Following Footsteps

Years ago we traveled as a family to Boston in the heat of August. We were all drenched in sweat as we walked into the cool air-conditioning of the National Park Service building outside of the USS Constitution.

Our daughter Kyle, 11, wiped her brow and announced quite loudly, “I hate history!”

The woman behind the counter shined a big, bright smile at Kyle and said, “Honey, if it weren’t for history, you wouldn’t be here!”

Ever since that exchange, I think about those who walked in the paths I’ve traveled. I think about their lives and their families. And in the case of our first stop on our historical tour through Alabama and Mississippi, I think about how they fought and died for what they believed to be true.

Vicksburg National Military Park

Vicksburg sits on the edge of the great Mississippi River. The city stood at the crossroads of the Civil War. The Union troops, led by Ulysses S. Grant, were on a mission to lay siege to Vicksburg and command control of the Mississippi. The Confederate soldiers reported to John C. Pemberton as they attempted to defend this strategic stronghold.

President Abraham Lincoln said, “Vicksburg is the key…the war can never be brought to a close until that key is in our pocket. Confederate President Jefferson Davis stated that Vicksburg was “the nailhead that holds the South’s two halves together.”

firing of a cannon

For 47 days beginning in May of 1863, the 33,000 Confederate soldiers and 77,000 Union soldiers fought valiantly over that “nailhead” and key. The Confederates built fortifications and rifle pits out of the rich soil. They dug in deep ravines as they fought off the multiple assaults and bombardment of continual cannon fire from the Union troops.


Photo credit: Vicksburg National Military Park

Ultimately, lack of food, supplies and sickness took its toll on the Confederates. Grant and Pemberton met to discuss terms of the Confederate surrender. Grant wanted unconditional terms, which Pemberton refused. Grant reconsidered overnight, and on July 4, the Confederate troops laid down their arms and walked away from the battlefield, their white flags of surrender waving in the hot summer air.

The estimated casualties were 37, 273.  Each side lost roughly 800 soldiers to the battle, but more foretelling is that the Confederate troops counted 29,620 as missing or captured.

Art to Honor

The Vicksburg National Military Park was established in 1899, and soon after the country’s top monument architects and engineers were commissioned to create monuments dedicated to the soldiers who fought in the battle.

We marveled at the artistry and were moved by the powerful sentiments. Here are a few of the monuments that correspond with the battlefield positions of the Union and Confederate soldiers.



This is the memorial to the Wisconsin troops. A bronze statue of “Old Abe” the war eagle mascot of the 8th Wisconsin Infantry sits on top of the memorial. Bronze tablets on the statue reflect the names of the 9,075 Wisconsin troops who fought at Vicksburg.





The memorial to the Alabama men who fought features seven soldiers being inspired by a women, who is intended to represent the state itself. This magnificent work was sculpted by German artist Steffen Thomas, who emigrated to the United States and lived in Stone Mountain, Georgia. Here is a link to the museum which was created in his honor. I’ve never been…will have to check it out next time we visit Kyle in Atlanta.








The memorial to the Arkansas soldiers was created out of marble from Mount Airy, North Carolina. The inscription reads, “To the Arkansas Confederate Soldiers and Sailors, a part of a nation divided by the sword and reunited at the altar of faith.”






Unknown Soldiers and Dog Tags

The Vicksburg National Cemetery was established on the site in 1866. It is one of the first national cemeteries in the country and the largest Union cemetery. We discovered that of the 17,000 soldiers buried here, 13,000 of the identities are unknown.

To try and prevent being buried as an unknown soldier, some marked their clothing with pinned-on tags, or with stencils. Others used old coins or even carved their name on a piece of wood their carried. It wasn’t until after the Spanish-American War that official identification, i.e. “dog tags” were required to be worn by soldiers.

Yellow Gingko leaves lay around a soldier's headstone in the national cemetery.

The Vicksburg National Cemetery. Photo Credit: NPS

B.B. King Museum

A young boy was born to sharecroppers in the Mississippi Delta in 1925. His parents separated when he was five, and by the age of seven, he was out in the cotton fields working away. His mother died when he was just nine years old, and was sent to live with his grandmother, who passed away just five years later.

The boy, Riley King, befriended the guitar-playing minister at his grandmother’s church.

The rest is history.

Riley played on street corners on Saturday nights, and on Sunday mornings with the St. John’s Gospel Singers. Riley broke away from the group, hitchhiking to Memphis in 1947 to pursue a career in music.

Just a year later, Riley landed on the KWEM radio station out of West Memphis. Riley earned the nickname Beale Street Blues Boy, later shortened to simply B.B. King.

We spent several hours at the museum. learning about B.B. King’s journey from busking on streets to becoming an international icon. The thread of civil rights is woven through his story, and represented quite well throughout the exhibits.

My favorite story from his early days touring involved needing to stop for gas to fuel up “Big Red,” his first tour bus. When B.B. stepped out of the coach to use the restrooms, often the station owner sized B.B. up and told him the restrooms were closed. B.B.  walked over to the bus driver and told him to stop pumping gas. No restrooms, no gas sale.

B.B. King’s personal journal.

Blues legend B.B. King passed away in 2015 at the age of 89.

Here’s a link to one of his top hits, “The Thrill is Gone.”

Southern Homes…from Plantation to Frank Lloyd Wright

Brad discovered the Belmont Plantation and the Frank Lloyd Wright Rosenbaum House during our travels.

We were transported back into the antebellum past in the Belmont, resplendent with all the trappings of a southern plantation. Then, we were jettisoned into the simplicity of a Usonian home with it’s simple L-shaped grid, flat roof and efficient use of space in the Rosenbaum home.

The Belmont was built between 1855-1861. It has 9,000 square feet.

The original Rosenbaum House was 1540 square feet and took just nine months to build.

Both Storied Histories

Dr. William Worthington, the original Belmont owner, was both planter and medicine man. He possessed over 80 slaves. According to the Belmont’s current owner, Bradley Hauser, the slaves were taught to read and write and well cared for. Bradley is currently researching the families who lived as slaves at the plantation.

When Stanley Rosenbaum married Mildred, a native New Yorker, Stanley’s parents were worried that the newlyweds would move to New York. So they gifted the young couple with the property right across the street from their home. Wright was commissioned to build the home for the Stanley and Mildred and was completed in 1939.


The Belmont Plantation and the Rosenbaum House. Photo credit:

Major Restorations to Both

The Belmont Plantation has been through a number of restorations over the years. After a series of families owned the home, by 2014 the bank foreclosed on the property. The front porches were falling down, the plumbing system was a mess, the roof leaked, and worst of all, a number of Delta critters had taken residence in the once stately mansion. Joshua Cain bought the house in 2015 and restored the home to its original glory, including many of the Worthington’s furnishings.

Bradley Hauser continues to preserve the home, which serves as a Bed & Breakfast.

The foyer (l.) and the women’s parlor at the Belmont.

The Rosenbaum home remained a family home until 1999, when Mildred passed away. She attempted to sell the house before she died. After she interviewed a prospective buyer, she refused, as he intended to make too many changes to the beloved Wright-designed home.

The City of Florence and Mildred ultimately came to an agreement for the municipality to purchase and preserve the home. An extensive restoration costing $750,000 began in 1999. Work included replacing the leaking roof, replacing termite damaged walls and updating the antiquated heating and air-conditioning systems.

Across the street from the home is a small museum (tickets for tours can be purchased here) and includes a number of photos of the home during the renovations.

The front living space and the dining room in the Rosenbaum House.


From the rapid-fire chases in the ditches at Vicksburg, to those of B.B. King as he faced racism on tour. From the pained steps of slaves in the South, to the pitter patter of the Rosenbaum children in their unique home.

We can only begin to imagine their lives by following in their footsteps.

Some day the same will be said about ours.


Status Report

Project Name: Arizona Adventures

Project Managers: Brad and Julie Rubini

Project Dates: February 15-March 15

Overall Project Status: Overcoming Challenges 

I’ve struggled with social media for some time…I mean nobody’s life can be that perfect, right?

The same holds true in my own. I mean, I’m living many people’s dream…taking off in a beautiful motorhome, traveling the country with my life partner, experiencing sights and adventures that touch my soul to the core.

I get the fact that any negative experiences, challenges, or struggles can’t even begin to compare with what many people face every day. But then, not everyone has experienced the ultimate loss of a child as we have, so it rather puts my life of extremes into perspective. Life came all too much into perspective after our daughter Claire’s death. Since, Brad and I choose to live, really live…no holds barred.

So on one hand what I’m about to offer to you might be considered whining given our luxurious mode of cross-country travel. On the other, I hope that what you gain from it is how these two “project managers” work together to overcome the challenges. Most of all, that this post reflects our gratitude for our support system to help us through.

Schedule: Progress Halted

First and foremost, Brad suddenly lost his hearing in his left ear several weeks ago. One day here, the next gone. We’re grateful for the access to healthcare while on the road. His hearing is slightly improved after a round of serious steroids, but not completely back. He is following up with his doctor back home for care.

We’ve had a variety of mechanical issues, some avoidable, some, well, not so much. Since being on the road, we’ve had broken slides in the back (repaired in Idaho thanks to Brad’s stepbrother, Michael), replaced in Tucson, then replaced again two days later when the new system didn’t work properly. Our dryer simply stopped. (I know, I know. We have a dryer in this thing?) Our electricity was wonky at our site in Casa Grande. One of the tires on the Jeep has a slow leak. A stone kicked up and cracked our windshield. The same one we replaced last year. And so it goes…

But the real topper was to come back from a full-day visit with our friends Tom and Margo Herman in Phoenix to see a new water feature in our camp site…water was streaming out of the base of the motorhome. Maybe streaming is too gentle a word. More like pouring.

It doesn’t really matter how it happened in this story. What’s important, just like the other challenges, was what happened after. We both jumped into action. We cut off the source of the water, I grabbed all of our extra towels, Brad high-tailed it to the local Home Depot to get some industrial fans. I’m not going to lie…I shed a few tears. I wanted to call someone for empathy, but the best person for the call is no longer of this earth. My friend and “second” mom, Barb Falzone, a bereaved parent as well, would have said (as she did years ago following our basement flood six months after Claire died), “it just doesn’t matter as much now as it would have before, right?”


Forecast: Upward Trend

On the upside, the display of all of our items stored in our bays underneath the coach, encouraged conversations with our neighbors, Lisa and Bruce, from Nova Scotia. We hosted them for margaritas and fajitas one night, they reciprocated by having us over for cocktails another evening. They loved Luna, and Lisa made this adorable blanket for our sweet girl. We have an open invitation to visit them, and I imagine we’ll do just that!

Hanging with Lisa and Bruce. Luna and her blankie.

Through this all, we had wonderful times and heart-felt conversations with Margo and Tom. We hosted them for a day at our campground, playing pickleball and hitting the pool. We traveled up north to their lovely home numerous times, and they were kind to allow us to stay overnight so as not to trek the hour+ drive each way. Our fun adventures included a few dinners out, Margo and I getting pampered with haircuts and pedis, and oh yeah, getting kicked off of a golf course.

Kicked off a golf course? What??? Yep. First time for everything. And we didn’t even do anything wrong, trust me. Brad belongs to a golf program where a member of a private club agrees to host us, as in play with us, not pay for us. A member of Wildfire Golf Club in Scottsdale was to host us…but he didn’t show up. He not only didn’t show up, but he suggested another guest who reached out to him join us. So, the four of us unattended guests played five holes, keeping pace with the group in front of us, fixing our divots (and those of others), and generally behaving ourselves. On the sixth tee, an employee was directed to usher us off of the private Faldo course and on to the semi-private Palmer Course.

Needless to say, I didn’t buy the shirt I admired in the pro shop, and I wouldn’t recommend this course to anyone.

We laughed about the situation after…we laughed a lot with Margo and Tom. Their company helped us tremendously through our trials and tribulations in Phoenix.

Pickleball with Margo and Tom. 

We also managed to find water in the Phoenix area to paddle on. Our outing on beautiful Canyon Lake was restorative. The waterfowl were amazing, and saw a few bass avoiding the fishermen in the coves.

Paddling Canyon Lake.

We hiked South Mountain with Margo and Tom, and hit a few trails nearer our campground in Casa Grande. Luna had a blast as well, and we all managed to avoid snakes.

Mountain near Casa Grande.

One of the highlights of our time in Phoenix was connecting with our dear friends Gretchen and Rick from Toledo. Along with Rick’s daughter, Emily, we took in a Cleveland Guardians spring training game. We also met up with them at the Indian Fair & Market at the Heard Museum. I bought a beautiful bracelet, enchanted by the artist’s stories.

Cleveland Guardians Spring Training Game.

Finally, we took in the Tucson Festival of Books. Brad went to a panel with mystery writer C. J. Box, and I attended a session with my favorite middle-grade author, Kate DiCamillo. I met Kate several years ago at the Cincinnati Books by the Banks, and if the universe has anything to say about it, Kate will come visit Claire’s Day some year.

Mystery writer C. J. Box and Middle-Grade Author Kate DiCamillo.

Status Report Summary:

So, after a series of setbacks, countered with excellent adventures together, and with friends, we are enjoying the last few weeks of our travels. As we make our way back home, we try to relish the moments as our time on the road draws to an end. And pray nothing else happens.

But if it does, we’re ready and able to handle it.


Celebrating meeting 40 years ago on St. Patty’s Day!