Wanderings in Central Texas


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.


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


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.


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.


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…


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

Triton Troupers Circus 2014

The last few weeks and months of my life have been full of circus and glitter. And what a life! This has been my 4th year performing at the Triton Troupers Circus at Triton College, but some of my circus friends have been part of the troupe for 15 years or even more. So anyway, here are some of the pictures from show week, and video links are down at the bottom. Enjoy!

The 'Dirty Dancing' signature move.

My double stunts partner and I doing our individual routine!Looking particularly bendy.
Our 1940s themed silks act! Dress rehearsal and practicing on Spanish Web

Missed the show? Watch some videos on Youtube!


Photos courtesy of Steve Hersee, and others.

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!


"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.

European Rail Adventures: Zurich, Switzerland

So the story behind this little adventure is that my summer job afforded me one last wonderful benefit before leaving me on the doorstep of unemployment: a free First class European Rail Pass. Who could pass that up?! As it turns out, a lot of people, because “there ain’t no such thing as a free lunch”. While the pass was completely free to me, I obviously had to get there, find places to stay and places to eat, etc. I also chose to visit places that generally do not require any additional reservation fees, unlike France or Spain.

But I’d say I did pretty well for myself. I started my journey off in Zurich, to visit some friends currently living there, and ease into my trip. Nothing beats being met a strange airport after a long overnight flight, by a familiar and friendly face. Thanks Kim and Erik! They showed me around, introduced me to their delightful cat Otis, and made my weekend stay as comfy as possible. On the Friday I arrived we walked around town and through narrow streets, with many medieval signs hanging over shop windows, and with swans feeding along the lake shore. We had a lot to catch up on as we lingered over Kim’s home-cooked dinner, and the day flew by before I eventually zonked out for the night.

View over Zurich from the University

View over Zurich from the University

Zurich was gloomy most of the time I was there, so we managed to find many indoor pursuits. Like visiting the vast Swiss National Museum; in 3 hours we barely saw half of it! Part of my education included learning that Switzerland has its own brand of the German language, which is spoken but not written. Other activities to avoid the gloomy weather included a visit to the Sprüngli cafe for a chocolate indulgence! We ordered hot chocolate, and I ordered a yummy mandarin and chocolate tart. Chocolate is a good antidote to jet-lag, whether or not it helps…

Indulgence at the fancy Sprungli cafe

Indulgence at the fancy Sprungli cafe

Knowing me rather well, my friends also suggested we attend a circus show that was in town that night. I am always up for that! The language doesn’t matter, circus is a joy that translates anywhere. Even attending church on Sunday was an experience; who knew you could find a charismatic church service in English in the middle of Zurich? My spirits were lifted, and I felt refreshed despite the jet-lag.

Taking a cruise on Lake Zurich

Taking a cruise on Lake Zurich

One more thing that I particularly wanted to accomplish in Zurich was a cruise on the serene Lake Zurich, which we managed to do on Sunday afternoon, enjoying some drinks and hoping the rain clouds would stay away. And they did for most of the afternoon! Zurich Film Festival was going on at the same time, and we lingered outside wondering if we might get a glimpse of Harrison Ford… alas, no celebrity sightings, so we relaxed in the evening with some ice cream by the lake instead.

The downtown area of Zurich by night

The downtown area of Zurich by night

The weekend was fantastic and I was sorry to leave, but my friends had to get back to work, and I needed to move on to the next destination. Austria! After a hurried farewell, I boarded the all-day train from Zurich to Vienna. I sat in business class, which apparently I shouldn’t have done so, but I wasn’t scolded and got a free coffee out of it. What a life! Onwards to Vienna…

Aboard the Railjet train in Business class

Aboard the Railjet train in Business class

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!

South West England: Hope Cove and East Prawle

I realized that I had intended to post these beautiful pictures quite a while back, and it appears that it’s been a good long time since I posted anything at all. I don’t miss the rainy weather, but I do miss the scenery. There are plans in the works to head back to the UK for graduation in January. Fingers crossed for everything to work out according to plan!

Enjoy the photos!

The view from our campsite over Hope Cove!

The view from our campsite over Hope Cove!

Danielle and Aneta at the campsite

Max getting ready for sunset

Sunset over Hope Cove

Hope Cove seen from the cliff path

The real way to cook out camping!

Grazing sheep on Gammon Head

Near Prawle Point along the South West Coast Path

New Challenges and Opportunities

Now that I’ve returned home from my year in the UK, I’m faced with different kinds of challenges. For instance, paying off all those amazing weekend trips around the UK and Europe! Job hunting is never something one looks forward to doing. But I am grateful that I’ve found two temporary part-time positions that will keep me occupied into the new year.

So, my new life back home in Chicago-land is slightly less stimulating than my year abroad, but there are still things to boast about. Like cheering for Chicago’s soccer team (many of you didn’t even know Chicago has a soccer team, right?), attending ‘Open House Chicago‘ at historic sites across the city, and getting my own personal tour through the Sears/Willis Tower (it will always be the Sears Tower to me!). Even in the most familiar of places, there are always new things to discover!

The ‘Firehouse’ cheering section at a Chicago Fire game. Notice the Chicago skyline in the background.

The view from the rarely-open 24th floor office of the Tribune Tower.

View towards Lake Michigan from the Sears Tower.

Klas, reportedly the oldest Czechoslovakian restaurant in the US. Yum!