Happy Valentine‘s ❤️ to everyone reading! As February came upon us, I was reflecting on the past 29 years of Valentine’s adventures; a visit to Paris, France, a log cabin rental in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, a stay at the Hotel Roanoke, a getaway to Nashville, Tennessee, and numerous dinners around Roanoke, Virginia. I now was facing a task of what to do on Valentine’s Day. A friend of ours texted me, sharing where I could buy a stuffed Otter 🦦 as a gift. Anyone who knows us knows that we collect things with or about Otter’s. I was too late; it was already sold. My mind started turning, and finally, I decided to surprise Missy and take her to our zoo on top of Mill Mountain to see real live Otters.
Mill Mountain is a mountain within our city limits that is the home place to The Roanoke Star and the zoo. The star, built-in 1949, sits high atop the mountain and is 88 feet tall, weighing over 10,000 pounds and can be seen for 60 miles.
Today the mountain remains the same as when the Fishburn family deeded large portions of the mountain to the city in the 1940s and ’50s, included restrictions to ensure the land would be “developed and forever preserved, improved and maintained for the use and pleasure of the people of the City of Roanoke, Virginia, and vicinity as a public park.” Below link shows live cam from Roanoke Star.
The zoo opened in 1952; it is home to 85 animals among 35 species, including two species on the endangered list, the red panda and snow leopard. It’s most famous tenant was Ruby, a Siberian tiger. She was donated to the zoo by law enforcement officers who found her being kept illegally as a pet in Danville, VA. Can you imagine having a 300-pound tiger as a pet? Ruby was at the zoo from November 1988 until her death on December 10, 2006.
After entering the zoo, we discovered that we had the zoo to ourselves. I now could claim I reserved the entire zoo for just us. The zoo is small and designed for younger children.
Some of the more interesting animals at the zoo are in the following pictures below.
The main attraction was, of course, the Asian Small-Clawed Otter. The smallest Otter of the world from the south and southeast Asia. Love💘 was in the air on Valentine’s day for these two Otters. They are the most sought after otter species for the illegal pet trade in Asia, for its fur.
After visiting the zoo, we headed for lunch at Richie Freeze (Missy’s choice). An iconic restaurant in Roanoke for over 35 years. Just a little dive restaurant. They are known for their hamburgers and Chuck Wagon sandwiches (Missy’s favorite). Not sure what kind of meat Chuck Wagon’s are made from, but they are tasty.
After lunch, we went to the movies, and we saw Fantasy Island. I would give it ⭐️⭐️⭐️ out of five. It was more of a mystery with lots of twists. It was a fun Valentine’s Day, getting to spend the day with Missy. I think she enjoyed visiting the zoo. Sometimes things in our backyard are a hidden gem. I hope everyone had a great Valentine’s Day!
Today’s adventure took us on a hike to Piratebush, Cascade, Canyon, and Overlook Trail Loop. It is a 3.6-mile loop trail located near Roanoke, Virginia, on Poor Mountain. The trail starts at the top of the mountain and goes down to the bottom of the canyon and back up the other side of the mountain.
Poor Mountain Natural Area Preserve is a 933-acre natural preserve. The preserve protects the world’s largest population of pirate bush. The mountain derives its name from the fact that the soils on its slopes are poor due to their base of metamorphosed sandstone bedrock. The preserve’s pine-oak heath woodlands include table mountain pine, eastern hemlock, oak, and shrubs, including huckleberry, and mountain laurel.
Pirate bush is native to the southern Appalachians, growing only in the mountains of southern Virginia, eastern Tennessee, and western North Carolina, and is rare throughout its range—all three of the states list the species as either endangered or state threatened.
As we entered the trail, the first sign we encountered was Be Bear Aware! The sign is pretty amusing with the last being, ”If bear makes contact, fight back.” I guess it’s lucky for us that its winter, hopefully, the bears are hibernating.
The trail has two different trails, with one being a shorter hike.
The views from the top of the mountain were beautiful. You could see for miles with the air clear and leafless trees. All along the trail was mountain laurel with their buds for spring blooms and southern magnolia.
As we walked the trail, I thought this tree that wrapped around itself was interesting. Its as if it was hugging itself.
As we went down the mountain the trail would switchback along a mountain stream producing several small waterfalls.
We finished our hike in two hours and 3 minutes. Good day to take in the fresh mountain air and get some exercise.
On Friday, Hannah’s traveling PTA job takes us to Louisville, Kentucky. With her car fully packed with Bee, and Olive, with Missy and I following her to Louisville. It felt like off to college all over again.
Leaving Virginia, we travel through West Virginia to Kentucky six and a half hours total to Louisville, which sits across the Ohio River from Indiana.
After driving and getting Hannah unpacked, we went to dinner at Check’s Cafe, a Louisville tradition since 1944. After ordering our meal, we were asked to be extras on television’s TLC’s Unexpected. A new show that takes a raw look at three teenage pregnancies and the effects it has on their families as everyone prepares for the arrival of the babies. We sat and ate our meal while they filmed the family. I just hope they got my good side. We did receive a free meal.
Saturday took us to the Louisville Slugger Museum and Factory. We saw and learned how they make their baseball bats. Approximately half of the Louisville pro bats are made from northern white ash and the other half from maple. The best timber comes from parts of Pennsylvania and New York.
In the past, hickory was also a popular wood for bats, but it’s too heavy of wood for the fast pitching speeds today. Hickory was the wood that Roy Hobbs (Robert Redford) used in the movie, The Natural. Hobbs takes a piece of the hickory tree and carves it down into a baseball bat, using a wood-burning kit to write the name “Wonderboy” into the barrel.
The museum was very informative and fun as I was able to swing Willie Stargell’s bat and sit in the dugout with Missy. Can you tell that I am a Pittsburgh Pirates fan?
Both of these museums we’re located on the bourbon district, Birthplace of Bourbonism. Located on this street is a statue of David.
The statue sets the standard for the biggest male package on public view in the U.S. On top of the building behind the statue, there were red penguins. It all seemed random to me, but it was impressive.
We then headed to the Muhammad Ali Center. Ali was born and raised in Louisville as Cassius Clay. This museum was an impressive five-story building. It covered his life from his first fight till Ali carried the torch in the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta. I consider him to be the greatest of all time (GOAT), as an athlete, not just because he told us so. Ali did more for humanity, racial discrimination, and entertainer while being a great boxer.
Ali knew that he was bigger than boxing. His weigh-in interviews, without a doubt, was the greatest, and probably the most intimidating as an athlete. The Rumble in the Jungle, and Thrilla in Manila, helped make Muhammad Ali’s boxing legacy, the greatest boxer of all time.
On February 14, 1973, Elvis Presley presented Muhammad Ali with an ‘Elvis Style’ robe emblazoned with the words, ‘People’s Choice’ on the back in rhinestones and jewels. The wording was a mistake as Ali was known as the ‘The Peoples Champion.’ Elvis was very upset about this, but it was too late. Ali thanked Elvis for the robe then went directly to the Las Vegas Convention Center for his fight that night against Joe Bugner, where he wore Elvis’ robe for the first time. As you probably guessed, Ali won the fight. Ali grew up in a black middle-class neighborhood in the west end of Louisville. His childhood home is currently in the process of being registered as a National Historic Landmark.
We then grabbed a quick late lunch before heading to the Jim Beam American Stillhouse nestled in the rolling foothills of Clermont, Kentucky, about 30 minutes south of Louisville.
Jim Beam started in 1795, selling bourbon named ”Old Tub” until Prohibition. Today, Jim Beam is the number one selling bourbon brand with over ten million cases last year.
The Clermont farm sits on a limestone shelf, which filters the water for the bourbon. All of the water is pumped by wells from underground caverns of the farm. We took a tour of the distillery showing us how they mashed in the ingredients to making the Bourbon. The Bourbon ages for a minimum of four years in a charred barrel. We were able to bottle our own Bourbon, label it, fingerprint the cap, and engrave the bottle. The Bourbon we bottled was aged seven years. Pretty cool to do our bottle.
We finished our tour in the tasting room. Making Bourbon is basically the same as making Virginia Moonshine with the addition to the Bourbon is aged in the charred barrels.
After touring Jim Beam American Stillhouse, I could sense a proud heritage and dedication to making the best Bourbon in the world. In Kentucky, the distillery is a must-see.
Sunday, finally, the heavens from above have opened up to some sunshine. Temperature is 34 degrees, with it feeling like 30. I decided to surprise Missy and Hannah with a must-see adventure. Cave Hill Cemetery is where Colonel Sanders, Muhammad Ali, and Patty Hill, the author of the happy birthday song, are laid to rest.
Next on our tour is Churchill Downs, the fastest two minutes in sports. The track is 1 1/4 mile and with Secretariat in 1973 holding the record at 1:59.40. Secretariat was born and raised in Virginia. Secretariat won the triple crown and still holds the record for fastest in at all three races. At age 19, he was put to rest, earning over $1,316,000. The vets estimated his heart to weigh 22 pounds, while an average thoroughbred horse’s heart weighs 8-9 pounds. He was buried whole while normally horses head, heart, and hooves are laid to rest. Only three thoroughbred horses have been buried whole. Secretariat had competitiveness and heart. Same characteristics that make humans great.
Churchill Downs has been home to horse racing since 1875. The track is twenty-two feet deep. Made up of limestone, sand, and dirt.
Finishline marker always stays the same regardless of race, only starting gate changes.
We got to see a retired racehorse named Populist Politics or Popi. A smaller pony usually always companions a racehorse. He is the emotional support to help keep them calm. Popi today still has Tatanka as his emotional support.
There have been many great jockeys race at Churchill Downs. There is a museum room dedicated to William ”Bill” Shoemaker. Jockeys have to weigh in at no more than 126 pounds. Shoemaker was 4’ 11. Shoemaker won eleven Triple Crown races during his career, spanning four different decades. He won 8,833 races in his career as a jockey.
Last year over $150 million was bet at the Kentucky Derby. Millionaire row is premium indoor dining room seating at tables of 8 as well as access to a private viewing platform with views of the entire track and finish line. Workers would not say how much these seats cost, but you can rent these same seats for other races throughout the year for $39. Very tempting to attend a race in the near future.
We had a wonderful trip, seeing lots of exciting places. I hope you enjoy my blog on Louisville, Kentucky, and inspire you to visit. If not, I hope my writing makes you feel as if you have visited. WHAT IF…..
January 14, 2020, with 85-degree temperatures. Warm weather in January seems strange, but it’s always welcomed over winter weather in Virginia. As we approach Everglade City, we see signs for Panther crossings.
My adventure included my friend, Greg Scites; we were celebrating our 55th birthday since we are four days apart.
Our journey in the Everglades begins at Captains Jack’s. We have a 9 am reservation for an airboat ride.
We learn that our guide is Captain Al, who wears an alligator tooth necklace. I feel as if I am on the show Swamp Thing as I board the airboat.
Our airboat has five people on board, as it travels through canals of mangroves. These canals are just wide enough for the boat to pass-through. It wasn’t long before we encountered our first gator — a six-footer swimming in the water around us. Captain Al taps the boat, and this gator swims and hits the side of the boat head-on.
We continue our trip until we come upon a spot where a family of raccoons lives in the mangroves. Captain Al whistles to let the raccoons know that he is there and calls them by name. In about a minute, you hear and see two raccoons scurrying through the thick mangroves. Captain Al talks to them while petting these wild raccoons. These Florida raccoons are about half the size of Virginia raccoons.
We continue our travels through the brackish waters through the thick mangroves learning about the Everglades. We then transferred to another airboat where the sawmill grass grew with more open waters. This airboat was larger and could reach speeds up to 50 mph.
It wasn’t long before we encountered a 12-foot alligator. She was sunbathing as we pulled up next to her. Alligators and crocodiles share these waters.
We learned that the protected mangroves were choking out the sawgrass changing the habitat in the Everglades. Invasive Burmese Pythons are killing the wildlife living in the Everglades. Hired snake killers are trying to thin the population because the snakes are killing all of the animals in the Everglades. Some of the animals in the Everglades are bear, deer, raccoons, boars, turtles, and Panthers, as well as many types of fish.
Our next adventure was riding a swamp buggy through the Everglades.
We learned of different plants, trees, and saw more wildlife. We saw where bears had climbed the cypress trees. Native Americans 200 years ago had altered the growth of cypress trees to mark the path to town so they could go to trade.
We finished our adventure at the enclosed animal park that had otters, crocodiles, lions, and tigers.
Captain Jack’s was a lot of fun with lots of adventures. I highly recommend a trip to the Everglades. We found a local seafood restaurant for lunch that had alligator, frog legs, crabs, oysters, and many different types of seafood. While we waited, we were lucky enough to watch a dolphin feeding in the canal.
Imagine you are in 1974, age 8, in a world where there was a black and white TV with three channels, no computers, no cell phones, and having no idea about life. You have three siblings that you watch and idolize, wishing you could be like them. You have no commitments, responsibilities, or stress.
I remember this time quite well. School, in my mind, was more of a social event where I saw my friends. My third-grade teacher, Mrs. Kennedy, must have been good because we learned without realizing it. Elementary school, as I look back, taught me structure in addition to book learning. Our principal was a tall, balding older man, who had been a POW in World War II. The Japanese tortured his eyes, and his vision was poor. He demanded fairness and respect while also being disciplinary. He had a large paddle with holes drilled to make the paddle sting. After being paddled, you had to sit in a room, no bigger than a closet, that was directly above the coal fed furnace. The room was a sauna. The door had a glass window, and as you sat there, everyone walking by would see you. This was timeout before there was a timeout. For me, this was something I didn’t want to experience, knowing if my parents found out my punishment at home would be worse. My brother didn’t seem fazed by this; he was a regular visitor to the sauna. He later became a police officer. We also had blackout drills with curtains drawn, with having to get on the floor with the lights off. This was a drill in case planes were above bombing the school.
I was at the beginning of developing my love for sports. My passion would become basketball. The Los Angeles Lakers were 1972 NBA Champions, Miami Dolphins 1972, 1973 Super Bowl champions, and Pittsburgh Pirates 1971 World Series champions. The team’s I am still a fan of today. I was at the age that I was starting to develop my thoughts and imaginations. I don’t remember teachers trying to influence our ideas with their feelings. They allowed me to write left-handed without changing how I wrote naturally. I do remember having to learn to use right-handed scissors because the class didn’t have left-handed scissors. Today I still use right-handed scissors.
Holidays were always a fun time as a child for me. It all started with Halloween, lots of candy and costumes to wear. The costumes were always handmade. One year I was sick with the flu, and my siblings took a pillowcase out and filled it with candy. Thanksgiving was more about the parades, good food, football, and being out of school.
Christmas was the biggest of all holidays. The schools were closed for three weeks. Before school let out, we would have class parties, a Christmas play, and Santa visiting each child. I didn’t realize until fifth grade that Santa was my dad. My teacher slipped up and told me my dad was coming that day, and it was Santa’s day to visit the school. I guess I was innocent and naive. I pretended, I knew when I realized what my teacher said.
In 1974, I recalled getting into the decorative part of Christmas. Our tree was always in our basement den. We would decorate the tree as a family with Christmas music playing. Johnny Mathis, Bing Crosby, played on our record player. All of our ornaments we’re either handmade or had meaning. I liked the crochet snowflakes that my grandmother made. Usually, you picked up an ornament and commented about it. We had silver strands of icicles that ended up everywhere. We would strand popcorn to put around the tree. Being the youngest, I never got to put the topper on the tree. We had a fake cardboard fireplace where we hung our stockings. All made for wonderful memories. We walked downtown to see the holiday decorations and the parade. Without me realizing the holiday traditions, I was building up my excitement for Christmas. I didn’t know the true meaning of Christmas; I just knew Santa was coming, and I would get gifts. Christmas Eve, my mind would wonder what Santa might bring. Hoping I would get a new basketball. The whole story of Santa always fascinated me. The reindeer flying through the sky. Santa covering the entire world in one night and his list of naughty and nice.
Christmas Eve, we had a German meal for dinner. Our family tradition was schnitzel, potatoes, sauerkraut, bread, and a dessert. Which we continue today. On the radio, they would broadcast the whereabouts of Santa. This was exciting, knowing Santa was in Roanoke. We would be allowed to open one present before going to bed. Now my level of excitement was out the roof. How would I be able to sleep with all this adrenaline? I was told if I didn’t go to bed that Santa wouldn’t come to our house. That’s all I needed to hear; I wasn’t going to chance Santa not coming.
My brother and I shared a room. He would go to sleep pretty fast because I don’t recall any conversations lying in bed. We were allowed to listen to the radio as we lay to sleep. At 10 pm, the CBS Radio Mystery Theater broadcast for an hour. After the hour, it was pure silence for the rest of the night. It was the longest night of my life. I would lay there wondering if Santa had arrived, but too afraid to get up and go downstairs to check. I looked out the window, from my bed, looking for any signs of reindeer or Santa. Time seemed to stand still as I watched the clock. My mind wandered all night. I could hear the wind blowing the tree limbs. Sometimes I saw shadows that scared me. If I thought Santa was outside, I ducked my head under the covers so Santa wouldn’t see me awake. The house, built-in 1900, was as silent as a mouse. The only noise I could hear was the ticking of clocks throughout the house. This went on all night till 4 am. At that time, I would go to my parent’s room to see if it was time to see if Santa had arrived. The answer was always the same, ”no and go back to bed.” My parents didn’t realize that I was prepared to play this game every hour until they got up. Usually, it was around 7 am that everyone got up to go downstairs to see what presents they had. Santa never let me down, I often got a basketball or football, clothes, and whatever toy I asked for. My stocking was always stuff full of apples, oranges, and nuts.
After everyone finished opening their presents, my mom announced that she heard a noise in the night and grabbed the 8 mm camera to see what had made such a clatter. Mama sat at the top of the staircase out of sight and saw Santa delivering his gifts. Santa acted as if he didn’t know anyone was on the steps. He ate his cookies and drank his milk and turned to the camera shaking his bells and waved goodbye while saying,” Merry Christmas, Ho, Ho, Ho!”
We had all of this on film, it was amazing. I couldn’t wait to tell my friends about seeing Santa. I remember every detail down to his jolly ole laugh. Looking back, I think the video of Santa was probably the reason it took me till 5th grade to know that Santa at school was my dad. Thanks, Mrs. McCowan, for spoiling it for me! As for Santa that night, I then realized it was my dad!
In 1974, I was eight years old and was an impressionable time for me. Luckily I had good parents who had had three previous tries to get Christmas right. So when you think of Christmas, remember the true meaning, as well as your most significant memories of your Christmas past. I hope my story brings some joy to your life. Thanks, Mom and Dad, for wonderful memories!
For 54 years, I have wanted to go to Christmas Town. I had to convince Missy, 28 years to go, that we would have a good time. I told her I would do all the driving, hoping that this year would be the year. Twenty-eight years had been long enough.
When we arrived, we were told that our VIP parking pass was sold out, and we would have to park in the back of the furthest lot. I could hear a Bah Humbug, Missy speaking under her breath. I wasn’t going to let this parking situation ruin the night of all nights. First, we decided to ride the ski lift, hoping we would get a great aerial view of the Christmas lights. After waiting 30 minutes, we got on the ski lift and went about 100 yards, and the ride broke down. We are suspended in mid-air for about 10 minutes, waiting for them to fix the ride. Missy, was now saying how this was an omen. I was trying to keep my spirits up, with my adrenaline still pumping with excitement.
We walked around the park, like two kids, overwhelmed by so many lights. There were Christmas trees and lights everywhere the eyes could look. There was even mistletoe, candy, and music playing everywhere.
I was in Christmas heaven. Missy was starting to warm up to the decorations, but I could still detect a little Grinch. I am glad the parking and ski lift incident were in the past. We walked, taking in more of the sites. The Christmas lights were bright and colorful.
Walking around and controlling my emotions, was all I could bear, but I did want a big stuffed Santa or a lighted necklace or anything that I could claim as mine. I needed just one thing that I could have now in the present.
I found lots of things that I wanted. I imagine by now, you could guess it; I was told ”no”, denied. I couldn’t have anything, coming from you know who (Missy). It looked like all I could do was look at fun decorations to create lasting memories.
We then walked into a gift shop, and I saw the Holy Grail of candles. It had Santa and Mrs. Claus kissing. I couldn’t keep my eyes off it. It was $90. If you don’t know, candles are my crack; I once spent, let’s just say, a lot of money at the Yankee Candle outlet.
Once again, I was told no I couldn’t have the candle. I quietly put my head down, and without making a scene, I left the store. I knew right then, and now that my chances of getting anything in the future, we’re not going to happen. I felt like pouting but knew that Missy wouldn’t like it.
We finished our tour of Christmas Town, with the play Scrooge. If you hadn’t noticed, I decided to write my own story of Scrooge, living in the past, present, and future. I hope you caught on to my version.
I tease about Missy in my story and want everyone to know that I enjoy every moment we spend together and wouldn’t want to go on any of our journeys without her. Missy loves Christmas and all that goes with Christmas. She probably wouldn’t of let me spend $90 on that candle, just thought I add that bit of information.
We both have enjoyed our weekend in Williamsburg, Virginia. I encourage everyone to take some time out for themselves as we close out 2019 and have some last-minute laughs. Life is too short to take everything so seriously. We should all live in the past, present, and future.
Today’s adventure takes us to Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia, to see the Christmas decorations. Our first historical site, the Governors Palace, home of the Colony of Virginia’s and post-colonial Governors Patrick Henry and Thomas Jefferson. The palace was used up until 1780, where the capital was moved to Richmond, VA.
Making our way around Colonial Williamsburg, really makes you feel as if you have stepped back in time 250 years. There are lots of museums and shops and restaurants. As we walked down the streets, there are no cars. Horse-drawn carriage rides are still the mode of transportation or walking.
Plenty of shop keepers, tavern owners, and courthouse personnel from the 18th century time period to learn from. Fifes and Drums Marched down the main street.
We then took a tour of the Christmas decorations. Each home or business had a wreath or a decoration at the entrance. Considering this was the mid to late 1700s, where they decorated with what they had, or they had grown. We are talking about a period of time before there were Christmas trees in homes. Today they still display their Christmas decorations using only what the colonists had, with judges to decide who wins the Blue Ribbon.
Usually, the wreaths are decorated with something from their trade or symbolize their family. Look closely at the wreaths to see a story being told about the family.
In the evening, the Christmas lighting of the Governors Palace, where they lit these iron baskets to light up the homes along the street. The colonialist would call out the name of the house to the captain, who would signal the patriots to fire their rifles, all with a marching drum and fife band.
One of the interesting facts, there was no schools, so the parents homeschooled the children. One of the homes is where Thomas Jefferson was learned as a teenager. Could you imagine being that proud teacher! Amongst Colonial Williamsburg today, some of the buildings are museums, and some are private homes. The churches are still active, and back in the 1700s, it was mandatory to attend.
In Colonial Williamsburg, the attendance is low. The younger generation is either not learning the history of colonialism, or are not interested. We must not forget our past, so history doesn’t repeat itself. I encourage you to attend Colonial Williamsburg to help preserve the historic buildings. We found hotels for $40 a night, making it very affordable. We enjoyed our visit! Stayed tuned for our visit to Bush Gardens and Christmas Town.