• Kathy Stockbridge

Each year I sit down on January 1st with new hope and reevaluate the past year and what's on the horizon of the new year. I've learned over time that no matter how many lists I make to keep me on course, I falter with resolutions. So maybe I need a new approach. As we begin this decade together, instead of concentrating on changes I need to make in my life, I want to focus on the positive things I am blessed with daily. Yesterday I heard a comment from one of my favorite influencers from Instagram, Sara Jo from @bryartonfarm, she said "from gratitude we find happiness in what we have". Those powerful words from an amazing woman resonated with me and by implementing them in my life this coming year, perhaps everything will fall into place for the new year.

As a soul that craves a creative outlet, whether it's my photography, writing, decorating, cooking, or exploring, I found solace in the stories of so many strong and influential women on Instagram this past year. I love to watch their stories and see how they survive their daily lives with work, children, husbands, pets, and the reality of it they so often share. Although their feeds may show the most put together posts, they often share the behind the scenes reality of the chaos in their lives, and they just make me laugh and feel like I'm part of a community. As a photographer I can relate. Although I want you to see my best foot forward each and every time I post, it's not always the case or reality, and 2019 was no exception. I had many highs and lows throughout the year that no one saw. I tend to become extremely introverted when lows occur in my life. I don't want to bring others down or burden them with a sad or bad mood, so I tend to pull back from friends and the things that bring me happiness. Seems rather backwards now that I put that on paper, but some of you may relate to what I'm saying. Through social media though I was able to find inspiration and ways to cope in 2019 through these ups and downs. Say what you may about being on social media, through this outlet I found a few daily smiles to keep my spirits up from women all around the country. For that I thank them.

I set out in 2019 with a plan to reconnect with family and friends and get some home projects completed. When mapping out my vacations and adventures for the year, I included a trip home to Illinois to see my momma, family and friends in the spring and to cover my best friends daughters wedding in the fall; a trip to Michigan to have a girls vacation with my bestie, Jeanne; a trip to the city with my son and his girlfriend; and a solo trip to Maine. In addition to putting a lot of miles on my truck, I also wanted to find time to get a few projects around the house accomplished. Did I accomplish everything I set out to do? Well, yes and no. Let's revisit some of the highlights!!!

In 2019 I began a bullet journal. Not sure about you, but if it's not in writing, it won't happen in my life. With the craziness of my scheduling for work, a photography business, and family, it was a godsend!! Lists are my life. I am visual and this is how my brain is wired. So a fully inclusive planner for all areas of my life was the first thing on my list to accomplish in 2019. If I was to be organized, it was a must. Anyone that knows me, knows about my lists!!! So bullet journaling was the one way I could organize my life in the way I needed to. Although I started off strong with stickers and artwork, I quickly learned that the foo foo wasn't going to happen each and every month so I adjusted and found a clear concise way to keep everything I needed on paper so that I could be more organized!! For those of you who don't want to do it on your own and just want a planner that is organized and aesthetically pleasing... one of my favorite bullet journalists has just created one for you that you may like to start with. Her name is Amanda Lee, and check out her new planner she just launched this year!!! This resolution was one for the win column, and will be continued in 2020.

Shortly after that, I worked on separating my personal and business social media accounts so that I could focus more photography on one and my personal life on the other. After reviewing the year on both, they still overlap. That was a resolution fail. In my defense though, I had the most difficult time getting my Instagram sharing features to coexist with the correct accounts so things did not get posted always to both Facebook and Instagram correctly. Did anyone else have this issue when creating a business page? I ended up abandoning my personal Instagram and focusing on the business one, and once again focused on my personal Facebook and ignored the business one. I think I may have it figured out now so 2020 I hope to do better!!!

I also found Marie Kondo in 2019. The art of folding only joyful items was short lived. Although I still do this method when folding to fit more things I don't need into a small space, I didn't get through the massive amounts of paperwork that needed to be sorted and disposed of, or items in the basement. 2020 I will do better!!!! This was a resolution win and fail all in one. Very Marie Kondo!!

Music was still a huge part of my life in all aspects in 2019. I began the year with a Birthday bash and some of my favorite musicians, Enter the Haggis at The Egg. These guys are the most talented musicians and all around great guys. Proud to call them friends. As an added birthday bonus, I got to see Skerryvore, as they opened for them that night!!! Wow what a treat that was!!! Happy Birthday Kathy!!!

March was a busy music month for me with Celtic music statewide. On the list was We Banjo 3 at Munson Williams Proctor Art Institute; Colin Farrel's band, Lunasa, in Troy as they were joined by Natalie Merchant at The Troy Savings Bank Music Hall, The High Kings at The Palace in Syracuse, The Moxie Strings at the Heritage Hill Brew House , and rounding out the spring full of my favorite musicians were Trevor, Craig, Brian (from Enter the Haggis/House of Hamill) and Rose (House of Hamill) at the Brae Loch Inn as they joined us in early April. Could it get any better?

Well yes, as 2019 was also the year my sister and I shared music together. It began in May when she treated me to a night of music without my camera as we saw Foreigner at the Turning Stone where we danced and sang like we were back in high school!!! We followed that up with several shows at CMAC over the summer as we saw Lionel Richie, Hootie and the Blowfish, and Daryl Hall and John Oates together. Although I had to work for these shows, I loved looking over seeing her singing and dancing in her seat!!! Love that we are close and we got to share these moments together...so thankful for her this year when I needed her most!! (I also captured Jason Isbell, but she didn't make that particular show with me).

The summer music series kept me busy as I continued to cover shows for the St. Joseph's Lakeview Ampitheater, NYSMusic, the final Great American Irish Festival held in Frankfort, and last but certainly not least my beloved Syracuse Irish Festival. So thankful for my relationship with with all of these partners as I am truly blessed to capture these moments and bring the highlights to those who love them as much as I do.

You know I love a wonderful night of country music and Chris Young did not disappoint. With Dylan Scott opening and showing what he has and Chris Janson on the harmonica, I was blown away. Just wow!!!

Peter Frampton was a bucketlist show for me this year. Sadly it would be his final tour, and he certainly shone for all that night and made me so happy to be there to witness it and capture it. With Jason Bonham opening, I was in my glory reliving some of my favorite tunes from the 70's that night.

What can I say about Shinedown that I haven't said before. I just love them. Four classy guys who totally bring it for their fans. And Brent Smith is the ONLY musician that makes it a point to shake each photographers hand. You're okay in my book Brent. You can always count on me to be at one of your shows.

The Great American Irish Festival held what would be their final weekend at the Herkimer County Fairgrounds in July of 2019. With a new direction being taken in 2020, it's bittersweet for me to know now that the photos from that weekend would be the last of their kind. I treasure the memories I've made over the years and like a flash in time, they are now over. It's moments like these that I truly appreciate the ability to capture these moments to recall and reminisce in the years to come.

For those of you that may not know, in August, the day after I covered the Daryl Hall and John Oates show at CMAC, I experienced a loss in my life. My father unexpectedly passed away. As I reflect back I think to myself, I wish I could have seen him more, or called him more, or told him more that I loved him. I wish I could have gotten out of work earlier the day I covered the show to be able to stop by and say "I'm just passing through for a second, but I love you Dad". I didn't push the issue for reasons I can't get into, and I'll always regret it. What I am consoled with though is this, throughout this year I did surprise visit him several times having funny and interesting conversations, and in my last conversation with him a few days before his passing, our last words to each other were I love you. He called me at work and it was the first time I had a chance to speak to him after he had been discharged from the hospital. His cell service was sketchy where he lived so to reach him had been a game of phone tag. Normally I don't answer personal calls at work, but I had been so worried about him and his health, I did that day. I thank God for that call. It was our last conversation.

The day after his funeral I needed some time to myself to find my smile again, and what fills my heart the most when I'm sad is music. So I drove to cover a show at the Great NY State Fair. Standing in the rain holding an umbrella over my camera equipment, I shot the always magnificent Mavericks. It was exactly what I needed. As I was passing by the buses several hours later I noticed Raul Malo, lead singer for the Mavericks, spending time with fans by the bus area. Stepping up to meet him I introduced myself and asked if he minded if I took a photo for the article. Think the photo ended up being cut out of the article during editing, but it was a pivotal moment for me, as it showed me that music and good people are all around us to help bring us a smile when we need it most. Thanks Raul. You know what else I learned that day? A rainy day at the Fair is the best day to go because there was no waiting or crowds for anything!!! Bam!!!

A few short weeks later music and friends once again brought light to my life as I covered one of my most favorite music festivals, The Syracuse Irish Festival. It's one my favorites because it's like a family reunion. From the day I began working with them, they welcomed me as one of them. It's a small group of people and volunteers that work tirelessly to bring a fun filled weekend of music, culture, and wonderful memories to those in the area..and for free. Doesn't matter if it rains or shines, this will always be one festival I'm front and center for. Stay tuned for more on this festival in an upcoming blog. I really want to highlight more on this amazing event and share with you how truly special it is.

I also had a chance to mark another moment off my bucket list. I got to cover the Professional Bull Riders Show at the Oncenter for two nights. What a spectacular event that was and what great folks to work with!! Bet you didn't know I had secretly wanted to be a cowgirl!!! Can't wait for them to make their way back soon. Hopefully again in 2020!!!

My travel adventures began in May with a trip home to see my momma, family, and friends. Check out the recap of this wonderful time as I recharged my heart to full once again.

In July I headed off to Michigan to see one of my dearest friends, Jeanne. Jeanne and I met back in the late 80's as our husbands were both in the Navy in Charleston, SC.

Sharing so many of life's ups and downs together I'm am so happy we've stayed friends over the years. It was high time we took off for an adventure together. Riding shotgun, I tortured this poor lady as we chased lighthouses all along Lake Michigan for a book I'm working on. We began our adventure in Frankenmuth, MI. I had always wanted to see this quaint little Bavarian town and what's better than sharing with your bestie? Sharing it with two friends as my friend Joanne joined us for the day!!! All three of us spent the day eating brats and pretzels, and wandering all around the town shopping and exploring. Ending it all in the worlds largest Christmas shop Bronners, it was a fun filled day for us all!!! And one I cherish dearly. Thank you so much Joanne for joining us and keeping Thelma and Louise out of trouble!!!

After a few stops at local antique marts in the area, we hit the road for Frankfort, MI where we stayed a few days along the coastline watching glorious sunsets, searching for the states best Bloody Mary's, and chasing lighthouses up and down the coast. After making our way back to our home base in Wyandotte, we took our obligatory trip to IKEA where I spent way more than I should (of course) and was in all my decorating glory!!! This was such a fun week and something that was long over due!!! Think I need to add another trip there soon...after all there is still the Upper Peninsula we really haven't touched, and so many more lighthouses calling to us!!

In August I took my son and his girlfriend on a trip to NYC. I think of this trip as a learning experience. I learned that summer is way different in NYC than fall and winter. I learned that NYC smells way different in summer than in fall and winter. Finally I learned that you just don't go to NYC in the summer because it's just way different than fall and winter. We had a great time and explored new things such as The Vessel and the High Line, but we also learned that the subway lacks fresh air in the summer, Central Park is super crowded, and crossing the Brooklyn Bridge is a test of patience as I found by the end of the walk across I was yelling at tourists like a real New Yorker to get out of the bike path before they hurt someone or get hurt. Yep, learning experience.

Solos adventures played a huge part of my sanity this year. They rejuvenated me when I needed it most. Because I was traveling around the US this year I didn't get to join my Celtic sisters as they jotted over to Ireland twice and cruised with The Elders in the fall. It was tough I have to admit not being with them!! But we did the next best thing...I recorded a message to take with them over to Arklow for the grand opening of the Asguard Theater...and we video chatted at the grand opening so I could be a part of it!!! Thank goodness for technology!!! The solo trips really helped me regroup and remind myself that this year was about family and doing other things I had on my to do list. If I could, I would visit the world and see all my friends all over, but unfortunately my day job only allows us so many paid days off...so until I get picked up by the Travel Channel or get a sponsor (open to discussing both)...I have to alternate my excursions.

The first solo trip was actually just a day trip to Ithaca and Taughannock Falls. I always wanted to see these falls so I combined this day trip with a surprise visit with my Dad, a hike in the gorge, and covering a show of a new artist at a new venue. Will link my blog here for you to see. It really helped me regroup, and almost killed me at the same time!!! Seriously, read it. You'll see what I mean.

The second solo trip was my trip to Maine in September. This was the first time I took a solo trip to an unknown destination. I didn't know anyone on the other end, I didn't visit it previously, and I didn't know what to expect. This trip was life changing for me. I don't want to go into here too much, as I will feature it in it's own blog, but just know that everyone needs to take solo trips in their lives to learn about themselves. It's really eye opening and empowering. Just what I needed.

As I reflect back throughout the year sharing these memories with you, although it was a tough year for me and I'm glad to put it behind me, there were so many wonderful moments too. Of course there's my musical moments and my travel adventures I've just shared...but I loved the every day things too.

I golfed for the first time with my son this year!!! It was so much fun and something I know we'll do more in 2020. I don't know why we never did it before.

My granddaughter celebrated her first birthday this year!!! What a blessing she is in my life. Just look at her....she loves cake like her Grammy!!!

I made over my front porch this spring, and I finally fixed the fence and put in the flower bed out front. You know...projects I've wanted to get done for a long time. The front porch needed a fresh coat of paint on the ceiling and floor, and a little sprucing up on the decor. Took me a few days, but after one long weekend of working, it was completed!!

After that I set out to create a nice flower area in my front yard by the fence. Don't know if you've ever done this, but I thought it would be a good idea to buy my plants from one of those catalogs. You know...the ones with the already designed flower areas that outline what everything is and where to place it? Picking out the perfect combination of flowers for all day sun I set to work to clear and prep the area just waiting for them to arrive. When I received the plants a few days later, they were root balls and all labeled by their latin names. What?!!!! I had to google each and every one to make sure I was planting in the correct area so the taller ones weren't towering in the front and not by the back fence...then....I had no idea if I was even planting them upside down or right side up!!! That was fun! Not!!! Well, over the course of time some came up, some didn't. Operator error? I think not!! I was set up for failure on that little task. Moral of the story? Buy local...from my son Ryan and Olney's where I know what I'm buying and if it's being planted correctly. Despite my botanical fail I do consider this one for the win column!!! Why? Because I gardened!!! My grandparents and my Dad G. were smiling down on me as I blistered my hands and broke my back. The whole time I have to admit, I was secretly smiling inside knowing they would be proud of me.

In October, my sister and I decided to commemorate my father's birthday a way he would approve...we got tattoos!! Oh, my Dad wasn't the normal conventional Dad...he loved hunting, fishing, motorcycles, and yes tattoos!! Even after his motorcycle accident that almost cost him his life and took the use of one of his legs, it didn't stop him from buying a Harley trike and bungie cording his walker to the back. Yes, my Dad was a character. And he raised us to be hard working, tough, independent women. We spent the day remembering the good times with him and reminiscing with my sister in law, Tammy, the funny times we all shared. It was the perfect way to honor him on his day. Every day now I have a little bit of him with me.

Christmas was very special for me this year as I got to spend it with (almost all) my children and grandchildren. With several of them living out of state, I don't always get to share holidays with them, so when my daughter messaged me to say she was coming for Christmas to see us, I was giddy!! It was an amazing holiday full of love and fun memories as we laughed, had family game night, and got to enjoy each other for the short time we spent together. It was perfect, and made my heart full!!

2019 was a great year for my photography business. I love watching the trends as they unfold each year. I don't do major marketing. I normally work on referrals and happy return customers. So each year brings new opportunities to be creative. This year's trend was just right. I had a few weddings, several family shoots, and several senior photos.

I also was able to complete a few commercial shoots this year. Helping out my son's friend develop her portfolio, I covered the Cazenovia College Fashion Show. The show featured some of the most talented designers, and I am certain that one day you'll see their designs on the runway!!!

One of my favorite shoots this year was a band promo shoot. I've hesitated to share any of the photos from that shoot as I'm not sure what they will be using them for yet. However, here's one I absolutely loved and they said I could share with ya'll!!! They were such good sports. Thanks Trevor, Brian, Craig, Mark, and Bruce for your patience with me...the hours of wandering...and always being willing to try anything. Was truly my honor to have you trust me with these.

All in all, 2019 was an amazing year. I think when we stop and really reflect on things collectively in a grander picture than a single particular moment, it puts things into focus. No matter what ups and downs that come my way, I want to stop and recall all the positive things I am so blessed to have with gratitude. Then all the other negative things that seem so detrimental, will be in a more realistic perspective.

2020 will be a different year and different decade. A blank slate. Not sure what's in store yet for me, but no matter what life brings my way, I am so blessed to have an amazing support group of family, friends, colleagues, and opportunities afforded me. As long as I stay focused on gratitude, I feel that I will tackle this new decade with gusto. Thank you for coming along on this ride with me, I so appreciate each and every one of you, and I hope you stay buckled in for whatever new adventures I take you on as the year unfolds!!!

"Life isn't about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself." George Bernard Shaw

Slàinte My Friends


  • Kathy Stockbridge

It was about this time last year that I began packing for what would be one of my favorite adventures. For years, my friends, The Elders, had talked about their hometown Irish Festival, The Kansas City Irish Festival, and what a spectacular event it was each year. It was high time I checked this out!

Like most of my adventures, it was planned out way in advance, which I highly recommend for two reasons; first because the hotels often sell out quickly, and secondly because we wanted to get a good deal on airfare. Not certain where they stand at this point being this weekend, but hey..give them a try if you're heading that way!! They may still be able to squeeze you in. Arriving at the airport, our friends who had flown in from Boston had prearranged a ride to the hotel, however there is Uber and rental cars available as well if you need a ride around town. Arriving downtown to our hotel, The Sheraton, it was simply spectacular and within walking distance to everything for the weekend. The area downtown known as Crown Center Square, was the stage (literally several of them) for this festival and had been blocked off in anticipation of the three day event. (See the map below for this years set up to find your way around). The hustle and bustle of getting everything ready sent an energy into the air, and hugs and introductions were made as we greeted our friends both old and new arriving at the same time.

The hospitality of the Committee was top notch. Coming from our own festival(s), we were greeted with open arms and the quality of care they took to make certain we had everything we needed, was above and beyond...all while doing what they had to do to pull off their own event. They were outstanding, and I can't thank them enough. I would personally like to thank them as well for the carte blanche they gave me for photography all weekend. The photos here are all because they allowed me the same credentials as their own photographers. It was truly appreciated and I hope you enjoy these captured moments I'll cherish forever!

One of the first things I noticed was how well it was set up. Although stages were back to back in some areas, they didn't compete with each other. Four main stages and 10 areas in all, each and every one was packed each day and evening with fans celebrating a variety of Celtic sounds and featured events. Similar to ours, there was a traditional stage (Miller Lite Stage) and main stage (Boulevard Stage) for acts as well as a more intimate setting throughout the grounds at others (i.e. Magners Park Stage, Whiskey area, Comedy Stage, KC Cultural Center Stage, etc).

Scattered throughout the grounds you'll find food vendors, children's activities, whiskey tasting, shops and local artisans and vendors featuring their arts and wares. It was so well set up, easily accessible, a great variety of items, and so well run all weekend long.

The lineup last year featured many of my favorites such as The Elders in their final performance at the festival, We Banjo 3, The High Kings, Eileen Ivers, Gaelic Storm, The Young Dubliners, Red Hot Chili Pipers, Kian Bryne, and The Colin Farrell Band. I also collected a new favorite as I was introduced to Doolin'.

The whole weekend was filled with wonderful musical memories. With it being the final show for The Elders, it was a family reunion on stage both nights they played. Everyone loves The Elders, both fans and peers. The talent that joined them up on that stage was not only musical magic, they were a family wishing them a fond farewell.

So many great moments I would like to highlight for you. The first moment worth mentioning was when local musician, Kian Byrne, was joined by friend and one of the most animated fiddle players I've ever seen, Shane Borth from Quixotic. Check him out below. Dancing around the crowd and standing on chairs as he fiddled, I was mesmerized by this musician. Talk about involving the crowd. Everyone was on their feet by the end of this tune! One of my favorite moments!

Another favorite moment was when Doolin' joined We Banjo 3 in a rap that blew my socks off. It was the coolest, and have to say the first time I had ever seen a Celtic rap composition. Well done, Wilfried Besse, well done.

Then there was the moment that the newly married couple joined We Banjo 3 on stage to be serenaded for their first dance. What an epic moment and memory for that couple! Hope they are able to celebrate their anniversary this year at the festival as well!!

I also loved when the local school choir joined The High Kings for an amazing accompaniment. They were so very talented and was a perfect moment with the lads.

I finally saw first hand the love Kansas City gave The Elders. As they played their last festival in Kansas City, they made certain they went out with a bang. There were both happy and bittersweet moments where they recognized friends from afar and near and thank them for their support and love they'd shown over the years. Dancers joined in, fellow musicians, local bagpipers, and in a sea of people that went on as far as the eye could see, they raised "A Parting Glass", and shared a special moment of love that left not one dry eye in the city. It was a moment they will not soon forget, and one I shall never forget.

It was absolutely one amazing weekend of fun, friends, and music. And just when you thought the evening was over each night, and you headed back to your hotel, the sessions began. If you've never been at a session, it's an improvisation of music as musicians come and go and join in randomly. It's something you must experience at least once, and the perfect accompaniment and ending to each day of amazing music. It's the musical brandy to top off your night.

And then the weekend was over. On Monday morning I awoke and went outside to find where the stages and vendors were only hours before, was now local traffic making its way to and from businesses as though it all was a dream. This sealed my opinion of this festival. They had their ducks in order, they knew how to put on a festival, they treated their staff and guests and musicians like royalty, and they totally made me a fan.

So if you are on the fence about heading out there this weekend, I hope this helps make up your mind. Although our Elders aren't there, and We Banjo 3 won't be back until March (go get your tickets now), they have invited my friends, Enter the Haggis back along with The Moxie Strings. And returning once again are fan favorites Gaelic Storm, The Red Hot Chili Pipers, High Kings, Kian Byrne, Colin Farrell Band, and Doolin'. We also have Pigeon Kings who I have never had the pleasure to see, but am very curious about!! So let me know your thoughts on them below.

As a music journalist, I have the opportunity to go and cover many, many shows, and festivals and I must say, this is one for the books. You will not find a more professional team that pays attention to the smallest details. This is definitely one of my favorite festivals, and although I can't be there in person this year I am definitely there in spirit and urge you to be there in body!! See the schedule below, you won't be sorry!! And tell everyone the gals from The Great American Irish Festival said hi!

Till next year!!


  • Kathy Stockbridge

Every travel blogger needs a home base; a place to come home to and decompress and recharge for the next big adventure. For me, I have a few home bases. These are places I feel that are safe, offer loving environments, and allow me to just be me and recharge my batteries. My main home base is Rome, NY. Not born here, I found my way here on a path of windy turns. I knew the moment I arrived this would be my home. The other is my forever home; Flora, Illinois.

Flora, Illinois is a tiny town in Clay County, and is located in the southern area of the state. The population is around 5,000, and although it resembles most small town rural America today, to me it represents the values of home, family, and community. It's history is vast, with stories that would fill textbooks of a time when industry and agriculture (the main trade) moved through town on the railway, rural America's heart was it's downtown, and no matter where you went, you were greeted with a smile and a conversation of how the family was and what was new in town; a real cohesive community. I lovingly refer to it as "Mayberry".

Although I wasn't born in Flora, my father was and this is where my grandparents and family lived (and still do) for generations after immigrating to the states. Mostly farm land, Flora was along the east/west route of the B&O Railway, and a central hub for the local county residents and where my Great Grandfather was a fireman for the B&O Railway.

Clay County garnered it's name from it's claylike soil, reddish in color and was ideal for growing soybeans, wheat, rye, oats, melons, and peaches, to name just a few. It also was perfect for producing bricks, a staple for most buildings you see throughout town.

Local bricks line the path at my Mom's home - while items have often been recycled before recycling was hip.

Small town social life consisted mostly of school and church events, community events like the county fair and different activities held by the town, library, and family. Life is simple there, and every summer I would return to my Mom and Dad Gilliland's home to visit with them and my grandparents who lived just around the corner. To me, it was heaven. So this is my second home base, and where my son hangs a piece of his heart as well; with my Gilliland family in Flora. It is here I can escape to and regroup when I need to gather perspective. It is here my best friend since 2nd grade still lives. It is here my Dad G., my grandparents, great grandparents, and great aunt and uncle rest in peace. To me it has always been home, and always will be.

My Home Base - Built by my Grandfather, Sam Bryden

Growing up in a small town in the midwest, life was sweet. There was a small but bustling downtown, the railroad whistles rang out in the evenings of passing trains at several crossings, cruising Main Street (driving from one end of town to the the other, often stopping to visit with friends) was a norm for kids as they passed and waved to their friends at the Dairy Queen, and as always, smiles and greetings were plentiful as you knew everyone in town.

Nothing like a DQ ice cream!!!

There wasn't a heck of a lot to do, but somehow I always stayed busy. My grandfather owned a small insurance company in town and my Dad G. worked at the local Savings and Loan. Active in church and community, our kitchen was a bustle of activity of comings and goings daily with family and friends. A walk to the local dime stores (Jacos and Murphys) or Throgmorton's Pharmacy was a favorite past time, to buy penny candy and a cold Coca Cola from the vending machine in the far back of the drug store. The sodas were located way in the back by the pharmacy and were always so ice cold, remember? Plus this was the ''go to' store for all tennis rackets and equipment.

What was my Grandfather's Offices Back in the Day

Early photo of one of the dime stores in town - I knew it as Murphy's Dime Store...best candy counter...and smell of roasted cashews always beckoned you in!!!

In the summer, if you didn't arrive early enough, it was often hard to get a court (or wall board) at the East End tennis courts. One of only a few Astro City Rocket Playgrounds in the country, the Kiwanis Park was right next to the tennis courts, and was the location of hours of fond memories of playing with friends and family on the giant rocket slide. Juggling time between the Tastee Freez across the street, the playground, and the tennis courts, the East End was where it was happening in the 70's for kids.

Kiwanis Park Rocket Slide

Over on the west end of town stood another location of fond memories; Charley Brown Park. Home to Little Toot, the public swimming pool, the Clay County Fair, the Fourth of July fireworks, a live petting zoo (that included peacocks, rabbits, deer, and even bison), playgrounds, and paddle boats; hours and hours were spent here enjoying summer time.

Little Toot as it was originally known. Today's train station where Little Toot still rides the rails for the kids.

Although I never fished here, I hear it's good fishing too.

Charley Brown Lake where I used to paddle around and watch the fireworks each year

Charley Brown Lake from Bridge by the dam.

It's difficult today to go home though because the Flora I remembered is no longer there. Why? Like most small towns throughout the country, retail just isn't what it used to be with Walmart and Amazon monopolizing the market. That's where everyone shops today. Small businesses no longer are the majority in small town American. Downtowns are ghost towns, and even with several industrial businesses in town employing the majority of residents, even the CSX Railway doesn't pass through any longer as it's not beneficial enough to keep the tracks up for the amount of freight it's carrying to and from. I think that has hit me hardest; not hearing the trains throughout the day. Even the neighborhood homes I fondly remember no longer have their pizazz they once did. Homes have fallen into disrepair, with debris littering the front areas. These homes that once were cherished and shone, now just seem to be as tired and forgotten as the downtown today. Like most communities, new homes are being built outside of town and a few homes do still look as amazing as I remember (like my grandparents home below and my momma's), but all the signs of the hardships this town faces today are apparent as you meander down the streets and alleyways of the town I love.

My Grandparents home they built in the 1960's

My grandparents home today - My grandparents would be so happy to see it still loved and cared for.

Bear with me a moment while I digress on a rant that I feel touches so many communities like Flora all across the country. More than 30 minutes off of I70, Flora doesn't beckon visitors as it once did. There's nothing that brings traffic to the town. Working in the Planning Department of the City of Rome, I saw how our city struggled to keep it's vibrancy after the closing of Griffiss Air Force Base, and I'm delighted to say this trend has not occurred here in Rome as it has in so many other communities. I believe the vision of our community in Rome and willingness to think outside the box of those in charge, together with the support of our leaders and funding that was necessary to keep us viable, is what has kept our community flourishing. I see this could be the same for Flora if the community wants it to happen. I know that Flora has gems it can capitalize on, and I find it tough seeing them disappear one by one.

A few years ago while riding around Flora, I discovered the International Shoe Factory. This huge building sat vacant for years, and in my mind I saw huge potential for the community with this building. Sadly though, it's potential was not the vision of others and this building has recently been torn down. This could have been the center for something great that could have revived this community. But without the vision and funding, and support of local, state, and national leaders (and this is crucial to supporting small towns like Flora) small towns like Flora find that decaying infrastructure is being eliminated due to safety concerns. I understand that, but it still saddens me. This occurs way too often in communities all over America. These once thriving industries, that were once staples to the community, are disappearing one by one. Their history and potential right along with them disintegrate as they become a pile of debris. It's tough to watch, and ideas bounce around my head constantly trying to come up with imaginative ideas to save this dying little town. If we could bottle up what I remember most about Flora, and market it to the rest of America...we could build it again...and they would come. Just like The Field of Dreams!! I know this for a fact. Check out this article about what Pawtucket, RI and what my friend Herb Weiss and his community has accomplished!!! They have taken abandoned mills and made them into incubator space for artists and small business development. I know this could be a key to revitalizing Flora, and so many other communities across America once again!! But they need help and funding to make it happen!! I hope one day they will be able to make this a reality in my little town. Okay, rant over...now back to my trip.

The old International Shoe Factory (Top Photos 2017 - Bottom 2019)

One of the things I remember most about summers at home in Flora was always watching the St. Louis Cardinals play baseball every night. Still at 97 years old, my momma never misses a game. Both my son and I grew up loving Cardinals baseball. All throughout his childhood we would make a point to go see them play when we came home. This year would be no different. Having two games to choose from the week we were to be home, we chose the second game of the week, which was a day time game. Good thing, because the night before the game was cancelled due to tornados (another normalcy we midwesterners get used to). And to make the time even more special...the St. Louis Blues just clinched their spot in the Stanley Cup the night before! So that day we were joined by a few from the team, and we were able to cheer them on and celebrate with the team members on their win! The game was great...our seats perfect, and although we didn't win, we did have a great time as my family drove in from Iowa, Chicago, and Kansas City to see the same game and have dinner with us. One day, Cards...we will see you win a live game and see the fireworks after!!! One day.

A trip to St. Louis wouldn't be complete without a stroll over to the Gateway Arch, a National Monument and often referred to as the Gateway to the West. This spectacular building is a true destination. Although we didn't arrive in time to take the lift up to the top this time, just seeing this massive structure leaves you in awe. You really must take the time to take the tram up to the top. Would advise to call ahead though to make sure the times on the website are updated. The site told us it was open until 10pm, only to arrive and be told it closed at 6pm with the final tram leaving 45 minutes prior. Was really disappointed as we were unable to come back the following day, living out of town and all. So if you are passing through, I highly recommend the stop as it's definitely worth the experience as the views are spectacular of the city and the Mississippi River.

Another fun past time I love to do when going home is resale shopping with my best friend since second grade, Mandy!! Whoo hooo!! So off we went to check out the new shop in the old Country Squire store called Rustic Treasures Antiques and another of my favorites, the resell shop called The Country Closet. I found a few good deals at both locations, as well as several I wish I could have purchased or had space for. If only I had a place to put one of these old gas pumps. Remember when we pulled up to a gas station, someone came out, and they checked your oil, washed your windshield, and pumped your gas? Yep, the epitome of Mayberry! Those were the good ole days!!! (does saying that make me old now?) Seriously though...wouldn't that gas pump look cool on a back patio or vintage porch!!!

A few cool items at the Rustic Treasure Antiques- just loved those 8 tracks...my kinda music...hmmm...except Porter Wagoner!

I find I'm so nostalgic when I go home. Is it that way for you as well? As a photographer my bestie knew I would love the old photos they have displayed at the new hospital, so off we went to reminisce about the good ole days via photos.

Angelo's Cafe - (Not sure if that was the name then) But the whole family is in the photo!! Love it!!

Not certain of the name at this time, but I believe this was the shoe store my Grandfather worked in, Mann's Shoes

Downtown at it's height! The first store on the left was what I knew of as The Country Squire, now the home to the Rustic Treasurers Antiques. Far in the background is the smoke stack from the railway roundhouse!!

Of the photos they had on display, one was her grandfather's coffee shop (top photo above), several were from the hospital, some were old buildings throughout town, some were old stores (like those above), and one was of "Ford Town USA". What is that you ask? Well on September 24, 1960, Lee Iaccocca gave every resident in Flora, Illinois a vehicle to drive for a week. What?!!! Can you imagine that today?!!! My momma remembers this fondly as her brother, my Uncle Norman, was mayor at the time and knew that this was about to happen, and didn't share what was going on to her chagrin,. She tells of a Ford representative coming to the house and asking her if she could drive any Ford in the world which one would she like. She thought it was a ploy to sell her a vehicle so she kept telling him she didn't need or want a new car, and after being super persistent she just agreed to any ole one just to get rid of him. Little did she know that had she said a convertible or something fancy, she would have gotten to drive that for the week, just like her brother did! I'm sure Uncle Norman (who was sworn to secrecy) didn't live that down for a bit. What a sight it was though. Every car was white, so that after the week of use it could be easily touched up with paint. Dragging Main Street was a daily occurrence in Flora and what a sight it was when every car that week was white. Some even ended up buying what they drove. From what I understand after speaking to a lady at the hospital, someone in town still have their vehicle and it's in mint condition. Would love to see it! Wouldn't you?!!!

Ford Town USA - Flora, Illinois 1960

'Dragging Main' - Ford Town USA - Flora, Illinois

Flora has a few really cool touristy things to do that I would recommend, as well as a few really good restaurants. First, if you like Mexican food...definitely go to the east end to La Fuenta Restaurant! It was delicious and a very good value.

For things to do, you must go to the Flora B&O Depot. Here you can browse the museum and learn a little of the history of the railroad and the town. Although the train no longer passes by, it sits along the route the train used to take. The roundhouse no longer is there, but it sat within this area many moons ago. I always love going in there as I mentioned earlier, my great grandpa Charlie Whitmore was a fireman for the railroad. So going in there I often wonder if I'll see him in anything they have on display. Going through a few of my grandmothers things recently, I came across his certificate of retirement and I think I will be sending it on to the museum to display. I still have to sort through the box of photos, but who knows...he may be one of the gentlemen in the photo below, and I may have a few more gems to share with the museum. In the collage below I must note that the photo of the train and sign that says 'Veterans Walk' are no longer there, but the other photos were from my recent visit to the museum.

A few snaps from moments gone by at the Depot - 2016

B&O Depot Museum - Flora, IL (Note the down town area and roundhouse on the model train - pretty spot on!!)

Great Grandpa Whitmore's Retirement Certificate - Photo of B&O Roundhouse Crew 1913

Another really cool place to visit is the Smith Mill. Only open a couple times a year through open houses, this privately owned mill and museum, is amazing. Bob Smith has collected over the years hundreds of tools, equipment, and parts for farming, woodworking, automotive, blacksmithing, etc. and displayed them on his property for his enjoyment and those that visit. It's a spectacular place that you must visit if you are in town. So keep an eye on their Facebook page for the next open house.

Welcome to Smith Mill

Built by Bob Smith from parts collected from all over the country

He has the coolest collections of tools of all kinds!!

Along with his sweet ride, he has a nice collection of automotive tools and items!!

For such a sleepy little town, time sure did fly by with things to do. Visiting friends and family, games with Momma and puzzles, resting, and walking, before I knew it, it was time to leave and make our way back to New York.

The most difficult puzzle EVERRRRRR!!!!

No matter how old I am, I always hate leaving my momma and saying goodbye. I remember as a child my momma would say, "Kathy if you don't eat your breakfast you can't go"...and I would reply..."I know". That's how I still feel today leaving this angel of a woman!

But I did. Through teary eyes I hugged my momma and made my way down the street to take one last look at my grandparents home as I was leaving town. Seeing the new owner outside, I stopped and introduced myself. I thanked him for taking such good care of my grandparents home and told him that I know my Grandmother's smiling knowing it's in such good hands. Without hesitation and in true southern hospitality, he invited me in to meet his wife and see what they had done to the house. Mr. and Mrs. Bahrns, thank you. You made my heart smile seeing it and recalling so many days there with my grandparents. You have done a wonderful job restoring it to today's standards. Exchanging emails, I promised to send him some photos of what it looked like back in the day so they could see. Then I made my way out of town once again.

Because this trip was all about family, I made a point to stop in to Columbus on my way back through to see my children and grandchildren and collect some hugs!!! Although short, it was a sweet little visit and one that will have to last until I have more time to stay longer!! Just look how they've grown!!! So very proud of them!!

My grandchildren and children!!! I am blessed!!

Now back at my main home base in New York with my batteries charged up, a refreshed perspective, and hugs to get me through till the next time I see my family, this vacation was very much needed. I love my midwestern roots. I love that life there is sweet and simple and at a slower pace than I'm accustomed to. I love the history and the memories it evokes every time I return home. I love how when my best friend, Mandy, and I get together it's like it was just yesterday. I love how community and church are the center for everyone there. I know things have changed since I was a kid, some for the good and some not so good, but the parts that I love never change. It will always be a haven for me. I'm very blessed to have a wonderful eclectic family that loves and supports me in whatever I decide to do. And I love that I have a home base that gives me a place to regroup, a place called Flora, Illinois.

“Families are the compasses that guide us. They are the inspiration to reach great heights, and our comfort when we occasionally falter.” – Brad Henry

Till next time my friends.


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© 2018 by Flashback Photography

Kathy Stockbridge | 315-225-5952