and acting. I think I summed it up best in my tweet, "The Bodyguard is a concert within a play!"

Saturday was Worldwide Photowalk day. This was the tenth year in a row that professional photographer Scott Kelby from Florida has encouraged photographers from around the world to get together to walk, shoot photos and have fun with other photographers. I had never heard of it before, but one of the gals in our Women in Focus group signed up to be a group leader in St. Louis, and set up a walk at the National Museum of Transportation.

Jim decided to come with me since it would be a mixed group of photographers and not just women from my group. There were 15 of us at the museum, shown in the picture which was taken by a passing stranger. While I knew a few of them, many I met for the first time. What a nice group of people!

At the museum, we all kind of went our own ways to take pictures. I had not been to the museum in years, and was surprised by how much more has been added since the last time I was there. For the $8 admission fee, you certainly get to see a lot of cars, trains, bicycles, a couple boats and even a plane. Twelve of us met again at the entrance at noon and headed out to eat. Amazingly, we found a restaurant that could seat us, despite the fact that it was lunchtime on a Saturday. Jim and I hope to do more meetups with these photographers in the future.

National Museum of Transportation

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

A Pickleball Festival

3rd Shot's a Charm
The first ever pickleball festival took place in Merriam, Kansas (a suburb of Kansas City) last weekend. On Facebook there is a group known as Pickleball Forum, with members from all over the world. The guy who set up the group had stated that when the forum reached 10,000 members, he was going to hold an event so that people could meet face to face. He lived up to his claim, creating the 3rd Shot's a Charm Pickleball Festival. I talked it up with some of my friends who play at the Salvation Army, and four of us signed up to attend the three day event. In the end, 140 attendees from 22 states (including Hawaii), Canada, England and even Serbia descended on Merriam.

The $135 registration fee included three days of pickleball from 8 in the morning until 9 at night, two nights of local food and entertainment, and a tour of Kansas City aboard a double decker bus. Franklin Sports was the sole sponsor of the event, and each attendee received a pickleball bag, three balls, a new paddle, a small towel, a pickleball keychain, and a festival t-shirt. Incredible!
Our group drove over on Thursday, stopping for lunch at Maggie's Bar & Grill in Boonville prior to our scheduled tour of nearby Warm Springs Ranch. The ranch is a 300-acre facility that is the birthplace of every Budweiser clydesdale seen on television, in parades, at Grant's Farm and the Anheuser-Busch breweries. Walking tours are offered twice a day from March through October. Currently it costs $14 for adults to take the ninety-minute tour, which can be scheduled and paid for online at the Warm Springs Ranch website.

The grounds, as you might imagine, are beautiful and immaculate. Our tour guides were knowledgeable as well as funny. Oh, and like most if not all of their other tours, you get two free beers at the end of the tour. While the best time to see a newborn is in the spring or early summer, we were lucky enough to be able to meet five day old Rave and his mother Ria. Rave will hold the distinction of being the last baby born in 2017. So cute!
Warm Springs Ranch
After we checked into our rooms in Merriam on Thursday, we grabbed dinner at a nearby restaurant before going into the World Gym to check out the facility. It was actually easy walking distance from our hotel, which was great as we only had one car for four of us. Twelve indoor tennis courts had been converted for pickleball, I suspect before this festival was even a thought. The facility was large enough to accommodate this group, and had an outdoor area where the food/music could be held. While it was a tad stuffy in the building due to the fact that it is a dome and the days were pretty warm, overall it was a good, central location to hold the event.
World Gym
On Friday we took a midday break from pickleball to visit the National WWI Museum and Memorial in Kansas City. Designated by Congress in 2004 as the official U.S. WWI museum, the 80,000 square-foot center is dedicated to remembering and understanding the Great War and its impact on the entire globe. It holds the most diverse collection of WWI objects and documents in the world, and thus requires a good amount of time to due it justice. It is well worth a visit.
National WWI Museum and Memorial
It was back to pickleball after visiting the museum, followed by the included meal of Kansas City barbecue accompanied by a jazz band. None of us were up for more pickleball after that, so we had a rousing game of Five Crowns back at the hotel.

Saturday morning I played a few games of pickleball after breakfast while the rest of my group rested up for the 11:00 bus tour. I met up with them after a quick shower, and we headed to the top of the double decker bus. Thankfully we did not need to take the interstate to get downtown, so other than ducking for a few low lying branches and the excitement of our bus slightly hitting another bus along the route (whoops!), it was a fun trip.
double decker bus tour of Kansas City
We grabbed lunch when we got back, and then it was off for more pickleball. The dinner that evening included grilled burgers and hot dogs with all the sides while a band played tunes from the 60s, 70s and 80s. They were great, and had the crowd out on the dance floor. We ended our evening with more Five Crowns.

Sunday morning we were all too pooped to play pickleball, and we had the drive home ahead of us. We did stop for a look at a relatively new facility just north of Kansas City with the unusual name of Chicken N Pickle. Looking to capitalize on the fastest growing sport in America, the site contains four indoor and four outdoor pickleball courts, along with a shop, restaurant, bar and numerous outdoor games such as ping pong, washers, and a large battleship game. The music was blaring, and families were having a great time with their kids. All the games are free except for pickleball, and I can see what the draw might be. It's an interesting concept, and it will be fun to see if a franchise comes out of it.
Chicken N Pickle
me with the Big Dill
What an amazing weekend we had. Everyone was friendly and kind at the festival, and there to have fun - not be overly competitive. It was great to get away with the gals, and see some sights as well. Hopefully this will become an annual event.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Garden Parties

Last week was a little busy, from a social standpoint. On the 17th we attended Chefs in a Garden, an annual fundraiser that supports Gateway Greening. Chefs from numerous venues in the area are charged with preparing a dish utilizing locally grown produce. The offerings are always unique, to say the least. The Four Seasons Hotel does a great job of hosting the event. Plus we all got designer water on our way out.
Chefs in a Garden
Tuesday was the SWT Design Garden party to show off the completed renovation of our third building. Though it was over 90 degrees outside, the shade and a slight breeze made it bearable. There was a nice turnout, though I had to leave around 6:00 to get back to our house as I had 15 women coming over at 7:00.

The gal who started the Women in Focus photography group in St. Louis is moving to Las Vegas, so instead of our normal monthly meeting at the library, I had suggested having a going away party at our place. I had pretty much everything ready ahead of time. I just need to throw together the sangria I was making. I had just tied the balloons out front when the first guests arrived. Several people brought drinks or appetizers to share, so we had plenty of food and beverages. I had a cake made at Schnucks, and it turned out so cute! It was a bittersweet night as we will miss Tiffany very much. But we are excited to see what life brings her way in Nevada.
Women in Focus
Thursday I played pickleball in the morning, and then that evening I went to Forest Park for some pickleball drills. That was a lot of pickleball in one day, but I know I need to practice if I want to improve my game.

cover as approved
Sunday I had breakfast with a friend to first of all catch up, but also to review the galleys of her new book. I provided the photographs for it, including a design for the front cover. The publishing company made a minor modification to the cover, and we both thought it looked great. Diane approved the cover weeks ago, so imagine our surprise and disappointment when the galley had the wrong cover on it! We also have some concerns about how the designer laid out some pages in terms of how the text interacts with the photos, but they may or may not take our critique under advisement. They are the publisher, after all. Hopefully they will at least address a couple of the bigger issues. I am eager to see the book in print, although it will be in black and white so the photos don't shine as much. The ebook version will be in color though, so that's cool. It is a pretty big thrill to see my name listed on the cover!

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Grizzly Ridge

Last night we attended a donor's event at the St. Louis Zoo to celebrate the new exhibit, Grizzly Ridge. The exhibit opens to the public on Friday, but donors got a sneak peak. Jim's company, SWT Design, is not only a donor to the zoo but also was part of the design team for this project. It was a beautiful evening, and the donors came out in droves to see the two new grizzly cubs, Huckleberry and Finley. The two sibling cubs were left orphaned when their mother was killed in July of 2016 by Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks Service for being a menace to domestic animals and a threat to humans.

The cubs were taken in by ZooMontana until the exhibit in St. Louis was recently completed. They could not keep the cubs as they currently have two adult males in their zoo, and they were concerned the males would not accept the youngsters. In the interim, they alternated the times that the bears were in the outside space so that the adults would never be in the same area at the same time as the cubs. I'm not sure exactly when the bears arrived in St. Louis, but they probably quarantined them for at least 30 days before letting them into their new enclosure. They were allowed in the outdoor space on Wednesday the 12th in preparation for their debut on the 13th. As mentioned above, the Centene Grizzly Ridge opens to the public on the 15th of this month.

Grizzly Ridge
The new grizzly space is very nice, complete with a waterfall and pool for the bears to swim in. The glass surrounding the space allows ample opportunities to view the bears. But as someone who takes lots of pictures, I have to say that I miss the old space where glass did not interfere with photography. Just for fun, here's a photo of the bear exhibit that my father took in 1943 when he was stationed at Jefferson Barracks for training.

St. Louis Zoo 1943
commemorative bears
Following a buffet dinner at the zoo, we were free to wander around a bit so we caught some of the antics of the popular polar bear. As it began to get to dark, we headed back to Living World to exit to our car. Everyone received a commemorative stuffed bear on their way out. It was so cute I could hardly bear it - ha!

Sunday, September 10, 2017

See You in September

Last week our daughter flew into St. Louis with a co-worker, who happens to be from Kazakhstan. As I was unfamiliar with that country, I had to look it up. It is a central Asian country that used to be part of the soviet republic. One of the things that is so intriguing about where our daughter works is the fact that many of the employees are from other parts of the world. How wonderful to be exposed to all those different cultures!

St. Louis Arch
They only spent one day in St. Louis, so we went to see Jim's office before going downtown to look at all the new projects. The girls went up in the arch while I hustled back to my car to move out of a two hour parking zone. The next morning the gals took off in a rental car to drive to New Orleans for the holiday weekend. Oh, to be young again...

Jim and I took off for Iowa to visit his family. We had a very nice weekend getting caught up with his parents and sister. When we arrived back in St. Louis on Tuesday, September 5th the timing worked for us to pick the girls up at the car rental location near the airport. Early the next morning, we took them back to the airport to return to LA. While our time with them was short, we had a lot of fun.

We have a heptacodium miconioides, or seven-son flower, shrub growing on the north side of our house. I've always enjoyed the late summer blooms and the peeling bark on this plant, but this year the shrub gave me another reason to love it. The painted lady butterflies have arrived in droves. In addition to all the bees, the plant is alive with color and movement. I've never seen anything like it outside of a butterfly conservatory. The beauty is very calming in light of all the devastation the hurricanes are causing throughout the world. I continue to pray for all of those affected by the storms.

painted lady butterflies

Monday, August 28, 2017

Visiting the Sunflower State

We had a wedding to attend in Colwich, Kansas over the weekend. Upon further planning for the trip, we realized that it would be too far to drive in one day considering that we were not getting out of St. Louis until 2:30 on Friday. We went as far as Kansas City and spent the night with Jim's sister and her fiancé. It was a quick visit, but it was nice to catch up with them both before continuing on our way at 10:00 Saturday morning.

We arrived at our hotel in Maize, Kansas (a northern suburb of Wichita) at 1:00, and fortunately they had our room ready so we were able to freshen up before heading over to Colwich at 1:30. That was a short drive of 4.5 miles, so we arrived in plenty of time for the 2:00 ceremony. Held at the Catholic church in town, the service lasted 1.5 hours and was the most traditional mass we have attended since the '70s.

The reception was held in the parish hall, so we just had to walk next door. It was a very nice event, and we got to see a totally different side of the priest. Still dressed in his black cassock, he sure could cut a rug on the dance floor! He knew all the dance steps as well as the words to the songs. It was fun to watch him. We might have spent a bit of time in the photo booth as well.
wedding fun
When I looked out our hotel room window the next morning, I was treated to the site of three hot air balloons floating across the golden sky! I looked for Dorothy and Toto, but they were nowhere to be found.
hot air balloons
Following breakfast, we drove to Derby, Kansas to see one of Jim's projects. Though it took us about 50 miles out of our way, it was nice to see as Jim had not been there since completion. From there we went to Baldwin City to have lunch with one of Jim's motorcycle riding buddies. Jimmy is a police officer in Lawrence, and while I have met him many times I had not yet met his wife. I'm glad we had the chance to change that.
Derby project
We then took a quick stop at JoEllen's house again as we had forgotten our cooler and ice packs there when we left Saturday. It wasn't too much out of the way, and we'll need those for our next trip. Then we finally got on the road for home. Unfortunately we had rain for 2/3 of that journey, but despite the ugly clouds nothing severe happened.
Kansas clouds
We put nearly 1,000 miles on the car over 3 days, and that is a bit much for my liking. But seeing family, friends and celebrating the next chapter in the lives of a great young couple made it worthwhile.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Total Eclipse of My Heart

Living in an area that would be experiencing a total solar eclipse on August 21, for the past few months the news and my Facebook feed were filled with stories and information about the first total solar eclipse to hit the continental U.S. in 38 years. For those of us in the greater St. Louis area, the last total eclipse was in 1442! So it was kind of a big deal, to say the least.

But before experiencing the eclipse, Jim and I celebrated our 39th wedding anniversary on the 19th. Our friends, Kathy and Paul, traveled to the area from Minnesota for the eclipse and spent the weekend with us before heading off to a relative's lake home in Illinois. It was special for us that they were here on Saturday as they sang at our wedding all those years ago. In addition to visiting, we explored the new green space downtown as well as the beauty of the Missouri Botanical Garden. It was a great weekend!
wedding anniversary
For the eclipse we were invited to a friend's lake house located about 45 minutes away. There were reports of how horrific traffic would be following the eclipse, and that coupled with the fact that I wanted to be able to play with my cameras during the event cemented my decision to stay home. While our house would only experience 1 minute and 16 seconds of totality as opposed to the 2 minutes the lake house would get, other factors weighed in on the decision to have a friend over and do things my way.

Mirassou Moscato
I had taken a class at a local photography class on how to photograph the eclipse, but I decided not to invest $110 on a solar filter that I would only use once. That being the case, the only safe time for me to take a photo of the eclipse was during totality. That was fine - I just wanted to experience the solar eclipse and not be viewing it through a camera lens.

I chilled a bottle of Moscato for "toastality", and Diane and I enjoyed a nice lunch inside before sitting on my front porch to enjoy the show. While it was hot out, a couple of fans cooled us between the times we ventured out of the shade to safely view the moon's progress through our eclipse glasses. As totality drew near, I set up a small video recorder, not directed at the sun, to record the changes in light and sound. Unfortunately a neighbor's dusk to dawn lights came on and messed up my light sensor, so that was a bust. Looking down at the ground, the appearance of moon crescents through the leaves of the trees was fascinating to see.

moon shadows
total solar eclipse
During totality the temperature dropped about 5 degrees, the birds silenced and the cicadas started chirping. Removing my glasses, I took a quick shot of the moon. I have no idea why my moon picture is white as all the others I have seen are black with a white ring. I would say that I blew the photo out, yet it is curious that you can see a couple of craters on the moon. It's a unique shot, at any rate.

For all the hype surrounding this eclipse, I can honestly say that it was totality worth it!

Monday, August 14, 2017

Those Lazy Hazy Crazy Days of Summer

peach jam
Summer is winding down in my neck of the woods, perhaps sooner than normal as we have been blessed with temperatures in the 80s during the day and 60s overnight. Peaches are abundant right now, so I decided to try my hand at making peach jam. For the first batch, I made five jars of peach and five jars of a peach/blackberry mix. As the peach turned out well (haven't tried the mixed jam yet), I made a second round of peach on Saturday. For whatever reason, the peaches did not ripen as much as I would have liked, which made them challenging to smash with the potato masher. Consequently, I'll have to say that the end result is more peach preserve than peach jam. But I'm okay with that. The flavor is still quite good.

St. Louis Zoo
Sunday morning I met my photographer friend Caren at the St. Louis Zoo. With temperatures in the 60s when we started out, it was a perfect time to experience the animals. Because it was a Sunday, the zoo was not yet crowded so we were able to stroll and photograph at our leisure for the first hour or so. By the time it got really crowded, we were ready to head out anyway.

I had yet to visit the Grace Taylor Broughton Sculpture Garden behind the St. Louis Art Museum, so we walked there next. It was slightly disappointing, to say the least. There are no paths leading to each sculpture so you have to walk on the grass. As the irrigation system had been on that morning, it was a soggy endeavor. And I have no idea how the project met ADA requirements as I can't imagine pushing a wheelchair (or a stroller, for that matter), let alone trying to maneuver a walker through the area. Over 400 hundred trees have been planted, some purportedly representing "rooms", but all I could see was too many trees planted too close together. There will be tree casualties due to this, and that is a shame. Perhaps they should consider using a local landscape architect next time, instead of bringing someone in from France.

Sculpture Garden
We then headed inside to have an early lunch at Panorama, the restaurant located inside the museum. This was my second time eating here, and I have found both the food and the service to be quite good. Caren and I had both parked in the open lot across from the museum when we arrived that morning, so it was an easy walk back to the cars following our meals. It was good to get out and photograph again. It's been too long since I have taken time to do that.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Moon River

Last weekend was the annual float trip for our company. The past several years it has taken place on the Huzzah River at a facility where we shared a cabin with another couple.  I am not a fan of sleeping on the ground anymore, especially in Missouri in August. The younger associates and their families pitched tents or brought campers along. This year the organizer selected a campground on the Niangua River near Lebanon, Missouri. Unfortunately, all the cabins and rooms in the lodge were already taken when our group signed up, so I called every motel in Lebanon only to find out that they were all booked as well. This was the first indication that the river would be packed with floaters on Saturday.

I am suspicious that all the campsites were already full when the organizer called, judging by where they ultimately put our group. Located by the porta-potties and the dump station for the RVs, I'm convinced that they created space for us once they found out how many were coming. It's all about the almighty buck, after all.

Still not interested in tent camping, ultimately I found a house for the four of us on AirBNB, and as it had a two night minimum during the summer, I booked us for Friday and Saturday nights. The house was perfect for two couples, and it backed up to a city park so it was nice to sit outside and enjoy coffee or another beverage. We drove separately from the other couple as we wanted to take some time to explore the area on Sunday and they needed to get back. We grabbed dinner to go in town and took it out to the campsite Friday night. Most of the group had arrived, with only a couple driving down on Saturday morning, so we sat around the fire until 10 or so before going back to our house.

Niangua River
Saturday morning dawned cloudy and cool, with a revised forecast of rain. By 10:30 we were on the water. Most of our group chose to float in individual kayaks, but a few had rafts or canoes as they had children or dogs with them. I have never seen so many people on a river before! It was packed, and a number of groups had their rafts tied together, creating logjams in the middle of the river and making it difficult to get around them when the channel narrowed. We were on the water maybe 10 minutes before the rain began. At first it was light, but then it poured. We kept thinking it would stop, but it never did. We later learned that they were expecting 4-6 inches of rain that day. The operators had no business sending anyone down the river on Saturday.

With the cool temperature, the rain was not refreshing, but we muddled along. When the thunder and lightning began, it got scary. Jim and I had long since separated from the others in our group as our thought process was to get the heck to the ending as quickly as possible. There was no safe area to leave the river mid-route. We were on the 6 mile float, which normally takes 4-6 hours to complete, depending on how often you stop. We pulled over under a tree for a short break, thinking we might be able to eat our lunches, but it was just too wet even under the tree. We grabbed a protein bar and gobbled that down, but we began to shiver uncontrollably as we were no longer exerting ourselves. We quickly got back in the kayaks and on our way.

Passing the 3 mile marker was very disheartening as we knew we were only halfway done. A lot of people pulled off there, so the river was more open for the second half of the journey. As I came up behind a raft, I saw a young man walking in the freezing river. That can only mean one thing - he was peeing. After he finished he belly flopped onto his raft, causing the other passengers to fly up in the air. Unfortunately that maneuver also caused his swimming trunks to come down. And that is how it came to pass that, despite the clouds, rain and the daylight hours, there was a full moon (as in VERY full) over the Niangua River on Saturday. And I had a front row seat, much to my dismay.

We finally reached the 6 mile marker and drug our soggy selves out of the water. We had paddled the route in 2.5 hours! Thankfully a bus was waiting, though it had all the windows open and no heat going despite the temperature being 59 degrees. Only the intern from our office, her dog and her boyfriend were on the bus from our group. The route back to the campsite was up steep hills on a barely-there, deeply eroded gravel road. The driver had to back down the hill one time to let another bus come down. My only thought was it was possible that we survived the lightning on the river only to die on the bus ride back to camp. We later heard that one of the buses slipped and tipped over, and another one hit a car on the way back.

As  we approached the campsite we were surprised to see that most of our group had either packed up and left, or were in the process of doing so as it was still pouring and predicted to do so throughout the night. How had they beat us back? As it turns out, they all got out at the 3 mile marker and hoped that a bus from our camp would take pity and come and get them. Indeed it did, but they waited 45 minutes in the cold and rain for it to show up. They actually did not get back to camp that much earlier than us.

Back at the house, a hot shower never felt so good. We ate our late lunch, then read or watched t.v. for the rest of the afternoon. That evening we found a really good Italian restaurant where we had dinner, and then played cards up until bedtime. Following breakfast the next morning, the other couple took off for home, and we went to Bennett Spring State Park. Neither of us had been there before, and we wanted to check it out and watch the fly fishing. Of course it had to rain on us there as well.

Bennett Spring State Park
In a fitting end to the weekend, we stopped at Uranus, Missouri, a tourist trap along I-44 where the jokes just seem to write themselves. What a hoot! The general store, in addition to containing the Uranus Fudge Factory, also sold nostalgic toys and candy in addition to fishing equipment, guns and ammo. There was even a shooting range in the back. One stop shopping...

Uranus, Missouri

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Kissing Cousins

My cousins in Cincinnati are absolutely the best, even if I feel like I eat my way through the city every time I go there. The family that I stayed with this visit always help me to push the envelope in terms of my palate. Friday night we went to Gomez Salsa, where they offer unique Mexican specialties such as their signature Turtle Shells. I had a burrito that could have fed at least two people. From there were went to the old fashioned ice cream parlor, Algamesis Bro's, which has been in business since 1908. It is no surprise, as the ice cream is delicious!

Gomez Salsa and Algamesis Bro's
Saturday morning we had breakfast at the house, and then my cousin and I went to the American Sign Museum in Cincinnati. What a fun find! It is located in 20,000 square feet of an old factory building, and covers more than a century of American signage. There are early, pre-electric signs adorned in gold leaf, some of the earliest electric signs, examples of beautiful art-deco neon signs, and modern plastic-faced signs. We were really enjoying ourselves except for the group of four families who had 12 kids in total. Those kids were out of control, running, yelling and climbing on the exhibits. Not only were the parents paying no attention, no one from the museum stopped the shenanigans either. When they finally left, the noise level dropped dramatically, and my cousin breathed a sigh of relief. I told her jokingly not to worry, they would show up at the next place we went. Ha, ha...or so I thought.

American Sign Museum
From there we went down to the riverfront as there has been a lot of development since the last time I walked in the area. Because it was 97 degrees and incredibly humid, we mostly did a drive by. But I can't wait to spend more time there when I go back in October. We hit Findlay Market next to pick up some dog food for their dog, and were debating whether to grab a bite to eat. We walked around to see if there were any tables available, and we heard a bunch of kids yelling and screaming. Guess who? Yep, our favorite families from the museum. We busted out laughing!

Margie, me and Betty
Margie and Marie
That afternoon there was a surprise party for my Aunt Margie, who turned 95 the previous day. She is my mom's younger sister, and one of two children still living from the family of eight kids. Her sister Betty turned 90 last month. Margie's sister-in-law Marie from her husband's side of the family will be 96 in September, and she is a hoot. All three of these women are a constant source of inspiration as they are active and living on their own. There are some incredible genes in these families, that is for sure. I believe there were around 40 people at the party, and we had a lot of fun and laughs.

Sunday another cousin met us for brunch at a dim sum restaurant. This was my first experience with this style of dining, and I really liked it. It was fun to hear the wait staff explain each dish as they brought it by, and then say yes or no to trying it. For me it was a good way to try various dishes that I would not have ordered on my own for fear of not liking it.

Then that evening we met yet another set of cousins for supper. There are always so many people I want to see when I go back to Cincinnati, that it is hard to fit everyone in. Fortunately there is a family reunion in October so my next visit I can see a slew of people in one spot.

Skyline Chili
Leaving Cincinnati the next morning, I stopped at a Kroger store to stock up on goetta. And in Kentucky I spied a Skyline Chili sign. As it was 11:00, I just had to stop for a taste of Skyline before I headed home since the Empress Chili I had while staying in Alexandria did not do it for me. As I said, I eat my way through Cincinnati when I visit there. Good thing it is only twice a year!

Friday, July 28, 2017

Looking for Hightowers

Last Wednesday I drove to Kentucky to look for my illusive Hightower family records. Just to break up the trip, I stopped in La Grange, Kentucky, which is just north of Louisville. I had seen the town listed on the website Roadside America. This website, by the way, is great if you are going on a road trip and want to stop and see oddities or attractions along the way. In fact, I use it to find interesting things to see around my own city. You enter the state where you will be traveling, and a list of attractions pops up. You can also look at a map view so you can see what is along your route.

La Grange, KY
La Grange has the distinction of being one of only a couple towns in the U.S. where trains come right down Main Street. So if you hear that train a comin', you better get the heck out of the way! La Grange is a pretty little place, and it was nice to get out and stretch my legs. But sadly, none of the 20 plus trains that pass through daily chose the time I was there to make an appearance.

Melbourne, KY
My final destination was Alexandria, where I would be visiting the Campbell County Historical Society as well as the Campbell County Clerk's office. I stayed at an AirBNB for two nights in nearby Melbourne. Of course I had to take a picture of the sign. Who gets to visit Melbourne twice in two months?

I found a great little diner in Alexandria for breakfast on Thursday morning, thanks to Yelp. TripAdvisor totally let me down this time. It showed no places to eat in Alexandria. The Spare Time Grill was just what I was looking for so I could get my goetta fix. I passed the time talking to the owner and his daughter while waiting for the historical society to open at 10:00.
Spare Time Grill
Campbell County Historical Society
At 10:00 on the dot I was on the front steps of the old Campbell County Courthouse. I believe that it was constructed in the 1840s, but was heavily remodeled in 1928. It is still an impressive building, nonetheless. On the second floor lies the collection of the Campbell County Historical and Genealogical Society.

There was one volunteer in the building, and she was extremely helpful. Many of their records are online, and I had searched their site extensively before coming on the trip. But family files and some church files are not online, so I looked through those. She helped me brainstorm other areas that I might look, and probably most importantly indicated what records would and would not be located at the other Campbell County Courthouse in Newport (yes, Campbell County has two courthouses, just to make things even more difficult and confusing), as well as the holdings of the Campbell County Library in Newport. She saved me a lot of time looking for genealogy love in all the wrong places.

county clerk's office
Unfortunately, I found nothing new in their archives, and she sent me on my way to the county clerk's office. Though mostly used for licensing cars and drivers, this office also has old documents such as marriage bonds, deeds, wills, etc. It's a rare situation in that you are allowed to pull the books off the shelves and look through them. As the shelving area was right across from the license renewal desk, there were interesting conversations for me to listen to as I looked through the materials. I will say that the staff was much more friendly and helpful than any of the license offices I have had to go into around here.  While I found deed information for the man who may or may not be my 4 times great-grandfather as well as some other Hightowers who may or may not be brothers of my 3 times great-grandfather Thompson Hightower, there was nothing to tie them all together definitively. I took scans of all the deeds just in case.

I did find the original the original marriage bond that was posted for Thompson Hightower and Elizabeth Hopper. Marriage bonds were popular in the 1700s and early 1800s. It was essentially a declaration of an intent to marry. The groom-to-be would go to the courthouse with a bondsman, typically the father or brother of the bride-to-be, and posted a bond indicating his intention to marry. No money was paid at the time of the posting, but if the marriage did not occur then the would-be groom would pay the amount stated on the bond, in this case 50 pounds.

Marriage Bond
The Campbell County bonds had been indexed and that index appears online, so I knew the substance of the document. The bondsman in this case was J.P. Piner, an uncle of Elizabeth's, with whom she had lived from the age of 6. I had assumed (and you know what they say about assuming) that her parents were deceased. I do not know their names, so I have no idea if Piner was her mother's brother, or he could have been a brother-in-law to either of Elizabeth's parents. But when I saw the original document, there was a hand-written note that stated Elizabeth's "father is willing that a marriage license might be issued..." Her father was alive in 1838! For whatever reason, he had not been able to care for Elizabeth since she was about 6. Maybe his wife was ill or deceased, or maybe he was simply too poor to take care of her. Either way, it gives me another clue in looking for her father. Too bad they didn't list his name.

The next morning I bid my AirBNB adieu and drove north to Newport. Here I found The World Peace Bell, one of more than 20 peace bells located around the world. It was the world's largest free swinging bell from 2000-2006. It weighs 66,000 pounds, is 12 feet in diameter and 12 feet high. I found out about it through the above-mentioned Roadside America. It was pretty impressive to see, though I did not hear it ring while I was in the area.
World Peace Bell
After I grabbed a quick lunch in Newport, I went to the Campbell County Library, which had little genealogical information, and then headed over to Covington. The Kenton County Library has a lot of good stuff, but I have spent quite a bit of time there in the past. This visit I was focused on seeing if I could find out anything about the Baptist churches that were in the area in 1838 as I had found that Thompson Hightower and Elizabeth Hopper were married by a Baptist minister. Unfortunately the Baptists are not as organized as the Catholics, so I struck out there as well. It was time to get the heck out of dodge, and so I traveled across the river to Cincinnati, where I spent the rest of the weekend with my cousins and aunts. More on that in the next post.