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Posts Tagged ‘CMRT’

Day 21: I Cannot Tell a Lie… (I spent too much in the gift shop)

15 Jul

Today did not turn out as I expected. That happens sometimes on CMRT. I try to plan to the best of my ability, but sometimes I bite off more than I can chew. In this case, I had to let go of something I really wanted to do. And I suppose I could feel disappointed about this, and I sort of do, but we had such a wonderful day, that it’s hard to be too disappointed. Today was Mount Vernon Day. I planned for us to spend a large portion of the day at Mount Vernon, but I had no idea they would be practically kicking us out at the end of the day! We spent a total of 7 hours at Mount Vernon today and still could have seen more of the estate! This meant that I did not get to visit the battlefield at Fredericksburg, of which I wanted to just sort of give a drive-by. More importantly, it meant that I did not get to visit Stonewall Jackson’s left arm. I won’t go into all of the details here, but Stonewall Jackson’s left arm was amputated a few days before his death. After facing friendly fire, doctors felt the only chance of saving his life lay in removing his damaged left arm. Because of his status as beloved general, his arm was given a proper Christian burial in a nearby family burial ground, instead of being added to the amputation pile at the field hospital. By the time he died several days later, his wife had arrived to be by his side. As they were preparing to ship his body back to Lexington, Virginia, they asked his wife if she wanted them to disinter his arm, so that his whole body could be buried together. She told them not to disturb a good Christian burial, and his left arm has laid in the cemetery of Ellwood Manor in Locust Grove, VA, ever since. I really wanted to go see the headstone (armstone?), but that will have to wait for another day.

I am so thankful that I spent time looking at the Mount Vernon website and pre-ordering our tickets. Not because crowds were particularly thick at around 10am on a Monday morning, but because there were so many options! I had opted for a 10:30am Mansion tour, followed by an 11:30am National Treasure tour, and the rental of 1 audio guide. I also sprung the $10 for a lovely, glossy guidebook. We breezed through the gates, and took a leisurely stroll through the gardens on our way to the mansion. I was chagrined to see that Mount Vernon was also under renovation! So much for the beautiful photo of the house on the approach. The front is almost entirely covered in scaffolding, as the wood has been stripped of paint. Sigh. But, after getting over my disappointment at not being able to take that quintessential Mount Vernon facade picture, I could see the benefit in getting to see the wood stripped down, and really get a close-up of how they are going to go about sand-painting the rusticated wood. Apparently at least 80% of the wood facing the house is original. Considering the disrepair it had been allowed to fall into before the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association of the Union picked it up in 1858, that number is shockingly high.

They have a very effective way of moving people through the mansion for tours. Groups of 20-25(?) are allowed in one room, or section, at a time. The spiel is given, you have a moment or two to look around, and then it’s off to the next room as another group is close on your heels. There is no photography allowed in the mansion itself, so it moves very smoothly. I did not at any time feel rushed during the tour. However I will say that the tour group size is maybe a little large, as you did have to kind of hang back to the back of the pack to make sure you got to look at everything since the space is fairly packed with people. The docents are very knowledgeable, so that adds a nice touch. I was surprised to see a rather famous portrait, painted by Charles Willson Peale, hanging in the front parlor. I knew for a fact that the original was hanging in Lee Chapel on the campus of Washington & Lee University! But I had forgotten that the university has since removed the two portraits of Washington and Lee dressed in their military garb. I remember, at the time I heard they were removing the portraits from Lee Chapel, wondering where they would put them. Turns out W&L loaned the Peale portrait of Washington to Mount Vernon. The one hanging in the mansion itself is a reproduction, but the original is now part of their museum display. It was strange later in the day to stand so close to that portrait, on eye-level, when I was used to it hanging in Lee Chapel for all those years. The mansion at Mount Vernon is actually a rather understated home, mostly bedrooms with just a few common areas. What, of course, makes it so astounding is its location. The views of the Potomac are divine, and I can see why the piazza on the back of the home was such a favored place.

I am a sucker for a behind the scenes tour. One of the ones offered at Mount Vernon is the National Treasure tour. If you haven’t seen National Treasure: Book of Secrets, part of the movie involves Nicholas Cage’s character, Ben Gates, “kidnapping” the president from his birthday party, which is being held at Mount Vernon. Clearly, some of this was shot on location at Mount Vernon. And this behind the scenes tour takes you into the basement of Mount Vernon, which figures prominently in a pivotal scene of the movie. Apparently they shot over 50 hours on the back lawn and down at the waterfront wharf, but only slightly less than 4 minutes of that footage makes it into the movie! As for the basement? They didn’t even film it at Mount Vernon. They recreated it on a soundstage, because there was concern that filming in situ would damage the basement. But it’s probably just as well, seeing as there is no secret tunnel leading out of the Mount Vernon basement.  But what they do have down there is graffiti. During the Civil War the Ladies who own Mount Vernon spoke to generals from both the North and the South, reminding them that Mount Vernon was hallowed ground, and getting assurances from both sides that they would leave Mount Vernon alone. And they did. But the Union army was encamped fairly nearby and some Union soldiers did come to visit the house and grounds. A few of them carved their initials into the plaster and brickwork down in the basement, and it is preserved there today.

As gorgeous as the grounds are, and it was super fun to walk around with Avery as she played the Agent 711 game about spying during the Revolutionary War, it was also roasting hot in the sun. (I’m really not looking forward, weather-wise, to our return to FL!) We happily proceeded into the Museum and Education Center. I was not prepared for how long we would want to spend there. They have such a beautifully curated exhibit entitled “Lives Bound Together,” about the lives of the enslaved people at Mount Vernon. There is a very interesting story about how they came to own so many slaves (Martha brought more than 80 slaves to the marriage as part of the Custis estate), and the problems of freeing them (Washington freed many with his will, but did not have legal authority to free those belonging to the Custis estate). It is in this exhibit that the W&L portrait is hung. But the museum that sucked us in for hours was the Education Center and their “Discovering the Real George Washington.” So many interactive displays, videos, and information. There is a wonderful 4D movie experience about his time in the Revolutionary War. And perhaps the most fun for the kids were the Be Washington interactive scenarios (http://www.mountvernon.org/site/bewashington/) – interactive scenarios where you are asked to listen to advisors and make decisions based on situations in which George Washington did have to make decisions. I only played the Newburgh Conspiracy, but I think the girls played all 4 available scenarios. It was also amazing to view George Washington’s dentures. His literal teeth. Or, well, not his teeth, but the ones he had in his mouth. They were made out of human teeth (it is conjectured based on accounting records showing he paid several slaves for their teeth, that those might have been for him) and cow teeth. Weirdly gross, but incredibly fascinating object! But I think for me the most important thing I learned is that I had confused his horses! I thought that the white charger he is often depicted upon was Nelson, but that isn’t true! The white horse was one of his favorites named Blueskin. He certainly made a striking, and very powerfully presidential, mount. But the horse he rode most often into battle was his beloved Nelson, who was actually a chestnut stallion. My mind is blown!

It was slightly after 5pm before we left the grounds of Mount Vernon and I still don’t feel like I have completed my visit. I could easily go back to Mount Vernon for another visit, and still stay several hours. But it was time to move on, even if we weren’t going to be making any more history stops for the day. Several days ago my van started alerting me that it might be getting time for service. Meanwhile I’ve been watching the Oil percentage on my van drop from 15% tp 10% to 5% over the course of just a few days. A little troubled that it seems to be burning oil so quickly, but even though this past week has been relatively light, travel wise, I certainly have been putting her through her paces this summer. I decided that since we had dipped so low on the percentages, that maybe it would behoove me to just visit a Jiffy Lube for a quick oil change before attempting to travel almost 600 miles in one day. Luckily, there was one in Alexandria very near Mount Vernon and we were able to get that taken care of with relative speed and ease. It definitely has given Beau and I a greater sense of comfort, since we’re the ones in the front seat, staring at the warning lights!

Tomorrow is the final day of CMRT 2019. It is likely going to be brutal. If all goes well it will be around 8 hours of straight driving – obviously longer than that in terms of travel time since we will be making stops. I am hoping for strong Aleve and some flowing traffic that will allow for periodic use of the cruise control. Hard to believe it is almost over. But I cannot tell a lie… I am ready to sleep in my own bed again.

 

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Day 19: Ivy? I’d Rather Not.

13 Jul

Today, Joe and his daughter were living out a scene being played out all over this great nation of ours – a weekend day being totally consumed by children’s athletics! The Tison’s daughter plays lacrosse, and during the summer that means tournaments on Long Island. Apparently Long Island lacrosse is a different breed unto itself. But for this Connecticut family, it means heading out early, taking a ferry, and spending the entire day in the sun, before having to turn back around and ferry home. I would have liked to see her play, but a full day’s tournament so far from home was just too big of a commitment. I do feel bad that Tina stayed back to hang with us, missing the chance to watch her daughter play, but I’m very glad she did, because we had another awesome day!

Today we went to New Haven (you know, of the pizza style fame? Just kidding.) I presume you know why New Haven is so famous. But in case you don’t, it is the home of Yale University. You may have noticed a sub-theme of CMRT this year. It is the pre-college-tours college tour. If you are keeping track, thus far we’ve toured, walked around, or just taken tiny sneak peeks at Rhode Island School of Design, Brown University, Bowdoin, MIT, and, now, Yale. I was expecting to really love Yale. Like push for it if any of my kids wanted to consider an Ivy League school love it. I did not.

Things I liked about Yale:
–> The amazing Gothic architecture of the old buildings. I am an architecture junkie. The old buildings are so beautiful to me. I know Gothic architecture is not everyone’s cup of tea (I’m looking at you, Joe!), but I couldn’t peel my eyes away from the lines, the details, the leaded glass, etc. So, when in the thick of old campus, it was a treat for the eyes.

–> Their blue & white colors – reminds me of another school I know. And their mascot makes for some pretty cute t-shirts for sale in the bookstore. There was a Yale Law shirt showing a sketch of a bulldog wearing a powdered barrister’s wig. Priceless.

–> Learning the reason their school crest has Hebrew on it. Seriously. Have you ever noticed that? I may not have known much about the history of Yale’s founding, but I was pretty sure it wasn’t a Jewish school, so noticing the Hebrew juxtaposed against the Latin intrigued me. Though founded in 1701, the crest was not updated to include Hebrew until the late 1700s. The Reverend Ezra Stiles was President of the College form 1778-1795, and he firmly believed that in order to truly study and analyze Biblical texts, one must be able to read the language it had been written in – Hebrew. Therefore, Hebrew became a required course for all freshmen at Yale as early as the late 1700s. While President, Stiles updated the crest to include the book (representing the Bible) with the Hebrew characters, as well as the Latin phrase, roughly translated to “Light and Truth.”

–> The proximity of many great stores, like LLBean, and wonderful places to eat. That burrito and quesadilla we split were yummy!

 

Things I didn’t like about Yale:
–> There isn’t really a cohesive campus. Everything seems to be spread out and disjointed.

–> It is far too urban for me. There are many intensely beautiful college campus located right smack dab in the middle of urban centers that I would find perfectly wonderful, but this one bleeds out into the gritty urban center a little too much for my taste. There doesn’t seem to be much, or any, in some cases, separation from the rough-and-tumble of the city. It may seem naive, but I like a little of the protective bubble feel with my college campuses.

–> I really just can’t get over them not having a cohesive campus.

 

So, I think we can strike that one from the list. I am very glad to have walked around the Yale campus, as it were, but I am over it. Even if Rory Gilmore did go there.

But, what came next was a real treat. We visited theYale Peabody Museum of Natural History. (Okay, I guess this also goes on the “things I like about Yale” list) What a truly delightful little museum! They are currently having a special exhibit called: “Ancient Mesopotamia Speaks – Highlights from the Yale Babylonian Collection.” Now, this is CMRT: US History Edition because I currently teach 8th grade US History. But I started off teaching 6th grade World History, which covered ancient civilizations, including a huge concentration on Mesopotamia. This exhibit was fascinating! And my goodness does Yale have an amazing Babylonian collection! They had so many beautifully preserved cylinder seals exhibited. But perhaps the most impressive to me was a piece of one of the Epics of Gilgamesh. (If only I had packed my Gilgamesh t-shirt!) To me it is transforming when you can see the artifact that you have been teaching about. I was in no way prepared for how tiny the cuneiform characters were! Even though I know the process and I understand the tools used, it just doesn’t seem possible for them to have written so small. No wonder the scribes were one of the highest, and most revered, of all professions! I was also enamored with their replica of the Hammurabi’s Code stele located in the Louvre (Hands off my stele!) I told Avery that this was her turn to get ahead of her classmates, as she was going to have to write a DBQ essay about Hammurabi’s Code next year, and she has already had a chance to actually stand in front of one of Hammurabi’s steles (even if it was just a replica). Another very cool piece was something they were labeling as the world’s oldest known cookbook. They had translated the recipes, and even were showing a video of having made the dishes by following the recipes. Insanely cool to see history come alive! (Nerd alert!)

The rest of the museum is also full of treasures. This is another museum in the throes of preparing for full-scale renovation. Apparently the Yale Peabody will be closing for 3 full years as they undergo a massive project to make it possible to display more of their massive collection. It was funny how outdated many of their exhibits seemed – very 1950s feel to some of them. But even that was not enough to distract from how impressive the museum collection truly is. They even have a replica of the skeleton known as Lucy! But I think my favorite part of the museum was the rocks and gems. They have some truly impressive geological samples; fascinating, otherworldly rocks and gems. I was way nerding out in that room. Tina and I had fun realizing that the majority of the samples had been donated by the same 3 or 4 people. We wondered what these people’s homes looked like if they had donated many samples of their collection to Yale. Would love to see their bookshelves at home!

Another lazy afternoon in the backyard was just the ticket. The kiddos got in the hot tub – though Avery did get out from time to time to “cool off.” I played Harper in a little more corn hole. Turns out she’s the champion now! I did try to lay down for a little afternoon nap, but a child who shall remain nameless felt the need to bang on and shout through my closed bedroom door, waking me up, to tell me that they were going to go lie down. Grrrrrrrrr…..

Dinner was low-key and delicious. And this is also where I got introduced to Fat Henry Tison’s BBQ sauce. It was a transformative encounter. Using a family recipe from his paternal grandfather, Joe mixes up his own sauce and it is delicious! I am feeling very lucky indeed to not only have gotten to eat some with leftover brisket, but I am going home with my own bottle. Now I have to buy that grill and get to grilling, because otherwise I am going to end up eating this stuff straight off the spoon! We rounded out the evening by taking the kids (and puppy, Luna) for some frozen yogurt at 16 Handles, and then took a driving tour of Fairfield University. Now *that* is a beautiful, cohesive campus!

Joe and his daughter didn’t get home until around 10pm – I can’t imagine how exhausted she must have been after playing three lacrosse games in the heat. We let the kids stay up long enough to talk to her about the tournament, but shuffled them off fairly quickly after that. Their son had a baseball game in the morning, and the Willims were going to be rolling out for the final push. Everyone needs their sleep! But we just. can’t. help. ourselves! Full of good-intentioned bluster, we said that even the grown-ups were going to get some sleep. Umm… Do what I say and not what I do? And still I say, worth it every time.

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Day 18: Three Ring Circus

12 Jul

Remember that thing I said last night about Tina and Joe being the consummate hosts? And how Tina always has some amazing trick up her sleeve? Probably one of the funniest in the past was when she and the kids made a huge rice krispy cake decorated to look like my nemesis license plate, North Dakota. I still laugh thinking about that one. But this year’s treat was keeping in line with the thematic elements of CMRT 2019: US History Edition. Tina is heavily involved in the tourism industry in Connecticut, so she has all kinds of fun connections. Nearby Bridgeport, CT, happens to be the home of the fabulous Barnum Museum (https://barnum-museum.org/). P.T. Barnum was born in Bethel, CT, and lived in the area for much of his life, including building 4 different mansions in Bridgeport over the course of his life. Sadly, none of those are still standing today, but still in existence is his museum. From their own description, “The Barnum Museum in downtown Bridgeport, Connecticut is the last surviving building attributed to the American visionary entrepreneur and entertainer Phineas Taylor Barnum (1810-1891).” The Barnum Museum is in the middle of a huge fund-raising push so they can renovate and innovate, to put more of their extensive collection on display for the public. They are also engaged in a full-scale preservation effort after the museum suffered major damage from a tornado in 2010, Hurricane Irene in 2011, and Superstorm Sandy in 2012. They are not only conserving and renovating the building that P.T. Barnum himself built to house his museum in 1893, but they are preserving more than 60,000 Barnum-related artifacts and counting!

Today we didn’t just go to the Barnum Museum, we got a behind the scenes look at artifacts that aren’t even on display! It was astounding. Truly jaw-dropping. The Executive Director (Kathy) and Curator (Adrienne) had pulled several amazing artifacts, and proceeded to show them off – telling stories of their origin and how they related to P.T. Barnum. There were costumes worn by Charles Stratton, better known by his stage name of “General Tom Thumb”, including the hat, jacket, and boots of one of his Napoleon costumes. There was a massive gold ring depicting one of Barnum’s mansions. There were paper dolls from the 1860s depicting Tom Thumb and his wife Lavinia. There was a photo album showing P.T. Barnum during his time in Connecticut’s General Assembly, including a hand-written letter from Barnum. There were photographs of a few interior rooms in his mansions. There were so many lovely, interesting, rare, and valuable things laid out on the table – a regular smorgasbord of Barnum treasures. And I could have easily stood there all day listening to Kathy tell stories, and Adrienne give details of the artifacts. But the kids were beginning to get restless after so much time standing still, and the grown-ups were delving a little deeper into the life of Barnum than strictly interested them, so it was time to head out. I highly recommend you check out the website for the Barnum Museum - https://barnum-museum.org/ - to learn more about P.T. Barnum the man (who may not have looked like Hugh Jackman, but was much, much more than a ringmaster), and take a look at their entire collection, which has been digitized. I would love to have heard Kathy’s entire presentation regarding the fact and fiction of “The Greatest Showman.” Because there was so, so much that the movie either ignored or flat out got wrong. P.T. Barnum is a study in perseverance and entrepreneurial spirit. No matter what you think you already know about him, you have so much more to learn. And while you are visiting their website, please consider donating to this worthy little museum who has taken on the spirit and charge of Barnum, and are insisting, even in the face of natural disaster, that the show must go on. After all, P.T. Barnum himself said it best: “The noblest art is that of making others happy.”

After leaving the Barnum Museum we headed over to a place called Brewport. They had amazing New Haven style pizza – very thin crust with a slight char on the bottom. So very delicious! They also had some rather delicious brews, as the name might suggest. I highly recommend their seasonal Summer Ginger Sour. Another nice feature was that while waiting for the pies, the kids were off in another area playing with their gigantic Jenga set. We stuffed ourselves silly on their delicious pizza – not a single slice left over! But there’s always room for dessert, right? Especially on a hot summer day when the dessert is Italian ice. We loaded the cars and headed over to Micalizzi’s, a place Tina remembered going during her childhood. Just a tiny little shack on a residential street, a few picnic tables out front on the sidewalk. It is a seasonal, cash-only business. And talk about authentically delicious. Yum! What a full and successful day experiencing the best of Bridgeport!

We then proceeded to have a beautiful, lazy afternoon in the Tison’s fantastic backyard. The kids hung out on the hammock, we played rounds of corn hole (Who’s the champion? That’s right, I’m the champion!), and we watched the fireflies come to life as the light died. The weather was clear, and the breeze was divine. Had the torches burning, but it was still too warm for the fire pit. Once we shuffled the kids off to bed, Tina, Joe, and I stayed up talking, like we always do. I do adore these people, and it is so refreshing to converse with people whose ideas, thoughts, and opinions you respect. Even when we don’t totally agree, we still have the common ground of friendship, respect, and shared experience. What a treat is it for me to spend time with these characters from my past – especially to know them now as a couple, when I knew them individually all those years ago at W&L. I wish I had the opportunity to interact with them more often. We drank, we talked, I educated them on what their dog’s bully stick was actually made of(!) And we stayed up too late. We always do that. And it is always worth it.

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Day 17: As per our previous conversation…

11 Jul

Today was fun day. Sheerly fun. No education being crammed down my children’s throats. No rush to make closings or appointments or tours. We had a leisurely departure from the hotel after our free breakfast – because I didn’t book a single hotel that didn’t provide breakfast! We weren’t in any rush, because Six Flags New England didn’t open until 10am and we were only 10 minutes away. It’s always so funny to go to a smaller amusement park like Six Flags when I am used to Disney World and Universal. Even the “far away” parking lot is ridiculously close. But one thing about Six Flags (New England and Atlanta) is the parks are hilly and paved with tarmac. Heat-radiating black tarmac. In no time at all were a sweaty mess! I don’t really have much to say about Six Flags except that Beau was an exceedingly good sport, considering he doesn’t care for either crowds or roller coasters. Avery loved the swing ride – remember the old fashioned fair swings, with the steel chains and free-floating chairs. And Harper, well, Harper is my high-intensity thrill seeker. She and I rode some crazy coasters, things I, as a roller coaster lover, was a little trepidatious about. Look up The Joker at Six Flags New England and you’ll see what I mean! We took turns choosing rides, paid a ludicrous sum of money for water and other refreshments, and played some carnival games, which ended with Avery getting a beach ball stuffed narwhal, thanks to the efforts of Harper and myself on the bucket toss game. I was thinking we might ride every ride in the park, stay to close the place down, but by 3:00 we were done. And because this was one of the included experiences on my GoBoston pass, I wasn’t feeling like we had to take advantage of every last second of the operating hours. So we happily said we enjoyed the fairly brief, but sweaty experience and shuffled off to the parking lot.

Of course, another reason we were not feeling sad about leaving Six Flags is because of our destination for the evening. No one rolls out the red carpet like the fine folks at Chez Tison. Those of you who have followed along on CMRT before know that the fine folks I am referring to are Joe Tison and Tina Hand Tison (holla at me W&L class of ’95!) Chez Tison is as much of a destination on CMRT as Maine is. Not only do they have a lovely home with a beautiful back yard, they are the consummate hosts. Tina always has a spread of food – tonight was her homemade red sauce and meatballs (YUM!) – and she’s always got a trick up her sleeve (to be revealed tomorrow). Plus, Joe is one of my guys. You know, like Pete is my omelette guy. Joe is my Beam & Coke guy. It might as well be called the W&L Nostalgia Cocktail, and Joe mixes a fine one, with just the right proportions. It was so lovely to just fall into conversation with them around the dining room table, as the kids ate dinner in the kitchen. Tina and Joe are two of my favorite people, and I always enjoy our late-night ranging conversations. This evening, among many many other topics, we discussed the grammar foibles that make us twitch, as well as a rather ingenious vocabulary prank Tina has played that I am dying to put into motion myself. Ostensibly, I am educated enough to pull it off. We’ll see. Of course, Tina, Joe, and I talked well into the night, which, despite my exhaustion of traveling, is harder on them than me, since they have a brand new puppy who still requires the amount of attention of a newborn. So excited to be here at Chez Tison and cannot wait for tomorrow’s treat!

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Day 16: Beantown? Nerdtown.

10 Jul

Oh boy, did we ever nerd it up today! Anyone can walk the Freedom Trail to soak up the history of the beginnings of Revolution that formed our great nation. Anyone can take a duck tour, or ride the trolley, or even buy a t-shirt in the Harvard bookstore despite the fact neither they nor anyone they know will ever attend Harvard (It’s true, I did that when I was about 8 years old. Bought a Harvard sweatshirt in the Harvard bookstore. I did not go on to attend Harvard. Nor did anyone I know. However, now my 14 year old wears that same sweatshirt, and maybe…. Or maybe not. Continue reading…) But today, we didn’t do the “expected” Boston things. Today was nerd day. Though I did manage to sneak some US History in at the end. Which was special to my little nerd heart.

After checking out of our lovely, lovely hotel (The Residence Inn by Marriott Boston Harbor on Tudor Wharf – man, that’s a mouthful!), we drove straight to the Museum of Science. They have a parking garage, and it was our intention to leave the van there for the day. We were on rather a bit of a clock, seeing as how we had a 12:30pm tour to make in Cambridge, so the kids really only ended up with a little less than an hour and half in the science museum. I can tell you, that is not nearly enough. But we were counting on public transportation without benefit of a schedule, so we needed to pad the travel time to accommodate. There is a T station right next to the science museum. So, we marched off down the street to the T, took the green line to Park, then transferred to the red line to Kendall. Easy peasy. It is at moments like this that I am most impressed with the travel abilities/flexibilities of my children. My very suburban children, who are driven everywhere by me, but can ride the subway/train/T (depending on the city) like it ain’t nothing but a thing. I think one of my favorite pictures I took today was of Harper on our return trip. Standing in a mostly full car, holding on to the bar, reading a book.  Ain’t nothing but a thing.

And why were we going to Cambridge, to Kendall Square specifically? Because we were taking a tour of MIT. (You thought I was going to say Harvard, didn’t you? Cambridge = Harvard to many people, but there are a few other universities in the Beantown area…) When Beau was about 5 or 6 years old, he somehow got it into his head that he wanted to attend MIT for college. I imagine that he heard about Cal Tech or one of those west coast schools and I suggested that perhaps he could instead consider MIT, as I would love to visit him in Boston. Well, that proclamation of his future attendance at MIT stuck around for a great many years – at least though the thick of the Lego-obsessed years. But the Legos are now mostly packed away and he seemed to have abandoned his childish dream of going to school in Cambridge (After all, when I was 6 I was convinced that I was going to attend Harvard Law.) Well, when we decided to come to Boston, Beau, who has been wearing my Harvard sweatshirt for some time now, asked instead if we might tour MIT. I was happy to comply. It turns out that MIT is a really beautiful and interesting campus, and I don’t just mean the gorgeous rotunda facing the Charles River that everyone associates with the school. There are lovely grassy quads, beautiful spaces, interesting architecture, and a richer student life than I ever could have predicted. So, as it turns out, I’m pretty sure I’m going to need to borrow some money in just four years. Beau is hooked, I’m hooked, and I was already prepared to throw the entire contents of my wallet to the cashier at the bookstore. I also want to point out that Avery, the littlest of the group who has no interest in MIT (she’s decided that SCAD or RISD would be the best fit for her) was a real trooper, and did not complain about the hour+ long walking tour in the heat. Harper was also a trooper, though I caught her looking around with a bit of a gleam in her eye from time to time, and she asked the tour guide a few pointed questions herself. It is definitely time for me to start buying lottery tickets!

When we were finished with the tour, we had a much-needed break for a late lunch. Our original plan was to continue on the red line to Harvard. Maybe take a self-guided walking tour of the campus. Make the requisite jokes about “parking the car in Harvard yard,” but properly pronounced in the beautiful Boston accent, of course. But after touring MIT, no one was even remotely interested. And while I would have liked to see the campus again, as I was awfully young when I saw it the first time, I was completely okay with that. I don’t care if any of my kids goes to Harvard. And if they don’t care, why waste the time? So, instead, we jumped back on the red line going the opposite direction, back towards Park. But happening to look out the window and realize that we were passing the science museum, and it was just a few blocks away, we jumped off at the Charles/MGH stop and walked back across to the museum instead of having to transfer lines and potentially have to wait for a train. Even though we were already tired, and I was insisting on tacking some US History on to the end of our day, the girls requested that we spend more time in the museum. So we did. What kind of monster would I be if I turned down my children’s request to spend more time learning about and engaging with science?!

But after another almost two hours, I was ready to go. I was eager to backtrack back to Charles Town to visit the Bunker Hill Monument, conveniently placed on Breed’s Hill. (Look up the history on that if confused. The Battle of Bunker Hill happened not on Bunker Hill, but on Breed’s Hill.) We made our way through some already building traffic, and after driving around looking for something that was not “By Resident Permit Only”, lucked into a 2 hour space on the street (Free parking? In Boston? Inconceivable!) just down the hill. Since we had arrived before 5:30pm, Avery suggested that we climb the monument, and I was all in. And soon, I was all but in cardiac arrest! Turns out that being a perpetually-stressed, physically-lazy, emotional-eater single mother of three will really wreak havoc on your fitness levels! (Who knew?!) The Bunker Hill Monument, many say, looks extremely similar to the Washington Monument. And they would be right. Except that the Bunker Hill Monument existed in its finished state 46 years before the Washington Monument! In fact, the cornerstone for the monument was laid in 1825, to commemorate the 50 year anniversary of the battle, by none other than the Marquis de Lafayette. The 221′ obelisk wasn’t completed until 1842, but still, that’s way before the one in DC was completed in 1888. So it would be more correct to say that the Washington Monument looks awfully similar to the Bunker Hill Monument! To get to the top of the monument you must climb 294 steps in a tight, spiraling configuration. Two hundred and ninety-four steps. For an overweight slug like me, that was a lot. And to be honest, the reward is more in the doing of the thing than the payoff at the end. The room at the top is, understandably, quite small. While the vistas are nice, perhaps I was spoiled by having already done the Skywalk Observatory. I am very glad I climbed it, to be sure, because I like being able to claim small accomplishments, but I’m not sure I would say that is a must do. After making our way back down the 294 steps (I think my knee liked that part even less!) we walked across the street to the Bunker Hill Museum. It is a small, but nicely curated space. They have some artifacts from the battle – including a drum, some swords, and cannon balls. And painted on the walls is a quote from General Nathanael Greene, “I wish we could sell them another hill at the same price.” For while this first battle of the Revolutionary War was technically a British victory, it came at great cost to the British, and proved that the scrappy “American” Patriots would be difficult to defeat. And how could I forget to mention the statue of Dr. Joseph Warren at the Monument building itself? Poor kid. Always being forgotten. It’s said that he was so influential in the patriot cause that had he survived the war it is likely that George Washington would have been the one to fade into obscurity.

Satisfied that we had properly nerded out, and also proud that we had engaged in US History, as well, it was time to leave Boston in the rearview. I am very sad about that, about the many many many Boston things that were left undone. But maybe that’s okay, because who doesn’t love an excuse to return to a place they love? After leaving Breeds Hill, we put another 89 miles on the odometer to our hotel in Springfield, Massachusetts (we just cannot quit this state!) A treat for tomorrow – Six Flags New England. We’ll put the learning and discovering aside and simply enjoy riding roller coasters!

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Day 15: Boston? Bos-done!

09 Jul

When I say we did Boston today, I mean we *did* Boston today. Of course, that is a blatant lie and a total fallacy, because it would take weeks, if not months or years, to properly cover all that Boston has to offer. But we sure did pack in a lot today. And if any attraction stayed open past 6pm, we would have done more!! Because I know that we only have two days in Boston to cover about 2 weeks worth of sightseeing, I’m just going to have to let some of it go. Especially since I must occasionally give the kids a break from my endless quest to acquire every single scrap of US History fact/fiction/myth available to me, or they will mutiny like Fletcher Christian against Captain Bligh on the HMS Bounty. My phone’s tracking tells me we walked over 7 miles today. My body is telling me that I am old, out of shape, and have arthritic knees. This whole adventure started at the crack of dawn. No, literally. At the crack of dawn. Knowing we needed to get up and out early to accomplish even half the things on our list, I intentionally left the curtains open in our hotel room. That’ll get you up before 6am around here! One of the nice things about splurging on a nice hotel is you can get a pretty decent hotel breakfast in the morning, and this one was excellent – including some delicious Andouille and an apple crumb cake to die for! After carbo-loading, we ventured forth into the day.

Knowing that many of the sites still wouldn’t be open because it was before 9am, I still wanted to walk as much of the Freedom Trail as we could. And I had selected and splurged on a nicer hotel, because it is located directly on the Freedom Trail, in Charlestown, right next door to the home of the USS Constitution. It is fun to follow the red brick road (bet you couldn’t read that without singing it!) It really is a treat to see the red brick line running through the sidewalks of Boston, twisting and turning its way through the city. In a few places new construction or road repair had us looking around for a moment to pick up the trail again. Eventually, we made our way to Fanueil Hall, which is, quite disappointingly, completely under scaffolding and blue tenting. Boo! From there, we walked the few blocks down to the waterfront, or rather, the New England Aquarium to be more specific. A month or so before we left, I did exhaustive research on the GoBoston Pass – a pay in advance all-access pass to tons of great Boston and Boston-area attractions. Obviously it doesn’t include every single thing you might want to do in this amazing city, but it sure does include a lot. And the passes are not cheap. But I meticulously priced out the attractions we were most interested in, and I am more than going to come out ahead on this deal. One of the things the kids wanted to do was go to the Aquarium. And while I really wanted to pack a little more US History into the day, I also love an aquarium! The thing that makes the New England Aquarium so special is the penguins. Their entire first level is basically four separate penguin habitats for different breeds of penguins. It has been beautifully designed to give visitors an up-close look. The cool thing about (literally) being the first people in the door of the aquarium is that you get to watch them really setting up for the day. There were still divers in tanks, cleaning and feeding animals, doing prep work, etc. There is also a 40′ wide, 4-story tank holding 200,000 gallons of salt water that runs right through the middle of the aquarium building, with a circular ramp that winds its way around the tank. Apparently the tank is so large that it was built first, and the rest of the aquarium building was built around it. It is an impressive exhibit, and fun to hear that the sea turtle I was face to face with was none other than Myrtle, a green sea turtle who has lived there since before I was born!

After over a little more than an hour in the aquarium I rounded the kids up and shuffled us off to the docks next door for a harbor cruise. One of the included attractions on the GoBoston pass is a 45 minute “USS Constitution cruise”. It was called that, because the ship briefly docks in the Charlestown Ship Yard to allow passengers to disembark to visit “Old Ironsides” if they like. Seeing as how our hotel is adjacent to the Ship Yards, I was just interested in a cruise around Boston Harbor. Our guide/narrator was an Irishman named Declan. He was very funny and full of interesting tidbits about the harbor and coastal buildings, history, and inhabitants. At the end of the cruise I felt compelled to speak to one of the deckhands and comment on his accent. I am an absolute sucker for the Boston accent. It is a rather polarizing accent – typically you either love it or hate it. I know many people find it terribly abrasive, but I LOVE it. The Town is one of my favorite movies just because it contains Jon Hamm imitating Ben Affleck’s accent saying the phrase “box of quarters.” And yes, I asked the guy to say that phrase. No shame. I just really love the accent!

The sun was really out by the time we went on the harbor cruise, and it was getting rather intense. I stayed topside the entire time, but the kids mostly stayed below in the enclosed space looking out the windows.We were also feeling hot and thirsty from the sun, as well as hungry. We walked back up to Fanueil Hall so I could check with the ticket booth about the Walk Into History guided tours. Turned out that the next tour from that location was about an hour away, but I didn’t want us to be feeling rushed, so I found out the timing of the tours leaving from Boston Common, and we set out to Quincy Market to find food. I let Beau go off on his own into the city, because he had done his reconnaissance to find the location of a nearby Chipotle. It amuses me to no end that this particular Chipotle is located in Boston’s oldest commercial building (1718) and in the location of the Old Corner Bookstore. This was once the location of the publishing house who published Thoreau’s Walden, Hawthorne’s The Scarlett Letter, and Longfellow’s Midnight Ride of Paul Revere, among many, many others. The girls and I managed to find sustenance in different food stalls, and regathered outside in the plaza, serendipitously snagging a table. After eating, the girls moved to an empty table with a chess board to play a few games of chess while waiting for Beau to return. Thankfully Beau is looking out for all of us, as on his walk back he stopped in a Walgreen’s to get us some sunscreen. (Never mind that I have at least 8 bottles of sunscreen in the car, which was parked by the hotel valet.) Appropriately covered, we ventured forth for a walk to Boston Common.

I really do like traversing a city. There is something electric about a mass of humanity, but there is something extra special about Boston – the way the truly historical blends with the mundane modern. There were people just scurrying along back to their offices after a lunch break, trodding the same paths past some of the most historically significantly locations as did the likes of Samuel Adams, John Hancock, Paul Revere, and Joseph Warren. Wait, who? Don’t worry, we’ll get to Joseph Warren in a moment. Once at the Common, we secured our time for the Walk Into History tour (2:00pm), and decided to cool off with some shaved ice in the shadow of the New State House and its golden dome. The shaved ice was an inspired idea, as it had gotten rather warm (90 degrees) – man, I reallllllly don’t want to leave New England to return home to Florida!! But, at least I was merely in shorts and a t-shirt, as our authentically costumed tour guide was in several layers, including a coat and stockings and tricorn hat! Turns out our guide, whose real name I didn’t catch, but did reveal that he was 24, was playing the role of an actual historical figure. He was, I’m sure you’ve guessed it, Dr. Joseph Warren. And he was right, his is a name that is fairly lost to history, but he has a fascinating story, and seems to have earned his right in the pantheon of Founding Fathers (https://www.history.com/news/10-things-you-should-know-about-joseph-warren). But he had the grave misfortune of being shot in the face during the Battle of Bunker Hill, the first major battle (but not the first shots of) the Revolution. Upon hearing that the British doubted whether the Patriots would even fight, Joseph Warren is quoted as responding, “I hope I shall die up to my knees in blood!” Check. A cautionary tale of being careful what you wish for. And then, because he was so recognizable to the British as a Patriot leader, they mutilated his body beyond recognition and dumped him into a shallow grave with others. It was almost a year later when his friends, including Paul Revere, went to retrieve his remains from the battlefield. How were they to know which remains were his? Paul Revere was an amateur dentist and had placed a false tooth in his friend’s jaw some time before, so Revere recognized Warren’s dental work, in one of the first recorded examples of forensic dentistry (Next time on CSI: Colonial Revolution…).

Our hour and a half long walking tour took us from Boston Common, past the New State House (Hands off the sacred cod!!), and into the Granary Burying Ground. There we viewed the grave sites of John Hancock (trolling before trolling was a thing. That coat of arms, tho. HA!), a slave owned by John Hancock, Paul Revere (Thank you, Longfellow, for turning his into a household name), Sam Adams, and the victims of the Boston Massacre. And no, that huge obelisk in the center is not for Ben Franklin, but rather for his parents. I do wish that we had had more time to simply wander, as I am a huge fan of old cemeteries (excuse me, it’s a burying ground and not a cemetery!) and I would have loved to have examined more of the grave markers and their fantastic momento mori carvings. We also went past several important churches, I learned the origin of the Congregationalists (“Puritans” was pejorative),  we visited the site of the Boston Massacre in front of the Old State House (where a panhandler was holding a sign that said “Seeking Human Kindness”), and discovered that Faneuil Hall – the very cradle of liberty – was actually built with money made from the slave trade. Plus, I got to make a super nerdy joke when the guide asked if anyone had heard of the Coercive Acts, and I responded, “Yes, they were intolerable.” (Heeheehee…because the colonists called them the Intolerable Acts. See what I did there? Anyway…) Overall it was a very enjoyable and informative tour. I do wish it had been smaller (with less people) and that there had been a little more time to kind of soak in a sight instead of just running off the minute the story/explanation was given, but I do understand their need to move things along. I would absolutely recommend a Walk Into History Tour and would take one again.

After our tour, at Avery’s request, we headed toward the Boston Tea Party Museum. We got there by using the City View Hop On-Hop Off trolley (also included in the GoBoston Pass!) Our first driver was hysterically engaging. He talked almost nonstop, giving history of the areas of the city we were rolling through, and engaging the passengers in questions.) I was almost sorry to reach our destination, it would have been a wonderful tour to just take the full circuit ride with him. But we disembarked the trolley and headed off to the waterfront (after grabbing a quick snack at the train station). Once we got to the Museum, I was shocked to see the prices, and this one was not included in our pass. Another catch is that we were arriving at a time in which our only option was a 4:30 start for an hour-long experience which would have prevented us from being able to visit any other sites. I have heard that it is a fun experience, and had we more time, I likely would have complied with the request, but going another $120 in the hole when I knew that it was at the expense of a different experience would not have made me happy, even if it would have put me in the proper mindset to chuck tea into the Harbor! So, viewing the boats from the dock, we headed back up to our trolley stop and took off on the route towards Charlestown. We ended up having to switch trolleys at Stop #1 – we needed to get to Stop #4 and a different trolley was departing on the new circuit sooner than the one we arrived on. So, we ended up having 3 different drivers total with 3 completely different personalities. It was an interesting study in human contrasts. Once we arrived in Charlestown we made a beeline for the Ship Yards. I have been looking at the masts and flags from our hotel window and have been eager to visit the USS Constitution in the same Harbor where she was launched in 1797, after being commissioned in 1794. She saw action against the Barbary pirates, but earned glory and her nickname “Old Ironsides” during the War of 1812. It is said that the cannon fire bounced off her thick oaken hull as if it was made of iron, and she struck fear in the hearts of our enemies at sea. The USS Constitution is the oldest commissioned naval vessel still afloat, and the Navy runs her as a historic site in cooperation with the National Park Service. I had to show photo id and our bags had to go through security screening as we walked through a metal detector. Up the steep boarding ramp and suddenly we were on the deck of a 222 year old warship! Inconceivable. We were also allowed to go below decks. Several decks worth of space is open to the public. At 5′ 6″ I was too tall to stand fully upright throughout the deck space, as support beams running throughout made it necessary for me to duck when moving. It is inconceivable to think of the hustle and bustle that must have been occurring when she was fully staffed and underway during the War of 1812. After all, the thing that makes this a warship is the cannons! Dirty, dangerous, intensely noisy cannons! I found it to be a very moving experience to be able to stand on the decks of Old Ironsides – what an incredible piece of history. And as one of the logos inside the ship said, the USS Constitution was “Undefeated.” By the time we disembarked the ship, the museum was 30 minutes from closing. Another substantial entrance fee, and I didn’t feel that we’d have the time to truly appreciate the exhibits. However, I kind of regret that now. Even if I had to take it at a run, I think I would have very much enjoyed that museum.

But everyone was physically and mentally exhausted by this point. We’d been out and about in the city for 10 hours! So we walked the block back to our hotel and basically fell onto our beds to put our feet up. The kids couldn’t even be roused to seek dinner! Though Avery did want to go utilize the hotel pool and I will admit that it felt good to stick my feet in the whirlpool. Overall, it was a jam-packed day. Did we do a ton? Yes. Was it enough for me? No. But I have to just let it go. I cannot do everything I would like to do in Boston. Not in two days anyway. Tomorrow, we are nerding out – Museum of Science, M.I.T., and Harvard. Plus some other drive-bys to be named later.

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Day 14: “On the Plimouth Plantation…” (an original song in the works)

08 Jul

It is 10pm, I am in a very nice hotel in Boston, I am completely knackered, and I just want to go to sleep. Tomorrow is going to be a jam-packed Boston day and I want us to get an early start. So, here is the quick, somewhat truncated update on our day….

We spent the day in Plymouth, Massachusetts, getting our Pilgrim (and Wampanoag) on. We started at the Plimouth Plantation. Why the funky spelling? We wanted to know the same thing. Apparently, there were no hard and fast rules for spelling back in the 1600s, and even within the same document, sometimes even in the same sentence, the name of the town was listed as either Plymouth or Plimouth. When they founded the living museum, they wished to differentiate it from the town proper, and thus Plimouth Plantation was born. Okay, the low dow: If you are in the area, go here. It was such a fun and engaging experience. Throughout the replica Wampanoag and English villages are role-playing actors (they call them Living History Educators) who are actively working and maintaining the villages as their characters would have done. And these people are GOOD. Those in the Wampanoag Village are all Native Americans of a variety of tribes, some are even descendants of the original Wampanoag nation. The young men were running around on this cool day in loincloths! But I bet they love that when the Englishmen are roasting during the hot summer months in their layers of woven clothing. They keep in character at all times – including lovely British accents (some may have been real, but some, if not most, must have been affected) for those in the English village. I did not develop a crush on Pilgrim Brewster who was sitting reading the Bible to pass the time, was very quick-witted, and had a roguishly cute accent. (Okay, maybe I did.) But it couldn’t really approach how delighted I was by the old man who was tending a garden. He was insanely good. So knowledgable, held to his mannerisms and quirks of language and personality, everything about him was amazing. We had a great discussion about all manner of topics, including telling him that we were visiting from Spanish Florida! All I really want to say is go there. Engage and interact with their Living History Educators. You won’t be sorry. I would go back and spend more time in a heartbeat. I think I spent my entire amount of teacher lead funds in the gift shop. I mean I really can’t resist a historical book!

Then we drove into Plymouth proper – the current city of Plymouth – to first visit the Grist Mill (which was a paid part of our Plimouth Plantation experience). The mill was interesting, but I had seen one before. We didn’t end up spending too much time there, but before going I most certainly bought a bag of Yankee Indian corn grits to share with my Southern father!

From there we walked down to the waterfront. Are you even allowed to visit Plymouth without being disappointed by the Plymouth Rock? Unfortunately, we were also disappointed by the fact that the replica Mayflower (the Mayflower II) is not in Plymouth as it is currently being restored for the 400th anniversary of the Pilgrims landing at Plymouth. I really really wanted to see the ship, but we found other things to do.

Then it was off to the Pilgrim Hall Museum. Woah. This is a GREAT museum! I was not prepared. Small, but very well-curated. Interesting artifacts and biographical displays. Very nice informational placards throughout. And they have an excellent treasure hunt that they offer to all visitors – if you complete the questions in the glossy packet and show it to the person at the front desk, they give you a free postcard or folded card. I was very impressed with the whole thing.

After forcing my children to walk past the outside of the cemetery, when I truly wanted to go in and wander about for awhile, we got back to our car and headed in to Boston. This is my splurge city. Due to being in possession of a great deal of Marriott credit, I booked for us a Marriot property right on the wharf adjacent to the USS Constitution. The Liberty Trail literally runs in front of the hotel! I am very excited to delve into the US History aspect of our stay here. But first, to take advantage of our late arrival – when all historical locations had closed at 5 or 6pm, we went to the Prudential Center and visited the Skywalk Observatory. And we timed it just right to watch the sun set over Boston. This one was another part of our Go Boston pass, and I am definitely glad we chose to get out and do this tonight. The panoramic view over the rooftops of Boston is breathtaking. Because it was now so late (sunset was 8:23pm) we were in a bit of a bind to find a quick dinner. Problem solved! We went to Eataly and purchased fresh berries and a fresh-baked baguette. I felt like I was back in Europe. Though I was missing the cheese, wine, and prosciutto!

I’m fading fast here, but wanted to get some of it down on paper. I am not even going to read through to edit this. (At least not right this second. Who am I kidding? I will likely edit and update it tomorrow morning.) Action-packed Boston day tomorrow. We’re only trying to squeeze in like 2 weeks worth of sightseeing into two days. What could possibly go wrong? Sigh. All the things. All the things could go wrong…

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Day 13: Which ‘Wich, Witch?

07 Jul

Today was a rarity for CMRT. We slept in fairly late, we spent the entire day just playing tourist in a single city, without a true plan, and we only had an hour drive to our next hotel. We will actually be staying in a single state for the next 4 nights! (I told you it was a slow roll!) Today our destination was Salem, Massachusetts. And to be honest, I had no idea what I expected. But what we found was a really lovely New England town, full of interesting history. Of course, it had its ridiculously touristy parts, but overall I have walked away from Salem with a very positive impression, and I would happily have spent more time doing a more thorough exploration of the town.

Before we left home, I purchased the Go Boston pass. This gives us “free” admission into a great number of attractions in the greater Boston area. And this includes several Salem-area attractions. So I intend to milk that for all it’s worth! Want to get my money’s worth and more. But like any good tourists, we started off at the National Park Service Visitor’s Center. They had a film about the origins and misconceptions of the hysteria in Salem that lead to the witch trials. It was…. educational, interesting, gave a clear perspective on what started the hysteria, and was chock full of insights from learned historians. It was also kind of boring. Mostly because of the repetitive images, the somewhat hokey music, and the general lack of polish. I’m very conflicted about it, but I’m glad that I saw it, as it was very interesting historical information.

Our next stop was the Salem Witch Museum. It was not at all what I expected. They sell you a ticket for a specific time, (This one was part of our Go Boston pass) and then you are ushered into a large room with basically large-scale dioramas located all around the room above head level. The narrator, with an excellent speaking voice, tells the story of how the Witch Trial hysteria began and the trials unfolded, as the displays were artfully lit in turn. Then you are ushered into a small museum space where a guide, with the help of some recorded messages, tells more about the evolution on witches throughout history. It was very interesting, but rushed. I would have liked more time to look at the huge timeline that was on the wall, but blocked by the large number of people that were crammed in the room.

After the Witch Museum it was time for lunch. We found a decent place (one in which our admission ticket to the Witch Museum offered us 10% off!). The food was fine, the owner super accommodating about the kids’ egg allergy, and the local beer – the Left of the Dial IPA from Salem brewers Notch Brewing – was delicious! The only bad thing was fairly slow service, so we did spend more time at the table than I wished, especially since we had been somewhat late getting to town.

Our next stop was the House of the Seven Gables, made famous by Nathaniel Hawthorne. Full disclosure: I have never read the book. But I did buy a copy in the gift shop, and fully intend to get that accomplished after I finish re-reading Harry Potter. (Side note: I wore my favorite Harry Potter shirt in Salem today. Felt subversively right.) Now, back to a classic of American literature. Hawthorne was born in Salem, but not in the House of the Seven Gables. It actually belonged to his cousin, and he did visit there often, but never at any point during his lifetime did the house have seven gables, because it had been extensively renovated after the grandson of the original owner lost the family fortune and was forced to sell the house. But even knowing as little as I did about the novel, touring the house was fascinating. They have done an interesting job of preserving some portions of the house, leaving others as is. I am a sucker for architectural tours, especially of old homes. I was very pleased with our visit here, and as a bonus, they have moved Nathaniel Hawthorne’s birthplace home to the site of the mansion, even though it was originally located about 10 blocks away.

From literature to art, our next stop was the Peabody Essex Museum. I found this to be an odd museum. I think things were a little off kilter because they are in the process of building a large additional wing, which meant that several of their galleries were closed. But I did greatly enjoy the American pieces, including some very nice Gilbert Stuart and John Singer Sergeant portraits, as well as some gorgeous pieces of furniture. We only had a short time here – why must everything close at 5pm?! – but I think it was worth it. The girls especially enjoyed a space they called the Pod, as part of their Art & Nature Center.

After our touristy adventures, we poked around in several shops. None of the true witch-owned magical establishments, as many of them just felt schmaltzy, but we did find something in Wicked Good Books. They had a wonderful mug detailing the differences between all the different versions of there-their-they’re, affect-effect, etc…but it was laced with profanity, and therefore not classroom appropriate. But oh how I would have liked to show it to some of my students…

Because our next destination was Plymouth, south of Boston, and I had absolutely no intention of heading towards Boston at 5:30pm, we went to get ice cream at a place called Melt. I was tempted by the Maple Bourbon, but went for Salted Caramel with Sea Salt Brownies. Salted Caramel seems to be a really big flavor up here.  We killed enough time that I felt comfortable getting on the road. We did make a quick detour to Danvers to see the Salem Witchcraft Victims Memorial. I found it especially poignant that they had carved not just the names of those who were executed for witchcraft or died in jail while under suspicion, but also that they included direct quotes from some of those executed, declaring their innocence. Our drive from there to the hotel was easy enough – some slow-downs, but nothing like the type of traffic I feared. And we ordered food into the hotel, so I didn’t even have to drive out to get that!

Overall, it was a relaxed, enjoyable, and educational day. Even though the witch hysteria and trials are not part of the US History curriculum, it still qualifies as US History. Tomorrow I really start to pile it on: Plymouth, Massachusetts!

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Day 12: Slow Roll

06 Jul

Because we had nothing truly planned today except for an overnight in Peabody, MA, only about 150 miles south, our exit from Maine was a decidedly slow roll. I had done a great deal of the packing and departure prep last night. In fact, coupling the amount of work I had to do with my crippling procrastination, I ended up staying awake until at least 2am. Which would have been fine, because I had plenty of time to sleep in and still have us on the road before our mandatory check-out time. A really great plan. Except that there was apparently a raucous seagull convention scheduled for this morning that I had been previously unaware of. It was full of noisy, lively debate, and the flock of seagulls show started at approximately 5:45am. Oof. Awake and out of bed that early, I really had time on my side. Our check-out time was 11am, and we milked it almost to the final minute.

I had the typical departure stuff to do. Had to pack the kids sheets after they woke and stripped their beds. Wash the queen sheets we borrowed. Wash, dry, and put away dishes. Empty trash cans. Walk down on the beach a final time to play rock hound to collect new specimens to put in our souvenir lamp. (I have a clear base lamp that I am slowly filling with rocks from our Maine vacations. This area is different geologically-speaking from Kennebunkport, so I got some great chunks of stone that will make a really interesting layer.) And, of course, I also needed to log some more porch time. In fact, after rising before 6am and putting my sheets in the washer, that is the very next thing I did. I am in the process of re-reading the Harry Potter series, and am now into Year 4: The Goblet of Fire. Sigh. This is some very good reading, made even better by the view and a refreshing Maine sea breeze.

After forcing the kids into obligatory pictures in front of the cottage and on the porch, we said a fond farewell to the Nezinscott cottage. We then enjoyed an insanely picturesque drive back through Bailey Island/Orr’s Island/Harpswell, on the first day of the Southbound Leg of CMRT 2019: US History Edition. That’s right, it time to get back to the history lessons. But today was simply our slow roll away, a gentle extraction from my beloved state of Maine. It started with a return trip to the Bull Moose store in Portland. Beau is fairly obsessed with music, and more specifically with his burgeoning vinyl collection. It doesn’t really surprise me that there is a healthy selection of vinyl at the Bull Moose locations, seeing as they are mostly in rather hipster towns. Beau did intimate that the selection at our local Saint Augustine Tone Vendor store was actually superior, but Bull Moose is rather a multi-sensory experience unto itself. And Beau has been very happy about some of the rare finds he has been acquiring. Side note: Be on the lookout for his Go Fund Me, as he is racking up quite the vinyl debt to me, having already blown through his CMRT spending money from Mimi.

Our next stop: Kennebunkport. Sadly, this also seemed to be the next stop of every. single. person. in. the. world! Wow, was it crowded. First time past the free parking lot, and it was totally full with several sharks already circling looking for unsuspecting prey walking back to their car. I figure no big deal, I’m willing to pay for parking, and crossed my fingers that the pay lot in Dock Square would have some availability. Nope. Not a single space in sight. Sigh. Fight some more traffic and get back to the free lot for another look. Luckily, we found a space, and bonus, it was in the shade! Yeah, not only was it insanely crowded in town, it was also one of the hotter days I’ve ever experienced in Kennebunkport. I imagine the locals were melting. The big draw to KPT, and the reason I was willing to fight the crowds, has to do with my favorite art galleries. When I first started visiting Kennebunkport some 18 years ago, I stumbled across a gallery named Northlight Gallery, located on Ocean Avenue, just off of the Dock Square area. I was immediately entranced with the incredibly detailed watercolor works by Jack Standish. I can’t even begin to describe them in words, but I vowed that one day I would own one. (It still hasn’t happened yet!) But I was also enamored with the exceedingly friendly, but laid back gallery owner, Harry Thompson. We struck up a conversation all those years ago and I discovered that he was originally from, of all places, Gainesville, Florida! Over the years I have kept coming back to salivate over the works in Northlight, and enjoy a chat with Harry, who produces his own magnificent oil paintings. Though Northlight Gallery is still in the same location at 33 Ocean Ave, there have been many changes over the years, the most significant of which is the addition of the equally delightful, and also laid back cool, Jill Previti Thompson, and additional gallery space (True North) down in Dock Square. Over the years I have made it a point to always visit both Harry and Jill’s galleries. Jill is an amazingly talented painter in her own right, and it is always a breath of fresh air to talk with her. In the past year they have added an additional gallery space – with more of a focus on photography and jewelry – and Jill’s gallery has been renamed Thompson & Company. Two years ago this September, I took Beau to Maine for his 13th birthday. When I asked him what he wanted for his birthday that year, his only response was, “To wake up in Maine.” So, despite the trip having some major ups and downs, I made that happen for him. One of the ups of that trip involved being in Jill’s gallery on Beau’s birthday. Jill really talked to Beau about art and what he liked, asked him questions about himself and listened to the answers. I think she was mostly impressed that he was such a self-possessed 13 year old (who, of course, seemed more like a 63 year old). Just before we left, she took Beau over to a collection of a few of her small abstract landscapes and asked him which one he liked the most. He considered his choice, and talked it out with her, and then chose. What happened next astounded me. She took that beautifully framed painting off the wall, handed it to him, and said, “Happy Birthday!” I was gobsmacked. She then said to me, “And that’s how you make a collector.” Indeed. This year our first stop in Kennebunkport was Jill’s gallery (Thompson & Company) where I recounted the story to her and again expressed my gratitude for her generosity. We had a really nice chat, and then I headed off to Harry’s gallery (Northlight). I was positively salivating over the majority of the work in the gallery, while also having a pleasant chat with Harry. But then my eyes locked on one of Jill’s paintings in the second room of the gallery. Similar in composition to the smaller seascape given to Beau, but with an even richer palatte. It was again the sea, but this sky was a deep, bruised plum color. It was gorgeous, and my eye kept coming back to it. Just as I was about to leave, I walked back over to it and made a decision. Sometimes, it’s Mommy’s turn to get what she wants. So I bought it. I bought a painting today. As if it’s the sort of thing I do every day. It isn’t large, but it’s mine. I’d say Jill’s investment in Beau is already paying off. Maybe I’m the collector she was making.

I was alerted by my very dear Kennebunk-dwelling friend, that the turnpike was backed up for at least 20 miles headed south from Kennebunkport, and I had absolutely zero desire to sit in bumper-to-bumper traffic on the interstate. So, incredibly grateful for Mandy’s heads-up, I asked Waze to route us the back way. Slower speed limits, but prettier sights. There were a few patches of traffic even on the back roads, but it was actually an enjoyable drive filled with picturesque farms and quaint little town centers. We were on our way to a brief stop in Portsmouth, NH, because Beau wanted to visit, where else, yet another Bull Moose location! But first we visited the exceedingly irreverent gift shop that we had discovered during his birthday weekend, called Off Piste. And it was worth a return visit. Many people might consider the store’s merchandise offensive, as there are several “grown-up words” featured on things as diverse as tea towels to pencils to magnets to socks. Personally, I think they are f-ing hysterical. Perhaps my favorite thing in the store are the extensive selection of pencils stamped with hysterically irreverent sayings. I would love to stock the pencil cup on my desk with these and watch kids faces when they ask to borrow a pencil. But I enjoy being employed, so I didn’t purchase any at all. After laughing our butts off and pining to purchase things I can’t really show off to their full potential because I’m a public servant, we headed across the street to Bull Moose. Beau picked up yet more vinyl – seriously, please send this kid cash for his upcoming birthday, as I need him to pay me back! I took a flyer on a sealed bag labeled “15 Classical CDs” for $1.97. How could I possibly go wrong? Turns out there is some fun stuff in there – I do love classical piano music. After finding free parking in Kennebunkport, I ended up having to pay for parking in Portsmouth. Well, I should have paid for parking. But I didn’t. And I ended up getting a parking ticket. Ironically, in approximately the same amount I would have had to pay for parking in Kennebunkport in that Dock Square lot. I have no idea how I happened to miss the large parking kiosk located just a couple of spaces down, and why I didn’t immediately look for one, knowing that all parking in these New England towns is somehow metered Mon-Sat. But I didn’t. I think pulling in diagonally like I did put me in mind of San Marco back home. And I just blithely took my spot, and didn’t even think about it being anything other than free parking. Oops! But I’ve already paid my ticket online, and like I said, a fairly equivalent parking assessment to having paid for it on the front end, so no true loss other than feeling vaguely like an idiot.

Overall, today has been a weird mix of emotions. It feels like we left the cottage months ago, or perhaps that the entire thing was just a lovely dream, something fictionalized that never truly happened. I am sad to leave that respite from the world, from reality. But I am also eager to have more new experiences, and ultimately, to return home (though we have 10 days before we’re doing that!) I think today was a nice transition from our life of ultimate ease back into our “road trip” mentality. Tonight we are in Peabody, MA, simply a way-station to our full day of sightseeing tomorrow. For tomorrow we take on the witches of Salem…

 

Day 12 – By the numbers:

Odometer: 128,643 – 128,801 (158  miles)

Total travel time: 8 hours, 30 minutes

States traveled in/through: 3 - ME, NH, MA

Gas stop: $2.85/gal – Wells, ME

Current standings in the CMRT 2019 Lottery Project: $38 in/ $11 out (- $27 loss) –> It’s not a good year for gambling.

Number of states found in our license plate-palooza: –> Total of 46/51 –> Only missing Alaska, Wyoming, Nevada, New Mexico, and, of course, North Dakota!

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Day 11: Melancholy and the Infinite Maineness

05 Jul

Here it is, stupidly late at night, and I still am not finished packing. Mostly because I have been procrastinating. As if by not completing necessary tasks I can change the outcome. See, tomorrow I have to leave this glorious place, and to put it succinctly, I don’t want to go.

This morning seemed tinged with a touch of melancholy. We were all moving a little slower. Even our perpetually smiley Avery seemed a little down in the mouth. Everyone said they were fine, and no one admitted that anything was wrong, but I think we were all feeling the end. And sometimes the anticipation of the thing is worse than the thing itself. Except in this case. Leaving this view behind will be much worse than simply being sad about having to leave in the future. But it colored our morning, this weight around our heads. It was almost as if we went down to the beach because we felt we should, it was what we were supposed to do. And I’m glad we did, even if it was a bit more subdued. We had our rental kayaks for one final day and we got good use out of them. At first the girls simply paddled about in the harbor, then Beau took one out on another out-of-sight solo excursion, as the girls switched to inner tubes. Then I had the idea to put my book in a plastic bag and paddle out into the middle of the harbor so I could just drift and read. (A brilliant idea, if I do say so myself!) Then Beau and I took off for an excursion out of the harbor, this time turning left instead of right towards Lands End. Just outside the mouth of Little Harbor we discovered that we were on the other side of the Giant’s Stairs, where we had spent so much time playing on the rocks the day before. I knew it was close – after all we didn’t drive that far – but I truly wasn’t expecting it to be so close by water. At this point it was high tide, and I could absolutely see why the cottage owners told us it was best to go at low tide to see them. While still beautiful and impressive, they were much more impactful at low tide. It was a little unnerving to be out in open water, experiencing the chop borne of wave action and boat wake, especially given the need to give those rocks a wide berth. I didn’t want the rocks to become impactful on a physical level! So it was a relatively quick trip.

After all the kids went up to the house I took one of our inflatable inner tubes out into Little Harbor, and just floated. It was truly sublime. I just laid back, my rear finally acclimated to the chilly water, and let the water take me as I chased cars in my head. I don’t often get opportunities to complete unplug from everything, but this was one. No phone, no books, no kids. Weightless on the water. Enjoying the sun on my face, the cool breeze on my bare arms, and a smile on my face. It felt like a fitting goodbye to Little Harbor, which is now the keeper of a whole new year’s Maine memories.

It was time to make a dent on clearing out the refrigerator and have a late lunch. I suppose I should have been thinking about packing up and getting things under control to leave tomorrow, but that just wasn’t going to happen. After lunch I was reading on the porch (natch!) when the owners walked through the yard coming up from the beach. It was pleasant speaking with them. At one point they said that if I thought I might want to return next year I should let them know the dates I was interested in as soon as possible, as they frequently book the majority of the summer weeks with return visitors. IF? If I want to return?? I definitely want to return. I would spend my entire life just sitting on that porch if I could! But next summer is going to be a sleep-away camp summer for the girls, and this house is too big for just Beau and me. Maybe I could convince some friends to go in on the rental with me. Anyone interested in spending a week in Maine next summer? The house is rustic, to be sure, and has its odd quirks (for example, none of the upstairs bedrooms have ceilings. It’s like a cubical farm of rooms up there!) But honestly, you aren’t going to spend much time in your room, because, well, did I mention the porch?

After Avery and I had a little post-lunch ice cream (hey, we have to clean out the freezer, too!) the girls and I went back down to the beach for some final spins in the kayaks and tubes. It was fun to just play with my kids. At one point Avery was in a kayak, Harper and I were in tubes, and I was using the kayak paddle from my tube to drag us around the harbor. We were laughing and being goofy, and I had this sensation like life really just couldn’t get any better. But time was ticking on. Luckily, Beau came back down onto the beach and could help me transport the rental kayaks back into our yard to be picked up, while the girls brought the paddles, lifejackets, and tubes back up to the house. It was time to say goodbye to the beach. Once I got the kayaks and accessories laid out on the lawn, I parked myself in my favorite spot. Feet up on the rail, reading a book. I did have to pause and put on a fleece, and then wrap my legs in a towel. I would like to blame some of this nonsense on the fact I was still wearing a slightly damp bathing suit, but the truth is, my thin Florida blood is now reading 70 degrees and breezy as down right cold. But please don’t confuse that with a complaint! I was delighted to feel chilly and I will take any excuse to wear a fleece!

Eventually, it was time to come inside, shower, and start the process of ending our Maine vacation. Rustic also means there is no dishwasher, so I had to dig in and work my way through a large pile. There was also some laundry to do, seeing as how we are still 10 days from home. And we certainly unpacked and made ourselves comfortable here in the Nezinscott cottage! But I just couldn’t find the motivation. So I did the minimum, made a list of things to do tomorrow before our 11am check-out, and found any manner of things to waste time. Including this. But it’s time. Time to pack away the souvenirs, the towels, the tubes, the sunscreen, the clothes, and the books. I wish I had a nickel for every time this week that one of my kids has asked me some variation on, “So, why don’t we live here?” Because if I did, we could buy a place! I can’t believe the week is over, but tomorrow is a slow roll out of our favorite state, so we can savor the sights. I know it’s a naivete born of halcyon summers, without the suffering of brutal winters, but I do wish I could give my kids an infinite Maineness, so we wouldn’t have to experience the melancholy.

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© 2010 Krista Lindsey Willim