One part travel blog. One part nerdy history lesson.

Author: Erin McKinney (Page 1 of 27)

Mother. Wife. Travel Addict. Never met a gadget she didn't immediately need to buy.

Spring Break 2024 – Houston, TX Days 3-5

Day 3 started off with the Three Uncles Toast from the night before because I had saved it from a TikTok video or Facebook reel months ago about how it was this amazing milk bread toast that I had to have. I grabbed the coconut raisin…Maybe amazing toasted or heated up… but to me it was just square bread…

Never fear, I had 2nd breakfast planned! ha We drove to the southeast side of Houston to some sites and near there is The Original Kolache Shoppe that has been open since 1956. Its a local Czech bakery that has been family-owned for 3 generations

My pastry was basically a pig in a blanket- a soft bread surrounding a sausage. They were a bit heavy if I am being a food critic. Definitely not something I’d be swinging by for on my way to work every day. ha But I respect the Czech heritage recipes and the tradition of the family bakery 🙂

I had scheduled a visit to Smither Park next, a public art space full of mosaic glass sculptures. It was REALLY a cool public park… so many art exhibits including a giant fish amphitheater…

Norah big brain spotted tiny mosaic Spongebob characters out of nowhere in a random section of the sidewalk. Once she pointed them out, of course I could see them- but I never would have spotted them among everything else there. The way her brain works really is something else.

Kilroy was here.

The all white section was pretty cool too among all of the vibrant color.

Randomly, I saw online they were planning an Easter Egg hunt at the exact same time I planned to be here anyway…and Norah said she wanted to hunt some eggs, so I RSVPed for us to attend.

Before the hunt, they had the kids color their own egg ( as a way to drag out the event per one of the volunteers, “because last year they hid the eggs, hunted them and it was over in 10 minutes” ha)

Norah created a sunset on her egg

After she colored her egg she decided she didn’t really want to hang around and hunt them.. ha so we headed on out for the rest of our day.

Our next destination- the 1940 Air Terminal for Houston which has been preserved as a museum.

As you can tell, it was a hopping place at 11am on a Saturday 🙂 That Model A is being auctioned off, selling 2500 tickets for $50 each if you want to throw your hat in the ring 🙂 I also did… but what the heck do I do what a Model A?? I asked the guy- he told me that I could drive it in a parade… or some of the old guys drive them in their retirement communities like a golf cart. haha

This amazing art deco building was built in 1940 as the main airport terminal for the city of Houston.

The lobby may look a little small, but in 1940, there were only 2 airlines operating out of Houston… and the planes only held about 20 passengers… so if it looks like an old bus station, it basically was.

We got to take a chaperoned visit out into the locked Houston Hobby airport air field to see an old 1942 Lockheed Lodestar that would have flown passengers at the time of this terminal being operational.

They had a lot of flight memorabilia including this rare clear plastic bubble helmet rain dome that was part of the “Braniff Airlines Strip” campaign. It was meant to evoke a “blasting off to space” theme in 1965 and was iconic…but quickly was discontinued because they cracked easily and there was nowhere to store them once on board the aircraft.

Our lunch was just a snack- a strip mall spot called Señora Churros.

Norah ordered this monstrosity haha Strawberry ice cream in a churro bowl. She didn’t even eat 1/3 of it. ha

Kegan and I were a little more realistic and just got a single churro with Cajeta (a caramel sauce)

After a sugar buzz, we headed back towards downtown to the Rothko Chapel.

I just dont “get” modern art. ha The Rothko Chapel was constructed by the De Menil family in Houston as a spiritual space for the public. The commissioned artist Mark Rothko to design 9 giant murals for the inside walls.

I wasn’t allowed any photos… but the inside was just white walls, some church pews in an octagon and a bunch of black/purple plain panels on the inside.

I’m sure someone more art-brained than me could explain it and make it make sense, but all 3 of us walked out like… what is the purpose of that?? ha

Next we toured the Menil Collection- a building full of over 19,000 pieces of art from prehistoric to modern. They also didn’t allow any photos because the lady told me “the Menil’s still hold the copyrights for these works of art, so no photos are allowed of their private collection”. oh. ok…. weirdos. ha

My big takeaway from the Menil collection was that Max Earnst was a German artist that I need to know more about his surrealist art. I was seeing Dali in all of his works… and the collection had 20 or more of his paintings.

After the museum we went back to the hotel to rest up for our evening out with friends.

We scheduled a meet up with my friend Tim and his wife Jennifer that live just outside of Houston. I met Tim in South Florida when I was in X-ray school. I legit cant remember exactly… but I believe we may have met on MySpace… and I ended up at his apartment for a hurricane lock in party in my Papa John’s work uniform… I will have to have him remind me if that is really how it went… I think I have a mental block for that period of my life. I barely remember any of that era of Erin. ha Except Tim. He has always been an awesome friend to have. So happy to see him married and happy and excelling in life. Good things to good folks.

We met up at Caracol- a new restaurant by Hugo Ortega – a well-decorated Houston landmark chef. When I say the food was outstanding, I don’t think that does it justice. I will be booking this again on this next trip.

Norah started with a blackberry mojito mocktail.

Norah had the Empanadas de Camaron to start. ( I forgot we’re in Texas- portions are HUGE)

Tim with the Ceviche de Chile Canario- a lime cured raw red snapper with chile’s cilantro, radish and more.

I got the Ceviche de Coco – lime cured red snapper is a roasted pineapple and coconut based sauce.

Kegan’s Ensalada de Pulpo- Spanish octopus salad with sausage, roasted potatoes, carrot, celery leaves and a pumpkin-seed dressing

Jennifer’s Callo de Hacha – pan-seared scallops with roasted cauliflower

My Pulpo Ahumado – smoked octopus with chorizo and potato hash

Tim’s Costillas de Res – Braised Short ribs -was spectacular…

Dessert, there were churros with chocolate, espresso and a tableside whipped traditional mexican hot chocolate service.

The after- dinner attraction planned was really the event of the trip. Also the reason there were no cocktails at dinner. We had reserved a spot at Strangebird- the #1 Escape Room experience in the USA.

This was a combination of live actors and an escape scenario… the setting- we were invited to a seance to try to summon the spirit of Harry Houdini. Our medium, Madame Daphne, invited us in and presented us with books all with our name on them, with personalized fortunes- performed some Tarot card readings… and then we proceeded into the seance room to attempt to summon the spirit.

But here is where it all went terribly wrong, Madam Daphne had purchased Houdini’s wife’s wedding ring to try to draw his spirit closer… and …the rest of the story you’ll have to find out for yourself.

That’s the best detail I can give without giving away anything about the actual event. It was sooooo well done. Good acting, fantastic flow of the game, great props and room objects. It definitely earned its ranking. I warned Tim and Jennifer it was all downhill from here for their escape rooms. ha

Day 4, Sunday, was a chill day. We started with getting Norah’s easter basket out and assembled in the hotel room while she was still asleep along with a Strawberry milk tea from a local Asian bakery.

Kegan also found her a cute little bunny cake for breakfast, too.

Kegan found us a couple pastries- one sweet and one savory- while I stayed back in the hotel and wrote a couple blogs posts to catch up 🙂

Around 11am we headed out to Crosby, TX an hour or so away to see my extended family. My aunt Laura and uncle Billy live out there along with my cousins Michael and Travis and their families. Growing up, Michael and I were two weeks apart in age, and Bryan and Travis were less than 6 months apart… so even though we never lived close or spent much time together, still fun to have cousins your age 🙂

Laura went into “grandma overdrive” for Easter. ha She had a basket for Norah and the other kids, organized a sack race and even painstakingly counted an entire jar of jellybeans for everyone to take guesses. (My guess was the closest at 1125 jellybeans… when there were 1178!) The prize was $20…and even though I did my best to forget the $20 on the counter, Laura caught me on my way out the door! lol

Billy and Laura (and Travis) had all kinds of goodies cooking- fajitas with steak and chicken, two types of sausages, hot dogs, burgers, smoked hot wings, potato salad, two types of beans, pico, guac, rice, fresh tortillas and I’m sure more that I don’t remember. It was a spread…and it was good eats.

They had a croquet course set up in the backyard and had some healthy family competition trying to dominate the game.

There were some drive-by eggings- mostly from Travis being mischievous- smashing confetti eggs in everyone’s hair. ha Everyone spared Norah until the end, afraid I would be mad about having to get that out of her hair. haha but then I gave permission and it was a free for all- all the girls running around smashing the remaining eggs on each other’s heads. ha

Billy hid easter eggs for hunting… but one special green egg had $20 inside. They all missed it multiple times hiding in a green magnolia tree until Mikey found it with some hints. That boy is so fast…and smart… he’s gonna do some things in life.

I think Norah had a blast with her cousins and actually spending the day outside. Granted, she had to take a phone break inside and recharge those social batteries for a bit… but I understand that. ha

Billy took us on a ride through the neighborhood to see the lake and pool and the peacocks!

Turns out, their neighborhood is overrun with hundred of peacocks.. and its that time of year… males are showing off for all the females everywhere you look. ha

We hung out for hours just chatting and hanging out… headed out around 6:30 or so to head back to Houston for our escape room. We arrived about 45 minutes ahead of our booking, so we hit the Super H Mart next to the place since it was on my list. H Mart is an Asian grocery store chain that I wasn’t aware had any locations outside of New York…until I started planning our Houston trip- I’ve always told Kegan when we move to NYC (when…not if haha) that it has to be near an HMart. Its my dream to have a ground floor apartment with a tiny back patio- walkable to HMart and the subway! (I think that will live in my dreams though…. likely not a reality ha)

H Mart has a food court inside with a few varieties of food. Norah got a Korean corn dog. I got a spicy Vietnamese seafood soup with veggies.

We checked out the aisles… an entire aisle just dedicated to ramen.

We made our way to Escape IT Houston… don’t recommend. Half the room was broken, the puzzles were silly, and you could tell they just wanted us to hurry up and be done so they could close up and go home. Luckily, we exited the first 60 minute room based on The Alamo in like 30 minutes… and then we did a 30 minute Apollo 13 escape room that took us about 5 ha, so they got their wish.

As I was looking over the Day 5 itinerary I realized I didn’t book another escape room I thought I booked… which is fine because …bro… its a lot 4 days in a row. haha but Norah was disappointed of course ha So we discussed and said, really after we go to NASA tomorrow, we can just head home and only miss 1 Indian/Pakistani restaurant I wanted to try… and we all agreed to just do that and get a “staycation” day back home. So, we packed up the hotel room when we got back, went to sleep, and headed out Monday morning

Our first stop Monday (Day 5) was at Paris Baguette- a South Korean chain that is just expanding worldwide. The family that owns this was worth 3.6 billion dollars and they invested over 2 billion in expanding it worldwide… for their sake, I hope its a success! But, I think it will be if they choose their locations wisely.

This was my first mochi doughnut. I can see why people like these- chewy…not overly sweet…. It wasn’t swoon worthy to me… but it was good.

Next was the hour drive to NASA with high hopes for seeing the historic mission control room that they have restored to its look from the Apollo 11 mission that put a man on the moon.

I was starting to get concerned when we had to line up down the entire sidewalk to even get in the building…

Once we got inside, there was a sign to download their app to register for tram tours. (The Historic Mission control tour was a tram tour) – so I get the app and try to reserve a spot only to find out that THAT specific tram tour is the only one you can book in advance… and has to be booked over 3 weeks ahead of time or it sells out.

Epic fail since that’s literally the only thing Kegan wanted to see. I felt terrible for not knowing this… (especially when my tickets said it included the tram tour …I just didn’t know there were 3 different tram tours) so I even went to guest services and asked if there were still tickets available for the VIP tour of Mission Control (even though they were $200 a piece ha ) but (luckily) that tour left at 9am for the day… so literally, no way to see what we came for.

We walked around the rest of the exhibits… but really… there just isn’t much there… to give perspective, the “food lab” which is a big cafeteria food court like in a mall was bigger than the whole floor of space exhibits. and all of the exhibits were mostly just printed text on boards on the wall. Most of the interactive exhibits were all broken, out of service. The VR experience ride was shut down. It was easily the jankiest and worst science museum or even NASA experience we’ve ever done.

They do have the Boeing 747 that was converted to shuttle the space shuttle between missions and you can walk through it.

They did have 2 or 3 spacesuits on display…but not nearly the memorabilia or actual space gear or history you would expect.

We watched the videos in the theater, walked all of the exhibits and in under 2 hours we had toured everything even with long lines, so all that was left was the Rocket park tram tour… and when we walked over to that, there was a line that was easily going to make it an hour wait to get on the tram…. and we said we have seen these rockets up close at other parks and it is NOT worth it to hang out that long for a tram ride… so we called it early and left pretty disappointed at what a tourist trap it seemed. So, my takeaway is that even the little NASA science museum outside of New Orleans is way better than the Houston Space Center… and if you are going, make sure you reserve your mission control tour a month in advance or you won’t actually see anything historic and will end up drinking a Starbucks in the “food lab” 🙂

So, disappointingly, we kind of ended the trip on a downer! I saved NASA for last thinking it would be such a cool experience….but I really should have known better with how terrible Space Camp was when I chaperoned Norah’s school a couple years ago. I think that NASA used to be great and we really still want it to be… and the respect and reverence we have for the historic space program is really blinding us (or at least me) to how terribly executed all of the public outreach and experiences are… I hope their real missions coming up are executed well and can show we can still accomplish great space exploration but my interaction with anything NASA in the last few years wouldn’t have me trusting my life to their spacecraft.

We headed back over the Louisiana line and made one last fun stop at the Atchafalaya Welcome Center which is just a rest stop.. but with a fun little animatronic swamp animal display and video about the Atchafalaya River Basin area.

We watched the animals and laughed at the raccoon looking like it was having a stroke when the bit ended and he retreated stiff back into his tree stump. ha We watched the video and then headed back to the car for another 2.5 hours home… which ended up being over 3 with a couple wrecks and traffic backup around Baton Rouge.

Overall, a successful short Spring Break trip. Next trip will likely be Boston, Massachusetts in June since I have a big client goLive there and Kegan and Norah are going to join me in the hotel for some tourist shenanigans as we can fit them in 🙂

Spring Break in Houston, TX – Day 2

We started day 2 with a Houston institution- TexMex breakfast tacos! With Houston having over 1 million people who identify as Hispanic (44% of the population) it stands to reason that there is some amazing Tex-Mex food to be found in the city. We decided to try Tejas Taco House and it was legit.

With full bellies, we headed back downtown where we were yesterday to hit the Natural Science Museum. There were not enough hours in the day to fit it in on Thursday and I knew we would want quite a few hours to see everything here. Norah was immediately drawn to the interactive periodic table of elements and spent a lot of time here.

We saw a show on the Universe narrated by Tom Hanks in the planetarium. Just absolutely mind blowing how big the Milky Way galaxy is..and then to learn that our known galaxy is part of 1000s of other full galaxies…and that just makes up the Virgo Supercluster of galaxies which is just one part of the observable universe. We are just unbelievably insignificant specs of space dust. and knowing this makes it easier to laugh at self-important people who think they deserve to cut in front of you at Starbucks. 🙂

The Natural Science Museum had a well laid out timeline of fossils starting in PreCambrian and leading through Jurassic, Triassic..all the way to modern era. They had an extensive trilobite and crinoid collection which I love looking at. Some of their trilobites even still had the spines on their backs!

We were able to see Sloth-Zilla, the largest ground sloth skeleton. Look at this beast! I do love my ground sloths…

Norah said she thought she had a resemblance to the Neanderthal. ha

The museum had an extensive gem and mineral collection as well as a special collection of Faberge royal pieces in a traveling exhibit. I can’t remember which photos were from which, so they are all together below.

The museum also contained a Butterfly Sanctuary which was a fun experience to be inside an enclosed greenhouse with birds, butterflies, turtles and other species just going about their business.

After the museum we headed to El Gato Coffeehouse- where you can have a coffee and hang out with some adoptable cats. Turns out you need reservations for the actual coffeehouse, so we were relegated to “the studio” with the extra cats in a big room… which was fine. Who knew you had to reserve coffee with cats? ha

After some coffee and hang out time, we headed to The Color Factory, an “art space” -aka a money-making Instagram photo op opportunity ha It was cute but its a one-time experience.

There was a giant gross stinky ball pit at the end that I had to get in with Norah. ha I just tried to forget everything I know about germs and disease transmission and make memories with my child ha

A full room with light-brite walls.

Norah and Kegan had to sit opposite each other in sound booths and draw each other without lifting the pencil. Norah’s turned out very Picasso-esque.

The next stop was dinner and we chose Xiao Long Kan – a fancy hot pot spot with very traditional Chinese decor.

We chose a dual broth- golden chicken and pork bone broth. We ordered plates to add to and cook in the broth that included beef and lamb slices, quail eggs, woodear and enoki mushrooms, greens such as lettuce, napa cabbage, pepper cress and chinese spinach, spam, handmade noodles and ramen, fish balls along with a smoky plum juice and fresh-pressed watermelon juice.

Overall, it was the 2nd best hot pot experience I’ve ever had, since we visited Xpot in Las Vegas and they had this out of this world Lobster soup base and Wagyu beef…but for a real-world meal (since I’d never spend the money on Xpot in my life again) this was so so good.

Next door was a newly-opened Moshi Moshi Japanese store with kawaii cute stuffies and Japanes beauty and snacks so we quickly browsed through to see what they had

Then I ran into Three Uncles Toast to grab a loaf of bread for breakfast in the morning.

We decompressed in the hotel room for 45 minutes or so and then headed out for out late-night shenanigans. Friday night in Chinatown is a hectic affair ha Every plaza looked worse than this with cars backed up every aisle.

We were headed to Claw Mania Kingdom

This was an arcade full of nothing but claw machines. You bought tokens for $1 each and each chance was 1 token. You could keep your stuffies or you could trade them up for a bigger stuffed animal or even a coin you could redeem on a future visit. Norah had 7 stuffies in the end and traded a few in for an anime figure she wanted from the case. It was a blast.

After playing claw machines it was time to head to Exit Lab Houston where I booked “the hardest double escape room experience”. It was a combo of two rooms in 90 minutes and was classified as the hardest escape room around…

And let me tell you…. It was hard. Ha we did not escape. We made it out of the first room in under 60 minutes but then we got into the 2nd room and with only 30 minutes left there is no way we would have made it. After we ran out of time, our game master showed us the remaining puzzles we had to solve- about 3 more major puzzles- but I don’t think I would have figured them out even with 20 hours left haha. So, we have to finally admit defeat and say we did not escape! And that’s OK. It was a huge challenge and it was humbling to see that there are apparently people out there a lot better at escape rooms than us! Ha

Spring Break 2024 in Houston,Texas – Day 1

Hello! Its been a while 🙂 Life has been “life”ing to say the least. It been a bit since we’ve been able to coordinate even a quick trip somewhere with Norah’s school schedule, visits of others to New Orleans, Kegan finishing his dad’s cabin in Indiana and me trying to start a whole new client project without dropping anything I already had going on. ha It has been an absolutely crazy 6 months or so… and not really slowing down until Summer… BUT I always say we have all the best problems. Too many people who want to hire you, a kid too involved in fun things at school, too many friends wanting to visit? Give me those “problems” any day. We are happy, healthy and living life. Soon enough we’ll be sitting in our rocking chair begging Norah to come see us…so for now we’ll just live our crazy life as it comes at us through a fire hose 🙂 ha

So, when we finally figured out we had a few days of spring break we could go somewhere, we had a few ideas.. quick flight to New York, quick flight to Ft Lauderdale, a flight to LA and spend some time in California? Chicago might be a fun 4-5 days… eventually we decided to just drive to Houston since we haven’t spent any real time in Houston in over 10 years, we didn’t need flights that I might have to cancel if something came up.. and bonus-a lot of my dad’s side of the family lives around Houston, so we were able to fit in a bit of extended family time along with playing tourist.

We picked Norah up after school on Wednesday and immediately headed west on I-10 from New Orleans through all of Cajun country Louisiana. Our first stop was for Billy’s Boudin and Cracklins.

We were headed to dinner so we kept it minimal getting 1/4 lb of cracklins- the BEST we had ever had… along with a shrimp ball, a boudin ball and a crawfish ball to share. They had tons of frozen cajun items, but we couldn’t consider those and have to keep them in a cooler for 5 days. ha Boudin is a cajun sausage that is cooked pork, rice, vegetables and cajun seasonings all stuffed in a casing. Everything we ordered was amazing and we may have to hit this again on the way home.

Our dinner stop was at a true local Cajun restaurant called Prejean’s outside of Lafayette in a town called Carencro.

Kegan got the crawfish nachos and the duck and andouille gumbo they are famous for. Norah got a kid’s shrimp and fries and I got the Crawfish enchiladas. Kegan’s was great. Norah was happy with hers… I expected chunks of crawfish and cheese in my enchiladas, but it was like a crawfish boudin mushy filling that was slightly reminiscent of cat food. ha I’m sure if I had expected that, it would have been fine, but I wasn’t a huge fan. I tasted Kegan’s gumbo and it was fantastic.. smoky, spiced, dark rue… it was definitely the winner of the meal.

Mine came with a side of “cajun rice dressing” that was soooo good… and a side of maque choux (pronounced mock shoe). Cajun rice dressing is similar to dirty rice, with browned meat, charred veggies and seasonings. I think this one had poblano peppers and grilled pork sausage. Maque Choux is a cajun side dish that’s a mix of corn and peppers sautéed in bacon grease and this version was on a cornmeal crust.

The first time I had seen this on a menu- the restaurant listed every single supplier for their restaurant as well as all chefs and artists contributing to the interior.

After we left the restaurant, we headed to our hotel in Houston crossing the Texas state line.

and continuing until we could catch the Houston skyline at night.

It was almost midnight, so we got unpacked when we got to the room, but quickly fell asleep.

Thursday morning we started off right by heading to Dim Sum breakfast at Ocean Palace. Dim Sum is basically Chinese brunch. Its usually a group activity, social occasion with tea and lots of small plates.

I purposely booked our hotel in the Chinatown district of Houston… because almost all of the food, coffee and desserts I love are all asian. Bubble tea, Vietnamese ice coffee, dim sum dumplings, hot pot, Vietnamese Pho soup, Korean BBQ and kimchi, sushi, even Korean fried chicken is the best fried chicken. So… I wanted to make sure we were in walking distance of amazing food at all times 🙂

Our dim sum spread did not disappoint – with taro cakes, beef tripe, shu mai with truffle, Chinese broccoli, eggplant, egg rolls, bbq pork buns, shrimp and chive dumplings, hand pulled noodles with roast pork, custard buns and egg custard tarts.

Once we were nice and miserable from a late breakfast, it was time to head towards downtown Houston to Hermann Park. Parking was a bear… after driving around a few loops through some parking lots, we ended up just going and finding a pay garage at a hospital nearby and walking back.

Hermann Park is a 445 acre public green space and was given to the city of Houston by George Hermann in 1914. Today, it contains a golf course, the Houston Zoo, a miniature train, a reflecting pool, pond with paddle boats, a pioneer log cabin museum, fountains, gardens, sculptures and more…

As we walked in from the north we passed this monument to Sam Houston. The American General, senator, governor AND President of Texas when Texas was briefly its own independent country. He is famous for leading the Texans to victory over Mexico at the Battle of San Jacinto which was a key victory in their war for independence.

The Pioneer Obelisk was erected in 1936 to honor the Texas centinnial and as a dedication to the pioneers who settled in the area.

Norah had never done a paddleboat, so we took one out onto McGovern Lake and Paddled around for a bit. Well, Kegan and I paddled and she lounged on the backseat. ha Then midway she decided she wanted to paddle so we got to do a mid-lake driver exchange where Norah and Kegan tried to swap seats without tipping the boat over! ha We were successful luckily.

We were stopped by a panhandling father and young son selling homemade chocolate bars in the park….why not… Norah chose the Coconut Milk and Honey and surprisingly Kegan and Norah ate it… so I tried a piece too haha. It was pretty decent.

Our next stop was the Houston Zoo… a typical city zoo. A few favorite photos below.

This monkey had my heart because every time anyone got close to the fence, he did a big wind up to throw his poop at them and they’d scurry off. haha I like my peace and quiet too, buddy.

After the zoo, we took a train ride across the park and walked across the Centennial Gardens towards the Health and Science Museum.

It was a neat cross between a children’s museum and a science museum… very interactive stations and fun life-size exhibits like the colon you could climb through.

Kegan revisited his childhood and did the PE Class bar hang. He made it over a minute…but this was the last photo I captured at 49 seconds… can’t post it without giving him his full credit! ha

Norah got to touch pig lungs and a pig heart. The lungs were healthy lungs, then smoker’s lungs with a tumor. Cool display, but all I could think about is how did we give a pig lung cancer and smoker’s lungs? I probably don’t want to know…

Lastly was Norah’s highlight of the day, we got to go into the CellLab and run experiments. Norah selected extracting DNA from Wheat Germ… and Blood Typing.

I think we may have found something Norah really likes to do… follow instructions in a lab. ha She was VERY into doing everything exactly right… keeping samples separate and seeing the end result.

The funny thing about the blood samples… Patient 1 was O+ (Kegan’s blood type), Patient 2 was AB- (My blood type) and Patient 3 was A+ (Norah’s blood type)! We thought that coincidence was pretty cool.

After the lab, Norah got to see an iron lung! She had been wanting to see one for years. We found a medical museum in Iowa last year that had one on display but the lady at the front wouldn’t let us go see it because we weren’t visiting a patient and they still had covid restriction policies in place.

Our last stop of the night was at the Museum of Fine Arts. Thursdays the museums are open until 9pm…so I scheduled this full museum day to take advantage of that. We started in the Cullen sculpture gardens and by getting Norah some pizza in the cafe. We were still full from Dim Sum at 5pm and didn’t really want to consider dinner.

The museum was HUGE and consisted of at least 3 full multi-floor buildings.. but a few captures that were my favorites:

There was a special exhibit by an artist named Kehinde Wiley that had very vibrant gigantic murals. Kegan and I both found them very intriguing.

A punch dagger in the middle eastern exhibits

An elephant ceremonial headpiece from Cameroon

This painting that just really captured the eerie reds of a giant fire.

This Norwegian silver serving platter with real ivory walrus tusk and green gems.

and lastly… this weird painting, that has to be the weirdest thing I’ve seen I’ve seen in an art museum. It has such a Salvador Dali surrealism to it… but it was painted in the late 1400s or early 1500s!

The closer you look, the weirder it gets. It is supposed to be scene depicting Saint Christopher Carrying the Christ Child Through a Sinful World. But the “sin” came from a very weird mind. ha

Very rarely have I ever wanted to take a painting home from an art museum.. but this one I would have carried off and hung proudly above my fireplace haha

After the art museum we had an Escape room booked at Escape Hunt Houston. We booked the Emperor’s Jewels since we had never done a samurai or Japanese themed room. We escaped quickly, 30 minutes or so… overall it was a fairly simple room but fun!

On the way to the hotel, we hit Walmart to replace my headlight since it burned out and Kegan is awesome and can just replace things like that in 5 minutes lol. Then we ordered Jack In the Box since it was 10pm and Norah had never had it and had declared it a “must do” on the trip. haha She reported that it was very good and definitely worth it.

48 Hours in Peoria and Springfield, IL and Iowa City, IA

This weekend was a quick drive over to Iowa and back to see a couple things that had been on our Summer 2021 Out West road trip itinerary, but we had to cut short at the end for Norah’s 4H events… I had been waiting almost 3 years now… trying to fit them in…but finally got them done! We were a little worried this weekend would end like the last weekend had in Kentucky where everything was closed. We started seeing tornado warnings and forecast charts that did NOT look good for the areas we would be going. In the end, we missed almost all weather that came through the area by just a few hours each time and other than a little rain on our first stop in Pekin, IL- we had great weather and most everything was open!

Starting to drive into the storms in Illinois on Friday afternoon
By the time we got to Pekin, IL just south of Peoria, we had a double rainbow and the rain had stopped.

I added a stop in this tiny town on a last second whim because of a TikTok video I saw. This man was talking about this insanely cringe-y town in Illinois that was called Pekin- a play on Peking, China- which they claimed was exactly on the other side of the world.. They had a Chinese theater, their school mascot was “The Chinks”, they used to dress up their homecoming king and queen in cartoonish stereotypical Chinese hats and clothes.. NOT KIDDING. I was like- this CANT exist… OMG… and when I looked to see where it was, it was 15 miles off our path for the weekend. So, we veered into town mostly for the shock factor.

Happy to report- we found NOTHING remaining of that time… looks like someone came to their senses in the 1980s and everything was changed/fixed…. it was just a simple midwestern town these days.

With, thankfully, nothing to report in Pekin- we continued on up the highway into Peoria. We passed this Uniroyal Gal still standing on the roadside.

These “muffler men” were a very common site along Route 66 and other auto parts/service stations back in the day. It seems like maybe only about 10 of these ladies remain across the country.

Peoria is the home of Richard Pryor, a famous standup comedian who died in the early 2000s. I love stand up comedy… I know some of his more famous material is incredibly offensive to a lot of people…but I can’t -and wont-deny that he was groundbreaking in his material….and that comedy comes from a very dark place 99% of the time. Bill Cosby even said ” Richard Pryor drew the line between comedy and tragedy as thin as one could possibly paint it.”

He was raised in a brothel where his mother was a prostitute and his father a pimp and hustler. Beaten regularly growing up, sexually abused at age 7, expelled from school at age 14, entered the Army, but spent his entire time in the Army jail, once for stabbing a white soldier who laughed a little too hard at a racially charged scene in a film. He moved to New York in 1963 and started playing clubs doing opening comedy routines. His early stuff was much more “middlebrow” and less controversial. He wrote for Sandford and Son, the Flip Wilson Show… he appeared on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, The Ed Sullivan Show and others… it wasn’t until 1974 that he really became a hit- and that was when he co-wrote Blazing Saddles with Mel Brooks ( he was supposed to play Bart… but he was un-insurable… so they went with Cleavon Little) and he released his famous controversial albums and stand up routines that he became known for. He always struggled with drugs and alcohol, married 5-6 times, 7 children with 6 women… and at the end of his life, struggled with Multiple Sclerosis and heart issues from a lifetime of hard living and tobacco use. In the end, a 3rd heart attack got him. I respect Richard Pryor for turning pain and experience into art… and for speaking his truth on his experience with race in America..and for leaving us with some of the best belly-laughing stand up that will never be topped.

Continuing to drive around we saw the Caterpillar headquarters. There is a visitor center for seeing the big machines up close- but they closed at 5pm and we didn’t hit town until after 6.

Norah said this one looked like a government building from Men In Black and that big saucer was a spot to land the alien spaceships when they come to visit.

The Peoria Riverfront Museum was closed, but we stopped by the Holocaust memorial outside to see it before dinner. From their website:

We are honored to be home to the Peoria Holocaust Memorial, the only memorial of its kind in the world. Created by the Jewish Federation of Peoria, each of its 11 million buttons, collected by school children during the “The Button Project,” symbolizes a life lost during the Holocaust.

The purpose of the Peoria Holocaust Memorial is to remember the 6 million Jews and 5 million enemies of the state who lost their lives during the Nazi Holocaust, and to help educate future generations about the importance of standing up to bigotry, prejudice and hatred wherever and whenever they occur.

Every 6th- and 8th-grade student in the museum’s donor-sponsored “Every Student Initiative” tours the Memorial after first hearing a presentation.
Today, its lessons are as relevant as ever.

We tried to go to a restaurant right downtown at the Holocaust Memorial called Blue Duck Barbecue- but they were closed from the tornado that came through earlier in the day. Right next door was another restaurant high on the list- Rhythm Kitchen- but they were closed because their basement flooded from the storm… So… we looked at a few options including a brewery in an old church- but in the end, the food photos at a little Israeli place looked best.

It was not disappointing. As we walked up, the waiter and cook were coming to the door to look outside at the sky… and we think to turn the lights off because the place was empty. No one was out and about because of the storms. But, they were happy to see us and we had very fast quick service. So fast and so good, that I forgot to photograph the food! doh!

They brought pita and a tray of sauces- a garlic sauce, a jalapeño sauce, a smoky hot pepper sauce and a tzatziki.

Here are 2 photos from the internet of what we got! Ha Kegan got the lamb shank and I got the combination plate

Dinner was so quick, we were very early for our escape room we booked, but I read online they had a 10 minute Dr Who themed escape in the lobby you could maybe do…. so we headed on over.

The Dr Who TARDIS box was unoccupied, so we were able to squeeze that in. We escaped in 3 minutes and 26 seconds! haha and when we opened the door, the girl was standing there with her jaw on the floor! ha She said it was definitely the record. ha

Our real room for the night was the Help! We got Shrunk! room, a spoof on Honey I Shrunk the Kids. Super cute! We were shrunken down to Barbie doll size and had to set up the laser and program the shrink ray correctly to make ourselves big again and escape.

No problem. Piece of cake 🙂 I think we had 17 minutes left of something. It was a good room! lots of tricky puzzles but all on theme and logically made sense. Norah really liked it.

After that, it was on to Iowa… and when driving on I-80 in Iowa- you HAVE to stop at the World’s Largest Truck Stop! So even though we really didn’t need to stop- we made a quick stop by to check it out before hitting the hotel.

It was FREEZING by this time, cold front on the back side of the storm on the open plains there…. I bet it was 35 degrees and extremely windy. You can see it on her face when I made her pose for the photo. ha
Not just one restaurant- but a whole food court of options! DQ, Wendy’s, Taco Bell, Pizza Hut… also deli, doughnuts, hot dogs, etc… it was really big.

We finished our drive to Coralville, IA and crashed. Arriving around 1am.

We started Saturday ordering carryout from Goosetown Cafe which looked to be delicious brunch food. But it was a huge disappointment. Soggy wet raw poached egg, flimsy cheap bacon strips with the photos online were thick cut rashers…green olives that were supposed to be Spanish citrus marinated olives (Kegan fell in love with these in Spain, so we had to try!) We barely ate most of it… except Kegan’s bagel with Lox- it was good! (I dont know about $20 good… ) anyway, wouldn’t recommend at all.

We had to wait until 10am for the first building to open for the day. We headed to Macbride Hall on the University of Iowa campus for the Natural History Museum.

This is Rusty the giant ground sloth (you know- my fave! ha)

The bird and mammal halls of the museum were fantastic! Very much in the style of the Theodore Roosevelt/American Museum of Natural History in New York City that we visited. Dioramas and scenes behind glass in substantial wooden cases. It was much better than I had expected. If you loved looking at taxidermy animals up close, you could spend a day here…

a Dodo bird
This Bobcat reminds me so much of our male cat “Dude”. Same face, same big paws and body ratios and he is part Maine Coon, so he has some tufts of hair on his face and ears. lol I think the other part must be Bobcat. ha

After that nice trek, it was time for some real TREK. We walked back to the car to drive to Riverside, Iowa. The future birthplace of James T. Kirk. Star Trek canon says that James T Kirk will be born in Riverside Iowa on March 22, 2228.

Truthfully, it wasn’t Star Trek canon until May 2009…. the original Star Trek idea from creator Gene Roddenberry was just that Kirk would be born in a small town in Iowa, but Steve Miller- a Riverside councilman- was a trekkie and read Gene’s book from 1968 and thought- why not Riverside??? At the next council meeting in 1985, he proposed that Riverside declare itself the Future Birthplace and the motion passed unanimously. The Star Trek movie in 2009 is the first time the franchise every actually says “Riverside, IA”.

Fun fact- Captain James T. Kirk and William Shatner, the actor who played him, both share a March 22 birthday.

Riverside changed it slogan from “Where the best begins” to “Where the Trek begins” and changed its annual summer RiverFest to TrekFest- now entering its 38th season. (June 24-26, 2023- thinking about attending… lol)

In 2016, the US Postal Service released Star Trek themed stamp sheets. Riverside Historical Society and Voyage Home museum bought up all of the sheets from surrounding post offices to always have some on display. You can still buy a sheet in the museum gift case… I thought about it- but I don’t collect stamps- just Star Trek memorabilia, so I decided to leave the sheet for someone with more of a stamp appreciation.
T-shirts on the wall of the Voyage Home museum from past TrekFests
Norah was very excited to sign the Captain’s Log.
The computer and data cards on the bottom left are one of my favorite “futuristic” items from the Original Series. I would LOVE to have a transponder from the original show (middle bottom) or a real Tribble from The Trouble with Tribbles episode from the second season. I bought tiny tribbles in the gift shop made here in Riverside. ha
They had this display on the wall of the bathroom. So when you sat on the toilet, you were in the Captain’s chair and looking out haha Clever.

Riverside was fun- I was very happy it exists… and I love that people volunteer their time (I’m sure) to keep that museum open. I would have liked to see a bit more there to make me stay longer… a documentary, excerpts of episodes, behind the scenes footage playing on a screen, maybe. What about a video game console to play Star Trek themed games or pinball… or a table with Star Trek themed board games, put feelers out on websites, conventions, etc offering to display and insure memorabilia, anonymously or with credit. Recreate the terrain from famous scenes for photo ops. Head in a hole photo ops…

I’m telling you… I think I could do some stuff with that museum! 🙂 Call me. lol

Interestingly… this was the only overtly political ad I saw along the road in all of Iowa that we drove…. I assumed as the earliest voting state that we’d already be knee deep in political billboards, signs, etc… but this being the only thing I saw was very interesting.

We travelled right back to the University of Iowa campus to see the Stanley Art Museum. (The Star Trek museum was only open 12-4- so I didn’t want to hang out in the art museum too long and they close up shop for the day… so we we took the drive in the middle of the UI sites.)

A very fun coffin.
The museum was full of a lot of African and modern art. I dont think there was really anything classic, European, etc…. some pottery, some Americana… but a lot of very detailed and amazing African pieces.

After the art museum, we walked to the Old Capitol Building and museum.

This was Norah and Kegan walking backwards to glare at how slow I walk… so I made them take a photo ha

Iowa City was chosen as the capitol of the territory in 1839… 8 years before Iowa would become a state in 1846.

The building was completed in 1841 and the Territory Legislature met here starting in 1842.

The state capitol moved to Des Moines in 1857… and this building became the first permanent building on the University of Iowa campus… it opened in 1976 as a National Historic Landmark after extensive renovations, a fire in 2001 was started by contractors using a heat gun on renovations that burned the entire dome and bell, which took 4 years of repairs to renovate.

We decided that was enough museums for the day- time to do something else fun. Fossil spotting!

This spot is a gem of a place… Coralville Lake was created with a spillway dam… but it wasn’t until 1993 that Iowa saw enough flooding to spill over the dam. Maximum lake inflows of 41,000 cubic feet per second. For 28 days as much as 17,000 cubic feet of water per second flowed down the spillway, washing away 15 feet of river bottom silt along with the water as it ran. This exposed the Devonian area limestone rock beds- 375 million years old! That’s almost 200 million years before dinosaurs… that’s…well, I cant even fathom numbers like that. It’s crazy.

There were more floods in 2008 that exposed more beds… and I find that interesting because we were in Iowa for those floods in 2008 trying to get to California for my first contract there. We had to drive around for hours trying to get through flooded towns and eventually got stuck in Lincoln, NE for 3 days trying to get a wheel repaired from a pothole if I remember correctly ha

We found lots of Devonian area sea floor fossils and we found that Norah LOVES hunting for fossils- so now I have catalogued all the major US sites you can fossil hunt and potentially take home your finds. Future trip ideas 🙂

We found a tiny trilobite! They are more rare in this era of fossil bed.. usually you find coral and crinoids, but I did read you could find trilobites… and we were very excited to be able to pick one out.
Large crinoid stems Norah located.

Overall a nice hour spent outside on a cool sunny afternoon seeing something rare. I recommend it!

Next we started driving to some random roadside sites we marked on the map.

The World’s Largest Wooden Nickel. Supposedly built as a political protest against the Johnson County supervisor’s decision to raise speed limits on 3 streets. 16 feet across and weighs 4,000 lbs.
We had to swing through the cemetery to see The Black Angel- a famous 9 foot bronze sculpture that is the subject of many scary ghost stories in town. Supposedly the angel gets darker black every year from all of the lives its claimed (its really oxidized bronze…it does that) and supposedly if you kiss in the front of the statue, you’ll die within the year… I didn’t take any chances. 🙂
Drove past this sitting Buddha on a hill, but we couldn’t figure out how to get to him… so a drive by from the highway was all we got.

Time for some fun after all of the sites were done- we headed back downtown to the SpareMe Bowling and arcade for what we hoped would be a couple hours of fun. I called ahead to make sure they were kid friendly because they had a bar and it was near a college campus… but they said they were. Never mentioned that I should reserve a bowling lane for Saturday if we wanted to bowl… turns out there were only 6 bowling lanes and they were full… and they normally had 6 skeeball lanes, but half of those were out of order. So, really- all we could do was play a few vintage arcade games and a pinball… so we did that for a while…

Norah found a Stranger Things machine, so she was pretty pumped about that.
I found Star Trek…. I still dont understand pinball completely haha

We had dinner at JiangHu Asian Street Food just across the street. We just ordered a bunch of everything. ha

Beef Noodle Soup
Duck Noodle Soup
Hand pulled Curry Noodles with Beef
a Spicy chicken stir fry

Overall, it was a decent meal…. nothing to flag for future trips. The food was pretty good but every table was dirty and stayed that way through our whole visit. Had to go ask if they got one meal that they missed after they brought everything out one at a time over 15 minutes…just stuff that I think will end up with them closing. Not everyone is cut out for a restaurant ha

As we drove back through Coralville we saw some remnants of the tornado that came through right before we arrived. Telephone poles were halfway over, roofs off of buildings, I guess our hotel was out of power until right before we had arrived at 1am.. but we didn’t notice in the dark… it was apparent driving around in a few areas that a tornado definitely touched down.

Last item for the night was one more escape room, since Norah just loves them. and we don’t hate them… they are definitely a fun brain teaser… but I wouldn’t do so many if my kid didn’t think they were the greatest thing ever. ha

This one is a small independent place. Owners created the rooms. I thought it would be a cheesy poorly designed room but we were impressed! It was a lot of fun. It was called Grandma’s House… and so you start out at Grandma’s, trying to find an heirloom item… and you find out Grandma was a secret CIA Spy with a hidden room! We had to find computer codes, point lasers in a certain direction… it was fun! Lots of misdirection and items that weren’t used for anything keeping it interesting and fun. 10/10 – recommend. Oh, and we escaped- whew… gotta keep that street cred up 🙂

We got back to the hotel right at 10pm when the pool was supposed to close- but I told Norah we could give it a shot and see if they didn’t kick us out…. and no one did. Gave her a 30 minute swim before bed.

We were up early Sunday morning for an early check out and a 3 hour drive to Springfield, IL. We stopped for breakfast and coffee at a Caribou Coffee drive thru right near the hotel and Kegan and I were both impressed by the strength of the coffee drinks and how good their Lumberjack breakfast sandwich was! If you pass one, check it out- I would choose it over Starbucks every time… and I love my Starbucks.

Our first stop in town was the Lincoln Home National Historic Site run by the National Park Service.

The Home here at the site is the first and only home Abraham Lincoln owned- with much of the original structure, walls and foundations remaining. The entire street is preserved to remember what a typical day in 1860 Springfield would have looked like.

The home where Abraham Lincoln lives with his family for 17 years… and all 3 of their children were born here.

After spending some time here and the visitor center, we walked to the oldest house in Springfield- the Elijah Iles house….but even though it said it was open for tours in April, apparently not April 2nd… they were closed

Just down the street was a Frank Lloyd Wright designed house – the Dana-Thomas House. The next tour wasn’t until 1:30pm and it was 11am… so we booked tickets online and came back for the tour later.

We drove and parked at the Illinois State Museum, but they didn’t open until 12… so we decided to hit all of the outdoor sculptures and sites and see if we could walk through the Capitol building… we figured it would be closed, but to our surprise it was open.

This Proud Raven totem pole has a funny history. What is Abe Lincoln doing at the top of a totem pole that was created by the Tlingit people in Alaska? Well- it depends on who you ask. One theory stands that it was a shame pole- since another exists for Secretary of State William Seward too- as symbols of American Imperialism in the 1800s and bringing of diseases such as smallpox to the Native American tribes. Another theory is that the chief commissioned a carver to in 1883 to commemorate the first white man the village had ever seen. But the carver had no idea what a white man looked like. The carver went searching- the local army base or the local post office stop- asking for a picture of a white man and they provided him with a photo of Abe Lincoln from his 1864 presidential campaign, so that’s why Abe is atop the pole- the carver thought all white guys must dress like that and keep a beard. ha We may never know…

The Capitol building was amazing inside with a 405 foot dome in the center.

Even the Exit sign was on theme
Trash cans can be art too

We had finally made it to noon for the State Museum to open so walked back there. The ground floor was fossils, geology, animals, etc. A natural history type exhibit.

Ground Sloth replica skeleton. ha now I see them everywhere

Norah’s favorite part- by FAR- was the Generation X exhibit. It was a floor of items dedicated to Gen X, including a full recreation of a late 70s/early 80s Rec Room- complete with Atari, wood panelling, a record player and a set of encyclopedias. She was in heaven haha It definitely helps that we are all currently listening to the audiobook of Ready Player One in the car while she reads along in the book- and that is just FULL of 80s references and pop culture. So, it was very fitting to the culture she has been immersing herself in this week.

We talked through ALL of the exhibits, pointing out all of the toys and games we had…. which was surprisingly, a LOT of them! ha Pound Puppies and Strawberry Shortcake were a couple “core memories” that were unlocked viewing this display ha
Kegan had to school Norah on the awesomeness and creepiness of Teddy Ruxpin
I had almost every item in this case! haha – banana clips, that same Caboodle curling iron, Love’s Baby Soft, little plastic barrettes… a caboodle… quite a blast from the past.
Norah got to try her Hand at dialing a rotary phone and we got to explain to her the concept of an answering machine – which blew her mind. haha Also, they had a couple old computers- Apple II, Commodore 64. They had a tape drive, 8″ floppies, 5″ floppy disks and the 3.5″ ones… so it was fun to show her that. They also had a button to press to simulate the old internet dial up sound. It was just a super fun and nostalgic exhibit. Along a wall they even had TIME magazine covers of a lot of historical events that occurred- Ryan White, Baby Jessica, the Iran Hostages, Chernobyl, Berlin Wall, Reagan being shot, Adam Walsh-missing child…. so that was a great conversation starter to discuss some of the big history of our childhood times.

I finally coaxed Norah into leaving when I promised she could have a slice of pizza before our tour if we left right then. That worked. ha

Our house tour was surprisingly the highlight of the whole trip! They only do a few scheduled tours a day with a max of 15 people, so it was a small group and our guide was very good. The house was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright in 1902- completed 1904. It has 35 rooms, 12000 square feet over 3 main levels with 16 level changes throughout. This was FLWs first “blank check” commission- and it shows, we more art glass in this house that any other FLW structure in the world, with more than 450 art glass windows, doors and light fixtures as well as 100 pieces of custom furniture.

The craftsman style woodwork and built in cabinetry, which wouldn’t become popular for 20 more years, was just fantastic. The roman stack mid-century brick walls with open concept spaces that wouldn’t be seen for another 30-40 years in other home designs. A multiple line phone system installed in 1904! you had 9 private lines in the house. Full electric, indoor toilet – all first in the area at a time when outhouses and no electricity was still very common.

The house also contains 2 different barrel vault ceilings – the only time FLW did barrel vaulting outside of his own house for the rest of his career.

Photos were not allowed on the tour, but here are a few from the internet to show the house:

It was a good note to end on… We could have seen more in Springfield- there was a train station, some Lincoln statues… lots more we missed- but we needed to head further East to get back home at a decent time for school the next day.

Our last stop was in Casey, IL on the way- a town full of the World’s Largest Everythings. ha It made for some fun and silly photos.

World’s largest SeeSaw… but they had it locked down. Sign said they have an operator on Saturdays
A 1958 Ford Fairlane unlocked some memories for Kegan. He had to show Norah that this was the car Grandpa Dave owned when he started dating Grandma Sharon. He then told the story of how Sharon sat a cup at the drive in on the super buffed and shiny dashboard and it slid off and spilled everywhere in the car! I said Norah and Kegan were lucky to exist if she did that on a date! haha

Dinner was at a Mexican restaurant called Cilantros..and it was good Mexican food!

My child wouldn’t know that though because she ordered cheese sticks, shrimp and fries at a Mexican restaurant! ha The cheese sticks were an addition AS she was ordering… or otherwise I think she knew we would have vetoed that. ha
Steak chimichanga
Kegan’s Molcajete that was enough for 3 meals for only $18. Flap steak, chicken, a shrimp skewer, a whole avocado and random shredded meats, peppers, onions and cactus. If this is on the menu, he’s ordering it every time.
and my white whale of Mexican food- the Fried Ice Cream- with both honey and chocolate with whipped cream and cherries. Only missing the cinnamon sugar coating on the fried tortilla to make it exactly like the old ChiChi’s Fried ice cream back in the day… This one even had coconut in the cereal coating around the frozen ice cream… Would get this again any day! ha

Overall, a busy busy weekend! But tons of sights seen, fun times had… it was a good trip! Glad we got to squeeze it in while we are still in the area locally.

Next trip is to Cleveland in early May because Norah and I are headed to Washington, DC in a couple weeks with her school for 5 days… I figured I needed both weekends on each side of that to both recover from kid overload and to catch up on work from actually taking some time off! See you then!

24 Hours around Kentucky

This quick weekend trip was just to get in some random sites in Kentucky, including Big Bone Lick State Park (hilarious name ha), Abe Lincoln’s Boyhood home and Mammoth Caves. However, the weather had other plans for us and it was cut short due to a huge wind storm and flooding all over the Midwest.

Friday started out fun with high winds and flash flooding so bad that Norah’s school emailed and asked everyone to come get their kids as soon as possible so that the teachers could get home because multiple roads were flooded around Columbus. We even had to go “the back way” to get her from school because our highway was flooded. But, we grabbed her and headed towards Florence, KY for Friday night just because it’s a decent suburban area close to Big Bone Lick for the morning but would give us some fun things to do Friday night.

When planning what to eat in Florence, nothing was jumping out as a need-to-try… and just the other day Norah said “I’ve never been to Olive Garden, can we PLEASE go sometime??? They have all you can eat breadsticks!” Haha

Hilarious to me that she thinks she’s missing out. Haha So… we blew her mind when we told her that tonight was her lucky night- Olive Garden! Ha

This may be old news to people who eat here more than I do, but they had these touchscreen machines that you can order your drinks, appetizers and desserts on… and then for $2.99 you can play unlimited games. Of course Norah wanted to do that… and I let her.

All was going well. Got my Alfredo dipping sauce for my breadsticks… found out they took the one thing off the menu that I liked (the braised beef tortoloni). Ordered some calimari…

…and then…

The power went out. LOL

Luckily our food was already out, so we just paid cash to the waitress and we were good. Ha half of Florence was out of power all evening, stoplights were pitch black on a black street- so that was fun to navigate in a town I’ve never been in before. Ha

Luckily, Half Price Books had power! So we had an hour until they closed to shop around. Found a few more books to add to the collection and Norah picked up some paperbacks to fulfill her Spring Reading Challenge at school including a Dean Koontz thriller and Ready Player One for Sci Fi.

We booked an Escape room in Florence for 9:30p but they called us around 8 and said their power was out… but they had one room that could be done without power but it was only available at 10:15… so we moved to that one.

It was our first room we didn’t escape! It was called The Shipwreck- and I have to say I want to put an asterisk on not escaping haha the power being out meant their comm system wasn’t working and the game master didn’t give us any clues, even when we asked so we ended up spending the last 10 minutes in the room trying to get the last lock open and she didn’t hear us asking questions and we just thought she was being rude and purposely not answering us. Like we thought the lock wasn’t opening so Kegan said “I’m starting at zero and doing blah blah” and she said “I believe in you- you got this!” So we continued doing the same thing assuming it was right. Turns out it wasn’t lol oh well. 

We went back to our hotel slightly annoyed, but there are lessons to be learned in failure as well, so a good opportunity for Norah who was about ready to cry over it. ha 

Saturday, I had planned to go grab quick breakfast for everyone from a restaurant called First Watch. Its a chain but we’ve never been there-so I got online and made an order for pickup. For 3 people with coffee and juice and meals- was going to be $130! I was like, ok…I’m not super budget conscious… but I just CANNOT pay $130 for breakfast I still have to drive and get. So… we had White Castle breakfast instead! haha It’s not exciting… but- let me tell you- if you aren’t woke to the Castle for breakfast- they have the best cripsy golden hashbrowns of any fast food restaurant and they flat-top fry real eggs on their sliders. Also, you can get sausage or bacon instead of the hamburger patties…and they even have a chicken and waffle sandwich you can add egg and cheese to. Highly recommend for cheap fast food breakfast….and their coffee has even won awards. I still think its terrible watery drip coffee- but others seem to like it. ha 

I had also advanced ordered some cool doughnuts online to eat as snacks Saturday or Sunday for breakfast from a place called Peace, Love and Little Doughnuts. 

These were pretty good! The only bad factor was that it was the same base doughnut for each item, just different toppings on top. So the dense cakiness of it worked well for the strawberry shortcake one… but maybe not so good for the Boston Creme Pie ones.. but I also understand from an operational perspective this is about the only option to offer this kind of doughnut variety in a tiny little shop. 

Our first destination was Big Bone Lick state park. Because of the history of the site, I had really been wanting to fit a visit in. This is literally the site of the birth of American Palentologic study. It gets its name from so many maps dating from the 1700s of European explorers mapping out the French claimed “La Louisiane” territory where “big bones found at the salt lick” or “elephant bones found here” were marked. Map after map shortened and it became the “big bone lick”.

The Shawnee and Delaware tribes of the area knew this site very well and used the springs in this area for collecting salt and for hunting larger game that came to the spring to drink. Lewis and Clarke stopped here to collect and send back mammoth bones to Thomas Jefferson who was very interested in the site. So, Big Bone Lick was in essence the first funded paleontological excavation in North America. You can still see some bones from the excavation at Jefferson’s home in Monticello. Benjamin Franklin actually put forth the first documented discussions of the possibility of climate change after reviewing the “elephant” fossils from Big Bone Lick. Basically thinking that if elephants only live in warm climates.. but we had them here long ago… then maybe it was warmer here long ago and it has progressively gotten colder…

Back in the Pleistocene period/epoch (in the Cenozoic Era) or “ice age” about 12,000 years ago, mammoths, mastadon, ice age bison, giant ground sloths (my favorite) and elk-moose all lived in the area and would come here to the salt deposits around the sulphur spring to drink. The land around was very marshy and the animals would get stuck and die or be killed by early Clovis people… or other larger animals. 

So…pretty cool right??? I want to see the fossil beds! I want to see the spring! Oh… it looks like they have a herd of bison ranging! I wonder what cool skeletons they will have on display??

Yeah… none of that. ha We were soooo disappointed. Fossil beds have all been dug and destroyed, nothing to see at all left- not even marked on a park map at this point… the medicinal salt springs that even had hotels and spas in the area are gone and no longer there. They had cases along the walls of one room with some small bones, as well as some arrowheads and other artifacts of early life. They did have a 1,000 lb skull of a mastodon, so I guess they had 1 big cool fossil. Outside, they set up a fake diorama of painted animals getting stuck in a bog so you could visualize the concept, but it was just cheesy. ha 

I was very excited about giant ground sloths being found here, but disappointed there was no mention of them anywhere except this resin plastic model that was added in 2017 during a model to expand the gift shop into a real visitor center. 

So, after our 15 minutes or so in the building, we decided to hike back to the bison area, even though it was really muddy and puddles of water on the trail and even a downed tree we had to climb over from the storms the night before….because -herd of bison, right???

This was the bison. ha 5 sad bison in a pen with hay. I was done… 

I feel like a jerk sometimes and that my expectations must just be way too high… but like- come on. ha My standing theory is that most things in Indiana/Kentucky are just markers for what USED to be here. “Yeah, we don’t have anything cool now- but back 100 years ago, this place was special!” ha Sorry, I don’t need to visit to see a fake diorama and fake plastic skeletons and walk a flat 1/2 mile trail to where a spring USED to be. 

Anyway… more time for more activities today! So, we headed towards the Louisville area to some other sites I had marked. Since we had more time than I was expecting now, we went over to Fort Knox to see the Bullion Depository and visit the General Patton museum of Leadership. 

We got there… and the gate was closed to the parking lot of the museum, written CLOSED on the gate. No explanation… even though they said open online. 

But we did get to show Norah the Bullion Depository and explain all the crazy security it is thought that they have there, as well as explaining why people say “tighter than Ft Knox” or “more gold than Ft. Knox”. 

Ft Knox has housed over half of the US Treasury’s gold reserve since 1937 when it was decided it was better to house precious reserves away from coastal areas for more protection. Ft Knox even held the original copies of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution during World War II. 

But overall, nothing to visit or see since you cant go in the bullion depository and the museum was closed. We stopped in the visitor center (which is really just a visitor checkpoint for civilians entering the actual base of Ft Knox.) and the security guard there even confirmed there was nothing for us. So.. onward. 

We were only 20 minutes or so from Bernheim State Forest, so we thought we’d go see the giant forest trolls. Pull up to the entrance…. CLOSED. 

A forest. Is closed. ha Online I did check afterwards and it did say on their website that they would be closed Saturday and Sunday for storm clean up. I just didn’t think I needed to check that woods would be open. ha 

Ok… well Jim Beam is just a mile away- lets at least go there, see the grounds, go to the gift shop… 

Security guard out front tells us that the gift shop is closed and no tours today because they still don’t have power. Well, OK then. This day might just be a bust!

The area did have some high winds… leaving Jim Beam we saw a silo tipped over on a barn. 

Alright, so one last stop I had marked on the map on our way south to Mammoth Caves for Sunday tours… Hodgenville, Kentucky- the birthplace of Abraham Lincoln. 

So we drove to town thinking that we likely wouldn’t be able to do that either.. but much to our surprise the small Lincoln Museum downtown said OPEN! 

The museum contained historically accurate dioramas and wax figures depicting various events from Lincoln’s life.

Out in the square there was a traffic roundabout with multiple statues and granite stones with inscriptions dedicated to the life of Lincoln.

We hit up the local coffee shop before heading out of the town. Sampling sugary doughnuts while you are eating your feelings that everything is closed will make you very sleepy when it wears off. ha

The Main Street there retains such classic charm.. a drug store on the national register of historic places, original granite building fronts with mosaic nameplates of the original purveyors. Super cool.

Vibe Coffee is a gem of a place in Hodgenville. I got a very good matcha latte and Kegan got his standard 50,000 shots of espresso with a drop of cream. ha

After our museum visit we headed towards the National Historic Park that has a monument built to house his “cabin birthplace”. It’s not the original cabin. It’s even listed online as the “symbolic cabin” because the real cabin was dismantled before 1865. But in this case, the “fake” recreation seems fitting to show the humble beginnings of one of the great presidents.

Lincoln family bible

Map of Lincoln family migration over the years.
The memorial has 16 windows, 16 rosettes in the ceiling and 16 fence poles- all signifying his title as the 16th president. There are 56 steps to the monument, representing his age when he died.

About this time, I got an email that my hotel reservation in Horse Cave, KY for tonight had been cancelled. No attempt to help me find another hotel- just cancelled at 4pm. So… I called the hotel and they had power… lady answered the phone and everything. “They just weren’t sure yet if they were gonna have guests tonight”… which seemed like a likely excuse to cancel a points reservation they weren’t making any money off of anyway because we may have been the only guests that hadn’t cancelled because again, I hadn’t thought to check the Mammoth Cave website because….its a cave… and we literally booked a 9am lantern tour. Why in the world would that be closed??

But… it was. Checking the website it said all tours were cancelled for Sunday…so we made the decision to just go back home. No sense driving all around the state to just find closed signs… So, we decided to find some good dinner in Louisville before heading home because our own power at home was still out if our Ring cameras could be believed… so we weren’t in any huge hurry to get there.

We decided on Vietnam Kitchen- a fantastic authentic Vietnamese restaurant that has been a Louisville landmark for years. We love this place, but they are closed on Sundays and it seems every time we are in the area, it’s Sunday.

So, we stopped in and had some amazing food

A10: Beef Salad marinated with lime juice, onions, carrots, peanuts and served with shrimp chips.
K8: Hû Tiêu Xào – Trie Chau Style Noodle Soup
D5: Mi Vit Tiêm – Duck egg noodle soup with duck and Chinese herbs

Overall, not the weekend we planned… but a fun time none the less. Next adventure will be a weekend to Iowa and Illinois over Easter after our Spring Break week in New Orleans readying the house a bit more for the full move in May!

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