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

©mamasemptynest.wordpress.com 2022

Posted in Life, travel

Tuesday Tour: off the post

It’s true that photographs remind us of precious memories. Capture a picture or visual image and that will stick with me for a long time. I sometimes even think via pictures.

With that said, I’m kinda bummed that I don’t have photos of the places we’re visiting in today’s Tuesday Tour. But the memories, I have lots of those.

Back when Papa was a military man, we were stationed in the OK state – Oklahoma. The fun aspect of living where we did then was that it wasn’t a very distant drive to get to places worth seeing.

Whenever we got the opportunity, we left military installation housing where we lived (pictured above) and moseyed off to different surroundings, but I don’t have many photos of those times.

One fall, we ventured over to the eastern part of the state and spent a day enjoying nature at Lake Eufaula in Arrowhead State Park near McAllister, OK and at Robbers Cave State Park near Wilberton, OK. (Photos taken in the late 1970’s with an instamatic film camera weren’t the best quality.)

But being a young married couple without children, we really relished traveling to metropolitan areas like Tulsa, Oklahoma City, and even Dallas, Texas (the subject of next week’s Tuesday Tour).

Who knew back then that I’d need more photos of places to highlight in a personal blog than shots of friends/family along with us in those visited spots? And to protect the privacy of those friends/family, I choose not to publish their photos in this very public blog.

So…with that being said, today I’ll probably share more memories than photos.

We visited Tulsa, which began as an oil boom town, a few times sightseeing and shopping in the late 1970’s/early 80’s. But the memory that is brightest for me was during the Christmas holiday one year.

The city was adorned with bright white lights everywhere and even though there was no chance of a white Christmas with snow, it was a festive sight. Our oldest child was just a toddler, and we thought a visit to Santa Claus in a Tulsa shopping mall would be a fun experience.

Not so! He frightened the daylights out of her and from that day on she associated jingle bells with Santa. If she heard bells, she would exclaim, “No! No! No jingle bells! No jingles!” She did recover from that early trauma and the next year was delighted by the idea of Santa.

During that same trip, we visited an ice cream parlor. (I know, in December!) The name of it escapes me but the ice cream sundae we enthusiastically enjoyed has become a family tradition.

Every year, our family makes Christmas Eve sundaes (I know, in December!) fashioned after that ice cream treat we first experienced in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Scoops of chocolate mint ice cream with chocolate syrup in between scoops, topped with whipped cream, red and green sugar sprinkles, maraschino cherry, and a miniature peppermint candy cane hanging off the side of the dessert glass.

An unforgettable memory from almost 40 years ago that we still retain today. Since I don’t have any pictures of our Tulsa tours, here’s one of our tradition sundaes.

I can’t even recall how many trips we took to Oklahoma City where we took in sights like Cowboy Hall of Fame, the Oklahoma City Zoo, numerous live theater productions and musical concerts, lots of shopping, and plenty of memorable restaurants.

One that stands out in my memory was Molly Murphy’s House of Fine Repute, which closed in the 1990’s after almost 20 years in business. The first time Papa and I ate there, it was an unforgettable and very entertaining experience.

We went with friends to this highly popular restaurant with eclectic and crazy décor inside and a costumed wait staff. But the servers didn’t just wear costumes, they BECAME the characters they outrageously represented, and you never knew what to expect from them.

For instance, our waiter was dressed as Rasputin the Mad Monk. He was a tad terrifying especially when, with an insane look on his face, he stuck a steak knife into our wooden table after delivering our steak dinner plates.

We also learned quickly that you shouldn’t ask servers where the restrooms were located because they would grab you by the hand, drag you through the restaurant, and announce quite loudly to the crowds that you “had to go pee” and would anyone else like to go along? Then they all clapped wildly when you exited the restroom!

And I’ll never forget the 1963 bright red Jaguar sports car in the middle of the restaurant that served as the salad bar, nor will I forget a very tall young man dressed as the Jolly Green Giant who kept the salad bowls full and the area clean.

Memories remain but photos don’t exist in my stash, so I found this one above online.

“A picture is worth a thousand words, but a memory is priceless.” ~ Unknown

©mamasemptynest.wordpress.com 2022

Posted in History, travel

Tuesday Tour: fuel for the trip

It’s no surprise that this empty nest Papa and Mama love road trips.

If you’ve been following my previous Tuesday Tour posts, you’ll remember that almost all the trips I’ve highlighted have been taken by vehicular transportation not by air.

We have flown many times and enjoyed those trips for the most part. There’s something exhilarating and thrilling for those of us who aren’t terrified by the speed at which an aircraft touches down on land and eventually stops at its destination.

But after a couple not-so-great experiences traveling by air, which had nothing to do with the actual flying but the aggravation at airline terminals, this Mama would rather travel by road trip.

Papa and I have been raring to go – to jump in our vehicle and head out to a destination via highways and byways. But…causing our desire to screech to a halt, the price of gasoline in our state is outrageous.

So, we’ve been sticking pretty close to home yet wanting to go…somewhere. One balmy Saturday afternoon recently, we attended our oldest granddaughter’s soccer game. The weather was perfect – not too warm, not too chilly, with abundant sunshine.

We could have just gone home after the game ended and worked outside, but neither one of us wanted to get dirty and sweaty. So, we pondered. Could we take a little road trip somewhere, anywhere for the rest of the day?

Stumped for a destination since we were already halfway through the day, we ascertained we couldn’t travel too far away and get back home at a decent hour or see much before darkness fell. And that posed a conundrum. Places in our area of the state that we haven’t already visited have become slim pickings.

But we crawled back into our vehicle, rolled the windows down, donned our sunglasses, and Papa started driving northward on less traveled highways. Today’s Tuesday Tour takes you along to the places we “landed.”

Our first stop was the Kennerdell Overlook in Venango County, Pennsylvania, where we parked, walked along a small site with a park bench, and read informative placards about the area.

This site provided a very nice view of the Allegheny River weaving its way through mountainous terrain in this part of the state from hundreds of feet above the river which is surrounded by forested hillsides.  

I actually did not take a photo because being as far north as we were, spring hadn’t truly arrived there yet. Trees were still bare causing the scenic area to look quite drab. But Papa and I decided it was definitely worth a trip back there in summer and especially fall when the dense wooded area would display brilliant autumn colors.

We did learn, however, that back in the days before railroads, the town of Kennderdell was noted as a busy trade center since it was located along the river. By the early 1800’s, tons of timber, coal, and wool were being shipped down river from the area. Even farm produce was shipped by barge down the Allegheny River to Pittsburgh.

From there, we moseyed along more of those blue highways until we reached the town of Titusville, PA. In my childhood I’d been through there countless times, but Papa and I visited back in 2017 when we took a train ride on the Oil Creek and Titusville Railroad.

This time though, we decided to check out Drake Well Museum and Park, known as the birthplace of Pennsylvania’s petroleum industry, where Edwin Drake drilled for oil along the banks of what is now Oil Creek in 1859. The 69.5-foot-deep well was the first commercial oil well in the United States and sparked an oil boom in our country.

A full-sized replica of the Drake Well is the main feature of the 240-acre park which also houses a museum. By the time we reached this attraction, the museum had closed for the day but the outdoor exhibits and park were still accessible to visitors.

The Drake Well replica, composed of the engine house and derrick, was constructed in 1945. Weekend visitors from May to October can view  working reproductions of the wood-fired boiler and steam engine that Drake used to drill and pump oil from the well until 1861.

A collection of historic drilling rigs, including an interactive Spring Pole Drilling Rig, can also be examined on the grounds. Papa tried his hand – or I should say legs – at working that rig.

Other exhibits at the site include those for producing, transporting, and storing oil as well as a building representing the Grant Well Oil Company, where tourists can learn how oil stocks were sold, how workers were hired, and how the oil was sent to market.

An interesting activity that occurs on the last Saturdays of the month from March through October is watching craftsmen forge oil field tools in the blacksmith shop.

Designated as a National Historic Landmark and placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1966; as a Historic Mechanical Engineering Landmark in 1979; and a National Historic Chemical Landmark in 2009, the Drake Well Museum and Park is open 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Wednesdays-Sundays April 1-October 31 and Fridays-Sundays from November 1 through March 31.

Admission rates for adults (12-64) is $10; senior citizens (65+) $8; youth aged 3-11 $5; and 2 years and under are free.

Nearby, visitors can find plenty of recreational areas including paved bike trails, hiking trails, picnic facilities, fishing, and canoeing at Oil Creek State Park.

And even though it cost us a half a tank of gasoline, our afternoon spur-of-the-moment road trip provided another kind of fuel for us – some interesting historical information for Papa and a pleasant get-away on a beautiful day for me.

All proof that even if we’re not sure where we’re going, we’ll find something worthwhile when we get there and that is priceless.

“If you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there.” ~ Lewis Carroll

©mamasemptynest.wordpress.com 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

©mamasemptynest.wordpress.com 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

©mamasemptynest.wordpress.com 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

©mamasemptynest.wordpress.com 2022

Posted in Life, travel

Tuesday Tour: play ball!

When the air finally turns balmier, the yard starts greening, tree branches bust out some buds, and flowers push their way up through the soil to bloom in colorful arrays, we know it’s spring.

And springtime often makes me think of baseball. Why? Traditionally, spring heralds the beginning of baseball season.

Spring training commences in earnest for professional ball players. And from the time he was a kindergartener through high school, our son played Little League, Junior League, and Senior League baseball beginning in the spring. I parked myself on bleachers for all of those games.

As a youngster myself, I vividly recall the sound of baseball games buzzing in the background on the radio or television since my father enjoyed listening to/watching our home team, the Pittsburgh Pirates, play.

And although I’m not a fanatical baseball enthusiast, I have attended Major League Baseball games at all three of Pittsburgh’s baseball stadiums: Forbes Field, Three Rivers Stadium, and PNC Park (pictured below).

Add watching the Royals in what’s now called Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City; the Mariners in Seattle’s old Kingdome; and the Reds in Cincinnati’s Great American Ball Park, and I’ve viewed a lot of baseball games in person.

Today’s Tuesday Tour revolves around that sport. Growing up, my family didn’t take many vacations, but one year – either 1973 or 74 – my parents and I took a trip to New York state. One of the places we visited was Cooperstown, home of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.

Chronicling the history of the sport, this museum displays all kinds of baseball artifacts and exhibits. Of particular interest to us back then was Pittsburgh Pirates player Roberto Clemente’s posthumous induction into the Hall of Fame.

Clemente, a native Puerto Rican, was the first Latin American to be given that baseball honor. He played his entire career, 18 years, with the Pirates and led them to the 1971 World Series victory.

Called “The Great One,” he wasn’t just a star on the field. He was a great humanitarian and died, at 38, in an airplane crash on his way to help deliver aid to Nicaraguan earthquake victims. 

I don’t have photos of that trip to Cooperstown or Clemente’s commemoration plaque because my dad only took home movies back then and I didn’t have a camera, but that baseball memory stays in my mind.

So much so that when Papa and I took our first empty nester trip down south back in October 2010, we decided to stop in Louisville, Kentucky to visit the Louisville Slugger Museum and Factory, the highlight of today’s tour.

Located in the West Main District of downtown Louisville, the first thing that amazed us about the Slugger museum was the gigantic bat greeting visitors at the entrance. Using a point and shoot digital camera, I captured several nice photos.

Aptly called The Big Bat, the steel structure is the world’s largest baseball bat weighing in at 68,000 pounds and soaring 120 feet into the air. Aside from its size, another interesting fact is the Big Bat is actually an exact-scale replica of famous baseball player Babe Ruth’s 34-inch Louisville Slugger bat.

Once we recovered from marveling over the sheer size of the bat, we ventured inside where we viewed a great assortment of baseball memorabilia and interactive exhibits.

A fascinating section of the museum, the Bat Vault, houses more than 3,000 original bat models created for some of baseball’s famous players. Want to see what Babe Ruth’s bat looked like? Its model rests there in the Bat Vault.  According to the museum, the oldest documented bats in this glass-encased room are 100 years old.

Our son always admired Ken Griffey, Jr, and our family had attended games to see Griffey play when he was with the Seattle Mariners and also the Cincinnati Reds. So Papa and I couldn’t resist taking a photo of Griffey’s Slugger to show our son.

And of course, I found information about shortstop Honus Wagner, who from 1897-1917 played 21 seasons in Major League Baseball mostly for the Pittsburgh Pirates, to be note-worthy as well.

Another eye-catching highlight of the museum is a 17-ton hand sculpted sculpture called “Play Ball.” A baseball glove upon which children can climb, crawl, and even slide on, this mammoth piece is fashioned out of Kentucky limestone, reported to be 450 million years old.  

But the really fun aspect of the Louisville Slugger Museum and Factory was the 30-minute factory tour where visitors observe first-hand how those famous wooden slugger bats are made. Every participant is given a complimentary mini-bat at the end of the tour.

Baseball fans would be in their element at the Louisville Slugger Museum and Factory, but it’s worth a stop and see for anyone of any age, and we were glad we took the opportunity to check it out on that trip through Kentucky over a decade ago.

As we embarked on our new stage of life (empty nester travel) on that trip, we visited another notable place in Louisville which I’ll highlight in next week’s tour.

“Baseball is a lot like life. It’s day-to-day existence, full of ups and downs. You make the most of your opportunities in baseball as you do in life.” ~ Ernie Harwell, (1918-2010), Major League Baseball sportscaster

©mamasemptynest.wordpress.com 2022

Posted in Life, travel

Tuesday Tour: a different step

It was a step in a different direction.

Being a married couple with three children, vacations for us centered around family visits and experiences for many years.  I’ve chronicled those trips in my Tuesday Tour posts here in Mama’s Empty Nest in the last several months.

But for a while, those family excursions just stopped. Financially, extended vacations weren’t as feasible since other obligations were more important.

When we sent our eldest off to college, two more offspring waited in the wings to further their educations at four-year institutions in the following years. 

Money was tight especially during two consecutive years when two of our children were enrolled in college at the same time just as a job loss hit Papa as well.

Other aspects of life during those years also prevented us from taking vacations. Our kids were active in high school activities and sports even into the summer months, so we couldn’t travel then.

One daughter played on a select soccer team, and we did take some trips to out-of-state weekend tournaments. But that didn’t leave much time for sightseeing, except for one quick excursion during competition in Buffalo, New York, when we found time to zip across the US/Canada border to visit Niagara Falls.

As the years progressed, I also didn’t feel comfortable leaving home for long because my last-living parent, my father, was nearing 90 and we felt he needed us to be nearby. (He lived alone in my childhood home only a couple miles away from us.)

But things changed significantly by the fall of 2010. All our children had flown out of the nest – all with college degrees in their hands, careers launched, and living elsewhere. And my dad had passed away in the previous year.

These empty nesters didn’t quite know what to do with themselves. Papa was still working full-time, albeit in a stressful environment, and this Mama was employed part-time by a non-profit organization. Yet we were a bit lonely and enveloped in a quandary as we tried to navigate this new stage of life.

So, we made a new-to-us decision. Take a week-long vacation. Just the two of us. No kids, no family, just Papa and Mama in the car on a road trip. And not during the summer months, but in the fall, October to be exact.

“Your child’s life will be filled with fresh experiences. It’s good if yours is as well.” ~ Dr. Margaret Rutherford

Well after 25 years of raising children, we were going to travel alone together, not totally convinced we would enjoy time without our children along. But that’s exactly what we experienced.

Eventually, on that trip we would spend time with our eldest daughter at her home in the deep south, but on the way there, we discovered a new joy in traveling. The photos in this post were taken on that trip with a point and shoot digital camera.

We learned that fall was a great time to travel as sightseeing in public places were not as crowded as they are in summer when children aren’t in school. We learned we could kind of “fly by the seat of our pants” while driving. Deciding when and where to stop at our leisure, not because of a time schedule or because someone else in the car was hungry, needed a restroom visit, or was tired and cranky.

We could take time to veer off the beaten path to check out places we just noticed along the highway. We enjoyed our time together 24/7 without stress of worrying about making everyone happy, fed, and interested in the trip.

And we also learned that we looked forward to retirement years when hopefully we could travel even more.

It was a step in the right direction and eye-opening as well. It provided hope and encouragement that we would adjust to being empty nesters with something to look forward to.

In the next few Tuesday Tour posts, I’ll highlight a couple of places we enjoyed visiting on that first empty nester trip we took over a decade ago.

“The empty nest is great. It allows us to travel.” ~ Bud Elliot

©mamasemptynest.wordpress.com 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

©mamasemptynest.wordpress.com 2022

Posted in Life, travel

Tuesday Tour: sunshine on my shoulder

Sunshine! Hopefully, spring has sprung in our neck of the woods. When the sunshine finally makes its appearance after a dreary season of winter, it reminds me of travel to warm, sunny places.

So today, on our Tuesday Tour, we’re off to the beach! Our family found just relaxing on the inviting sandy beaches of the Atlantic Ocean shore after years of visiting the cold water coast of the Pacific Northwest was our idea of a great vacation.

Since our 2003 trip to North Carolina’s Outer Banks proved so pleasurable, we once again decided to take another beach trip in the summer of 2004. This time we opted to travel a shorter distance from home, so we journeyed to Ocean City, Maryland.

Photos taken there were captured with a 35mm film point and shoot camera and since most of them are just pictures of us on the beach, I don’t have a lot to share here. This one was taken waiting for the sunrise as we were leaving.

Ocean City is located on a strip of land, a barrier island, in between the Atlantic Ocean and a bay, called the Assawoman on the northern end and the Isle of Wright Bay on the southern. The town itself first existed as just a small fishing village until the Atlantic Hotel opened there in 1875 and Ocean City became a resort town in the years that followed.

A few years later, the US Life-Saving Service, ancestor of the US Coast Guard, created a station there to rescue shipwreck victims.  Today, the second station built there in 1891 still stands as the Ocean City Life-Saving Station Museum at the southern end of the island.

Vacationers to Ocean City can enjoy not only the beach, which extends for 10 miles northward to the Delaware state line, but a plethora of restaurants, golfing, fishing, (Ocean City is known as the White Marlin Capital of the World), water sports, and other entertainment.

Our trip there was mainly just for relaxing on the beach and because another of our children was heading off to college that fall, we needed to be pretty thrifty. We redeemed free night hotel stays from Papa’s traveling rewards.

Easy access and short walking distance to the shore were pluses of the chain hotel as well as a kitchenette where we made our own breakfasts and lunches, which cut our eating out costs significantly.

In addition to lounging our days away either in the waves or on the sand soaking up the sun, reading, or – for one family member in particular – sleeping, we also enjoyed miniature golfing and exploring a bit into Delaware.

And one grand day, a parasailing adventure over the bay. That was exciting and fun and photographs were taken by a parasailing company employee on board the boat. Naturally, we had to purchase the proof of that thrilling experience!

In the evenings, we sampled different restaurants for dinner and then strolled along the wooden boardwalk, which is almost three miles long and includes plenty of food and shopping opportunities.

The historical boardwalk (the first one there was constructed in 1900) possesses two claims to fame – being consistently rated as one of the “best boardwalks for food” in USA Today and as one of the “Top Ten Boardwalks to Visit in the US” by National Geographic.

Along with the boardwalk, visitors should not pass up a chance to visit Trimper’s Amusements, an historic amusement park over 100 years old and established in south Ocean City in 1893.

One of the main attractions there is the Carousel, one of the oldest running carousels still operating today in the world. Voted one of the “Best Carousels in America” by Travel & Leisure in 2012, the 1902 carousel features two tiers of carved, painted animals and was installed at Ocean City in 1912. I regret that I don’t have a photo of it.

Our beach trip to Ocean City was so fun and memorable, we returned on a spur of the moment trip in the summer of 2005. Summer vacation plans had been tabled because I underwent cancer surgery in the middle of June that year and was scheduled to begin radiation treatments after several weeks of recovery.

But those treatments were postponed until the beginning of September, so we jumped on the chance to take a quick vacation with all three of our kids. I’d heard that being on a beach helped people feel calmer and reduced stress which sounded like a perfect trip for us after my health scare. (After radiation that fall, I was blessed to be declared cancer-free.)

So, all five of us gathered together to spend fun in the sun on the Ocean City beach that August. Some of us again partook of naps!

We were so grateful to be together, we mostly just relaxed in the sunshine with gentle breezes and calming effects of ocean waves lapping onto the shore.

“A little sand between your toes always takes away your woes.” ~ unknown

©mamasemptynest.wordpress.com 2022