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Archive for the ‘Vacations’ Category

I’ll be honest–it’s getting harder to come up with something to do every day, and now I am laboring under Lorelei and William’s expectations as well.  It’s not that I don’t have plenty of ideas–I have a page-long list, in fact–it’s having ideas that fit in with the weather, our finances, my energy level, and whatever else I have to accomplish on a given day.  So here’s what we did this week:

On Monday, we went to the Knoxville Botanical Gardens and Arboretum, which I have written about before.  This place is one of Knoxville’s best-kept secrets, a true treasure.

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There are lots of new paths since I was last year and although the spring flowers are gone, there were wild flowers, trees (with identifying markers, too, so you can learn something while you walk), and, most exciting to me because I’ve never seen one, a small wheat field!

Tuesday I had to scrap my original plans because something came up, so I took the kids to Wild Love Bakehouse for a treat.  I kid you not, this place in nationally renowned and if you come to Knoxville you will want to pay it a visit.

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After our treat, which we shared with friendly sparrows on the porch, we walked down the steps to investigate one of my favorite places–Mid Mod Collective.  I cannot afford one stick of the restored vintage furniture they sell here but boy do I wish I could.  They also have retro knickknacks and even vintage clothing.  Mostly it’s just fun to browse and feel like you’ve gone back in time.

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Mid Mod Collective shares space with The Book Eddy, a vintage book store that’s occupied various spaces in Knoxville over the past 20 years or so.  We had a great time browsing there.  My big finds were a board game from my high school years and a 1945 edition of Emily Post’s Etiquette.

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These places are all located in the Old North Knoxville historical district so our last activity was to spend a little time driving around the nearby neighborhoods and talking architecture (Victorian and Craftsman, for the most part).  Lorelei is obsessed with House Hunters recently and had asked me about Mid-century Modern, which gave me the idea for these activities in the first place.  Who says television can’t be educational?

We visited the Knoxville Museum of Art on Wednesday.  The museum is free, there is abundant free parking, and besides their permanent collection and the local artists they showcase there is always a new exhibit to see.

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The KMA Gardens

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Lorelei playing with a giant Lite-Brite

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Posing with one of their favorite pictures, a painting of the Grand Canyon by Daingerfield

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Looking at one of the Thorne Miniatures

Take special note of that last picture.  The Thorne Miniatures are absolutely amazing and the KMA is fortunate to have nine of them.  They were housed in the Dulin Gallery, predecessor to the KMA, when I was a child, and I am not the only one to have fond memories of them judging by the reaction when I shared pictures of them on Facebook.

I don’t have any pictures of our Thursday jaunt, which had to be a short one due to a dentist appointment.  I took the kids to Starbucks for Frappucinos, using up some gift cards I’d been carrying around!  They had never set foot in one before, so this was actually more exciting than I thought it would be.  Then we went to the Dollar Tree, which is always a hit.

Friday’s fun consisted of our drive to Beech Mountain, North Carolina, where we are vacationing with friends.  I couldn’t take any pictures since I was driving but WOW was it a beautiful trip.  I’m sure I’ll have lots to share when I write this up next week.

Catch up on our other summer adventures here, here, and here!

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Well, this has been a busy week!

John and I got back from Georgetown Sunday evening, and I was right back into summer adventures with the kids the following day, when we visited McClung Museum.  This is a mostly unsung treasure on the University of Tennessee campus.  The kids have been there many times but it had been a few years.  Notable to me is that they now take time to read the descriptions on the displays.  We spent two solid hours here.  I loved the temporary exhibit, “Pick Your Poison,” an historical treatment of recreational drug and alcohol use, but as always it was the Egypt exhibit that enthralled Lorelei and William.

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Tuesday was hiking day, and because we got a late start we kept it very local, heading to Melton Hill Park about ten minutes away.  William thought it was beautiful although he decried the level of garbage we encountered along the woodland trails, this being the type of park where teenagers (and others) congregate to do sketchy things.  It was also super hot that day and I really thought I might collapse but I soldiered on.

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Wednesday, as I mentioned before, we have a standing appointment in the morning.  Plus William had yet another dentist appointment that afternoon.  So we again kept it close to where we were already going to be and visited the KARM thrift store in Bearden.  I don’t know if it’s weird but my kids love thrift stores.  On Wednesday I got to have a little summer fun of my own when my cousin quite unexpectedly invited me to go to a Journey/Def Leppard concert!  She was nuts about Journey when we were teenagers and I thought she might have a heart attack!

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Thursday was animal day this week (Lorelei and William think every day should b e animal day).  We went to the zoo.  William and I had an appointment at 9:00 a.m. to talk to the volunteer coordinator about his plans to volunteer there next year.  This forced us to get there really early and we discovered this is a delightful time to visit the zoo while escaping the afternoon heat.  We also experimented with letting William wander around by himself some in preparation for dropping off at the zoo to spend the day there alone sometime soon.

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Lorelei and William look for the otters

Today, Friday, I begged off because I was lunching with a friend and attending funeral services later, and also needed time to get work done.  And tomorrow we are hitting the Farmer’s Market again, this time with Emily along.  I think William would enjoy it but I’m not sure whether we will be able to talk him into it.  I’m guessing not.

Tune in next week–I’ve got at least one really exciting thing planned!

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Though one cannot always remember exactly why one has been happy, there is no forgetting that one was. (from Good-bye to the Mezzogiorno by W.H. Auden)

I am writing this in the blessed coolness of my hotel room as I recover from a long, hot, and humid but nevertheless fun and illuminating day on the campus of Georgetown University, where we are attending John’s 30 year reunion.

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I’ve written about other reunions here, here, here, here, and here, and I may yet write up this one in a play-by-play fashion, including all the many pictures I’ve been taking.  But this is not that post.

No, today I want to write about thoughts and feelings while they are still fresh in my mind.  I feel like I’ve been having a somewhat profound experience and since I’m not–alas–18 any more, I’m afraid I’ll forget it if I don’t write it down.

We are staying in the Key Bridge Marriott, which is relevant because 30 years ago I was a waitress in the restaurant here.  And now I’m staying in a room on the 7th floor, so I’ve both literally and figuratively moved up!  And of course I’ve told every single person I’ve interacted with in the hotel about my association with it–partly to explain why I am openly staring strangely at things (because a lot has changed in 20 years, y’all!).

Anyway, what I noticed last night as we were eating our late dinner in the hotel bar was that I was giddily happy.  Couldn’t-stop-smiling-happy.  And I remember that I USED TO BE LIKE THAT ALL THE TIME.

I’m not like that all the time any more.  In fact, I am hardly ever like that.  If I’m tipsy, maybe, or I’m excited about flowers blooming at the beginning of spring.  But being super cheerful used to be an intrinsic part of who I was to the point that I remember writing an essay about it. I’m always telling my kids (and other people lucky enough to be the object of my sanctimonious rants) that being happy is NOT the point of life.  And I do believe that, but it doesn’t mean that I don’t WANT to be happy.  Where did this dour person come from and how can I get that giddy girl back?

We spent most of today in lectures, because that’s how geeky Georgetown grads are.  We come back to school to have more school.  And also to remember when we used to sit around having smart thoughts and intelligent discussions for fun.  We had several such conversations with total strangers today which is a thing you can do at Georgetown because literally everyone is an intellectual and says words like hermeneutic and heuristic and expects you will understand.

I surprised myself by being able to stay mostly awake for all the lectures, even though I was actually sitting down in the middle of the afternoon.  They were all wonderful and maybe I will tell you more about them later, but for now I want to focus on some of my takeaways from the last two.

Professor Glavin of the English Department, whose classes I somehow missed when I was an undergrad, talked about a memoir he’d written and in that context told us that we shouldn’t berate ourselves for all our life decisions.  That most of the time we make good decisions, the best ones we can make with the information available to us.  That we just don’t have access to all the information, because that’s how life is.  That life is a series of parabolas, with upward arcs leading inevitably to failures, that maybe we learn from before we start the next one.  That was comforting, his next point less so:  that our lives are crossed by meridians–moments of before and after–and that we can never go back across them.  He was talking not just of his book but very obviously of what he expected many of us might be feeling as we attended a reunion at a very different Georgetown from the one we attended.

From here we went to another lecture that focused on personal development and on finding your purpose.  We were asked to think about moments when we were happy, really in the moment, feeling a sense of “flow.”  Frankly I was getting a little sleepy so I didn’t get everything that was being said, but I was left with an impression that goes along well with some other work I’ve been doing lately on spiritual gifts (about which more later)–that everyone needs to be doing work that fulfills their special purpose.  If they don’t, they will never really be happy OR successful.

The first half or maybe more of my life is over (which is something I’ve been meaning to write about for a long time).  I can’t go back to my college days (obviously), but I need to figure out what I am supposed to be doing with the rest of my life–and even more important, how to find the time to do that.  Maybe that will bring some of my giddiness back too.  We shall see.

john and leslie at Georgetown Reunion

Standing in the spot where we first met

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The first full week of summer break is coming to a close so I thought I’d give y’all an update on our summer of fun.

Sundays are already busy, with the day half gone by the time we get home from 11:30 Mass, plus John and I have a standing meeting on Sunday afternoons, so Sunday is getting no additional fun.  Sorry, kids!

Monday was Memorial Day, so we had a cookout.

Even though we already had an appointment with an oral surgeon in the morning, and I was getting my hair cut in the afternoon, I kept my promise of having some fun, which the kids are already beginning to count on!  Since the oral surgeon is in Oak Ridge, we made a stop at the University of Tennessee Arboretum just down the road, a place I have had on my list for a long time.  There are specimen gardens and many short and easy nature trails.

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The kids especially enjoyed that many trees were marked by type so that we learned to identify a few of them.  They also learned about chestnut blight, which upset William very much.

Wednesday we have a standing morning appointment.  I decided we would do a few things in the area in which we would be as a result.  So we went to the closest Goodwill, one of their favorite things to do.  We followed that up with a trip to McKay’s, the used book store.  Then on the way home we made another ice cream stop–along with running a few errands.  The deal is, we do one fun thing and one chore each time.

This was not a typical week, because Thursday John and I left for Washington, D.C. to attend his 30 year reunion at Georgetown University.  So the rest of this week is devoted to us having fun (and I promise we are!).  But the kids are already asking what we will be doing next week.  Stay tuned!

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You’ve probably seen posts like this and this extolling the virtues of the summers of yore and planning to recreate them.  Heck, I might even have written a post like that myself.

Now, don’t get me wrong–I loved my childhood summers.  It sounds idyllic when I talk about it, and I really think it was.  I remember sleeping late and watching game shows, daily swims at the neighborhood pool, long walks around the subdivision, wearing bathing suits while riding our bikes, chasing lighting bugs and playing games outdoors in the dark, the hum of the streetlights and the songs of the cicadas.  I’d love to go back and do it all again.

But that neighborhood pool shut down years ago, and we live in a neighborhood that comprises three cul-de-sacs.  My kids don’t have friends their age nearby, plus they are also antisocial and frankly don’t care.  It’s also about ten degrees hotter then it was during my childhood and we don’t have a shady yard like the one I grew up with.

I’m all for leaving kids unsupervised and unscheduled while I live my own life, but kids nowadays when left to their own devices are apt to fill that unscheduled time with actual devices.  William likes his computer, Lorelei likes the videos on her phone, and they both like watching movies way more than they are going to like spending time outside in the blazing 90 degree heat.  They do play outside, I promise–but with much more interesting things to do inside than existed back when there were four t.v. channels on a good day, they aren’t going to want to spend a whole day out there.

So this summer I am going to get up early and try to get as much done and then in the afternoons I am going to take them on some kind of adventure.  Some of them will be longer than others but the goal is to do something every weekday so that we don’t all spend the day staring at screens.

School let out Wednesday and our first adventure, a tradition for the last day of school for as long as I can remember, was going out for ice cream.

Thursday I surprised them with a trip to Little Ponderosa Zoo and Rescue.

Friday we checked out the University of Tennessee Trial Gardens.

I’m not insisting they accompany me on the Saturday adventure, since that’s usually my day to do as I please, but Lorelei chose to come with me to the Farmers’ Market this morning.

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I have many more mini-adventures planned, and I’ll keep y’all updated.  It won’t be a 70s summer, but I think it will be a good summer.

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John and I are going on a trip!  This will be the farthest we have ever traveled without our kids, and only the second time I can remember that we’ve ever traveled alone by plane.

We are going to San Francisco!  Obviously, we are going because Teddy is there, and we will arrive on his birthday.  But that weekend is also the anniversary of our becoming a couple (31 years!) which we always celebrate (but usually by going out to dinner, or on a good year, with a weekend in Gatlinburg).

I went to San Francisco with my godfather and his daughter in May of 1981.  It was my first time on an airplane and my first trip away from my family.  I fell in love with the city and have wanted to return ever since.

But we are not exactly world travelers, y’all, and Teddy will be working a lot while we are there and we are going to have to find things to do.  I’m always a little nervous finding my way around in a new place.

So when U.S. Family Guide offered me the opportunity to go on an Urban Adventure Quest, I was very excited to see (as I expected) that San Francisco was one of the cities included.  In exchange for my (future) honest review, John and I will be able to go on a quest that will be a fun way to explore part of San Francisco!

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Here is what I know so far:

Turn the city of your choice into a giant game board with this fun scavenger hunt adventure. Combine the excitement of the Amazing Race with a three-hour city tour. Guided from any smart phone, teams make their way among well known and overlooked gems of the city, solving clues and completing challenges while learning local history. Play anytime during daylight hours. Start when you want and play at your pace. Great Family Fun!

Here is an offer for my readers:  Save 20%- Only $39.20 for a team of 2-5 people after Promotion Code: FGBLOG.

You can see what cities are available (local readers, note that Nashville and Asheville are on the list!) and sign up at www.UrbanAdventureQuest.com.  I’ll be back here with my review at the end of February.

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Would you believe until last year I had never spent a night in Kentucky?  I’ve driven through it on the way to points North, unsurprisingly, but somehow went almost 50 years without vacationing in a state I can drive to in an hour.

We remedied that last October during Fall Break, a modern invention that did exist when I was a youngster.  It’s a great time to travel and we had an entire week off from school.

First we went to Mammoth Cave.  That’s the longest known cave system in the WORLD, y’all.  And it’s a National Park, which means it’s inexpensive to visit.  And you could easily spend days there.

We stayed in nearby Cave City, which is mostly known as the city near Mammoth Cave, or at least that’s the way it looked from the exit where our hotel was located–a strip of hotels and fast food and touristy things.  But we are adventurers and we found the REAL town and explored it.

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Look at that sweet little main street! We walked up and down looking in windows (everything was closed for the evening, sadly) and seeing what there was to see.

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I didn’t get any pictures but one of the charming things–and to William and Lorelei’s delight–several of the shops had cats in residence, hanging out in the window displays.

At one end of town we found a park with a little Civil War history, and also a tiny IGA at which to buy snacks for our room.

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Of course we didn’t come for Cave City; we came for the CAVE, and we spent two days exploring, which included walking around the grounds, taking in the museum exhibits, and going on cave tours.

Here’s some of what we saw above ground.

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The railroad cars are part of the very interesting history of the cave, its discovery, and early tourism.  Would you believe that part of the cave was used as a tuberculosis hospital for a time in the belief that the air would be good for the lungs?

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Look, y’all! A graveyard! I find them everywhere I go!

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When you visit Mammoth Cave, you should plan ahead, unlike us, and book guided tours in advance.  Some of them were unavailable to us because we did not do that.  Also be aware that some of the tours are quite strenuous, with lots of climbing.  But don’t worry, even with those caveats we found plenty to see.

We went on two cave tours, the first one being to see the first cave to be rediscovered in more-or-less modern times.  Native Americans were using it over 5,000 years ago, and we were able to see some extremely well-preserved artifacts.

Here’s the mouth of the cave, seen from above before we went in and then from below as we climbed the stairs back up.

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It was VERY big and VERY dark in there.  Our guide turned off all the lights so we could see what real dark looks like.  Answer:  like nothing.  Wave your hand in front of your face and you will see NOTHING.  Then he lit one match and it was cool to see how our eyes adjusted to see the entire room with just that tiny amount of light.

He also showed us where saltpeter was mined in the cave during the war of 1812.  Due to conditions in the cave, the site doesn’t look as though it was abandoned 200 years ago but remains well-preserved.  Here is a picture from this area of the cave.

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This was an easy hike just to get a feel for the cave.  The next day we did a more picturesque and much harder hike.  It was kind of bizarre to enter a cave through a door into a hill.

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This cave had more of the formations you’d expect to see if you’ve been in “touristy” caves like Ruby Falls.

Whenever we left a cave we had to go through a process of washing the bottoms of our shoes to prevent the spread of white nose syndrome, which has killed a large portion of the bat population.

There is much more of Mammoth Cave to see, and I would love to go back there someday.

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Our vacation was a two-part affair, with some days planned and some left open.  At our motel we found a brochure for a nearby attraction, and we decided to visit Kentucky Down Under on our way to Louisville.

This was a good choice.  The kids are STILL talking about this place.

Kentucky Down Under is a zoo, but an unusual one.  It’s family-owned, for one thing, and if it’s not obvious from the title, there is a focus on animals from Australia.  But there are other animals here as well, including Great Pyrenees dogs who serve as protectors and roam freely throughout the zoo.

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This was the first animal we saw, just after we left the gift shop.  William was thrilled, because crocodilians are one of his favorite groups of animals.  After we spent some time with him, we hopped into the golf car we’d rented and began to explore.

We got yelled at by talking birds and surreptitiously petted a coati.  Here they are, along with some other animals we saw.

Next we arrived at the more interactive part of the zoo.  We listened to a talk by one of the keepers, and then those of us who wanted to (William) got to pet a snake.

Much more to my liking, we were able to pet some draft horses in their beautiful pasture.  Kentucky is almost as pretty as Tennessee, y’all.

Then we got to watch some sheep-herding in action!

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And finally, the piece de resistance, the part that William is still talking about months later–we got to pet kangaroos! (Also a terrifying emu and some capybaras!)

Seriously, y’all, did you SEE that emu?  Anyway, it was a wonderful experience and I highly recommend this zoo.

Oh, and I almost forgot to include that this zoo has its own cave, Mammoth Onyx Cave, which as far as they know is not linked to the Mammoth Cave system.  It’s not lighted so you get to wear actual head lamps and it was a really pretty cave–with the price of the tour included in zoo admission.

We’d had quite the busy day already as we headed to Louisville, where we were meeting friends and upgrading our lodgings quite a bit by staying in a bed and breakfast called The Inn at Woodhaven.  The four of us stayed in the attic.  Take a look at this place!  These were taken in our attic.

Louisville 21Louisville 19Louisville 18Louisville 17Here are some of the common areas.

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And here are some taken outside.

On our first day in Louisville, we went to another zoo!  We have decided in the past year that we will make it a point to go to the zoo every time we are in a city that has one, since that’s something we all enjoy.

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Now, it would be hard to compete with the peak experience of petting kangaroos! But we did enjoy the Louisville Zoo.  Here are pictures of some of our adventures.

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Louisville seems like an exciting city with a lot of fun places to check out.  Besides the zoo, we also visited downtown to see the Cathedral of the Assumption and to get a bite to eat.

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Louisville 9We didn’t get to spend as much time looking around the Cathedral as we would normally because they were practicing for a wedding and we didn’t want to disturb them.  Here are some pictures of the nifty area of restaurants where we found a place to eat, just around the corner.

I’m telling you about the Kentucky trip a little bit out of order because I want to save the best for last, as it were.  So now I’m going to share about the Lincoln day trip we took.  Abraham Lincoln was born in Kentucky, so we visited the site of his birthplace and of his boyhood home, as well as a little town with monuments and a museum.

Here are some photos from the home site, which includes a museum and a super-fancy monument that I’ll bet you never knew existed!

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Three miles down the road lies Hodgenville, Kentucky, with its town center dedicated to Lincoln, and housing a very special museum.

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The museum is in a storefront on the square.  The downstairs has several re-creations of scenes from Lincoln’s life.  The place is a delightful jumble of all kinds of artifacts.

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Upstairs there is an entire room of art inspired by Lincoln because the town has been hosting an art contest annually for many years and now there is an amazing array of truly creative pictures.  Here are two of my favorites.

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I like this one for its Christian symbolism.

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This one is amazing.  I don’t know whether you can tell but it’s actually made up of other images of things that were important in Lincoln’s life!

Finally, we made a stop at Lincoln’s boyhood home a short distance away, which would have been the first home he remembered.  There is no museum there, but here are some pictures of the fields where he worked and played.

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We loved the Lincoln portion of our trip and could not believe we had been living so close to this important piece of history for so long without visiting.

Now, finally, I am going to tell you about the other planned event of our trip, the whole reason we came to Louisville at precisely this time of year, the annual Louisville Jack O’Lantern Spectacular.  Y’all, it was indeed spectacular.  I could not stop taking pictures, the best of which I will share below.

There was a jack o’lantern to symbolize each of the 50 states

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as well as ones commemorating people who had died,

showcasing current events and famous people,

and representing films, pop culture, literature, and fictional characters.

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And there were all kinds of more typically carved pumpkins as well.

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We wandered slowly on a trail through the woodsy park marveling at all the wonders we were seeing.  It was a lot to take in and a perfect way to spend an autumn evening.

So that was our trip to Kentucky, and this was a LONG post.  We squeezed a lot of fun into fall break last year, but there is still more to see and do in Louisville, and I wouldn’t mind spending another weekend in that attic!

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