Chicago, Chicago!



Chicago in early November is bound to be cold because you expect the wind off Lake Michigan but you don’t expect 24 degrees and snow. Two good friends and I were in town for a girl’s weekend.  Thankfully, we three Southern gals were somewhat prepared with heavy jackets and gloves. The light snow on Friday morning was pretty as it covered the sidewalks and rooftops.  A quick run to the corner Starbucks gave us our first taste of the cold weather and it was a bit slippery but the rest of the city took it in stride on the Veterans Day weekend.

Chicago at Work

The Blake Hotel was our home base for the weekend. It is an older, comfortable hotel located on Dearborn Ave.  It has good access to both the Blue and Red lines of the L for public transit.  With a 1 bedroom suite and a double room, we were had well looked after.

Hotel Blake

We headed out toward our Hop On/Hop Off City Tour and after a longer than expected delay including getting lost we eventually made it to the Hilton on Michigan Avenue to board the bus. I would recommend these types of tours when in an unfamiliar city because they will give you a good overview of what and where you want to explore. The double-decker bus was covered on the top and it was still cold inside but at least we were out of the wind.  The tour guides provided us with excellent information on the city as well as recommendations for restaurants and fun things to do.  Friday traffic did pose a bit of a problem but that was to be expected on a holiday weekend.

Big Bus

The skyline of Chicago is striking and its architecture impressive especially when you remember the city was decimated by Great Chicago fire in October, 1871 which left more than one hundred thousand people homeless. The city rebuilt quickly and by 1890 was a major transportation hub.  Ironically, the Chicago fire training academy is located on the site where the Great Chicago fire began.

360 Chicago

Our first stop was the 94 story John Hancock building and the Chicago 360 where you can view the city and the four surrounding states.  Unfortunately, it was a bit cloudy on our visit but the city views were spectacular. The observatory opened in 1969 and has thrilled millions of visitors over the years.  The newest addition to the 360 is “the Tilt”, which tilts you out away from the building some 30 degrees over Chicago’s “Magnificent Mile” or otherwise known as Michigan Avenue.  This is the place for some stunning photographs.

Lake Michigan

After we descended from the heights, we hopped back on our bus (they leave the designated spots every 30 minutes) to head towards the Chicago River.  We made it just in time to board the First Lady of Chicago Architectural River Tour.  It was a freezing cold night but many braved the temperature and wind of the upper deck where a docent from the historical society provided a 90 minute overview of the Chicago skyline which was resplendent on the November evening.   This is the way to really see Chicago.

Chicago Skyline

Cold and tired, we hailed a cab for a short ride to The Italian Village for dinner. Family owned since 1927 and the oldest Italian restaurant in Chicago, the three restaurants, Italian Village, Vivere  and La Cantina will provide you with whatever style of dining your prefer. From family dining to fine dining, you can find fine Italian fare here. We opted for Vivere and it was an excellent decision.  The service, wine and food were excellent. We enjoyed a mid-priced wine from their ample cellar.  The meal and conversation was a satisfying end to a busy day of touring.


Saturday would prove to be a less busy day. We began with brunch at the Cheesecake Factory in the Hancock Tower. Beginning your day with an omelet and a mimosa is starting the day off right.  We each took a piece of decadent cheesecake to go.   Next we walked to “the Bean” in Millennium Park.

The Bean

This unique, impressive sculpture draws you in to its mirror like surface.  At 66 feet wide and 33 feet high and has a 12 foot arch in the center.  Standing beneath the arch, you get a whole new perspective of your surroundings.   This is not to be missed in Grant Park!

Beneath the Bean

The afternoon was spent watching football as we are all SEC gals.  We then began our evening with genuine Chicago style pizza delivered by Lou Malnatis’ which gave us the strength for our evening journey on a slow boat to Margaritaville.

Chicago Deep Dish Pizza







Escape to Margaritaville

Escape to Margaritaville is a musical comprised of the island styled songs of singer and songwriter, Jimmy Buffett. It is a fun island romp and well worth your time and money.  This was a pre-Broadway run for the show which will start its run in New York in February.

Cast of Margaritaville
Jimmy Buffett and Lyn Manual Miranda

After the show, it had warmed up a bit and we walked back to the hotel down State Street enjoying Macy’s picture windows that were already decorated for Christmas. It was a nice ending to our brief weekend in Chi town. Chicago has much to offer a visitor and you need time to enjoy it.

Titanic Honour and Glory 

Titanic Honour and Glory

Titanic Honour and Glory Exhibit

The Mobile History Museum is hosting the US premiere showing of “Titanic: Honour and Glory” Exhibit. The exhibit that describes the building and sinking of the Titanic has toured Europe since 2002 and contains the largest collection of White Star Line and Titanic artifacts in Ireland.

Incorporating  photographs and artifacts from the Titanic and Titanic’s White Star Line sister ships, Britannic and Olympic, Titanic’s story unfolds from the laying of her keel in Belfast, Ireland to her demise on April 14, 1912. The White Star Line under the direction of Bruce Ismay, led the company to build three luxury liners in the early 1900’s, the Olympic, Titanic and Britannic.  The ships were built to compete with the Cunard Line’s ships the Mauritania and the Lusitania.   

The exhibit incorporates items from the three White Star Line ships, Olympic, Titanic and Britannic.

Olympic was completed in Belfast and began service on June 11, 1911 and set the tone for the White Star Lines luxury class of ships. Titanic’s keel was laid in Belfast on March 31, 1909 at the Harland and Wolff shipyards. Britannic was redesigned after the Titanic disaster and was completed in 1914.

Designed by Thomas Andrews, Titanic was comprised of over three million rivets that were used on the plates and side of the ship and a million man hours to install the fixtures on the Titanic. The ship had four funnels but only three worked, the fourth was added for aesthetics only.  The ship had twenty-four double end and five single ended boilers weighing one hundred tons each which burned six hundred tons of coal per day during a crossing. Her anchor weighed fifteen and half tons. Ismay declared Titanic “unsinkable” because of her automatic water tight doors.

Titanic received her first passengers on April 10, 1914 and set sail from Southampton then stopped in Cherbourg France and Cobh, Ireland to take on more passengers and mail. Two thousand, two hundred twenty-eight passengers and crew would begin the maiden voyage on the then largest ship in the world.


After four days at sea, Titanic had been alerted to the presence of icebergs in the area by other ships, the last coming at 11:00 pm. The ship Californian tried warning the Titanic of ice ahead. The warning fell on a busy wireless operator. Captain Smith altered the ships course due to the reports of ice yet still traveled at 22 knots.  At 11:39 p.m., lookouts, Frederick Fleet and Reginald Robinson called ice right ahead and rang the warning bell.  The officer on duty, Murdoch swung the ship hard starboard and a minute later, the ship shuddered as it rubbed alongside of the iceberg, ripping through the ships one inch thick hull and breaching it. Captain Smith who has been asleep in his cabin, hurried to the bridge to sound the ship as the ship continued her forward movement. He then had all forward motion stopped and engines stopped which allowed sea water to flood the ship.

Within 10 minutes, the bow had risen 14 feet above the keel. Thomas Andrews, the ships designer conducted his own inspection and concluded the ship might survive for 2 hours. It was then that Captain Smith issued the order to abandon ship.

The first lifeboats were launched at 12:25am with women and children to be loaded first. Of the twenty lifeboats that were lowered many were filled only to half capacity. Fifteen hundred people perished in the freezing water of the Atlantic. Titanic succumbed at 2:20 am.  Carpathia, the first ship to arrive on the scene picked up 705 survivors some two hours later.

The Carpathia reached New York on April 18, 1912 with the survivors including the 214 surviving members of the Titanic crew, including Bruce Ismay. White Star realized there would still be bodies needing to be recovered from icy waters.  The line commissioned cable ships from Halifax, Nova Scotia to lead the recovery on the bodies. The crew of the Mackay Bennett found bodies still tied in their white life jackets.

Nova Scotia

Care was taken to preserve any effects from the bodies to be used for later identification. Each body was numbered as it was recovered and those numbers would later identify the body.  If the body could not be identified, the corresponding number was placed on the headstone when the body was interred in a cemetery in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Four ships returned with 209 bodies, 119 having being buried at sea. With recent DNA testing, some of the numbered graves have been able to be identified.

One survivor of the Titanic disaster is Violet Jessop, a shipboard stewardess.  She was lowered in a lifeboat and rescued by the Carpathia.  Jessop returned to work for the White Star Line in 1916 as a Red Cross nurse on board the Britannic, which was serving as a hospital ship in the Aegean Sea. On November 21, 1916, she would survive the explosion and sinking of the RMS Britannic.  The Britannic went down quickly in only 57 minutes.

Violet Jessops

There is a Mobile Alabama connection to the Titanic, Colonel Archibald Gracie IV.  Gracie was born in Mobile to a former confederate officer. While raised in New York he was a real estate investor, writer and amateur historian.  He was rescued by the Carpathia and would be the first to write an account of the disaster.  Before he could correct any errors in the account, he would become the first adult survivor to die after rescue in December, 1912

The wreck of the Titanic was discovered by Robert Ballard in 1985.

In 1997, James Cameron’s film, Titanic received the Academy Award for Best Picture. Included in the exhibit are several props from film, including two costumes worn by Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio.

Costumes from Titanic movie
Costumes from Titanic movie

106 years since the disaster, the story still resonates with people. This exhibit is unique to other Titanic exhibits as it incorporates much more of the history of the White Star Line.

Titanic lifeboat sign and coal from Titanic



Keys from victim of Titanic


Tickets for the Titanic exhibit are $10.00 which includes admission to the history museum.  The history museum has several events planned for to highlight the exhibit, a showing of the 1997 Titanic film, Third Class: A Titanic Irish Party and “The Last Dinner”, an eight course formal dinner, the Titanic menu recreated, to be held at the Battle House on April 14. The Honour and Glory will be on display through April.


The Park at OWA

The Park at OWA

OWA Amusement Park, Foley, Alabama  

(OWA means “Big Water” in the Muscogee Creek language)

Entrance to the Park

You hear excited screams as you approach the entrance gate of The Park and the source of those screams is the Rolling Thunder roller coaster which dominates the Park. The brainchild of the Poarch Band of Creek Indians as their first non-gaming development for the tribe opened in July, 2017 at County Road 20 and the Beach Express in Foley, Alabama. The two-hundred forty million dollar complex contains The Park, future retail store space, multiple restaurant spaces and the first hotel on site, a one-hundred fifty room Townplace Suites Hotel by Marriott. The hotel features comfortable family rooms with a galley style kitchen which will make longer stays more economical and enjoyable.  The hotel has an indoor pool, fire pit and barbeque area that overlooks the lagoon.  Breakfast is provided as well as happy hour in the evening for the guests.

Air Racer

Adjoining The Park is the Foley sports complex which will provide for all types of athletic events.

Rolling Thunder



Presently, the Park has twenty-one rides which are separated by Rolling Thunder. The thrill of being taken straight up, straight down and looped around upside down is exciting and the screams of the Thunder’s passengers attest to it.  One guest told me she had ridden it multiple times in a row.  She was made of braver stuff than I.  Rolling Thunder bisects the park with the tamer rides on the right side as you enter the park. The thrill seekers will bearleft to test their will.

Rolling Thunder

















The Park’s newness has not worn off, it is well maintained and the employees are friendly and helpful.  Marvin Hodge, a local retiree and former radio host from Atlanta, runs the arcade games.  His best advice was to enjoy the thrill rides in the park.   “We’re here to provide you with a good time and to make you smile,”  he told me.  “Face painting is complimentary in the Park,” Katherine, a talented young artist is one of the several face painters. told me during a lull between customers.

Marvin Hodge and fellow employee










Food is plentiful in the Park, hot dogs, drinks and other yummy treats are served at the Shady Arbor and the Veranda.  Just outside the entrance gate is Wahlburgers and the Groovy Goat.  Both provide guests with extensive menus and full service bars. (Be sure to get your hand stamp for reentry to the Park after refueling)

Poarch Creek is creating a vacation destination and the master plan calls for an additional five hotels, RV park and water park.  The rumor is the water park will be up and running by 2019.  With the speed that the Park was completed, the 2019 date seems doable for the tribe.

Flying Carousel


Ticket prices:  General Admission is $34.99; Junior Admission (42’ and under)and Senior Admission (60 and older) and military admission $27.99; 3 and under are free. Annual park passes are $89.99.  Admission includes unlimited rides as well as face painting.  The arcade games have a graduated cost from $3-$5 dollars.


Alabama Wham’ a


The Park is a screaming, fun filled family destination. Come get you pass and hold on tight, for a wild ride on Rolling Thunder.  OWA’s future is bright and big!


Glass Blowing in the Delta

Glass Blowing on the Delta

Muffinjaw Designs

Freddie Blache of Muffinjaw Designs is a 25 year old musician who found his passion in blowing glass.  Blache will graduate from the University of South Alabama with his Fine Arts Degree in December.  “It’s about performance”, he said as we chatted during the Halloween Bash at Cypress Gift Shop at 5 Rivers Delta on a cold October morning.

Freddie Blache

Freddie had been up early.”I don’t sleep a lot before a show.”  For this October outing, he was set up on the porch of the Cypress gift shop at 5 Rivers. With temperature in the fifties, his small propane fueled furnace nicknamed “Smog” was taking a little more time to get up to its glass melting temperature of twenty-one hundred degrees. “I’m used to working in a shop where it’s a hundred degrees.” He joked about the cold damp temperature as a crowd gathered for a demonstration.

Blowing the glass
Shaping the glass

Freddie began taking classes in 2013 and knew he had found his life’s calling.  “It’s my passion and I believe I will be doing this for the rest of my life.” He began showing his creations at a downtown Mobile Artwalk in 2014 and began public demonstration of glass blowing at South Sounds in 2014.  He was a hit and he continues his demonstrations at each show.  By 2016, he had a number of repeat customers for his pieces and began signing his handmade creations.

Glass bubble
Shaping the glass with wet newspaper

“Muffinjaw” was a term a coined by a classmate of Freddie’s dad, Fred, Sr. when he had swollen cheeks in school due to a tooth infection. Freddie Jr. said, “It’s what we call our cheeks when we puff them out to blow bubbles in the glass.” Muffinjaw Designs is a family affair. Freddie admits he could not make this journey without the support of his wife, Caroline and baby, Eva, as well as his family and friends. They were there supporting him on this cold, damp morning.

Freddie and Caroline 

His Dad, Fred Sr., explained that when Freddie told him he wanted to change his major to glass blowing Senior encouraged him to have a back-up plan, because an artist’s life is never a sure thing.  Freddie took the advice in stride and will give himself a year to make a go of it as a glass artist.  “We are living in the age of glass, it’s all around us and we don’t see it.”

Currently, his handmade pieces sell for between $10 and $40 for the smaller pieces.  Some of the large pieces are a bit higher priced and are sold locally at the following locations: Cypress Gift Shop at 5 Rivers, Ashland Gallery in Midtown, Red Beard’s Outfitters, The Happy Octopus on Dauphin Island and at Haint Blue Brewing in Mobile.

Glass ornaments

Among Freddie’s glass artist influences are Lino Tagliapietra, a Venetian artist who is known for his flare with sculpting molten glass and William Gudenrath. Freddie wants to work on Tagliapietra’s technique in the future.  He also hopes to work with William Gudenrath at the renowned Corning Museum of Glass in Corning, New York.

Freddie Blache, a self proclaimed “Nerd for Glass” is an up and coming Mobile artist. He is setting the local art scene on fire with one molten glass creation at a time.

Update: Freddie’s thesis exhibit December 4-8, 2017 at the University of South Alabama Visual Arts Gallery.

At Dauphin Island Art Trail

Freddie at work

National Civil War Naval Museum

National Civil War Naval Museum-Columbus, GA

Located along the Chattahoochee River, the National Civil Naval Museum, houses a number of civil war naval relics from both the Confederate and Union sides of the conflict. The first question asked by many of its twenty-five thousand yearly visitors, is ‘Why is a naval museum located in Columbus?” The Chattahoochee River played a key role in the civil war. Although true that it is a long way from a major body of water. In actuality, the Chattahoochee connects with the Gulf of Mexico at Apalachicola Florida. Columbus was an integral part of the Confederate infrastructure as a construction and manufacturing hub for munitions and uniforms. The last major land battle of the civil war was fought in Columbus and the town was burnt to the ground after the battle.

CSS Jackson
CSS Jackson. The metal work above is how the original ships structure was designed

The CSS Jackson, the largest of the four surviving Ironclads from the Civil War, is ensconced at the museum. Launched at Columbus in December, 1864, it saw no action and was set ablaze and set adrift by Union troops in what is considered to be the last land battle of the Civil War. It burned for two weeks until it sank in the middle of the river.  While the location of the wreck was known, it spent 100 years at the bottom of the Chattahoochee River until 1961 when the raising of the hull began. Even today, the hull still carries the burn marks from 1865. The Columbus Jaycee club played a most important role in the raising of the ship with volunteers and fund raising efforts to raise the ship.

CSS Jackson propeller
CSS Jackson, burn marks on hull

The museum also displays the wreckage of CSS Chattahoochee,   a full scale replica of the USS Water Witch, a replica of the USS Harford’s captain’s cabin, a ships boat from the USS Hartford, a replica of the USS Monitor’s turret and both interior and exterior views of the CSS Albermarle. Many other artifacts have been meticulously preserved and are on display.

CSS Chattahoochee
CSS Albermarle.

The museum houses the largest collection of Civil War related naval flags including ship flags, coastal fort flags and pennants in the county and are prominently display at the museum.

Civil War Flags

The museum offers daily guided tours of museum. Brandon Gilland, an education associate for the museum, is well versed in every aspect of the exhibits.  I also had the pleasure of meeting the museum’s archivist, Jeff Seymour.  I have included a short interview with Jeff from C-span from February, 2015.

The National Civil War Naval Museum it is well worth your time and a visit there will immerse you in moments from the Civil War and United States naval history.

Jubilee Festival of Arts

Jubilee Festival of Arts,   Olde Town Daphne, Alabama

September, 2017 marked the 29th year of the Jubilee Festival of Arts in Daphne, Alabama.  Over 100 vendors packed the main street of Daphne for the free weekend event.  The warm weather did not deter the crowds as they wandered though the tents filled with the merchant’s offerings. Local artisans, photographers and craftsmen along with those from Texas and Tennessee, provided a sea of artwork and crafts for purchase.

Various musical acts and cooking demonstrations took to the stage for the enjoyment of the festival attendees. Local hospitals, medical practices as well as local utilities and government dispensed information.

The two-day event was a good way to get started on that Christmas shopping list.

Applying for Global Entry

I applied for TSA Pre check three years ago and have used the expedited service going through security.  It was an easy application process and a brief interview process at a local transportation licensing center.  Last week I applied for Global Entry, which enables a quicker re-entry process to the U.S. in airports from international destinations using of a kiosk to fill out your declaration instead of going through the cue. Global entry also provides a card for use in quicker crossing at landed borders (Canada and Mexico). Global entry also provides you with TSA Pre check, so you get the benefits of both programs.  Again, it was an easy application process and interview, taking only about five minutes.  The only downside was the only center near Mobile for the interview was at the Gulfport airport about an hour’s drive. The website offers a number of centers across the county where the interview can be conducted.  I recommend both as they are timesavers when traveling domestically or abroad.