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What a Difference 5 Months Can Make

It is hard to believe it has nearly been 5 months since I left my marriage and Australia.

Even harder to believe is just how much my life has turned around since. Don’t get me wrong – the first couple of days I was in a semi state of shock – Did I finally get out? Did I finally do it? Am I actually back in the USA?

Then, a large sense of relief set in with the realization, “I will never have to live like that again”. While I returned home completely directionless – an overwhelming sense of freedom squashed a good part of my fears.

Over the years, my spirit had become completely crushed – I was an empty shell. I honestly had lost all sense of self, all sense of self worth and my confidence. I became unrecognizable to the people who had known and loved me my whole life – I didn’t even know who I was anymore.

All it took was one full month of removing myself from a toxic situation for my friends and family to begin making comments about how happy they were to see me smiling again.

Fast-forward 5 months… and I am still amazed by how much has changed.

On my return to the USA, I spent my first 3 weeks in Arizona. It was then I decided I would move to Arizona after spending the holidays with my family in New Hampshire. What can I say, I knew I needed them more than ever and I felt I had already missed out on so much with them over the years.

Once in New Hampshire, I decided I would focus on only three things: my health, my family and work.

Since I was literally starting from ground zero, was still emotionally beat up and knew a move was in the near future, I wanted to avoid getting overwhelmed with trying to fix too much at once.

The first thing I decided to tackle was my health…

In 2.5 months I lost just over 30lbs/13.6kg (amazing what the removal of drama can do). While I still have 40lbs./18.14kg more to lose (and will) – the changes in my face and body have been beyond exciting…

I am finally starting to see me again.

In addition to focusing on my weight, I picked up a seasonal job to get through the holidays and started focusing on turning my art into a career.

Then – right after Christmas – I made the big move/drive from New Hampshire to Arizona.

So – here I am – living in Arizona with my brother. I am 30lbs. lighter and covered in paint 90% of the time. I am still trying to find a job that will help pay the bills while getting the art going. I am doing my best to annoy family and friends any chance I get… And of all the things I would have never expected, I am now dating an amazing guy who encourages my silliness and creativity (even matches both) while making me laugh regularly.

While some struggles are still present and will be for awhile, I am currently the happiest I have been on a personal level in… 6 or 7 years?

I am so glad I finally said, “enough.”

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A New Start

I think everyone, at some point in their lives, experiences something that absolutely levels them. It may sneak up and completely catch you by surprise… or the thing will slowly and quietly eat you alive over years.

In either case – you are left broken.

You’ve hit bottom and you are not only faced with the daunting task of trying to get yourself back – you are also trying to rebuild your life from ground zero.

For all of us – the event will vary. The death of a loved one, financial troubles, battling bad health, the end of a relationship… regardless of what your “it” is, dealing with the aftermath can be both scary and (sometimes) liberating.

For me – without getting into too much detail – I finally decided to leave an extremely unhealthy relationship/marriage. This is not a decision I have taken lightly… and to be honest… I held on for way longer than I ever should have.

Why?

Because I loved him… Because loyalty… because marriage is forever… because relationships take work… because marriage is about forgiveness… because nobodies perfect… because I’m not a quitter…  

However, I have recently learned a badly needed life lesson:

Giving up isn’t always a failure. Sometimes – knowing when to walk – is the best and healthiest thing you can do for yourself.

It took me eight years to finally see through the fog but here I am.

In that time, I have half existed (not lived) in two countries. I lost everything financially. I gave up my career. I left my home, my family, my friends, my country… I compromised on way too much, lost my voice, lost my confidence… worst of all, I lost all sense of self.

And through it all my health – physically, mentally and emotionally – all took a major hit – which lead to me gaining 60 pounds…

…all because I put too much faith in the wrong person.

As someone who has always taken pride in being a “strong” person – this whole experience has been a tough pill to swallow.

The point of me sharing this with you isn’t to go through the details of the crap I have endured. Nor is it me asking you all to get your torches and pitch forks to take revenge on this person.

I guess, it’s just me putting myself out there.

You all know I married. You all know I had moved to Australia to be with this man… and I know there really is no way around addressing the change in my situation.

With that said – as shitty as it all is – for the first time in years I can finally breath. I am starting to think clearer without the endless drama and confusion. And, for the first time in a long time, I am excited to actually regain control of my life.

I’m not going to lie – part of me is terrified since it is a 100% rebuild but it’s better than the alternative.

All I can say is, I am insanely lucky to have such a loving, amazing and supportive family and friends.

I am also grateful to you.

There are so many people I have never met in person, who have cheered me on along the way. I sincerely couldn’t be more appreciative.

So, what’s next for me?

Step 1: Get Kris Williams back.

Beyond that, I have absolutely no idea but I have all the faith in the world that it will work out.

And for all of those who are also going though a bad stretch – hang in there, you are not alone.

Lots of Love,

Kris

P.S. I would love to hear your stories below in the comments… what was your ground zero moment? How old were you and how did you bounce back? What lessons did you gain from them?

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A Break From The Norm – Three Paranormal Questions Answered

What can I say… I received an email from Kim Thurston – a fan of the para shows I previously worked for – containing three questions… and although I have avoided para talk like the plague for the last several years – I felt like responding.

Maybe it’s my return to the USA that’s got me in a good mood? 😉

Instead of answering Kim directly through email – I decided to share my answers here for anyone with an interest in reading what my silly ass has to say.

That said… here we go!

First Question: “Did you ever see a no doubt, clearly seen, absolutely, positively, clear as day, “ghost”? During 18 years as a police officer in the south, I have been in many civil war era homes and some used as hospitals that the owners say are haunted, but I never have seen anything. I do believe there are such things but my belief is they are more interdemensional beings somehow and in some cases actual demons presenting themselves as “harmless ghosts”

No, I have never seen a “no doubt, clearly seen, absolutely, positively, clear as day, ghost”. Not once. I have seen and experienced odd things – shadow figures, disembodied voices and the like – however I still am not sure what I had seen or what I experienced nor do I feel comfortable labeling something I do not fully understand. There is still the chance my past experiences could be explained.

I will be completely honest and say, as soon as I hear “interdimensional” and “demons” my eyes glaze over and I tend to lose all interest. In the 4.5 years I had actively looked for signs of paranormal activity, I had never encountered anything – not one thing – I would dare classify as demonic.

Does that mean I don’t believe in the possibility of demonic activity? Currently – having no experience with it personally – I leave some room for an open mind… However, with how freely and often the words “demon” and “demonic” are thrown around these days – they hold little weight for me. Its like the whole “boy who called wolf” story. For that reason – the mention of such things are more likely to receive a queit eye roll from me instead of fear or interest.

Unless of course, the stories come from investigators I trust whole-heartedly – who don’t throw such terms around willy-nilly.

Second Question: Did the shows ever re-create something for the cameras? Not make something up (unless they did make something up, and if so, what) but re-create something that actually did happen but just wasn’t caught on camera?

As far as recreating – I have not been involved with recreating or faking anything regarding paranormal experiences.

However, once the investigation session was finished in a room the filming crew might have asked us to re-enter or exit a room if they missed it. Had they not caught one of our questions during an EVP session – they might even ask us to repeat it. But that was the extent of interference or “do overs”.

With the clients, who were not used to being in front of a camera, there could be a lot of stop, starts and do overs… This did not interfere with evidence or our investigation at all since they were simply telling us the story of the location, claims, etc. However, once the investigation started – it was usually on our (investigators) terms.

I say usually because GHI was very different from GH – unlike GH it was more production lead.

If I happened to experience something odd and the cameras did not catch it  – I did not recreate it. If the experience was worth mentioning (was similar to a client’s experiences, etc.) I might mention it but under no circumstances would I do a “do over”.

For the most part – if we didn’t catch the experience with the cameras rolling – the experience didn’t count.  

Third Question: “Do you still do investigations for fun or as a hobby?”

No, I do not.

Unlike other investigators – investigating was not something I was into my whole life. It was not a love or a passion. My family always enjoyed sharing odd stories we experienced over the years and had an open mind – but I didn’t live for the paranormal.

I lived for history. My father has always been a history nut and it rubbed off on me at a young age. Then I got into genealogy at the age of 11 – from there my history obsession only grew.

When I was asked to join GH by Jason and Grant – as much as I appreciated the offer – I turned down the opportunity several times. Like I said, I had an open mind and my family and I had stories… I just had no interest in being seen as a “ghost girl”.

When I finally agreed to join the team – it was following a year I had lost 5 family members and friends in 11 months. At the age of 26, I had not experienced the death of a family member since I was 4 years old. I had not grown up in a church, I had no faith background to fall back on – I found myself lost.

To be honest, I was absolutely broken.

At that point – joining the team became a need. I needed to know there was more to death – I hoped that we didn’t just end. So, when I finally agreed to sign on – even though I didn’t want to be a “ghost girl” I put everything I was into being what I needed (hopefully) for others… an honest voice.

I knew I wasn’t the only one struggling with the death of a loved one, so I wanted to be as honest and straightforward as I hoped someone would be with me on the topic.

That said – by the time I tapped out in October 2011 (the last show I filmed) and 2016 (the last event I had done) I felt the field in general had changed so much – I couldn’t stomach being involved.

As I said above – the word demon and demonic were thrown around like the words “if” “and” and “but”. Skepticism seemed to have been tossed aside completely and those who questioned were verbally beat down and unfairly written off as non-believers and haters.

So, I removed myself for these reasons (along with others).

I had tagged along on one investigation with a friend in 2016 (it was the first investigation I had been on without cameras) for fun. It was nice to be back with friends – a little visit to the past of sorts.

Outside of that, I have spent the last nearly eight years focusing on the living – which is something most of us don’t do nearly enough…

I hope this answered your questions Kim, and I thank you for your support and kind words. I would also like to say – as I always do – I can only speak for myself and my own personal experiences.

I ask that you please keep that in mind when reading my answers.

Hope everyone is having a happy Monday!!! I cannot tell you how amazing it is to be back in the USA! 🙂

Lots of Love,

Kris

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A Weekend with Washington

I would like to thank Holiday Inn for partnering with me to make this post possible. As always, all opinions are my own!  Kris Williams

 

For some time now, Alexandria, Virginia has been one of my favorite destinations in the United States. Located on the western bank of the Potomac River, the city is just a short drive or train ride to the hustle and bustle of Washington, D.C.

From the art galleries, boutiques, restaurants and antique shops of it’s historic center, “Old Town” to the cobblestone streets lined with 18th and 19th century architecture – complete with gas lanterns and American flags – Alexandria is one of those special places that will steal your heart.

Unlike all my previous stays in Alexandria (which revolved around work in D.C.) this trip with Holiday Inn put Alexandria front and center as I set out to get better acquainted with the man we refer to as the father of our country.

With the Fourth of July just around the corner, I would like to share with you my favorite stops in Alexandria that were once a part of George Washington’s stomping grounds.

 

The George Washington Masonic National Memorial

Built to honor the memory of George Washington, his role as a free mason and as a way to preserve the heritage of American Freemasonry – The George Washington Masonic National Memorial left me feeling as though I had entered a Greek or Roman temple.

The Memorial Hall was striking with its eight large granite columns leading you down to an enormous statue of George Washington. There he stood presiding over the hall – gavel in hand while wearing his Masonic apron and jewel. I cannot stress how small I felt in this room or how drawn I was to the statue and colorful murals that lined the walls.

  Not far from Memorial Hall was the Replica Lodge Room – a room designed to look like Alexandria-Washington Lodge No. 22 which was once located on the 2nd floor of City Hall. This room mimics the lodge Washington used to attend and displays furniture from the original location along with artifacts that once belonged to Washington himself.

From the Replica Lodge Room we made our way up to The George Washington Museum. Besides the fact the room was another jaw dropper – some of the artifacts in this room that belonged to Washington were pretty impressive.

From his family bible (complete with signature) and items that traveled with him during the Revolutionary War – right down to a strand of his hair… I was wishing I had more time to look around.

I would say my one and only complaint with the tour is how quickly they would move you through each area.

Last stop at The George Washington Masonic National Memorial was the Observation Deck.

The view from the top was absolutely beautiful – I could not have asked for better weather. Not only could I see all of Alexandria, it was easy to spot the Capital Building and the Washington Monument in nearby D.C.!

 

George Washington’s Townhouse Replica

Located at 508 Cameron Street, wedged between two larger buildings, stands a replica of George Washington’s modest home away from home.

The original townhouse – designed, built and completed by Washington in 1796 – was used by George and Martha as an office and as a place to stay when visiting Alexandria for both business and social events.

After falling into disrepair in 1855, the residence was demolished and the lot was turned into a garden.

Later in 1960, lot owners Gov. and Mrs. Richard Lowe built a replica of Washington’s former townhouse based on rough sketches drawn by a neighbor. The structure was built on the original foundation using bricks and stones evacuated from the site.

Over the years, the property has had several owners but remains a private home and is known as Alexandria’s only replica of a historic building.

Although it’s only a replica, I enjoyed this stop quite a bit.

The first thing that struck me was how small the home was – it wasn’t the grand property you’d expect to be associated with a president.

To me, George Washington has always been this larger than life character – the Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army, a Revolutionary War hero, the first United States president and the father of our country.

While I knew he had Mount Vernon as his main home, the idea of such a successful historical figure staying in this humble little home put a smile on my face. For some reason, I found it easier to connect to him.

Beyond its size, it was fun to watch as many others stopped to have a look. Like me, they commented on the structures size and laughed when they spotted the plaster bust of George Washington peaking from the first floor window.

 

Christ Church

Located at the corner of N. Washington Street and Cameron Street, its hard to believe this little church was once referred to as, “The Church in the Woods”.

While the town of Alexandria has changed significantly since Washington’s time – Christ Church has not.

That’s not to say there hasn’t been additions, modifications or restoration efforts since it was completed in 1773 – they have just been minimal enough that you’re still able to see what Washington saw when he attended.

The biggest changes made over the years have been the addition of balcony seating with support columns, the replica wine glass podium, the silver candelabras and two memorial plaques – one for George Washington and the other for another famous attendee, Robert E. Lee.

Whenever Washington stayed at his Cameron Street townhouse for business or social events, he would attend Christ Church with his family.

Funny enough (in those times) it was common for attendees to buy or rent box pews. When I heard this, I immediately thought of someone buying box seats at a baseball stadium.

…Entertainment has certainly changed over the years.

As much as I loved this stop as a whole, I think the highlight of my visit was getting to sit in the pew that was once owned by Washington himself.

Yes, it is still there!

Getting to sit where he sat, where he worshiped and where he socialized… looking up at the podium – imagining the balconies and support columns, silver candelabras and plaques removed… looking around imagining people trying to read from their bibles using the sunlight that poured through wavy glass windows…

What a wild experience.

I will never get over opportunities like this and am so grateful historical structures like Christ Church are still standing.

 

Gadsby’s Tavern Restaurant

Built in the late 1700’s the Gadsby’s Tavern consisted of two buildings – a tavern and hotel. Operated by John Gadsby from 1796 – 1808, Gadsby’s Tavern was the place to go in Alexandria for fine dinning, drinks (including the tavern’s famous – rum punch), social events and meetings, as well as a place to crash for the night.

George Washington was not only known for eating here – he and Martha Washington also attended two birthday celebrations that were held in his honor.

Today the two buildings function as a museum and a restaurant, serving lunch and dinner daily, along with Sunday brunch.

On one of my nights in town, I stopped into Gadsby’s for dinner and absolutely loved it. The first room I walked into had more of the tavern feel – a lot of worn woodwork, a fireplace and a full bar.

Just off this first room were two other dinning spaces with a completely different feel – more formal. The chairs and tables were a little more decorative (but still worn) and the walls were an off white with a light blue trim and crown molding. The room was decorated with curtains, a painting and other framed drawings.

One of the best parts were the server’s uniforms – they looked like they jumped right out of the late 1700’s with their high stockings, cropped pants, vests, shirts and aprons.

Talk about a time warp!

I spent most of my meal admiring my surroundings while grinning like a total nerd.

 

For dinner, I started with a French Onion Soup with bread and a glass of the tavern’s specialty – rum punch.

After all – how could I say no to a drink they’ve been serving since the late 1700’s?

I blame George Washington.

Following the soup, I went for the Gentleman’s Pye… described by the tavern as, “a colonial favorite – tender cuts of lamb and beef in a savory red wine stew topped with mashed red potatoes and a puff pastry crust”.

The entire experience was fantastic in both food and atmosphere.

 

Mount Vernon

The last stop on my trip brought me to Mount Vernon – Washington’s plantation home just south of Alexandria.

The estate, which sits on the banks of the Potomac River, originally belonged to George’s father, Augustine. Following Augustine’s death, the home was left to George’s half-brother Lawrence Washington. Lawrence renamed the property Mount Vernon and following his death – the property eventually made it’s way into George’s ownership.

Today, the property is operated as a museum by the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association – who rely entirely on private donations and admission sales to keep Mount Vernon running.

With admission you are free to explore the grounds, which include: the mansion, blacksmith shop, slave quarters, pioneer farm, gardens, wharf, slave memorial and burial ground, Washington’s tomb, museum and education center.

Of all the stops, my favorite was the guided tour through the mansion, which was decorated to look as it did in 1799 (the year of Washington’s death). It was amazing to be able to walk through a property that old, to see it so well preserved and to get a feel for how Washington lived.

The rooms in the house were beautiful – some were very ornate with high ceilings, green walls, marble fireplaces and large crown molding, while others fell more on the simple side for daily or private use.

Of all the items in the home, I really enjoyed one of Washington’s prized possessions.

Hung on the wall of the first floor landing or entry is a case made by Washington that displays a one pound, three ounce, wrought iron key. The key – which belonged to the Bastille – was sent to Washington by Marquis de Lafayette as a gift.

On December 14, 1799 George Washington passed away at the age of 67 in his home from a short illness that started with a sore throat. His funeral was held on December 18th where he was interred in a family crypt at Mount Vernon.

As the crypt began to fall into disrepair and an unsuccessful attempt was made to steal Washington’s skull – plans were made to move his remains.

While attempts were made by some to move Washington’s body to the Capitol, Southerns fought hard to keep him where they felt he belonged – in the south.

Eventually – on October 7, 1837 – both Washington and his wife Martha were moved to the new tomb on the grounds of Mount Vernon.

After spending the weekend in Alexandria walking in George Washington’s footsteps, I was surprised by many things.

It blew my mind that so many buildings from his time are still standing. Being able to walk down the same streets and see some of the same sights Washington would have was such a surreal experience.

Also, to learn that he prided himself as a farmer first and foremost and questioned his own capabilities as a leader in the Revolutionary War went against every heroic, patriotic image I grew up with. To know a man who is still so loved and admired had his own self-doubts helped me see past the legend and straight to the man himself.

I want to thank Holiday Inn for giving me the opportunity to get better acquainted with the first president and father of our country, George Washington.

HAPPY FOURTH OF JULY!!!

(Photo of Painting hanging in The George Washington Masonic National Memorial)

This is a sponsored conversation written by me on behalf of Holiday Inn. The opinions and text are all mine.

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Gold, Gunslingers and Presidential Profiles

I would like to thank Holiday Inn for partnering with me to make this post possible. As always, all opinions are my own!  Kris Williams

My trip to Deadwood was spurred by a desire to see Mount Rushmore. When Holiday Inn told me they had two locations perfect for such a trip – one in Rapid City and one in Deadwood – I jumped at the chance to visit the old, rough and tumble, gold mining town.

Named for dead trees found scattered throughout its gulch, the legend of Deadwood has far outgrown its 3.83 square mile border. From the discovery of gold in 1874, the town’s colorful history and Gold Rush Era architecture to its notorious residents and visitors, it’s not surprising the entire town of Deadwood is listed as a National Historic Landmark District.

As with all of my trips, I looked for a starting point – a place to get my feet wet with the local history and it’s prominent players.

The Adams Museum was not like other small town museums I have encountered in my travels. Unlike others who fill their walls with junk they’ve tried to sell as some historically significant treasure – the Adams Museum was bubbling over with some of the most interesting artifacts I have ever laid eyes on.

 

From a two-headed calf and odd artifacts connected to U.S. Presidents to exhibits covering Deadwood’s history of gambling, mining, transportation, clothing, brothels, gunslingers and Native American tribes – there was no shortage of things to look at!

Of all the bits and pieces they had, my favorite corner of the Adams Museum revolved around, James Butler Hickok – better known as “Wild Bill” Hickok. This American, Old West lawman and gunslinger met his demise in a Deadwood saloon shortly after his arrival.

Photographs of Wild Bill and his personal effects covered the walls. Some of the items in the collection included a handwritten letter to his wife, his 1860 Army Colt revolver, straight razor, a “good luck” stone found in his boot and cards from the deck he was using when he was shot.

There were even two detailed, hand drawn portraits of Wild Bill – one of which – left me feeling like I had come face to face with the handsome legend himself.

Beginning as an illegal settlement on land that was granted to the Lakota people, I decided to have a better look at what put Deadwood on the map for thousands of fortune seekers, gunslingers, painted ladies and lawmen.

Broken Boot Mine was a fun family friendly stop that gives visitors an opportunity to tour what was once a working mine and gives them a chance to try their hand at panning.

The tour wasn’t very long but it was fun to walk through the chiseled out pathways, learning about living conditions for the miners, tools they used, lighting they worked by and the minerals that could be found. I also really enjoyed having a look at the wooden structures and supports built to help reinforce the pathways.

I honestly couldn’t imagine living or working in those conditions!

Following the tour, I paid a little extra to give panning a go. Lead to a covered outdoor area that had large basins filled with water – I was given a bag of pebbles and a plastic bowl known as a “pan”. Dumping the pebbles into the pan, I was given a lesson on panning techniques. With a lot of patience, persistence and soaked clothes – I got pretty excited when sparkling little gold flakes started to surface!

With every bag of pebbles visitors are guaranteed to find something – nothing you could retire on but a cool experience nonetheless.

If you are a fan of the Old West and its larger than life characters and events, you really can’t pass through Deadwood without making a stop at Saloon No. 10. While it is best known as the saloon Wild Bill Hickok was shot down in by Jack McCall – this is not the original location of the saloon.

After the original location burnt to the ground, Saloon No. 10 was moved to Main Street – where the front section was built to replicate the original saloon. From the worn woodwork, saw dust covered floors and thousands of photographs, animal heads, artifacts and antiques that cover the walls to the slot machines, live music, drinks, food and historical reenactments (where you can regularly watch Wild Bill meet his demise) – there is no shortage of entertainment.

  

One of the weirdest artifacts can be found on display above the saloon’s entrance – Wild Bill’s “Death Chair”. Supposedly, this was the chair Wild Bill sat in while playing a game of poker when he was shot from behind.

While Saloon No. 10 is a fun mix of past meets present and museum meets bar, the thing I enjoyed most about it was…

I walked in feeling like a tourist but left feeling like a local.

Over looking the little mountain town of Deadwood sits Mount Moriah Cemetery – burial place of Wild Bill, Calamity Jane and many other notable residents.

For a small entrance fee, I was given a map of the cemetery (highlighting points of interest) along with access to the restrooms. It has always struck me as funny paying to get into a cemetery – especially when paired with a gift shop on site.

We are weirdly morbid creatures, if you think about it!

 

For the most part, I really enjoyed this stop. It could get a little busy at times since tours would come through with bus loads of people but there was enough time between each tour to have some quiet time to yourself.

The graves of Wild Bill and Calamity Jane were littered with offerings from visitors – everything from bottles of alcohol to silk flowers, stacked rocks, coins and bullets.

Beyond visiting the graves – the view of the town from the cemetery is well worth the trip. You get a birds eye view of everything from the Holiday Inn Deadwood Mountain Grand Resort (large building on far left) to the main street of Deadwood (center to far right).

Speaking of which, I have always wondered… why do the deceased have some of the best views?!

For my final stop – the one that inspired the entire trip – I spent the afternoon exploring Mount Rushmore. After years of hearing people say, “Mount Rushmore was a lot smaller than I expected” … I was finally getting the chance to experience it for myself!

I cannot tell you how excited I was when I turned a corner and spotted Washington, Jefferson, Roosevelt and Lincoln perched on the mountaintop for the first time.

I was still driving and there they were watching over South Dakota!

Standing at the main viewing platform, I could understand why people might walk away feeling like it looked small. However, they seem to be forgetting these faces are sitting at the top of a rather large mountain.

Up close – they would be enormous!

One thing that I almost missed out on – that I highly recommend doing – is the Presidential Trail. Its about a half mile trail and isn’t hugely strenuous. There are some twists, turns and stairs but the views cannot be beat. The trail gives you the opportunity the view Mount Rushmore from many different angles.

I cannot tell you how many times I put my camera away thinking, “Ok, I have enough photos” only to pull the darn thing out again because a new angle left me awestruck.

From the allure of old stories surrounding fortunes built on gold and the infamous gunslingers it attracted, to the profiles of some of our countries most beloved presidents – my trip to Deadwood did not disappoint.

I want to thank Holiday Inn for providing me a place to hide away from the world while I escaped to the past. I will never forget the opportunity I had to walk in the footsteps of legends – who lived in a time when the world danced on the line of lawlessness and law & order.

 

 

 

Wondering why Saloon No. 10’s floor is covered in sawdust? Or why I almost missed out on the Presidential Trail? Looking for tips on visiting or places to eat? Join me on Instagram or Facebook where I will be posting more photos, tips and stories from my trip – Hope to see you there!

Kris Williams

This is a sponsored conversation written by me on behalf of Holiday Inn. The opinions and text are all mine.

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Easy Do It Yourself Minion Cupcakes

 

I love baking, so when my favorite little minion turned six, I was quick to pull out a fun cupcake idea I had tucked away months earlier. Where I found it, I have no idea… it was posted online somewhere – Facebook? Pintrest? Instagram?

Who knows – It was just too cute to not save and try.

Overall, they were pretty easy to make. The biggest drama I had was – of all things – finding Twinkies in Australia. My poor guy, after trying several places with no luck, I sent him out to one shop that sold them individually. $30 it cost him… for one box!!!

They are what? $4 to $5 dollars a box in the U.S.A.? Flippin’ crazy.

Anyway, I don’t think I’ve ever wanted Twinkies that badly…

 

 

Beyond the insanely expensive Twinkies, I bought a few other things:

  • Vanilla Cupcake Mix (Normally I make cakes from scratch but due to lack of time – box mix it was!)
  • White Frosting
  • Food Coloring (to turn white frosting yellow)
  • Blue Cupcake Liners
  • Smarties (or Rockets as they call them in Australia)
  • Large Smarties (or Rockets)
  • Blue Tubed Hardening Writing Icing (Used for overalls)
  • Black Tubed Hardening Writing Icing (Used for facial details)
  • Red Tubed Hardening Writing Icing (Used to color in tongues)

Following the directions on the boxed cupcake mix the night before, I placed the blue cupcake liners in the cupcake tray – filled them with batter and popped them in the oven. Once fully baked, I let them cool then placed them on a plate and covered them with plastic wrap for the night.

I did stray from the original photo I had gotten this idea from by going with only blue cupcake liners. Minions wear blue overalls… being a bit OCD when it comes to anything artsy… my damn minions weren’t about to have pink, poka dotted bottoms.

Besides – let’s be honest – nothing gets by kids! I’m sure, had I used anything but blue I would have been lectured on proper minion attire for half the party.  

 

 

The next morning, I mixed some yellow food coloring into my white frosting until I got a color I was happy with and covered the tops of the cupcakes. Once all covered, I let them set for a bit while I cut the Twinkies in half.

For every one Twinkie, you get two minion heads.

Returning to the cupcakes, I used the Twinkies to get the right spacing for the overall straps then used the blue writing icing to draw them on.

From there, I moved to the faces using a dot of yellow icing to stick the Smartie eyeballs in place then outlined them with the black writing icing (further securing them) – adding the goggle band, eyes, mouths and other facial details.

With the faces, I strayed from the original photo idea again…

The photo that originally gave me the idea, had the same face for every minion – where’s the fun in that?!

Instead of a bunch of two eyed, smiling minions – I made one and two eyed minions, some smiling, some sleeping, some sticking out their tongues, some yelling and others surprised. Using the red writing icing, I colored in the tongues that hung out and added blue Z’s to the one who was sleeping.

If you’re going to make them – have fun with it! Why make them all the same?

Just keep it PG if its a kids party.

 

 

Helpful Tip: Thanks to the suggestion of a lovely lady on Twitter, I did not assemble the minions until I got to the party. Using containers, I transported the cupcakes in one and the minion heads in another (keeping them cool in a cooler or “eskie” as the Aussies say). I didn’t have a problem with the eyeball smarties sliding off but depending on the frosting and writing icing you use, they could easily be a problem. Leaving the heads cool and laying flat will help avoid this.

 

Once we got to the park, I assembled the heads and cupcakes. To help secure the minion heads, I brought some extra yellow frosting in a small container and applied it to the bottoms – lightly pressing them in place on top of the cupcakes.

It only took a couple of seconds to assemble – totally worth avoiding runaway eyes!

 

 

In the end, the kids loved them and got a kick out of picking out which minion they wanted by its facial expression.

Being Australian little ones… they were all a bit confused by Twinkies. It was funny watching them take a few bites, trying to decide if they liked them or not. For those who weren’t a fan, they still had the vanilla cupcake to destroy.

Outside of zombies movie, does anyone actually like Twinkies???

After 36 years, this American has finally found a good use for them thanks to the good ol’ internet. Overall it was a relatively easy, fun and creative alternative to the standard birthday cake.

I would definitely recommend giving them a go if you have a little one who’s crazy for minions!

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America’s First Official Thanksgiving

Located on the banks of the James River in Charles City County, Va., is the Berkeley Plantation, a three-story brick mansion with a lot of history.

Built by Benjamin Harrison IV, it is the birthplace of descendants Benjamin Harrison V, a signer of the Declaration of Independence; William Henry Harrison, the ninth president of the United States; and the ancestral home of Benjamin Harrison, the twenty-third president.

But along with a list of prominent residents, the Berkley Plantation is also the purported site of the first official American Thanksgiving.

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Now, if you are anything like me, I was quick to dispute this. After all, especially being a New Englander, we were all taught the first Thanksgiving took place in the Plymouth Colony in Massachusetts. When the Mayflower arrived on the shores of Massachusetts, with its 102 passengers and about 30 crewmembers, it was welcomed by a harsh November climate. Due to exposure, disease and shortages of food, only 53 Pilgrims survived their first New England winter.

Were it not for the help of Squanto and the Wampanoag people, those 53 Pilgrims may not have had anything to be thankful for. Squanto is known for teaching the Pilgrims how to catch eel and grow crops, as well as acting as interpreter between them and the Wampanoag. Along with Squanto’s help, the Wampanoag leader Massasoit supplied the Pilgrims with food the first winter when supplies from England fell short.

Due to the help they received, the surviving Pilgrims of the Mayflower in early autumn of 1621 enjoyed their first successful harvest. To celebrate the occasion, a three-day feast was held attended by Massasoit, about 90 of his people, Squanto and the Pilgrims. This three-day event of games, singing and dancing while two cultures sat down sharing a meal is what has been romanticized by history as our first Thanksgiving.

However, a historian working at the Berkeley Plantation was kind enough to explain that the traditional meaning of Thanksgiving was strictly a religious observance. In the past it revolved entirely around days of prayer.

Thanksgiving was not an occasion designed with the sole purpose of eating until your stomach explodes (followed up by hours of football) like it has become today.  The Berkeley Plantation also argues there is no evidence that the Pilgrims declared their festival as a Thanksgiving.

Due to overpopulation, unemployment, poverty and a failing woolen industry, people in England looked to the New World as an opportunity for a better life. Looking for religious freedom, fortune and a bit of adventure, many boarded ships to settle in Virginia Colony. While many settlers fought to survive the horrible living conditions in Jamestown, four men in England planned settlement of what would become known as the Berkeley Hundred in Virginia.

With an 8,000-acre land grant along the James River from the London Company, William Throckmorton, Richard Berkeley, George Thorpe and John Smyth looked to make their fortune in tobacco crops.  Together, they commissioned Captain John Woodlief to lead the expedition and the assignment of establishing a government for the Berkeley Hundred.

On Sept. 16, 1619, Throckmorton, Berkeley, Thorpe, Smyth and Woodlief boarded the Good Ship Margaret in Kingrode, Bristol, England. Margaret carried a total of 38 men, all handpicked by Woodlief for their strength and skill. Also on board were large supplies of food, tools, weapons, construction and agricultural tools – as well as goods to trade with the natives.

Barely surviving the two and a half-month journey across the stormy Atlantic, the 47-ton, 35-foot-long ship finally arrived at its destination on Dec. 4, 1619. Once all 38 men were rowed to shore with their personal belongings, they all knelt as Captain Woodlief led them in prayer.

 

Following the specific requests of the London Company, Woodlief declared, “We ordaine that this day of our ships arrival, at the place assigned for plantacon, in the land of Virginia, shall be yearly and perpetually kept holy as a day of Thanksgiving to Almighty God.”

And it is this well-documented event that the Berkeley Plantation believes is the first official American Thanksgiving.

It is hard to deny the documents; the fact is this event took place almost two years before the Pilgrims’ harvest celebration – and it fits the traditional meaning of Thanksgiving. Yet the Berkeley Plantation cannot deny our modern national holiday, declared by Abraham Lincoln in 1863, more closely resembles the celebration of the Pilgrims in Plymouth Colony.

Regardless of where it was originally held, and our need as humans to always be the first, to me it has always been the spirit of the holiday that’s most important. It is about being tolerant and learning to appreciate each other’s differences, which is something our colonist ancestors did not excel at despite the stories we’ve been taught.

The holiday also serves as a reminder to be thankful for, and celebrate, the positive aspects in our lives – such as time with our family, friends and good health. In the end, these are important lessons that should be remembered throughout the year, beyond our one-day celebration of overdosing on turkey and pumpkin pie.

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Our Ancestors and The Spiritualist Movement

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Today it is almost impossible to find a channel without a show that revolves around the paranormal. Every time we turn around there’s a new series that shadows a paranormal group as they investigate unexplained sights and sounds under the green glow of an infrared camera. Armed with an assortment of gadgets, the investigators claim to use science and commonsense to prove or debunk believed paranormal activity.

Due to the popularity of these shows, new paranormal groups have popped up everywhere, while thousands flock to attend lectures, conventions, and ghost hunts looking for an experience of their own. It was just ten years ago having a ghost story would be enough to be labeled crazy, where today it seems as though everybody has one. Ghosts and hauntings are no longer stories saved for around a campfire.

However, this isn’t the first time the need or belief in communicating with the dead has been popular. In March 1848, the Spiritualist Movement was born in Hydesville, NY when two sisters claimed to make contact with a peddler who had supposedly been murdered in their home. Kate and Margaret Fox would ask for knocks from the spirit in response to their questions. When unexplained rappings came from the walls, witnesses were left completely baffled.

It didn’t take long for news of the Fox sister’s supernatural talents to spread throughout their town and eventually the country. Shortly after, they began touring as mediums holding public séances and lectures. As the popularity of these events grew, thousands of believers flocked to mediums to attend séances in hopes of contacting their lost loved ones.

The Spiritualist Movement saw two spikes in popularity: following the Civil War and again following World War I. Many believe it is due to the fact our ancestors were being exposed to the harsh reality of war through photography. Although photography was used to document some battles before the Civil War, they weren’t as extensively covered. War was no longer just some romanticized event rendered in an artist’s work. Our ancestors were being bombarded with gruesome pictures from the battlefields and left mourning the tragic loss of their loved ones in large numbers.

Mixed with our age-long curiosity in life after death, Spiritualism gave our ancestors some comfort. It was a movement that was founded on the beliefs that life existed after death, our spirits went on to a better place, and that they could communicate with the living. By going to a medium, there was a sense that their deceased loved ones weren’t really lost. These beliefs appealed to a wide variety of people, even Abraham Lincoln’s wife Mary Todd Lincoln was known to seek the help of mediums following the death of their young son Willie.

Unfortunately, the fame and fortune mediums were receiving began to attract frauds who were looking to take advantage of those who were grieving. Desperate to believe, some were blind to the trickery pulled by those looking to make a quick buck. During this time, many people stepped forward looking to expose the frauds, including Harry Houdini.

Houdini became interested in the Spiritualist Movement following the death of his mother. After attending several séances in hopes of making contact with her, he discovered the mediums were playing basic parlor tricks on their trusting audience. Using his knowledge as a magician, he made it his mission to expose those who were making a living off of deception while hoping to meet a medium he could not debunk.

After years of being scrutinized by skeptics, with a majority of mediums being exposed as frauds, the Spiritualist Movement’s popularity began to dwindle. The final blow came when one of the founders, Margaret Fox, denounced Spiritualism as “an absolute falsehood from beginning to end” where she went on to publicly display how her and her sister played on the imaginations of their audiences. A year later, she tried to recant her confession; however, at that point the damage was already done.

Today, even with all of our technology, I can’t help but wonder if we are really any closer to discovering the truth putting all of our faith, some blindly, into equipment like our ancestors did in the past with mediums. Like Houdini, even though I have become more and more skeptical over the years, there is still something in me that wants to believe. Call it human nature or chalk it up to some of the experiences I have had that I still am trying to wrap my head around. After six years, I am still looking for that one piece of evidence that will no longer leave me questioning.

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The Ghost of Aaron Young

Over the last six years I have taken part in hundreds of paranormal investigations and, as many of you know by now, I have been obsessed with genealogy since I was in the fourth grade. That said, I am often surprised by how different genealogy and the paranormal are viewed considering the strong similarities between the two.

The first similarity, being the most obvious, is the fact that both genealogy and paranormal investigation revolve around researching the dead. When it comes to the actual historical research on a location, all the same steps are taken that would be used to trace an ancestor. Think about it: If the paranormal theories are correct, and locations are haunted by people who have passed, who were those people? Finally both genealogy and paranormal investigation have a common motivator; they are both used to fill our need of keeping the dead alive.

Despite these similarities, genealogy is commonly viewed as the past-time of grandparents, while paranormal investigation is extremely popular across all age groups.

Why is this? Especially when genealogy gives you the ability to hunt the ghosts of your own past, rather than any old ghost in any old location.

Keeping the above in mind, I wanted to share with you one of my favorite paranormal investigations that is a great example of just how much genealogy and the paranormal have in common.

Several years ago I had the pleasure of investigating a bed and breakfast in Virginia known as Edgewood Plantation. While there were several paranormal claims reported over the years from owners and visitors, there was one in particular I was assigned to research.

The claim was tied to a little cabin in the back of the property, where a woman checked in for a long weekend and claimed she was woken in the middle of the night by the ghost of a Civil War soldier. What’s more, the ghost supposedly introduced himself as Aaron Young III. The following morning, even though she had booked her stay for several nights, the woman checked out saying she was unable to sleep because this young confederate soldier would not stop talking.

Since the owner of the bed and breakfast had no knowledge of anyone named Aaron Young being connected to the property, it became my job to research the name. Utilizing the information I was given about the supposed ghostly experience, I decided the first thing to do is check Civil War military records for the name Aaron Young III. To my surprise, a total of nine Aaron Young’s surfaced; six were union soldiers and three were confederate. Since the woman claimed the ghost she saw was a confederate soldier, I immediately crossed the union soldiers off my list.

Turning my attention to the three confederate soldiers I found, two were from Virginia and one was from Tennessee. With a bit of digging I was able to determine that the man from Tennessee never fought in Virginia, so I saw no need to research him further.

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With only private Aaron B. Young of the 31st Virginia Infantry Company C and 2nd Lieutenant Aaron B. Young of the 20th Virginia Cavalry Company F remaining, I began to see some similarities between the two. The most obvious was the middle initial. However, after closer inspection of their military records, I also noticed they shared the same date of birth and place of birth, which brought me to the conclusion they were the same man.

Aaron B. Young had started out as a private in the 31st Infantry. Due to the severe number of casualties within that regiment, he was moved to the 20th Cavalry where he was eventually promoted to 2nd Lieutenant. The only thing that left me confused at this point were the several documents contradicting whether or not Aaron survived the war.

One record in particular stated he had died at war from a gunshot wound while serving in the 31st Regiment, which was clearly inaccurate since I had proof he went on to fight in the 20th Cavalry. There were also several other records that claimed he died due to illness, while others listed him as absent recovering from an illness.

All of this confusion left me with two questions: Did Aaron B. Young survive the Civil War? And was he the third male to carry the name in his family?

In order to find the answers to these questions, I turned to the internet.

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With the basic information I had on Aaron he was not a hard one to find due to his military records. Although Aaron Bell Young was not the third male to carry the name in his family, he did survive the Civil War. In fact, he went on to marry twice and had a total of 21 children.

At this point, it would be fair to say that I had become obsessed with researching Aaron’s life and the thought of him possibly haunting Edgewood Plantation. I was left wondering, “Could I place Aaron at Edgewood?” To try to answer this question I had to consider the history behind Edgewood Plantation and needed to re-examine Aaron’s military records.

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Going through Aaron’s military records again, depending on their accuracy, I was able to place him within 15 miles of the plantation by mapping out the distance between the battles his regiments took part in around Edgewood. That — mixed with the fact that Edgewood was used as a signal post by the Confederate Army to spy on the Union Army camped at nearby Berkley plantation with more than 100,000 troops — really made me question if Aaron B. Young would have come in contact with Edgewood.

Even if he had, though, what could have happened to him at Edgewood that would lead him to haunt the location especially since he had not died there? Still, whether or not Edgewood is haunted by the ghost of Aaron Young, his ghost is alive and well — in the genealogical sense — through the stories of his descendants.

The episode featuring Edgewood Plantation, with my research involving Aaron, aired months later. And this led to another interesting twist: I was emailed by one of his descendants.

As we had told the owner of Edgewood, I explained to his descendant that it was nearly impossible to prove beyond a doubt that Aaron haunted the location. However, for paranormal investigators, it was interesting to find that a confederate soldier by the name of Aaron Young did exist in the area.

As different as these two worlds may seem at first glance, it was my love of history and genealogy that pushed me into the paranormal. It gave me the opportunity to use my research skills in historical locations I never dreamed of having the opportunity to visit. From old abandoned hospitals, jails and places of historical importance in the United States, to European castles, World War II forts and Mayan Ruins, I was intrigued by the idea that the past may still be playing out in those locations.

It also made me question, if ghosts are people who have passed, who might my ancestors be haunting?

 

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(Aaron Young Picture With His Sons)

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A Haunting Reality

Over the years, I have learned many things about life and myself by researching my ancestors. Through interviewing my parents, grandparents and other descendants, making visits to town halls, libraries, vital statistic offices and cemeteries I have discovered several things about my family’s past. Every now and then though, this look back comes with a very unexpected and haunting look forward.

The story of my great grandfather, Robert Henry Williams has always been a mystery. My grandfather was only 13 when his father passed away from a massive heart attack at the age of 39. Being as young as my grandfather was when he became the “man of the house”, he really didn’t know or remember a lot about his father.

Grandpa was able to tell me that Robert was born in Waterville, Maine. He said that he remembered taking trips to Vermont with his parents to visit his father’s family. I also learned that Robert was a WWI veteran who served in France as a wagoner. The only story passed down through the family about his service, had to do with trench warfare and Robert being “gassed”… Tear gas? Chlorine? Mustard, perhaps?

Following the war, Robert became the district manager for Waldorf Café, which had him traveling around New England. He married my great grandmother, Marjorie Washburn and together they had a total of seven children. The family seemed to be living a comfortable life in Lynn, Massachusetts when they were dealt an unexpected and devastating blow.

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On April 19, 1935, Robert was in the middle of a meeting inside a Waldorf Café freezer when he began to feel ill. His co-workers instructed him to lay down on the floor of the freezer while they called for a doctor. By the time the doctor arrived to have a look at Robert, he was feeling better.

Shortly after the doctor left, my great grandfather died of a massive heart attack.

Growing up I had heard many stories about the chaos that followed Robert’s death. His untimely passing changed my grandfather’s family forever. Outside of the obvious emotional and financial problems, he and his siblings watched on as their mother (who was pregnant with her seventh child) was forced to make tough decisions in – what she believed to be – the best interest of her family.

I have often wondered, as I am sure the family did, how different their lives would have been had Robert lived to an old age. It’s no surprise my grandfather and his siblings knew so little about their father, they were so young when they lost him. As they got older, their days were spent going to school and finding odd jobs to help their mother financially. Their focus wouldn’t have been on enjoying their childhood; it would have been focused on survival.

My grandfather’s story has always upset me.

I couldn’t imagine how hard life was for his family and I couldn’t imagine losing my father at the age of 13. It made me realize how fortunate I was; not only did I have an amazing grandfather, he and my grandmother gave me an amazing father.

Listening to my grandfather’s stories, I could tell he wished he knew more about his father. His need to know more motivated me to do some digging… I wanted to know more as well. What kind of man was he? What did he do in the war? What was his childhood like? What was his family like? All of these questions lead me to many places, one of which was Chestnut Hill Cemetery in Burlington, Massachusetts.

There I was… finally standing in front of his headstone for the first time…

My stomached turned, I began to tremble and my eyes welled up with tears… I thought I was going to be sick. Having been so set on learning more about my great grandfather, I wasn’t prepared for the haunting reality that was waiting for me at that headstone.

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“Robert Henry Williams”, it read…

The same name as my brother, my father and my grandfather, who were all alive and well… Three men in my life that meant the world to me… and there was their name, etched in the cold granite staring back at me. I cried uncontrollably while I tore away at the grass and dirt that had begun growing over the ground level stone with my hands.

While the purpose of the visit was to learn more about my great grandfather, I walked away with much more than that. As important as it is to learn about your family’s past, it is just as important to learn how to be present.

Too many of us take our loved ones for granted. We forget (or refuse to acknowledge) that they won’t always be there. We tell ourselves we’ll visit, call or email tomorrow, this weekend or next week. Life gets crazy, we get sidetracked with day-to-day bullshit and we make excuses.

What’s the old saying, “time waits for no man”?

As if my grandfather’s story of loss wasn’t enough, it took seeing the names of my loved ones carved in stone for that message to stick.

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Today’s Advice? Get off your buttocks and reach out to your loved ones. It’s time spent you’ll never regret.