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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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

Five reasons to get outside!


Since about this time last year I have been involved (on and off) in a hiking group in the Chicagoland area. This isn’t my first time hiking either; if you look back at earlier posts of mine, I did a lot of hiking in England as well. So, I think I can fairly tell you that you should get outside and do the same! Here are my reasons, along with a brief review of some recent hikes.

Reason #1: Meet new people

Every time I go on a hike I meet new people. Some of them I may see again on another hike, and some of them I may never meet again. I’ve had the good fortune of meeting many friendly people and having quality conversations, whether we discover we have a common interest in history, or travel and photography etc.

What a great group of people on a winter hike!

What a great group of people on a winter hike!

Reason #2: Learn a new skill

Sometimes I get the opportunity to learn a new skill, or practice an old one. I got a nice refresher course this weekend on cross country skiing, which I’m sure I hadn’t done in 10 years. I have yet to go on one of the rock climbing trips, or mountain climbing trips :-s

Friendly faces on a cross country skiing outing.

Friendly faces on a cross country skiing outing.

Reason #3: Find out how interesting your neighborhood is

Hiking around forest preserves or parks with someone who knows it better than you can be an education. A Thanksgiving Day hike was my motivation to visit the local arboretum for the very first time – only a 20 minute drive from my house. And a hike in the near-west suburbs of Chicago revealed the city’s very own ‘Fountain of Youth’ – locals come with their empty jugs to fill up on the good stuff – see the link to the article below!

http://articles.chicagotribune.com/1986-10-24/news/8603200029_1_drinking-water-pump-taps

"The Fountain of Youth", in a neighborhood near you!

A water pump in a forest preserve is locally viewed as a ‘Fountain of Youth’! My photo.

Reason #4: Get in shape

This is an obvious one. Getting outside and hiking, or whatever it is you want to do, is good for your health. My only mistake has been starting with something that was too challenging for me, but I enjoyed the exercise even then. Last year I did a 22 mile hike around Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, and although I was sore for several days after, I felt so proud of what I’d accomplished!

How about getting in shape in beautiful surroundings?

How about getting in shape in beautiful surroundings? My photo.

Reason #5: Outside is better than the gym

Honestly, there are things you can see and do outside that you will never experience if you just go to the gym. Wildlife is a big one for me, like deer, beavers, or eagles (on occasion). And as you’ll notice from the pictures, winter weather doesn’t have to keep you from going outside. In fact, its a good reason to go out and get your vitamin D…

Something else you may see if you venture outside.

Something else you may see if you venture outside.

Photos are courtesy of the meetup group contributors, unless otherwise noted.

Lake Geneva, Wisconsin: 22 mile hike


So, of course with the new year, there have to be new adventures! I decided that if I were to make any new years resolutions that they would have to be simple: if I can make 2013 even half as exciting as last year, I will have succeeded. And another thing! I have been here before, that is, the place of unemployed or underemployed, and it tends to make me rather tense. I vow not to live like I’m waiting, waiting for life to sort itself out. I don’t know where I’ll be or what I’ll be doing in a few months time, but that’s no reason to live like I’m waiting. Enough said.

This month I decided to join the ‘Chicago Hiking, Outdoor, and Social Group’ on Meetup.com, and sign up for a hike. I’ve done a lot of hiking in the past year, and a walk around Lake Geneva in Wisconsin sounded like just the thing on a bright, cold Saturday in January. I didn’t think much about the 22 miles part of it, but the sign pictured below gives a vague idea of the historic nature of the route. As a group of about 15, we started from the public library, heading counter-clockwise.

The beginning of our epic 22 mile hike around the lake.

The beginning of our epic 22 mile hike around the lake.

Perhaps some of the most impressive houses on the lake were the ones we passed in the first two hours. We had to keep a very brisk pace in order to make it all the way around before dark, but one must always find time to take pictures! I haven’t figured out if the house below belonged to some famous Chicago family, but I would think so. You don’t see these kinds of places everyday.

One of the most impressive houses on the lake.

One of the most impressive houses on the lake.

Take a walk off the end of the pier, why don't ya!

Take a walk off the end of the pier, why don’t ya!

At about two thirds of the way through our hike, we stopped for a water break outside the lovely house pictured below. Just when you think you’ve seen all the pretty houses, there are more. It is a strange sensation to be walking through so many people’s backyards, especially when some were out in their yards or on their decks. All the wooden posts for the piers were strewn on the lawns, and across the path, and I wonder what the hike would be like in warmer weather. By this time I was also beginning to be in quite a bit of pain… 22 miles is no easy thing. And it would be getting dark soon!

We had lunch sitting in their "backyard".

We had lunch sitting in their “backyard”.

Already dark as we finished up our hike in downtown Lake Geneva.

Already dark as we finished up our hike in downtown Lake Geneva.

In the end, we did not make it back into town before it turned dark, and quite windy. Some of the last houses we passed would have been astounding if we had seen them in the light. But the hike ended up taking us about seven hours to complete. And as a reward for finishing, we had dinner at a Lake Geneva favorite, Popeye’s, pictured below. I imagine Popeye’s would be a heaving place in summer-time, but for us it was the perfect end to a long day. And for what it’s worth, I was sore for two days after.

And the end of our story, at Popeye's Restaurant!

And the end of our story, at Popeye’s Restaurant!

Adventures in Devon!


Hello everyone! As the end of my time here in the UK is just a few weeks away, I am scrambling to cram as much in as possible. My work placement at the Royal Albert Memorial Museum is going well and I get to work with curators and conservators, handle some amazing museum objects and get as involved as I can in my two months here. The box of spiders in glass jars, Victorian dresses, antique books, and early 20th century maps are the kinds of things I get to work with, which just confirms I chose the right career. The thing that amuses me most about working in a museum in Britain is how much tea and cake is involved! Every Thursday is Cake Day, and whenever I am with the conservators, we stop for tea and biscuits at 10:30am and 3:30pm precisely. Of course they warned me on my first day, ‘this place runs on tea and cake’.

I’ve been keeping myself busy on weekends going to different places in Devon. One weekend I went to Torquay on the ‘English Riviera’, which is the hometown of the author Agatha Christie. I enjoyed the place and plan to go back in two weeks time to see an Agatha Christie play at the old theatre. I’ve also ventured out on Dartmoor, a national park of over 350 square miles of moors, forests, rolling hills, waterfalls and wild landscapes. Celebrating a colleague’s birthday I’ve also taken a ferry down the river Exe for a pub lunch at one of the few pubs in the country that cannot be accessed by car, only by boat, walking, or cycling. And as a pleasant surprise to Mom & Dad who thought I had grown to dislike camping and hiking, I have done two weekends in a tent in rural Devon, taking in the sea and the gorgeous South West Coast Path.

I’m still looking forward to visiting Penzance in Cornwall this weekend (yes, the pirates of Penzance!) and having the opportunity to travel with my brother in Italy before returning home! Arrival date back in the US is set to be Friday 28.

Noriko and I at Torquay Harbour

The palms trees and pavilion in Torquay, ‘English Riviera’

At Topsham Museum, the ubiquitous tea and cake

View from Topsham over the Exe

Pub lunch at the Turf Locks Hotel

Fog rolls in along the Coast Path near Branscombe

Devon Bootlegs walking group near Branscombe