The OTHER Lou: Our Louisville Adventure

Maybe I’m being obnoxious by referring to Louisville, KY as the other Lou. I don’t remember my US history all that well (sorry, Mr. Jones!) but I’m fairly certain Louisville came before St. Louis, at least in terms of US Cities. (Ok, because I love history and hate being wrong, I had to turn to the ol’Google. Turns out Louisville was chartered in 1780, while the settlement of St. Louis was established in 1764 BUT [and here’s where that history lesson paid off] didn’t become a US city until the Louisiana Purchase of 1803. Thanks TJ!*)

Anyhoo, the hubs and I took advantage of the less-than-4-hour-drive for a long weekend mini-vacay (side note: I don’t know why I have to so aggressively defend the fact that Louisville is 4 hours from St. Louis. Several people have tried to dispute me on this *after* I’ve made the damn trip!). It was such a blast, despite the weather being pretty frigid. As my husband put it: we didn’t do a lot but we saw a lot.

We stayed at the 21C Museum Hotel which was awesome–there was a fun video wall in the elevator lobby, my brother in sculpture form near the entrance, and we were able to get drinks at the hotel bar and wander through the exhibits–which makes weird art SO MUCH more enjoyable. We giggled a lot, which is one of my favorite things to do with my husband.

Our hotel was right next to the Louisville Slugger museum. I come from a family of baseball fans (like, my mom’s dad built a baseball field into their farm when she was a kid). We wandered the gift shop and touched all the different bats and read the wall of plaques bearing the names of baseball greats and their favorite Louisville Slugger bat number. We did not tour the actual museum, but I got a picture of the giant bat out front.

We also made the short trip to Churchill Downs. It was really cool seeing the racetrack from the highway (and through the slats in the fence). We got some pics with the horse statue out front, and entered the lobby of the museum…in the middle of a feral pack of elementary school kids on a field trip. No thank you, we agreed to save the inside of Churchill Downs for another day.

We checked out several different neighborhoods. Our museum was on Main Street, which featured a lot of distilleries and restaurants and shops. It was an easy/long walk to NuLu, a hip neighborhood with funky antique shops, more distilleries and breweries, and some tasty food spots. We also walked through 4th Street Live, which was bumping with the Guy Fieris of the world. We made a few trips to Bardstown Road/the Original Highlands, which I liked a lot. It had a lower-key vibe that reminded me of some of my favorite St. Louis neighborhoods.

Ok, now for the good stuff, the real reason a person checks out Louisville (apart from maybe horses): the bourbon! I’ve enjoyed a few whiskey drinks on occasion before this trip, but had next to no knowledge about the nuances of whiskeys/bourbons/ryes. Now, I can say I really like bourbon. I like rye whiskey, too. I really like Old Fashioneds.

So first stop for us was Evan Williams, partly because it’s one of the best known names, partly because it was only about a block from the hotel, mostly (for me, at least) because he was Louisville’s first distiller! I wish I could have learned more history–I got that from a street placard–but we did not do the tour. We just hopped on the elevator with another group and slipped into the bar for the best Old Fashioned I’ve ever had. We also got to keep commemorative Evan Williams bourbon glasses. Score!

We also wandered far enough down “Whiskey Row” to find Peerless–a younger distillery (closed before prohibition but recently reopened)–where we did an $8 whiskey tasting. 4 whiskeys plus a commemorative glass and a dee-licious piece of chocolate–I was obsessed with this place. Bourbon is aged for 4 years, so theirs won’t be ready until this summer–we had their rye whiskey instead. I learned how the barrel soaks its own flavor into each batch, and theirs had such unique flavors that most of their bottles are single-barrel (meaning–duh–only from 1 barrel) rather than small batch (combining several barrels). They also keep it cask-strength–this got a little too chemistry-heavy for me to remember fully considering the whiskey-fog my brain was in, but something about letting the alcohol evaporate rather than diluting it with water so it gets to the legal ABV without diluting the flavors (maybe?). We bought a bottle of their rye (as well as some of those whiskey-infused chocolates).

The tour we booked ahead of time was at Angel’s Envy. That was a lot of fun–the most memorable part for me was when we dunked our fingers in a bottle of basically everclear. He had us smack those fingers on the palm of our other hand, then smell it (straight ethanol). Then we rubbed our hands together a couple times and smelled it. Now, I can’t remember the order, but one time it smelled like corn, another grains, and after more rubbing, fresh-baked bread. It was a really cool “science experiment” to show how adding heat changes it.

A couple other notable experiences: my favorite bourbon drink was probably the bourbon slushy at Feast BBQ. There was a terrify bathroom at galaxie bar–painted black and lit only by black light, glow-in-the-dark paint, and a tv set on static (can you say flashbacks to the first/only 15 min I watched of The Ring??). I really loved how the air smelled of peat, similar to the hops-smell around AB in Soulard.

It was a lot of fun, a really cute city with a surprising amount to do. We’ll definitely be back for more bourbon–and maybe a horse race!

 

*TJ is of course Thomas Jefferson, hands down most popular president in Missouri, if the number of references to Jefferson (including the capital) are any indication.

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Rambling Review: Dread Nation

Dread Nation by Justina Ireland is a book about zombies interrupting the Civil War. Don’t let the idea of zombies scare you off, though (Mom), because this story is so much more than the next zombie apocalypse novel.

Our main character, Jane, was born during the Civil War, right around the time the dead came back and put a stop to the battling. Everyone became focused instead on solving the issue of zombies — or “shamblers” as they’re known in the book. Old beliefs linger despite the physical war ending, and the view of post-war America where neither side won is fascinating.

Black and Native American children are sent to boarding schools where they learn combat skills to fight the shamblers. The ultimate goal is to attain a position as bodyguards for the wealthy. Jane is enrolled in one of the best of these schools, and while she is an excellent fighter, she struggles with following the rules. Her antics lead her from a frustrating situation to one that is downright deadly. She has to fight –and not only against shamblers — to keep those she loves safe.

Dread Nation is very well-written with believable and relatable characters. The America Justina Ireland paints is vivid and sometimes heart-wrenching in its authenticity. It isn’t hard to imagine some of the reactions, beliefs, and social norms created in this alternate society. This book is both entertaining and deep, evoking fun conversations about zombies as well as more serious social commentary that could be applicable even today.

Also worth noting, I really love the chapter titles. It’s a small touch, but in my opinion, they are very well done and made me look forward to each new story-within-the-story.

Sonoma and Babies

So I wrote this post last week (because I planned to be up to my eyeballs in adorableness today and have no time for blogging) but due to shitty weather basically everywhere except St Louis, all flights to the Bay Area were canceled/sold out/outrageously expensive. Still, the irony of it all was too heartbreaking-ly perfect not to still share. Sending my nephew wishes for the happiest of first birthdays from half a country away!

(Original post):

A year ago, our nephew was born in sunny California. He’s beautiful and rambunctious and perfect in every way — he’s the first of the next generation of our families, so he’s quite special.

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As such, we are using my husband’s spring break to fly out to Cali and celebrate this little munchkin turning 1. It’s a quick trip, because while he has 2 weeks off, I have a limited number of vacation days. I plan to soak up the sun and the delight of my nephew for the few days we have out there, and cross my fingers for another snow day.

See, last year around this time, our flight home was delayed due to bad weather on the east coast. We ended up staying an extra day, one of the nicest days of our trip, and got to experience California Wine Country for the second time (we’d previously been to Napa over Thanksgiving).

The first thing I liked about Sonoma was its sass. As we arrived, a sign let us know we were in the “REAL wine country” and I knew this was my kind of place. The town of Sonoma was very cute. We had a delicious lunch and wandered around the square, reading about the historical sites.

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The vineyards also had more of a look and feel that my husband and I are used to, similar to Virginia wine country: rolling hills and acres of grape vines. The wine was delicious, and of course enjoying a glass with such awesome views is always a plus.

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This year, if we do happen to get an extra day, we’ll probably spend it with the family rather than another road trip adventure, but I wouldn’t complain about that at all.

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Happy Valentine’s Day!

I just recently learned (one) origin of Valentine’s Day and it was too awesome not to share.

And by awesome, I mean WTF.

As it seems with most celebrations, this holiday’s roots can be traced back to Ancient Rome. The Feast of Lupercalia took place from February 13-15, during which time those crazy Romans would get drunk, strip naked, sacrifice a goat and a dog, then beat young women with the hides. Apparently the ladies were all about this, because it made them fertile (definitely noting that for whenever my husband and I start thinking about making babies).

There was also ancient Tinder: a matchmaking lottery that coupled everyone up so they could get it on during the feast. Apparently — and somewhat surprisingly similar to the modern day Tinder — the occasional real romance would blossom out of this and people would stay together beyond the festival.

Of course, as it is wont to do, the Church tried to absorb the celebration while removing the pagan roots, so they claimed to be celebrating St. Valentine (two men were executed by Claudius II on Feb 14 of different years — both named Valentine, both sainted by the church for their martyrdom). It was basically the same level of drunkenness, but with more clothing because you know, modesty.

So a very happy Valentine’s Day to all you lovers out there. This year, let’s all grab a cask of wine, some strips of goat-hide, and take to the streets in nothing but our birthday suit, and just see where the night takes us. *Disclaimer: I’m no lawyer but something tells me most of this would be frowned upon today, so proceed with caution.

Or maybe just stick to gorging on over-priced chocolates from heart-shaped boxes. Whatever you do this Valentine’s Day, don’t forget to show yourself some love, too — you deserve it!

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(Most of this information came from this article on NPR.)

The Rock

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That is not Alcatraz, just the view from the ferry TO Alcatraz

So my husband and I were in the Bay Area for Thanksgiving, and there was no way I was going to be just outside of San Francisco and not visit Alcatraz. I’ve always been a big fan of historical tours, fascinated by criminals like Al Capone, and hated ferry rides. That last one doesn’t really fit, but the sentence needed a third thing and it’s the truth. Damn you, Block Island Ferry!

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I also have a weird obsession with touching history. Those home tours with the ropes and signs that are all “Do Not Touch” are the literal worst (and I do what I want and touch stuff anyway). Before anyone freaks out too much, I mostly just touch parts of doors/walls/window frames that probably haven’t been touched by anyone since the historical figure who once resided in said home.

At Alcatraz, you can go inside cells and rooms and run your fingers over everything. Actual conversation between my husband and me afterwards:

Me: “I just love going in historical places that let you touch everything!”
Him: “I know. You should wash your hands.”
Me: “I might have picked up Al Capone’s syphilis and you don’t just WASH THAT TYPE OF HISTORY AWAY!”

He was not impressed.

He gets impressed by things like great views, which luckily, Alcatraz has. This place has everything: history, views, possibly syphilis…you know, fun for the whole family.

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It seriously has the best views of the Golden Gate Bridge

We learned that while there were three break-outs, no one ever successfully fully escaped from Alcatraz. They ended up immediately re-imprisoned or dead (though I suppose one might argue death is the ultimate escape… #philosophy).

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One of the cells tunneled out of using broken spoons.

Alcatraz Island was also a home for the Indians of All Tribes — a group of Native Americans who occupied the rock during the early 70s in an attempt to claim it as their own land. Fun fact: all federal lands that are retired/abandoned/out-of-use are supposed to be returned to the Native Americans it was taken from. The Occupation of Alcatraz didn’t end well, but it did positively affect federal Indian policy so it’s considered a win in the longterm.

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There are really spectacular grounds, too, which are open to the public in the winter – when it’s less wet, I guess. I wasn’t really paying attention to the why it was open for us…

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And those views. If nothing else, a trip to Alcatraz is worth it for the views. I’m sure it was a glorious sort of torture for the inmates who had cells with window-views of the city. The prisoners could even hear laughter from parties in San Francisco.

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Alcatraz is the most popular tourist destination in the United States, seventh most visited in the entire world. This might turn some people off to a visit. I get it. I hate crowds, being stereotypically “touristy”, and ferries.

This. Is. Worth it. I promise. Once you’re off the crowded ferry (you can huddle outside to see the views while avoiding the worst crush of people — it’s really windy and pretty frigid so bundle up if you so choose), the island is pretty large and you can kind of wander at your leisure. The audio tour means people lump around the halls, but if you don’t like crowds, come on, you know how to navigate around the oblivious masses. You’ll be fine.

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The kitchen, where they fed prisoners better than I feed myself (because you’re not trying to revolt en masse during 20 minutes of culinary bliss)

Or skip the tour (but if you like touching history, don’t skip it) and just go look at San Francisco from a unique vantage point. It’s seriously all winning. Even the ferry ride is only 15 non-horrific minutes.

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The Painful Joys of Writing: Research

My current WIP (that’s work-in-progress, Mom) is a historical fiction novel set during WWII. I’ve always been fascinated by that time: the beauty and the tragedy, the resiliency of the people and the fact that those generations can laugh after the horrors they witnessed.

My other stories have been completely imaginary, so it’s been refreshing having a number of sources to go to with questions rather than having to make everything up. The Internet is an amazing thing, with just a few clicks, I get more knowledge than I ever needed.

This is also a drawback.

Sometimes, I get too hung up on stupid tiny details that are only important for making the story authentic. My characters are going dancing in D.C.? Let me just Google what clubs might have been around in the early ’40s (spoiler alert: this was not as simple as it sounds. It took me days of research to scratch out a number of dance clubs my characters might have attended).

Wikipedia is helpful but not completely trustworthy. Its hyperlinked words make it too easy for me to wander, too. For example, my characters need a summer activity to be doing (or on their way to doing) when they run into another character (at which point, said activity no longer matters). Still, I can’t just say they’re eating ice cream at the waterfront. Today’s DC waterfront is nothing like 1940s DC waterfront (was there even much of a “waterfront”?). Google tells me the area I’m thinking of (now near the AMC Loews theater) used to be the site of the Georgetown incinerator. So…people probably weren’t hanging around where they were burning trash. So maybe they went to a museum. Or just hung around one of the monuments or memorials. The Wikipedia page for the National Monument takes me through the Lincoln Memorial page to the the Reflective Pool (not built yet in their time), to the Tidal Basin, to the WWII Memorial, to the grafitti “Kilroy was here” and the next thing I know, I’m reading about rationing in Great Britain during and after the war.

Also, my interest to know whatever I can about the ’40s is a drawback during quick-research time. In this example, I figure the Tidal Basin is probably a good area my characters could end up, so I leave the page open to read in a second, but first I want to continue reading about Marian Anderson’s epic performance on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in 1939 after she was not allowed to perform at the DAR (because she was African American). And in reading more about Anderson, I find out she was good friends with Albert Einstein. He was really big in the Civil Rights Movement (and referred to himself as a devout anti-racist). One thing leads to another and two hours later I’ve somehow ended up reading about the U.S.O. in World War II.

Now my brain is full to bursting will all this barely-necessary knowledge and I’ve completely forgotten what I originally set out to look up. Forget about the actual story I wanted to write around that little detail–it’s gone. I leave the story for the following day, only to wake up and find the blank I’ve literally drawn to remind myself I need a relevant detail, and the process starts all over.