#Bookstrong: The Book Vault in Oskaloosa

Book Vault, 105 S. Market St., Oskaloosa, IA

I love saying the town name Oskaloosa! The locals shorten it to Osky. So fun. They have a beautiful town square and a bank that that has been transformed to an independent bookshop. The Book Vault is wonderful. Lucky Oskaloosans. I found a classic hardback version of Clifford the Big Red Dog. I had not read The Wonky Donkey and my fellow grandmas/cousins pressed it into my hands.

I also discovered a map of independent book stores: The Midwest Indie Bookstore Roadmap. I was excited to see there were two indie bookshops in Omaha, NE plus one in Des Moines.

I am supporting the arts on this #MiddleAmericaTour. Big time. I mailed an entire box of books home!

Crazy for Hippos at the Cincinnati Zoo

The Cincinnati Zoo is delightful. It is one of the top 10 zoos in the USA and so much bigger than my hometown zoo. It is also a botanical garden and attracts lots of butterflies. I drove directly from Louisville to the Zoo and began my wondering and wandering with a big smile plastered on my face.

I learned a group of hippos in a pile is a bloat. It has a been a long time since the Sacramento Zoo hosted Jewel the hippo. I was delighted to meet baby Fiona and her mom. I watched them while listening to the keeper tell us about hippo habits.

A big motivation for my #MiddleAmericaTour is to visit states I’ve yet to visit to reach all 50 states in 2020. I stayed in Louisville, KY because Google maps said Cincinnati, Ohio was close (1.5 hours away). It all sounds so doable when you are at your kitchen table researching options. And it would have been much easier if it hadn’t rained cats and dogs while I was driving home. I pulled off the freeway to a McDonalds to get a diet coke and wait it out.

I revived enough when I got back to Louisville to research a place for desert, pie specifically. I drove to Homemade Ice Cream and Pie Kitchen. It was yummy, yummy ice cream and the pie was above average.



Remembering a Childhood Passion at the Kentucky Derby Museum


The Kentucky Derby Museum is a combination of Derby trivia, interactive displays, walking tour, and surround-a-movie. It is a terrific bargain at $15 per person. You can pay extra for longer walking tours. I was only allotting about 1.5 hours because I needed to visit Ohio!


Right out of the starting gate I liked how the museum curators did their best to help you imagine what it is like to be the horse, the jockey, the trainer, the owner, the betting fan, and so on. There are lots of lists of all of the winners for the longest consecutive Derby in the United States–145 years!

This was the first year where the stewards played a role in the outcome. Several jockeys lodged a complaint of interference by Maximum Security–the first horse across the finish line. Twenty minutes later the second place horse, Country House, was declared the winner. I personally was relieved when the public generally supported the stewards. Too many people seem to think it is okay to cuss out the referee and it feels like more people are cheating in all arenas of life.

When I was 10 years old, I watched Secretariat win the Kentucky Derby and go on to win the Triple Crown. I was a horse crazy little girl. As I spent more time riding horses and watching horse events, I became a little less enthusiastic about horse racing. It has always been too cavalier about horse health. And now the concerns mount as the number of deaths at Santa Anita Racetrack mystifies the trainers and others. Watching the film at the Kentucky Derby Museum brought back to my memory all the reasons I loved horse racing as a kid. It is a truly beautiful sport. I may have to watch the movie Secretariat again.

IMG_8290The walk underneath the grandstands and out to the track was very interesting. The tour guide knew her stuff. And we got much closer to the places at the track than most people ever will on the first Saturday in May when 150,000 people pour into Churchill Downs.

#MiddleAmericaTour. I can now say I’ve been to KENTUCKY!

#Bookstrong: Parnassus Books in Nashville

This bookstore may need no introduction to readers of novels. Ann Patchett and her husband own and operate a wonderful bookstore in Nashville, Tennessee called Parnassus Books. I was driving from Greensboro, AL to Louisville, KY and needed to break my journey. I’ve been here once before and I knew it would be a good place to stand around for awhile after driving for hours.


The children’s book section is especially good. The young woman who assisted me hand sold me two YA books I didn’t know I needed to read until I had a conversation with her! I’m reading Maggie Stiefvater’s thrilling The Scorpio Races now.

It was hard to get back in my car and continue my journey, yet at least I knew I had plenty to read. #MiddleAmericaTour

#BookStrong! Alabama Booksmith

It’s not easy to spot Alabama Booksmith (trust your GPS) and it is off the beaten track, yet totally worth the effort to find.

I’ve launched my #MiddleAmericaTour. I landed in Birmingham, Alabama, picked up my rental car from Alamo, scooped up friends Petrea, Dia, and Romy, and headed to the bookshop, Alabama Booksmith.

IMG_8187It is featured in the postcard collection of best bookstores in the world. The painting on the postcard is accurate–that is very plain. Until you walk in. Then, voila, a beautiful collection of books, all signed by the author. If you look at the top shelf in the photo above you’ll see a blank spot where we bought the last two copies of City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert.

Kevin  provided good book recommendations and shared his favorite coffee place–Revelator Coffee. We made a beeline and it WAS good! 

Even though I’ll be going to Parnassus Books in Nashville later in my trip, I bought a signed copy of the book Lambslide by Ann Pachett. I would have gladly bought more! Romy and Dia each separately picked out a YA book by the actor Octavia Spencer. They are sharing on their road trip.

Stocked with books to read, and fueled with coffee, we headed out to Greensboro, Alabama for our next adventure.

P.S. I’ve started the hashtag #BookStrong to support independent bookstores.