Tag Archives: road trip

#GoodTimes: The Day I Smashed My Face at Circus World

When the doctor on call drew back the hospital curtain, he looked my way and said, “Injury to the face, huh? Nice.”

“Thanks,” I said. I would’ve rolled my eyes but it hurt too much. “Will I need stitches?”

“Not unless you want me to reopen the wound,” he said, reopening my wound as he poked my face. “I would recommend a tetanus shot.”

Great. Needles. 


100_0915I’m getting ahead of myself.

The real question is why was I in the hospital? That’s a good story. It all started the day I smashed my face at Circus World.

Around this time four years ago, I had just finished reading Sara Gruen’s Water for Elephants. I loved this book. Loved it.

While researching the author, I learned she did quite a bit of research on traveling circus shows in none other than Baraboo, WI at the Circus World Museum. Winter resting grounds of the legendary Ringling Brothers, Baraboo was just a two hour drive away.

I called up my bestie and invited her on a road trip.

Armed with licorice and mix cds, we headed for a place I was ecstatic to go.

The Circus World Museum contains the largest collection of vintage circus wagons, a room full of circus organs, and costumes, photographs and advertisement posters of the greatest trapeze artists, sideshow freaks, clowns, and their animal counterparts around.

I was engrossed. I needed to explore every inch.

And I wanted photographic evidence I had been there.

circus world collageI was enamored with the magic of the circus. I took pictures with every cutout image I could stick my face in. I took shots of circus miniatures and mannequin sideshow freaks. The only thing I didn’t photograph was the cheeseburger I ate for lunch at the picnic table, and that’s because Instagram wasn’t a thing yet so I didn’t know the world would WANT to see my cheeseburger from the circus.

I got to feed an elephant, you guys. She was beautiful and her name was Tiny. The owner had an animal rescue plantation down in Florida. Tiny’s parents were killed by poachers and he took her in. As she grew up, she wandered in and out of their house – when she could fit – and when she was bigger, stuck her long trunk in through the windows to greet the family.

Tiny was just like Rosie in Water for Elephants. And I was pretending I was Reese Witherspoon, forming an unbreakable connection with this exotic beast.

I was in a bibliophile’s wet dream!

I was seriously having one of the best times of my life because I felt like I was walking through the world of this book that made me fall in love with the circus.

You could say I got a little carried away.

I was off snapping pictures again. Running both to and from my friend in a harried frenzy. Along the cement sidewalk was one of the old animal cages they used to hitch to a horse or truck for parades. It was open. We could go inside.

“Take my picture,” I told my friend, handing her the camera.

With the reckless abandon of an animal that’s been freed, I headed toward the cage, running at full force up the metal stairs and through the doorway.

Almost through the doorway…

In my blind enthusiasm, I failed to notice that the doorway was shorter than I was, and therefore ran smack into the metal frame which clanged in revolt and propelled my head backwards.

Down the path I heard someone’s father say, “OHMYGOD, are you ok?”

Not even a concussion could stop me from enjoying the circus. Without a single second’s delay, I ducked into the circus cage, grabbed a hold of the bars and feigned normality by bearing my teeth and shouting once more to my friend, “Take my picture!”

“No,” was all she said.

“Am I bleeding?”

I put my hand to my face, which yes, throbbed from its introduction to the doorframe moments ago, but I assumed I was fine.

When I pulled my hand back down it was full of blood.

My friend stood in the grass a few yards away. Speechless.

She ran to me in the cage, threw our stuff down on the floor and said she was going to get some paper towel.

Which left me, for the record, bleeding from the face – in no less than 3 places – from the inside of an animal cage in the middle of Circus World.

Children were running up with their parents to go inside and stopping midway up the stairs. They didn’t expect to see a demon inside.

After what seemed like hours, my friend returned with two handfuls of paper towel.

“I’m sorry! The first person I found, it was like her first day, so she didn’t know where the bathrooms were, and I had to run all the way to the front entrance to get these,” she explained out of breath. “But look at you! Not a drop of blood on your white shirt!”

Both my arms were covered in blood however because I’d used them to plug up all the holes on my face.

“Do I look like Carrie?” I asked, embarrassment settling in.

“Let’s get you to the ladies’ room.” And that’s the sign of true friend.


So the emergency room. I awoke the next morning with two black eyes, a baseball size lump on my forehead, and a chunk – one might say a divot – of skin missing from the bridge of my nose.

Oh, and because I’m not athletic in the slightest, I didn’t know I should’ve iced. *sigh*

You know what? I still enjoyed the circus. After cleaning myself up, frightening more families in the process, I put on some sunglasses and headed into the hippodrome with my bestie.

Damn that was a good time!

Tell me about a time you faced disasters
and still managed to come out smiling.
Or, I’m still in the market for a good scar minimizer.
Got any suggestions?



Where in the World is Jess Witkins’s Happiness Project?

Hey Gang! I’m back in Wisconsin (or Canada, as Tiffany calls it). 😉

I had a fabulous road trip out east and so much fun sharing cryptic photos with you guys trying to guess where I was. Here are some of the highlights!


Our first stop was the Columbus Ohio Zoo, one of the best zoos in the nation. It’s the zoo where Jack Hanna works. I didn’t know this beforehand, but the Columbus zoo takes in many baby animals that other zoos can’t support, and those are the ones Hanna takes with him on tour, like to the David Letterman Show. While we were there we saw 2 baby snow leopards and a 12 day old gorilla.




Day 2 brought us into Cleveland to the Rock N’Roll Hall of Fame!


Jimi Hendrix Stage Outfit

Jimi Hendrix Stage Outfit

John Lennon's Visa Card, Grammy Award, Passport and Glasses

John Lennon’s Visa Card, Grammy Award, Passport and Glasses

Elvis Presley's Studded Jumpsuit

Elvis Presley’s Studded Jumpsuit

Next stop was in Wheeling, West Virginia for a fish sandwich at Coleman’s Fish Market! Mmmm


Joe and his aunt, who was our wonderful tour guide in Wheeling

Joe and his aunt, who was our wonderful tour guide in Wheeling

P.S. This happened. And it was awesome.


Arriving at our main destination, we parked in Washington D.C. where my longtime friend, Amy, showed us around the area!

The Lincoln Memorial - Still has scaffolding up as they remove the paint from a recent vandalism attack.

The Lincoln Memorial – Still has scaffolding up as they remove the paint from a recent vandalism attack.

Korean War Memorial

Korean War Memorial

Franklin D. Roosevelt Memorial

Franklin D. Roosevelt Memorial

At the Capital

At the Capital

We took a day trip over to Baltimore, Maryland and Guess. Who. I. Met!!!!

Misty Laws and Me - Bonding over Gremlins!

Misty Laws and Me – Bonding over Gremlins!

And then Joe’s cousins taught us how to shell and eat THESE!!!


Day trip to Mount Vernon, touring the Washington’s Home!


DSCN0655DSCN0662We also humbly walked the paths inside Arlington National Cemetery to honor our brave soldiers from past and present.

The eternal flame at President Kennedy's gravesite.

The eternal flame at President Kennedy’s gravesite.


Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

Making our way back towards the midwest, we hit “The Strip” in Pittsburgh as well as Kennywood Amusement Park!

Joe's Idea of Heaven - An olive bar in the Pittsburgh Macaroni Co.

Joe’s Idea of Heaven – An olive bar in the Pittsburgh Macaroni Co.

Riding the ski lift into Kennywood

That’s our trip! All happily hosted and fed along the way by Joe’s family across the country! Wonderful hospitality! We hated to say goodbye.


Last but not least, the announcement of the From My Bookshelf to Yours contest winner is: Amber West! I’ll be touch soon for you to claim your book title of choice! Congrats, Amber!

Fill me in! What were you up to while I was away?

On the Road Again…

Road Trip

Hello Mates,

I know it seems like I just got back from my travels. Or have you forgotten this?

Boston Harbor

Ah yes, the vacation with my parents. What a treasure that was!

But I have other plans this time. Joe and I are off on our own adventure for 2 weeks! So you might say I’m taking a “Blogcation”.

We’re roadtripping east this year and you can catch my edition of “Where in the world is Jess Witkins’s Happiness Project?” by following me on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook where I promise to post pictures from the trip!

Until then, please keep yourselves occupied by crossing off some of my summer fun suggestions in 51 Things to Do Before Summer’s Over and entering to win a FREE book From My Shelf To Yours.

See you later, alligators!


The Road Trip Chronicles: Scenic Salt Lake City, Utah

Announcement of Winners:  To kick off today’s post I’d like to congratulate the three winners of the e-book giveaway of Timothy McKinney’s The Power of Happiness.  Thank you to all the commenters!  And congratulations to August McLaughlin, Coleen Patrick, and Renee Schuls-Jacobson!


Picking up from where we left off, after camping in Yellowstone National Park, an adventure that ended with 30° weather in a tiny tent on a deflated air mattress, I begged coerced Joe it was time for a nice hotel stay at our next stop, Salt Lake City.

I got my wish!

May I interest you in some fine vino?

Our hotel was awesome!  With food recommendations from my best friend’s sister, we ate at Bayou the first night – a pub atmosphere with cajun food.  And at night we cracked open a bottle of Red Ass Rhubarb wine from the Prairie Berry Winery in South Dakota.

Salt Lake City is definitely a city I would go back to.  It’s architecture is beautiful, mountains in the distance, and of course, the Great Salt Lake itself.  It’s roads, however, are set up in a grid form and confused the living daylights out of me!

*Turn right on East 900 South, then turn left on South 900 East…*

WHAT???  Where am I supposed to go?  My inner Anne Shirley is coming out.  Let’s call this road the Avenue of Mormons and Mountains!

A metro city for sure, Salt Lake is a great place for SHOPPING!  So all you ladies you humdrummed at camping in Yellowstone, could vacay in style at Salt Lake City!  Several malls, many of which are outdoor outlets full of fountains and garden overlooks, grace the downtown area.  High end shops for clothing as well as fun touristy shops of souvenirs that show Salt Lake’s got a sense of humor!


If you’re going to visit Salt Lake City, you should probably visit Temple Square.

Our first day we decided we needed to check out Temple Square, home of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, also known as the Mormon Temple.  While visitors can’t go inside the actual Temple, the grounds have many of other buildings to view including the assembly room, Tabernacle, two visitors centers, and the Brigham Young Memorial which is now a hotel.

Temple Square is full of monuments and statues commemorating the early pioneers who traveled from Nauvoo, Illinois to Salt Lake City, Utah.  They arrived on July 24th, 1847, which is now recognized as Pioneers Day in Utah.

Regardless what you think of the Mormon religion, I admit their temple grounds are beautiful and their pride is strong.  Everyone we spoke to was incredibly nice and welcoming.  Parts of the visitor’s center were creepy for me, too religious if that makes sense, but overall very well put together.

The gardens on the grounds were GORGEOUS!

Behold!  The Mormon Temple!

As I said before, visitors aren’t allowed in the temple, but in the South Visitor’s Center there is a diorama that shows you what the rooms inside look like.  They do look impressive and full of craftsmanship and artful color.

Example of the Celestial Room – only the most Godly men and women are granted access to the Celestial Room

Funny story while in Temple Square.  The Mormons hold a huge percentage of the country’s genealogy records, and their visitor’s center offers computer access for researching your family history.  But look what I found!!!

So above the computers was a poster showing the Howland Family tree.  My 17th great grandfather was John Howland, an indentured servant who came to America via the Mayflower.  And apparently, his son John Jr. gave birth to the line that would be Joseph Smith Jr., the founder of the Mormon religion.  Who knew?  He’s like a long lost really really really distant cousin…  Huh.

The Hand-Cart Pioneer Movement

One of the most famous historical triumphs of the Mormons was the Hand-Cart Pioneer Movement.  I feel whether or not you agree with this religion’s practices, their nomadic journey in the name of faith was quite the exodus.  Not many would be able to endure the harsh conditions these people did to make a new home.

The Lion House

If you’re looking for a place to eat, might I recommend the Lion House, converted to a cafeteria style restaurant and their french toast is amazing.  The inside is full of photos of the Young family and early Mormon settlers.

The Mormon Tabernacle Organ

Periodically throughout the day, the Mormons offer organ recitals inside the Tabernacle.  Joe and I attended and it was really something to hear.  Before the organist begins, he discusses the acoustics inside the room and demonstrates by tearing a single sheet of paper, dropping a nail, and then dropping several pins.  All I can tell you is…WOW.

The Random Best Dessert Award Goes To:

Leaving Temple Square, we had lunch at the Tin Angel Cafe’ which features mostly organic foods and an artsy atmosphere.  Their pear brulee with caramel drizzle was to die for!  Best “meal” I had all vacation!  Drool Fest!

What to do on a hot summer day?  Visit the Tracy Aviary!

That concludes our tour, folks.  Feel free to tip your guide by leaving a comment below! 

What do you think?  Have you ever been to Salt Lake City?  Do you want to go?  What city do you think Joe and I should head to next?

Yellowstone, Part 1

Hello from Sunny Yellowstone National Park!

This was my relaxation shot after I completed a 5 1/2 hour stretch of driving through the Buchon and Big Horn mountain ranges and into Yellowstone National Park!  We set up our tent right away and were ready to fix some lunch before diving into the park sites!

We stayed in the Grant Village campsite in the southern part of the park, right on Lake Yellowstone!

I’m so happy I could burst!

I think I was a little slap happy after that drive. I was trying to be a geyser…???

Old Faithful – our first stop on Day 1

I should clarify, our first “site” in Yellowstone was during a traffic jam on the way to the campsite where all cars came to a hault as passengers jumped out to get photos of, what I would eventually learn as we inched forward, a bear lumbering up a hillside in the forest.  Due to the heavy traffic, I did not get a photo of him sadly, but we did see one!

After taking one of the ranger tours around Old Faithful, we did some exploring on our own around Excelsior Geyser Crater and the Grand Prismatic Spring!

Excelsior Geyser Crater

The ground surrounding Excelsior Crater.

Grand Prismatic Spring:

Great Fountain Geyser and Fountain Paint Pots:

It was really, really windy outside.

Silex Spring:

Later that night, we had a visitor on the way back to camp:

At the turnoff before our campsite ended up being a hotspot for elk herds.  This little lady paid us a visit while we waited to turn.

Sorry it’s so blurry, she caught us by surprise.

That concludes day one.  We spent the evening listening to the ranger program at our campsite’s amphitheater, which was great.  If you ever go to Yellowstone, definitely talk to the rangers!  They are passionate and knowledgable people who love what they do.  You’ll learn a lot!

Have you been to Yellowstone?  What do you remember most?  If you haven’t been, what’s your favorite camping story?

The Road Trip Chronicles: Badlands, Mount Rushmore, and Crazy Horse

Hello Travelers!  Last week on The Road Trip Chronicles, I left you all in Wall, South Dakota.  I’m so sorry about that.  I’m here now to welcome you back in the car and take a trip to the Badlands with me!

Badlands National Park:

The Badlands lie between the White and Cheyenne Rivers in southwestern South Dakota.  Claimed to be one of the most breathtaking and architecturally surreal sites by geologists, and even Frank Lloyd Frank, the Badlands don’t disappoint.  The park consists of ravines, ridges, and cliffs in a variety of colors shown in the sedimentary stripes.

The Badlands are also home to a wide population of bison, coyotes, bighorn sheep, deer, fox, eagles, pronghorns, and prairie dogs.

To be honest, I’m not sure what this animal’s name is.  We found a herd of them trekking down the cliff.  It might be the bighorn sheep, more likely just a mountain goat.  Here’s one up close.

Here’s one I talked off the ledge…literally!

And yes, of course we have cows in Wisconsin, but this one just begged me to take his photo!

These critters were EVERYWHERE!

Our first bison sighting!!!

I promise we get a lot closer in Yellowstone, but this was a big deal at the time!

A Swift Fox – Isn’t he cute?

More shots of the beautiful Badlands!

Next stop:  Keystone, South Dakota – Mount Rushmore

Keystone was established as a mining town, known for the Holy Terror Gold Mine, discovered in 1894.  Lovely name don’t you think?  The discoverer/owner of the mine, William Franklin named it such for his wife.  I just love romance stories!  Still, the mine brought in $70,000 worth of gold per week, so not such a bad present after all!

It wasn’t until the early 1930’s that Gutzon Borglum started working on the models that would become the four presidential faces that now look down over the Black Hills.

Fun Fact:  Did you know that in the original sculpture model, Jefferson’s head was to the left of Washington’s?

True.  There are several theories about the change in arrangement of the presidential faces including that Hugo Villa, an assistant sculptor blew away too much rock around Jefferson, thereby requiring the men to start over – a setback that cost them roughly $10,000.  Or perhaps the granite they were working on had too many fissures in that section.  Some speculate Borglum overheard a woman complain that “Mr. Borglum would never carve two men snuggled up to each other like that,” causing him to blast the mountain out of political correctness.  But more likely, Borglum didn’t like the design and adapted his creation.  

-Trivia information from Mt. Rushmore and Keystone by Tom Domek and Robert E. Hayes

I wonder what it’d be like to have my face on a mountain…

If you check out Mount Rushmore on vacation, I highly recommend checking out the Visitor’s Center/Museum.  Great photograph collection and info on the construction of the monument and the crew that helped to build it.  It was both daring and dangerous for the miners that helped Borglum construct his vision.  One of my favorite sections of the museum included old interviews with some of the crew years after the opening of the monument.  One miner talked about climbing up the face, literally, of the mountain and having to lean back and straighten your legs to walk up while others at the top helped hoist you with a rope around the waist.  Instinct would have you lean forward, for fear of heights, that would cause you to slip.  He said many fellows were dragged by the rope, scraping their very noses against the mountain!

Crazy Horse Memorial:

The Crazy Horse Memorial was one of my favorite things this day.  The story behind its creation is a deeply moving one full of dedication and hard work.

It was a Polish immigrant raised by foster care named Korczak Ziolkowski who met with the Lakota Sioux Chief Standing Bear in 1948.  Korczak was a self taught sculptor, and after winning a contest at a fair, was contacted by Chief Standing Bear to construct the memorial that would tell everyone, “We have heroes too.”

Korczak was in his 30’s when he began the memorial, and he worked on it until his death.  His body is buried at the foot of the mountain, and it is his wife and children who continue to progress on the mountain’s transformation.

To give you an idea of its size, all four of the presidential faces of Mount Rushmore could fit within the head of Crazy Horse!  In the 40’s when Korczak started the blasting, there was a 90+ step staircase he would trek up and down each day.  Occasionally, the generator he used to power his tools would wind down as he climbed halfway up the steps with 50+ pounds of tools on his back and in his arms.  One day, Korczak recalls, he had to climb up and down those stairs nine times to continue his work!

This is what the memorial will look like when it’s finished.  You’ll have to forgive the awkward photo, normally this is pulled out on the deck of the museum and shops, but it had poured rain right before we got there and they had it covered under this awning.

You can see there is MUCH work left to do.  The foundation actually measures the work in decades and tons of rock removed.  The newest improvements included blasting out the hole beneath his arm and much of the rock in front where the horse’s head will be.

The project is a slow moving one requiring great skill, and safety, with the dynamite blasts.  And it will take longer still because Korczak, and now his family, refuse financial assistance from the government.  The memorial is entirely funded by public donations.  Korczak was a true believer in the American Dream, a place where anyone can start a project, work hard, and accomplish something truly great.  The family now abides by this dream.

I love the story behind this mountain.  A story of grandeur all around.  Crazy Horse was a nobel warrior who fought for his people during some of the most difficult times in American Indian history.  His memorial now points to the land “where his people lie.”  The Black Hills.  His likeness is not actually known, and Korczak created it with the help of Chief Standing Bear and other tribesmen who knew him.

Thanks for sharing in my travels and mini history lesson!  Have any of you visited these places?  What did you think?  What did you love about the stories behind their creation?  Or if you haven’t been to see them, which one do you want to see first?

Still more to come!  Stay tuned for tales from Deadwood, South Dakota, the old time – and possibly present day – haunts of Wild West characters like Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane!

The Road Trip Chronicles: Lessons in Music History and Yard Art

Is it possible to travel for a living?  How does one become Anthony Bourdain’s slightly quirky redheaded co-host?  I’d try just about any food if it meant I can go to Singapore with him.

Yep, I’ve got the travel bug.  Eleven days gone and I wasn’t ready to come back.  Surprisingly to all, Joe and I didn’t get into any fights (well, maybe one, but you’ll have to wait till the Yellowstone portion for that).  Being cooped up in the car for hours at a time until we reached the next destination was manageable.  We each had our selection of cds – Driver picks the music.  It was fun.  I had never been to any of the places we stopped at, so it was a wonderful adventure.

We hit the road at 2 am after I’d finished working inventory at the store.  Joe let me sleep in the car while he drove.  Our first stop was to Vermillion, South Dakota to the Music History Museum.

Scenes from Vermillion, SD:

Joe standing next to the very coveted/very expensive Stradivari-made guitar!

The audio tour of the Music History Museum is really cool.  At each listening station, you can hear clips of what the instrument sounds like as well as its history.  They have some rare instruments from all over the world.  Their prize is a guitar made by renowned violin maker Antonio Stradivari, think Stradivarius…you’ve heard of him, no?  There are only 3 guitars still remaining.  One is privately owned, one is on display in London, and the third is in the Music History Museum in Vermillion, South Dakota.  It’s valued at 3 million dollars!

You may not have guessed it, but I love blues music.  Ever since my brother and sister-in-law took me to a Blues Festival, I’ve loved the sound of a steel guitar.  In fact some of my driving music included tunes by Muddy Waters, Son House, Bessie Smith, and Robert Johnson.  I left my Blind Willie Johnson at home; he’s a bit much sometimes.

Did you know we have Slovakia to thank for that tinny, slide sound of the Dobro?  Jan, Rudi, and Emil Dopyera, from Straze, Slovakia, moved to Los Angeles as children in 1908.  In 1926, Jan patented a resophonic, steel guitar.  He and his brothers would go on to found the Dopyera Brothers, a music company making string instruments.  The term “Dobro”  comes from their name, DOpyera BROthers.  The steel guitar was the early catalyst for electric versions, but blues music hung on the sound the steel made.  It’s wooden brother was known more widely amongst country music players.  Have a listen!

Kraig Kenning is the artist I heard at the Blues Festival and loved the sound of the dobro ever since!  He’s a Slide Guitar Champion.

1978 Resonator Guitar by the Dopyera Brothers, one of the last they made.

The craftsmanship of so many of the instruments was breathtaking.  Look at these Norwegian violins!

Ok, this guy was created by Benjamin Franklin (I don’t recall if he made this exact one, but he invented the design).  After listening to the water glasses of all things, he wanted to recreate the sound without fussing with water levels in the glasses.  Behold his invention!  This instrument is an early form of piano and high society like Marie Antoinette played this in her parlor.

This elaborate instrument was worn as a headdress in the South Pacific region, and acted as a ceremonial horn.  I think it’s watching you…

My favorite instrument of the day was found in this mayuri (peacock) lute from India!  It’s awesome!  I sent a postcard of it to my sister and she told me it was the ugliest post card she’d ever received.  Well, guess what you’re getting for Christmas…

The celebrity section of the museum contained some big names indeed!  Inside this case, the center guitar was played by Johnny Cash!  To the right is his wife, June Carter’s guitar.

Ok, I had more than one favorite instrument.  I was also a big fan of this!  Stan Fritts and the Korn Kobblers used washboards with spittoons and horns attached.  For entertainment, it had all the bells and whistles, literally, for a hootenanny of the time!

What collection is complete without some Beatles paraphernalia?  This Sargent Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band trumpet was used as a prop in their film by the same title.

Scenes from Sioux Falls, SD:

Another quick stop along the way was Sioux Falls, SD to the Observatory overlooking the falls.

Our first “bison sighting”!!!

Scenes from Wall, SD:

We made it as far as Wall the first day.  You may have heard of Wall for its umpteen-million billboards for Wall Drug, a run of old west looking stores that pretty much all sell the same stuff.  If you’re still curious, this is what it looks like.

Other scenes of exotic Wall, SD include this random, giant dinosaur.

And my particular favorite, this person’s yard!

I don’t have a clue what’s happening there, but I really like it!

More travel stories yet to come!  Tune in to hear about historic Keystone, SD, home of Mount Rushmore and the Crazy Horse Memorial!  Until then, if you didn’t yet vote in the “What Should Jess Blog About In the Future” Poll, please do so here!  

Travel Necessities: What Do You HAVE to Pack?

Joe and I have been together for almost 6 years now.  That’s a lot of time to bum around new places with someone!  In just 3 days, we’ll be hitting the road and making our way west toward Yellowstone National Park!  While I’m gone, expect some guest posts and photo check-ins, and I’ll be back along the way to chat with you all in the comments section.

For this round of Guilty Pleasures Friday, I started thinking about the things that become travel companions.  We’ve all got some, right?  That pair of worn in shoes you wore backpacking, that old college alumni sweatshirt that’s got holes in it, a favorite fragrance that makes you feel confident?  We may not realize or admit it, but our clothes make us comfortable.  And sometimes, there’s a story behind them.

Take Joe’s UW-La Crosse T-Shirt:

Joe and I in Seattle, WA 2009

Joe and I in Boston, MA 2010

And you know there’d be a 2011 photo, except I’m vain I’m detailed and said he couldn’t keep wearing the same shirt on every vacation we had!

But then, I’m guilty of it too…

Jess’ Adidas Jacket:

South Korea, April 2012

Me with my Book Club, June 2012

And you can be sure there’d be more snaps of this coat too, except I wore it back in 2003 on my trip to Ireland!  Those photos were still developed on film!

I had to laugh when we were both packing for our road trip this week because I didn’t want him to bring the t-shirt, and he doesn’t want me to bring the jacket!  (Shh – It might be going along anyway!)  

I’m also partial to a particular Fossil bag:

New Orleans, LA 2011

Toronto, Canada 2011

N Seoul Tower, South Korea 2012

See, my handbag and spring jacket have been international passengers with me!  They hold a dear place in my heart because maybe sand from the Sokcho, Korea beach is still in my pockets.  Or perhaps that warped leather was from the hail storm I got caught in while in New Orleans.

I never would’ve said I was sentimental about my clothes, but I guess I am.  Maybe when I get back and post pictures from Yellowstone, we can all play a cyber game of Where’s Waldo – only it’ll be where’s Jess’ Adidas jacket cameo?

What travel items do you have to take with you?  Does your partner have one?  Do you love it or hate it?  What makes it sentimental?

Jess Takes on Circus World

Experience the Thrill That Never Grows Old

Preface:  I recently finished reading Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen and learned that she did some of her research at the Circus World Museum in Baraboo, Wisconsin.  So this Memorial Day Weekend, my best friend and I, took a two hour road trip TO THE CIRCUS!!!

History:  Set on the grounds alongside the Baraboo River, the Circus Museum is where the Ringling Brothers grew up and also where they rested and repaired their acts during the winter.  The museum is set up in a series of buildings as well as the circus grounds themselves.  Eight out of ten of the original winter quarter buildings are part of the museum.  Originally begun by the Ringling Brothers attorney, John M. Kelley, and then signed over to the state of Wisconsin, the museum has been open since 1959 and is now operated by the Wisconsin Historical Society.

Gruen’s setting of the traveling circus set during the depression is a very realistic depiction.  The time between 1880 and 1930 is considered to be the golden age of the American Circus.  When the Depression hit, the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey show was the main circus to survive.  Commissioned by the army for WWII recovery, they had tents made by the canvas department.  The army also studied the circus for its efficiency in packing the train cars, everything always going into the same car in the same sequence so everything was accounted for.  Circuses kept up morale, so the RBBB show was excluded from the wartime restrictions on rail travel.

Circus Posters:  The first room you enter in the museum is the history of the circus poster.  Examples of original wood cut and lithography are shown.  What surprised me the most about the posters is the strange images and shows they advertised.  I had no idea how exotic some of the first shows were.  There are posters depicting Burmese Long Neck Women and animal charmers from the African forests.  No wonder shows like RBBB had crowds of 10,000 people and three rings entertaining simultaneously.  Where else would you be able to see such things?

Spectacular, Spectacular:  The second half of the room gives you the history of the Ringling Brothers and their top performers.  Lillian Leitzel is considered to be the Queen of the Circus, performing trapeze acts never accomplished again.  She was only 4’9″ and 95 pounds which makes me love her all the more.  She tragically died during a performance in Copenhagen.

If you’re traveling with kids, you won’t be disappointed by the Spectacular room.  There are costumes!!!  I so would have been in one, but we got there with a massive group and everything was swiped.  Kids of all ages will have fun checking out the parade wagons and glitzy costumes on display here.  And one whole wall is a recreation miniature circus.  You can see the whole overview of the three rings, animal tent, sideshow tents, rail cars, etc.  Really cool to visualize what the whole set up looked like.

Meet Tiny:  Next up, my friend and I crossed the bridge that led to the circus grounds.  First stop, go meet the elephant!

Tiny, a female elephant, was rescued when she was about six months old.  Her parents were poached for the ivory in their tusks, and she was left behind.  She lives most of her days at an animal reservation in Florida with her human family.  She used to be allowed in the house when she was little, and now she taps her trunk on the upstairs windows and pokes her head inside for treats and toys.  Her owner grew up in the circus and his family does the act with Tiny in the Hippodrome.  Tiny is such a part of the family that she doesn’t need to be chained up.  She roams the paddock and is funny and gentle in the home she’s come to know.

Having a moment with Tiny.

I Jess, I Strong Man

Look, the Benzini Brothers! Just like in the book!

Wagons:  Two of the buildings at Circus World are for wagons.  One room houses a vast collection of over 200 circus wagons, the largest and most significant collection in the world.  The second allows you to view the wagon restoration process and see inside what a personal rail car would look like.

Sideshow:  There’s also a history of the sideshow.  One tent houses replicas of the most famous freaks of the RBBB show.

The Fire Eater, the Snake Charmer, the Tattooed Lady

Major Mishap:  Ladies and Gentlemen, next up at Circus World witness Jess take on the Animal Cage in a fearless stupor of enthusiasm!

Yep, that’s right, I had a little accident at Circus World.  The museum is full of wonderful photo opportunities, funny cut outs, animal rides, rich historic wagons, costumes, and memorabilia.  One of the attractions included an open animal wagon you could go inside.  I should tell you, the whole day I had been running around the house crying “I’m going to Circus World, I’m going to Circus World, Freaky and Fabulous can be found at Circus World!”  At this point in my friend’s and my trek, we had fed and pet an elephant, and learned all kinds of cool things about the history of the circus and what a big role our state played in one of the greatest shows on earth!

So, we’ve got this animal cage, right?  You walk up the steps, go into the cage, grab the bars, growl or smile for a picture and walk out.  Simple?  Should be…but if one has the anticipation and excitement of kid let loose in a world of sequins, big animals, onion rings, cotton candy, and an upcoming circus performance, it’s not that easy.  All I ask, dear reader, is that you show a little sympathy, but I understand if you laugh at my injury induced enthusiasm.

You’re familiar with the expression “Walk, don’t run?”  Mmm, should’ve listened more.  I RAN up the metal stairs into the metal wagon whereupon I HIT with a thunderous bang my FACE on the doorframe.  Families walking down the path cried out, “Are you ok?”  *Shake it off, don’t make a scene*

The following is a re-enactment of the dialogue between my friend and I:

“Are you ok?”

“Yah, I’m fine.  Take my picture!”


“What’s wrong, am I bleeding?”


That’s right, ladies and gentlemen, I hit my face so hard, not only did I have a gash, and I mean gash, on my nose dripping blood, I also had a gusher of a bloody nose, and one bad headache.  My friend ran off to get paper towel, unbeknownst to me couldn’t find a bathroom and the one volunteer she ran into was the girl’s first day and she hadn’t a clue.  So, if we’re taking notes here, that would leave me BLEEDING IN A CAGE IN THE MIDDLE OF CIRCUS WORLD, FRIGHTENING LOTS OF CHILDREN!

“Here’s some paper towel.  Let’s clean you up.”

“Is it bad?”

“Um a little bit.  But look at you, not a drop on your clothes!”

“My arms are covered in blood!”

“Can you make it to the bathroom?”

“Do I look like Carrie?”

“Let’s use my water bottle first.”

You know you’ve got a true friend when they help you clean blood off your face.  Despite the baseball size lump on my forehead and the 3/4 inch chunk of skin missing from my nose that bled all day and forced me to make period stops in the restroom to clean my face up, I demanded with the same enthusiasm that we STAY AT THE CIRCUS!  I put my sunglasses on and some tissue in my purse, and we headed for the hippodrome.

Circus Performance:

Instantly excited because she looks like an extra in Strictly Ballroom. "Who's Tina Sparkle?"

Yes, yes that is a great dane driving a wagon full of pekingese and a baboon holding a shot gun. I'd have got a better picture but I was in shock from a blow to the head/believing what I was seeing.

These two were my favorite, Slava and Kristina. They did balancing acts, juggling, hoolahoops, and were just really FUN to watch!

Tiny makes her stage showcase!

So, one road trip, and one ER visit/tetanus shot later, I’m a bit puffy, there’s an unattractive cut on my nose, and I’ve now earned a black eye, but I highly recommend you all HEAD TO THE CIRCUS!  I had a freaky, fantastic time!

What story should I tell everyone at work tomorrow?

Leave your suggestions in the comments!  I’ll need all the help I can get.  😉

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