Friday, August 24, 2012

Please Sign the Guest Book!

If you stopped by for a visit to this site, please leave a reply to let us know you were here!


This blog is enjoying some nice web traffic, however, I'd like to create a "guest book" of sorts so we can see who's stopping by and where they are from. To "sign the guest book" simply click "reply" to this post, and leave an anonymous post with your initials and your location. You will then create a reply record that all visitors can see.

Thanks for stopping by!

~Mr. K.

Week 3 Reflection

The National Mall and Washington Memorial as seen from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial (Washington, D.C.)

Week 3 Reflection
            D.C., Mount Vernon, and Montecello…three names to anyone who’s ever studied American history would instantly raise an eyebrow to upon first mention. These locations, especially when traveling on the East Coast, are each legendary and wonderful in their own regard. To visit each location within the span of a week is both a challenge and a victory. The challenge is the simple fact that you could easily spend three weeks alone covering the gems of D.C., and a week for Mount Vernon and Montecello would be wonderful diversions. However, the scope of my fellowship carved out a week’s time to explore these treasures. To say the least, I ended my fellowship on a week of high notes.
            Washington, D.C. is an apropos place to visit for a grant titled “Finding the Founding Fathers.” The Federal district was named in George Washington’s honor and Washington himself chose D.C. as the site for the seat of the U.S. government as well as hand-selecting the individuals who would be the principal designers of the nation’s capital. Visiting D.C. is a journey that everyone should savor.
            D.C. is dripping with pride and is a cornerstone to the American psyche. In one federal district you can see the power centers of our government (Capitol Hill, The White House, and the Supreme Court building), tributes to the nation’s greatest Presidents (Washington, Lincoln, Jefferson), memorials to the nation’s greatest heroes and leaders (World War Two Memorial, Vietnam Memorial, Korean War Memorial, Martin Luther King Memorial), and visit any one of the many world-class museums that dot the surrounding area. I made it to the following: National Museum of the American Indian, National Air and Space Museum, the National Archives, the National Museum of American History, the National Gallery of Art Sculpture Gardens, and the National Museum of Natural History. Each of these buildings/properties is a repository of collections that I can only describe as the “best of the best.” A visit to Washington, D.C. will impress you and inspire you. A visit to Washington, D.C. will tell you that you need to plan a return trip for further study as soon as possible. D.C. is unlike any other city in our country and it left me speechless.
            Upon my departure from D.C. and after a wonderful stop at Elsie’s Magic Skillet in Alexandria, VA!, a visit to George Washington’s sublime Mount Vernon Estate is about the only destination that could keep up with the D.C. precedent. Mount Vernon is both grand and peaceful, a serene landscape that pleasantly haunted me with Washington’s efficient demeanor. While he was an accomplished General and our country’s first President, he was, in his heart, a farmer. When you visit Mount Vernon, you are home on the farm with Martha and George. The landscape features rolling hills and beautiful spaces and upon my arrival, I felt like I was walking into a living history book. There I was, walking in George Washington’s front yard, approaching his house, visiting its interior spaces, and feeling at peace as he must have felt when he was home. To me, visiting Mount Vernon was the end of a journey that began in my childhood. Washington is the “father of our country” so it is only fitting that I take the trip “home” to see where “Dad” lived. It was a great farm, and a great place. Two descriptions I bet Washington would be comfortable with today.
            Jefferson’ Montecello is an architectural gem in terms of structure and layout. His brilliant eye for design and function leaves you with an impressive specimen of a house. The impressive Jefferson greets you when you call for a visit…A ride up the winding road to his eponymous dwelling tells you you’re headed to higher ground…to a special place. When you walk up his front walk you gawk at the estate’s impressive, and famous, fa├žade. Upon arrival in his front door you are welcomed in grand scale to an entry hall that showcases a Jefferson-designed clock and some of the trinkets of his life’s work, including a set of antlers sent to him from Lewis and Clark’s epic “road trip.” Just another day at the office.
            Visiting Thomas Jefferson’s home was another “welcome home” event as his house was a place that he intended to enjoy for his own pleasure and to share with others. Walking in his gardens, viewing his vistas, and touring his home brought me closer to Jefferson the American legend and Jefferson the individual. Montecello leaves its mark on you and you will remember this peaceful place long after your visit. His diligence for detail at Montecello will tell you that his love of the minutia of politics and the wrangling of statesmanship fit right into his skill set.
            Leaving Charlottesville, VA, reminded me that a return to my reality was imminent. For the last three weeks I went headlong into a broad study of American history. Suffice to say, three weeks later I come away with a new love and appreciation of our founding father’s hard work and sacrifices. Week three capped off a tremendous experience, as I spent the week visiting the “best of the best.”
            Please continue to monitor this blog as I intend to continue writing several Epilogues from the fellowship.
            Thanks for joining me today…~Mr. K.


Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Day 24- Pittsburgh, PA - Chicago, IL

This sure doesn't seem anything like the East Coast (Indiana Toll Road headed to Chicago, IL)

           Today is the day that I bring this great fellowship adventure to a close. 500 miles, perhaps the longest distance traveled for this journey is actually a lot easier to do than East Coast miles because the roads are fairly straight and flat. While I love traveling and exploring, it is always good to be home. However, it is bittersweet that the research and study component of my fellowship officially ends with my return to Chicago. The good news is that there is plenty of work that remains for me to do to wrap up and analyze the last twenty-four days of my life.
            The drive back home from traveling always carries with it a certain sense of excitement and a certain sense of dread. The excitement portion is the sense of return to home, family, friends, and life’s daily routine. The dread portion is unpacking the car, putting things away, and reconnecting with the life you put on pause when you left! It’s always a whirlwind…but it’s worth it every time.
            As I headed out of Western Pennsylvania you can easily tell that you’re headed to another part of the United States…Take a look at how flat and straight the highway becomes as noted in the opening picture.
            Once you leave Pennsylvania, you are in a prime position to make a pleasant lunch stop in one of my favorite eateries in Ohio…Tony Packo’s. Packo’s, a long-standing Toledo favorite, was made famous by Toledo native Jamie Farr. Farr played Corporal Klinger in the television hit M*A*S*H, where his character pined away for a Packo’s fix while serving in Korea. The rest, as I’ll say here, is hot-dog history. Go see what all the fuss is about when you roll down the Ohio Turnpike.
If you visit, may I suggest the Hungarian Hot-Dog..It's a legend (Tony Packo's Express, Maumee, OH)
            On the approach to Packo’s, I saw the first sign indicating mileage to Chicago and the beginning of the homestretch for my return. Earlier in the day I turned mile number 4,000 on the fellowship and it was hard to believe that twenty-three days of sights, sounds, and smells were behind me. There is so much of this fellowship journey that I have yet to share with you and I’d like to let you in on two little secrets. 
First mileage to Chicago sign, just East of Maumee, OH
First of all, I plan on writing a series of Epilogues from the fellowship to revisit a few themes I presented earlier. While writing on the road, at the end of very long touring and travel days, I had to limit the scope of my discussion. (As such, there is BOUND to be some much-needed revisions and editing in my preceding  posts…I’ll get to those, too!). I will also introduce some new themes that emerged and will be brought to light in the coming days and weeks.
Secondly, I will take approximately one month off to finishing tweaking my blog and get the school year off the ground. When the time is right, I plan to begin, in earnest, writing a book about my experiences. I already have the title in mind and I already know what I want the book to do. Please keep me in your thoughts as I dare to begin, literally, the next professional chapter in my life.
Before I sign off, I would like to personally thank each and every one of you known and unknown readers for sharing this experience with me. By reporting to my blog I’ve felt a sense of obligation to keep up with the daily task of reporting the highlights of the fellowship. While I am motivated to keep things straight for my needs I am very motivated to share my story with you, my external partners, who searched for coffee with me, had lunch with me, and shared my front row seat of seeing this beautiful country with me. Writing a book would be very difficult without a sense of beginning and I believe that my blog will provide some of the necessary framework to get the book off the ground.
So, while it seems like “goodbye” I rather think in terms of the French phrase au revoir, literally to see again. I’ll see you in the Epilogues and I will see you when the book hopefully makes its appearance in the summer of 2013. While the book seems like a distant dream I simply remind myself that the ideas behind this fellowship also started out as a dream. Thankfully, I admit that many of my dreams have come true, so I hope that the track record continues…
4,170 miles later I'm back where it all garage. Whew! What an ADVENTURE! (Chicago, IL)
Until we meet again…
Thank you for joining me today…~Mr. K.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Day 23- Charlottesville, VA - Pittsburgh, PA

            The house is quiet, the chorus of insects is crooning away merrily in the forest, the porch door is open and I am welcoming in a cool evening breeze as I sit at their island and write up my day's adventure. I am in my cousin’s house in Pittsburgh, PA and after three weeks of here-and-there hotels, a family home is a welcome place to pull in for the night.
The fun thing about driving today’s route is that there is no quick or direct way to get from Point A to Point B. Depending on how you look at that fact, it can be good news or bad news. It would be bad news if you were worried about taking up your whole day for travel, it would be good news if you’re ready to see some of the country that’s really off the beaten trail. It was a good news days.
            My route out of Charlottesville took me north to one of the wonderful Virginia Byway routes. My goal was to head North and West, skirting Shenandoah National Park (keeping it in mind for a future visit!), cutting across West Virginia and Maryland, and picking up the interstate in southern Pennsylvania into Pittsburgh, PA.
After driving for about thirty minutes, I was headed in to the Virginia Byway route. While the highway was well marked and the road in good shape, I felt like I was driving on somebody’s very long driveway. There were twists and turns, hills and valleys, and the crown of the road went this way then that way…Very unlike Illinois roadways, and a wonderful change of pace, except for the fact I quickly found myself out of any type of cell phone coverage and signs of houses or other people were few and far between. After about thirty minutes, I pulled into “town.”
Welcome to a small town on off a Virginia Byway!
After I left town, I continued to enjoy the scenery, and I hope you enjoy it, too!
Truly "America the Beautiful" with the Blue Ridge Mountains in the background. (North of Charlottesville, VA)
One important personal goal I had for the day was the fact that most routes I took out of Charlottesville to Pittsburgh routed me through West Virginia, one of the five remaining states I have yet to visit. Today I was able to cross West Virginia off my list. For the curious reader, the remaining states are (West-East): Hawaii, Oregon, Louisiana, and South Carolina. 
Gotcha! The elusive trip to West Virginia...leaving Hawaii, Oregon, Louisiana, and South Carolina remaining for my 50.
Upon my arrival into the Pittsburgh area I certainly well aware that I left the natural landscape behind and would end my day in a sprawling urban environment.
Welcome to Pittsburgh, a study of bridge design.  (Pittsburgh, PA)
Thankfully, my cousins’ house is situated beautifully on a wooded lot with a house equally fitting in its architectural intrigue. Their home has a wonderful mix of vaulted ceilings, extensive use of windows at the rear elevation facing into the forest, and an open floor plan to bring everyone together. Dinner was grilled salmon, homemade meatballs, roasted green beans and an orzo/vegetable medley that rounded off a great meal. Interspersed between the courses were the squeals of children’s laughter and a chance for the adults to strengthen relationships left day-to-day dormant with the 500 miles distance between Pittsburgh and Chicago.
Surrounded by nature. A welcome stop after a long day's beautiful drive. (Pittsburgh, PA)
Special moments like these are what make your memories part of your own history.
Thanks for joining me today…~Mr. K.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Day 22- Touring Montecello (Charlottesville, VA)

A tickets I've wanted to have for a long time...(Admission to Montecello Estate, Charlottesville, VA)
        “Complicated, flawed, human,” and with those words, the tour guide for my visit to Thomas Jefferson’s Montecello Estate helped me better understand the real Thomas Jefferson. When you hear those words clearly stated in the very house that the American legend himself built, you must come away understanding that all of the players in history read from the same script, the human script. I am not suggesting that everyone behaves or does the same thing, that that individual behaviors are filled with infinite possibilities and outcomes. This is the reason I truly enjoy studying individuals and groups. You never know what you’re going to get, and you’d better be ready to accept your discoveries.
            If George Washington was the tactical genius for our new country, Thomas Jefferson was one of the country’s political geniuses. For me touring the Montecello estate has long been a dream of mine ever since I realized that I loved American history. It was the home of the man who drafted the Declaration of Independence, guided early colonial politics through the heady storms of revolution, and stayed in the game long enough to become the third President of the Unites States. Aside from that, he was the ambassador to France for the United States, the Governor of the state of Virginia and he founded the University of Virginia. His presidency is certainly noteworthy as he brokered the Louisiana Purchase and subsequently sent two guys named Lewis and Clark out to see what he just bought. He's the type of guy a history buff would like to shake his hand...
Preparing to tour Jefferson's Montecello Estate in Charlottesville, VA
            So, what type of house does a guy like Jefferson build for himself? A house that is so unique and beautiful it’s one of the rare times where pictures that I take actually do justice to the subject. Join me for a look around…
One of the most famous views in American architecture...
Column and frieze details...brilliant.
A stroll on the beautiful grounds...
An impressive vista, just waiting for you to explore...
Fresh and fragrent...
History alive..ruins of a building from his early structures on the property.

            After my tour of Montecello, and after asking a few locals for input, I headed over to Michie Tavern, just outside of the Montecello grounds, for lunch. Michie Tavern has been serving food to its customers since 1784 and its food is legendary. I was wary at first, because it had all the markings of a tourist trap: Buffet lunch (boring), servers dressed in period costumes (got my guard up), and well-restored period construction buildings on site (selling me things I don’t need). As wary as I was of Michie Tavern, I thought I’d ask the ticket agent at Montecello about her opinion of their fare. She replied in one word, “Wonderful.” That’s all I needed to hear…
            Michie Tavern serves up a southern feast that features the following items: Fried chicken, smoked pulled pork, green beans, mashed potatoes, chick peas,, corn bread, biscuits, and coleslaw. You go through the line once and take your seat and dig in. After your first bites, you’ll quickly realize that you’ll want more of everything. Lucky for you, your server will circulate with all of the buffet items ready to serve your seconds (thirds, fourths…) tableside. Here’s my summary of the meal: The BEST fried chicken I have EVER had, TREMENDOUS pulled pork, and the sides each get an Oscar for best supporting actors. To make the meal complete, Greg was our server and he was pleasant, prompt, and gracious. I always feel that you can only have a great meal if the food is great and service is great. Kudos, Greg, you’re awesome! Michie Tavern is a legend and is nowhere close to being a “has-been” establishment. It’s good enough to visit again and I know I’ll make the effort to get there, because, my dear readers, it simply was THAT good.
Loving Michie Tavern!
A plate of Southern hospitality...!
            Although I wasn’t hungry for the rest of the day, another restaurant server from the previous night’s dinner suggested I visit a place called Beer Run. All I needed was a snack to get me through to breakfast the next day. What I found instead was a heavenly sequel to lunch, an order of nachos that capped off my great day.
Nachos good enough to show up in a social studies blog...
            In the end, I know that my fellowship often focus on American history and geography. Certainly a day spent at Montecello will easily become one of the highlights of my studies, but the simple fact is that while history is important, today certainly matters. It’s great to find the local spots, new tastes, twists on familiar themes, and eateries different from the vin ordinaire eating that is currently popping up at every exit.
            Wherever your adventures take you, choose your food wisely, you’ll never regret finding a place that becomes special to you. Especially if you can have a laugh along the way...
My hat's off to you, President Jefferson!
            Thanks for joining me today…~Mr. K.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Day 21- Touring Mt. Vernon, VA

After wrapping up a FANTASTIC stay at the Helix Hotel, a Kimpton Hotel, I will begin today’s reflection with a word or about my experience at their property. Kimpton believes in making their guests feel like they are being welcomed into a friend’s home. At first, this sounds like a come-on pitch, but when you step foot onto their property you are greeted a staff that genuinely cares about you enjoying your stay. For my needs, they hit their mark 100%. I will be sure to look up their properties in the future.
Legendary Georgetown Cupcake, home of DC Cupcakes!
That said, let’s start with a mystery…For a guy traveling the East Coast, where would be a fun place to start his day if you like desserts, fun, and cupcakes? Hint: It’s in Georgetown…and was five minutes away from Georgetown…Georgetown Cupcake! I bought some to go, and they were delicious! Favorites included: Red Velvet, Chocolate and Peanut Butter, and the gem of the day- Blueberry Cheesecake!
As I left D.C. my route took me right past Arlington National Cemetery and The Pentagon. Although time did not permit a stop for this trip, passing the nation’s sacred space was powerful, The greatest minds and the bravest people are buried there and it’s always a fascination to feel the serenity of the grounds the solemn changing of the guard ceremony. This observation struck my post-9/11 world…The Pentagon, the largest office complex in the world, was not on my navigation screen. Security is part of the D.C. experience.
My drive to Mt. Vernon took me away from D.C. and into the heart of Virginia. The road signs were a history lesson in themselves as the destinations included: Manassas, Richmond, Fredricksburg, and Lynchburg. Oh how I LONG to visits those areas! Alas, my focus is on the War for Independence, not the U.S. Civil War. The countryside is beautiful.
Rolling countryside, very pretty (Rural Virginia)
On the final leg to Mt. Vernon it seemed like a good idea to have an early lunch before I toured the estate. Thanks to the in-car navigation and the smart phone, I zeroed in on a place that time forgot and prepared myself for a no-holds-barred feeding frenzy. The exteriors and interiors were as tired as they looked, but the staff was friendly and the food was down-to-Earth good home cooking.Welcome to Elsie's Magic Skillet in Alexandria, VA...It's as local as local gets...and wonderful! Our food was wonderful and Cathy served up some Southern charm and warm conversation.
Fantastic American comfort food...A winner!
Simple interior, great food!

The ride to and from Mt. Vernon highlights the beauty of Virginia. Lush green fields gave rise to rolling hills and the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. It was a treat to drive in the country today.
Blue Ridge Mountains in the distance (Approaching Charlottesville, VA)
Mt. Vernon, the estate of of George Washington was the center of Washington’s life While an accomplished general and later the President of the United States, he valued most his life as a farmer. His estate was a working farm with slaves and he always returned to his farming root in his mind.
Some exterior pictures to share…Note the building is made of wood, not stone as the rustication treatment could indicate. I saw the rooms where he ate, received guests, slept at night, and received an incredible number of founding fathers and house guest.
Martha and George Washington's Mt. Vernon Estate
Note the rustication process..makes the wood look like stone!
Rustication detail...

Entering the door to the Main Dining Room

With all due respect, President...
Behind the gate lies the body of the man who saved America...Thank you General!

I valued the tour as it gave me a chance to view the history of George Washington on a more personal level. I come away with a better knowledge and a richer respect for his efforts to lead our country in a trying time yet remain true to himself as he view himself and the world around him.
I close today with a President's view looking across his "backyard" and to the serene Potomac River.
A grand view for a great  man.
Thanks for joining me today...~Mr. K.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Day 20- Touring Washingon, D.C.

I spent another day today becoming totally impressed with Washington, D.C. After a typical in-room and self-supplied breakfast (see below!), I took a stroll down 15th street, hopped on the Metro, and was standing on The Mall about forty-five minutes later after I got out of the Smithsonian stop. On my left was the Washington Monument, on my right, the U.S. Capital building, and in between were acres of space that exuded all the things that make this place great. Those things are: People, Spaces, History, and Culture. The people watching here is fantastic, and there are many time you are hard-pressed to find people around you speaking English. D.C. draws a world-wide crowd and that is a testament to its pull as a destination worthy of a long trip.
Cups of coffee (or two...three?), bowl of cereal, some fruit, and I'm out the door...
Speaking of spaces, I spent the morning in the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. It is an incredible collection of all things that relate to flying. While the collection celebrates the world’s accomplishments, it is a great time to comment on our country’s prowess as a technology leader. From the Wright brothers airplane, to currently deployed technologies Smithsonian celebrates it all. The access to history is second to NONE…One minute you’re standing on The Mall, the next minute you’re standing in FRONT of the airplane that launched the modern aviation age…It leaves you breathless!
Starting my day off on the Wright stuff...Standing in front of the Wright Brothers' airplane! Got to give them props...
Planes just hanging everywhere!
Standing in an a forest of missiles and rockets...unreal!
As if that’s not enough, it was time to stroll over to the United States National Archives. If it’s worth keeping, they have it…My goal today was the Holy Grail of American documents: The Declaration of Independnce, The U.S. Constitution, and the Bill of Rights. Once inside the impressive building, where photography is prohibited, I was ushered into the collections rotunda. On my way there, a docent casually said to me, “By the way, sir, we have a Magna Carta on display, too.” I was FLOORED. It was like hearing “today’s special” at a restaurant…and what a special it was! To see an original Magna Carter, signed in 1215, was almost surreal. 
Headed to the U.S. National Archives...It's like the attic for our country!

Seeing those document is akin to seeing the country's instruction manual...
However, the Magna Carta was just the appetite for my document dining. There, in glasses, casements, low-light, cool temperature, proper humidity and a room full of armed guard were the most important pieces of paper in our country’s history. To see the VERY pieces of paper that all of the Founding Fathers cast their eyes on was an epic brush with history. Although aged and faded, the “When in the course of human events…” and “We, the People of the United States…” at the top of the parchment was too much to believe. Words cannot describe the impact of this visit.
After I pulled my jaw from the ground, I headed out to take The Mall on for one last go-around. I hit the National Sculpture Garden, National Museum of the Natural History, the National Museum of the American Indian, the Washington Monument, and ended my day like many others do…sitting down on The Mall, taking it all in…
As long as I'm here, time to see the National Sculpture Garden! (Archives in background)
Join me for the last picture, there’s room on the bench, and we’d have PLENTY to talk about!
What a day! Let's sit down and talk about everything we've seen...where do you want to start?
Thanks for joining me today…~Mr. K.