Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Secret Caverns and Hot Chicken

On Friday I finally gave in to my computer and clicked the "Update and Restart" prompt. I waited for what seemed like hours for my computer to do its thing. When it was finally ready I tried to open my browser of choice to write the blog entry, and what happened? Nothing. Nada. Zilch. The browser refused to open. Not only that but a few picture folders had magically disappeared. Being that it was Friday and I didn't have time to fiddle with it, I tried to open another browser. Apparently my cookies weren't properly enabled in that one. So, instead of throwing a tantrum and smashing my laptop I turned off my computer and enjoyed a movie with the kiddo's.

Fast forward to today and the problems have been fixed. Hooray! It may be a few days late but trust me, this post was written in much better spirits than it would have been on Friday. It's just as well because we're going to Tennessee this weekend and the next update will be posted the following Tuesday also. If this trip has taught me anything it's that it's okay to remain flexible and switch things up from time to time. Now, on with the show!

One of the requirements of homeschooling in Washington State is that the students have to complete one of the state approved tests for our records. There are several to choose from, but only one can be completed entirely online, the California Achievement Test or CAT for short. Each student completes the test on their own and then we submit the test together. Within minutes, the results are emailed back.

I have to say, I was really impressed with the whole process. The test wasn't timed, so each child could take their time and really think about their answers. I feel like this gave them a chance to show what they know instead of how fast they can work under pressure. It's a fairly lengthy test and it was also nice that the student could pause and save their progress for lunch or bathroom breaks. I'm pleased (and relieved) to report that they all did great! Now I have to finish typing up transcripts so we can petition the school district for the corresponding high school credits for our oldest son.

You may be interested to learn that just as we have the prerogative to homeschool our children, any school in our district has the prerogative to reject all home-based education credits if we decide to attend their school. This means our oldest son would have to complete all four years of high school in three years time to graduate with his classmates in 2020- a daunting task to say the least. He's fifteen so we feel that he should be the one directing his education at this point. He has chosen to reenter the public school system. Now it's up to us to gather as much information as we can to prove our son did the work and knows his stuff. We'll see what happens but if you feel so inclined, a prayer on his behalf would be greatly appreciated...

We only have two weeks left here in Kentucky. That doesn't leave us much time to pack in all the places we want to see, but we'll sure try! A few weekends ago we visited the Louisville Mega Cavern, which is unlike any other place we've ever been. It's an ENORMOUS cavern built under the limestone layers of Louisville. It's opened year-round and tours are available. You can also ride your bike or try out their ropes courses, zip line, and more.

The entrances are large enough for cement trucks to fit through. The Mega cavern is one of the largest green facilities in Kentucky and when a cement truck has cement left over, they bring it here and use it to pave the roads in the cavern. 

Those pillars are at regular intervals throughout the cavern to maintain structural integrity.

This is where they keep all the road salt for winter. That's a lot of salt! 

Stalactites are slowly forming 

The cavern was originally a limestone quarry and in the 1960's it was set aside by the government as a fall-out shelter for the Cuban Missile Crisis. Check out this eerie representation of what it might have been like for the survivors....for a while. The government didn't take into account the radiation coming in through the drinking water. Most of the average Louisville population at that time didn't even know this cavern existed which amazes me because it covers almost 100 acres underground! I encourage you to check out the link to their website for more info.

Limestone is formed over a long period of time under oceans.You can see fossils in the ceiling. Weird and cool all at the same time.  

They do a lot of recycling of paper in the cavern (food would smell too bad). The tour guide showed us their worm farm...and then she ate a worm! Apparently she does that for every tour. I guess that's one way to get your daily allowance of protein... 

The cavern is so big that it houses a storage facility and there's still a TON of unused space!

For Christmas, bus loads of people drive through the cavern for an underground lights display. 

The Louisville Zoo was another place we visited and it happens to sit right above the Mega Cavern. The kids had fun running around and seeing all the animals. My favorite part was seeing the baby gorilla. SO cute!!

Our youngest son took a ride on a Domedary Camel. He said it was soft.

Just look at that sweet baby gorilla! It was swinging all over the place and momma was always close by. 

A Silverback Gorilla decided to sit next to our daughter for a while. I wonder if it was the one who likes to take selfies?

A Polar Bear, not in the arctic, but in Kentucky!

We walked through the Wallaby area where they could hop right up next to you with no separation!

Here's our oldest with one. 

Black Piranha's are HUGE! 

We also saw an Albino Alligator

After our trip to the zoo, we stopped off for lunch. I know the rest of the world thinks of Kentucky Fried Chicken when they think of Kentucky. That's all fine and good for fast food, but if you want a REAL taste of the South then you don't have to go far. The Louisville food scene is amazing and the local chefs can stand up to restaurants in NYC or other big cities any day of the week. So if you're looking for juicy, crisp, perfectly seasoned fried chicken, all you have to do is go to a place like Joella's or Royals Hot Chicken. Add an Ale-8-One and you're all set!

Royals Hot Chicken Sandwich with a Coke Float. You can always find a few pickles on top of the sandwich. 

This is the mural outside of Royals. We came at a great time because there's always a line out the door. 

See what I mean?

 And this is Joella's Hot Chicken Sandwich. Yuuuuuuum!

Our last stop this week is the Kentucky Science Center. It's really well put together and includes a lot of interactive exhibits as well as a museum area. I feel like I learned as much as the kids did. We had fun and if you're ever in town, I recommend checking it out. It's nice when everyone in the family can participate and learn together.

People can stand inside a giant bubble of their own making.

Fun with dry ice.

One of the exhibits in the Science of Sound area. I bet some of you will recognize these. 

Art not made BY paint brushes, but OF paint brushes. :-) Love it!

Creating a model to launch

It's not every day you can see a sarcophagus deconstructed.

Fun with electricity

I hope you are all well and enjoying your summer or winter, depending on where you're reading this. I'll be sure to check in again next week after our Tennessee adventures. Until then, take care and be careful when your computer tells you to "Update and Restart."

- Jen

Friday, July 7, 2017

The Kentucky Bourbon Trail

I feel like I have to add a disclaimer before I go any further because I know I have some school-age kids following along too. On that note: Though I may mention alcohol in this blog, it is strictly meant to give you a better understanding of the local culture and history. I do not endorse the use of any substance that may alter or impair your judgement or behavior.

We've taken it pretty easy this week. I've been working on school related paperwork for the kids and have been slowly getting into the mindset of returning home. There's still a lot to do to prepare but I'm getting excited for it. I wonder how it will be. Will it be like we never left or will it be like we just got off a carousel? I guess we'll see soon enough!

While we've been here in Kentucky my husband and I have had fun visiting places with the kids. We've also been taking time for ourselves to explore the Kentucky Bourbon Trail. Basically what that means is that we've driven from distillery to distillery to take tours. Most of the big distilleries are relatively close to each other so it's not hard to visit several in one afternoon.

I've really had a great time learning about the history and science of making bourbon. Each distillery is different and so are their tours. Some give a very basic explanation of the process while others have created an almost theme park-like experience for visitors. All of them share bits of information about their particular operation and products but some really go above and beyond to create a living history lesson. I think I've learned more about Kentucky culture on these tours than in all the other places we've visited so far combined! On more than one occasion I've found myself wishing the kids were with us so they could see and hear what we were experiencing too. Here are some tidbits we picked up along the way.

Kentucky countryside between distilleries

We saw several quilt barns too.

The legal requirements of making bourbon:
1. It must be made in the United States.
2. You must use a brand new charred white oak barrel for aging. You may not use it again afterward.
3. It must made from a grain mixture that is at least 51% corn.
4. Only water may be added to it.
5. It must be distilled to no more than 160 proof (80% alcohol by volume)
6. Entered into the barrel for aging at no more than 125 proof (62.5% alcohol by volume), also called "white dog".
7. Bottled at 80 proof  or more (40% alcohol by volume)

- Four Roses was one of the few distilleries to remain open during prohibition because they had secured a license to produce bourbon for medicinal purposes. I talked about this distillery a little bit in Horses and Food and Graves, Oh My! .

- Wild Turkey was also in the aforementioned blog post. We started noticing that wherever we saw a sign for a distillery, there was always a church nearby... coincidence? You can draw your own conclusions. 

Interestingly enough, one theory about the origin of bourbon is that it was created by a Baptist minister.

- Woodford Reserve is one of the few distilleries left that is still owned and operated by an American company. The building is the oldest in the United States and it has been designated a National Historic Landmark.  Woodford Reserve is also "The Official Bourbon of the Kentucky Derby" and their bourbon is made in old-fashioned copper pot stills (as opposed to modern column stills) and then aged in a 100 year-old stone warehouse instead of the large wood ones more commonly used by the other makers. When we visited this one the emphasis was on how they held to traditional practices, which was interesting.

- Evan Williams- This tour took place in downtown Louisville in a building that was located near the original site from the 1700's.

Another theory we heard about the origin of bourbon is that Evan Williams created it. He was the first major distiller and one of the founders of Louisville. This tour was one of my favorites, which I wasn't expecting when we drove up to the storefront. At Evan Williams you start with a short movie recreating one of Louisville's original town meetings. Then you walk along hallways that have been built to look like original storefronts in various time periods on each floor. By the time we were finished we really had learned a lot about Louisville history and the part Evan Williams played in it.

Did you know that in America's early history, each state printed their own money and often times the states wouldn't recognize another states currency. Whiskey could be used as cash during this time period and everyone accepted it.

The vapors that are released from the barrels as they age is called the "Angels Share." At one of the distilleries the guide told us the legend that if you give the angels enough, they'll protect the bourbon warehouses from fires- bourbon is extremely flammable. At another distillery the guide told us what the vapors were called and then followed up by saying "...those greedy, greedy angels." Haha!

The bourbon that is absorbed into the barrels as they age is called the "Devils Cut."

This is an example of the ratios of grains that go into making bourbon. Corn is always the main ingredient.

One of the hallways with the historic storefronts.

During prohibition, the only way you could get alcohol was if a doctor prescribed it. When the 18th Amendment went into effect, thousands of Kentucky natives who had depended on the bourbon industry for generations were left with no way to support their families. These are some of the bottles used by the local pharmacy during prohibition. I had to laugh when I saw that one that advertised "to increase liver health".....

- Jim Beam- It was pretty busy when we arrived, so we weren't able to take a tour. We did check out the gift shop and smoke house, though. At the smoke house you can order barbeque and ice cream for lunch. It smells heavenly! Jim Beam also sells benches and other items made from the used bourbon barrels, which was really cool....but expensive.  

The grounds were so picturesque!

One of the bourbon barrel benches

The aging bourbon is stored in warehouses like this. These are painted black, but as the bourbon ages a natural black fungus starts to grow all over the place anyway. See how it's darker at the bottom? We've noticed that many farms here in Kentucky have black barns too.

Mmmm. I can smell the barbeque on the smoker now,,,,

More Kentucky sightseeing...

- Makers Mark, also a National Historic Landmark, really began as a partnership between husband and wife. Bill Samuels Sr. purchased the distillery and perfected the product. His wife, Margie, came up with the ideas for marketing and dipping the bottles in wax and stamping them with a makers mark to show people it was a quality product, like pewter craftsmen did. Mrs. Samuels was so influential in the industry that she was the fifth woman to be inducted into the Kentucky Bourbon Hall of Fame in 2014.

The family also has a connection to Frank and Jessee James as well as Abraham Lincoln. Recently Makers Mark partnered with Dale Chihuly and is showcasing art glass sculptures around the property. Everything is beautifully displayed and I highly recommend checking them out!

Here, we were able to taste the sour mash as it was fermenting... it was sour. This is a step in the process of making alcohol. Look at the yeast in action!

You can't see it here but behind this blue sculpture is a newly built storage facility to keep products aging for long periods of time in a natural temperature-controlled setting. It was constructed to impact the environment as little as possible by being built into a limestone hillside. The landscape above it was left alone and continues to grow.

Can you see the barrels behind this glass basket? This is in that limestone warehouse.

The water that runs in these canals comes from the same source used to make the Makers Mark bourbon.

- Buffalo Trace has the distinction of being the oldest continuously operating distillery in the United States and is also listed as a National Historic Landmark. They got their name from the American Bison who used to roam the area. Like Four Roses, they were able to remain open during prohibition because of their medicinal use permit.

Here we learned another theory of the origin of bourbon. When whiskey makers would ship their product down to New Orleans in the 1700's, they would use old barrels. Every flavor previously in that barrel was infused into the whiskey and the people in Louisiana hated it. So, the distillers decided to char the inside of the barrels to clean them out and seal them for shipping. By the time they were able to ship their product down the river to New Orleans the whiskey had been in the barrels for a little while and the char had combined with the whiskey. The people of New Orleans loved the product and kept ordering more "Bourbon", which is what was stamped on the outside of each barrel in recognition of the Kentucky county it came from.

Regardless of how bourbon came to be, it's a big deal to a lot of people here in Kentucky and I've really enjoyed learning about it. I hope you have too.

Today is our youngest son's birthday so we're off to celebrate our not-so-little-anymore guy. Until next week!

- Jen

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