Landed in Waco, Texas


Well, I’ve landed. I’ve landed in Waco and I hope I can stay in one place for a little while.

In March I accepted a new position as Collections Assistant at the Texas Ranger Hall of Fame & Museum, and moved from Richmond up to Waco. They haven’t gotten rid of me  yet, in fact they even seem to like me! And I like my new job (as my friends and family can tell – I’m always posting pictures of the interesting things I see in the course of my work). From meeting donors, researchers, and real life Texas Rangers, to handling historic firearms and photographs, and learning about things like the role of the Texas Rangers in the killing of Bonnie and Clyde, and more recent events like the 1993 Branch Davidian siege – my work is interesting.

And from my new home base in Waco, I’ve continued to explore more of Texas. I’ve been hitting more of the state parks on the weekends, including Garner State Park and Dinosaur Valley State Park. Garner State Park is the furthest west that I have been in Texas so far – it’s about 100 miles further west from San Antonio! And Dinosaur Valley is so called because of the dinosaur footprints that have been fossilized and preserved in the bed of the Paluxy River. Besides the footprints, lounging in a river is a great activity for hot Texas summer days. And there have plenty of hot days, today’s high is 107F!

And I got to escape home for a weekend, for a friend’s wedding. Unfortunately, its always too brief whenever I go home. But what can you do? Home is the best.

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Welcome to Another Year of Crazy


I had intended to write this before the new year rolled in, but here it is mid-January and I’m finally getting around to it. Last year was weird. I mean, there were some great things and some not so great things, as usually happens. But last year was particularly weird, and I feel the need to tell you about it!

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Farewell from my Art Institute co-workers Jan. 2017.

In January, I quit my job at the Art Institute of Chicago to accept a job as the Educator at the Confederate Reunion Grounds State Historic Site in Mexia, Texas, a town of 7500 people. It sounds like an odd choice, but I saw it as a career opportunity. From my journal, January 11th, 2017: “God has blessed me with what I asked for (a job), but I’m sure he also has many things to teach me through this next season of my life.” Oh, how could I have known everything that was in store for me this year!

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Mom and Dad visit for the Civil War reenactment, and my birthday April 2017.

By February I was moved down to Texas, started my new job, and was hit with a wave of culture shock! As I slowly settled in, I had my first visitors come to stay, and started to explore more of Texas, going to San Antonio, Nacogdoches, and College Station. In April I conquered my first major event at work, a Civil War reenactment and living history weekend, which Mom and Dad came down for. I also celebrated my 30th birthday with the lovely ladies from my Sunday School class at church, who have been such a blessing to me. In May, I wrote this in my journal: “I believe the Lord is leading me on a great journey, a big part of which was my rock-bottom days of last year, and my shifting attitudes, and my leap of faith to my new life here in Texas. And this Sunday school class has been a part of it too! To know that I keep failing because I try to do it all on my own! Now to learn what it is to abide in Christ.”

At the end of July, I had the awful and humiliating shock of being fired from my new job. Two days afterwards, I wrote this: “I can’t sum up what has happened this week, and I don’t even want to. I have been rudely and unfairly fired from my job, had all kinds of negative things said about me, and no one was willing to stick their neck out for me. I was doing a good job, and anyone I’ve heard from has said so. My boss just didn’t like me and was looking for reasons or opportunities to fire me. But WHY?”

In August I struggled with my new circumstances and started looking for another job, but also took time to get away. I went camping in the Texas hill country, and spent time on the beach at North Padre Island, only weeks before Hurricane Harvey made landfall in Texas. In fact, I traveled a ton. In September I went to London and Paris, and spent a week with my good friend Esme. In October my brother came down to visit, and we had fun spending time together and exploring Dallas and Waco. In November, I flew to Florida, to spend a week with my cousin Bonnie and her family, and got to spend some more time on the beach! Finally, I became “Aunt Rachel” on November 24th, when Brian and Jessica welcomed baby Fiona into the world. What a blessing!

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Holding my adorable niece Fiona!

I went home for the Christmas holidays, and treasured seeing many friends and family. But the new year saw me packing up all my belongings (somewhat un-enthusiastically), and heading on another adventure. I’ve accepted a position as a Collections and Interpretation Intern for the Fort Bend History Association in Richmond, Texas, which includes the Fort Bend Museum, and the George Ranch Historical Park. While I’m still praying for a full-time job, this gives me a place to live, a new region to explore, and more museum experience to gain. Now, instead of 1000 miles from home, I am 1117 miles away! Not that it makes much of a difference (except in the weather – wheeee).

I was going to say something slightly cheesy about all the lessons I’ve learned in the past year, but I won’t, for two reasons. For one, it should go without saying that you learn more when things are hard than when things are easy. And two, I wouldn’t say the hard is nearly over – my unemployment benefits have just been revoked, and I discovered what it’s like to have all your pipes freeze in a south Texas ice storm! But this past year has made me far more resilient, and I’m sure that will serve me well in the future.

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Checking out the new area at Brazos Bend State Park.

Civil War Living History & Reenactment 2017


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I thought I would present you this small assortment of pictures from the Civil War Living History and Reenactment event at Confederate Reunion Grounds last month (as if you hadn’t already seen enough pictures, if you follow me on Facebook). Between School Day on the Friday, and public days Saturday to Sunday, I kept pretty busy, with over a thousand people passing through our gates! The reenactment is a popular annual event with some of the local schools, home-schoolers, and loyal reenactors who say they come every year. While I spent too much time stuck at the gift shop tent, my favorite parts of the event were meeting some of the educators, seeing the costumes and watching the dancing at the Reenactors’ Ball, seeing men get silly during the battle reenactment (“go back to hell you scavengers!!”), buying both a Union and Confederate cap (I’m an opportunist, like a carpetbagger), and having my family there to see my first major event here as Educator at the Confederate Reunion Grounds.

Thanks to everyone for coming or participating, and until next year, you scalawags!

 

Castroville Texas and The San Antonio Mission Trail by bike


This has been an exciting couple of weeks! From friends visiting from Madison WI, and taking them to the Fort Worth Stockyards Historic District, to a work trip down to Landmark Inn State Historic Site in Castroville TX, and extending my trip for a day in San Antonio, it’s been a lot of fun – and a lot of driving.

The Texas Frontier Family Day at Landmark Inn was an ideal opportunity to help out at a Texas Historical Commission (THC) event, before our big Civil War reenactment event at the Confederate Reunion Grounds in April. Landmark being the only site that also operates as a bed and breakfast, I got to stay at the inn for the event. Beautiful! There were living history reenactors, demonstrations like lace making and log cabin construction, live music, and a camp-cooked lunch for the volunteers.

I was able to extend my trip to include a day in San Antonio, and one of my fellow educators from the THC was kind enough to show me around. After a nice tour of Casa Navarro State Historic Site, I borrowed a bike and we visited the San Antonio Mission Trail via the San Antonio River. After that, I have to agree that there is no better way to see the missions than by bike!

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Since I didn’t take photos along the river path while I was biking (because I was busy biking, obviously), this stock image of the river path will have to do. From where we started in downtown, all the way to the furthest mission, is 10 miles. So after a 20 mile bike-ride (there and back) I’d say I was pretty tired and sunburned.

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Here are pictures of the missions:

After a long day of sun and bike-riding, it was almost too perfect that a street festival was going on in the downtown Market Square. So we enjoyed some street food, churros, agua fresca, and Tejano music, and watched some impromptu dancing in front of the stage. I can see more trips to San Antonio in my future…

Wanderings in Central Texas


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Blooming wildflowers in old oil fields near Mexia, Texas

This blog was always meant to be a chronicle of my travels, and virtual connection to my friends and family in distant places. Now that I have made the monumental move from Chicago to Texas, this connection seems more important than ever. And so, after my first month living in this strange country (indeed, the state slogan is “It’s like a whole other country”), I’m learning lots of new things.

One of which is that driving an hour or more for anything is totally normal in Texas. And if I want entertainment, I have to drive somewhere. So, one of my first ventures was to the historic city of Corsicana. Nothing particularly out of the ordinary here, but the downtown has that old “Main Street America” look to it, and there’s an antique or thrift store around every corner. Believe me, I had a good ole’ time checking out every single one.

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The 1908 City Jail in Corsicana, which seems to be a private residence now

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Public projects in downtown Corsicana – once a burned out building, now a cozy courtyard

But I did something even more interesting on my way back home… As you might know, I am big into historic cemeteries, and I had read something about the grave of a famous blues guitarist in the vicinity, so I had to check it out. The man was known as Blind Lemon Jefferson, and was a talented and influential blues singer and guitarist in the 1920s, eventually being buried back near his little hometown of Wortham, Texas upon his death.

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Historical marker and gravesite of Blind Lemon Jefferson

The strange thing to me was the shabby state of the cemetery itself, and it’s proximity to the larger and better kept Wortham Cemetery right next door. It seemed like most of the markers were pretty old, with some falling over, and surely some covered over with tall grass. I figured it out soon enough; this was the Negro Cemetery.

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Inside the Blind Lemon Memorial Cemetery

Never in my previous experience have I come across a separate cemetery for African Americans. I suppose its just my ignorance, or this is simply a more common sight in the South. This same day, I heard about a Jewish cemetery in Corsicana, because of a bizarre story about a Jewish tight-rope walker that was buried there. I think all of this murky history will keep me busy for a while…

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The oldest grave I found, with the Wortham Cemetery in the background

Fort Sheridan and Openlands Lakeshore Preserve


This weekend was a welcome taste of warmer weather to come, and anyone who was wise took advantage of it! We did as well, by doing some hiking and exploring along Chicago’s north shore. I’ve been to Fort Sheridan and the Openlands Lakeshore Preserve before, but it was significantly more pleasant this time around, with nearly 60 degree weather.

I decided to do a bit of research about the history of Fort Sheridan as well. The site was originally established as a French trading post, conveniently connecting Chicago to Wisconsin. But nothing much happened here until Fort Sheridan was established in the 1880s, as a military post to “keep the peace” for the rapidly growing city of Chicago (read “suppressing labor unrest”). It was named after a certain General Sheridan, hence the name.

And so the site was developed into a well-equipped military base, designed by the architectural firm Holabird & Roche (they designed some of Chicago’s first “skyscrapers”, like the Marquette building). The focal point of the complex still seems to be the 200+ foot water tower, seen in the picture here. I look at it and think, is it really just a water tower? I guess so…

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The Holabird & Roche designed water tower at Fort Sheridan

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I’m always one for a good placard!

The rest of the area were homes for officers and their families, barracks, mess hall and stables, all clustered around a large parade ground. And while Fort Sheridan played a major role in both world wars, and conflicts both before and after, the Fort was officially closed in 1993. There are still military goings-on around here, but the historic neighborhood now seems like a pretty desirable neighborhood for non-military residents. A condo or townhome goes for about half a million or more here.

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The Romanesque architecture of nearly all of the Fort Sheridan homes.

The Openlands Lakeshore Preserve is just a small section of lakefront property adjacent to Fort Sheridan that has been under restoration the last few years. The ecosystem is supposedly rare and unique in Illinois, but still in need of ongoing restoration. But, with the trail running along a high bluff over the shoreline, the beauty of getting such an elevated glimpse of Lake Michigan is what really makes it for me. Now, I just have to make it back here during summer…

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Openlands Lakeshore Preserve along Lake Michigan, Highland Park, IL