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.

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

Fall Fun and Germany in October


Gosh, I didn’t realize it had been quite that long since I blogged. How did that happen again??

Long story short: I went on vacation, I got a new job, I moved, I went on vacation again, I presented at a conference, I got a promotion, and then I looked at my blog. That’s a lot of stuff happening.

My vacation was with my Mom to Brown County, Indiana and a stop in Indianapolis too. Since Dad was finally returning to work in August, after several months of medical leave, Mom and I went on our own vacation. It was one of those reading, hiking, eating, and shopping kind of vacations.

Imagine this view on a warm sunny day in the State Park!

Imagine this view on a warm sunny day in the State Park!

Upon returning from vacation, I started my new job as Sales Assistant at the Art Institute of Chicago, which essentially means I work in the museum gift shop. It’s a nice place to work, and was made even more exciting when it was announced they’d been voted Tripadvisor’s #1 museum in the world for 2014.  They hosted a fancy breakfast for staff to celebrate, and took a group picture on the Grand Staircase:

It's hard to get so many people in one photo....

It’s hard to get so many people in one photo….

My next vacation had been planned for a while: Germany! I traveled with my brother and sister in law, and we visited loads of places including Berlin, Erfurt, Nuremberg and Rothenburg. There was still more to see, so Brian and Jessica continued their trip, while I had to return home for work. Poor me!

Sharing a meal on an outdoor patio in Nuremberg.

Sharing a meal on an outdoor patio in Nuremberg.

Brian and Jessica at the Brandenburg Gate in the center of Berlin.

Brian and Jessica at the Brandenburg Gate in the center of Berlin.

The amazing German food at the Augustiner Brau in Erfurt.

The amazing German food at the Augustiner Brau in Erfurt.

The week after my vacation, I was set to present at the Illinois Association of Museums Conference in Rockford, IL. I presented to a small group on the topic of Leadership, mentoring, and the next generation of museum professionals. It went as smoothly as can be expected, and the rest of the conference was informative and even entertaining. There are a few museums I want to go back and visit in Rockford, like Midway Village…

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Lastly, I’ve moved out of my parent’s house and into an apartment in Chicago, mainly to lessen my commute to work. It’s all going pretty well, so I can’t complain. We shall see what adventures come next.

 

Old World Wisconsin


This was going to be a post about my visit to Madison, Wisconsin, but my day at the living history site Old World Wisconsin was the star of the show! What is Old World Wisconsin? It is an open-air museum on more than 500 acres of land, that portrays the lives of immigrants in 19th century Wisconsin. The buildings are grouped into ethnic areas, based on the immigrant populations that came to Wisconsin, such as Germans and Scandinavians. And in most of the houses there are costumed interpreters, learning to do things like use a loom, make wool into yarn, harvest crops, and make bread in an outdoor oven.

The best thing about the experience was not just having the place to ourselves for much of the day (the benefit of Tuesday museum visits!), but the fact that staff were genuinely excited to talk and show you things of interest. When staff are excited, it makes visitors excited! You are learning how to use a spinning wheel, and do I want to watch? Absolutely! Check out the park map below…

A map of Old World Wisconsin shows how truly big it is.

A map of Old World Wisconsin shows how truly big it is.

It is hard to imagine, but the 60+ historic structures at Old World Wisconsin were brought to the site from all across the state, before the museum opened in the 1970’s. A schoolhouse from Raspberry Bay far north on Lake Superior, to a one-room chapel from an African-American community in the southwest corner of Wisconsin. How did they get the buildings here? Well, I honestly can’t imagine.

In front of the Schulz house in the German area.

In front of the Schulz house in the German area.

This place has a lot going for it, including excellent staff and interpreters, hands-on interaction and more than enough to keep you busy for a full day. We stayed for a solid 6 hours, and commented that we could see ourselves coming back again. Perhaps celebrating the summer solstice Scandinavian style, or an old world Fourth of July parade…

Women in bonnets diligently working the garden!

Women in bonnets diligently working the garden!

AAM Annual Meeting in Seattle


Last weekend I took the long 4+ hour flight from Chicago to Seattle to attend the American Alliance of Museums Annual Meeting. The conference was about four days of non-stop action, from thought-provoking sessions, to special museum events, to networking receptions. Lots of coffee was involved, mostly to get through the long days, but also because Seattle is a coffee mecca and home to the first Starbucks!

Monorail Espresso on Pike St, right in the middle of downtown.

Better yet, check out the little coffee spot above, Monorail Espresso, which was recommended by my host. It has a tiny window and counter with picnic tables on the sidewalk for customers, and a yummy “black cherry and almond latte”, which I ordered more than once during my stay.

In order to save money on the conference, I managed to find another museum geek who lives within 20 minutes of the convention center and was willing to let me sleep on the futon for a few days. She manages the collection at a small museum outside Seattle, and I peppered her with questions on how she got where she did. The view below is from the neighborhood, looking out over the suburb of Bellevue.

Looking down from a high point in the comfortable Capitol Hill neighborhood.

Looking down from a high point in the comfortable Capitol Hill neighborhood.

Some of the worthwhile sessions I attended at the conference included Banishing Guided Tours; Confessions of an E-Volunteer; Fail Early, Often, and Off Broadway; and an entertaining keynote session with the bestselling author Erik Larson. He talked about his process in researching and writing his most recent book In the Garden of Beasts, and what he looks for when he first begins the search for a new book idea. And the relief he feels when he discovers the perfect story and can begin the writing!

The session that will cause the most talk back at the break room was the Banishing Guided Tours session, as I happen to be one of several paid Tour Guides in a historic house museum. According to the presenter, only a third of museum visitors claim they even like guided tours. I wonder, where did they get such information? They suggested that house museums create more immersive experiences like cooking in the kitchen, and using storytelling and narrative to help visitors connect personally with the past.

Live demonstration at the Tacoma Museum of Glass.

Live demonstration at the Tacoma Museum of Glass evening event.

Many of the highlights of the conference were also the evening events, like the Tacoma Museums Tour I attended on the Monday evening. We took a bus down to Tacoma, an hour south of Seattle, and were free to visit any of 6 museums within walking distance of the downtown. I only managed to visit three of these: the Tacoma Museum of Glass, the Tacoma Art Museum, and the Washington State History Museum. The fancy food, drink and souvenirs made it an unforgettable night, and the staff were out to impress!

Now the conference is over and I begin the process of reaching out to the museum professionals I met during the week, and making the most of my network in my continued search for another job!

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Saying goodbye to Seattle; the view out the plane over Mt Rainier.