A Labor Day Weekend Visit to Cincinnati

Knoxville (my hometown) is four hours away from Cincinnati. I’ve always heard people saying what a great place Cincinnati is.  But I never did more than drive through (and that not often) until Labor Day weekend two years ago.

We had a particular reason for visiting that weekend–we wanted to see a very special exhibit at the Cincinnati Museum Center.  We bought our tickets just about as soon as we heard about this exhibit and it was every bit as thrilling as we expected.

The Museum Center, which was undergoing extensive renovations at the time

This is a detail of the prior photo, which had a container of the Emperor’s disgusting fingernails.

Since we were in the museum, we decided to take a peek at another exhibit, which turned out to be even more of a thrill for this English major.

A FIRST FOLIO
Me with an actual First Folio of Shakespeare’s play. I assure you I was way more thrilled than I appeared. I would not have posed for a picture with just anything!
There were interactive aspects to this exhibit, as you can see!

After the Museum, we decided to do a little sightseeing.

 

All of the above photos were taken in Fountain Square.  The fountain itself is a Cincinnati icon, and is well-known to anyone who ever watched the opening credits of WKRP in Cincinnati (which was why John wanted to go there).  Anyway, it is a beautiful landmark.

Whenever we visit a new place, we try to go to the Cathedral if there is one.  Cincinnati has a beautiful one, Saint Peter in Chains.

Just across the street from the Cathedral is this magnificent edifice, the Plum Street Temple, one of only two Jewish temples of this style in the country and reminiscent of those destroyed in the Holocaust.

As you can see, we had a really full day.  As was the next one, when we visited the Cincinnati Zoo, the second-oldest zoo in the United States and one of the best in the country.

Like cathedrals, we make it a point to visit zoos wherever we go.  And we take them seriously, trying to make sure we see every exhibit.  We saw every animal in this enormous zoo, and it took us EIGHT HOURS.  The photos below represent only a very small sample.

This and the one below is a condor, which we only saw from far away–but just look at that wingspan!

This sign is the introduction to the nocturnal animal exhibit–considerate for the animals, but difficult for observers!

The tribute to passenger pigeons made us all sad.

At the insect exhibit

And that was the end of our short but very busy visit to Cincinnati.  Have you ever been there?

Fall Break in New York City

Growing up in Tennessee, New York City was to me the epitome of everything frightening about Up North: crime, noise, crowds, and unfriendly people.  Two stops in the Port Authority bus terminal while in college confirmed all my worse fears.  I had very little desire to see more of the place.

John had several friends in college who were New York natives, plus he grew up in Baltimore, which is only five hours away, so he had been to the city several times and rightly thought I was silly.  He thought taking the kids there for Fall Break last year would be a great idea–they very much wanted to go–and he was right.

Typically, I took about a million pictures, and that is what most of this post will consist of, with some travel tips and deep thoughts sprinkled throughout. 🙂

Travel tip #1: Have friends in New York who let you stay with them for free. 🙂

Mandi, Sameer, and their three kids live in this beautiful home in an historic Brooklyn neighborhood and they were the most welcoming and generous hosts ever.  Mandi is John’s stepsister’s daughter which I guess makes her my step-niece by marriage, but she just says we are cousins which is a lot easier and more accurately reflects our actual relationship.  We had fun spending time with them and we could not have been more comfortable.

We could have taken the subway, which was right around the corner, but we blew all the money we saved on lodging by Ubering everywhere instead because we are wimps.  Our very first Uber driver spoke only Chinese and did not know how to get to the ferry for the Statue of Liberty, which we all agreed should be our first destination.  We made it though!

Travel tip #2:  Allow each traveler to pick a couple of must-visit attractions, since there is no way to see everything in one trip.  The Statue was one we all agreed on.

Travel tip #3:  City Pass.  We bought these in advance and it guaranteed us tickets to all the things we most wanted to see and saved us money and time in lines.

There is a park where you wait for the ferry, and this sculpture of immigrants to to the United States is prominently displayed there, a visual reminder of the “tired and poor . . . huddled masses . . . and wretched refuse” welcomed for so long by Lady Liberty.

We were grateful for no rain as we approached the island, but sad that visibility was not that great.

Y’all, I may have gone a little crazy taking pictures of the Statue,  but you know what? I don’t care.  I could have stayed there with her all day.  This was by far the most meaningful part of our whole vacation to me.  We didn’t book early enough to get to go inside the Statue, but we listened to the audio tour, explored the gift shop, had lunch, and walked everywhere we could.  I might have cried a little, thinking about what Lady Liberty stands for and how far our country seems to have strayed from those ideals.  I did not want to leave.

Finally we said good-bye and boarded the ferry for our next stop, Ellis Island.  If I had known there was so much to see there, I might have left the Statue sooner.  There was room upon room of exhibits, full of information about the history of the Island and the people who were processed there on their journey to America.

This is the room where the initial processing of new arrivals took place

Lorelei and William rest on an original bench where immigrants sat waiting to be called

We took one last trip on the ferry back to where we began, and got a good look at the monument below to American soldiers who died in the Atlantic during the Second World War.

It was getting late and we wanted to squeeze a few for sights in before heading back to Brooklyn, which leads to Travel Tip #4:  Visit sites in the same general location on the same day.  I know that sounds like a no-brainer, but it requires figuring out where things are in advance if you are in an unfamiliar place.  The walking directions that Siri provided were helpful in getting us quickly to our last stops of the day, one specifically requested by William and one by Lorelei.

Here is what William wanted to see, and you can tell how happy it made him!

Lorelei wanted to visit the graveyard of Trinity Church to see the grave of Alexander Hamilton, since she was (and nearly a year later remains) obsessed with the musical Hamilton.  Sadly, the churchyard was locked for the evening, but we still got a decent view.

And after that we headed back to Brooklyn to rest up for the next day’s adventures!

We spent the majority of our second day at NYC at Ground Zero.  And yet I did not take nearly as many pictures as I did the other days.  There is something about the 9/11 Museum that demands reverence and attention.  It’s a place I wanted to fully immerse myself in rather than stand outside of and evaluate.  Most of the images below were probably taken within the first hour we were there, then I stopped until we were at the outside portion of the memorial.

The flowers indicate a birthday.  We were especially moved that unborn children were commemorated.

The new World Trade Center building, Freedom Tower, is impressive:

We didn’t go up to the observatory, though–we had different skyscraper plans, as you will see.  We ended day two with dinner in a neighborhood Italian place in Brooklyn.

Bright and early the next morning we got up, ate, and went outside to wait for our Uber.  We had a long day ahead of us.

The Natural History Museum was our first stop.  We spent several hours there.  It wore me out.  I don’t know why but as much as I enjoy them I find museums exhausting.

I am just going to dump a lot of pictures below as I believe they will speak for themselves.

As you can see, we spent most of our time with the dinosaurs.  I have just a few more pictures of some other things we saw:

We walked to our next stop, which was less than a mile away.  We didn’t have time to walk through Central Park but at least we caught a glimpse:

Here’s another famous landmark we happened to pass and were excited to see, which I will admit we all recognized because of Moonstruck, my favorite movie of all time:

Our actual destination was the Church of Saint Paul the Apostle.  This is the Mother Church for the Missionary Society of Saint Paul the Apostle, otherwise known as the Paulist Fathers, the priests who have staffed my parish church since I was a very little girl.  Our former pastor, Father Joe Ciccone, who baptized Lorelei, was the pastor at Saint Paul at the time, although we had slight hopes of seeing him given that it was after five when we arrived.

We took some time to wander around and pray inside the church.  Travel Tip #5, for Catholics anyway, if there’s a cathedral or other notable church where you are vacationing, spend some time there.  It will be beautiful and it’s free!

While the kids and I were wandering around, John made a call and discovered that the office was still open so we decided to go around the corner and see if Father Joe was still around.

He was!  We had a short visit with him–the reason he was still there was that he had a dinner engagement nearby–and then we proceeded to our next BIG event!

I won’t lie–the crowd was big and the lines were long, although our City Pass helped.  But it was worth it!

Wow, that was a long day.  We got home late and exhausted, but we still pressed forward the next morning with more big adventures in store.

Our first stop on our last full day in New York was by William’s request.  William has favorites of many things, and that includes a favorite building, the Chrysler Building.  For many years he has talked about what a beautiful building it is, and we had promised we would make sure to include it in our trip.  The evening before he had already seen it all lighted up from afar as we stood on the observation deck of the Empire State Building, but he wanted to see it up close.

VERY close.

Just see how happy he is!

Unfortunately you can no longer go upstairs in the building unless you have legitimate business there, so we had to content ourselves with spending time in the lobby.

We thought we were humoring William, but the truth is that we were grateful for his obsession because it truly is a beautiful building and we were all glad we got to see it.

After a final good-bye to the Chrysler Building, we headed for the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

You know a person could spend days in here, right?  So we knew we would have to choose where to concentrate our efforts deliberately.

William wanted to see the Egyptian displays, and they were close at hand, so we started there.

Lorelei and I wanted to see paintings.  William did not want to leave Egypt.  So we left him there with John and headed upstairs.

Lorelei was especially interested in seeing the Van Gogh collection.

I cannot express what it is like to be absolutely surrounded by fabulous and famous works of art.  In every direction were works that were very familiar to us.

We were especially excited to see the painting below, a replica of which hangs on our family room wall!

At one point, Lorelei and I sat down in a random room just to rest and when we got up to leave we realized we had been sitting in a room full of priceless Picasso paintings without even noticing!

Having accomplished our main goal, we headed back downstairs to reunite with John and William, get a snack in the museum restaurant, and view some of the medieval collection.

Most of this collection had religious significance of course and we were mesmerized both by that and by the age of some of the pieces which were over 1000 years old.

Then it was sadly time to go back to Brooklyn and pack up to leave the next morning.

John had one final surprise for me.  We made a detour to Queens as we left the next morning and stopped to take a picture of this:

This is the Castorini home in the movie Moonstruck which as I have already mentioned is my favorite film of all time and which also holds special memories for us as we saw it on our first “dating anniversary” in February 1988.

We drove home by way of Baltimore.  John and the kids spent time with his mother while I was fortunate enough to attend a Catholic blogging conference nearby.  It was a magnificent trip and I cannot believe it was already a year ago!

Summer Fun: Vacation!

Our fun summer continued last week with a little less creativity needed on my part, since we were on our actual vacation!
We traveled to Beech Mountain, North Carolina, to stay at a timeshare provided by my oldest friend and her family.  We had a wonderful time and I took so many beautiful pictures that I would love to devote a longer post to it, but this is not that post! Instead, in keeping with what I’ve been doing, I’ll hit the high points and show a couple of pictures of each day’s special activity.
The kids and I (John was still working) drove up Friday afternoon.  It’s three hours from Knoxville, most of it through beautiful scenery.  John arrived at midnight and our friends the following day.  Saturday was for sleeping in and relaxing.
On Sunday we took a short hike, and were rewarded with close-up deer and a beautiful view at the top.
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Later in the afternoon we went down to nearby Banner Elk, looked around a bit, and celebrated Father’s Day with dinner out (and had a close encounter with another wild animal!).
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Monday we drove to Boone and did a little browsing in some of the interesting shops there.
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After lunch we visited Mystery Hill, a tourist attraction involving a mysterious “vortex” that causes people’s apparent height to change, water to run uphill, and some other fun effects.  The complex also contained a Native American museum, a restored 1800s home, and a fairly impressive dinosaur museum.
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Tuesday was another quiet day, with only a visit to the local general store, because we were waiting for Emily to arrive.  The kids were more than ready to hit the road again on Wednesday, when we visited Linville Caverns and then took a hike to Linville Falls, just on the Blue Ridge Parkway.
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After our walk, we stopped at a quaint roadside antique shop/dessert parlor.
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Thursday brought the event the kids had been most excited about–Grandfather Mountain.  I can’t recommend this attraction enough.  The animal habitats allow you to get very close to some animals who were formerly native to the area.  We were particularly excited about the cougars.
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We enjoyed the museum, some fudge, and a nature hike before driving to the top of the mountain.
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And the views up there defy description–especially those from the far side of the Mile-High Swinging Bridge.
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Checkout was Friday morning, and Emily and the kids and I went a little out of the way home to visit Creation Kingdom Zoo just over the Virginia state line in Gate City.  I had discovered its existence earlier this summer while researching nearby zoos.  We spent a happy two hours there feeding some animals and seeing some that were new to our experience.  William was especially excited about the spotted hyenas.
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We got back to Knoxville in the early evening and have spent most of the time since recovering from the vacation!  I plan to take it easy this week–if the kids will allow it.
 

Adventure Time! (Sponsored)

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.

Fall Break in Kentucky

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!

Travel Made Cheaper with Groupon

OK, y’all, so I only JUST got back from a short vacation (about which more later!), and I’m already wishing I had known what I am about to share with you before I planned it!
I don’t know about you but when it comes to traveling, I am always looking for hotel deals.  Ever since I first discovered Hotwire several years ago, I have made it my business to find the best hotel deals I can.  That’s especially important when our whole family travels together, because the days are long gone when we could cram all the kids in one room.  We need three rooms these days and you can imagine how quickly that adds up.
So I have various sites I frequent, but one thing I had never thought of was Groupon.
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I’m assuming you’ve heard of Groupon (who hasn’t?).  I’m embarrassed to say that I’ve never used it even though I’m usually pretty savvy about all things online and saving money.  I had some kinds of vague idea about two-for-one deals, but I had no idea that Grouon also had a large coupon code site.  Anyway, if you aren’t familiar, Groupon offers savings at over 9,000 retailers! There are over 70,000 coupons, promo codes and deals to choose from.
Here’s how it works.  Say you want to plan a trip and you generally reserve your lodgings through Orbitz.com (which is my usual favorite).
orbitz.com with Orbitz Promo Code Discounts & Coupon Codes
Don’t go straight to Orbitz–instead, click here.  That will take you directly to the Groupon page for Orbitz where you will find many coupon codes (including one for 15% off most hotels which would have saved me some money last weekend!).
I’ve already mentioned I’m a Hotwire fan.  Take a look here at the available deals.  Travelocity and Expedia are just a couple more of the many travel sites offering deals through Groupon.
I’m focusing on travel sites in this post because that’s where my mind is at the moment and because that’s what historically I’ve been most likely to search for coupons for, but Groupon offers deals for places like Walgreens and Target that it would never have even occurred to me to search for (until now).
Groupon is easy and free (and because I am a US Family Guide blogger, they are compensating ME for telling YOU how to save money–so we are all winning here!).  Check them out and if you have any other great ways to save money shopping online, please tell me in the comments.

Minnesota Memories

By the time this is published it will have been almost a year since our week in Minnesota–St. Paul, to be exact–where we stayed with our friends Renee and Erik and their daughter, Mikaela.
Some background:  Renee and I were roommates all four years in college.  Randomly placed together, we became the best of friends.  John was in her first French class so she’s known him longer than I have.  Renee started dating Erik the summer after John and I became a couple, so this is a friendship of very long standing.  Yet things being the way they are, the last time we saw Renee was when she and Mikaela flew into Knoxville to help me get my house in order before Lorelei arrived (that’s the kind of friends they are) and we hadn’t seen Erik since our last visit to Minnesota which was about 17 years ago!  So this was a much-anticipated reunion.
We could not have asked for better hosts.  They gave us a whole basement to stay in and took us shopping and bought food for the week, taking account of very picky William.  William had a hard time being away from home and routines for a week and they could not have been kinder or more understanding of his needs.  Some days they had to work–in fact, Renee had to go out of town on business for a couple of days–but they made sure we had places to go, things to see, and a home to return to.  We had so much fun!  And I’m going to share some of the highlights with you.
First on our agenda was Como Park, which was just down the road a piece.  First we went to the Conservatory.
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Next we went to the zoo.  Now we’d been to the zoo on our last visit and had joked over the years about how . . . shall we say . . . behind the times it was.  I am happy to say that conditions were vastly improved.  I didn’t take a lot of pictures but I can tell you that we especially enjoyed watching the gorillas and their baby.
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There’s a story behind that polar bear picture.  Last time we visited, the polar bear exhibit was much smaller, and the bear was obviously disturbed–swimming in a particular unvarying pattern over and over again.  We’ve never forgotten about this sad sight, so we were very excited to see that the polar bear exhibit was revamped and the bear was playing with toys and splashing and just having a marvelous time.
But then we learned the rest of the story . . . when we happened to move to the other side of the exhibit and saw that inside the enclosure the original bear was pacing, clearly as sad and disturbed as ever.  I guess the change came too late for him.
You’ve probably heard about all the lakes in Minnesota and we enjoyed several, going swimming in two that were nearby and walking around the one at Como Park.  I don’t know why I didn’t take more pictures.
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The following day we visited the Minneapolis Institute of Art.  We couldn’t see everything, and William has an interest in Asia, so that was the section where we started.   We never made it to the European exhibits. Again, I wish I had taken more pictures.  It’s an incredible museum.
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Teddy joined us midweek–he’d been working in Connecticut–and he came with us to tour the absolutely beautiful St. Paul Cathedral.  It was the perfect place to explore on a rainy afternoon.
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There’s never enough time to really experience a cathedral.  What with all the statues and side chapels and iconography and inscriptions I cold have spent hours there.st paul 3st paul 4st paul 6st paul 7st paul 8st paul 9
It wasn’t the best day for it but the windows were still pretty.

The main altar was stunning, and then behind it were wooden carvings, every one with meaning, that also cast these cool shadows.
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There was a mini-museum downstairs with some of the history of the cathedral, and after we took a look at that we headed out to drive around downtown St. Paul and look for some dinner.
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We ended up in a neat neighborhood with an Ethiopian restaurant and a cool used bookstore right down the street.  William had never had Ethiopian food, and he pronounced it “grand.”
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Our hosts thought we might like a trip to Duluth, which was a bit of a drive, so on one of the days they could accompany us we went on a road trip!  Duluth has lots of cool shops and restaurants so we started off by exploring the town.

Then we went swimming in Lake Superior–wading, really, because it was chilly and the waves were rough.  The kids had never seen a Great Lake before and I think they were pretty impressed.  We had fun chatting and watching them play.
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On our last day in Minnesota we did something I bet you’ve never done–we went to the Corgi races! Yes, you read that right.  We went to a nearby racetrack which was hosting a special event and it was just as cute as you might imagine.  The corgi races were interspersed with horse races, which is something I had never experienced in person so that was also pretty cool.
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That was our last day and the racetrack was actually along the road (the VERY LONG VERY FLAT ROAD) toward home, so we left straight from there.  I’ve left out tons of details from our trip–the non-photogenic ones like going to see the newest Star Trek film together, and shopping at the largest liquor store we’d ever seen, and watching movies together every night, and playing with their sweet elderly cat, and assisting Mikaela as she made homemade pasta–but I think you can tell that it was a wonderful trip with wonderful old friends who we probably shouldn’t wait 15 years to visit again!

Unexpected Vacation: Harpers Ferry and the Baltimore Museum of Art

A little over a year ago, almost all our family (Jake excepted) took a short vacation together.  Going on vacation all in the same car was something we thought we’d sworn off forever, but this was a quickly planned journey.
John’s uncle was sick, and he wasn’t getting better.  John felt strongly that we needed to get up to Baltimore to see him, and soon.  It turns out he was right.
We had a wonderful couple of visits with Uncle Boh.  He’d been in the hospital right before we arrived, and had to go back almost right after we left, but he was home while we were there, and we were able to share meals and conversation.  It was truly a blessing, as he died less than two weeks later.
We couldn’t burden Uncle Boh and Aunt Barbara with our company the entire time we were in town, obviously.  So we took the opportunity to see some sights.
Even when you’ve spent as much time visiting one place (Baltimore) as we have, there’s always something new to explore if you look! We visited Harpers Ferry, West Virginia one day and the Baltimore Museum of Art the other.
John and I had been to Harpers Ferry close to 30 years before, but I had only the vaguest memories of that rainy day visit.  We were blessed with incredible weather this trip, which made for some beautiful pictures that I am excited to share here.  Unfortunately, my waiting so long to memorialize this trip means that this post will be long on pictures and short on explanations.
If you’ve heard of Harpers Ferry at all, it will be in connection with John Brown and his failed attempt here to abolish slavery via armed insurrection.  You’ll learn plenty about those events if you visit.
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That, obviously, is the man himself!  Below you’ll see the building where he and his men holed up.
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Harpers Ferry is full of history with displays in several of the buildings on the main street.

There are also shops and restaurants to explore along the main thoroughfare and side streets.  Harpers Ferry is a stopping point along the Appalachian Trail so there is some serious hiking gear available.
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There’s an historic home to visit and a church (and the remains of a church) to investigate.
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Situated at the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers, it’s also a place of extraordinary natural beauty.
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Looking back at this visit one year later, I still remember how beautiful everything was and how happy we were.  It was one of those perfect days.
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The next day we stuck closer to home base, and visited the Baltimore Museum of Art.  I can’t think why we’d never been there before.  It’s not because of the kids, because our kids like that kind of thing.
Here’s some of what we saw outside:
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Inside there were several sections to explore.  We saw sculptures and other three-dimensional expressions of art:
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The collection of the kind of paintings most people probably think of when they hear the words “art museum” was indeed impressive:
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But they also have interesting collections of art from Africa and Asia:
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They also had a great modern collection that we had to rush through because we were supposed to be somewhere.
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But that’s okay, because now I have a reason to go back there!
And don’t worry, we didn’t leave Baltimore without taking part in the essential summertime ritual:
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Junior Parents' Weekend at Notre Dame

Our Notre Dame adventure is about to come to a close.  The day this is published, we will be in South Bend for Teddy’s graduation, and I’m sure there will be stories and adventures to share!
But before that, let’s go back to last February, to Junior Parents’ Weekend, which for some reason I did not write up at the time.
Many colleges have special weekends each year for families.  Spring Hill did, and I attended four Family Weekends, bringing along various family members each time.   Because Emily did not have a car and we had to pick her up for every vacation, our visits to Mobile were quite frequent, and we grew very familiar with and fond of the city.
Our Notre Dame experience has been different.  In contrast to the over 20 times one or the other of both of us drove back and forth to Mobile, we’ve been to Notre Dame maybe six times.
So JPW was a big deal.  It started off rockily, as we were a little late to the big dinner gathering Teddy’s friends and their families–three tables full of them, with Italian food served family style.
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The next morning we attended the Open House at the Business School (Teddy has double-majored in Political Science and Finance).
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We spent the rest of the day walking around campus and seeing sights.
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We’ve visited Notre Dame in summer, fall, and spring, and for this winter visit I was hoping to see some snow, but I suppose I should be grateful that it was unseasonably mild as you can see.
Notre Dame boasts its own art museum, the Snite Museum of Art.   We thought we were going in for a quick look but remained for some time, impressed by the size and quality of the collection.


Of course, I couldn’t pass up the chance to walk around one of the lakes with Teddy.
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There’s no such thing as a special weekend at a Catholic college without a special Mass, so next we headed back to the Joyce Center for Saturday evening services.
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Then it was just a short trip to another area of the building for the President’s Dinner.  Check out the Irish detailing on the dessert below!
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The REAL fun happened after the dinner and the speeches, when Teddy and a group of his friends hosted a party for us at one of their off-campus residences.  Some of dads in particular had a lot of fun reliving their misspent youths.  There was certainly much alcohol, and beer pong was played, but what I enjoyed much was talking to Teddy’s friends and renewing friendship with some of the moms I had met on my last visit.
It was a LATE night, and then there was brunch in the morning followed by the long drive home.  I can’t believe that it was more than a year ago already, but what is even more unbelievable is that Teddy’s four years at Notre Dame have gone by so quickly.

Spring Fun in Chattanooga

We didn’t go anywhere for Spring Break this year, except to the zoo.  Today’s planned trip to Dollywood was canceled due to illness.  So I got to feeling nostalgic about last year’s Spring Break trip, which I had never gotten around to sharing here.
Because I’ve waited a year to write about this, the details of the trip are less than clear.  So I’m going to dump a LOT of pictures here, with less explanation than usual.  But let me start by saying that if you live in Knoxville, and you’ve never taken a trip to Chattanooga, you are missing out.  If you live farther away, it’s still worth the drive.  We only did about half of what we wanted to do last year–the children’s museum, the nature center, the art museum, and more all await another visit.
So one year ago yesterday we packed up and drove 90 miles to Chattanooga, where our accommodations were cheap and convenient and that’s the best that could be said about them.
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Clearly, Echo was not in favor of our leaving!
Tickets to local attractions are available at reduced prices online, so we were ready to get started as soon as we arrived.  We began at the bottom of Lookout Mountain and rode the Incline Railway to the top.
I’ve ridden this thing before, years and years ago, but the cars were more enclosed than they are now and the . . . STEEPNESS . . . did not register with me.  It registered with poor William, though, and he was not a fan.
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Once at the top, the first thing to do is marvel at the beautiful views, which are not in short supply on Lookout Mountain.
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We also got a look at the machinery that runs the Incline Railway.
Our first stop was Battles for Chattanooga, right down the street.  On our way we enjoyed the beautiful homes and gardens we passed.  We browsed the gift shop which is replete with Civil War memorabilia while we waited for the show to start.
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The show itself is a combination of film and one of those models of all the battlefields that lights up to illustrate the various campaigns.  You may have seen something similar in Gettysburg or Atlanta if you’ve been there.  This was the first time I’d been to this attraction, and it was very instructive and provided context for Point Park, our next stop.
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History, rock formations, and views are plentiful in Point Park, which charges a small entry fee on the honor system.  There’s a little self-guided museum, and miles of walking trails which I am hoping to return to explore one day.  Seriously, it’s so beautiful and you could spend an entire day right here.
We had other places to go, though, so we rode the Incline back down (William had to be very brave!) and drove the car back up so we could SEE ROCK CITY, just like the barns say.
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Rock City is an attraction that is hard to categorize.  The brainchild of Mr. and Mrs. Carter above, what began as an extension of the garden around their home is now a network of trails, massive rock formation, nerve-wracking bridges, breathtaking views, and more.
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Above you see a nice solid rock bridge and a swinging bridge.  Can you guess which one I walked across?
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I bet you guessed right! 🙂
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Directly above you’ll see a shot of Lovers’ Leap (with the waterfall turned green in honor of Saint Patrick!) and then what Rock City is probably most famous for: the view of seven states which strikes me as totally possible on a clear day.
There are some rare white fallow deer housed at Rock City.  I didn’t get a picture but you can see Lorelei and William looking at them below!
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The white deer are part of the fairy tale motif for which Rock City is known.  Gnomes are plentiful, and there’s a whole gallery of nursery rhyme scenes.
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At the conclusion of our Rock City adventure, we found a family-friendly Asian restaurant nearby before retreating to our lodgings to rest up for the next day’s activities.
We started the second day of our trip with another iconic Chattanooga attraction:  Ruby Falls.
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All I can say is that it’s a good thing God chose Leo Lambert and not me to discover His handiwork and reveal it to the masses.  The story of his harrowing crawl through the pitch-dark and tiny passageways is terrifying. Luckily we can experience the beauty of the caverns without doing that.  I’m just sharing a few pictures because even with an iPhone (WAY better than the Kodak with flip-flash I had the first time I visited almost 40 years ago!) it’s just hard to capture good images in the low light.
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With Ruby Falls behind us, we headed down Lookout Mountain and into downtown Chattanooga with the Tennessee Aquarium next on our agenda.  They’d added a whole new building since our last visit.  One building showcases freshwater and the other seawater creatures.
I’d give more info on these creatures if I could, but it’s been a year and my memory of what things are is hazy.  William would be able to tell me if I asked him–it’s fun to hear him announce the names of obscure animals without reading the informational placards.
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These guys I recognize and you will too.  There are many of them in the bayou area and it was fun to watch them.
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I love all the beautiful colors and patterns–living art.
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Water creatures share the Aquarium with some other wild things.  This was taken in the butterfly room, where if you are lucky you may find yourself a perch for several butterflies!
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And while penguins seem a bit out of place to me I’m not going to complain because look how cute they are.  We had a hard time dragging the kids away.
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These guys though–they are creepy.
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The other-worldly, ethereal beauty of jellyfish is always fascinating to me.
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And there were more to come, as the Aquarium is currently hosting an art exhibit with jellyfish and art inspired by them.
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I’m pretty sure my kids would name the Aquarium if you asked them which part of our visit to Chattanooga they enjoyed most.
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We were there until closing time and then we hit downtown to search for a William-approved restaurant (Genghis Grill) before heading back to the motel.  We squeezed a lot of fun into two days and I was just talking to John today about how much more there is to see and do in Chattanooga.  We will be back!
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