• Kathy Stockbridge

Updated: Jan 24

As I embarked on 2020 in January of last year, my focus was to be grateful. Grateful for things in my control, people in my life, and all the little things that make life special. Little did I know that 2020 would become the year gratitude was most needed. I've often sing the praises of my family and friends...but this year I relied heavily on them to make it through the year as we traversed the Covid Pandemic together, albeit 6 feet apart and masked up!!!

2020 began with a bang. Behind the scenes, my friends and I (I refer to us as the Irish Posse as we are some badass women) were in the midst of planning our first CNY Irish Festival event for July 11, 2020. A multitude of meetings and development were ongoing throughout the month as we finalized the website, designed a logo, and made-up business cards and handouts, as well as holding meetings with sponsors and partners, speaking with bands and vendors, and doing all the paperwork associated with beginning an event as large as this. We all had prior experience in this type of event, and each of us brought to the table a unique and specific skill set. We were a well-oiled machine. By mid month we were ready to announce it!!! As we announced the event, the influx of support and excitement was monumental, and we were so extremely grateful to be able to offer this to so many who were looking for an event such as this to join in.

Throughout January and February I also was involved with some of my most revered colleagues as we set out to break apart from our last publication (that was under different management), and to develop a new music magazine together called 315 Music News. Redirecting our focus on not only local music, we wished to feature more of the arts, local restaurants, wineries, and breweries, and events in the area. We hit the ground running covering shows, venues, musicians, eateries, wineries, etc. in the 315 area. Covering two shows for the year of 2020 (which I will later highlight), it would be a first for me to not be in the pit or at the soundboard! My normal schedule included at least an average of two shows each month in the winter months, and up to 8-10 each month in the summer touring months. Throw in a few festivals and my schedule was booked solid. Sadly, this year was devastating for those we covered. Tours were cancelled, venues closed due to social gathering guidelines, and festivals were cancelled, including ours. Not the regular content, we managed to grow our readership through podcasts, news articles, interviews, album reviews, etc. So grateful everyone stuck with us and gave us a thumbs up and read (if not...head over and do so). Can only imagine how once the world opens back up, how good it will feel to back in the pit again bringing everyone even more that Central and Western NY offers!!!

As the snow flied in the early months of 2020, I also was able to reconnect with friends, a subject matter I don't normally cover as it's just something that we all do...but this years dinners with friends were so special to me...because they would be the only ones I got to enjoy in 2020. First, my Leadership Mohawk Valley classmates, the Unicorns...and secondly my great friends Kathy & Marsh. I truly cherished those fun nights out in the winter of 2020. Friends feed my soul...and throw in great conversation...lots of laughs...and great food and drink and I ask you..can anything be better? So grateful for those moments with them all! I think we all will never again take this for granted.

In February I was also able to attend a Syracuse Crunch game and see my son in action as he did his internship duties assisting with gameday operations. I was so very proud of him, and the fact the Crunch won just made the night better. I got an insight as to what is in store for him as he follows his dreams to work in sports management. A short time later, life would come to a screeching halt for him...the Crunch would cancel the remainder of their season, his senior year in Caz LAX would end abruptly calling him home from tournaments, and his classes would become remote. So grateful for making it to the game to see him action. So grateful to see his other LAX games in previous years and cheer him on. So grateful to have him home safe and sound as the world locked down.

So if I only had two shows to cover in 2020, I had two AMAZING shows by golly!!! The first one was a bucket list show, The Lumineers in Buffalo at KeyBank Center. This band has such substance in their music. Every song they sing pulls me in. Although I was a million miles back at the soundboard, my friend Brian lent me his 600mm lens and I was able to not only test out what I would later purchase myself, but capture some awesome shots from the show!

Remember when we could sit this close?

The second show was my pals, Enter the Haggis at the Wescott Theater in Syracuse. I love each and every performance these guys have....they are such a fun live show...and so animated for me as well to photograph. Yes, these two shows were more than enough to tide me over until we can get back out there. It would be merely days after Enter the Haggis our world would lock down. So very grateful to have seen those two shows in 2020 and captured some amazing moments to hold me through till we can reconvene life as normal in large groups again.

It is March that life began a new for the world. Life as we knew it would change not only for us, but for the entire world. Lives were lost, battles ensued against a little known virus for both patients and medical personnel trying to save them. Fear of this unknown virus caused us panic that I've never seen in all my years. Some felt it was a glorified flu...others felt it was a political ploy...but I saw firsthand how very serious this virus was, and how it changed lives of those it touched. We joke about the lack of toilet paper but seriously...it was a real thing. The unknown on how this was spreading so quickly caused us to mask up, sanitize everything as though it was an operating room, and become more cognizant of how germs spread. I joke, but it's true, my grandma Grace prepared me at a young age for this pandemic with her constant harping of hand washing and sanitizing of anything others touched. I was aptly prepared. A new found respect grew as we counted on our grocery store employees, delivery drivers, first responders, medical personnel, and all essential workers. I am considered an essential worker as I work in governmental housing. I watched as so many began to be placed on furlough or laid off from their jobs. I was so grateful my job was secure, and I could take care of my family. Although protocols changed, I was still able to continue to work safely.

So what does one do when in lockdown to pass the time? How about projects around the house that have been put off forever? Lord knows I had plenty to do, and lots of time to do them..so I decided that while I could, I needed to be productive. I found myself with some down time that needed to be filled, with the lack of concerts and photography jobs that normally kept me busy after the day job. So as spring faded away and early summer began, our state was released from full lockdown, and I decided to do a few much needed home improvement projects around the house. First thing, the backyard makeover.

My family teases me mercifully about my lack of yard work skills. Never has been something that interested me, most likely will never be, and my shenanigans as a child to dodge these chores will be something I'll never live down. I love a beautiful garden, but it's the remembering to water it and weed it that escapes me. So, you can only imagine how bad my back yard was. The trees were so thick along the property line that you couldn't see through to the unsightly house bordering it on the backside. First thing I needed to do was remove those trees. Most were already dead, and there were a few others that were leaning on the garage roof that had to go. So out they came. With the trees finally removed, my plan for the backyard was ready to begin. Only issue with my plan, it just so happened to be everyone's plan in 2020. Who would have thought that 4x4x8 foot posts and fence pickets were such a hot commodity!! They were sold out everywhere in a 60 mile radius. Forget the toilet paper, that was way easier to put your hands on! Every morning my contractor and I called every single lumber supplier trying to catch the truck on the day it came in with our supplies. We finally lucked out! With supplies in hand, the work began.

Although my plan was to make over the back yard for a more comfortable place to spend time quarantining, let's really say who it was for; my dogs. Who had a better life in 2020 than our pets? Who deserved it more for keeping us sane and still keeping us sane? My dogs deserved the world in my opinion. They forever had gone outside on a lead or leash without the ability to run and play freely. Living in a city atmosphere, they couldn't run free, and walking was not an option for a few reasons. So finally, they would have a space for themselves.

Work began and my crew was the best. My son, along with his friends Jimmy and Angelo, were my crew and they knocked it out of the park getting my fence up in no time flat. They helped to keep the cost down for me, and they did an amazing job. The next step was a few new windows to be replaced on the house and the doggie door for easy puppy access. That part of the project ended up taking quite a bit of time as both the windows and the door had to be custom made. With the door finally in, they now have free reign to run and play with each other!! It was the best money I ever spent!!

I spent the remaining spring and early summer working on the rest of the space. With the fence up and the backyard leveled off, I now could finish the rest of the work getting the fire pit in, clothes line up, gazebo built, and patio all set up. With a few hand me down pieces I revamped and made new. It was beautiful being able to finally relax outside with the dogs. I even got them their own doggie pool, which became a huge water bowl, as they didn't get the whole concept of playing in it. We'll work on that again this next year. The only thing I didn't get a chance to complete out back, was the garden areas and a decent lawn. I got a lot of the plants planted and some starter seed down, but never had the time to finish it off as I wanted, as my traveling adventures began and my squirrel like focus was shifted.

With the lock down guidelines still pretty secure limiting where we could travel and how we could gather, a plan was made to do something I always said I would do, explore my very own backyard right here in New York State. Back yards were a thing for me in 2020! It was the perfect opportunity to finally see all those places I said would one day go to. It was finally "one day". This limit on travel had become a blessing in disguise.

My first expedition was a tag along with my son and his girlfriend to hike Bald Mountain for the first time. I know!!! You can't believe I never hiked Bald Mountain either? Well, who would have thought that, but I always steered away from it thinking there were areas that I may not be able to maneuver due to my fear of heights. Well, that wasn't an issue at all, however I did find myself realizing I wasn't 20 years old any more (and a bit out of shape). A moderate trail, there are some steep boulders that must be climbed as you near the top that were a bit tricky for me, and the trail was a bit steep in a few spots. Overall though not a bad trail and one I would do again. Once up top, you got a spectacular view of the Fulton Chain of Lakes, and the opportunity to climb the fire tower for an even better view, which was a hard pass for me. I did climb up one set of stairs for a shot, but maybe one day when it's not so busy, and I build up enough courage, I'll make the whole climb. I highly recommend hiking boots for this trail, and perhaps hiking poles to assist. Glad I had my boots coming down, as it made the descent much easier on the boulders.

I have to say, I love my friends so much. They are always up for an adventure no matter where I suggested this past summer. But I need to give a special shout out to my friend, Sheila who was even more adventurous this past year. She was down with wherever I wanted to go, and camping overnight at places didn't faze her at all. In fact, she had most of the equipment we needed, and what she didn't have, I had. So, we were all set. We planned several day trips that all of our friends could join in, and a few overnight trips where camping was involved. I cannot thank her enough for being such a great and accommodating travel buddy this summer. Wherever I suggested going, she said sure and then even found a few more places in the area for us to see!! It was beyond great, and just what we needed to feed our wanderlusting souls. I also would like to thank my other travel buddies Janie, Heather, Nancy, and Gail who traversed some of the day trips with us. We enjoyed quite a few very cool and interesting places together.

Our first outing to get our feet wet, literally, was to our favorite spot up north for some kayaking. A beautiful summer day, we put in and paddled for hours around Moss Lake, then took a hike, and finished the day with lunch at Daikers. Known for their outdoor seating, it was the perfect place to social distance and stay safe while enjoying a great lunch. It felt so good to finally get out of the house, have some sunshine on our faces, and get that green machine wet again!! I did actually feature the day in a blog which I'll link here for more photos and details.

Our second trip was a full day trip chasing lighthouses. Our first stop was to Sodus Bay and Sodus Outer Lighthouses. The main building was closed for the season due to Covid, however the grounds were open and simply gorgeous with full blooms bursting out of the many gardens surrounding the light.

Next, we were off to Chimney Bluffs State Park to see the magnificent sand bluffs formed along Lake Ontario.

Finally, we ended the day in Oswego touring a lighthouse and maritime museum, and having an awesome lunch at a local spot. I recently went into more detail on these particular areas in a previous blog I'll link here. If you haven't subscribed yet to my page/blog, please do so that I can notify you when they go live!!! As a disclaimer...I know I'm not the greatest at posting these blogs timely...but in my defense, I would rather do the traveling and collect the content during the months I can, and write in the months I can't travel!!! Makes sense right?!!

August was a busy travel month as we fit in several more hikes. The first was to Watkins Glen to hike the Gorge, have some lunch, and hit a few wineries out in the Finger Lakes region.

The second hike was to the Ithaca area where we visited several of the beautiful waterfalls and gorges that area of New York is famous for. These two particular hikes will be featured in an upcoming blog that I've already begun, so no real details here unfortunately, but want to share a few photos to wet your appetite for the future. You would be reading forever if I tried to outline them all here in my 2020 Reflections blog. So, stay tuned for more information on all of these trips, as they were A...M...A...Z...I...N...G!!!

I also spent some time with my sister this past year. As you may recall, our father passed away last August so each holiday, such as the date of his birthday or passing, we've tried to get together to do something. Last year we got our tattoos, this year...we hiked. It was crazy too, because for all the hiking we've both done in our lives, this would be the first time we hiked together. Black Bear Trail in Inlet was our choice. I wanted to complete my Fulton Chain Trifecta badge (Bald, Rocky Point, and Black Bear Mountains), so off we went. It's a pretty trail, and it was a great day for it. The trail itself is pretty wooded and we were actually very surprised to be able to stop and witness a flock of pheasant in a nearby area. Very random, and I know it was a sign from Dad that he was there with us. Never before had I seen something like that. They were there for the longest time too. For those of you who didn't have a chance to meet the very unique man my father Larry was, he was an avid hunter. His whole life revolved around hunting, even his decisions on where we ended up living were driven by the local areas to hunt. So, for this flock to meander through where we were and hang with us, yep that was a sign from Larry for sure.

Once reaching the top, that view was amazing. Funny as the two trail heads are right next to each other (Rocky Point and Black Bear), but at the top of Rocky Point...the view is so much different (as you'll see in a bit). A trip into town and a delicious prime rib dinner later, it was the best day ever, completed with a few beverages around the fire pit with Zach and the squad once we got back home! The next day..right back at it with a quick trip up the road to Pixley Falls!!!

Our final August trip I think was hands down my favorite of the year; Letchworth State Park. This was our first camping outing for Sheila and I, and doing so for a long weekend was perfect.

Letchworth State Park is known as the Grand Canyon of the east, and rightly so. Viewing this spectacular area was literally life changing for me. The first morning we awoke early and headed down to capture the sunrise. If you've never watched the sunrise here...you must do so. The colors were spectacular. Oranges, blues, greens, purples, and golds painted the sky as the mist of the clouds rose through the mountains. I catch my breath just thinking of it again.

Joined by our friends Janie and Nancy for the day, we discovered the three waterfalls known to the park and had the best day exploring and hanging out at camp together. Who cares that the racoons stole our cookies and we got rained on...it was well worth it!!

September was originally supposed to be my trip to Charleston, SC with my sister so having the whole week off, I decided it should still be a trip with water and fun, so once again my friend, Sheila, joined me and off we went to discover and camp Long Island instead! Still part of New York, you feel as though you've been transformed to another state completely. Passing through the city and getting on the Long Island Expressway, traffic is something to remember when traveling this area. We chose Sunday evening around 6pm, yep not the best plan. We originally wanted to stay out toward Montauk, but it was all booked up so we found an alternative place a few hours away that was more centrally located to everywhere we were going. It was fate too, as we ended up with the greatest camping area right on the northern shores of Long Island. Every morning and evening we were able to walk to the beach for sunrises and sunsets. It was glorious.

While on Long Island we chased some major lighthouses. One day included Montauk Lighthouse, Cedar Island Lighthouse, and a lighthouse cruise out to Long Beach Bar Lighthouse or aka Bug Light; another day a trip to Fire Island Lighthouse, and another trip into the city to visit Governors Island for the day. Squeaking in a few more on the way home, and the best lobster roll since my trip to Maine, the trip was outstanding with some fun times, lots of laughs, and memories to get us through till our next Sheila/Kathy camping excursion!!

What do you mean the road ends?

At the end of September, I unexpectedly lost my oldest sister to cancer. Her diagnosis and passing were all within a months time. A shock to us all, I needed to escape and have my own day to mourn and celebrate her life, so I headed north to Old Forge and Rocky Point again. Nancy and I at one point lived together here in New York, and during that time I brought her north to Old Forge and she loved it up there. She didn't get to hike as she wasn't physically able at that time to do so, but she loved the general store, the lake, and all the little shops and diner in town, so I thought this was the best way to celebrate her, to go north and share some quiet time remembering her.

Hiking in at sunrise, I got a little off trail, but found my up as the sun began to peak out. Two women were already there...but quickly left me to be alone as I took in the most vibrant colors of the trees in what was the most spectacular fall we've had in years. The solace, the reflection, and the time to say goodbye was much needed and was one of the most spiritual times of my year. Coming back down the hill I met a family making the hike up before remote school, which I thought was the greatest thing ever....secretly wishing I lived closer to have that option while raising my kids. I bought a sandwich at the donut stand, a place known to all who ever went north, and then sat by the water eating my breakfast remembering the time Nancy sat there too. With a quick tour of the General Store, I finished my memorial service and headed home as the convoy of cars made their way past me to also see the spectacular leaves.

The adventures didn't end at Long Island as my friends and I headed northeast to Ausable Chasm out by Plattsburgh at the end of September. Another amazing gorge area in New York State, this hike was spectacular, but the drive in even more so. With Covid restrictions in place, we made reservations ahead for the hike of the trail. I've featured Ausable Chasm in a prior blog, but I have to say each time is like seeing it all over again for the first time. The wonderment and awe of God's nature is just breathtaking. A quick stop on the way home in Lake George for lunch, made for the perfect fall day.

Every fall for as long as I can recall, my sister and I did a wine tour. This year was a bit different due to Covid, but a good different. This year we explored the Keuka Lake Wine Trail. Stopping at a few wineries along the lake, we took in the beautiful changing leaves, and had an amazing dinner. It was an awesome day, but the highlight of that trip was very unexpected. It was my discovery of Grape Pie!!! Yes, you heard that correctly, and it was delicious!! Just imagine the sweetest grape juice in pie form. It is NOW our new tradition!!

Our final friends outing was at the end of October, and it was such an awesome day. The day after Halloween we headed down to Sleepy Hallow and Tarrytown. Booking a tour of the grounds at Lyndhurst Mansion, it reminded us of our time together in Ireland, a trip we all had to put on hold this past year. It was a dreary drizzly day out, and there was a huge castle like building involved. Yep, it was the next best thing to being in Ireland! The grounds were beautiful, and although we couldn't go inside any of the buildings, it was still very informative just meandering in and around the multiple buildings on site. The property sits on the shores of the Hudson River overlooking the new Mario Cuomo Bridge (aka the Tappan Zee Bridge), and the trains run every few minutes down below on the tracks that follow the River. A nice lunch in town, we embarked in hopes of finding me the Tarrytown Lighthouse before making our way to the Sleep Hallow Cemetery to see if we could spot any spooky sites. Due to construction we weren't able to get very close to the Lighthouse that day, which is okay as I wish to go back next year just the same. The cemetery was super cool, and massive. We only had a short time before they closed the gates to the entrance, so a quick spin around inside, we were amazed at all the folks resting there we had heard of. Only seeing a fraction of the cemetery and town was enough to convince us that we would be back in 2021 to spend a lot more time there.

Gatherings this past year were sparse. If it couldn't be held outside so that distances could be kept, they didn't happen. It was heartbreaking to not be able to celebrate my son, Zach's, college graduation. Done virtually, I cheered as we watched his name announced Live online but it wasn't quite the same. Tears still flowed, and I am still so very proud of him, but I felt bad for him as all the years he put into it was just another day.

We squad moms decided to do it our way, and through Zoom meetings (a norm for the year), we planned an outside graduation party for all our sons that graduated to include only immediate families. We weren't going to let their achievements go uncelebrated. Keeping the numbers down to the allowed amount, we ate, drank, and had the best time (6 feet apart). The guys were so very surprised, and it was so nice to be able to celebrate their accomplishments.

That was how a few other parties I attended in 2020 played out. In July we celebrated my friend and travel roommate, Heather; and in August we celebrated my granddaughter, Remi's 2nd birthday. Gathering outside was one way to finally see our loved ones, but boy was it hard as I am a hugger, and it was so difficult to not hug and be close to those I love. Despite the inconvenience, it still was definitely the next best thing this year and moments I'm grateful to have had!! By the way...show of hands of who misses hugging?

As restrictions became more relaxed this past fall, I found my photography business starting up again. Seniors still needed portraits for their yearbook, and families still wanted photos of their loved ones. Being so beautiful this fall, it was the perfect time for these sessions. I also gave my boys a surprise graduation portrait session to mark their time and accomplishments, and also to provide them some headshots for their LinkedIn profiles. With a few family sessions, a few newborn portrait sessions, and even an elopement, 2020 ended up being a great year for me to be able to create memories for others. It was a busy and wonderful photography year. I found some new friends, welcomed back some old friends, and got to capture a few of my favorite ever photos.

2020 was not what we expected, and 2021 has had a pretty rough start so far. Let me ask you though...when has life been easy and just as planned? Never. At least not for me. It's how we perceive our situation and how we make the most of it that defines us. One of my favorite moments this year was my friend Brian's celebration. It was here that I saw what love was all about. It was here I learned about "Live a Great Story". We all gathered to celebrate our friend, Brian, who has touched all of our hearts so deeply, and lives life to the fullest. All socially distanced and masked up, we enjoyed an evening of hearing stories from Brian's "Greatest Story". From far and wide, family members, friends, and famous musicians gathered and shared their stories with Brian. Brian is one of those revered colleagues I referred to above. I met Brian through my friend Mike Kohli, and together we've worked to bring our shared love of music and photography to others over the years. Brian is one of the wisest people I know. He has a calming manner to him that puts everyone he's around at ease. What a gift that is. And smart!!!! His knowledge of music in general but locally too floors me. On this night I also learned what a prolific writer he was too. He had penned some lyrics years ago and gave to one our mutually favorite artists, Mike Powell, to maybe someday put music too. On this night, as a gift to Brian, he did just that. There was not a dry eye in the room, and the standing ovation for this collaboration was very emotional. Over the years, Brian visited and got to know the artists that played in Woodstock at the Levon Helms Studios. On this night, all of those artists came together in a video thanking Brian for his years of support and friendship. There was so much love in that room that night, it will stay in my heart forever.

You see, for all of the times I said how 2020 was rotten, there were good things in 2020 as well. Although they may seem insignificant to most, we found happiness where we could. It was taking joy in the little things, like finally finding The Office, Game of Thrones, and Yellowstone. We all binged watched tv and movies throughout the year, and The Office helped me maneuver some tough times with a story and a smile. I also was surprised one day to open my email and find finally after years and years of waiting, I was the new owner of FlashbackPhoto.com. I know, these are the little things, but boy did they make me smile. That's what tough times are about I believe. My word, grateful, helped me through the year. I was so grateful to have all the extra time with my son and the dogs this past year. I was so grateful for hitting pause and being able to catch my breath from a schedule that was on fast forward every day. I was so grateful to be able to spend such quality time with my friends in one of the most spectacular regions of the world I call home, New York. I was so grateful for my health and those I loved as we all remain safe through this pandemic.

What will 2021 hold for us? It is still so unsure. But I have a plan for the year, and a new word. My new word is potential. Within ourselves, we hold the key to so many things in life. We just need to unlock our potential. We also need to recognize in others their potential and respect their uniqueness. Our world is in a state of change daily, our differences become a divide, but in the end we are all the same and need to respect others and their differences. We don't have to agree with them, but we need to respect them and their voices. We may not understand it, but we need to listen to them and keep an open mind. We need to recognize they deserve to see their importance and potential. I believe that by recognizing potential, we can grow together, hopefully like my gardens this year.

When I bought my house and first moved in, a tiny vine began to grow along the back of the house and one day I noticed the tiniest of roses blooming on it. Year after year I neglected (as I am famous for) this vine and sometimes it would bloom and sometimes it wouldn't. But I left it alone and it kept coming back year after year, despite me. Last year I took the time to try and assist it by guiding it up by the new fence that sat next to it. Last year I had several roses bloom. I see it's potential, and it believed in mine. In my mind it's a hearty vine weaving in and out of my fence with hundreds of blooms. But I know this won't happen right away. Neither will our own potential. But we can help it grow. So this year I want to tend to a few projects of learning and widening my skills, see more of our beautiful world, and meet and spend time with new and great friends. I think that's a solid plan. I see 2021 and all it's potential.

Thank you all for taking the time to read this blog. Till next time my friends.

Sláinte, Kathy

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  • 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


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  • 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