Thursday, March 28, 2019

And then it was ten

March 28, 2009.  Feels like yesterday that we talked on the phone about the volleyball game, and the day.  Maybe it's because the better part of me is left back there, across this chasm of 10 years, but it feels like you are right there.  Like I should be able to hear your voice, see your smile, feel your hug.  I know how much all three of you are missed.  And after 10 years, the answers are no clearer, the scars not healed.  I know those things are among all the others that just will not be.  Yet I am grateful for the time we had with you.

As I said then, I say again today.  I love you today, tomorrow, and always.  Miss you!

Monday, February 18, 2019

It was the Best of Times, it was...the Best of Times

26.  That's how old she would be today.  I found myself thinking on the drive home today, where was I when I have 26, to try to imagine what she might be getting up to today.  I quickly realized that at 26, I was just figuring out that I didn't have it all figured out, but one thing I know for sure was I loved the time I spent with my favorite little humans.  At 26, I didn't know that half of my time with her was already gone.

So, those days were the best of days.  Life stretched out endlessly.  Laughter mixed with sparks rose up over bonfires and half burned marshmallows into timeless starry skies.  Decadent days spent in pajamas at the coffee table.  "Spin me again aunty!" and going round and round and round on a sunny Saskatchewan summer day.  Christmas day excitements.  Favorite pets, cartoon marathons, and the crinkle of nose before a laugh.

I grieve for all the lost time with you between then, and now, and all those still to come.  But I remember how happy you were.  There was always a giggle, a story, a smile.  Sure, there were also adorable bouts of indignant melodrama, as all wise old souls are prone too.  But mostly there was laughter, there was love.  We were all so happy back then.  All time with you was simply the best of times and...the best of times.

love you, today, always, and forever <3  Happy birthday my beautiful girl.

Saturday, May 5, 2018

Derby Day

About a week ago, I found myself in Kentucky.  Sometimes my wanderings surprise me as well.  Also taking me by surprise...I fell in love with Kentucky.  And so today, we are talking about a big day in Kentucky.

It's Derby Day.  Thats right, the famous Kentucky Derby is happening right now in Louisville.  Tucked away deep in Louisville, the famous racetrack Churchill Downs has been hosting the Kentucky Derby for 144 years. 

A dirt track, one and quarter miles, it is one of the longest races in the career of a three year old thoroughbred. 

If you take a second to think about that, I said three year old.  That's right, this race is restricted to three year olds.  This is the only chance they ever have at running this race.  It's 2 minutes in their careers, a once in a lifetime chance to have their name go down in history, and up on the walls of Churchill downs.  Like Secretariat, the 1973 winner, who also won "the triple crown" title (a triple crown means that horse must win The Kentucky Derby, the Preakness, and the Belmont Stakes).  

Those famed triple crown winners are Sir Gallant (1919), Gallant Fox (1930), Omaha (1935), War Admiral (1937), Whirlaway (1941),  Count Fleet (1943), Assault (1946), Citation (1948), Secretariat (1973), Seattle Slew (1977), Affirmed (1978), and most recently American Pharoah (2015).  That's it, only 12 horses have ever done it. And those legendary horses, ran this very track I stood peering onto last Saturday.

The famous twin spires of Churchill downs are today hosting 150,000 fans for the most exciting 2 minutes in sports.

Here is the paddock, where the horses may be seen briefly before the race.  In real time, they have just done the walk from the stables with their owners onto the track.

And of course, today is a gamblers paradise.

Will Justify continue his winning streak and beat 'the curse of Apollo'? Can Mendelssohn challenge? Will Bolt d'Oro rise up? Or Vino Rossi? Audible is a fan favorite, but My Boy Jack is getting lots of attention as he seems to like running in the mud and it's raining in Kentucky. I will be watching Magnum Moon, who like Justify did not race as a two year old. If i were standing in Louisville today, I'd be betting a trifecta on Justify, Bolt d'Oro, and Mendelssohn. Let's see how they fare in the muck though! But only 20 horses out of 23,000 thoroughbreds foaled three years ago will run.  They are all magnificent.  There's also Free Drop Billy, Promises Fullfilled, Flameaway, Good Magic, Firenze Fire, Lone Sailor, Hofburg, Enticed, Bravazo, Instilled Regard, Solomini, Noble Indy, Combatant, and Blended Citizen.   It's going to looks a little like this, a snapshot I took of the Churchill Downs video at their museum.  But muddier.  

The winner will wear the famous garland of roses.  I for one, and going to settle in to watch, and wish each of the magnificent creatures a wonderful, close race.

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Cheekwood in Bloom

Cheekwood Estate was the next stop on my list.  I knew there were flowers and gardens, and not much more.  On the drive over, my uber driver was a slender, silver haired gentleman in a suit who looked an awful lot like Jeff Sessions.  A Nashville native, he said that if I thought Belle Meade was large, it would soon look like the guest house compared to Cheekwood.  Right he was.  Here is a view from the lawn of what I imagine was the breakfast nook or morning room at Cheekwood.

The view the lawn overlooks truly gives a hint of what the view was like back then...the trees still dominate the landscape.

Cheekwood is opulence and excess in 55 acres.  A couple, the Cheeks (her maiden name being Wood), built to mansion to accommodate a gilt mirror that was too large for their other house.  Sitting atop 55 acres, the Mansion is a 1930's estate home -- so this was a different feel than visiting the 1806 Plantation just a few hours earlier.  Construction began in 1929, the family moved in to the home in 1932.  Mr. Cheek died suddenly in 1935, Mrs. Cheek in 1945.  Their daughter and her family moved in and remained until 1957, when the property was offered the property up to be a horticultural center and art gallery.  This massive home, reminiscent of estate of Europe which are coveted for hundreds of years, was only used for 25 years.  Something about that is just stunning to me.

Entering the lobby is a spiral wooden staircase to the upper levels, and branching hallways to the left and right on both floors, adorned with tapestries and artwork.

The LED chandelier was apparently added as art feature in the 1990's.  It's quite beautiful.

This sun room was too large to get in a photo, but it was large, bright, and had it's own fountain.  So how do people make enough money to build a home like this on a whim?  Well, Mr. Cheeks' father basically invented wholesale grocery distribution.  The family also invested early in a cousin's coffee business, named after a famous Nashville Hotel, the Maxwell House.  It was President Theordore Roosevelt who tasted it and declared that it was "Good til the last drop!"  As for that grocery business, it was later bought out by a company called General Foods for about $40 million dollars.  So, I guess that's the kind of story that means you can build mansions around mirrors.

Family portraits and furnishings still remain.

I presume this to be Mabel and Huldah Cheek.

True to the era before TV, generous sitting rooms and libraries and entertaining rooms are throughout the house, with seating for dozens, centered around conversations.  Finer than the average hotel lobby.

The library immediately caught my eye.  I wasn't allowed to touch to check the editions, but it did make me check later to see when these classic stories were written.  Alice in Wonderland dates back to 1867, and Peter Pan was written in 1902.

Thousands of old books lined the shelves, but I suspect most were printed  around 1910-1940, a collection of modern work at the time.

The most fascinating thing about Cheekwood is the gardens.  I realized that I don't know a lot about gardens, but the design of the garden was an integral part of the estate's design.  More recently, a modern art sculpture walk has been created around the estate.  But the original design of the gardens is quite well defined.

The crowds were drawn to the vibrant colors of this stand of flowers.

The grounds are sloped and terraced to give views of the grounds from the mansion and views of the mansion from the grounds.

There were more weeping ruby trees ...

And an extensive Boxwood Garden as the primary style of garden around the mansion.  Boxwoods are a dense, evergreen shrub.  They can be styled in hedges and toparies, and be modeled to create and elegant landscape.

The pool and fountains were central to one section of the boxwood garden.

Running water and water features were thoughtfully added to provide balance and harmony to the gardens.  The boxwoods also provide shade for the perennial gardens; the hardy and colorful plants that help transition the grounds to the natural landscape below.

The horticultural society added gardens, and built on existing gardens on the property to create a gardener's delight.

There has been the addition of a Japanese garden, surrounded by stands of bamboo.  I learned that a Japanese garden is each unique and designed to be contemplated in from one precise, singular viewing point.

Larger trees surround the 3 ponds on the property that made up the water gardens.

These, of course, were part of the Color Gardens.

This garden was dedicated to Sigourney Cheek, the previous CEO of Cheekwood gardens and estate.

The gardens continued, through stands of tulips and sculptures.  The tulips were of every color and type available.  Shades of pink, purple, red, yellow, orange, white, hybrids, each with a name. I never knew there were so many types of tulips.

 Quite literally, it was nice to get a chance to be out smelling flowers instead of working.

Over in the Howe gardens, just beyond the Dogwood trees, I found a plethora of purples.

The white and purple together were absolutely stunning.

The rows of cornflower blues made me smile too.

These smelled absolutely delightful.

And as a feature for the kiddos, numerous trains (including a Thomas) cruised around buildings and bridges and mountain passes.  There was a strange predominance of dads and grandpas hanging out in this area too!

And complete with a thatched roof, this little cabin in the Howe Gardens offers shelter if the rain catches you out.  Cheekwood estates, definitely a gorgeous layout and view into a world few of us would ever know.

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Southern Sauntering at Belle Meade

Years ago, I used to think people who got to travel for work must have a very glamorous lifestyle.  When the alarm went off at 2am Monday morning,  I headed to the airport on less than 3 hours sleep in leggings and a sweater and the hope of an empty row to sleep in.  This didn't happen on the 3.5 hours to Seattle nor the next 5 hours to Minneapolis, and was followed by a full on half mile sprint between gates to make the connection.  Boarding the last flight, exhausted, disheveled and a little sweaty from the luggage bearing jog through the terminal, I determined that nope, travelling for work is definitely not glamorous.

However, were it not for work, I am not sure I would have otherwise ever made my way to Tenessee.  I wouldn't have guessed it, but it's one of those places that feels cozy for no particular reason as you are touching down from the night sky into the airport and driving through town.  The first order of business was to catch a cab to the hotel, order room service, and go immediately to bed to make up for the 2am start to the day.  I stayed at the Loews, Vanderbilt which despite a very 70's hallway carpet had an extremly comfy bed and room to stay in.  Yes, the hotel was adjacent to Vanderbilt University, which surprisingly to this Canadian girl, is indeed in Nashville, Tenessee.  But wait, weren't the Vanderbilts old New York.  Yes indeed, Cornelius Vanderbilt provided the initial $1,00,000 investment in 1873 to build the university, despite having never been to the South.

After a blissful, excessive, and well deserved sleep marathon, I had a partial day to explore before the work training sessions began.  This is always the week I go back to Canada to lay flowers and light a candle for my niece, so I was struggling with being somewhere else at this time.  When I googled things to do in Nashville on Trip Advisor, I quickly realized their #16 would be my #1.  Belle Meade, a site of famed American Thoroughbred bloodlines, the descendants of which include both Secretariat and Seabiscuit...stories of racehorses my niece loved.  If I could not be home to honor her memory in the way I normally did, I would have to find a new way.  Jaycena, this adventure is for you.

Belle Meade takes it's name from both Old English and Old French.  It means beautiful meadow.  I was immediately enchanted with this place, which is both beautiful and haunting, as you can easily imagine the 200 years of history as you stand near the lazy creek and watch a warm breeze rustle through the flowers.  In fact, you can almost feel the energy of the history in the warm spring air.

Belle Meade was founded in the 1806, on the hill above Richland creek (pictured below).  A man named John Hardy purchased the 200 acres of land from a larger landowner, and built a small log cabin for himself and his wife. 

John Harding had no formal education.  He was raised as a farmer, and earned the money to get his own start from laboring for his father.  His role was the overseer of his father's workforce, which in the 1800's in Tennessee, were enslaved persons.  And so, the first part of Belle Meade's history is that of a Southern Plantation.  Belle Meade housed a blacksmith shop, a sawmill, a grist mill, a dairy, and eventually grew to 3,500 acres and housed 136 enslaved workers.  The Plantation existed as such until the end of the Civil War in 1867.  The Civil War occurred up to, around, and even onto the doorstep of the main house, as bullet holes still attest today.  As difficult as it is to reconcile such a beautiful place with such a history, it is also so important to learn about the past to better understand the present.

Today the original property has been subdivided into some of the highest priced real estate around town (nothing under a million), and the 30 acres around the main house remain open to the public as a museum, oh, and a winery.

But I digress.  I came here for the horses.  Much to my disappointment, there are no longer horses as Belle Meade (the city apparently passed an ordinance banning hoofed animals at some point).  But the history of thoroughbreds at Belle Meade goes back to 1816.  John Harding boarded thoroughbreds, purchased, bred, and trained, and was a jockey on his own thoroughbreds throughout his life at Belle Meade.  In 1839 his son William Harding inherited the property, and later expanded the breeding operation with his daughter Selene and her husband General William Jackson.  William Harding would die in 1886, Selene in 1892, William Jackson in 1903.  Belle Meade was left to their son, who died a few months later.  His young widow sold off the thoroughbreds, and ended the legacy of Belle Meade racing.  Belle Meade owned horses such as Iroquois, Bonnie Scotland, and Enquirer.  Almost all American throroughbred champions trace their lineage back to Belle Meade, including Seabiscuit, Secretariat, Man O War.

Tennessee property lines were laid out in hand lain stone walls.  These walls were erected more than 200 years ago.

One can easily imagine the footfalls of those who came before walking along these walls.  I took a moment to close my eyes and imagine the sound of voices on a summer day.

I imagined what a treat it must have been to wade in the stream in a hot summer day all those ages ago.  I smiled at the "Tennessee waterfall" in this little stream. 

I was delighted to find trees with purple flowers.  Those who have known me for years know there was a tree in Bermuda that only bloomed once per year, in May, with beautiful purple flowers.  Standing out in a sea of green, I spotted it the very day I moved to the island from the cab, and spent the next several days trying to find it again.  The blue jacaranda.  My "Jaycena tree".  This turned out not to be a blue jacaranda, but it was close enough to make me smile.

There are also many of these beautiful trees around.  I had never seen anything quite like these before.  They are called a weeping ruby tree.

This buillding, framed by another beautiful flowering tree, was the dairy.  You may be getting the idea by how that Tennessee is very beautiful.  From what I can, tell, yes, it's stunning.

And all this beauty sits atop the history of the region.  Colonization, slavery, and civil war.  The property still has fortifications.  The battle of Nashville spilled onto this property. 

The Confederate Army occupied the property during the battle of Nashville, their general taking over the home for his headquarters.  Belle Meade survived, and stands today much as it did back then, it's white limestone pillars sturdy and steadfast, rocking chairs occupied with people on the porch.

Belle Meade mansion bears the scars of its history though -- these columns show bullet holes from December 15, 1864 when Union Troops and Confederate Troops clashed on the grounds.  Selene Harding left the cover of the mansion and famously stood on the open balcony waving a handkerchief to urge on the Confederates despite the gunfire around her.

Today Belle Meade is a much quieter place.  The property has earned a period of rest after such a rigorous history.  Today, visitors sip award winning wine from the on site winery, or sample the ice cream made on site.  I enjoyed mostly sitting and watching the wind gently bend the stand of tulips in the foreground of a child's playhouse that has been standing since 1870.

I also enjoyed standing in a racehorse hall of fame.  Where the ancient champions snorted, drummed their hooves, and probably spent an occassional lazy day chewing hay on a warm, sunny Tennessee day.

A marker for one of the famous studs still stands from 1897 -- for Enquirer, a legendary sire.

I had found my horse history, and much more.  The end of my Bella Meade tour was also the start of a short love affair with the fascinating, conflicted history and tantalizing beauty of the American South.