Thursday, August 11, 2016

A quick trip: Kaskasia Dragon and Vandalia

A while ago I was thinking about making a road trip to Chicago and started looking at roadside attractions in Illinois that I could stop at as we weaved our way north. We didn't end up going on that trip yet but we did manage a quick night trip to Vandalia, IL on Monday to see one of the stand-outs.

The Land of Lincoln

The Kaskaskia Dragon is a metal dragon that breathes fire. It was built over the winter of 1995 by the Kaskaskia Hardware store. And was initially going to be part of a Halloween parade but with no clear plans after that. It wasn't until 2001 that it found a home a short walk from the hardware store right off Highway 40. Next to the dragon is a coin box where visitors can insert 'dragon coins' which gets you close to ten seconds of fire breathing fun. There are two options to get the tokens. Either you can head down the block to the Kaskaskia hardware store and get tokens for free or you can run next door to the Lomac Liquor store and pay $1 per token.  When we got there I tried the hardware store but it had closed at 6. So I walked back to the liquor store and got five tokens: 2 for during the day, 1 for night viewing, 1 for me to keep as a souvenir, and 1 for my sister to keep.

The statue is made of metal and is 35 feet long with a 16 foot neck. He wears a top hat in honor of Abe Lincoln. Facing off against him is a brave knight also made of metal and it is probably 6 feet tall. It has nothing to do with Don Quixote but the knight being so close to windmills made me laugh and brought the story to my mind.

Here is the knight and the daunting view of the dragon from the knight's perspective.

As I walked around the dragon I saw a 20 pound propane tank attached to the left leg. Apparently one tank lasts about a month.

Here is the tank, a picture of the dragon tokens, and the warning sign about the fire! After watching and photographing the dragon with the setting sun in the background we headed into Vandalia to find one more attraction and to grab some dinner before coming back to see the dragon at night.

While researching Vandalia to see what we could do while waiting for the sun to go down I found information on a series of identical statues that stretch across the country. The Madonna of the Trails monuments honor the pioneer woman who had the courage to cross this country and explore new territories.

Each of the 12 monuments are identical. They are made primarily with Missouri granite which gives them a pink color. The mother
holds a baby in one arm and a gun in her other hand while a small child holds on to her. It was the Daughter's of The American Revolution, specifically Arlene B. Nichols Moss, who originally wanted the statues made. They had previously established a committee, National Old Trails Road Committee, to commemorate the old historic pioneer trails. And in 1927 a design was made for the statues and the Committee chair at the time, Harry Truman, a judge at that point in his career, guaranteed the funding.  The design was that of a German-American immigrant August Leimbach. August was quoted as saying he imagined the moment of the statue was the mother waiting for her husband to return home. When he is not back on time she takes the children and a gun to search for him. August also said that as a child the stories of the American pioneer captivated him and made a lasting impression. He imagined that these brave woman were just like the people form his own country who had left to travel to America in search of new life and opportunity.  August continues "[w]hen I came to America, I often saw these people of the pioneer type, strong and brave and always ready to protect themselves against any danger. Asked to make a sketch model for a monument of pioneer days, I was inspired by my own impression of these people I had met, and the Madonna of the Trails is the result."

On the base of the statue the East and West sides of all 12 are identical while the North and South sides are specific to the statues location.

Here are the Vandalia specific sides.

Nearby were several plaques with info about Vandalia and the Cumberland road which had gone through the town in the early days.

Here are a couple more pictures from downtown Vandalia. The paintings of people on the stairs of an old brick building grabbed my attention and made me laugh. And then the junction sign listing the roads that brought people here.

At this point we went to grab dinner and head back to the dragon for some night time fire viewing.

It was time to see what this cute fellow would look like against a night sky.

He looks sweet

As we pulled back in we could now see that his belly was lit up with green lights that blinked on and off. Well the cute dragon during the day was much more menacing at night!

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Solar Eclipse 2017 Viewing party!

Alea iacta est!

As soon as we heard about the upcoming solar eclipse we began planning a party, we sent out invites and tried to request off from work- turns out we can't request a date that is over a year away. At some point while planning the party we began to discuss making a Go-Fund-Me page to help make this a super awesome party. We wanted to upgrade some night sky viewing equipment, which is not necessary for the party but would lead to a lot of fun for our guests and us.

Anyway we finally did it. It asks for money for several things like a new telescope, camera, and filter set. Also for the party we need #14 welder's glass. And we need a good amount because I want to make two viewing stations so that young children can safely view the whole event. Once the party is over I will definitely donate one of the view finders and possibly both to a local school or club.  And then other party supplies.

The main reason we did it was because in the final reward we semi-jokingly offered an invite to the party. I say semi-jokingly because for most people it is just a thank you pack but if you are actually Neil deGrasse Tyson, Steve Harvey, or Bill Nye then you were definitely invited!! Due to a limit on the description we could not include that Sheldon Cooper (the character-sorry Jim Parsons) would also be invited. I mean they have to watch it somewhere right? Why not try! Honestly if we don't get any donations it won't matter we are going to have the party no matter what but it would be awesome to get this invite all the way to Neil deGrasse Tyson. .  .seriously no donation needed but the invite still stands!

I don't know if anyone will donate. We have set rewards for certain amounts. Basically every donation will get a shout out here (for what that's worth). The next level was a personalized hand written thank you note from us. I don't know I just feel like the thank you is becoming a lost art and it is nice to receive them. And then there are different size pictures taken with the telescope and camera.

We will really appreciate anything people choose to give us. There are so many pages out there for serious needs and this is a fun and frivolous one. If you decide to donate thank you. If you don't want to then please consider sharing it.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Six evenly tempered individuals

The other day I started reminiscing about my experience on jury duty. Now ever since I was 13 or so I have been interested in juries. I couldn't wait to be called to jury duty. I just found it very interesting: the idea of hearing all the details of a case and coming to an impartial decision. The fact that twelve individuals with varied backgrounds, experiences, and opinions had to put that aside and come to one decision.

I love watching courtroom movies like 12 Angry Men, A Few Good Men, and Runaway Jury. When 12 Angry Men opened on Broadway (put on by the Roundabout Theater Company) I knew I had to go see this production. I also found a Russian version of 12 Angry Men on the IFC channel (more on that at another time).

It took a long time for me to finally be called for jury duty but it was worth the wait. I went in on a Tuesday and spent the entire morning kind of bored waiting in a large room. I had brought a book with me but for the life of me I can't remember what it was. I feel like it might of been Camus The Stranger but I'm not certain. Anyway eventually I was called to for a voire dire session. The details of the case were given very vaguely- all we really knew was that it somehow involved a road rage incident between two cars. Then the prosecutor and defense attorney began asking each of us questions. Now as they were asking questions of the others I was thinking about the little bit that I knew about the case I as much as I wanted to be on a jury a thought crossed my mind. I didn't think I could be impartial. Meg's accident (a totally different scenario) boiled down to a very basic fact that someone used an automobile recklessly and she was hurt. So as I sat looking at the defendant I felt like I couldn't be impartial because to me his reckless behavior was just as dangerous as the old man who recklessly backed up and hurt my sister. Feelings of anger and fear were still fresh in my mind. So when the defense attorney asked me if I could be fair and impartial I answered honestly. I said "No." He asked me to explain. And I did. I told him that because of my sister being a pedestrian in a car accident due to negligent behavior I felt I couldn't be impartial. I didn't think I could see past someone being irresponsible in a car. The judge also rephrased the question and re-asked it but I repeated my answer to her that I felt I could not be impartial. I was mad. I thought this was it. I had missed my chance and it would be years before I would be called to jury duty again. But then to my surprise I was not one of the people dismissed. Despite my saying out right that I felt I could not be impartial they had left me on the jury.

Now the people who were dropped were all people who mentioned that they knew or had law enforcement members in their family. But at that point I didn't know why that mattered to the case. But somehow my outright admission that I didn't think I could be impartial made me more appealing than people who had connections to law enforcement. Maybe they thought I was just saying that to get off the jury. I wasn't. And had I wanted to get off the jury I suppose all I would have had to do was mention the summer I spent working at the FBI office in Manhattan. Whatever their thinking was I went home a little mad that they had picked me. Maybe mad is the wrong word more like disappointed that a potential juror who said they couldn't be impartial was selected. Wasn't my reasoning that I couldn't be impartial more of a reason to dismiss me then just knowing a law enforcement agent?

The next day I returned to the court in order to hear the details of the case. Now the saying goes there are three sides to every story. In this case: the defendant, the prosecutor, and then somewhere in between is the truth. The prosecution's version was that the defendant was driving his cement truck. After being passed by a man in a red sports car he yelled racial slurs and then pulled up so close to the open convertible that the cement shoot above his truck was hanging over the trunk and seats of the open convertible car.  So that the driver of the sports car was afraid for his life as he was followed by the massive truck for several blocks.

The defense told a different story. The  driver of the sports car had been honking at the cement truck driver for not starting fast enough after a light turned green. Then the driver of the sports car pulled around to the left of the cement truck, despite the fact that this was a single lane road, and cut the cement truck driver off after driving into the oncoming traffic lane at an intersection and nearly causing an accident. He had yelled but not racial slurs and he did not drive right up behind the car. He did stop near the car but that was the result of a large truck needing time to stop.

Once both sides had finished presenting it was up to us to debate and find the truth. There were six of us and one alternate. We went back and forth over the different details. What did the road look like?  How many lanes? What time was it? What was traffic like at that hour on that day? How long did the whole event actually take?

What about the vehicles? How much time would a truck that size need to start and stop? What roads was a truck that size allowed to take? What about the convertible how was it's speed and handling?

We talked about what we would have done in that situation. Putting ourselves in both drivers places. We tried our hand at profiling trying to figure out what is the personality of someone driving a sports car or someone driving a truck for a living.

We asked for clarification about what was needed to give a guilty decision on the charges, parsing the language. We seriously discussed the instructions given by the judge and how that effected what decisions we could come too. We voted a couple of times.

We didn't come to a decision on the first day of deliberating and had to return on Friday. One of the jurors knew the area where the incident had taken place and another had driven by there after we left for the day.

We looked at the behavior of both drivers. And in the end we found the defendant not guilty of the charge. The defendant may have gotten mad. But the driver of the sports car had driven in to oncoming traffic to pass the large truck on the left because a concrete truck just can't start as fast as a sports car. We definitely believed that the concrete driver got mad and yelled. But we didn't believe the race of the sports car driver caused his anger. Finally there was the claim that the truck driver harassed the sports car by following him for blocks. However with the weight of the truck and the restrictions in the area the concrete truck had nowhere else to go. That was the road he was allowed to drive on. There was no evidence that said he went out of his way to follow the sports car and he most likely would have driven the same exact route whether he had met the sports car or not.

We returned to the court and our foreman read the not guilty decision. Then we returned to the jury room before leaving. As we left the prosecutor and defense attorney were waiting for us in the hall. They asked us what took us so long in deliberations. I don't know if that was normal or if they just thought it wasn't that hard a case. But I do know that big or small if I were ever in need of a trial I would want a jury like mine. We took the matter seriously and our duty seriously. We voted and debated methodically and reasonably. We didn't need to call each other names or disparage each other even though we didn't agree. Each side presented their opinions and we came to a unanimous decision.

As for me I started on that Tuesday thinking I couldn't be impartial. By Friday I knew I could. And I am glad for it. I mean it helped that both drivers were reckless at one point or another. But during the details of the case it came out that victim was a FBI agent. Now I knew why those who had family in law enforcement were removed. And now I knew that had I thought of mentioning the summer at the FBI I probably would have been removed for sure. But I got the chance to prove to myself I could look at facts of a particular circumstance and come to a decision regardless of outside details.

Overall it was all I could have hoped for from being on a jury and I look forward to the next time I am summoned.

Monday, June 20, 2016


Schultzy is my thirteen year old German Shepherd Dog (GSD)- I'm leaving the dog because on a lot of official sites discussing German Shepherds they add dog at the end and I think it's funny and wonder why the need to clarify . . .  in case we get confused with other German Shepherd species? I have never seen a Poodle called a Poodle Dog it always just seems to be assumed.

Anyway . . .  Last vet visit she was around 80 lbs. Which means thirteen short years ago I brought home a 10 lb wrecking ball and she has mutated to 8x that size. And by wrecking ball . .. . I mean WRECKING BALL!

Here she is as a young dog probably close to two years old. I know she is very young because she hadn't grown into her tail yet. For some reason though I don't have any baby baby pictures of her.

Schultzy at Montauk enjoying the ocean
Shortly after bringing her home Schultzy ate a brand new linoleum floor. A trainer we had hired for some behavior classes told us the unsurprising news that she had a very powerful jaw. We had already learned that several times. The dog can chew, bite, and eat through anything she wants. Add that on top of the fact that she is high anxiety (including separation anxiety) and literally too smart for her own good.

For the most part her destructiveness, we realize, was our fault. She was left alone too long and got bored. When she got bored she got anxious; when she got anxious floors got eaten. It's a circle. Besides the floor her greatest act of destruction was my laundry room door. The previous owners had a cat door into the laundry room which is where I assume they kept the litter box... that is the only reason I can think of for having a cat door there. At first she would stick her nose out of the cat door (that is all that would fit) and we thought it was adorable.

Hey I can't fit!

But then she realized with a little work she could fix her door.

All better!

Car trip!
That being said we call her the Baby and constantly tell her she is the best "bad dog" ever!  She knows her commands and follows them when she chooses- thankfully it is most the time. And there are definitely times where we want to kill her. But then you look at her loving face and brown eyes and realize all she wants is our attention and to be with us doing something. Well, now that she is thirteen she just wants to be with us at our feet sleeping but up until eleven she wanted to do something! Constantly! I remember when she was nine at one of her last vet visits in NY the vet said if not for the fact they had been seeing her since she was a puppy they wouldn't believe her age. She acted more like two than nine.  I feel like we have finally entered the good dog phase. Sometimes she gets up slowly and her face has much more white in it than she once did but other than that I don't think anyone meeting her would guess her age.

Schultzy loves water in any form! Her favorite treat is ice! She gets excited whenever she hears the fridge ice maker and I am probably lucky she hasn't figured out how to dispense the ice herself.

A bowl of ice with frozen toys!

She also loves snow. 

Happy Baby!

Evil Baby!

And playing in water!

Baby in her pool.

In the ocean.

She has a favorite toy that she loves to chew on and brings everywhere with her. It is the first thing she grabs when it is time to go to bed. We call it her pacifier. A long time ago it was a smart toy that we would put treats into and as she chewed it the treats would fall out. It has been a long time since we actually used treats in it but she doesn't seem to mind. She loves it so much that we have bought them in bulk so that we have easy replacements for when one gets too chewed.

Baby and her pacifier

Look closely how she holds her pacifier with her paw. I love how she does this! She also sometimes balances the middle of the pacifier over her leg.

Holding tight.

And that's the Baby!


Saturday, June 11, 2016

Progression of a Fire Pit

Almost as soon as I bought my house I began planning different projects and how I wanted to use my .5 acre of space. One thing I knew I wanted to get done was a fire pit. At first I thought just about buying one from a store .. . and then I thought about one of the kits to build a stone fire pit. Then my neighbor who had built his own without a kit told me how he had done his and what he wished he had done differently. So taking his information and his tips for future fire pits I decided this was an easy enough DIY project that I didn't need a kit. I could buy my own landscape pavers and make the fire pit the size I wanted.

At first I was thinking I might want to make it small enough that I could put a grate over it and use it as a barbecue however seeing as how we have a charcoal grill, gas grill and two smokers- cooking was an unnecessary concern. All I needed to be able to do was roast the occasional marshmallows.

Side note: thanks to spell check this is the first time I have ever realized they are marshmAllows and not marshmEllows. . . . .Have I been saying it wrong my whole life? I'll blame dialect.

Back to the blog.

The first thing I had to do was pick the location of the fire pit. I wanted it away from the house enough that smoke wouldn't blow over but not so far that I couldn't watch it and easily get to it if I was doing a leaf/ lawn debris burn while multitasking inside.

I picked my spot towards the back corner of my house and set down some bush and tree clippings that my Uncle Greg and I had gathered from both our yards. And we lit them up.

This left us with the perfect spot for a fire pit. And no TN grass that refuses to die in our way.

The burn mark even came out somewhat round. Using that space I planned the height and width of my fire pit.

Then I went to my local Lowe's and looked for the wall blocks I thought would complement my brick house the best and settled on the Alleghany flagstone block.

Allegheny Flagstone

I used some landscape caulking on each block to hold them in place and let the weight of the blocks help set them. My neighbor had suggested leaving space between the blocks to allow for air flow since he felt his fire was restricted because his blocks were right against each other. So keeping that in mind I built mine layer by layer. (I actually built it twice since I laid it out to see the spacing and then re-did it with the caulking).

Two action shots of the fire :-)

While I don't know how much of a difference the spacing between the blocks makes I do know it allows for some nice shots.

When I had my first burn in my yard I was real worried because it is not something you would ever do in NY. But as I am adjusting to life in TN I have realized it is something you do all the time in TN. I have become very used to seeing smoke in the distance or a fire in a field.

Now we have had some nice nighttime burns and just hanging out by the fire pit watching the flames lick around the blocks. But there was some more work around the fire pit that I wanted to do.  I put down landscape fabric around the fire pit to help keep grass and weeds from growing up around it. Then I went back to Lowe's and got the matching Alleghany pavers and Meghan and I made a border around the fire pit. Finally we went to Bella's nursery in Springfield and got a half scoop of pink granite chips loaded into the back of my ford explorer sport trac.  Then with the help of my Uncle we spread them around the fire pit to give a finished landscape look.

The chips are gorgeous. I discovered them at Bella's last year while landscaping around the front of my driveway.

 I had extra pavers which is fine because I am going to use them to border around the three trees I have in my yard and also add more of the granite chips around those inside the border.

So that is one project done out of many more to come!

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

3 Years!

So when I started this blog, three years ago, it was timed with the purchase of my house. My inspiration was the timing of buying the house on my 30th birthday along with the now 30 years of debt for my mortgage that seemed to fit nicely for a title of a blog.  I thought that after 6 months or so it would be filled with my new adventures in home ownership and exploring TN. Instead for 2.5 fun years it was filled with my road trips and thoughts as I lingered in NY waiting to move. And now that I finally did move to TN it has been mostly silent . . . .which is awesome because it means I have been out and about and so busy I am not on my computer. I have started blog posts and will post them and hope to get myself on a schedule to post regularly. I mean people with far busier lives of greater importance manage this all the time I'm sure I can too! Also, I like doing it. I can't tell you how awesome it is to check the blog stats and see that someone across the world in countries like Singapore somehow managed to find my blog. I really don't know how they do it but I am glad they stopped by.  It was also exciting to have a blog post reach over 200 views.

Right around the time I bought my house and started this blog my sister, two cousins, and myself started discussing birthday plans for the future. Meg and I had wanted to do something awesome for our 30th birthday . .. which I did cause I bought a house :-)  . . .. What we started talking about was on our 33rd birthday we would go to Disney because we have friends and family who are Disneyphiles and it would be a fun place to visit. We could even do the matching tee shirt thing whose plans usually involved poking fun at our quirky family habits which we have lovingly nicknamed "Keohanigans".

It made sense after all 33 is a significant number. I mean even three major religions agree on its importance (when does that ever happen): Christ performed 33 miracles and died on the cross at 33, 33 is the numerical equivalent of Amen and the Star of David, and Al-Ghazali wrote that dwellers in Heaven are in a perpetual age of 33.

Also the number 33 pops up in literature too since Dante was 33 when he made his descent into hell, Julius Ceasar was stabbed 33 times in Shakespeare's (AKA Edward De Vere the Earl of Oxford) play, and "The Man with The Blue Guitar" by Wallace Stevens has 33 sections.

Well we didn't end up doing anything like going to Disney. No what we did was even better. We went to a fancy restaurant, Kitchen Notes in the Omni Hotel, and had dinner out together for the first time as residents of TN. I couldn't ask for a better birthday than to be with family in our new home state and to look forward to many more celebrations together.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Out of The Darkness

Well it has been over three months since I moved to TN and I have been so busy settling in I haven't had time to sit down and write. I have several posts started and just haven't finished them for various reasons. But I am skipping those to get this one out because it is very important.

My sister and I have signed up for an "Out of the Darkness Walk". It is sponsored by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.  The walk takes place in Nashville on September 12th and any money raised will go to helping prevent suicide. There is a lot about suicide that I can't imagine and can't understand. I'm sure a lot of people feel that way. The person who takes their life must feel so lonely and hopeless. . . and then there are the friends and family members who are left behind with so many questions or feelings of guilt. 

I ask that anyone reading this please consider donating to my page: Jo's donor page

If you are in Nashville that day please consider joining our team and walking with us. Travellers 

If you aren't in Nashville you can look up other community walks. AFSP

If you can't donate or join our team and walk I ask that you share these links. The more people who see it the more money will be raised. 

If just one suicide is prevented because of a donation made then it is worth it because the lives effected are many. And that is what I will be thinking with every step I take. And I hope that is something you can think of if you make a donation or share this post.

Thank you

"Out of the darkness suddenly my body can take a breath
I'm coming out of the darkness finally my soul can take a rest."