My Old Kentucky Home – Liberty Crew Revisits Their Homeport




Most who have been following our journey know our story from the beginning; where our road to freedom started…the Bluegrass State; Kentucky.  We truly loved our home and our hometown.  It was our Mayberry.  We forged amazing friendships and community presence that was really difficult to watch get smaller in our rear view mirrors back in 2014 when we pulled out.  However, we made a promise to our friends that we’d come back to visit.


After a tumultuous March and April this year (2017) of losing Dan’s Dad enroute to San Antonio and dealing with medical care at U.S. Army Fort Sam Houston, we were eager to get back on the road to recovery by going back to our old Kentucky home to see some familiar faces.  

Once we hauled out of Texas, we stopped for a few days near Little Rock, Arkansas for a little rejuvenating reprieve to gather our thoughts and get some much needed rest.  We then excitedly high-tailed it to Taylorsville, Kentucky or known-to-us as ‘Tatersville’, a term of endearment, when we lived there.  


When we arrived in our former hometown, we could literally feel everything negative leave our souls; familiar faces, American flags and banners lining the streets, smelling Dave’s coffee and warm fresh made pastries outside the Tea Cup on Main and driving by Spencer County High School at graduation time.  You see, Taylorsville is the epitome of ‘small town America’; which is why we bought into this little piece of rural hometown-heaven back in 2007 when we PCS’d from Maine to Kentucky for Dan’s last Coast Guard tour of duty.  Taylorsville is like that warm flannel shirt that we felt so comfortable in.  


By the way, just a little notoriety of our little hometown is it’s also country music singer, JD Shelburne‘s hometown as well.  Here in this video (I surely hope he doesn’t mind me sharing it!) is his rendition and love for the same town we endeared…called Hometown’ which was filmed in tiny Taylorsville.



Upon arriving, we made contact with our friends to reconnect. Our calendar filled up quickly with Kentucky Derby parties with Suzanne and Van, Kim and Jim, Roger and Debby, pool time with Cindy and Don, lunches and dinners with friends, taking Krissie and Kandi to see Dr. Shelley at Elk Creek Animal Hospital for their immunizations and well-kitty checkups, catching up on some maintenance and small repairs on Liberty, and Dan driving home to see his Mom in Pennsylvania for a few days to help her ready her home for Spring.  It was just what the doctor ordered.

Suzanne and I grabbing in a selfie at her and Van’s Kentucky Derby Party
Watching the Kentucky Derby winners at Derby Party

One of my best friends, Kim and I took in a few lunches

Between getting together with friends and other commitments, we still made time to go exploring and visit places we’ve somehow missed during our seven years of living there.  


One of our favorite things to do while in Kentucky is touring the Bourbon Distilleries on the Bourbon Trail.  This time around, we’ve toured Woodford Reserve near Lexington, Kentucky.  If any of you are familiar with the locale of this particular distillery, you’d understand our quest for wanting to go there.  The drive is absolutely amazing; seeing all the beautifully manicured thoroughbred horse farms and ranches with black fences lining the roadway in the spring when everything is in bloom.


 

We also stopped in Frankfort (Kentucky State Capitol) for a bite to eat and walk old Main Street.  



We parked on the street and walked across the Kentucky River Bridge aka The Singing Bridge’.  We noticed something quite peculiar we’ve never seen before.
  



There were several padlocks on the chain link fencing.  Some had initials with dates on them and others had lovers names inscribed.  We took some photos because we found it odd.  We enjoy seeing odd things.


Oh, and about those locks, we learned that padlocks or ‘love locks’ are locked on the bridges by sweethearts symbolizing their unbreakable love for each other; throwing the keys down in the river below.  As shown above, they inscribe their initials and date for memoir.  However, this proliferation has massed across the nation and even internationally.  Some municipalities though, consider them vandalism or litter while others embrace them as a tourist attraction.  On this bridge, there weren’t very many.


It wasn’t a long walk to Main Street; we couldn’t help noticing that Frankfort has really cleaned up and revitalized this section of town.  There were cafes and small stores that lined the street in the old early 20th century buildings and newer modern structures.  



As with most any city or town, Frankfort bestowed banners of their notoriety and infamy.  Each banner on the street depicted a Frankfort, Kentucky person of notoriety.  There was Johnny Depp (Actor), General Blanton (Bourbon Distiller) and quite an array of others. 




We walked the old state house grounds which was impeccably manicured.  We read some historical markers while enjoying the warm sunshine stroll in the park.

Old former Kentucky State House

 

Looking at our watches and feeling parched and hungry, we found a ‘country-hip’ little cafe/bakery that totally took us by surprise.  We went in to just get a canoli or two but then we noticed they served lunch as well.  So, we ordered a couple Paninis and enjoyed our little window table looking out onto the street as we ate.  After we finished, we chatted with the owner and told her we adored her bakery.  You can read more about our wonderful dining experience at B’s Bakery in a prior blog.


B’s Bakery on Main Street in Frankfort, Kentucky

After our quiet lunch at B’s, we made our way back to our home on wheels that was parked in Taylorsville.

It seemed that time slipped by so fast and before we could catch our breaths, it was Mother’s Day already.  Since we weren’t around family, we decided to just enjoy the beautiful day riding the farm roads and have lunch down at Taylorsville Lake Marina.  The weather was outstanding as you can see.




Another weekend, we took part in a local fundraiser ‘A Ruff Day at the Fairgrounds’ to help finance a new Spencer County Animal Shelter.   There was an awesome K-9 display and demonstration from the local Taylorsville Police Department, Spencer County Sheriff and local neighboring towns.   


We even made a donation of a cat play tunnel for their silent auction.  Hey, we helped make them $30 as well as supported their fundraising efforts by enjoying their food vending, shopping at their yard sale and window shopping at various local craft vendor tents.  Later that day, we stood and listened to the local band which Kandi and Krissie’s Veterinarian, Doc Shelley sang and played various instruments with the local Judge Angus Band.  It truly felt like we were home again.


In our last weeks, we were reminded of that our nomadic lifestyle must resume.  We met up with other RV friends who popped into town for some much needed RV repairs, Tim and Emily from OwnLessDoMore and More Than a Wheelin’ Bryce and Camille whom we met this past January at Quartzsite, Arizona.
More than a Wheelin’ Bryce and Camille
 Finally, one last must-do before hitching up Liberty and rolling down the road was something we’ve wanted to do before leaving Kentucky in 2014.  We drove to the next town over to this big outdoor chalkboard in Bloomfield, Kentucky to write our ‘Before I die…’ wishes… 

…we wrote a few that spoke to our nomadic souls; find inner peace, RV to Alaska, hike the Grand Canyon and most importantly, see our first grandchild due in November.  It seemed so fitting to make this our final chapter before leaving Kentucky this round.  It made us feel complete after returning to our homeport.


Kentucky’s Tobacco Barn Craftsman

The Bluegrass State…Kentucky is known for several things; the fastest two minutes in sports (Kentucky Derby), Bourbon Distilleries, Corvettes, Colonel Sanders and his fried chicken and Stephen Foster’s “My Old Kentucky Home”.  However, Kentucky has also been notable for it’s huge cash crop…



TOBACCO


As you drive through the state of Kentucky, whether on dirt country roads or state highways, you’ll notice black-stained old “Tobacco Barns” peppering the farm country landscape.  It’s no misnomer that the black is the chosen color as it absorbs heat from the sun to speed up the drying and curing process of the tobacco leaves.  Inside, ‘tobacco sticks’ (also called ‘laths’) are hung with tobacco attached for drying and curing.  Having lived in Kentucky prior to taking off on our RVing adventures, we got to see start to finish the tobacco farming culture.


Kentucky farmers have and still grow three types of tobacco; burley, dark fire-cured and dark air-cured. Burley tobacco, used primarily in cigarettes, comprises more than 90% of total production and is grown in all but 1 of the 120 counties in the state.  There are only an estimated 4500 tobacco growers left in Kentucky and has been declining due to growing health concerns as well as the increasing number of outsourced overseas growers; both of which have devastated the state’s tobacco industry.  

Tobacco is harvested in late summer in Kentucky.  The plants are cut using a tobacco knife. Once cut, the plants are hung on ‘tobacco sticks’ (or laths) which are hauled on open wooden wagons towed by farm trucks to the black tobacco barns to cure.  Later, the leaves are removed from the stalk and sold at market.  

How tobacco sticks (laths) are made…


Decades and to even a century ago, after each harvest, while the tobacco dried and cured, large trees were harvested and logs were cut into five-foot lengths.  Each log was split into thinner pieces with a froe; a wedge tool driven into a block of wood with a mallet and split into thinner sections until the lath was made.  Typically, farmers could make upwards to 500 laths per day.  Several thousand were needed for each farm however, most times, they made more than they needed to sell on the side to other less-ambitious farmers.  Back then, the sticks sold for about three cents each.  Today, they are worth much more…”if” you can find them.

Now, as years pass and tobacco farms folding, the tobacco barns are left to remind us of days gone by, torn down or burned. 




Fast forward a generation or five…


Recently, we decided to take a field trip to  Oldham County to learn a little Kentucky history and watch an amazing Craftsman create art that has that history attached to it. 


We met up with Tobacco Barn Craftsman  Matt Hartlage and his wife, Sara to learn about their amazing art pieces.  When we arrived at their workshop, we were met with smiles, sweaty hugs and calloused handshakes.  It was a typical scorching, late May day in Kentucky, but the heat didn’t pull this forty-something year old couple away from reclaiming tobacco’s past.  As Matt was working on one of his pieces, Sara was busy building display racks for upcoming fairs and festival showings while their little boy played in the yard.  


Chatting with them, we learned that Matt, is a truck driver by day and Craftsman by night and weekends.  Some of Matt’s fondest memories were spent each summer working with his cousins on his grandparent’s farm (tobacco and other crops) in Ohio.  In his teen years, Matt took interest in Woodworking in his high school shop classes.  Years later in November 2016, his upbringing (farming) collaborated with his passion to create TBC.  He procured a bundle of tobacco sticks to make homemade Christmas gifts for family and friends.  His first design was the ‘Kentucky Snowflake’ that sparked so much interest that he began designing and crafting other interesting wall art. 


Sara, mother to their 5 year old boy and a CRM Manager for a global insurance broker handles much of the administrative, PR and other planning for Tobacco Barn Craftsman.  

As we were listening to their stories, we noticed stacks upon stacks of these ‘tobacco sticks’ (or laths), buckets of sheered off remnants, saws and tools of every kind, and a rather, beat up-looking Cowboy hat that hung on the wall behind his tool-cluttered bench.  I wanted to ask “what’s up with the Cowboy hat?” but didn’t.  I bet it made for a great story or two based on it’s not-so-delicate-wear.  Off in the corner hung finished works of art waiting to be boxed up and sent as gifts across the Country.  I can’t tell you how impressed we were with unique creativity and history reclaimed into magnificent wall art that breathes a story.


Seed it. Set it. Top it. Cut It. House it. Strip it. Enjoy it.



While we stood back and watched them design, sizing sticks, layouts, sawing and sanding, I thought to myself, THIS is America!  This is the bread and butter on their walnut-stained tables they say their blessings at each meal.  Matt and Sara were bringing back Kentucky History in their art to be put in homes all across America.


Without giving away their trade secrets of acquiring their lath supply (locally sourced in  Kentucky), the design process or actual assembly, I can only show you what their end product looks like.  Actually, I had planned on expounding on the building process and took several photos but respectfully, as a fellow artisan, I just couldn’t.


So after a few hours of watching them create of one of their wares, they gifted us with THIS piece…the United States.


Tears filled our eyes because this beautiful work of art spoke to our nomadic hearts.Though it was a piece of Kentucky, it said ‘you have many more to travel’.  We were amazed that a pile of sticks and a few hours of skillful hands made THIS:




We just couldn’t put it down but we had to because it wasn’t quite finished.  Matt’s final work was signing, numbering and placing their ‘Kentucky Proud’ sticker that he so boasts about earning.  Oh, by the way, this particular piece is numbered #1 which means, we were gifted the prototype.

This beautiful piece forged a Kentucky friendship forever.  It will hang proudly in Liberty, and when the roads we’ve traveled have lessened, we will proudly move it to our future home.  Until then, it will remind us of the history and hard work that created it.




For more information and to visit Tobacco Barn Craftsman online store, we invite you to visit: 


Website:  www.tobaccobarncraftsman.com
Facebook:  Tobacco Barn Craftsman 
Online Store:  Tobacco Barn Craftsman

Instagram: tobacco_barn_craftsman
Email:  TobaccoBarnCraftsman@gmail.com


For special orders, please contact via Facebook, Email or Phone. 


“Barn to Box’ orders take approximately 2-3 weeks.  Special orders may take longer.












Depending on Our RV Family


When we set out on our nomadic quest, one big anchor seemed to weigh us down.  That big question, “what happens if we need to vacate our RV to fly home for emergency, go on a non-RV vacation or meet a client in a different city for more than an overnight?”  Since we’re not keen on boarding our nomad cats, we needed to think about the ‘what if’ and figure out how we’re going to find worthy person(s) to take care of our precious furry family members. 

Soooooo…


Who ya gonna call?


Since we started RVing, there have been a few times when we’ve come to rely on our RV family.  Since we were already accustomed to leaning on our military family, it was a no-brainer that we continue relying on our birds of feather; those who are like minded and commiserate our lifestyle…(read more)


Our first time facing this dilemma was when we first arrived in Castroville, Texas in late fall of 2015.  Our son’s Army Unit Family Readiness Group called us to let us know when their unit will be arriving home from Afghanistan.  We wanted both of us to attend his homecoming at Fort Carson, Colorado but we were pretty sure only one of us were able to go because that looming issue was going to hold one of us down.  


Once we parked Liberty at the Alsation RV Resort, unhooked and set up, we immediately met our neighbor.   We discussed among ourselves if we even dare take a chance on asking someone we didn’t even know and giving them access to our RV to take care of our nomad cats and coach.  Sounds pretty scary right?

We were apprehensive. I mean, who wouldn’t be?  Would you give your house key to a complete stranger that just moved into your neighborhood to have access to everything you own and your beloved furry family members?  However, in lifestyle we now live, we ‘learn and earn’ our new family on the road…trust; and that trust goes both ways.

So, we took the chance…  

We noticed our neighbors in the motorhome next to us had a cat sticker on their door which gave us that ‘hmmm, I wonder if…’  Well, we put it in God’s hands and trusted that he would guide us.  The neighbors were nice and found that they too, were military veterans so that put us a bit more at ease.  Still, it was a bit scary however, we packed our backpacks, fueled up Captain America, gave the key to them leaving precise written instructions on the counter.  We patted our fuzzyheaded nomads on the noggins and kissed them goodbye hoping return to everything in tact and happy cats.  Early morning, we drove a 900 miles from San Antonio, Texas to Fort Carson Army Post in Colorado.  

After five days of welcoming our son home and helping him get settled, we drove back to San Antonio literally holding our breaths.  As we drove back into the RV Resort, we were relieved to see our ‘then’ Cyclone Toyhauler still parked there looking the same as when we left.  We unlocked our RV door only to be greeted by our two sleepy-eyed kitties who were seemingly glad to see us.  We were thrilled that they had all of their fluffy hair and were still pudgy.  Sighs of relief and smiles beamed on all of our faces. We were grateful that they AND our home on wheels were taken care so lovingly.  It was then we learned that with this lifestyle, we CAN rely on our RV family should we ever we have to step away. 


Fast forward to February 2017, we were at a slow crawl with no real set schedule from making our way to San Antonio, Texas from southern Arizona to get our annual medical appointments completed.  However, we were stopped in our tracks in El Paso when we received a call from Dan’s mom to ‘come quick’ as Dan’s Dad was gravely ill back in his hometown in Pennsylvania.


Already stressed from finding boondocking spots on our way back to San Antonio, this just sped up the process and now the emotional aspect of Dan losing his Dad took a toll.  Our reservations for Fort Sam Houston FamCamp were penned in for March 1st; practically a whole month away.  We called to see if we could arrive earlier because of our family emergency.  Unfortunately, we were told there was ‘no room at the inn’ so we were scampering for a place to park Liberty near San Antonio to get a rush flight home. We thought at that moment that we were going to ‘have to’ board the girls; something we were emphatically against. 


But then our RV Family came to the rescue!


Our RV besties Timily (Tim & Emily) from Ownlessdomore who have crossed our paths several times in the past couple years of RVing helped us.  They were already in San Antonio, Texas at Lackland AFB FamCamp for their own medical appointments.  We connected with them instantly and in turn, they spoke to the staff to see if we could get a site in two days.  Unfortunately, this Lackland’s FamCamp didn’t take reservations, so there was no way to know if we’d get in or not.  So as we continued to make our way closer to San Antonio, Emily gave us an hour-by-hour assessment of what sites were coming open.  The day we were to arrive, she kept an eye on any site opening up.  Needless to say, her vigilance paid off.  When we arrived at the commercial gate to the Air Force base, Tim even met us and escorted our tired and weary souls right to our site.  

We immediately parked, set up our RV and shortly after made our flight reservations.  Before we could even ask, Tim and Emily were right there waiting for directions on how to care for Krissie and Kandi.  They even took us to the airport the next morning and picked us up when we returned.  Our kitties fell in love with Emily even though she’s not a ‘cat person’ but it seemed they grew on Emily…even though she’s allergic to cats.

We’ve appreciate that our RV family understands and commiserates our nomadic lifestyle. And of course, we do the same for others. Earning each other’s trust isn’t taken lightly. We always try to be good people and render help when needed…


…we have to because who else are ya gonna call?


Don’t think that we hand the keys over to just anyone.  Similarly, when we lived in our S&B (sticks and bricks), we have a mental checklist of how we pick our pet sitters and caretakers. To us, its extremely important that they not only ‘like’ cats but they must love ‘our’ cats because they are our furkids.  We’d want them to treat our girls just the same as we do.

Finally and worth noting, an RV is not like a S&B in respect to the mechanics and engineering.  Who knows better than our fellow RVers who know the electrical, HVAC, water and sewer systems. While there may be professional pet sitters wherever we park, if something goes awry with our RV, they won’t know what to do.  


So, if you’re an RVer who needs to leave your RV and/or pets to tend to family events or even a vacation or cruise, look no further than your RV’s door.  We’re not saying just throw caution to the wind.  Trust your gut and seek someone who will keep your home on wheels and all that’s in it safe and sound.