Thursday, September 9, 2010

Gateway to the West

Over the holiday weekend, we took a road trip with friends to see the Reds take on the Cards in St. Louis. We made a weekend of it, and since Neil and I had never been there, we had to go up in the arch.

We have a National Parks Passport and quickly discovered that the proper name isn't the St. Louis Arch, but rather the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial (if you're talking about the whole park) or the Gateway Arch.

I was surprised to learn that it opened in 1967--I had thought it much older than that. But that doesn't make it any less inpressive in my book. It is currently the tallest monument in the United States and the view from the top is incredible.

I was shocked by the amount of security, but that's just this post-9/11 world, I suppose. We went through the same security you'd go through in an airport, minus removing shoes. This program just started this year and was required by Congress.  I was also shocked by how tiny the capsules you ride to the top are--I was glad it was only a 4 minute ride to the top!

I love the symbolism of the arch. Not only is it the most recognizable landmark in St. Louis, it marks an important time and point in the history of the city--it commemorates the place from which Lewis and Clark began their famous expedition. The memorial also recognizes the first government west of the Misssissippi, the Louisiana Purchase and the Dred Scott Decision. When you see such famous landmarks, it is sometimes easy to get so caught up in the physical aspects--how tall a monument is, how many people are around, how much tickets cost--but moments like these call for a pause to reflect on just why you're standing in that spot.

Thanks to our friend Stacia for taking the photo. It was a perfect day for walking around!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Book Details

I have been fielding a lot of questions about my book thought I would do a quick post to update anyone who might be interested.

My contract was signed in October 2008. I was given a deadline of July 2009 to write the entire book. Around September 2009, I got a request to provide maps for each chapter, as well as some more photos.

By the time I started working on all of that, my husband was diagnosed with obviously my priorities changed! That took me to the spring deadline, which would have had my book out right about now. However, he was still in treatment so I requestion to be given more time and now the book will be printed in early 2011.

That's the gist of the reason for the delay.

Friday, August 20, 2010

The fog

Yesterday morning, Cincinnati was covered with a thick blanket of gorgeous fog. I immediately thought of this Carl Sandburg poem:

THE fog comes
on little cat feet.

It sits looking
over harbor and city
on silent haunches
and then moves on.
Back in May, we traveled to Asheville, NC to celebrate our fourth wedding anniversary. While there, I insisted we visit Carl Sandburg's house, Connemara. We were both glad we made the stop.

Inside, things were delightfully left just the way Sandburg had abandoned them when he passed away in one of the high-ceilinged bedrooms in 1967.

I have not read nearly as much Sandburg as I should (I hold a B.A. in English) but I do know he is one of the great American voices. This view of him is evidenced by the fact that to peer into the nooks and crannies of Connemara is to see they've left his bookmarks (thousands of them), his trinkets and yes, even his messes. His life was so dynamic and influential that to look upon the vignettes in each room is to touch the surface of his genius.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Light the Night

Back in September 2009 (wow, it's almost been a year!!!) my husband, Neil (26) had a cold and thought he would go to the doctor for an antibiotic, but kept putting it off.  He ended up at the urgent care clinic after I insisted he go, and while he was at it, we discussed--why not have them check out the lump he had on his neck?

It was almost a quick in-and-out visit. The doctor had her hand on the doorknob when Neil gathered the courage to ask her about the lump he'd been a little nervous about that we had dismissed as nothing.

She felt it and advised him to have it biopsied. I heard the fear in his voice when he called, and it caught me off guard. We had both dismissed it as a swollen gland. It hit me in the pit of my stomach.
Suddenly, life was in fast-forward. In the following weeks, Neil would given a variety of scans and tests and they had scheduled a biopsy. We were told it wasn't looking good, but still held out hope it would be something benign. A text message I sent from my phone from October 6, the day of the lymph node removal and biopsy, reveals how much our lives were about to change:

8:55 a.m.
Just took him back. We should get preliminary results in about an hour.

9:59 a.m.
It is Hodgkin's. We see an oncologist next.

A few more tests and scans and then an appointment with an oncologist followed. Neil started chemo on October 23rd, our niece's second birthday and the day before my 27th.

Since then, it's been a roller we would not have been able to ride without the help of our families and friends. Neil has been strong and worked throughout the ordeal and our insurance has covered a lot of our bills. Today, we count our blessings--Neil is in remission. But we realized that some people weren't as lucky.

That's why we are walking in this year's Light the Night Walk. Will you support us?

Please donate here.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Bardstown Ghosts

We recently made our second visit to Bardstown, KY, this time with four friends in tow. If you've never been there, it's a great little town known for bourbon, Civil War history and Stephen Foster. It's one of those places, like Gettysburg, that offers up both incredibly significant history and borderline cheese.

After a long day of sightseeing (Perryville Battlefield, Maker's Mark, Bernheim Forest) we decided to eat dinner at the Old Talbott Tavern. Not only is it known for its delicious food, it was also part of the ghost tour we planned to take after dinner.

We met across the street for the Bardstown Ghost Trek, led by a slight, but spunky woman who has been doing these tours for over 20 years. Like most ghost tour directors, she combined history with reported ghost sightings and local lore. When we arrived at the Old Talbott Tavern (our last stop on the tour) we were told about the Jesse James Room. We had seen it from the outside earlier in the evening and told that he once stayed there, that his ghost had been seen in the window, and that it was destroyed by a mysterious fire in 1998. Now, one of the legends is that bullet holes in the room were from a drunken Jesse James, who thought the room's famous murals had come to life. He apparantly shot at the birds and the holes were left as a tourist attraction. The fire of '98 destroyed these murals and the room is no longer open for viewing.

You might notice that sometimes what I find most fascinating is the unsaid or hidden away. In this case, the mere fact that Jesse James had stayed in this room once was enough to put a plaque on the door and parade tourists past.

Interestingly, even though it may seem far-fetched, James actually had quite the connection to the tavern. His mother's family was from the area and local politicians and law enforcement tolerated and even welcomed his presence in town, even when he was on the run. He often dined and met people here.

If you're ever up for a weekend trip to Bardstown, definitely dine at the tavern and take the $15 ghost tour which begins at 8:00 across the street at the Old Stable. While it's not the best ghost tour I've been on, it's a pretty good way to get your local lore bearings and perhaps do some more exploring on your own.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Happy Birthday

I haven't posted nearly as often as I should this summer...but it's for good reason. After a very important scan, my husband again tested negative for cancer activity. We've been busy living life with parties, weddings and outdoor trips. Here's a photo of him at his 27th birthday celebration...this was probably the most special birthday of all.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Devil's Courthouse

My husband and I just returned from a fantastic trip to Asheville, NC. We spent an entire day driving the Blue Ridge Parkway up to Craggy Gardens and beyond. We came across Devil's Courthouse late in the day.

Something that always strikes me when we visit large parks is the names given to natural features.I wasn't surprised to see the name of this peak because I would bet during a storm it looks an awful lot like judgment day. In fact, being in the mountains struck a bit of healthy fear into my soul. I can imagine living up there on a fair day. But I could actually see the mountains affecting and/or causing weather. Looking out over the entire range as far as the eye can see, it seemed so desolate and lonely. Beautiful, yes. But also very haunting. Storm clouds rolled in and disappeared just as quickly. 

The Blue Ridge Parkway site offers this explanation of the name:
Devil's Courthouse may have received its name because of the sinister aspect of the rock formation, or because, as legend holds, the devil held court in the cave that lies beneath the rock. In Cherokee lore, this cave is the private dancing chamber and dwelling place of the slant-eyed giant, Judaculla.
I could indeed imagine a monster of some sort living up here. Even in the sunshine, it's not a place to mess around.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Cincy Chic

Here I am in Cincy Chic, talking about road trips, my new book and why I love Cincinnati. Enjoy!

Friday, May 7, 2010

Old Farm

It has become my family's Easter tradition to walk back to where my great-grandparents' farm used to be. It is located on East Fork State Park property in a somewhat unknown spot. We only occasionally see other people back there.

As a child, my mom would go to the farm every Sunday and she and her siblings and cousins would often spend the warm months exploring every inch of this land. There are a few traces of the old pig farm left. A few fenceposts, a manmade pond deep in the woods, and my favorite--these daffodils. It's so amazing to see that the daffodils still faithfully come up each spring.

There's a lot of beauty, but also a lot of sadness here too. You can still see remnants of a stone wall from the farm that used to be across the road and there are old driveways and more bulbs that mark where the fronts of houses used to be. Mom said there were a few holdouts when the state was buying out the land, and one farmer killed himself in his barn. Another woman's house mysteriously caught on fire. She was in the basement and didn't make it out. My great-grandfather, another holdout, awoke one morning to find that all of his pigs had been poisoned.

 I don't like to think about the loss that occurred here. I prefer to see this as something full-circle. The land was used and loved. Then it was reclaimed and overrun by the trees and kudzu. Now I visit it and respect the land as my great-grandfather always did.

We have hidden a geocache so that others may find there way here.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Empty Nest

My husband took this photo and I think it's an interesting symbol, especially with Mother's Day approaching. Some people would look at the empty nest and think it's sad, others would look at it and think, "how interesting!"

I am the latter type. I suppose these thoughts are stemming from a comment made recently to me on Facebook, which I ended up deleting because I didn't feel like getting nasty with someone. I was talking about the faulty statistics of that study that comes out each Mother's Day. In it, the researchers claim that a stay-at-home mom's salary comes out to six figures based on the tasks she performs. Maybe I worded the post poorly, but I was trying to comment on how you can't necessarily posit that a mom with no degree in psychology could dole out psychological help valued at $34/hour. And I made it clear that you can't say that about anyone under the same set of circumstances. A high school classmate took this as a personal attack on her lifestyle and posted something nasty about how I would never know what she went through because she was a mom and I wasn't and that maybe I should just keep my mouth shut. Whoa.

Do I agree I don't know what it's like to be a mom? Sure. Because of circumstances beyond my control, I might never be a mom. But does that mean I can never be selfless, tired, busy or an excellent multitasker? Are moms the only ones who can get credit for going to school and working at the same time because they chose to have kids before completing school (as this person did)? Does everything get elevated when you give birth?

I have to say no. I would argue that even without kids, my life is blessed, interesting and full, and yes, crazy busy. If I have an empty nest for the rest of my life, do my experiences count for less?

Apparently some think so.

Weeping Willow

Originally uploaded by True North Two
Found this lovely example of classic weeping willow imagery at a small cemetery near Bethel, Ohio. The detail is just gorgeous! We found a geocache nearby and I took a few minutes to explore the cemetery. Yet another cool spot discovered by geocaching!

Friday, April 30, 2010

Years, Months, Days

One of the most common questions I get from people who
accompany me on graveyard adventures has to do with a common practice of spelling out the years, months and days of a person's life. I remember reading years ago (or did I hear it in a college history class?) that the reason for this is that in the 1800's (the period from which you commonly see these gravestones) lives were often short. We're talking lives plagued by cholera, consumption and dysentery, to name a few. When some reached old age, such as the person whose gravestone is shown in this photo, the family was damn sure to list out every single moment the person was alive. But it applies to very short lives too. Sadly, many old cemeteries are filled with the graves of children, most likely victims of the diseases of the time. Many times you will see the graves of multiple children from the same family who died in a short period of time. This stone reads "Ages 1 Yr & 6 Ms."

Tuesday, April 27, 2010


When I was in college, my parents would come and visit sometimes and we would go to nearby Shawnee State Forest. On one of these visits, they introduced my now-husband and I to geocaching. I remember at first thinking they were insane. "Let me get this straight," I said. "We are looking for boxes of junk?" Oh, how wrong I was! From the first geocache, I was hooked. For the uninitiated, geocaching is locating small containers filled with random items and a log, or sometimes just a log, with a handheld GPS. More information can be found on

There's something about the thrill of the hunt and finding something that has been hidden, found, and re-hidden for months and even years! It's so cool to look through the log and see who has been there. Sometimes, you will find that someone was just there hours or minutes before you.

Geocaching can sometimes take you to some out-of-the-way places you might not ever visit otherwise. Cemeteries are a great example--we've found many old, interesting cemeteries when looking for caches. We always stop to admire the symbols on the headstones before leaving.

This stone was found in a cemetery in Pierce Township. The dogwood flower is a symbol for Christ, resurrection and innocence. Floral motifs were very common in this cemetery, and the cache was in a cool place. If you've never tried geocaching, I encourage you to do it! I guarantee you will find something you've never seen before.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Regular posting soon!

I've been very busy with work and getting back to normal after my husband's cancer treatment ended. We just started weekend trips again, so look the blog to pick back up!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Portsmouth House

I've written about our college rental house before. Recently, our artist friend Stacia showed us her home studio and we spotted this pencil drawing that includes that house (middle). We keep a framed photo of the house as a reminder to appreciate our current home. Stacia let us take this drawing for a high-res scan and we then ordered a large print of it.

It's funny--we knew Stacia in college and I had a few classes with her, but we didn't actually become good friends until after we graduated. Now we visit them 2-3 times per month. And here she was with this pencil drawing from freshman year of the house Neil and I ended up living in. I vaguely remember the drawing studio at SSU (I took a few drawing classes but not enough to spend a lot of time there) and recall that it overlooked Third Street. I wonder how many other students drew our house?

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Shepard Fairey Tags Cincy

Originally uploaded by True North Two
These wheat paste and paper installations are popping up all over Cincinnati, leading up to the opening of the Fairey show at the CAC on the 20th. Will cover in-depth when I get the chance to visit more+the exhibition, but visited this one on the way back from a meeting today and thought I'd post. This is on the side of Arnold's.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Cincy as a home base...and some homework for Vanity Fair

The Great Serpent Mound

I recently guest posted over at  Cincinnati Re-adventure, where I defended living in the suburbs. I got some interesting responses, including some that were puzzling. To rehash that whole conversation, head on over there!

Recently, Vanity Fair published a highly offensive article (link below) that concluded we're all nutso zealots. While many Cincinnati bloggers are rightfully taking a stand by pointing out the wonderful things Cincinnati has to offer (Brad King, Cincinnati Re-adventure, Kate the Great ) and tweeting about the controversy (@brad_king), I thought I'd take a unique approach and point out things that are, like the Creation Museum, within driving distance of Cincinnati. Unlike (in my humble opinion, of course) the Creation Museum, I believe these sites are important to our region and common history.

When I started writing my book (which now has a Spring 2011 publishing date), I was worried some people would perceive it as an effort to get people away from Cincinnati. In a way, I suppose it is--but there's a bigger picture.

My book, tentatively titled "Tiny Journeys: Day Trips from the Queen City" was written as a reaction to constant complaints I heard about being bored in Cincinnati. I do point out the wealth of museums, parks, historic sites and cultural events available--but the book is about day trips to locations within 1-4 hours of downtown.

My quest is not to drive people away, but rather to show them that there's plenty to do IN Cincinnati, and that it also makes a great home base for adventures to lesser-known places.

This all being said, and in light of the horrific Vanity Fair article that has us all in an uproar, here are some things worth seeing within a short driving distance of Cincinnati (which only add to the reasons to live in the area)! These are pretty well-known, but hey...I want to keep the weird and unusual to myself for now so you buy my book!

1. The Great Serpent Mound.  Before I explain this site (which I hope many readers have, in fact, at least heard of), I would like to point out that during a 2003 visit to the British Museum, my now-husband spotted relics from Serpent Mound in a case. IN THE BRITISH MUSEUM. As in, one of the world's greatest collections. Something from humble ol' Adams County, just an hour's drive from the Queen City on display.

Excavated in the late 19th Century by a Harvard archaeologist, this Fort Ancient culture earthwork has been interpreted in a variety of ways. One of the most common is that it's a snake with either an open mouth or devouring an egg. Sites around the mound align with astronomical phenomena. Extra cool: the valley visible from Serpent Mound is peppered with evidence of meteor strikes.

For those who enjoy the supernatural, a mysterious black panther has been spotted by various residents and there have been reports of UFO sightings in the area.

2. Rankin House. Minister John Rankin and his wife Jean harbored over 2,000 slaves in their home, which served as a stop on the Underground Railroad. You can tour the home seasonally to get a sense of their lives and the bravery of those who crossed the Ohio seeking freedom. Open seasonally; check before you go!

3. Paint Creek State Park. I've been to many Ohio State Parks, but this ranks as one of my favorites for watersports, hiking, mountain biking and nature viewing. It also has one of the  best campgrounds around. When we have cabin fever, this is one of our go-to spots for a little break.

4. Rabbit Hash. This small hamlet in Kentucky has a real-deal general store (complete with peanut shells on the floor and a gather-round stove), a dog for its mayor and an antique shop that runs on the honor system. What's not to love?

5. Big Bone Lick State Park. Go ahead, snicker at the name. But this is a very serious, important place--that happens to be a ton of fun. They have a great museum dedicated to the discovery of prehistoric animal remains in the area, great trails, a salt lick that once made the area a destination for those who believed in its healing powers and an American Buffalo Herd. Yep, you can get up close and personal with these creatures (within a safe distance and through a fence), which are located in a pasture off a short trail.And don't forget to visit the Salt Festival in the fall!

These are just a few of the places I've been to repeatedly and they're a good beginning for people who have lived in Greater Cincinnati their whole lives but want to expand their knowledge about the surrounding area. It's also a good list for Vanity Fair reporters who can only find the airport and the museum a lot of us like to pretend isn't there (as Kate pointed out).

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

When life gives you Potholes...

A few summers ago, we purchased our Canon. We started taking photos of everything around us and then Neil decided we needed to go somewhere scenic to really try it out. So we packed the car and headed to Canada.

We ended up in Sault St. Marie, where we rented a room for the long weekend. We barely slept there...we discovered the Trans-Canada highway and made daily excursions along the Lake Superior Circle Tour route.

I'm a big planner, and have binders (yes, binders) from past trips, full of itineraries, maps, menus and notes. This trip, however, was as random and whimsical as could be. When we got tired, we pulled into a parking lot and slept for an hour. When we saw a waterfall on the side of the road, we got out and spent hours exploring. We ate lunch in the Canada Goose Capital of the World. We kept seeing a weird sign with some sort of monster on it (it turned out to be a sign for Agawa Rock, an amazing place that needs a whole other post).

The most special place we found, a little park with a funny name, is what you might call our happy place. Potholes Provincial Park is located in Chapleau, Ontario (although I don't recall seeing anything resembling civilization). We found ourselves alone, walking in the afternoon sun along a trail filled with grouse and wild blueberries. I can't describe that was just one where we felt good, had all the time in the world and just felt right being there. We spent hours on the rocks, in the water and eating the wild berries.

Whenever we're sad or Neil is sick from treatments, we talk about Potholes and what a wonderful day we had there. It's an instant mood lifter. In the past few months, we've talked about going back.

Today at lunch, Neil mentioned that he'd like to go up for our anniversary. It seems like so much has happened since we were last there, but I can't wait to renew my passport and head up to the place that holds so much meaning.

Monday, February 1, 2010


If you're here, you know my love of symbols. Before my husband was diagnosed with Hodgkin's Lymphoma in October, I sometimes sported a pink ribbon for breast cancer awareness since it's a cause I like to support. However, it wasn't until I had a reason to wear a violet ribbon that I truly understood the point of awareness symbols.

In college, I had a professor rant one day about the pointlessness of wearing awareness ribbons (as half the class sat wearing them since it was Breast Cancer Awareness Month and they were being sold on campus). He criticized it as a way to show off instead of a way to draw attention to a cause. He reasoned that all the money spent on making awareness items could be that much more money given to a cause. I did that day, and still do, somewhat agree with his points. However, I think there's much, much more to the story.

When my husband was diagnosed, I felt very alone. Here I was, 27 and my husband 26. Within a matter of hours, we had to make decisions about our future such as if we would ever want to undergo IVF if chemo made him sterile, which oncologist he wanted to see and if we would go through with the purchase of the home we were building. When he called to tell me the bad news, I don't remember how I ended up in a chair in the lobby of my office. I sort of fell into it, not attaching the words to our lives. "They think it's lymphoma." Boom. I watched other office workers walk by the windows. I had been one of them a few minutes ago.

It took me a long time to want to be part of the cancer community. I cried during my husband's first chemo, watching as the drugs dripped down a long tube into the port in his chest. We were given materials...lots of lighthouse imagery, soft colors and line drawings of how to live with cancer. Not anything I wanted to face.

Eventually, though, I started looking for a way to own my role as a caretaker and spouse of a cancer patient. I exhausted my vacation and sick leave almost immediately with his two surgeries and first chemo. His mom doesn't work on Fridays, so she offered to take him to treatments. Other family members and friends stepped in to take him too. There was nothing worse that trying to concentrate at work knowing that I couldn't be there for him. And so I started to wear a red rubber bracelet from the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society . It might sound silly, but it was a constant reminder of his fight and made me feel like I was there in spirit when I couldn't be there in person. I gave them to our family members and friends, who all wear them too. Whenever we're all together or I see a photo of someone wearing their bracelet, I feel a connection. We're all in this together.

Since the red bracelets are a symbol of the LLS, I also purchased buttons specific to Hodgkin's Lymphoma. Friends and family also sport these, some with violet ribbons attached, to show support and solidarity. I've been asked about mine several times, leading not only to discussion about this specific cancer, but also to recommendations for diet and exercise, offers to visit and promises to take better care of oneself by not avoiding routine exams.

Right before Neil's first surgery, a biopsy and removal of lymph nodes in his neck, family friends stopped over with a St. Christopher medal. While we are not Catholic and do not attend church, the gesture and meaning was appreciated. "He's the patron saint of long journeys," the husband said, "and you're about to go on one." Since Neil could not wear it comfortably during chemo, I held it in my hand as I sat on the hospital bed with him.

It's been some time since those rubber awareness bracelets were at the peak of popularity.And some may misunderstand my wearing of a button and ribbon as a way to get attention or show off chartiable giving. And though you'll never find me at mass, I still take out the St. Christopher medal from time to time, reflecting on our journey...something I'm sure people balk at.

I hope my experience will show others that these symbols are so much more than a fashion statement or attention-grabber. They are a connection and a comfort.

Friday, January 29, 2010

The Santa Fe

This is an old family photo. Harrison Combs is my great-great grandfather from Jefferson, KY. I think he is the one on the left. On the back (it looks like this is a postcard), it says:

J Goo said before he died there was one more train he wanted to ride. People said what the train might be it was the Southern Pacific on the Santa Fe.

Harrison Combs and Dave Gayheart

I have absolutely no idea what this means, during which war it was taken or what the inside joke is. My father's family history is somewhat fractured as my grandfather was adopted and there are a few blank spots elsewhere where two ancestors married Cherokee women and were unfortunately ignored for that reason. Other fascinating facts have come to me recently--some of my ancestors had a skin condition where they turned blue (science now thinks it's the result of mining, which would make sense) and I had a relative named Shanghai Nick.

I have family in Hazard and Somerset and would love to find out more. It seems like there's a very colorful past to be discovered. For now, all I have are a few photos as symbols of my lineage.

Thursday, January 28, 2010


Originally uploaded by True North Two
Back in July, we visited Indianapolis with some friends. At the time, the movie Public Enemies was being hyped and I happened to pick up a newspaper at the hotel only to discover that John Dillinger was buried at Crown Hill Cemetery, near the art museum we were about to visit. Of course, I insisted we stop even though it was pouring rain.

Here is Dillinger's nondescript stone in the family plot. Apparently, he was buried under three feet of cement to prevent grave robbing, and this isn't his first gravestone either--others were broken into bits and stolen as souvenirs.

I always think it's interesting to visit the burial sites of famous people. Even though they may have been unapproachable in life or dead before my time, it's like a private conference with their spirit. This was my first criminal grave visit and it seemed appropriate it occurred on such a dreary day.

Find more information, as well as the exact location, here.

Long break!

I want to explain my recent absence since a guest post on today means people might end up here!

My husband was diagnosed with Hodgkin's Lymphoma in October and has undergone chemo since October 23rd. Since this blog depended on our weekend trips, it was put on hold. I am happy to report that I am currently finishing my book (after being given a generous extension) and even better, my husband is in remission! He is still under treatment, but at this point it's all preventative.

Check back when we hit the road again in search of the weird and wonderful! Until then, I'm going to dig up some things from my archives for a few posts!