Archive | August 2022

Happy Birthday Dad

Today is the fourth birthday since we lost my Dad.  I miss him. 

Dad and me in Michigan

Today I’m having a quiet day after being rather social this week.  Thursday night I went to a Blues, Brews, BBQ with some friends.  I’m not sure why it was named that because the music, while good, was an 80s cover band and not blues music.  And while they served beer at the bar, there wasn’t anything particularly brewsy.  There was BBQ there though, and it was good!  It was more extroverting than I have done in a long while, running into a few people I’ve met and worked with over the years. 

Last night I went for happy hour and dinner with some girlfriends, which was fun!  In true me fashion, afterwards I went to the book store and spent the last of my gift card on a Presidential history book and was home by 7.  And falling asleep before 9:30.  What can I say.

Later today, I’m getting together with a friend to go rock hounding at a nearby state park.  Hopefully I find some good ones!

Work has been rough lately.  It is not bringing me joy and the things that could turn it around are out of my control.  I’m biding my time, because big changes are coming, but that doesn’t change the fact that it is draining…  I’m exhausted.  I wish I had Dad to talk to about this stuff, as he usually had pretty good advice.  

“Speak, even when your voice shakes.”  That moment is coming soon.

Book Review: Inferno

Inferno, by Dan Brown

You probably know author Dan Brown, and his main character Professor Robert Langdon from the well known book and movie, the DaVinci Code.  Langdon makes his return in this fast paced adventure novel, featuring more mystery and symbols to decode.

Inferno (Robert Langdon, #4)

Langdon wakes up in the hospital, not understanding where he is or what has happened for the last 36 hours.  He soon learns that someone is trying to kill him, and flees, with the assistance of the doctor who has been treating him in the hospital.  

He discovers he is Italy, and he begins the slow, erratic process of piecing together the story of where he’s been and what he’s been up to.  That is, in between dodging a well-armed and mysterious militia, and a solitary hitman (albeit a woman).  He knows he can’t get caught before he puts the pieces of the puzzle together, but what is it that he’s looking for?  

Langdon uses his talents to read the symbols, and learn what threat is facing the entire world.  Similar to his other novels, Brown weaves history into the story, with a plenty of historic sites and their stories woven in.  And let me just say, after COVID, this story hit a bit close to home…

And with other Dan Brown novels, this thriller has many twists and turns.  You never quite know where you are heading next!  

4 stars.

Circus Trip 2018: Ulysses S. Grant NHS

Day 74, Thursday, September 27, 2018
Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site, St. Louis, Missouri

Just outside St. Louis, Missouri is the Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site.  This site, with its home called White Haven has a long history associated with President Ulysses S. Grant.

The home was built in 1808 (other sources say between 1812 and 1816), and the property was purchased in 1821 by Frederick Dent, who eventually became Ulysses S. Grant’s father-in-law. Dent built White Haven up as a fairly large plantation; it had 850 acres and grew wheat, oats, corn, potatoes and hay.  They also had several varieties of orchard fruits, including peaches, apples, plums, apricots, nectarines and grapes.  There were still extensive forests too.

Grant met his wife Julia in 1843, when he visited White Haven to visit his friend and classmate from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, who happened to be Julia’s brother Fred.  At the time, Grant was stationed in the Army at Jefferson Barracks, only five miles south of White Haven.  The two fell in love and eventually married in 1848.  Although Grant struggled with the launch of his career and tried his hand at a number of failed ventures, the marriage was a happy one.  Grant spent long periods of time away from Julia in their early marriage, when he went out West for his Army career.  Julia stayed at White Haven with her family.

Grant suffered from a depressive episode and quit the Army and returned to White Haven from the West Coast in 1854.  Between 1854 and 1859, he lived with Julia and the Dent family at White Haven, while farming, serving as an engineer, and dabbling in real estate in St. Louis.  By all accounts, he was not a particularly successful man at this time.  He did build Hardscrabble, a log cabin on the property with a name that was intentionally chosen to poke fun at the difficulty of their life then.  In 1859, the Grants moved to St. Louis for a short period and then to Galena, Illinois for Grant to go into business with his brothers.

They never again lived at White Haven, but continued to own the property until shortly before Grant’s death.  White Haven served as the home for the Dent and Grant families until 1885 (some sources say 1881), when Grant used it to pay off a debt to William Henry Vanderbilt.

What a fabulous place!  This home was acquired by the National Park Service relatively late in the game; it became a National Historic Site in 1989.  Thankfully, it was saved from becoming an amusement park in the early 1900s.  Hardscrabble was acquired by the Busch family and became a part of the nearby Grant’s Farm theme park; I’ll have to go visit it sometime.

Today White Haven is in much the same condition as it was then; although an attached kitchen was added later by a caretaker of the property.  A summer kitchen remains, which may have also been slave quarters, along with an ice house, chicken house, and a barn that was built in the 1870s.  All are open to visit or peek into, and there are exhibits about Grant’s life and the Dent’s life on the plantation.

The exhibits don’t mince words; although historic accounts indicate that the Dents and Grant were most likely fairly kind slave owners overall, Julia seemingly was completely unaware of the hard work these men and women provided for the family.  She spoke about the slaves being able to partake in all food products grown by the farm, as well as several types of meat and fish, without any recognition of the fact that these enslaved people had no freedom to directly benefit from their labors.  Grant himself is known to have owned one slave during his time at White Haven and while working his Hardscrabble Farm.  It is not known whether he purchased William Jones or if he received Jones as a gift; the historical record does show that he freed Jones in 1859.

Oh, and surely you have noticed the bright green paint on the house.  Yes indeed, that paint color was selected by U.S. Grant and his wife Julia when they painted White Haven in 1874; it is called Paris Green.  Do you love it or hate it?!?

And in unrelated news, I happened to have taken one of my favorite selfies here!

I enjoyed wandering around on the farm and seeing the buildings and exhibits.  It was an informative visit!


Since I sold my house in June, my personal life has been more relaxed.  I’ve been resting in my free time, reading, going for walks with friends, checking out some art fairs and going to the beach to look for agates on occasion.

What I haven’t done is go on vacation, because work has been insanity.  And believe me, it’s a lot of work drama.  I’m pretty bummed, because it directly affects me and my staff, and I am in dire need of some time away.  So until that settles down, I’m just trying to enjoy my time off, and ride out the work drama.  This too shall pass at some point, one way or another.

It’s been 4 years since my big road trip, and the memories popping up on Facebook are really making me want to be back out on another trip.  It’s rough!  We are halfway through the summer, and I’m hoping that I can make a vacation happen before the rest of the summer slips away.

I’m thankful that my health has been stable, and I have not had any more symptoms.  I’m still hoping that I will have answers soon.

Today I took a walk with a friend, and we ended up getting lunch at the harbor, and then finding a new little taproom down near the waterfront.  Beer and Books!  It’s like they know me!  I should clarify that they also serve ciders and wines.  We chatted with the owner and so far the books are just a few titles related to beer, cider and wine.  He is going to see how it goes before expanding the books.  I’m hoping this catches on! 

It was such a beautiful day and my walk stretched out into walking a friend’s dog too, so I certainly got my steps in today!  Wish me luck for my Monday workday!


Circus Trip 2018: Gateway Arch NP

Day 74, Thursday, September 27, 2018
Gateway Arch National Park, St. Louis, Missouri

In my last post, I explained the history of Gateway Arch National Park, but I was so excited to visit again!  My first visit had been in 2006 with friends, but this would be my first visit by myself.

My first order of business was to purchase my ticket to go up to the top of the arch in their little pod unit.  There is always a bit of a wait for tickets, but going solo means they can fit you in more easily!

While I waited, I checked out the Westward Expansion museum in the basement of the arch.  It is a great museum dedicated to telling the story of the Louisiana Purchase, Lewis and Clark’s expedition to the West Coast, and the stories of the later pioneers.  It was definitely worth a return visit!

In short order, it was my turn to get into the pod.  I climbed in, and to be honest it is a little bit claustrophobia inducing.  It’s really tight in there, but it helps to look out the window in the pod to see the inside wall of the arch and the machinery that moves the pods up and down through the arch.

Soon I was at the top, and I got to see the incredible view!  The windows in the Arch are very small, but they give a great view of the buildings down below, and the river nearby.  I found the small windows to be good for not making my fear of heights flare up!  There are also some displays that give you some interesting facts about the arch.  Did you know that the Gateway Arch is 630 feet tall, and also 630 feet wide at the base?  You can stay up in the Arch for as long as you want, and then you just line up to catch the next pod going down.  

Afterwards, I headed over to the Old Courthouse, to check it out once again.  It was built between 1839 and 1864, and was the place where the Dred Scott trial first started.  So this courthouse was one of the pivotal places leading up to the Civil War.  The building has been renovated to stabilize it, but many of the historical features are still intact, and it is an incredible building.  I wandered around for a while, checking out the architecture of this amazing courthouse.

There was a lot to see and do here, even though it is a small park.  Soon enough though, it was time to get on the road; I had more I wanted to see nearby!


Book Review: Wild Fire

Wild Fire, by Nelson DeMille

On Columbus Day weekend, an agent for the Federal Anti-Terrorist Task Force goes missing while on an assignment in upstate New York during a surveillance of the Custer Hill Club.  

Wild Fire

Once his boss learns about the missing agent, Detective John Corey and his wife, FBI Agent Kate Mayfield, are assigned to look into the disappearance.  Unfortunately, they are soon pulled off the case.  However, Corey and Mayfield are convinced that something fishy is going on and they aren’t willing to give up so easily in the search for their friend.

They embark on a mission to find out what happened to their friend, and to figure out what kind of secret plot is going on at the Custer Hill Club.  Will they puzzle it out in time to save lives, before their colleagues find them and pull them away from their investigation?

This was the first Nelson DeMille book that I have read, but I was intrigued by this thriller.  Set in the post-9/11 days, the plot built on the Islamic terrorism threat, but with some very fascinating twists.  

I listened to the audio book version, and it was narrated by one of my favorite readers, Scott Brick.  He captures John Corey’s dry humor perfectly, and really manages to play on the relationship between John and his wife Kate.  

4 stars.  

Book Review: Lincoln’s Spies

Lincoln’s Spies, by Douglas C. Waller

Yes, I have to admit I’m a bit of an Abraham Lincoln nerd and definitely a Civil War buff.  I like reading about the less told stories of the Civil War, both North and South. 

When I found this book at the Barnes and Noble last year with Christmas money burning a hole in my pocket, I knew I had to get it!

Lincoln’s Spies is as its name suggests, a book about the spies and intelligence gatherers employed by the Union Army, either as paid employees or volunteers.  They ranged from excellent agents of information to corrupt and ineffective, but there can be no doubt that these spies helped the Union cause.

The book explores in depth the intelligence gathered by Allan Pinkerton and his agents; both the good information and the garbage.  Pinkerton uncovered a likely plot to assassinate Lincoln on his way in to Washington D.C. after his election, and they were able to protect the President-elect.  However, Pinkerton was a huge supporter of General George McClellan and provided grossly inflated Confederate troop numbers, which contributed to McClellan’s unwillingness to aggressively attack Lee’s Army and significantly prolonged the war.

It discusses Lafayette Baker, whose intelligence was often more accurate, but concerns about corruption and side schemes to cash in on government payouts tainted his positive contributions.  And most importantly, Baker did not ferret out the plot to assassinate Lincoln in April 1865, resulting in John Wilkes Booth shooting the President at Ford’s Theatre. 

The author devotes time to George Sharpe, one of the unsung heroes of Army intelligence.  He brought accurate information in with a ring of agents working throughout the south.  General Grant came to rely on Sharpe’s reports.

And last but certainly not least, Elizabeth Van Lew.  A Richmond society woman, she supported the northern cause and used her own money to collect intelligence, and to support Northern soldiers languishing in Richmond’s Confederate prisons.  She was paid a pittance by the U.S. Government for her work, which Stanton considered invaluable.  She risked her reputation and her life to continue supplying information, even as the Confederate authorities investigated her.  She was shunned and ostracized by her southern neighbors and died deeply in debt after the war.  She was a true hero.

The author weaves these stories in with the battles of the war, and examined these characters with such depth that they were three dimensional.  They all had their motives and they all had positive and negative attributes, and Waller brought them to life. 

It was well researched and well written, with nearly a third of the book being footnotes and bibliography.  It is not an easy read, but well worth it.

4 stars.