A Very Special Place…

We recently lost a good friend to cancer, Tuppen Hauschild.  Her family had suggested that in lieu of flowers they hoped people would donate to 3 Mariposas Montessori School (3MM) in Cabarete, one of the poorest communities in the Dominican Republic. Tuppen had visited the school on several occasions and it held a very special place in her heart! As we investigated the school we realized it was only a few miles from where we were headed for January and much of February.

Most people who know me know my two primary passions are kids and reading. I love kids. I absolutely love to read; I love to teach reading.  Decades ago, my first master’s degree was in reading, in large part, because I wanted to be able to teach part-time when my children were young and I thought a reading master’s would allow me to do that. Since that time I’ve had fabulous opportunities to teach literacy skills to kids kindergarten through college as well as teaching teachers best practices in reading and writing instruction. I’ve been so fortunate. So when the chance came to visit another school; well, I was on it!

20190108_101730_hdr-13 Mariposas Montessori School was closed for the holidays when we first arrived. But the director, Sarah Ludwig Ross encouraged us to visit the day the school reopened. Great! Patrick and Cary still had another day here and they really wanted to see the school as well.  Sarah and Cary immediately connected as fellow Michigan State grads. While Sarah guided our tour she also gave us a bit of the history of the school. She told us she had originally been involved in a non-profit here in the Dominican when she decided to start her own school.That was 2009 and they had an initial enrollment of 11 students and 2 volunteers.  

Because of the tropical climate, the school has a lot of outdoor space and most of the area has multiple purposes throughout the day.  The primary classroom is also the lunch room. Wow! What a lunch room. Small tables are set in an open air classroom. And the smells wafting from the kitchen are enticing! 20190206_113733And the behaviors! Children wait patiently with their hands in their laps until everyone is served before starting to eat. They quietly remind each other of simple meal etiquette rules: chew with your mouths closed; don’t put your elbows on the table; ask to be excused! This was unlike any school lunchroom I’ve ever been in.  And trust me! I’ve been in many!

 

The school currently enrolls 46 students ages one through nine. The diversity of the group is amazing: there are 12 Dominican students, as well as 3 Haitian students with the remaining kids coming from a variety of backgrounds. 20190206_113840_hdrSarah blew us out of the water when she told us there are seven languages spoken at the school including: Spanish, Haitian Kreyol, English, French, German, Russian and Italian.  

 

Bob and I knew after our initial visit this was definitely a place we had to return to. And what fun we’ve had reading with the kids.  We’ve read with kids, to kids, and listened to them read to us. And while there are a variety of skill levels, we’ve been amazed by how much English the kids can speak. We’ve also been amazed by the self-directedness they’ve displayed and the way they can share what they’re learning as well as the why!

 

The school isn’t grand by American standards. The library is also the activity room.  But I’ve never visited any school that was more inviting or where kids are more enthusiastic.

 

Students quickly and eagerly made book selections when they came to see me and then curled up next to me eager to share in the story. For many they know what they like and they eagerly grab a book.

It was suggested that I set a timer so that kids would spend a realistic amount of time with me and so that I could read with several students during my visit.  Generally, it was about 20 minutes. I was reading Fox’s Dream by Keizaburo Tejima with two girls, D’Jhounise and Zoe.  It’s a beautiful story about a lonely fox recalling his own childhood while imagining pictures in the icy trees. The word choice is amazing. 20190206_101849 And here I was with two girls, probably about 8, explaining words like glisten, and vixen in their second language or perhaps their third! Suddenly the alarm on my phone went off indicating our time together was over.  When I picked it up, a picture of one of my granddaughters with Santa Claus popped up. Zoe’s eyes about popped out of her head, “YOU KNOW SANTA CLAUS?” I explained that well, I had met him. Immediately she began how much she wanted a bicycle.  “Will you please tell him that I want a bicycle?” And D’Jhounise echoed the request. As they returned to their class they still couldn’t quite believe they had just read with someone who had met Santa.

Like in any other classroom each child has his or her own strengths.  I was particularly impressed when one of the teachers, Patty, was talking with a group of students about how to seek help when the teacher was busy. She was explaining they could ask another student who might be an expert in a subject. For instance, she said, if she needed help with math, she’d seek out Harrison.  If she needed help with compound words, she’d seek out so and so. She went on and elaborated a strength of each student in the group. Talk about a great way to develop self-confidence.

img-20190207-wa0010Until Sarah mentioned it I hadn’t thought about the benefits for the parents and other adults in the community.  For some staff, this is the first job they’ve ever held, the first salary they’ve ever earned. When they had an opportunity to observe a Montessori school in Santo Domingo it was the first time some staff had seen escalators, or gone to a restaurant and had someone wait on them.

 

The care of animals is part of the Montessori curriculum so there are chickens and cats and dogs wandering throughout the grounds. img-20190207-wa0011Sarah explained that the local kids do a great job of helping adults and kids understand chickens as that’s a new thing for many.  She also said that for many local kids who only know dogs and cats as strays, having them as pets is not something they’ve experienced. She said that their presence has helped many kids overcome their fear of the animals to the point that some have even begun to help bathe them.

We have been fortunate to join their sing alongs that occur just before lunch with the children singing in Spanish and in English.  Given the world we live in today, I found their song about peace extraordinarily moving.

 

The school is doing amazing things.  But oh do they need help. Most of their financing comes from individual donors in the United States as well as some grants.  And while I know that many will ask, what do they need? They generally need everything! Those of you who are in, or were in, education know that while it’s great to have people provide gifts to your classrooms, it’s far more helpful to have people donate so you can buy what it is you need most.  The same is true of 3 Mariposas.  Plus, the lack of mail service in this part of the Dominican Republic compounds the problem.   

In April, Amy Dood, a teacher at Beach Elementary in Cedar Springs, Michigan, is visiting Cabarete and she has agreed to collect money to deliver to the school. Cedar folks could give a donation to Amy or mail it to her at: 

Amy Dood, 8720 Pleasant Meadows Dr NE, Rockford, MI 49341

Or if you prefer you can mail a check to: 3 Mariposas Montessori Foundation, 133 N Villamere Drive, Dowagiac MI 49047.

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Any donation you can make, regardless of the amount, will definitely make a difference in the lives of these kids! Tuppen, Bob and I will always be grateful to you for the the special gift you gave us: enriching our lives by introducing us to such wonderful people!

To Michigan, The Dominican Republic, Infinity & Beyond

20190127_124055The middle of December we headed to Michigan to spend Christmas with our oldest son and his family. The drive from Pittsburgh to Big Rapids is about a seven hour trek. (Hold your right hand up, palm facing you and at the base of your ring finger you’ll find Big Rapids.) We know weather this time of year can be “ify.” Luckily we hit a sunny, cold but sunny, day. Each time we return to Big Rapids we’re always noticing things that have changed since we left four full years ago!  What are the new restaurants? Who went out of business? Well, you get the picture. After living there for more than 20 years,we feel very lucky to have family still in Big Rapids. And Kris and Andria’s home is always a great place to visit. They are both amazing cooks, their home is like something out of a magazine and the tenor of the house is always upbeat and relaxed! In addition, they have two great teenagers who are both very musical.

We couldn’t believe it when Andria told us that if we came the week before Christmas we could attend three of their band performances.  Talk about good timing! It was a great holiday. It was fun to watch everyone open their Christmas surprises, then enjoy a scrumptious dinner, catch up with good friends, play some euchre and just enjoy each other’s company. Of course the time passed far too quickly just like it always seems to do.

We flew to DC the day after Christmas.  Cary, coming in from Rome, would meet us at the airport. We’d get an Uber to the hotel and meet up with Patrick for dinner.img_20181226_142215187_hdr We’d make the “big switch” with Patrick. He’d bring us our warm weather suitcase we had stored at his house and we’d trade him for the colder climate wardrobe we’d been traveling with. Then in February when we return to DC we’d switch back. As I mentioned in an earlier blog, this wasn’t our best planning packing wise but we hopefully had found a solution. It’s always fun connecting with the kids at airports, whether we’re meeting their planes or they’re meeting ours. This one was no exception.  As we came through security there stood Cary with a big smile on her face. This was the beginning of another adventure.

Thursday morning, Cary, Bob and I headed to National Airport on our way to Sosua in the Dominican Republic. Unfortunately, Cary was on a different initial flight than we were but we’d meet up in Miami and then go on to the Dominican together. img_20181227_194212752  A little less than three hours to Miami and then another two hours to Puerto Plata. Not bad! We rented a 3 bedroom villa with pool in Sosua Ocean Village, about a half hour drive from the airport. Patrick would meet up with us the next day at the villa. Our host, Ruslan, had suggested his driver, Robinson, meet us and bring us to the villa. That worked out great; just outside security, Robinson had a sign with my name on it, and introduced himself. We were impressed that he also spoke English!  

The first thing that struck us was the weather.  It feels so good to be out of the cold. It’s not hot; it’s not cold; it’s perfect.  Ruslan had left the villa front door unlocked so that left us with a good feeling about the security of the area. Even though it was late we had to check everything out…particularly the terrace and pool. (Okay, you found me out; I took these pictures later!)

Wow!  First thing the next morning, the local car agency we had rented through delivered our car. Hmmm…the one we had reserved wasn’t available so instead they gave us a Porsche SUV. Our “over the top” enthusiasm quickly diminished when we realized that this Porsche was filled with dents, and torn seat covers. Besides, how would we ever maneuver this  beast on these crowded narrow roads. But whatever…we’d manage. The tank was almost on empty so on our way to the grocery we stopped and filled it. Holy Moly! Almost a hundred dollars! So we had a lot of mixed feelings when the agency called the next morning and told us that our car had been returned and they’d drop it off shortly. It turned out to be a KIA sedan, the year we couldn’t figure out, but given that it had a zillion miles on it, it wasn’t anything close to new and the driver’s door stuck. We weren’t sure this was an improvement over the Porsche or not! Lesson learned:  Stick with car rental agencies we know! OK Motors must have felt our pain though because the KIA was delivered with a full tank of gas!

Ruslan stopped over about noon to meet us and answer any questions we had. He walked us through the necessities and showed us how the wifi and the stove worked, where to take the trash, etc. He also explained that Osvaldo and his wife, Lali, would be available every day to provide anything we needed.  Also, the pool would be cleaned daily by a different gentleman and there was Juan who would garden and just generally be available for us. We would obviously be well taken care of. When Robinson dropped off Patrick late that night we were ready to start celebrating New Years!

Cabarete is a town of about 14,000 just a few miles east of us. We were thrilled to find a parking lot just a few steps from the beach. 100 pesos ($ 2.00) until 6 pm. In an area with wall to wall traffic what a find!  We had no pesos yet but surprisingly the attendant took Bob’s $10 and gave him back $8 American!

As we walked down the shop-lined block to the beach we were astounded to see kite after kite of all colors flying over the beach.

The beach is absolutely gorgeous. For $ 10 we got 4 chairs and an umbrella. Bar after bar line the beach offering beers ($3.50) to the more expensive pina colada ($6). There is a continuous parade of beach vendors offering massages, carvings, fresh fruit, shrimp, hats…well, it’s quite the market place.

We had read about the Sunset Grill…Fodor’s says this is the place to see the best sunsets on the northern coast.  So we decided to try it out after our day at the beach. We absolutely fell in love with it so much so that we returned on the kids’ last night here.

Our villa is technically listed as part of the Sosua Ocean View Resort. img_20190102_143648636_hdrWe enter through a security gate and security guards abound. But I wouldn’t consider it a resort, at least not by American standards.  And we’re fine with that! There are three nice restaurants. We’re in the tropics so they’re open air and two of them have amazing views of the ocean. The third one is a craft brewery.  All have good food that is reasonable priced. Also, all have wait staff that speak English. Probably our favorite was Al Porto.  Great view, great prices and great food!

Ruslan had told us Maria Restaurant, which is a second restaurant located within our community, was going to have a special celebration for New Years.

Dinner, served outdoors right on the ocean, live music, fireworks. It sounded like fun! And we weren’t disappointed.

We celebrated with people all speaking different languages but all having the common goal of wishing in a New Year and  with it all our hopes and dreams for a great future! A variety of appetizers were offered and choices for the main dishes were either mahi mahi papillote and coconut or skirt steak in goat cheese sauce. Plus a complimentary bottle of wine or the local rum! And of course, champagne at the bewitching hour! Definitely an evening to remember!

The Dominican truly is an island of spectacular beaches.  Folks had told us that in addition to Cabarete Beach, Sosua Beach located just west of our community, was also a gorgeous beach and that it was located in a lagoon making it quieter for swimming.  So we decided to check it out. Like so many places we go there is the ubiquitous chaos of cars. We weren’t sure exactly where we were headed but when we got close it became clear with locals ushering us to parking places.  We chose the first we came to, just at the top of a street that fronted lots of shops and led directly to the beach.

This time the cost was 150 pesos (or $3.00). Again as we approached the beach, we were greeted by a young man who provided us with 4 lounge chairs and two umbrellas for $16.  But this guy was smart; “No, he said, “Don’t pay me until you leave.” This way he could make more money by supplying us with drinks or food. And of course there were the omnipresent vendors again offering all sorts of goods from food to souvenirs. This beach was definitely lovely but as we entered the water there was a hard surface beneath the shallow sand.

I’m not sure if it was rock or concrete but it was different. We all decided that while it was a great experience we preferred the beach at Cabarete.

We had read about Las Terrenas, a beach town on the northeast peninsula.  It’s a town of many expats with a lot of French and Italian influence. Google maps said it was about 165 kilometers from our villa (or about 100 miles). We decided we’d rent an Airbnb so we’d have time to see some sites while we were there.  Good thing! It turned out to take us nearly 4 hours to make the trek. After we had been on the road a short time we realized that the car had virtually no shocks. The road conditions were sketchy. Sometimes they were filled with potholes; sometimes they had nonexistent shoulders. Going through small towns we found cars parked on both sides of the very narrow street and then often a vehicle would just stop and make a delivery and traffic would back up behind it.  Then out on the main road again we’d sometimes get behind a slow moving truck and found it disconcerting when impatient drivers behind us would whiz by just as we were approaching a hill or curve. And then of course, the scooters are everywhere. Often the scooter has the driver, the passenger and a small child or baby. We’ve seen them carrying firewood, furniture.  And if that’s not enough, we even saw a driver who had one leg, had his crutch attached to one side of his scooter and a refrigerator on the back!

It’s crazy! Cary did a yeoman’s job behind the wheel! And in spite of all the craziness, the views were amazing! We passed rice fields (I had no idea they grew rice in the Dominican!) drove close to the ocean with trees forming a canopy above. (Too bad Cary wasn’t able to see much!)

Terrenas was founded in 1946 when Trujillo forced the people living in that rural area to move into town.  At that time they were isolated from the rest of the Dominican. A great road has since been built from Santa Domingo to Terrenas. We connected with this toll road about 45 minutes from our destination. It was such a great change! The collection kiosk was unlike anything we’d ever encountered!  It reminded me of a cashier from a bank in the wild west! The toll was 250 pesos but we had nothing less than 1000 so we got lots and lots of change! But boy was the toll worth it!

As we got closer to Terrenas the road took us up and down a gorgeous mountain terrain. And we held our breath as our 4 cylinder KIA chugged along and  I found myself hoping the brakes were in better condition than the rest of the car.20190105_131437

Once we finally got to Terrenas we found scooters, cars and pedestrians mobbing the streets and virtually no place to park. So we continued to make our way to the far end of a beach road until we came to our Airbnb.  It turned out to be lovely!

We were directly across from the water. And this time the beach was thick white sand. We spent the evening playing cards in a beach pub until they closed. I think this might have been everyone’s favorite beach.  What a tough job it is…comparing beaches!

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The drive back the next day didn’t seem quite so long or quite so harrowing.  Perhaps it’s because we knew what to expect. When we got back we decided to go to dinner at Al Porto. They have a Saturday Craft Beer Fest with all you can eat Seafood Buffet and unlimited beer.  How could we go wrong. There was lots of dancing and an outgoing guest came around to the tables and invited people onto the dance floor. Even some of the wait staff joined in on the fun. Dancing obviously crosses language barriers!

Suddenly it was time for Cary and Patrick to fly home. When they first arrived we were ecstatic they could both visit for nearly two weeks. How had that time passed so quickly?  We hadn’t seen Puerto Plata yet, the city about 45 minutes west of us where many cruise boats dock. Luckily the kids’ flight back to the States didn’t leave until late afternoon so that gave us time to visit the town.  Puerto Plata has a population of more than 100,000 so it took some time to get our bearings. We finally found the Malecon. It reminded us of the Malecon in Havana. We looked it up and found that malecon is a word used primarily in Latin American countries for an esplanade along a waterfront. Ok, now it made sense!20190109_120948We even came upon a parking place on our own with no charge. As we began to walk, what we thought was a police officer directed us to a “touristy” area with shops and an historical square. He also added that it was safe. Turns out that Puerto Plata has guides whose only job is to provide support for tourists; they speak English as well as Spanish. It’s like a walking tourist information kiosk.  What a great idea.

We had a great lunch at a street restaurant right on the Malecon and then took the kids to meet their plane. We were sad to see them go but felt fortunate that we had had an amazing two weeks together.  Bob and I still have more than another month here. So glad we’re not going to back to face winter!

 

 

The Steel City

We lived in western Pennsylvania back in the late sixties and Bob grew up visiting his grandmother and two aunts in Springdale, so we had a certain feeling of “coming home” when we got Pittsburgh!  Our Airbnb was easy to find and although we knew the parking would be on the street, we found the place with no problem. Getting into our apartment was a whole ‘nother story.  The pictures online had shown a few steps up from the street which we thought would be no problem, but what they had failed to show was an entire uphill walkway around to the side of the apartment which was the only way to access  our entrance.

 

And as if that steep climb wasn’t enough there was no railing of any kind! Because it was dry we made the trek easily enough but when we tried the code the host had given us, the door refused to open. We tried it again several times, looked around to ensure we were at the right door. It was getting cold and dark! And we were frustrated! Finally we called the host only to have her tell us that she was sorry but that the cleaning lady probably had not changed the code. Okay, not off to the best start!  Then overnight the snow arrived. Over the past four years we haven’t been in snow country often but when we have, hosts have always had us shoveled out! This time, no shoveling us out, not even a shovel or salt! Luckily the wintry weather was short-lived and we were only held captive in our apartment for a day. The apartment was also listed as being in the “heart of Lawrenceville” which we had read is a funky fun area of Pittsburgh. Unfortunately that too turned out to be inaccurate. We were two miles from there and not within walking distance of anything!  

One of the nice things about Pittsburgh is that we are only a four hour drive to the DC area.  We had planned to spend Thanksgiving in DC with part of our family but when we found out that our 8 year old granddaughter had a part in Oliver, (7th from the right)20181117_213449we decided we had to see the performance! So on Friday we made the trip down, went to the play and drove back on Sunday knowing that the following Wednesday we’d make the trip again to spend Thanksgiving with them!  We always enjoy being in DC first because we’re near family and second because it’s such a fascinating city. 20181123_145345_HDRWe had hoped to visit the US Botanical Gardens on the day after Thanksgiving to see their Christmas Exhibit with model trains and replicas of famous DC buildings but the line turned out to be a couple hours long so we opted for the nearby National Gallery of Art instead. When we travel to big cities we often use a parking app.  In this case, Park Whiz helped us find a place to park near our destination It kept us from spending a lot of time hunting for parking spots, we knew in advance how much it would cost and it was close enough for even little legs to manage.

We took a very small elevator to the top of the National Gallery of Art to see the Giant Blue Rooster which is more than 14 feet tall.  It was commissioned for the London Contemporary Art Series in 2013. Designed by Katharina Fritsch, it is now on long term loan to the National Gallery.

 

We timed our jaunt to DC right so that we were going into the metro area as most people were headed out and we were headed back to Pittsburgh when most were returning to DC. 20181121_123546_HDRThe drive also gave us time to realize that we needed to move out of our Airbnb. I remembered Lynn Martin saying in her blog a couple of years ago that if things aren’t right you just have to bite the bullet and move on.  So that’s what we did. And we were really lucky to find a great place in a great location with two accessible entrances; the front door and through the garage. The host lived in the same house which we’ve found is always a good thing.  But most of all we felt safe regardless of the weather. It snowed a few inches on one of the first nights we were there and before noon the driveway was shoveled clear. We were pleased when we explained the situation to Airbnb that they made an adjustment in our rent. Definitely still an expensive mistake but not as bad as it could have been and we feel lucky that this was the first time in four years we’ve rented a place that we absolutely could not live in!

When I think of Pittsburgh I think of the Steel City. I can remember as a college student going to the drive-in theatre and being fascinated by the fiery slag being dumped over the hillside. Many rich industrialists got their start in Pittsburgh.  Among them: Henry Heinz, George Westinghouse, Andrew Carnegie, Andrew Mellon, and Henry Fick. Their wealth and resulting generosity has provided Pittsburgh residents with an abundance of cultural opportunities. But I can never quite accept the fact that this wealth was acquired at the expense of the working man. The Henry Clayton Frick Museum presented one such quandary for me. One of my very best friends, Rita, (You may remember that she visited us in Boston last year!) lives in Pittsburgh. It was great to spend time with her and in addition, it got Bob off the hook from traipsing off to places that I found that he may or may not have an interest in. Before we arrived Rita had told me the Frick Art Museum was hosting the Isabelle de Brochgrave exhibit, “Fashioning Art From Paper.” I really wanted to see it. But then we also decided to tour the Frick mansion, Clayton House.  The home is lovely but it was hard for me to appreciate the opulent interior knowing Frick’s adversarial relationship with the unions, how he stared them down in the Homestead Strike which resulted in the deaths of 11 union workers. After the home tour, we walked on to the Frick Art Museum and the Brochgrave exhibit. Wow! It was absolutely incredible. I’m always fascinated by the use of different media but how could someone possibly create these gorgeous gowns from paper. It all looked so real…even the lace. See for yourself:

 

On a rainy Saturday Rita and I headed off to Nationality Rooms at the University of Pittsburgh.  These spectacular rooms were the brainchild of the University of Pittsburgh Chancellor John Bowman in 1926.  Most of the first floor rooms were built between 1938 and 1957. They were designed to make the interior as inspiring as the outside of the Cathedral of Learning. 20181129_151618  Each room was funded and designed by individual committees after which the university would maintain it. The newest room is the Korean room which was dedicated in 2015.  Entering the building took my breath away; I felt like I was walking into a great cathedral. We went to the desk at the gift shop and gave them a drivers license and in return they handed us a key that would unlock each of the doors.  No political statements are allowed nor are any portraits of any living individual. I can’t imagine attending class in such an inspiring environment.

 

After some lunch at Market Square we headed to the PPG Building to see their “Spirits of Giving from Around the World” display. Immediately in front of the castle-like building was a skating rink with many out enjoying the season. 20181201_145502_HDR-1Inside we viewed the 32 foot Christmas tree which was surrounded by lifesize Santas from around the world.  In addition there were hundreds of gingerbread houses all part of a competition of organizations as well as individuals in the Pittsburgh area. It doesn’t get much more festive than this!

 

Although we had visited the Phipps Conservatory on previous occasions, it’s hard to pass up at Christmas time.  Flowers and Christmas are such a great combination. And again because we were in the area and Rita has a membership which gets me in free as her guest (Lucky me!) meant we could just stop in for an hour or so and take in the highlights!  

 

 Pittsburgh is a huge sports city; it seems to us more than any city we’ve visited.  For a city of just over 300,000 (well, yes the metro area is more than 2 million) they have a hockey team, a baseball team, and a football team.  And given the number of jerseys we see on the street it seems like everyone is a fan of all the teams! I read online about Museum 21 which is dedicated to the life of Roberto Clemente, a Pirate’s right fielder. I remember well the New Year’s Eve day when we learned Clemente, who was only 38, had been killed in a plane crash while delivering aid packages to the people of Managua, Nicaragua after an earthquake.  This museum is privately owned by a local photographer. It’s housed in an old firehouse and contains tons of memorabilia from his boyhood growing up in Puerto Rico through the rest of his life. Any baseball fan would find the place really interesting. l also loved the connections in the wine cellar to the Chicago Cubs and the Pittsburgh Penguins!

 

While I really love hockey and the Pittsburgh Penguins, I also love penguins of any kind so it only made sense that we would visit the aviary.  When you think about it, aviaries are really unusual places…you just sort of walk around among the birds. Sometimes with them flying over our heads; other times walking in front of us.  And so many times they act just like people. For instance the parrots were showing off in front of us, one trying to outdo the other. 20181208_135417_HDRIt was pretty cold outside but I had to go out and view the penguins, particularly because no one else was out there.  One lone penguin was standing on the edge of the pool. I tried to coax him until he finally jumped in the water. And then he’d swim back to me, swim around in circles before darting off again. Wow! I was having my own private interaction with him.

 

Years ago we had visited Legoland when we were in Denmark and were fascinated with the constructions of everything from Mt Rushmore to the Statue of Liberty.  So when Rita told me the world’s largest Lego Art Exhibit was at the Carnegie (It’s pronounced Car NEG e!) Science Museum, I really wanted to see it. The artist, Nathan Sawaya, is a fascinating individual. While he was intrigued by Legos for his entire life, he went to school and became a lawyer but he continued to stay involved with Legos whenever he wanted to relax. He finally decided to forget the law and just concentrate on the Legos.  There were two full floors of his work. His Lego creations included: “Starry Night,” “American Gothic,” “the “Mona Lisa” as well as other original pieces including one of a bridge especially done for Pittsburgh. What a creative genius!

 

We had hoped to get tickets to see Hamilton but it didn’t get to Pittsburgh until January.  So we decided instead to go see “Straight No Chaser.” They are an a cappella group originally from Indiana University.  It was great entertainment. A good combination of music and humor. We found it refreshing at the beginning of the program when they announced, “Take lots of pictures. Post them on Facebook.”  It was a nice conclusion to a great month in Pittsburgh.

 

We were now ready to head to Michigan to spend Christmas with family there.  And then on to the Dominican Republic to avoid winter! We are so lucky!

 

Bucks County

We left Portland, Maine, on a gloomy morning heading for eastern Pennsylvania, about a six hour drive. Bucks County is an artsy area about an hour and a half west of New York City and 45 minutes north of Philadelphia.  While we had driven through the area on our way to other destinations we’d never spent any time there. Because of the proximity to the large metropolitan areas it tends to be a really pricey area to stay so we decided to spend two weeks there instead of our usual month. Finally after much hunting I found the perfect place in New Hope. By the time we arrived,  the sun was shining and the temperatures were in the low 70’s. Not bad for the first of November. Our VRBO abode was billed as an English Cottage and was located in what was created as a Gothic English Village by artist and architect Morgan Colt at the turn of the 20th century. 20181102_103223_hdrWhile pretty tiny it was absolutely perfect for us. It had a small galley kitchen at the end of a fairly large room that had a queen size bed and a couch, dresser, bookshelves and a television (and also a great wifi connection). 

Our host, Eleanor, and her adult son, Kurt, live in another cottage close by.  Kurt walked us through the village that they’re trying to recreate providing us with a lot of history along the way. As we passed through huge iron gates, we came to “The Inn at Phillips Mill.” Because it was Bob’s birthday, we thought this would be a great place for dinner. Wow! We were seated in the upstairs room that held only four tables. The menu was lovely and reasonably priced. We ordered croquettes de Crabe Remoulade as an appetizer and then Bob had the steak ‘black Angus’ et Sa Sauce Au Vin and I had the Salmon Poche Florentine. Yummy! While the restaurant doesn’t have a bar, we were told that we could bring our own wine and they’d open it for us. So that’s what we did! (It turns out to be much cheaper that way, as well!)

Unfortunately we had a lot of rain during our stay.  In fact, on one of our first nights we were a bit alarmed when a tornado warning came across the crawl on our television. This wasn’t a watch but an actual warning for our location. I texted Kurt who promptly responded that we shouldn’t worry, that although they did from time to time have tornado warnings none had touched down in the past twenty years they had lived there. His response really surprised us; we are MIchiganders; we take tornado warnings seriously! I suggested in my comments on the VRBO site that they create a plan for future warnings and hopefully they will heed the request. But ah! The optimism of youth!

New Hope is located right on the Delaware River Canal which runs for 60 miles from Easton to Bristol. The canal, modeled after the successful Erie Canal in New York, first opened in 1832 and was built primarily to carry anthracite coal as well as gravel, limestone and lumber from northeastern Pennsylvania to Philadelphia. Then in reverse it would carry finished products from Philadelphia back to the northeast. The canal was the busiest before 1855 but continued in operation until the 1930’s. Because of construction on a highway bridge much of the canal closest to us had been drained temporarily.  Today the tow path next to the canal is a popular place for hikers and bikers.

Bucks County is known for its art galleries, antiques, covered bridges, and their playhouse.  We had missed the juried art show that was right in New Hope but we learned about the MIchener Art Gallery in Doylestown, about 20 minutes away. Doylestown is the home of James Michener and in 1988 he transformed the Bucks County Jail into an art museum that features the work of the Pennsylvanian Impressionists. And while we enjoyed the art, it was the George Nakashima Reading Room that I found most interesting.

George Nakashima was born in Spokane, Washington.  After getting a bachelor’s degree from the University of Washington and a master’s from M.I.T. he travelled all over the world studying woodworking.  When he returned to the United States in 1940 he began making furniture and teaching woodworking in Seattle. During World War II he was incarcerated in a Japanese camp in Idaho. In 1943 Antonin Raymond sponsored Nakashima’s release and invited him to live on his farm in New Hope.  Although at the time Nakashima could only do woodworking as a hobby because the conditions of his release required him to work as a farm laborer. Eventually he built a home, studio and workshop in New Hope. We learned that his workshop is open to the public certain days of the week.

Nakashima had a dream of Altars for Peace for each continent of the world, believing that these meditation centers would make the world a better place. Today these altars continue to be designed by the Nakashima business even though George died in 1990. What a serene, peaceful location this is for such work! In the workshop we saw many samples of his designs as well as the work of those who are carrying on his business. We were also surprised to find his son, Kevin, sitting on a chair and interacting with the many visitors.

Bucks County Playhouse is a place where many famous actors got their start. The playhouse, which originally was one of the Hope Mills, dates from the 1790’s.  After most of the mills were destroyed by fire, this one was saved from demolition in the 1930’s and purchased by a group of playwrights. 20181113_150324In 1963 Neil Simon’s, Barefoot in the Park premiered here starring Robert Redford and Elizabeth Ashley.  While we were in New Hope, I Hate Hamlet was playing and Elizabeth Ashley was billed as one of the stars.  I had found a groupon ticket for a reasonable price and we were flabbergasted when we realized our seats were in the sixth row. What a fun afternoon!

Adding to the nostalgic feel of the area are the covered bridges. Nowhere have we traveled where we’ve seen more than Bucks County. They even have a brochure that describes and gives directions to the 13 in the county. We set out to see a few of them.

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The four we visited were all built in the early 1870’s (although county records indicate one of them was built as early as 1832) and ranged in length from 56 feet to 130 feet long. The colorful fall leaves only added to the nostalgic feel!

Before leaving the area we decided we wanted to visit Princeton, New Jersey. We began by visiting the Princeton Battlefield State Park where the Americans and British fought on January 3, 1777. IMG_0010We then went on to Nassau Hall on the campus of Princeton University. Nassau Hall was built in 1756 and at the time was the largest academic building in the Colonies. This is where the British surrendered and where Congress congratulated George Washington on his successful termination of the Revolutionary War.  The first foreign minister to the United States was welcomed here!  I can’t imagine what it must be like today to attend class in such an historic building!20181112_133312_hdr

Albert Einstein’s house is not far from the campus.  After leaving Germany during World War II, Einstein continued his work at Princeton and lived at 112 Mercer Street from 1935 to his death in 1955. The home is presently a private residence.IMG_0020 (2)

Our final stop in Princeton was the Princeton Cemetery.  The cemetery is owned by the Nassau Presbyterian Church. Politicians, musicians, academics: so many people from American History are buried here. Among them: Stephen Grover Cleveland, (22nd and 24th President of United States) Aaron Burr, Sr. (the second president of Princeton), Aaron Burr, Jr. (vice-president of United States), Jonathan Edwards, (“Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,”), George Gallup (pollster), Paul Tulane (philanthropist of Tulane University).  

As Bob stopped to let me go exploring among the graves, I was stunned when I got out of the car. 20181112_135012_hdrThere next to me was a large monument. The family name? Hendrickson! I took pictures, just in case as we learn more about Bob’s family history some of those names show up!

Just two weeks earlier we had arrived in Bucks County on what seemed like a summer day. But now he weather forecast predicted a massive snowstorm heading across Pennsylvania on the day we were to leave so we decided “just in case” to get in front of it. Next stop:  Pittsburgh, the Steel City and home of the Pittsburgh Penguins! Can’t wait!

 

More New England Fall

After a month in Hull, we continued north; yep, even further north for October. No we’re not crazy! We’ve driven through Maine on many occasions but we think it should be spectacular with all the fall color and hopefully, we’ll be out of there before the first snow falls! The drive along the ocean as we entered Salem was gorgeous even on a gloomy day. We had hoped to visit the Essex Museum but as luck would have it we were there on a Monday and the museum was closed.  The Salem Witchcraft Memorials were far more moving than I had expected.  They have a memorial to each person who died after being convicted of witchcraft.  I hadn’t realized that there were men among them and I also I didn’t know that they weren’t all hanged but that some were pressed to their death.

 

I continue to be fascinated by the age of buildings.  True, it’s not old by European standards but it is given how young our country is.

 

The tags on many of the homes indicate the pride locals feel in owning a bit of history. It’s not a long drive from Boston to Portland and even stopping along the way, we arrived at our new residence by late afternoon.  Kathryn, our host, greeted and gave us a tour of how everything worked. She lives in the front half of the house and we have the rear apartment.

 

It has a great outdoor area and is conveniently located right in the city.  Portland’s population is only a bit over 65,000 but it lives far larger than that and we were pleased to be close to shopping and restaurants.   We usually spend our first day getting settled, unpacked and some basic groceries in.  Then we head out to dinner. We had been told by many that Portland is known for their great restaurants and boy, were they right!  Kathryn had suggested DeMillos in downtown Portland.  Wow!  What a great introduction to Portland!  Right on the water and a great menu of Maine seafood.  We could even feel the slight sway of the boat on the waves. Seafood, be it lobster, clams or crab is ubiquitious! My favorite throughout our stay was the lobster salad.  I must have had it in at least half a dozen locations as well as at home.  What a shock it’s going to be when we leave the coast.

 

When I think of Maine, rocky coasts, light houses and lobsters come to mind. And with good reason, all three are everywhere. The iconic Portland Light was at the top of our sights to see.  About a fifteen minute drive from our apartment we found Fort Williams Park.  And the lighthouse looks just exactly like it I expected.  Even though it’s early October the weather was comfortable and we we didn’t have all the mobs of people that I’m sure are here in the summer.

 

The shoreline drives both south and north of Portland are lovely.  We particularly enjoyed Two Lights State Park.  This park is popular with Maine residents.  There are lots of benches; a great place to read a book or just sit and reflect. And nearby we found a fabulous hole-in-the-wall restaurant, Fisherman’s Catch.  20181009_154329_HDRhttps://www.fishermanscatchwells.com/  Like so many other places along the eastern seaboard, they were just getting ready to close for the season but the day that we were there it was in the 70’s and felt more like a summer than a fall day.  I think I may have mentioned previously in this blog that Rachel Carson grew up in the same small Western Pennsylvania town as my husband’s family.  In fact, Rachel’s mother was a good friend of Bob’s grandmother.  That said, we obviously are very interested in Ms. Carson’s research and try to visit all things Rachel when we come upon them. When we saw the Rachel Carson Wildlife Refuge was nearby we knew we had to visit. Starting in 1952 Ms. Carson spent many of her summers in Maine studying the beaches and the tidal pools. The refuge consists of a small building providing visitors with a brief history of the area along with biographical facts about Ms. Carson.  There are numerous trails that lead out from there.

 

Acadia National Park is about a 3 hour drive north.  This is one of our very favorite national parks but we’d only been there in the summer. The drive up was a bit drizzley and we weren’t sure we had made a good decision but it turned out to be a perfect day. The rain ended by the time we entered the park and the overcast skies made for some great pictures.  Even though we knew it was going to be beautiful in the fall, we still were amazed by the blazes of fall colors and the less crowded shorelines.

 

We love Thunder Hole where at high tide the water often rushes in and out with a thundering sound so we were a bit disappointed when it wasn’t “thundering” while we were there.  Because of the distance from Portland to Acadia we decided to spend the night in Bar Harbor and the next morning we returned to the park, but still no thunder. Guess we’re lucky to have heard it when we first visited with the kids so many years ago.

 

Closer to our Portland home was Sabbathday Lake Shaker Village in Gloucester. This is the last active Shaker village. Its meeting house was built in 1794.  And at its height it had more than 200 members.  A museum was established in 1931 with the goal of educating the public about Shaker beliefs. In the museum we saw examples of their woodenware, their tools, as well as descriptions and photos helping us understand the Shaker lifestyle.  We also met a woodworker who was carving little figures that would sell in the gift shop. We had noticed highland cattle, what were called “Hairy-coos” in Scotland, and the woodworker shared a lot of information about the farm and its history. The “Hairy-coos” we later learned, thrive in harsh Maine winters and are being raised in increasing numbers because of their healthy meat which has less fat than traditional beef and less cholesterol than a chicken.

 

We never tire of Maine’s shoreline so we also made additional trips along the coast to visit small fishing villages.

 

Again, we found that while we were on the tail end of summer, many sights were still open…just without the crowds.  Kennebunk and Kennebunkport are lively places just because they were the summer homes of the senior Bushes.   What a gorgeous location!IMG_0258

Within the city of Portland there’s lots to see and do as well.  We had heard about the Portland Whaling Wall which is a 950 foot mural painted (I believe spray painted) on the side of the Maine State Pier.

 

The mural was done in 1993  by Robert Wyland as one of 17 marine murals he completed in 17 cities on the east coast in 17 weeks.  Later he went on to complete 100 murals in 79 cities in 13 countries around the world!  Really impressive!

We also got tickets for the Portland Symphony.  Isn’t it wonderful a city of 66,000 has its own symphony? They were playing Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 1 in D major the night we were there! Wow!  A message included with our tickets suggested we arrive early to see the beautiful architecture of the building!

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Not only does Portland have its own symphony but it also has a wonderful museum of art that dates back to 1882.  I particularly wanted to visit the exhibits of NC Wyeth (father of Andrew Wyeth), Frederick Remington and Maine’s own, Winslow Homer. But it was the art of Ashley Bryan that most interested me.  I knew Bryan best as an illustrator and writer of children’s books. The ones I knew are based on African folklore and proverbs.  Bryan was born in 1923 and after serving in a segregated US Army during World War II he settled in Maine not far from Acadia National Park. He is also a sculptor and much of his work is created from “things cast off.”  It’s his puppets that I love most.

 

Not far from the Portland Museum of Art, we found the Wadsworth Longfellow House and Garden. This was the boyhood home of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.  It was built for his mother’s parents in 1786. The last person to live there was Henry’s sister who stayed there until her death in 1901. And what a good caretaker of the home she was.  Because the home is small we waited in the gift shop (where else?) until our group could enter. We particularly enjoyed the little “behavior reminders” posted throughout the home.

Once in, a docent gave us a brief history and then we were allowed to go on our own self-guided tour.  In each room there was another guide who would provide us with details about what we were looking at as well as answer any questions. Bob and I aren’t big on touring homes where the furniture is replicas of the original, but here we were looking at authenticity:  the actual desk where Longfellow wrote as a child, his rocking horse, his favorite portrait. We were looking at the real thing.

 

As I’ve mentioned in other posts, an interesting challenge we have monthly is getting our hair cut.  I often go to Yelp for some help and it’s usually a good resource.  But this time it led us to a most unusual experience.  When I began to hunt for barbershops for Bob, one jumped out at me, Forest Avenue Barbershop.  Not only did they have great reviews they also have gorgeous golden retrievers in their shop.  Definitely the barbershop for us!  What a great choice!  The dogs greeted us; they are extremely well-behaved.  Both the barbers are very friendly.  It turned out to be the most inexpensive haircut and beard trim Bob’s had in four years AND it was also the best.  This is definitely a place to return before leaving Portland!  Thank you Yelp!

 

Periodically, our host would stop by and share some warm apple bars out of the oven or drop off some fresh flowers for the table. The night before we left, she invited us to dinner.  Just one more reason why we enjoy staying at Airbnb’s.  We get to meet such nice folks who also share with us interesting stories as well as suggest places to see in the area. Maine has been a really fun stay.  And while we have  enjoyed Portland, the city,  it’s also been a good base for exploring surrounding areas.

More interesting signs we’ve enjoyed in Maine:

Return to Massachusetts

A little more than a year ago we visited Boston for a month.  We didn’t stay right in the city but rather in a beach town on the south shore and close to the train that could get us into downtown Boston in 40 minutes.  We loved it so much that when we were thinking about destinations for our 2018 trek across the US and back we decided we wanted to return but this time our plan was to spend more time visiting sights outside the city.  We were thrilled we were able to rent the same Airbnb in Hull.

Hull is located on the tip of the Nantasket Peninsula which sticks out into Boston Harbor. Plymouth Colony first established Hull as a trading post in 1621.  Today a big draw is Nantasket Beach which is reportedly one of the nicest beaches in New England. We arrived on Labor Day weekend when the summer population balloons far beyond the 10,000 people who regularly reside here.  But just a few days later it turned into a much quieter, and to our way of thinking, nicer community.

One of our first stops was the Hull Public Library, and my initial experience wasn’t very pleasant.  I was told abruptly by the clerk that no, as a visitor to the area I could not get a library card.  This seemed odd to me so I sent a note to the contact on their website and quickly got an apologetic response saying of course I could use their library. When we went back in, not only did I get a library card but Ann, the person in charge, gave us a lovely tour of the building describing the building’s history which dates back to the middle 1800’s. IMG_0266The home’s original owner, John Boyle O’Reilly, was born in Ireland but later moved to England. He had been a member of the Fenian Revolutionary Army and when he was found out, he was convicted, and served in several prisons. Eventually he was sent to Australia where he somehow managed to get on a ship and escape to the US.  He arrived in Boston and became the editor of The Pilot advocating the rights of the working man and African Americans.  This home was the O’Reilly family summer residence until he died in 1890.  It was purchased in 1913 by the town to use as the library.  Fascinating…the things we learn by random connections with locals!

We continue to be amazed by how immersed we are in history.  Driving out to Hull from Boston we drove through various towns one indistinguishable from the next.  One afternoon we were coming home from the supermarket in heavy traffic passing business after business on both sides of the street when in among all this twenty-first century chaos, we were astounded to see a small sign indicating Abigail Adam’s birthplace.  Wow! We learned the building is presently in its third location and find ourselves wondering how long until it’s moved again!20180913_170351

We wanted to venture out to Cape Cod again having enjoyed previous trips to Provincetown. We finally decided on Sandwich, situated right at the entrance to the Cape making it a shorter drive (in what is usually very heavy traffic). We were also fascinated by the fact that Sandwich is the oldest town on the Cape and also the home of the oldest continuous Quaker Meeting in the country.  In Massachusetts, we’ve found several sights that boast being “the oldest continuous…” including schools and churches of various denominations.

20180907_125444_HDRDowntown Sandwich is lovely. We decided to stop at Beth’s Bakery and Cafe for a quick lunch.  Great choice! check it out! https://bethsbakery.net  I chose the haddock chowder with a lobster salad!  (Can you tell I just cannot get enough of the east coast seafood?) We continue to be fascinated the way New Englanders use crushed shells as a ground cover in much the way midwesterners use wood chips!

Glass making was a big thing in Sandwich until the Civil War, and so we decided to visit the Sandwich Glass Museum.  After a short video explaining the history of glass blowing in the area, we watched a demonstration.  The museum had two particularly interesting visiting exhibits.  The first was from The MIT Glass Lab…we had no idea MIT has a glass lab dating back more than 40 years.  They also had a special exhibit of Christopher Belleau’s.  His work reminds me a lot of Chihuly.

We were thrilled that our youngest son, Patrick and his friend came to visit for a long weekend.  While they were walking the Freedom Trail, Bob and I decided to return to the Boston Public Gardens.  We couldn’t have chosen a better day to be there…75 degrees and sunny and unlike our previous visit, this time everything was in full bloom!

Breathtaking! Later we met up with them for dinner at the Union Oyster House!  20180914_190944Yum!  We had a long wait for a table but were entertained by the guy who while serving as bartender, was also shucking oysters.  He said he could do about 60 an hour.  He went on to say he’d been doing it for more than 20 years…calculate that: 60 an hour for 8 hours times 5 days a week times 50 weeks a year times 20 years!  UNBELIEVABLE!

On Monday morning as we drove the boys back to Logan, we decided to stop and get a glimpse of John and Abigail Adams’ retirement home in Quincy.  John Adams named the estate, “Peacefield” remembering the Peace he helped negotiate in 1783.  We knew we wouldn’t have time for the whole tour, but I particularly wanted to see the beautiful Adam’s library building and the garden.  When I explained to the park ranger that I knew we had to be part of a tour to enter the buildings but could we just wander through the garden. He not only said yes, but proceeded to let us into the library where he gave us a bit of history of the building. Here we were standing in the same room where John Adams read and wrote; looking at all of his books!  One  John Adams quote stands out to me: “Posterity!” he wrote, “You will never know how much it cost the present Generation, to preserve your Freedom.  I hope you will make good Use of it.”

On our train trip into Boston, Bob struck up a conversation with a man who asked if we’d visited Hingham. And while the town was right next door to Hull, and we’d driven through it routinely, we’d never stopped to explore. So we added it to our list.  We began at the Historical Society which is housed in what was the original Derby Academy Building, the first New England co-educational school established in 1791 and still in existence (although in a different location).  The docent at the Society shared much of the town’s history and explained that Hingham is known as “Bucket Town.” During the 1700’s and 1800’s the boxes, buckets and other woodenware that were made here were known throughout the country.  She explained there was a museum upstairs (in what had been the school) that would explain the town’s history in greater detail. When I suggested that they were closing soon and perhaps we should come back the next day, she dismissed that idea and told us to go ahead and explore!  Again, I am stunned at the thoughtfulness of the people we meet; the librarian, the Ranger, now the docent. Upstairs we saw a plaque on the wall explaining that the Lincoln family were all related.  Samuel Lincoln was born in Hingham,  England, and was the 4th great grandfather of Abraham Lincoln.  Now I understood the statue of Abraham Lincoln in the city center!

As we were leaving we asked what else we should visit in Hingham and both she as well as another woman, suggested, “The Ordinary.”  Hmmm… we later learned that “ordinary” was a term during Colonial America that indicated a tavern that served a complete meal at a fixed price.  Another interesting fact learned!

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The Old Ordinary

The Old Ordinary turned out to be a fascinating place particularly because of Ellen, our guide.  At one time, distant relatives of Ellen’s called the Old Ordinary home.  After spending so much of our time in New England learning about the Patriots we were surprised to learn this house had been built in1688 by Thomas Andrews, a Loyalist, for his son Thomas. In the days of the Revolution, the house was owned by the Barker family and legend has it that the two paintings of the owners hanging on the front room wall both had knife marks in them suggesting the frustration the Colonists felt when they realized the owners had managed to escape.

The garden was designed by Frederick Law Olmsted in 1906 as a wedding present for the Reverand Cornish  and his wife who were then owners of the Old Ordinary. Olmstead was famous for many gardens including:  the Biltmore Gardens in Ashville NC, the Jackson Park Gardens in Chicago, Central Park in New York City, and the grounds around the US Capitol; the list goes on and on! IMG_0107Inside the house were authentic pieces, not replicas, of many interesting items including a leather fire bucket. We learned that firebuckets had family names on them so that after dousing a fire the buckets could find their way back to their rightful owners.  We also found out that because all commerce was regulated by the English and materials imported directly from them,  fabrics, at this time in history, were among a family’s dearest possessions, in many cases worth more than the furniture.

IMG_0276We spent a day in Plymouth.  We had visited Plymouth Rock on previous occasions and were underwhelmed, but we learned that the Pilgrim Hall Museum was built in 1824 and is the longest continuous operating museum in America.  (There’s that term again!) It was interesting and we liked that it wasn’t huge.  Lots of Pilgrim artifacts…some that actually came over on the Mayflower and lots of information about the Native Americans in the area.  We also visited the Brewster Gardens.  They date from the 1920’s and contain several pretty sculptures.  My favorite was the stainless steel sculpture, “Immigration” honoring settlers from 1700 – 2000.

We also visited Scituate which we remembered hearing was hard hit by a nor’easter that literally had waves washing over many of the houses.  Looking at the houses lining the sea we understood how that could happen.  Here we also saw the Scituate Lighthouse that was built in 1810 for the sum of $ 4000.  During the War of 1812, two young girls, daughters of the light keeper, who was away at the time, are credited with saving the community by playing their fifes when they heard British troops approaching.  The British troops thought it indicated a whole regiment of Colonial troops and quickly retreated.

I didn’t realize how many tidbits of history I have learned from literature, Longfellow in particular.  This had been the case when Evangeline has led us to Grand Pre in Nova Scotia. Now it was happening again in Lexington.  Lexington, we knew was the beginning of the Revolutionary War so Bob suggested the Lexington Green would be a good place to start exploring of the area.

There we met a volunteer dressed in his Colonial finest who explained the happenings of the morning of April 19, 1775, how when Paul Revere and William Dawes had learned the British were going to Concord with the intent to destroy weapons, they rode to alert the countryside.

Later in the Concord Museum we saw one of the two lanterns that hung in the Old North Church.  (We were also told that the picture on the Sam Adams beer bottle is really Paul Revere because he was better looking!  Interesting!)

What we didn’t know was that Revere had been captured…and later released.  (Ah… Longfellow didn’t tell us that! ) As we stood on the green we could look at the actual house where Samuel Adams and John Hancock spent the night of April 18.  IMG_0214On this green on the morning of April 19, 73 Patriots faced nearly 800 British troops  The guide went on to explain that while the Colonists’ battle on the green was lost, they won the remainder of the battles that day. We went on to Minute Man National Historic Park in Concord, where we walked across the North Bridge and the spot where the “the shot heard round the world” was fired.  And where it all began.

Concord had another draw for me.  I am fascinated by the Transcendentalists of the early 1800’s. They included: Ralph Waldo Emerson, Bronson Alcott (and his famous daughter Louisa May), Nathaniel Hawthorne, Henry David Thoreau (whose name rhymes with “furrow” we learned) and my favorites: the Peabody sisters: Eliza, Mary and Sophia. Concord was the center of the movement.

As we walked the streets and grounds of their homes we could almost hear their converstations. Orchard House was the home of the Alcotts and Bronson’s progressive school. Amos Bronson Alcott is among my favorite people from history. His school stands behind the house. He was influenced by Peztalozzi. His assistant, Eliza Peabody, is credited with creating the first kindergartens in the United States.   He treated his students like adults and abhorred corporal punishment; his school was based on the Socratic Method and he stood strong behind his ideals believing that all students, boys and girls, Black and White should be educated. When he admitted an African American student to his school, he wouldn’t back down even as parents complained. He counted among his many students, Emma Lazarus (who wrote The New Colassus engraved on the base of the statue of liberty). We found the folks at Orchard House to be very helpful sharing with us many interesting facts about the Transcendentalists and offering suggestions about other things to see in the area.

Among those places, of course, was Walden Pond and the replica of the cabin that Henry David Thoreau  built and lived in for two years, two months and two days. William Ellery Channing was another Transcendentalist and frequent walking companion of Thoreau.

It was Channing who had first suggested to Thoreau that he use Channing’s land and go out to Walden Pond and build himself a hut. And it was Alcott that Thoreau borrowed an ax from to build his cabin! And it was Emerson who mentored Thoreau…such connections boggle my mind!

Finally we visited Sleepy Hollow Cemetery where for all eternity most of the Transcendentalists remain neighbors.  In 1855, the original cemetery was extended when the town of Concord bought additional acreage including a pretty park-like area that the locals called, Sleepy Hollow, probably named after Washington Irving’s short story, The Legend Sleepy Hollow.   Emerson had suggested that cemeteries like Sleepy Hollow could serve more than one purpose acting as places for contemplation and reflection as well as honoring the deceased. We hunted until we finally found Author’s Ridge, where lay the remains of the Alcotts, the Hawthornes, the Emersons, the Thoreaus, the Channings, two of the Peabody sisters.

The other Peabody sister, Mary, is buried with her husband Horace Mann in Ohio.  We passed the Horace Mann home in Concord but it is a private residence.  Imagine living in Horace Mann’s home! And it’s not far from the Wayside where Nathaniel Hawthorne lived with his wife, Sofia.  But later the Alcott’s lived there.  And then, as if that’s not enough, Harriet Lothrop, the author of The Five Little Peppers and How They Grew later lived there.

What an impact these thoughtful minds could have on our lives today.  Of course before leaving Concord, I had to visit The Thoreau Bookstore at Walden Pond hunting for another book to learn more of the Transcendentalists.

We often encounter sights that make us smile, or make us think…or just make us wonder.  Here are a few from the past month:

Massachusetts has such a rich history, even with a second month, there still remains places we want to visit.  Guess that means one day we’ll have to return!  For now, we’re headed next to Portland, Maine, and fall colors!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Slower Pace

For Bob and me summer is synonymous with water.  Last winter we had coordinated all our family schedules and managed to find a week in July when everyone was available.  After lots and lots of searching I finally found a place that was located right on the shore of Lake Michigan, just south of Grand Haven, that would accomodate all 14 of us!

And what a great place it was.  It had an open floor plan so folks could be in the living room, dining room or kitchen and yet all be together.  The whole front of the house was windows.  The house sits atop a dune so there were about 50 steps down to the beach. But just a few steps down there was a great deck with chairs so those of us who didn’t want to make the trek down could still enjoy the view.

Our family ranges in age from 2 to 72 but it doesn’t matter at the lake. There’s always something for everyone.  We played miniature golf, rode go-karts, explored the streets of the tourist town, visited local wineries, swam at the gorgeous Lake Michigan beach, and in the evenings after watching sunsets, there were s’mores over campfires and games to play. What a fabulous week we had!

Bob’s 55th class reunion was in August in nearby Michigan City so we decided to spend the month there.  Again right on the shore of Lake Michigan.  Sometimes I think you have to move away from your hometown to fully appreciate it.  At least that’s what we found. We had opportunities to attend musical events including the Michigan City Chamber Music Festival, now in it’s 16th year, and featuring free musical performances. We also enjoyed “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” presented by the Dunes Summer Theatre. We took in an Andy Warhol Exhibit at the Lubeznik Center for the Arts. We visited the Old Michigan City Lighthouse and Museum.

The “new” lighthouse was constructed in 1904 and is the iconic image of the city. It was electrified in 1933 and we’ve watched many sunsets from the pier that extends out to the lighthouse.  The Old Lighthouse, and now museum, was constructed in 1858.  We found it interesting that the light had a woman keeper from 1861-1904.  It is believed that she served longer than any other keeper in the country and most impressive is that her light never went out. http://www.oldlighthousemuseum.org/colfax_hartwell.html

And while The International Friendship Gardens has been an institution in Michigan City since 1930’s when it was modeled after gardens at the World’s Fair in Chicago neither Bob nor I had ever been there.. The original park consisted of 14 ethnic gardens.  Queen Wilhelmina donated 200,000 tulips. The King of England sent plants as well as a gardener to create an English garden.  The King of Persia sent roses for the original rose garden.  There was even a theatre for concerts and plays located on an island created in the creek in the park with seating for the audience on a nearby hillside.  In the 1960’s the Gardens suffered from neglect, but in the past five years a dedicated group of volunteers is working hard to restore it to its previous grandeur.  It’s a very peaceful place. We encountered kayakers on the creek that meanders through the garden. We followed the Path of Nations which took us by the Irish Garden, the African Garden, Romanian Garden as well as the Polish, Scottish, Lithuanian, German, Italian and Norwegian Gardens. And of course, the original Persian Rose Garden. A great way to spend an afternoon.

One of the highlights of our trip was the Washington Park Zoo. The zoo was founded in 1928 and is built on a large dune near the lake.  For our 50th wedding anniversary a year ago our kids had given us a bench honoring our years together.  We were amazed when we entered the zoo and as we approached the tiger exhibit, lo and behold there it was. How cool!  We asked a passerby if she’d take our picture.  “Oh wow!” she exclaimed, “You’re the people in the picture on the bench!”  What a cool gift! IMG_0022 (1)

We had allowed a few days travel time between leaving Michigan City and arriving at our next destination: Hull, Massachusetts, located on the southern shore just south of Boston.  Besides catching up with friends along the way there were some sights we wanted to see. We tried to avoid the interstate system much of the time so we could see more of the small towns. We initially thought we’d take Highway 20 (the longest highway in the US) from Michigan City to Boston. But traveling through eastern Indiana and northwest Ohio made us realize perhaps we needed to be more selective. We found it interesting to travel along the Erie Canal across much of New York.

One of our stops was Rochester, New York, where our daughter-in-law, Sadie, suggested we visit the Mount Hope Cemetery.  We found it very helpful that the cemetery had an office where I picked up a map.  We visited Susan B. Anthony’s grave as well as Frederick Douglass’.  Interestingly, Bausch and Lomb are buried there.  I found it odd they were buried on the same site.  As German immigrants they had begun producing monocles in 1853.  They eventually went on to lenses, binoculars and camera lenses which makes us wonder if there isn’t a connection between Eastman Kodak and Bausch and Lomb.  In any event their grave site is really lovely, located under the branches of a huge tree as though protecting their eyes from the dangerous rays of the sun.

In LeRoy, New York, just outside Rochester we visited the Jello Museum. 20180829_102516_HDRHere we learned how Peter Cooper,  the inventor of Jello, got a patent for it in 1845, but could never get it to catch on with the American public so he sold the patent to a fellow townsman for $450.  We saw Jello molds, learned about the most popular flavors.  On display were lots of Jello posters (All presence of Bill Cosby has been removed.) and saw recipe after recipe for salads and desserts made with Jello.  It took us back to the 1950s and 1960s when it seemed like every home served Jello regularly.

We really enjoyed the pastoral views across New York state and Massachusetts.  The area around the finger lakes is particularly nice. Our first stop in Seneca Falls was at the Women’s Rights National Historical Park. Central New York was the home to many Quakers so it was a natural location for the birth of women’s rights given that most Quakers favored gender equality…well, a bit more than others at the time. My favorite tidbit: When Elizabeth Cady  married Henry Stanton in 1840, the vows omitted the word, “obey.” How cool too that she is known more than 175 years later by her given, maiden and married name! I particlarly liked the statue depicting Amelia Bloomer introducing Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton in 1851.

20180830_133456We learn so much in our travels.  I had no idea until we visited the Women’s Rights National Historic Park that there was a 19th Amendment Victory Flag. The purple represents justice, and loyalty. The white, purity of intent of the movement and the gold is the color of the torch that guides the women. Whenever a state radified the amendment a star was added to the flag. 36 were needed.

The National Women’s Hall of Fame is very much alive.  While we read the biographical sketches of each individual we understood that this is an evolution.  The present and the future are building on the shoulders of those women who have gone before.  I was also struck by the number of women who were connected to important men.

Before moving on we drove past Harriet Tubman’s home. I think we often forget what her freedom cost her.  She indeed was free but her family was all in Maryland and she was forever separated from them. It’s difficult to comprehend that she died just 34 years before I was born.

We continue to be entertained by signs and bumper stickers we see along the way…some amusing; some a bit deeper!

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We continued our drive east stopping the next day in Sturbridge, Massachusetts, at Norman Rockwell’s Museum.  What a great surprise to learn we were there on “Free Fridays.”  My very favorite works of his are the Four Freedoms that he completed during WWII. Freedom from Want, Freedom of Speech, Freedom of Worship and Freedom from Fear.  It seems unbelievable that he completed all four in just seven months.  Having spent the past 10 months traveling across the country from DC to California and back again, Rockwell’s illustrations of everyday American life struck a special chord with us.  It was like a synthesis of all we’ve seen and experienced.  After leaving the museum we had to drive down mainstreet Sturbridge to compare his painting with the actual Main Street.

Just a few hours away from our destination, we decided to stop in Springfield at the Dr. Seuss National Memorial Sculpture Garden.  When Dr. Seuss (Ted Geisel) died in 1991 his widow authorized the creation of the memorial that Geisel had envisioned.  His stepdaughter, Lark Grey Diamond-Cates, a noted sculpturer, created more than 30 statues.  It’s such a joyful experience walking among the characters.

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Airbnb in Hull

About 3 pm we pulled into our driveway.  We’re staying in the same Airbnb we stayed in when we were last in the Boston area.  We’re out on a peninsula, a two block walk one way from the ocean and a long block the other direction. We look forward to exploring lesser known sights in the area this time.  It feels good walking into a known place remembering the little things:  the couch that sinks a bit, the floors that aren’t quite level.  Ahhh…it feels good to be home!

 

 

The Best of the Maritimes

This wasn’t our first trip to Nova Scotia, but we’d never stayed more than a week previously and this time we really wanted to experience life in this eastern maritime province.  I had found an airbnb apartment that was located in Dartmouth, just across the harbor from Halifax and this turned out to be a perfect location.  It was a quick drive into Halifax or to other parts of the province and there was even a ferry that was within walking distance and took us across to Halifax in just 10 minutes for the grand sum of $1.75 Canadian.

The apartment itself was perfect as well.  The owners were a young couple who are currently living in the DC area and so their mother met us and showed us around.  I had to laugh when she told us it was really small:  

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Looking at Halifax Harbor from our living room

two bedrooms, two baths a large living room and kitchen with an island and a separate laundry room. Obviously, it’s all relative.  To us the place was huge!  All the rooms had views of the harbor.  We watched sailboats, cruise ships, container ships, military ships, every kind of water vehicle we could imagine all while never leaving the comfort of our living room.  And while the weather tended to be cool while we were there, there was even a balcony to enjoy a glass of wine on those days when it was warm enough.  It truly exceeded all our expectations.

 

 

Our first jaunt took us to Grand Pre which became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2012. It’s located on the Bay of Fundy’s Minas Basin in the Annapolis Valley. This is the area the French Acadians settled (by reclaiming the land from the sea) in the 1680’s.  It retains its rich farming soil today. But in the second half of the 18th century the Acadians were forced to leave.  When the English defeated the French, there was fear that the Acadians would continue to pledge allegiance to the French. And as a result a decree was issued that all Acadians would be deported and shipped to English colonies, or France or the Caribbean.  Many were attracted to Louisiana because of the familiar language.  Between 1755 and 1763 nearly 10,000 Acadians were forced to leave and thousands of those died.  When Longfellow published his poem Evangeline, the story of a young woman searching for her love, the English speaking world became aware of the forceable removal.  The deportation cross, erected in 1924, marks the actual spot of the Acadians’ departure. Today a lovely park in Grand Pre traces the history for visitors.  There is a statue of Longfellow’s Evangeline, as well as a bust of Longfellow.  The park has a bittersweet feel to it.

 

 

On our way back to Dartmouth, we stopped at a sidewalk cafe in Wolfville, a small quaint village close to Grand Pre.  Here was our first of many reminders of the importance of hockey in Canada.  I ordered a beer, and since this was Stanley Cup time, it was served in a glass hockey skate mug! img_20180607_155616534  Later in our travels around the province, we encountered: a collection of hockey jerseys on the wall of a restaurant, hockey icons on Canadian food brands in the grocery, Cole Harbor city sign advertising they’re the home of Sidney Crosby. We saw additional posters of Crosby and other NHL players’ pictures from Nova Scotia on the walls of buildings throughout the province.  Given our love of hockey we found this really fun! We were surprised to find a liquor store just outside Halifax advertising, “Cold Beer Drive Through.”   Wow!  Beer and hockey.  The Canadians get it!  

 

 

We decided to take three days and explore Cape Breton which is connected to the rest of Nova Scotia by the Canso Causeway.  The Cabot Trail is a spectacular road that circles the island.  The views at every turn are more beautiful than the last.

 

 

We started up the sunset side, also known as the musical coast. We were aiming for Cheticamp for our first night. This again is the land of the Acadians. And Cheticamp remained a fishing village until the 1930’s when tourism in the area began with the creation of the Cape Breton Highlands National Park.

 

It’s still a blend of tourism and fishing today. We stopped in at the Celtic Music Interpretive Center where we enjoyed a local ceilidh (pronounced ‘ka lee) while we lunched on seafood chowder and a local beer!

 

Signs and literature are in both French and English. And we noticed more French spoken in the little villages.  Acadian flags along with Nova Scotian flags and Canadian Maple Leaves fly everywhere.  When we left Cheticamp in the morning we stopped at a local donut shop for coffee and donuts.  It was a cozy place with four or five tables. As we sat down we realized that the table to our left was speaking English while the table to our right was speaking French.  We get the impression, however, that they both understood the conversation of the other.  

We headed next toward Sydney, the second largest city in Nova Scotia, with a population of about 31,000. Sydney is on the tip of Nova Scotia. (This is where in 2004 we caught the ferry for Newfoundland.) Previously we were in Nova Scotia in August, but this time we decided to visit in June.  We were a bit taken aback when we first arrived that snow, significant snow, was predicted for parts of Cape Breton and Newfoundland. And many of the summer festivities don’t begin until July. But we enjoy not having to contend with huge crowds. And luckily the snow never materialized where we were!

Sydney has a lovely boardwalk with a huge fiddle and monuments to those who made their livlihoods from the sea.

 

And we spotted various  interesting signs throughout the province.

 

  

Heading down the other side of Cape Breton we stopped at The Fortress of Louisbourg.  It was a cold blustery day, especially for our expectations of June. We tried to quickly grasp the general history of the fort and move on. We learned that there is a difference between a fort and a fortress.  A fortress encloses a town while a fort doesn’t. The Louisbourg Fortress was the home of the first lighthouse constructed in Canada. The fortress was founded by the French in 1713 and then fell to the British twice.  It was finally demolished in the 1760’s. After it was destroyed, some of the stone was used for building in Sydney, Halifax and suprisingly Boston.img_0222

I had read in several places about Rita’s Tea Room in Big Pond.  Given my very best friend is Rita; I knew we had to stop!  It turns out that this tea room started as a one-room school house back in the 1930’s.  Canadian singer and song writer, Rita MacNeil, lived closeby with her family.  And in the 1980’s she was able to purchase it and later converted it into a tea room.

 

Wherever she performed, Rita would invite her audience, if ever in Big Pond, to stop by for a cup of tea. Rita needed tea cups so she went out and started buying them but she was particularly touched when people would come by and donate all sorts of them.  The cups are displayed throughout the tea room. Rita died in 2013 but her tea room is lovely!  Definitely worth the stop if you’re in the area!

The Bay of Fundy is known for its incredibly high tides.  After consulting a guide of tide times we drove to Truro to see the bore. A tidal bore is the reversing of a river’s current by the force of the tide.  It is amazing.  You have to be there at the right time and then you can actually see the bore coming up the river. img_0321-1We knew that the Bay of Fundy has the highest tides in the world and while we had seen them on a previous visit this was definitely something we wanted to do again.  We consulted our guide again so we could see both high tides and low tides during daylight on the same day.  And then we headed out early in the morning for Burntcoat Head Park. We got there just at high tide.  While the views were breathtaking  we were also careful not to get too close to the slippery edges.  We visited the interpretive center and then toured the area.  Everywhere we drove we saw fields and fields of gorgeous lupine and huge stacks of wood as folks readied themselves for the cold long winter  ahead. 

 

We returned to the park a few hours later at low tide!  Wow!  Even though we knew it was going to be different.  It’s hard to comprehend.  People were walking on the ocean’s bottom where just a few hours before were under more than 30 feet of water!  

 

Whenever you see pictures of Nova Scotia, the lighthouse at Peggy’s Cove seems to be the ubiquitous icon.  We thought that perhaps Father’s Day would be a good day to visit thinking that most families would be celebrating with their relatives at home.  WRONG!  I think that perhaps half of all the residents of the maritimes had decided to visit Peggy’s Cove.  Parking lots were overflowing; tourist busses and cars were everywhere.  Mobs of people were walking down the streets.  We were glad that we had visited years ago at a much quieter time; we took a couple of quick shots and then high-tailed it out of there. 

 

Following the slower road along St Margaret’s Bay we enjoyed the scenery and then came to The Finer Diner where we decided to stop for lunch. http://www.finerdiner.ca/  What a great choice.  All of the crowds left behind, we sat on the front porch looking out at a quiet cove.  The menu gave us lots of seafood choices.  I finally opted for the lobster roll and Bob got the seafood platter.  Prices in most Nova Scotian restaurants tend to be reasonable but the exchange rate allows us as Americans to discount the price by 25 per cent.  Boy, it’s going to be tough going back to the States! 

 

 

The south shore of Nova Scotia is very different from Cape Breton but equally lovely.  We drove down to Shelburne on the highway and then worked our way slowly back along the coast.  In 1783 loyalists from the American colonies settled in Shelburne Harbour lured by promises of free land. img_0435 The city grew larger than Halifax or Montreal. And not far from Shelburne we found the Black Loyalist Heritage Centre.  This is the place where Black Loyalists came seeking freedom at the end of the 1700s.  At that time this was the largest Black settlement outside of Africa. We came to the Old Schoolhouse and were surprised to find the door open but no one inside.  We spent about an hour in the one room reading the stories of this settlement that we had never before heard of. As we left the schoolhouse we found the Black Loyalist Heritage Centre next door and here there were guides who invited us to see a short film and then view additional exhibits. There was even a book entitled, Book of Negroes that listed the names of many who had made the journey.

 

We then drove into Shelbourne itself where we toured the Ross-Thomson House; it’s the only original store building remaining.  We also toured the dory factory; dories are small fishing boats with flat bottoms and sharp sides that have been used for centuries for fishing off the southern coast of Nova Scotia.  We were shocked to learn from our guide that most fishermen didn’t know how to swim because the water was so cold that if you didn’t swim, drowning would shorten the amount of time you were in the water. And fishing was so dangerous that brothers or fathers and sons were never allowed to go out in the same boat! 

 

After spending the night in Shelburne (in a motel that made us feel like we were back in the 1950’s) we headed along the shore traveling from fishing village to fishing village. img_0461The landscape was beautiful. Old Town Lunenburg is a UNESCO World Heritage site. It was recognized for having the best surviving example of a British Colonial grid-pattern street layout as well as for its authenticity as a working city. It is also the home of the Bluenose II,  a gaff rig schooner, which is featured on the Canadian Dime.  And from Lunenburg we headed to Mahone Bay, which is well known for the beautiful churches that border the water. 

 

Having seen a lot of the rural areas of the province there was a lot we wanted to see within the metropolitan area. We were pleased our Airbnb location gave us such easy access into Halifax.  The city has a lot of great shopping and eating areas right along the harbor. And we particularly wanted to visit the library downtown.  In 2008 a joint venture between a Halifax architecture firm and a Danish firm won the international competition for the library. The resulting design resembles a stack of books.  And since its opening in 2014 it has become a major gathering place for folks downtown.

 

It’s a very modern typically Danish design with open bridges connecting various departments on every floor and beautiful views overlooking the city.  There are cafes as well as meeting areas, and the upper floors are designed as quieter areas.  It is filled with water saving devices and designed to be energy efficient as well.  Wired Magazine named it to their list of the 10 most beautiful libraries in the world.

The Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21 is located in an old ocean liner terminal where the majority of immigrants entered Canada between 1928 and 1971.  img_0664Our guide was an immigrant from Scotland. There were exhibits of the ship’s cabins as well as recorded interviews of immigrants, even a display of the items a person had packed in their trunk.  Moving on to the other part of the museum, which we toured independently, were explanations of the trends of immigration and how they’ve changed over the decades.  There were places for comments by those touring the museum and we were saddened to read the feelings of at least one person:  img_0656

We also found the Halifax Public Gardens to be a relaxing place to spend an afternoon. They are the oldest Victorian gardens in North America and date back to the middle 1800’s. Once again we were surprised to learn that there was no charge to access them.

 

On a rainy day we decided to head to the bookstore, Chapters.  It’s a large Canadian chain.  I had just finished reading Mrs. Grant and Madame Jule, an historical fiction work  by Jennifer Chiaverini. So when I saw The Spymistress, a story she wrote about Elizabeth Van Lew who was a spy for the Union during the Civil War, I knew I wanted to read it.  And it was discounted! I asked a clerk where I’d find it and she told me that while they didn’t have it, it was at a nearby store. So I put the address in my phone and off we went. When we arrived at the store the clerk there apologized but said it was in their warehouse and they’d go get it and she could call me when they had it.  Okay, that was fine. We hadn’t been home for more than 10 minutes when I got a call saying that they had the book at the store and we could pick it up the next day.  Great! We were going to go right past that store on our way up to watch the tidal bore. But she added it wasn’t $5.00 but $2.00.  When we got to the store the next day, the clerk told me it wasn’t $2.00 but $1.08 with tax.  We figured with the exchange rate the book cost me about 80 cents American.  What a find! And the book was great!

In Holland in the 1600’s a military signal would indicate to pubs near military garrisons to stop serving beer, to turn off the taps.  That Dutch phrase over the centuries has turned into “Tattoo.”  If you’ve read my previous blogs you’ll know that two years ago when we were in Scotland we attended the Tattoo at Edinburgh Castle. That is the greatest of all the tattoos.  But when we realized that the Tattoo would be performed during our stay in Nova Scotia we knew we had to see it.  Unlike Edinburgh this Tattoo was performed inside so we didn’t have to worry about whether we’d get rained on or not.  And among the participants in this tattoo were a police band from Singapore, a Jordanian drill unit, circus performers from Brazil and an American Military band. I don’t know how anyone can listen to a military band and not feel patriotic!

 

It had been raining most of the morning so we decided to take a taxi to the performance.  (Ubers don’t exist in Nova Scotia.)  But the skies had cleared when it was over so we walked down to the water, ate at an outdoor cafe and then walked to the ferry terminal and took the short ferry ride back to Dartmouth, just a couple blocks from our apartment. What a fun day!img_20180629_1827041141

On Canada Day, July 1, we went downstairs and in front of our apartment building we could watch sky divers with parachutes displaying the maple leaf!  We went to a nearby park in the afternoon and enjoyed a band that played music from the 1960’s.img_0010 The woman who managed our apartment building had suggested that we had to try “John’s Lunch” while we were in Halifax.  https://johnslunch.com/  She said it was a real dive but had the best fried clams and is a favorite with the locals.  Sounded like our kind of place.  It turned out the diner had a single row of seats at the counter and about 6 booths and I got the idea that people were always waiting no matter the day or hour.

 

Everyone was very friendly and when the waitress found out we were Americans I got a big hug and then she pointed out that Nova Scotians LOVE Americans it’s just our president they can’t stand!  At the end of the day we headed back to our apartment and right outside our front door we had a marvelous view of the fireworks!  What a perfect end to a perfect stay in what turned out to be both Bob’s and my favorite province!  In the morning it’d be a stop at Tim Horton’s for a cup of coffee and then we were headed back west.

Bits and pieces along the way…

img_0247As Bob and I reflect on our peripatetic lifestyle of more than three years, we’ve come to realize little things often seem to fit together into larger generalities. For instance, we never realized how attracted we were to the water until we went back and looked at how many of our stays were close to the oceans…many within direct sight.  In the United States there was Boston, Seattle and two locations in Florida. Beyond that was Gosport, England, both the southern tip of Portugal and the northern coast of Spain, Lanzarote in the Canaries as well as Sicily, Panama and now Nova Scotia. We find the water provides a peaceful, relaxing environment and we often wonder if growing up on the shore of Lake Michigan has anything to do with our attraction to large bodies of water. The draw continues as we have reservations to spend next January and much of February in the Caribbean before heading to Lecce, Italy not far from the coast and the rest of spring in Antibes, France, on the Cote d’Azure.

We also have found the food to be generally wonderful wherever we go.  Because we’ve spent so much time near the water we have devoured delectable seafood dishes in more places than we can count. We’ve had endless lobster and mussels in the northeast and Canada; our fill (well, almost) of shrimp in Florida. We find ourselves comparing favorites:  “Okay, how would you rate this seafood chowder compared to…? Or I think this lobster roll is even better than…”  We had never tried food trucks until in DC and it’s now become one of my favorite venues.  And the Mexican restaurants in the southwest were amazing!

We try to get recommendations from people we meet for suggestions where the locals eat. Sometimes it’s the setting not just the menu. For instance in Nashua New Hampshire we ate at “The Common Man.” img_20180531_183605693_hdr http://www.thecman.com/restaurants-and-menus/common-man-restaurants/common-man-merrimack.aspx Not only was the food scrumptious, but the restaurant was the former home of Matthew Thornton, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence!  The restaurant seated groups throughout the small rooms of the home making it feel very cozy.  There were crackers and two kinds of dips as you entered the front door of the restaurant as well as a large cheese round upstairs for all to try.

In Saint John, New Brunswick we found ourselves in a lovely casual restaurant, (http://www.lilylake.ca/lilys.html) Lily Lake Cafe that featured local food made from scratch and to our amazement it was listed as a charity.  When we inquired, our waitress explained that the restaurant proceeds benefit community programs in the area.

On the surrounding grounds are biking and hiking trails.  There are nearby statues honoring the Canadian worker.

More than a hundred years ago, Lily Lake was a major source of fresh water for the area, and there was a huge dispute between the ice cutters and the skaters which the skaters eventually won.  Our waitress explained that this was the lake where she had learned iceskate and also where she taught her granddaughter to skate as well.

If you’ve read my previous blogs you know that historical sites are a major destination for us wherever we travel. We traipse around battlefields, and stop to read monuments, often of people we’ve never heard of. We wander through cemeteries reading names, dates and interesting quotes. We find the architecture of churches interesting but were a little overwhelmed by the sheer number in Europe so while we still check them out, we are less apt to go inside unless.  We also like to visit sights off the beaten path like an old residence of a famous person or the Thomas Hart Benton murals in rural towns in the midwest. Or just random things we read about. We enjoy museums of all sorts.

We enjoy art. And we take advantage of local festivals whenever we can.  We were in Ireland during the Galway International Arts Festival.  The Fringe, along with the Tatoo, were among  our all time greatest experiences when we were in Edinbourgh. (We loved the Tatoo so much we got tickets to go to the Halifax Tatoo next week. More about that in my next blog.) We love music so we seek out concerts, particularly those reflecting local heritage, wherever we travel.  So far it’s ranged from the waltzes of Vienna to the Celtic Music of the Cape Breton Highlands.

We like trivia games though we’ve not tried them in a foreign country yet. We did find an interesting one at Politics and Prose  one of my “must stop at” bookstores whenever we are in DC.  The night we went they had one topic, “Broadway.”  Wow.  I can’t think of any topic we might know less about than Broadway.  But it was still a fun and enjoyable evening.img_20180519_200434822

We are often asked how we decide where to rent and what to take with us. Over time, we’ve become more attuned to what we need in our rentals. A washer is really important for us, but after living in Europe for a while we realize while a dryer is nice, not having one is not a deal breaker.  We like the car for getting from one destination to the next but it’s really nice to have a supermarket, parks and restaurants within walking distance.  We get a better feel for the neighborhood on foot. img_20171121_1040540631And a really big plus, is proximity to public transportation.  DC has become a second home for us, I believe in large part, because it’s so easy to get around without a car. We take advantage of discount cards when available.  We have senior metro cards for DC which allow us to ride the metro for half fare and the bus for $1.00.  We also have senior Charlie Cards for Boston with similar discounts. When we have a car, it’s nice to have a place nearby to park (even when we leave it there for days or weeks at a time).

We’ve found dollar stores to be a real god-send as they provide an inexpensive way to acquire those little things that sometimes aren’t provided in our rental. With only one exception, Wi-fi has been available everywhere we’ve traveled.  I generally don’t access wifi in hotels as I’m nervous about being hacked, but I can’t begin to imagine how difficult it would be to make travel arrangements without a computer. We have found that virtually no rentals provide a good can opener, and the ones at the dollar stores just don’t cut it. So we carry one with us. We have found, with our age, that futons are definitely not comfortable over time.  They’re not bad for a short term stay but since we are doing this full time, we generally look for places that have REAL couches.  And a side chair or two is really nice. We’ve been pleasantly surprised by how good the beds have been in almost every place we’ve stayed. An added bonus is a place to sit outside, either a patio, balcony, deck or front porch.  (And it’s really nice when the weather accomodates such activity!)

Another thing I really enjoy is doing the grocery shopping.  It’s so interesting to see the variety of foods. Meatmarkets and seafood counters are particularly intriguing.  Octopus, squid, tongue…so many things we don’t have in our usual markets in Michigan.

The variety of fruits and vegetables are wonderful as well and so tasty! But even in the US things supermarkets are very different on the coasts than they are in the midwest. We particularly loved the “clip your own” herbs we found in a supermarket in Raleigh.

By traveling on the shoulder seasons we are able to avoid the crowds and things are generally less expensive.  But as lovers of summer, this often means for us cooler temperatures.  We lucked out in Palm Springs by having r warm unusually warm weather in January but other places including Portugal, Spain and Quebec have been chillier.  Still we’re generally able to get by with just spring/fall wardrobes with an emphasis on layers.

Where next is always a question we have in mind. We have crisscrossed some countries several times. (France, Germany and the US come to mind.) And while I’m sure there are more efficient ways of traveling, part of the thing I love best about our lifestyle is not planning too far out. And we always find new and different things to see wherever we are…whether we’ve been there before or not.

We find that we travel with “more stuff” in the US and Canada than we do elsewhere.  Our car sort of takes on the role of a closet and just as when we owned a home we tended to fill any closet we had, we tend to take more with us when we have the car to put it in.

But when we’re using trains, planes and boats, we’ve found that traveling light is the only way to go. Using brightly colored suitcases also makes it much easier to find our luggage among the ubiquitous black cases. We have learned when we leave a location to drop off our remaining can goods at a local food pantry instead of just leaving it in the house. Often our rentals have very little storage space in the kitchen and we know that the food pantry will be glad to get our donation. When we move from one destination to another and it’s more than a day’s drive, we pack the clothes we need in one suitcase and all our really valuable stuff (like passports, computer, tablet) in our rolly bag so we only have two bags to take into the hotel.

We have stored a few bins of things in our kids’ homes. To simplify things, I created a spreadsheet that lists the location and bin number, and then I list the specific items in  each bin.  Then too I have a list in the same folder, called, “Things with Us.” Whenever I take something out of one bin and move it to another, I update the spreadsheet.  This way, if I need to ask one of the kids to mail something to me I can tell him or her exactly where to find it.  Makes it much easier for all of us.  Also, whenever we leave one location, I go through my “Things with Us” list and ensure that I have everything on the list. Whenever we visit one of the kids, I take the opportunity to update this list, as well as pitch anything that we no longer need.

Our kids have a difficult time remembering where their parents are or where we’re headed next so I found that creating an itinerary for them with dates and phone numbers is helpful. I share that with them on Google Sheets.  Also in case of an emergency, that would be helpful information for them to have. Generally we set aside one day a month to balance the accounts and pay our bills (all online). I also have electronic copies of our passports and credit cards.

Even after three years we  continue to get mail through the postal system. Ugh! Since we use our oldest son’s address as our residence, it all goes to him. Every month or so he boxes it up and sends it on to us. (Sometimes that entails sending it to one of his siblings’ addresses where we pick it up.) I had truly thought by this time we’d be done with that but no luck!

Traveling fulltime requires a lot of organization and planning but we’re continuously refining the process and in doing so I think we’re becoming more efficient which gives us more time to have fun and enjoy our everyday travels.

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The Tar Heel State

Tar Heel State!  We asked around and were told that there are varying explanations regarding how the state got its nickname.  But there was one that was repeated several times. Because of the vast pine forests throughout the state, North Carolina has from its beginning been a large producer of tar, pitch and turpentine.  And legend has it that during the Civil War North Carolinian troops were referred to as “tar heels” because of their ability to stick to their guns like tar on their heels!

We have visited North Carolina before, but we’ve really only seen the seashore except for traveling across on the interstate in route to other destinations.  So here we are for two months in Raleigh.  We’ve visited museums, gone to an NHL game, visited county parks as well as state parks, traveled to nearby towns, strolled through battlefields and made new friends.  It’s been a relaxing and interesting eight weeks.

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Raleigh skyline

Raleigh is a relatively big city by US standards.  Population of the metro area is well over a million but it doesn’t feel that big.  It’s an easy city to maneuver.  Traffic isn’t bad. (Well, we don’t drive during rush hours and that probably makes a difference.) The couple of times during the week that we’ve gone to a big mall near us we’ve been flabbergasted by the number of people.  The mall is huge and it’s always difficult to find a place to park.  During the week?  When do people work? We thought malls were dying out but perhaps that’s not the case everywhere.

Because we’re here for two months and are both avid readers we decided to check out the local library. (We often get library cards in places where we’re staying for more than a month.)  The folks were most accommodating and there was no charge for a temporary card.  The reference librarian made it seem like he had absolutely nothing better than to help me locate the subjects I was interested in.

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Sign in the Garner branch of the Southeast Regional Library

They even have a service where you share with the librarians your interests and they select books for you so you can just pick them up.  I think that’s really amazing.  Talk about promoting readers!  And when the woman behind the check out desk learned that I was returning books for the final time, she said she hoped we had enjoyed our stay in Raleigh and added, “Ya’ll come back and see us sometime, ya hear?”

We found a lovely place to stay in a wooded area outside the city complete with free range chickens!

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That’s the home for the chickens NOT our apartment!

One thing that sold me on the place was the fact it has a piano in the living room.  Not since Galway have I had a piano.  In fact that might have been the selling point on this place. It’s a bit more rural than we’re used to but we love how everything has come into bloom during our stay and wherever we turn there are bursts of pinks and whites and reds!  On the other hand, we’ve never lived in a place where cars, steps, sidewalks, literally everything is coated with pollen.  It’s as though the landscape here has a canvas covering it that has been swept with a light green brush!  We even saw on the news that on their weather cam pollen shows up like snow!  It’s crazy!

 

This is an area of parks and we’re often struck that just like the library, parks, including state parks, are free. Raleigh is also home of the Charlotte Hurricanes, an NHL team, so when we learned that shortly after our arrival they were playing my Pittsburgh Penguins we got tickets.  The guy next to me, from Pittsburgh, said the Raleigh area has lots of retirees from the north as well as younger northern transplants in general.  That combined with the fact that Pittsburgh is less than an eight-hour drive away must have contributed to the fact that nearly half the arena was filled with Penguin fans. What a fun night!

 

Raleigh is only a short drive from Mt. Airy, the town that the Andy Griffith Show was based on and given that’s probably Bob’s favorite show of all time we definitely had to make a side trip there.  Driving into the town was like entering a time warp.  It’s easy to forget that this is a fictional place.  The downtown has everything from Floyd’s Barber Shop to Wally’s Filling Station.  We stopped at The Snappy Lunch and had a hot dog and root beer.  It claims to be the “oldest continuous eating establishment serving Surry County (and Mayberry) since 1923” but we were most amazed  with their 1950 prices.  After lunch we went to the Andy Griffith Museum that houses a lot of memorabilia from the show complete with the jail.  We were surprised by how busy the town was on a Saturday in early March; obviously, the show had a huge following!  Maybe we’d better go home and watch some reruns on Netflix!

 

We often associate North Carolina with the Civil War but we were surprised to find out that there were many Revolutionary Battles fought here as well.  On our way back from Mt. Airy we stopped in Greensboro and meandered through the Guilford Courthouse National Military Park. This is where Green and Cornwallis met up.  The British were victorious but lost over 25 percent of their men.

 

I was most impressed with the statue of Kerenhappuch Norman Turner who lived in Maryland. ( The plaque says she was married to one Maryland’s early settlers, James Turner.  Wait a minute!  I don’t get it.  Wasn’t she one of the early settlers as well?)  Anyway, her son and several of her grandsons were fighting in the battle of  Guilford Courthouse when she got word that her son, James, had been badly injured in battle. She rode on horseback from Maryland to care for him. Imagine! Then she attached tubs to the rafters of a building and filled them with water from the nearby river. She bore holes in the tubs and the constant dripping of the cool water on to James lying below lowered his fever and saved his life. She then continued to care for other wounded soldiers. After the war, she moved to North Carolina where she lived with her son and her daughter.  She continued to ride and hunt but in 1805 she fell from a horse, broke her neck and subsequently died.

We spent the night in Greensboro because we wanted to tour the International Civil Rights Museum the next day.  We went down to breakfast and struck up a conversation with the woman, a couple of years older than us, who was staffing the breakfast area. She said she continued to work because one of the perks of the job was that she could stay for free at the hotel chain when she traveled; we concurred that’s a pretty nice benefit. When we told her we were headed to the Civil Rights Museum she began to tell us what she remembered about growing up Black in Raleigh in the 1950’s and 60’s.  It was like a history book coming alive. She explained that she could recall her parents often going without food so that she and her siblings could eat. And if it hadn’t been for their farmer neighbors, she said, they would have starved. She explained how as teens they could only sit in the balcony of the theatres (and then added with a smile, that of course, as teens that where they preferred to sit)!  She also told how Blacks could only order food to be carried out of places, never allowed to sit and eat at the counter or in the restaurant. She was a junior in a high school in 1960 when the sit-ins occurred.  And the amazing thing to me was the gracious way, without rancor,  she told these stories that she must have found very humiliating.  We chatted with her for nearly half an hour and  I wished it could have been much longer!

The museum is housed in the F. W. Woolworth building where in 1960 David Richmond, Franklin McCain, Ezell Blair, Jr. and Joseph McNeil, all freshmen at North Carolina A & T, an historically Black university, courageously decided to sit at the counter to be served, thus,  breaking local laws at the time.

 

When we got to the museum a tour was just beginning and we were told we could tag along with them.  It turned out to be a group of high school students with their two teachers.  I found it a really emotional experience to see the artifacts including the original lunch counter, and watch videos retrace events that I could remember…remember like they happened yesterday also knowing that many of the parents and grandparents of these students were directly impacted by these protests. Robin, our guide, did a great job of making the tour interactive and relevant for the students.  (Interestingly, just as we were leaving, a group of student wearing CMU shirts entered the museum.  I asked one if he were from Central Michigan University, a university about half an hour from Big Rapids, where I used to teach and where my daughter-in-law, Andria, graduated from college.  Yes, indeed, they were.  According to the museum director, a group from CMU comes every spring break to volunteer at the museum!  Again, small world!)

We continued to find more Civil War battlefields in the area.  Both Bentonville and Averasboro Battlefields are close by.  We encountered two delightful and knowledgeable volunteers at one of the battlefield museums.

 

We knew that Averasboro Battle had resulted in Sherman’s army defeating the Rebels  and had been a prelude to the bigger battle at Bentonville. But I was taken aback as the volunteer explained, “We did our job when we slowed Sherman’s army down just as we were supposed to.”  Some people are obviously still fighting the Civil War down here! I wonder if she knew that both General Sherman, from the Union, as well as Johnston, an important general for the South, were pallbearers at Ulysses S Grant’s funeral.

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Lebanon House near Averasboro Battlefield

 

One of the more interesting sights near Averasboro Battlefield is the Lebanon Plantation so named because of the number of cedars on the land.  This home was given to Farquhard Smith by his father as a wedding gift in 1824 along with more than 3000 additional acres.  During the Civil War the home served as a military hospital.  Jane Smith penned a diary that tells of the horrors of war that she experienced while living there.  But most amazing is this house has remained the property of the Smith family since its construction and descendants still reside there.

There’s a huge dispute going on right now about whether to move statues of Rebel leaders from various locations around the city to the Bentonville Battlefield.  Many are saying these are local heroes and their relatives died fighting the cause.  But I don’t get it.  To me that’s like saying my German relatives died fighting for the Nazis so we should maintain statues of the Nazi regime holding them in a place of honor.  On the other hand, I think it is important to maintain landmarks reminding us of less than honorable times in our American history like the auction market we saw in Fayetteville.  Remembering and honoring are two different concepts to my way of thinking.

 

We took one weekend and drove up to suburban DC to surprise our son Stephen on his birthday. Because of our interest in the Civil War and the fact that I am currently plodding through Ron Chernow’s, Grant, we took the opportunity to stop at the battle field at Petersburg, Virginia, and also at General Grant’s Headquarters at City Point.

 

Wow!  Looking at the land where the fighting actually happened and knowing the horrible conditions they endured is overpowering!  We visited one of the first national cemeteries.  Many of the parks have apps for our smart phones enabling us to understand the significance of the various events that occurred there. How awful the siege of Petersburg must have been for all involved.

 

Raleigh also has some beautiful museums.  We enjoyed the North Carolina Museum of Art.  It is in a lovely location and has a lot of nice exhibits  but is small enough that we could view the whole museum in less than three hours. Lots of sculptures as well as paintings.  I particularly enjoyed their variety. Among my favorites are the very modern works of Kehinde Wiley  and the more traditional works of Auguste Rodin. There are also lovely outside exhibits and trails.  We went on Easter Sunday an absolutely beautiful day!

 

The North Carolina Science Museum was also recommended by several people.  And we enjoyed it too.   We timed it just as a docent was showing a variety of local animals.  She walked among the people (probably about 35 or so) carry various animals and letting us pet them.  It was really fun.  But we probably only got through half of the museum before we ran out of steam.

As usual we found some great places to eat.  We had read about and then someone suggested Moonrunners to us.  This saloon was featured on Spike TV’s Bar Rescue in 2013.  It’s has a prohibition theme to it, complete with still in the corner of the bar. (It’s functional too!)  We had just arrived in Raleigh when we went there and when we shared our peripatetic lifestyle with our waitress, Natalie, she went out of her way to be helpful even calling her mother to get ideas of what we should see and do in the area. And in addition to our charming waitress the food is amazing and their Wednesday night trivia game is fun too!

 

Another favorite restaurant we found was Irregardless.  Yep, that’s the name.  As teachers “irregardless” has always made us cringe so to see a restaurant by that name we just had to try it.  The menu had lots of vegan as well as other healthy choices.  And the restaurant is located in a pretty little neighborhood.

 

When I inquired, the manager explained that the name came from the owner who is Jewish and whose grandmother always used the word, “irregardless.” She said according to Jewish tradition a way of  honoring a deceased relative is by associating their memory with something about them.  Thus the name, Irregardless.

When we drove up to DC for the weekend we found another fun place to eat, Uncle Julio’s in Gaithersburg.  Instead of a birthday cake, they had a birthday pinata.

 

There was a hollow chocolate ball in the center and when broken fresh fruit and churros rained down amid the chocolate!  Talk about scrumptious!

One of our goals this year is to meet more locals as we travel.  We joined Weight Watchers while we were in Palm Springs and found that going to their meetings really helps us get a glimpse into the people who live here (not to mention getting healthier as a side benefit).  Folks in the meeting we attend in Garner are absolutely among the friendliest we’ve met anywhere.  After just a few moments we’ve felt like we’ve known them for years.  And when we walked into our second meeting I was greeted with a hug by a woman I had just met the week before.  People call us by our name…even without name tags.  Southern hospitality really is something special!

We had thought about taking a side trip to the ocean but decided instead to save that for our trip to Florida where we are going to spend our last month before heading north. So as we leave here we’ll spend a couple of extra days and check out some things still on our list to see.  One more trip to the Atlantic; something just keeps drawing us back to that ocean!

Our plan for 2018 has been to spend the better part of the year in the United States.  We camped a lot when the kids were young and have also visited them in various locations in recent years.   This has enabled us to see much of the country visiting 49 of the 50 states.  But even with all these trips there still remains a lot we want to see.  We’ve learned a lot during our stay in North Carolina, a place despite its similarities is very different from our home state of Michigan.  It’s been a great two months.