Posted in photography, travel

Tuesday Tour: the big D

Many folks remember it from a popular long-running television show, but Papa and I have fond memories of actually traveling there in the late 70’s/early 80’s on our excursions away from our military post home back when Papa served in the armed forces.

I’m talking about Big D – Dallas, Texas. And when I think of Big D, I remember a song by the same name, written by Frank Loesser in 1956 for the musical The Most Happy Fella: ♪♫♪ “You’re from Big D…”Big D, little A, double L, A, S.”  ♪♫♪

Road trips to Dallas proved fun and exciting; sightseeing, entertainment, shopping, and delicious steak dinners were highlights of those jaunts. Some of the photos from those times were taken with a point and shoot film camera and aren’t the best quality. A couple were taken later with a 35 mm SLR film camera.

For fun, we enjoyed excursions with friends to Six Flags Over Texas, a 212-acre amusement/theme park located between Dallas and Fort Worth.  Being young couples with no children in tow, we spent an entire day on thrilling rides and watching live shows there.

The first park in the Six Flags family opened in 1961. The developer chose to name it Six Flags Over Texas to represent flags of six different countries – Spain, France, Mexico, the Republic of Texas, the Confederate States of America, and United States of America – that all governed the state at some time in its history.

For historical observation, we visited Dealey Plaza, “the exact spot where President John F. Kennedy was fatally shot,” the JFK Memorial, and the Texas School Book Depository Building from where it was concluded assassin Lee Harvey Oswald fired the shots that killed the President in 1963.

The JFK Memorial, a white concrete monument located in downtown Dallas not far from Dealey Plaza, was designed by architect Philip Johnson. The design is a 30 feet high and 50 by 50 feet wide square, open at the top, and is an imposing piece of art dedicated in 1970 to the late President.

We viewed the Texas School Book Depository Building from the street. At the time of our visit, the building had just been restored but the sixth floor (where Oswald fired from) remained empty. Much later in 1989, the Sixth Floor Museum with exhibits about the Kennedy assassination opened and is a popular attraction today.

Another museum giving historical information about Dallas County was housed in the 1892 Old Red Courthouse. Currently, this historic building is undergoing renovation and the museum is being moved to other buildings. Unfortunately, I took the following photo on a drive through the downtown area of the city, so it’s not the best shot.

Another site we spotted on an earlier drive that surprised us was a log cabin smack dab in the middle of this modern city. It proved to be a replica of the one-room John Neely Bryan Cabin, the first home in the city founded by Bryan in the early 1840’s.  

For shopping purposes, the first time we ever stepped inside the famous Neiman-Marcus store happened to be in Dallas. And I distinctly remember a very glitzy mall where it wasn’t unusual to see men in expensive cowboy hats, boots, and Western-styled suits along with their wives in fur coats.

But one memory I’ll never forget was experiencing Olla Podrida, a one-of-a-kind shopping gallery that existed in North Dallas on Coit Road. What a neat eclectic place it proved to be!

With unusual architectural structure, it was like shopping at an artisanal fair all under one roof. Inside Olla Podrida, which means “a bit of everything,” five levels of shops were found along walkways with canvas draped overhead.

All sorts of recycled building materials ranging from weathered timber and railroad ties to cell doors from an old jailhouse to antique stained glass windows were used in the construction of this one-of-a-kind place.

Shoppers could find an assortment of wares from artists and craftsmen including weavings, pottery, leather crafts, hand-made jewelry, amidst the 60+ specialty shops, galleries, restaurants, and antique stores.  

The photo above is one I found on Pinterest (source unknown). I truly regret that I didn’t take any photos inside that amazing place, which no longer exists. But I have memories of what pleasant and entertaining experiences we had there.

I also have two concrete reminders of Olla Podrida. One is a “tin-type” style photograph of us dressed in vintage clothing taken in a specialty photography shop there.

The other is an antique wooden printer’s drawer that originally held printer’s type letters and symbols used in printing presses. This was of special interest to me because at the time I was a reporter/editor for a daily newspaper.

We bought this one, along with a couple blocks of type and some miniature items that reflected our lives at the time. It has graced a wall in every home we’ve lived in ever since. Over the years, we’ve added memorabilia from places our family has visited until that antique printer’s drawer is full.

Every time I glance at it and the trinkets it holds, it resembles a sort of travel diary and causes me to recall wonderful memories of so many amazing places including the Big D.  

“Memory is the diary that we all carry about with us.” ~ Oscar Wilde

© 2022

Posted in Life, photography

Words for Wednesday: staying green

Finally!!! It’s green outside of Mama’s Empty Nest!

When spring finally springs forth and the color green appears before my eyes, it makes me happy. (Yes, sunshine does that too!)

I wandered outside on a balmy spring day last week with my trusty camera in hand. Green everywhere. To quote an old saying, “What a sight for sore eyes.”

Green, green, green. And that dialed up an old 1960’s folk song, sung by the New Christy Minstrels, in my head’s jukebox.

“Green, green, it’s green they say on the far side of the hill. Green, green, I’m going away to where the grass is greener still.”

I’m happy that I don’t have to travel to the far side of the hill to find greener grass than my own backyard. Our 2.25 acre yard is covered with a green blanket of grass. Green plants are popping up all around our house.

For most people, the color green is symbolic of growth, new beginnings, and flourishing aspects of life. It invokes thoughts of resurrection and restoration when we notice withered plants that appear dead and brown in color suddenly sprout a hint of green.

If you’ve been a long-time reader of Mama’s Empty Nest, you’ll know that my faith is important to me.  

For me as a believer in Christ, green symbolizes new birth (becoming a new person through the saving grace of a Savior) and everlasting life as well as spiritual growth and fruitfulness (exhibiting love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control as found in Galatians 5:22–23).

After capturing photos of the many green signs of Spring I found in my yard, I sought Bible verses that mention that vibrant color. Today I’m sharing those that resonated with me the most in hope (because isn’t that also what the season Spring invokes in us?) that God’s Word inspires and encourages my readers.   

The first one, taken from the 23rd Psalm, is probably most familiar to many people: “He makes me lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside quiet waters.” ~ Psalm 23:2

The entire psalm brings a balm to the soul but that verse paints a peaceful picture. Why? Because God heals our wounded and troubled souls when He forgives us. We find rest and restoration in Him when we figuratively “lie down in green pastures.” And when we do so, He also restores us with cool, refreshing water as our souls drink in His words of love and acceptance.

When we are refreshed and restored, it’s then important to embrace our new beginning in Christ, growing in faith, placing full confidence in God’s provision and love and exhibiting that good fruit that comes from a green tree or vine.

“But blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in him. They will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.” – Jeremiah 17:7-8

The key to staying green, growing spiritually in faith, and thriving is trusting God in all circumstances as we continue through life here on this earth.  

“But I am like a green olive tree in the house of God. I trust in the steadfast love of God forever and ever.” ~  Psalm 52:8 ESV

Just as a green growing season literally comes to an end, so do our human lives. Since I’m considered a ‘senior citizen,’ I find encouragement in the following verse from Psalm 92:14 – “They will still yield fruit in old age; They shall be full of sap and very green…”

Unlike the grass that dies, the plants that wither and fade away, even we who are mature in age must and can remain fruitful as seasons and years go by.

We must never stop encouraging, helping, and praying for those around us. We can leave legacies of faith for those who come after us, lead others to find rest and restoration for their weary souls, and glorify God with our good works done in His name.

For me faith is green. It never dies. It continues to flourish and grow no matter how old you are and what season of life you’re in.

“Beauty, strength, youth, are flowers but fading seen; duty, faith, love, are roots, and ever green.” ~ George Peele (Elizabethan dramatist & poet)

© 2022

Posted in Life, photography

Words for Wednesday: through the lens

Looking at old photographs makes me smile. I probably wouldn’t have said that a few years ago when I had mountains of them to sort through, decide to keep or toss, categorize chronologically, and arrange in photo albums/storage boxes. It was a several months-long project and I was relieved to complete it.

But now, I pull out those albums and boxes marked by years and take pleasure in perusing the contents from time to time. I’ve enjoyed taking photos since I got my very first camera – a Swinger Polaroid which took black and white instant photos – for my 12th birthday.

Back then from 1966-70, my cat, my family, and items I owned were my favorite subjects. Today I decided to share some photos I’ve taken with different kinds of cameras over the years.

After my Swinger became obsolete and film not available, I used an instamatic Kodak 110 film camera that needed flash cubes to shoot photos indoors. My photography skills weren’t the best and the photo quality wasn’t that great either.

Most of my shots were of family celebrations, college friends, a few places, and of course, my cat (although a different one). I don’t remember what happened to that camera I used in the 1970’s, but of course, it too became outdated.

After Papa and I married, we saved up some cash and bought a 35 mm film SLR Yashica camera from the military PX (Post Exchange) in 1979. We had no clue how to actually use it, so we took a photography class together where we also learned how to develop our own black and white photos.

I still took pictures of family and celebrations but started shooting more photos of places we traveled to and visited. Some of those photos have been highlighted in my previous Tuesday Tour posts.

Photographs were fun to take once more because they were better quality. Naturally, I wasn’t always sure I had good shots until the films were developed. But I took scads of photos with that camera throughout the 1980’s.

Somewhere along the line, it stopped working properly and we didn’t want to spend money to repair it because by then, we had children, purchased our first home, and money was tight living on one income.

Eventually, we acquired one of those large, cumbersome video cameras that became popular and captured our lives with it for the most part.  When that too gave up the ghost, we purchased a new, smaller, improved video camera.

In the meantime, I also owned a couple of point and shoot film cameras, but they also became inoperable after some time. Most of the photos taken with those are of our children and our extended family, with a few vacations thrown in for good measure.

By the 2000’s, compact point and shoot digital cameras became the rage, and I inherited a used one from our daughter after she purchased a new one. Being able to see your shots immediately to ascertain whether it was decent or not like the one below (yes, another cat!) was amazing!

Image ©

I used that camera for some time until Papa gifted me with a compact Nikon CoolPix point and shoot digital and I loved that pretty, little, burgundy thing. So small and handy, I could keep it in my purse, and I used it frequently.

Taking photographs became a nice hobby, especially when we became empty nesters with kids flying out of the coop and when I found myself with more free time.

Enter the DSLR camera that I received as a gift from Papa and my kids. A whole new world of photography unfolded before me with that camera and its interchangeable lenses that I still use today.

It has traveled with me to fascinating places and captured many gatherings and endearing photos of my loved ones, especially our grandchildren.  I do use my smartphone camera from time to time because of the convenience of having it available and its size, but I still can’t relinquish my dependable Canon.

While taking thousands of photos, my camera has served me well, giving me a different perspective on my world as I look at it through the camera lens. As long as it still works well, I’ll use it as my trusty companion.  

If you need me, I’ll be behind the camera, just to show where I’ve been.

“Our pictures are our footprints. It’s the best way to tell people we were here.” ~ Joe McNally, American photographer

© 2022

Posted in photography, travel

Tuesday Tour: Of Cowboys and Indians

As a kid I played “Cowboys and Indians” and absorbed a steady diet of more western-themed television shows in the 1960’s than today’s kids could even imagine.

I recently read a quote by famous old-time cowboy Tom Mix: “The Old West is not a certain place in a certain time; it’s a state of mind. It’s whatever you want it to be.” That prodded me into reminiscing about those old television westerns.   

Mix, a fellow Pennsylvania native turned western cowboy, became famous in radio and cowboy movies and was dubbed “King of the Cowboys” in the 1920’s. He was known to be an excellent horseman, shooter, and showman. Did his popularity spur a continuing interest in the western genre of entertainment? By the 1950’s and 60’s, television programs and movies featuring Cowboys and Indians were plentiful on the air waves.

For fun and to test my memory, I listed those television series I recall best and 16 easily came to mind. From early shows like Roy Rogers, The Lone Ranger, Wyatt Earp, Wagon Train, Death Valley Days, The Rifleman, Sugarfoot, and Cheyenne to those long running series Bonanza, Gunsmoke, and The Virginian which lasted until the early 1970’s, I remember them all.  Not to mention all those John Wayne cowboy movies I’ve seen.

“Don’t ever for a minute make the mistake of looking down your nose at westerns. They’re art – the good ones, I mean. They deal in life and sudden death and primitive struggle, and with the basic emotions – love, hate, and anger – thrown in. We’ll have westerns films as long as the cameras keep turning. The fascination that the Old West has will never die. And as long as people want to pay money to see me act, I’ll keep on making westerns until the day I die.” ~ John Wayne

Thinking about all those Cowboys and Indians also caused me to remember some places Papa and I visited in the past, the subject of today’s Tuesday Tour displaying old photos taken with a point and shoot film camera.

As a young married couple, we were transplanted from the Northeast to a place where cowboys and Native Americans were prevalent. Well over 40 years ago, Papa was a military man, and we were stationed in Oklahoma.

While there, we visited some sites that celebrated the Old West. In addition to locating Geronimo’s grave out on the range, we traveled to Anadarko, Oklahoma where an outdoor museum, known back then as Indian City, existed.

The town of Anadarko calls itself the “Indian Capital of the Nation” and the National Hall of Fame for Famous American Indians can also be found there.

Back in 1980 when we visited, the museum consisted of outside displays of reconstructed dwellings to represent seven different tribes that called the southwest and southern plains home: the Wichita, Caddo, Pawnee, Pueblo, Chiricahua, Apache, and Plains.

We viewed native dancing demonstrations, Native American arts and crafts displays in the Indian City Museum, and enjoyed a guided tour, when our guide related information about American Indians’ way of life including their cultures.

The museum was founded in the mid 1950’s on the site where the Tonkawa Indians massacre by Shawnees and other tribes occurred during the Civil War. Another interesting fact is the University of Oklahoma’s Anthropology Department supervised building the facsimile dwellings for Indian City, and the grounds contained the only authentic restoration of American Indian dwellings and their way of life in the United States.

Scouring the internet to see if Indian City still exists now in 2022, I found that unfortunately, time had taken its toll on the museum grounds and it was in a dire state of disrepair when the owners listed it for sale in 2004.

For now, the site is closed; however, I learned the Kiowa Tribe purchased it and has plans to renovate the outdoor museum and build a state-of-the-art Native American cultural center there. Hopefully, this worthwhile endeavor will succeed as more aspects of Native American culture that be preserved and displayed.

From American Indians to Cowboys, Papa and I also viewed an amazing collection of Western history, art, and culture when we twice visited what was then called The Cowboy Hall of Fame and is now known as the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.

This 80,000 square foot museum on 20 acres was founded in 1955 to preserve and exhibit artifacts and Western art featuring the legacy of the American West.  Visitors can view an outstanding collection of Western art including works by Frederic Remington and Charles M. Russell.

One of the eye-catching pieces I’ve never forgotten is a huge sculpture by James Earle Fraser called The End of the Trail.

Other exhibits showcase American cowboys, the sport of rodeo, Native American culture, and a re-creation of a turn-of-the-century Western town called Prosperity Junction.

Three major halls display history of the American west: Hall of Great Westerners honoring those men and women who made significant contributions to the American West; Hall of Great Western Performers honoring those who advanced the western genre in entertainment; and Rodeo Hall of Fame where those receiving rodeo awards, chosen by the Rodeo Historical Society, are honored.

Obviously, this site attracts people interested in America’s Western way of life since the museum website reports more than 10 million visitors from around the world have come through the doors. To see some of the collection items there, click here.    

Living in Oklahoma, Papa and I experienced just a little of what Cowboy and Indian life was like by visiting those two note-worthy places. On top of that, real cowboys, who not only owned horses but competed in rodeos as well, were part of our family and we enjoyed attending some rodeos.

Those days are past for us, but for those who still enjoy Cowboys and Indians, I am amazed to have found a magazine simply entitled Cowboys & Indians. Click here to check it out.

“It’s about passion. Our pages are filled with it. Passion for a place called the American West. Passion for the lifestyle, the attitude, the outlook. It’s uniquely American and increasingly international. It honors the past and forges the future.” ~ Cowboys & Indians magazine

© 2022

Posted in photography, travel

Tuesday Tour: all about that space

It was a year of firsts.

It happened near the end of my very first year as a school student. Even though I was only nearly seven years old and in first grade, I distinctly remember when the very first American astronaut, Alan Shephard, was launched into outer space for the first time – a grand total of 15 minutes in May of 1961.

It was a huge history-making event and ushered in a new era of being a bit space-crazy.

Television shows about space garnered the air waves and I watched them all, fascinated. From the 60’s era cartoon The Jetsons to the silly My Favorite Martian to the campy Lost in Space (“Danger, Will Robinson!”) to the mostly forgotten It’s About Time , they all attracted my attention on the television screen. 

Being in the same generation as I was, Papa watched those shows too and became a big fan of the long-running series Star Trek after its debut in the late 1960’s.

During that decade, space travel for real continued until the ultimate happened – Americans landed and walked on the moon. I remember being glued to the television set watching that seemingly miraculous event in 1969 and nearly filling up a scrapbook with clippings about that momentous day.

So, it’s no wonder both Papa and I enjoyed a visit to the U.S. Space and Rocket Center during our inaugural empty nest road trip back in 2010. That visit, when we met up with our daughter who lived down South back then, is the subject of today’s Tuesday Tour.

Located at One Tranquility Base in Huntsville, Alabama, we spent an entire day at that site, which is a Smithsonian Institute Affiliate.

Huntsville became renown as Dr. Wernher von Braun, along with a team of rocket scientists, established the beginnings of America’s space program there when they developed rockets that not only launched the first American satellite into orbit but also eventually sent astronauts to the moon.  

While working on those projects, Dr. von Braun envisioned creating a museum, along with the U.S. Army Missile Command and NASA, to feature permanent exhibits of the space program’s hardware.

On United States Army donated land, the U.S. Space and Rocket Center became a reality and opened in 1970, displaying one of the largest collections of rockets and space memorabilia in the world.  An estimated 17 million visitors have toured the center since it opened.

The museum is open daily, except for Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and New Year’s Day, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tickets for adults (aged 13+) are $30; children aged 5-12 are $20; and those under 4 are free.

Admission to the center includes numerous interactive indoor exhibits, museum simulators and rides, and access to the outdoor attractions including Shuttle Park, Rocket Park, Military Park, and the Moon Crater.

Where else could you view over 1,500 space artifacts, the largest display in the world of rockets, and try your hand at a flight simulator or be flung 140 feet straight upwards in 2.5 seconds on the Space Shot just so you can feel what it’s like to be in a rocket launch?

Papa and Daughter were adventurous enough to brave the Space Shot while this Mama stood by snapping photos with a point and shoot digital camera.

We also viewed an assortment of military hardware: rockets, missiles, missile launchers, and other aircraft, including a space shuttle. Much of it reminded Papa and I of our younger years when Papa was a military man and I edited documentation for a software company with a military contract.

One of our favorite spots though was a facsimile of the Apollo 11 moon landing site complete with a lunar landing model and a replica of the American flag astronauts planted on the cratered surface of the moon. There we enjoyed staging photos to appear weightless and walking on the moon.

And of course, a stop in the U.S. Space and Rocket Center Gift Shop was a must where we found all kinds of fun NASA-related products and souvenirs. Our science-minded daughter noticed the perfect book she would have liked as a child.

And I literally laughed out loud at a mug which we just had to purchase. Its message still makes me chuckle to this day.

Since the center is also home to Space Camp®, an on-site educational camp program that enables participants to experience what it’s like to train to be astronauts, there is also a Space Camp Store. Although I thought only school-aged children could attend the camp, it is actually open to individuals, families, and even international visitors, but advance booking is necessary.

Much has been added and improved at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center since we visited over a decade ago. One of the additions is the Davidson Center for Space Exploration, an enormous exhibit hall containing a full-size prototype Saturn V rocket, the type of rockets that took astronauts to the moon.

Today’s visitors can also try the G-Force Accelerator, where they experience 3Gs of centrifugal force. And for an additional cost, more adventurous tourists can try virtual reality experiences like the Apollo Virtual Reality Experience or DIVR+ (virtual reality snorkeling system with sensory feedback).

Many other experiences can be enjoyed at the center as well. Click here for more information.  

Although we didn’t become “lost in space” while visiting this historical one-of-a-kind museum, we did find it fascinating and became more appreciative of those who dreamed big about journeying into space and made that dream a reality.

“Space is an inspirational concept that allows you to dream big.” ~ Peter Diamandis

© 2022

Posted in Life, photography

Words for Wednesday: not hanging my head

Remember that old nursery rhyme learned as a child? “Rain, rain, go away. Come again another day.”

Well, the rhyme that’s been spinning around my mind the last few days is “Snow, snow, go away. Come again some winter day.”

It’s past the middle of April and supposedly, we’ve been in the spring season for almost a month now. But you wouldn’t know it by checking the weather and temps in my neck of the woods.

Now, don’t get me wrong; I’m all about winter. I actually like it. That cold nip in the air invigorates me and I appreciate it so much more than hot, humid weather. And snow…it’s beautiful…but not so much in April after a long winter season like we’ve had.

It seems spring has been a long time coming and for most of the latter part of March and beginning of this month, I could only enjoy some vibrant color by viewing potted plants indoors.

Just when I thought spring had finally arrived because our yard turned a verdant green, the trees began to bud, and those lovely daffodils, jonquils, and aromatic hyacinths bloomed adding much needed color to my life, winter stepped roared back into the picture again.

One day the outside thermometer rose up near 80°; the next day it plummeted, and subsequently a mixture of rain/sleet blew in. And this past week, we experienced blustery weather with snow flurries causing a blanket of white to cover that nice green grass…again.

I saw a meme on social media recently and I thought yep, that’s exactly it! “It’s like winter is really mad and keeps storming out of the room and then coming back yelling ‘And another thing’!”

So, for now spring is on hold but I’m still holding out for its arrival. I’ll drag my winter coat back out, pile on extra layers of clothing, and bear it, hoping a change comes soon.

It just makes me sad to see my spring flowers hanging their pretty little heads because they’re so cold and worn down with icy coverings.

However, just like any disappointment or disruption in life that comes our way, I remember that “this too shall pass.” I won’t hang my head down.

“Never let your head hang down. Never give up and sit down and grieve. Find another way. And don’t pray when it rains if you don’t pray when the sun shines.” ~ Leroy Satchel Paige

© 2022

Posted in photography, travel

Tuesday Tour: ride like the wind

Traveling without children for the first time in years was freeing.

Just like the lyrics from an 80’s song by Christopher Cross – “I’ve got to ride, ride like the wind, to be free again” – these two newly appointed empty nesters were “riding like the wind.”

As we were riding down the highways of Kentucky on our inaugural empty nest road trip back in 2010, we decided to stop at a famous place where there IS a tremendous amount of “riding like the wind” – Churchill Downs, home of the Kentucky Derby, the famous horse race held on the first Saturday of May.

Located in south Louisville, the famous and historic Churchill Downs horse racing complex first opened in 1875 and was named after the Churchills, a prominent Kentucky family.

The complex consists of 147 acres, including the twin spire grandstand, built in 1895 and now the track/derby symbols, the racetrack itself, stables, clubhouse, 79 luxury suites, the Kentucky Derby Museum, and several parking lots.

Designated in 1986 as a National Historic Landmark, the racetrack is currently owned and operated by Churchill Downs Incorporated.

The Kentucky Derby Museum includes interactive exhibits deemed family friendly and informs visitors everything they want to know about training and racing thoroughbred horses. A short 360° immersive documentary, entitled “The Greatest Race,” about the Kentucky Derby can be viewed there as well.

Admission tickets to the museum also include access to a guided historic walking tour of Churchill Downs, the museum gift shop, and the Derby Café & Bourbon Bar. Other tours are available at additional and various costs as well.

Visitors might get a kick out of visiting the museum’s gift shop, open during regular museum hours, where one can purchase collectibles, gifts, souvenirs, and even apparel, including outlandish hats to wear to the Kentucky Derby. You do not need to purchase admission fees to the museum to browse in the store though.

On Kentucky Derby Day, 50,000 people can be seated to watch the races but crowds can soar over 150,000 as many purchase admission into the infield area of Churchill Downs.

Papa and I have actually visited Churchill Downs on two separate occasions, although not during the Derby.

The first time in the fall of 2010, we just stopped by to see the place for ourselves, and I captured a photo of the life-size bronze statue of Barbaro, a racehorse who won the Kentucky Derby in 2006 but whose potential greatness to win the Triple Crown ended when his leg fractured during the Preakness Stakes.  

On our second visit in May 2013, almost all our family joined us when we attended races during the “Spring Meets” of the year, beginning the week before the Derby and running all the way through early July. Another round of races commence in September and then again during “Fall Meets” in late October and closing on Thanksgiving weekend.

We purchased general admission tickets at a reasonable price, which gave us seating in non-reserved areas (first come, first served) of the Grandstand, and access to the Padlock area, Paddock Plaza, and food court.

We watched several races on the one-mile dirt oval main track, upon which the Derby is run, and on the 7/8 mile-long turf track located inside the main track.  The first time at horse races for all of us proved to be a fun and exciting experience cheering on those magnificent horses and their jockey riders.  

Not only did we have decent seats to view them galloping by on their way to the finish, but we but could also watch them on a huge jumbotron-like screen.

I especially liked the onset of the races when a red jacket clad bugler appeared on the platform to herald the opening with the “Call to the Post.”  The horses charging out of the chutes afterwards was positively thrilling.

Even though officially there is not a dress code to attend live races at Churchill Downs with either reserved box or general admission tickets, there is a suggested one. The management states they have “the right to deny admission to anyone whose attire they consider to be inappropriate.”

The Churchill Downs website offers suggestions for business casual, smart casual, and track casual and which areas of the property require certain attire. When we attended the live races, the ladies in our family wore dresses and the gents wore dress slacks and dress shirts.

As a child, I was enamored of horses, especially since my oldest sister and brother-in-law owned several, although they were quarter horses not thoroughbreds. Witnessing those sleek and speedy racehorses – magnificent animals with hearts to run like the wind – at Churchill Downs was an experience I won’t forget.

“A horse gallops with his lungs, perseveres with his heart, and wins with his character.” ~ Federico Tesio (1869-1954), Thoroughbred horse breeder

© 2022

Posted in photography, travel

Tuesday Tour: bridging the gap

This empty nest Mama is also a Nana to three grandchildren, who make my heart sing with happiness. It’s always a blessing to spend time with them, especially since only one of those little sweethearts lives near us. Just last week, one of my blog posts detailed a day devoted to time spent with our nearest one.

While Papa and I focused on taking her places a child would enjoy, we also introduced her to places that float Nana’s boat as well – a lighthouse and a covered bridge. Since she had never seen those sights in person, I took time to explain their purpose to her.

Today on our Tuesday Tour, I’m showcasing one of those sites we visited – an old, wooden covered bridge. Long time readers will remember I posted an entire series of these structures before.

This one, Kidds Mill Covered Bridge, was new to us as we’d never observed it prior to our one-day excursion with our granddaughter. She enjoyed skipping through the bridge and watching the river flowing beneath it. Nana, of course, took photos.

Kidds Mill Covered Bridge is considered to be the oldest of 20 remaining Smith truss style bridges in the United States. Crossing over the Shenango River, this bridge is located in Mercer County, Pennsylvania.

Open only to pedestrian traffic, the bridge is 124 feet long. And I’m sad to relate that the inside of the structure, which was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1974, is marked with abundant graffiti.

The bridge’s history dates back to the 1850’s when a man named Robert Kidd established a mill nearby.  There seems to be no documentation about when the first covered bridge was built there but historians have noted it existed in 1859 when it needed repairs.

That first bridge was destroyed by flood waters in 1867, and the current bridge was erected in 1868, designed and developed by Robert W. Smith of the Smith Bridge Company of Toledo, Ohio. No other information about its construction exists, but the bridge is called a Smith truss because that design was patented by Smith from the Toledo bridge company.   

Vehicular traffic used the bridge for over a century, but it was bypassed by a modern bridge and other roads by the early 1960’s, and the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation determined the bridge should be demolished. However, Mercer County passed a resolution to protect Kidds Mill Bridge as an historic landmark and assumed responsibility to maintain it.

Local traffic used the bridge until 1979 when an overloaded truck damaged several trusses, deeming the bridge unsafe, and resulting in it being closed to traffic completely.

By 1984, the bridge was in further trouble, and it was feared it would collapse. Again, the bridge was saved when the county leased it to the Shenango Conservancy, a non-profit, for a period of 99 years beginning in 1989.

The Shenango Conservancy rehabilitated Kidds Mill Bridge the next year, developed a park at the site, and continues to maintain this Mercer County historical landmark.

Even though the day wasn’t warm or spring-like, we examined the old covered bridge with our granddaughter for quite a while. She had her first look at a site many people have never seen in person, and she learned something new as I told her why covered bridges were built in the past.

You might say we were bridging the gap between the old and the new. The past and the future. The aged and the young. History of yesteryear and reality of today.

“Keep all special thoughts and memories for lifetimes to come. Share these keepsakes with others to inspire hope and build from the past, which can bridge to the future.” ~ Mattie Stepanek

© 2022

Posted in grandparenting, Life, photography

Words for Wednesday: happiness

While writing yesterday’s blog post, the sun was shining outside my windows. And that prompted me to remember an old John Denver song, Sunshine on My Shoulders, that found its way into the post’s title.

Of course, the music rolodex in my mind rolled up the lyrics to that old 70’s tune. “Sunshine on my shoulders makes me happy…sunshine almost all the time makes me high.”  

It’s true. Sunshine makes me very happy. My mood is uplifted to the highest heights when that golden orb in the sky makes its appearance.

And that made me ponder about the emotion of happiness. I read somewhere that happiness could be defined thusly: experiencing joy, contentment, or positive well-being, combined with a sense that one’s life is good, meaningful, and worthwhile.

What makes you happy?

Good question, isn’t it? As I’ve matured in age and wisdom (I hope), I’ve come to realize that another person does not have the power to make someone happy. Unfortunately, so many of us expect our spouses, our children, our families, our friends, our government, you name whatever the relationship is, to make us happy.

But when it comes right down to it, human beings will let us down, disappoint us, make us unhappy even. Why? Because others are not responsible for our happiness. Only we are ourselves. It’s a choice really.

Some famous folks in history knew that:

“Resolve to keep happy, and your joy and you shall form an invincible host against difficulties.” ~ Helen Keller

“Very little is needed to make a happy life; it is all within yourself, in your way of thinking.” ~ Marcus Aurelius Antonius

“Most people are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.” ~ Abraham Lincoln

A couple of weeks ago, our oldest grandchild spent a weekend with us. Since we are her caretakers often while her mommy works, Papa and I decided to make that Saturday with her something special, not the usual, not the norm.

We told her we would embark on a little trip after awakening that morning. Of course, she wanted to know where we were going, but we declared it a surprise, which made her even more excited.

After gathering fun items to occupy her time in the car, she helped me pack a picnic-style lunch, and we set out on our little venture. It was a chilly day and the sun didn’t shine much, but I still found my heart happy.

As soon as we arrived at our destination, she recognized it since it’s somewhere she’s been before. Kraynak’s is a nursery and garden center with a gigantic store full of seasonal décor, giftware, and most importantly to a child – toys and games!

But more than that, a special section of the store is devoted to holiday displays that delight children and adults alike. Our grandchild has seen the Christmas season display a few times and visited Santa there as well.

Prior to Easter though, the store features an Easter Bunny Lane with delightful scenes depicting spring and the Christian holiday of Easter. And that’s what we came to experience.

Her face lit up with excitement when we explained why we were there. She loved the displays and took time to discover every little aspect of them. Then we roamed the store looking at décor, plants and flowers, and inspecting the many aisles of toys and games.

It took quite some time for her to decide which toy she would like Nana and Papa to purchase for her but finally opted for an inexpensive pop-it fidget toy (if you are unfamiliar with these, click here).

We located a very nice park in a nearby town and ate our lunch there. Since we were a couple hours north of us, the weather was still very chilly, so we had what our little one calls a “car picnic.”

Then on we went to our next stop – a chocolate candy shop called Daffin’s Candies. There our sweet girl got to choose her own sweets – candy from the pick-a-mix bins and a little bit of chocolate too. Sounds like a child’s dream, doesn’t it?

As soon as we stepped inside, we inhaled the delectable aroma of chocolate, and couldn’t fail to notice a huge chocolate tree displayed in the center of the store with Easter decorations surrounding it.  At the rear of the store, we observed Chocolate Kingdom – animals, trains, castles, and houses made of chocolate, some weighing 100 pounds or more.

But our day wasn’t complete yet. We drove even farther north, stopping on the way at a covered bridge Papa and I hadn’t visited before, and our girl willingly ran around and skipped through the old wooden bridge with Nana following behind.

Our next stop was Presque Isle State Park, a peninsula that juts out into one of our nation’s Great Lakes, Lake Erie, to explore a bit. Visiting the Tom Ridge Environmental Center there, we learned about how the peninsula was formed and about the animals and habitats with interactive exhibits.

She liked going to the top of a 75-foot viewing tower so much, we had to do so twice, and didn’t mind the cold wind making us shiver.

Just inside the educational center, which is free to visit, she got a kick out of playing with three tall glass towers encasing little wooden scenes inside that move when you make a wheel spin.

We also stopped at one of Lake Erie’s lighthouses – a sight our little one had not experienced before. She was intrigued by it and really liked tramping through the snow and sand at the lake’s edge on the grounds there.

While exploring, we examined the ice at the water’s edge but then it truly surprised her to see the water completely frozen over in an area where people actually were walking out onto it. Then we spied little huts on the frozen surface and I explained to her that folks were ice fishing.

To end our day, we ate dinner at one of our grand girl’s favorite restaurants and then headed home to Nana and Papa’s house. A very full day. Very full of fun. And very full of happiness.

How do I know that our activities and time we three spent together brought our grandchild joy that day? The next day I found this evidence that she had drawn on a piece of paper in the car during our day-long excursion.

And that made me happy. It’s true that the way to be happy is to make others happy. That’s a choice I want to make every single day.

“Attitude is a choice. Happiness is a choice. Optimism is a choice. Kindness is a choice. Giving is a choice. Respect is a choice. Whatever choice you make makes you. Choose wisely.” ~ Roy T. Bennett

© 2022

Posted in History, photography, travel

Tuesday Tour: battleground

History is one topic of special interest here in Mama’s Empty Nest.  If you’ve been a long-time reader of this blog, you may recall that Papa (Mama’s husband) is a history buff.

He loves delving into that subject and visiting historical places and has passed that interest on to one of our daughters. As an ex-military man, Papa also enjoys extensive reading about war-time battles, particularly the Civil War. Our family once attended a Civil War re-enactment that Papa relished.

So, it was apropos and not surprising that our daughter presented something historical to Papa as a gift last Christmas – a framed map of the major battles of the American Civil War. It promptly found a spot hanging on the wall of our home office where Papa’s other favorite items are displayed.

During his time as a traveling sales representative, my husband briefly visited three Civil War battlefields in Virginia (which was part of his sales territory): Appomattox, Fredericksburg, and Cold Harbor.  Unfortunately, he did not have a camera with him or a cell phone with camera capabilities in those days, so we don’t have any photos from his visits.

But on our road trips, we have stopped and viewed three other Civil War battlefields, the subject of my Tuesday Tour today.

For those who aren’t familiar with American history, this war was fought between the northern states, called the Union, and the southern states, known as the Confederacy, between 1861 and 1865.

It was horrible, bloody, and the deadliest war Americans have ever fought – and we fought ourselves. Brothers against brothers, south against north, family members against family, friends against friends.

A gigantic divide that killed an estimated 620,000 people (some historians believe the number was actually higher) was bitterly waged all on our own American soil.

The toll on our country was horrendous and we should remember and learn from that terrible time, so we never repeat it.

That’s why it’s so important to know and understand history. Learn a vital lesson from it and don’t repeat the same mistakes. And importantly, teach our children history.

Our first stop on today’s battlefield tour is Antietam in Maryland. In 2003, Papa, two of our children, and I took a self-guided tour of that battlefield where 23,000 soldiers were killed, wounded, or missing after engaging in 12 hours of combat in September 1862. Approximately 4,800 of them are buried in the National Cemetery there.

Located on the National Park Service grounds are 96 monuments honoring soldiers, regiments, and states who fought there.  The battle began on that September morning around a small, stone building which was the Dunker Church.

The photo below of that church isn’t the best quality since it was taken with a 35 mm film point and shoot camera and light somehow interfered in the shot, but you can view the building that was surrounded by conflict.

Even though the victors of the Antietam battle were deemed inconclusive, the fighting there was important because it ceased the Northern Virginia Confederate Army’s first invasion into northern states.  This battle also led United States President Abraham Lincoln to issue a preliminary Emancipation Proclamation, promising freedom for those held in the bondage of slavery.

On our way back from a trip to Alabama in the fall of 2010, Papa and I stopped at Lookout Mountain, part of the Chattanooga Civil War Battlefield located in Tennessee and I took a number of photos with a digital point and shoot camera while there.

As we walked around the area, we marveled from that vantage point where we looked down on Chattanooga, known as the “”Gateway to the Deep South.” Nearly 150 years after the battle fought there, it wasn’t difficult to realize why the Union and Confederate armies fought for control of the city in 1863.

Southern troops had won a battle at nearby Chickamauga, Georgia in September of that year, but Union troops became victorious gaining control at Chattanooga during three days of fighting in November.

Historians call the Union Army’s victory one of the most dramatic turnarounds in American military history since they pushed Confederate troops back into Georgia. That success paved the way for Union General Sherman’s troops to “march to the sea,” destroying Atlanta and Savannah on the way. 

Our final stop on this tour of Civil War battlefields is in Gettysburg, located in south central Pennsylvania. The photos from this trip were taken (with my current DSLR camera) in early fall 2017 when our daughter and first grandchild traveled with us.

On that trip, we paid for a self-guided audio tour taken in our own vehicle and it was well worth it as we could stop at our own pace, exit our car, and walk around the sites we wanted to investigate further.

The audio tour lasts 3-5 hours depending on how often you stop and how much time you spend at each stop. Listening to what took place there as we viewed the sites was a sobering experience.

The entire Gettysburg Battlefield is quite large at just under 18 square miles end to end. Within the Gettysburg National Military Park, there are approximately 1,328 monuments, markers, and memorials.  So there is much to observe.

Fought during the sweltering days of July 1-3 in 1863, the Battle of Gettysburg was the bloodiest battle of the war and resulted in the largest number of casualties, an estimated 50,000.

Out of 120 generals who were present during the battle, nine were killed or mortally wounded. More than 170,000 soldiers fought at this site and it is considered the largest battle ever fought on the North American continent.

This Civil War battle became a major turning point in the war as Union Major General George Meade’s Army of the Potomac defeated Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia, successfully stopping invasion of the North.

There are many Civil War battlefields that Papa would still like to visit. And even though I’m not quite as interested in history as he is, I learn something each time we stop to view one historical spot or another.

One of the aspects that has become so evident to me is that we Americans cannot let differences divide us creating another “civil war.”

I found some noteworthy quotes made by famous Civil War participants that perhaps will give us food for thought and serve as reminders to us all:

“Don’t bring up your sons to detest the United States… Recollect that we form one country now. Abandon all these local animosities and make your sons Americans.” ~ Robert E. Lee, who served as Commander of the Confederate States Army during the Civil War

“There never was a time when, in my opinion, some way could not be found to prevent the drawing of the sword.” ~ Ulysses S. Grant, who served as Commanding General of the United States, led the Union Army to win the Civil War, and eventually became the 18th President of the United States in 1869

“The past is dead; let it bury its dead, its hopes and its aspirations; before you lies the future – a future full of golden promise.”~ Jefferson Davis, who served as President of the Confederate States during the Civil War

The Civil War was a horrible occurrence in our country, but history tells us America, despite the hardship and suffering, recovered and reunified once more. Eventually we Americans enjoyed a “future full of golden promise.”

But it also reminds us that we must cherish liberty, fight to preserve it, and endeavor to never lose our freedoms. And that means being unified, not divided, as the United States of America.

The battle to retain freedom continues even today and we still seem to have battlegrounds. Time to remember our history lessons.

“America will not be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedom, it will be because we destroyed ourselves.” ~ Abraham Lincoln, 16th President of the United States during the Civil War

© 2022