March 1st through April 10th 2016 Schulenburg TX, Red Bay AL, Conroe TX and Canton TX

Previous to our Red Bay stop, we spent a day discovering three of the twenty Painted Churches of the Texas Hill Country.  In 1984, 15 of these country churches became listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Tours are provided by the Greater Schulenburg Chamber of Commerce and a map is available for a few dollars for those wishing to take a self-guided tour.

Built by 19th century German and Czech immigrants with a strong faith in God, they came looking for land, economic opportunity and religious freedom.

These churches were often the second or third church building the community constructed. The ones now standing became a symbol of success for the new Texans, proving to themselves that they had successfully survived the transition from their homeland, acquired land, built schools and established churches to nurture their spirits and sustain their faith.

The outsides give the appearance of  American country churches with arched Gothic Revival windows, white frame or stone sidings and long tall Texan steeples piercing the brilliant blue sky.

Saints Cyril and Methodius Church in Dubina was our first stop.  We arrived a few minutes behind a large tour bus and waited while they settled in before entering. History lesson already in session, we sat in the back enjoying the docent’s chat that included entertaining tidbits about the church.

Saints Cyril and Methodius Church  Saints Cyril and Methodius Pulpit  Saints Cyril and Methodius

Crossing the thresholds of each church, one would expect simple wooden interiors but instead you are met with vibrant frescoes, elaborate hand painted details, stenciling and an unexpected wash of colors so intense everything is bathed in its glow. The profusion of color provides a perfect backdrop for saintly statues and intricate art work depicting the heavens and nature in ribbons across walls, arches and ceilings.

Andrew Ammann and his family established the tiny town of Ammannsville in 1870 and in 1917 St. John the Baptist Catholic Church, also known as “the pink church”, was built.  We spotted the steeple long before we came upon the church.  Empty of visitors but invitingly peaceful inside, we sat quietly absorbing the glow from the walls and reading the history of the church from the guide map.

St. John the Baptist Catholic Church

Inscriptions on the walls are in the mother tongue of those who built them, German and Czech immigrants.

St John The Pink Church

The hurricane in July of 1909 destroyed many of the churches but the towns rebuilt them and in the 1950’s, after years of their beauty being whitewashed, they were returned to near their original state.

Pink Church Left Side  The Pink Church Alter  Pink Church Right Side

Nativity of Mary Blessed Virgin Catholic Church in High Hill was built in 1906. One of the first churches built by German trained, educated and noted Texas Architect Leo Dielmann. Leo was the son of a contractor who already had a history of serving the Catholic church of Texas in multiple projects, including churches in Fredericksburg.

In the late 1800’s and into the 1900’s, the Catholic hierarchy attempted to influence communities in Texas to build in the practical “Spanish” or “Mission” style as it was well suited to the hot climate and less likely to be destroyed by fire or storms. The red brick exterior of the Nativity of Mary was important because the interior is wood, while the exterior is protected by brick, making it resistant to fire and storms. It was said that church leadership sometimes refused to bless wood churches upon completion.

Nativity of Mary Blessed Virgin Catholic Church

High Hill’s decorative paintings, by Ferdinand Stockert and Hermann Kern, were completed in 1912. The walls and ceilings of Saint Joseph’s Catholic Church in San Antonio were also painted by the pair. Elders in the parish remember their parents saying that the images were first painted on canvas, then glued to the wood walls. From the choir loft you can still see bubbles in the now hardened canvas.

Until you view them up close, it is difficult to tell the pillars are not marble but wooden columns with baseboards shining like beige and emerald polished marble.

Nativity Sanctuary Marblized Column

As was the custom, men sat on one side and women on the other.  The placement of saint statues also follows the custom inside the churches.

Nativity Sanctuary

The stories behind these churches are of families striving to succeed in a new world while preserving all the values and cultures of their homelands.  Our next trip through, we plan to visit more of these historic and delightfully charming churches.

In a few days we will be parked in Red Bay awaiting repairs. Like having a tooth pulled at the dentist, it is a trip that makes me cringe at the thought.  If I were making the rules, reaching 60 would allow you to abstain from doing anything that makes you cringe.

 

Today is our first day of waiting for the illusive time schedule for our repairs to begin. On past visits we had been notified the night before, giving us time to prepare. Not so this visit. Our call came early a.m. and the rush was on but we returned an hour later, measurements taken, no repairs happening today.

We have been paused on the dust bowl overflow lot for days watching movies and doing odd chores around the motorhome to occupy our minds and keep a firm grip on our sanity. This morning we were called and told our slide roof top had arrived.

Pull it all in and up, breakfast on hold, entering the bay to find a roof seven inches to long, ready to be installed. After listening to the repair guys talking about hacking off the end, I took John by the face, looked deep into his eyes and commanded, NO HACKING! We returned to our site to wait for the correct size to be manufactured. The silver lining, at finding out their mistake, my ready-to-explode blood pressure was relieved by purposeful walking. Nearly an hour of walking up and down the warehouses’ 45 repair bays to release tension while waiting for them to confirm, no hacking, they will manufacture another roof. Our “hurry up and wait” is approaching its second full week.

Each time we enter or exit Red Bay we take an alternative route just to spice things up a bit.  We had gone for groceries and came back down a road that split the middle of miles of farm land and at our turn, we noticed a sign announcing “Auction Tonight”.  Entering the dirt road, we approached a huge old warehouse with dozens of cars out front.   Free entertainment for the night!

Action House    Friday Night Auction

Sitting down in the back row, we watched as box load after box load of what looked like garage sale rejects was going to the highest bidder.  One box contained grocery store dry goods.  A gentleman down in front bid five dollars, won, dug through and picked out a box of crackers, opened the crackers and began munching.  After seeing the sale prices at the snack stand, he got himself one heck of a great deal.   When the sun began to sink, we left the auction empty handed and drove back to LilyPad to relax in front of the TV.

Although I have no intention of staying any longer than necessary, I am grateful for any Silver Linings, this trip having several. It included learning that the two overflow parking areas offer a special price for a full week stay. Our Red Bay stay is now the least expensive, $200.00 less per month including electricity, than any other place we have stayed while traveling. That excludes our Wally World RV Resort stays and workamping site stays that are free. And Silver Dollar Discount provided a fabulous deal. Now switched to decaffeinated tea, I found 8 boxes of my favorite, Good Earth Sweet & Spicy, expiration 2017, for a savings of $2.00 each box. Lastly, our little mom and pop DVD center rents movies 1/3 less than Red Box. Pausing to see the forest through the trees has its advantages in times of uninvited stress compounded by boredom.

John stopped into the office to check where our name was on the list and was informed that Tuesday the 21st we must be at repair bay 35 at 7:00 am. Our slide roof and entrance steps are scheduled for repair. Once inside the bay, everything must be removed from the cabinets and floor space.

Large slide leak repair

Off to the lounge to wait from 7:00 am through 4:30 pm. At days end we replace what was taken out and roll back to our site. Red Bay repair trips are a continuous rinse and repeat for weeks on end.

Another call came Friday the 25th to bring LilyPad to repair bay 21 for our original problem, fixing the stress crack in the bedroom driver side slide. It is a two day project. Easter Sunday passed without notice, dinner was what was left in the fridge, friends and family to far away to reach.

Because we must vacate LilyPad for the night after she is in the paint shop all day absorbing the strong paint fumes, choosing a hotel that wasn’t remodeling or too old and stinky was a challenge. It took three tries to get an acceptable hotel. Happily on firm ground for our overnight, with dozens of TV shows to watch and a nice comfy bed, all three of us slept peacefully.

Our list had included replacing the top slide roof, calking and riveting our large slide topper to the motorhome, removing the glue mess that John made while trying to fix the slide topper, some warrantee work on our stairs, and repairing for a second time, the stress fracture on the bedroom slide.

From an unknown cause, a mold smell grew to intolerable, the thermostat flipped out needing replacement, our TV antenna became finicky and stopped working and our battery wiring to the car conked out. Our “it’s always something” list was alive and well and we hadn’t even left Red Bay.

The daily repairs remind me of our first car. It could have been assigned the title of “Lemon” but it was pre 1975 and the term had not yet been conceived. The car was a Ford, what I ended up calling a Fix Or Repair Daily. It was the neediest vehicle we had owned to date, excluding LilyPad. Forty-four years later, I have re-assigned the name to our rolling box. Unluckily, the vehicle must be purchased new and “claimed” a lemon within a few months of purchase along with having major mechanical complications. I’m not sure the problems we are having would be considered mechanical but I would have gleefully hired an attorney had we purchased it new.  When you have this many repairs, it never hurts to check all avenues of compensation.

The last few days of March were spent on the road back to Conroe to prepare LilyPad for our trip to Canton Texas and the Tiffin Rally. Mansfield, LA was our midway overnight at our favorite inexpensive resort, Wally World RV Parking.

We paused at Conroe KOA for a rest and grocery fill up before setting off early morning for my first taste of a new-to-me Texas experience in decades, Canton First Monday.

Conroe KOA

Canton First Monday is the oldest and largest flea market in the country. Being a resident of the Houston area for over 30 years, I had never been.  I think John planned for us to go when we were homeless and unemployed with no place to put anything or ability to buy.  This visit will certainly result in me finding a houseful of things that I can’t live without however I still am lacking land with  “sticks n bricks” in which to stuff it beyond full.

First Monday’s began in the 1850’s on the courthouse grounds.  Traveling circuit judges stopped to conduct their business at the courthouse with the locals who were visiting relatives and friends, making business arrangements and getting local news. Stray horses were sold until horses were no longer the main mode of transportation. In the 1940’s, roaming dogs became the next commodity. At first, farmers would bring in strays and unwanted offspring; then the hunters started bringing their hound dogs. Soon the whole town was saturated with hound dogs, some selling for as much as $500. During election years, politicians would center their campaigns around First Monday.

First Monday Trade Days  Canton First Monday

First Monday is the oldest and largest continually operating Flea Market in the country.  It covers 100 acres and has spaces for 6,000 vendors. We walked for three hours straight and barely touched the edges of one area.

Canton First Mondays

For the next two weeks we are settled at Mill Creek Ranch Resort in Canton, Texas. Not the fanciest RV Resort that we have stayed at but clean, well-groomed grounds and the staff are friendly.  It has all the necessary perks and a few extras luxuries.

Mill Creek Ranch Resort

Not since our stays at Red Bay have I seen such an abundance of Tiffin motorhomes but this time we were all here to party! Our site is near the outdoor Pavilion, perfect positioning for casual drop-in visitors, something I enjoy immensely.

LilyPad  Red Oaks Area

If you plan to visit for First Monday, Mill Creek is the perfect stop over for families.  They have multiple cabin villages surrounding small ponds,

cabins

a pool and outdoor clubhouse up front,

RV pool and outdoor clubhouse  Walden Pond

a spacious and elegant lodge in the back area with a pool and sauna out the side door,

Club House Pool and sauna

and within walking distance of the market but save your walking for the sales area and take their free trolley or the small bus that stops at all the local sleepover spots.

 

After the flea market, we had a week before the rally group arrived.  Getting this close to any kind of a wildlife refuge without visiting is never an option and the day was begging for us to step outside in the warm breezy sunshine.  KatieBug was happy after a big breakfast and already snoring away, hardly noticing us leaving.  Less than an hour away is Tiger Creek Wildlife Refuge.  The containment systems are open, full of activities for the cats and bigger than a full size tennis court for the larger cats.

John at Tiger Creek

Our guide was Jared, Director of Animal Care.  The tour lasted about an hour and we walked over smooth pathways to each of the areas.  Jared was full of information about the large and small cats, telling us about behavior that is taught so each animal can be checked over daily and properly cared for during their stay.  As most of the animals here were pets or born in captivity, none would qualify for being released into the wild and will stay here to live out their lives.

Jared our docent

They have an area devoted to those cats who have departed.

Those who have gone on before

The refuge houses lions, tigers, leopards, bobcats and mountain lions in large open cages with lots of exercise toys and lookout perches for the comfort of the cats and visibility of guests.  Many of the cats are older but they are a healthy looking assortment of felines.  large cat area  Tiger resting benches

The smaller cats, like Katie the Puma, are housed in large covered cages full of climbing limbs, toys and a sturdy bed that the staff makes from old fire hoses.

small cat areas  Katie the Puma

Being a warm day, most of the cats were lazing around on the ground but their cages contained huge balls, wood logs, large steel water containers and toys should they choose to be active.

Kumari, Bengal Tiger    Tiger

One of the big cat areas has a large in-ground cement pool large enough for swimming and the cats are rotated to give each their chance for a deep dunk.

Tiger in the swim hole area

They look sweet and cuddly but we were assured that they could do a fair amount of damage with their weight alone.  One of the areas had a shock wire around the lower part of the cage to keep the cat from leaning up against and pushing the fence polls out of their sockets.  None are trying to escape, they just enjoyed leaning.

Gunther resting   napping tiger

We met CFO and Director of Programs and Services Lisa Werner on our way out.  She happily assured us that they welcome singles, couples or groups of any kind and they enjoy hosting special events like their 2nd annual Autism Awareness Day being held April 9th, the day after we arrived.

Living in the gray area and relaxing until our Texas RV Rally begins on Monday, April 11th.

December 2015 through February 29th, 2016 Walt Disney World FL, Conroe TX, Red Bay AL

As hard as I try to find the pleasant and positive sides of life on the roll, they remain further away and fewer between the mundane, day to day struggles of a life made more complicated by living in a 350 square foot, minimally airtight/watertight, rectangular box. The incessant repairs, inside dust so thick you can write in covering the inside regardless of how much I clean, lack of room to easily move about and the frustrations of waking up to a plethora of troublesome situations more often than not, is beyond tiresome. Believing our adventure would have good outweighing bad had started the box rolling. Now, chronicling our experience is all that is left of my determination to continue.

That being said, the good  is just around the corner.  Our December started off happily in Texas with several dining dates arranged between us, family and friends, and the cheerful prospect of our upcoming family vacation.  Only being minimally settled at the Conroe KOA for a few weeks, we pulled it all in and set off for Florida.

Our travels to Florida were as direct as a weeklong travel could be, stopping one overnight at the Fort Walton Elks Lodge in time to view an amazing ocean sunset.

Fort Walton, Florida

New Orleans Elks Lodge was our overnight for an unnerving stay perched on the edge of uncomfortable. I love New Orleans and have thoroughly enjoyed our dozens of visits over the last 30 years but there are some areas best left undiscovered. Although in a questionable area, it did meet several of our requirements.  It had low cost electrical hookup, was flat cement and was close to major grocers. We were but a few blocks from Whole Foods Market allowing us to stockpile homeopathic remedies and specialty snacks.

After returning for the night, we slept fitfully without incident. Up early, John made a left turn down a spacious side street and came face to face with an unexpected wire strung low across the road, haphazardly connected to a pole, unnoticed until moments before LilyPad snapped it, flinging it up over our roof and bouncing along the top of the roof protrusions before settling behind us in the middle of the street. John hit the brakes, looked around and gunned the engine to exit the area, making a zigzag left then right turn quickly enough to send our floor storage crates skidding sideways into the bathroom walls. I watched for police in case we were spotted.  Not sure how we could have outrun a police car in LilyPad but we might have given it a try.  Later we learned it was a common practice to “borrow” cable and other utilities by illegal wire connections without adhering to proper heights and placement.

Another overnight was a stop at Beaver Lake Campground in Quincy Florida. Unusual place to land for the night but quiet and 50 amp electric hook-ups, no amenities I would consider using but these sleep stops are never destinations.  There were a row of permanent mobile homes in the back area, nothing but a field with hook-ups where we parked.  Before dusk we were joined by several more overnighters.  Safety in numbers allowed me to sleep peacefully through the night.

Beaver Lake Campground, Quincy FL  Beaver Lake Campground Washateria

We arrived at our rented villa early evening. It was to be our home for the next seven days. LilyPad was settled comfortably in overflow parking and we unpacked a weeks’ worth of liquor, food and clothes for our family vacation.

The Walt Disney World adventure was as near a vacation as I have had in the last few years. At a fraction of the cost of a luxury Disney hotel room, minus daily cleaning services, we rented a five bedroom house with three in-suite bathrooms, one for each couple. The house had a swimming pool, sauna, full size pool table and game room in the garage along with a washer/dryer, TV’s in every bedroom, a gas grill on the back porch and a fully outfitted kitchen. It sat on a quiet street in a gated community just minutes from the entrance to Walt Disney World. Expectations for an amazing family get together exceeded what actually occurred but this was Disney and our family was together so I was an immensely happy camper.

Animal Kingdom

Sadly, now that I have reached my senior years, I realize that visiting Disney every year since childhood and watching the Hallmark Channel’s sugar coated “every day is perfect” and “every ending is a happy ending” does little to adequately prepare one for real life and its occasional disappointments. Reality is that not everything runs smoothly or has a happy ending. Adjusting to this fact is a far greater task with me being in my 60’s than it would have been in my 30’s. To late a lesson learned for me, hopefully not for my adult children.

Our days at Disney were enjoyable and carefree, two amazing but headstrong young women and their opinions clashed only once and all considered, it was a relaxing entertaining week. Happily, mama bear had her two cubs and papa bear all under one roof.   Life, for this week, was good.

I bought three sets of Mickey Mouse ears for us ladies to wear to the parks and we all enjoyed the spectacular weather Florida provided us while we strolled around the parks throughout our week long stay.

Disney

When our week came to an end, we each packed up and departed in different directions. For us, travels home allowed us a relaxed pace.  We overnighted in Florida at a well appointed Broward County park in Pembroke Pines, CB Smith Park, and side stepped a colorful local resident next morning on our way to breakfast.

Florida critter

Our next destination stop led us to Bellingrath Alabama and we revisited Bellingrath Gardens for their Magic Christmas in Lights 20th Anniversary.

Bellingrath gator  Bellingrath rows of flowers

Listed on USA Today’s List of “10 Best Public Light Displays in America” the short detour from the freeway, friendly campground and reasonable tickets made it impossible to bypass.

Bellingrath Toys  Bellingrath Dragon

After watching an amazing sunset the dazzling displays of twinkles, shifting and rearranging their configurations, awed guests of all ages.

Bellingrath candy land   Bellingrath lake

The choral performance on the South Terrace of the home gave our feet a mid-trail breather from the two hour walk.

Bellingrath singers  Bellingrath manger

Spread out across the 65 acres of public gardens, the displays were exceptional with extraordinary details.   Being open to the public but still a privately owned entity, a crèche was set up mid way.  Onlookers agreed, it was an appropriately fitting Christmas display.

Bellingrath Santas SleighBellingrath train

Bellingrath Gardens Alabama   Bellingrath under the seas

The mansion was home to Walter and Bessie Bellingrath and the gardens were their creation. The estate is located on the Fowl River in Theodore, near Mobile Alabama. First opening to the public in 1932, they placed an ad in the Mobile paper, announcing that anyone who would like to see the spring Gardens could do so, free of charge. After an overwhelming response, the couple decided to keep the Gardens open year round, beginning in 1934.

Enjoying our two day tranquil sidestep from our journey home, we continued our trek, returning to the boredom of long hours on the road with the prospect of tedious everyday chores looming ahead. The next few weeks will be spent taking care of “us” as soon enough, LilyPad and her “it’s always something” must be returned to her maker in Red Bay AL for repairs. Doctors, dentists, vision checks, haircuts, KatieBug vet visits and Ribbits checkups will take over our lives for the next few months.

Because we were “banned” from our usual landing in Spring TX for having the audacity to write an honest review of our account of the damage our LilyPad, and a million dollar plus motorhome, received at the hands of their lawn crew, we settled on Conroe KOA for a month and Woodland Lakes RV on 242 for the next month. Neither are as close to the Woodlands or as nice but the cost and time expenditure of driving to Alabama for repairs was not worth letting them take an additional shot at damaging LilyPad.

Our last month before our “it’s always something” trek back to Alabama for repairs was spent at Woodland Lakes RV on 242. Once settled, the peaceful ponds inhabited by egrets, wood ducks and other waterfowl were a pleasant scene to view each day.

Woodland Lakes RV Park, Conroe TX

“Us” time is over and John has the route mapped to Red Bay Alabama. A relaxing stop in Seabrook to visit Amy and Josh and all my grand-chickens and grand-dogs at Casa De Seascape started the journey on a positive note.

Red Bay is my least favorite stop.  Arguing with Tiffin repair bay supervisors and managers after work is incorrectly repaired for a second and third time is stressful. The ever-present smell of the odiferous dog food manufacturer is unpleasant, our site is crushed concrete and dust is tracked and blown inside each time the door is opened, only one restaurant worth dining for dinner within 10 miles and one grocery that has a fair selection of dry good staples.  Been there and seen everything within a 2 hour radius so the days will be long and uninteresting.

Upon arrival we learned that the CVS had gone out of business, severely limiting current Red Box movie viewing.  Thankfully, the small mom and pop DVD rental store hung around and still provides interesting movie choices.  Tiffin friends saved us a space in the overflow area.  No sites were available in our regular spot, the repair bay lot.

Overflow

Settled in the dust bowl RV overflow parking, currently soaked, additional storms incoming, we had dinner with Tiffin friends Joe and Jan and drinks with past Tiffin Hosts Art and Gerri while listening to stores of extensive repairs lasting months.  Feeling grateful.

A few days later we were visited by Norris, Tiffin’s scheduler, and placed on the waiting list for a repair bay.  Three days following, with a 30 minute warning, we entered the repair bay and learned that the stress fracture on the bedroom slide is but one problem. Along with a faulty gear on our electric entrance step, our sixth leak will require the entire large slide roof to be removed and replaced.  The original sealant was done incorrectly, the patch was done haphazardly so it leaked, buckling the inside roofing material and sending a crack down the entire length of the inside slide roof.

collapsed roof and leak

Oh, the joys of owning a motorhome.  We are facing additional weeks here in the armpit of Alabama while we wait for the roof to be manufactured and installed.  Our large slide must be retracted to keep the leaking area sealed, giving us an even further reduction in living space.  Yep, love this life.

Wanting to share all of our “adventure”, I brought our camera to take pictures of Red Bay AL and Belmont MS while our wet towels and floor mats were getting a cleaning at the laundromat in Mississippi, a short drive away .  We would not want y’all to miss out on seeing the area where we sit and wait for several weeks, several times each year.

Our RV site is a long narrow strip of crushed cement with hook-ups at the back.  A block away is the RR tracks and abutting the tracks is Sunshine Dog Food Manufacturing.

Sunshine Dog Food Mfg

Across the street is the local market.  Good for basic dry good necessities but minimal on produce.

Big Star Grocery

Across the road is Subway, the safest place to eat lunch.  Bob Tiffin, owner of the company, eats lunch here often and we’ve run into him dozens of times.

Red Bay Subway

A view of downtown from the Subway parking lot.  It runs a few blocks down the road.

Downtown Red Bay

Tiffin Repair RV parking lot office, several blocks down from where we are staying.  It’s our usual place unless it’s full.  Bob built the RV lot and repair bays on an old airport runway.

Tiffin repair front office

This is Red Bay Town Center Park.

Red Bay town center

In the four years we have been coming to Red Bay, the Red Bay Hotel has been slowly and steadily renovated.  It was just a brick structure when we first visited.  Now it has double pane windows, a/c, new doors, floors and a secure roof.

Red Bay Hotel

Down the side street is the Tiffin RV Welcome Center where you can take a tour of the plant or visit Bob in his office.  Been there and done that too.  After three times, booth loose their novelty.

Tiffin Welcome Center

The best restaurant around is in Belmont Mississippi, 15 minutes away.  Besides being the only real restaurant in the area, Costa Oaxaquena has an impressive menu and great food.

Costa Oaxaquena restaurant Belmont MS

Across the street is the Belmont Hotel, circa 1924, another hotel being renovated by an elderly gentleman.  It’s guests are permanent and we often see them walking across the road to eat at Costa.

Belmont Hotel 1924, MS

Belmont has the best junk store in the area.  Silver Dollar Discount is jammed with “stuff” and we visit several times each stay.  Can’t say we have ever been to anything like it in our adult lives.  The fun part is never knowing what might pop up on their shelves.

Silver Dollar Discount

And the most unique grocery store title goes to Belmont ACE Piggly Wiggly.  It’s a combo grocery/hardware store.  John loves shopping at the ACE Piggly Wiggly.

Hardware grocery MS

Our closest laundromat is in Belmont.  John has to do the wash because of the strong perfumed smell inside.  At least that’s the reason I give him.  We only use it for washing rugs and floor cleaning towels and with all the rain, we’ve accumulated several piles.

Laundromat in MS

And the prettiest part of the area is the Belmont cemetery when the Cleveland Pear trees bloom.

blooming Cleveland Pear Trees  Cleveland Pear Trees in Belmont, MS

So there you have it folks…our life and times in the Tiffin repair city of Red Bay AL.  Next route we take will be back home to Texas before we leave in April for another season in New England.

October 1st through November 30th, Red Bay Alabama, New Orleans Louisiana and Home 2015

On the road again. Driving through Pennsylvania and Ohio. Heavy rain storms beating down on LilyPad while we struggle along at a snail’s pace, lots of road work making the tires pound over the separations, multiple holes in the asphalt jarring everything without mercy. The ride was tough on LilyPad, Ribbit and our backs. Our overnights are spent tucked in, only the bedroom slide out. When traveling, overnights are best spent cinched together tightly to keep rain from settling on our slide toppers.  They have a nasty habit of stretching out when they fill up with water.  No TV so I am eternally grateful for our WiFi hot spot. Worth every penny.

The drawbacks of being on the road, the slightly unpleasant prospect of overnights in strange areas, always on my mind, always imminent. Even with help from my trusty TripAdvisor reviews, not everyone rates the noise or the smell of RV Parks and Campgrounds the same. Both points are of utmost importance to me. John, of course, has problems with neither. All night trains and their lonely long drawn out whistles, overly smoky wet wood campfires, howling barking yippy dogs voicing their opinions all night does not make me a happy camper but John has given me permission to poke him and wake him up to keep me company until we both fall back to sleep. Awww, such a nice hubby.

Arrival at the asphalt and gravel parking lot, a.k.a., Tiffin Motorhome Manufacturers Campground, set up camp, filled out forms, again with the “hurry up and wait”.

Rows of Tiffins

We will be directed to a repair bay in the upcoming days, timeframe, somewhere inside of three weeks. I didn’t bother to fully document this repair stay. No one would be able to tell the difference between this trip and our six subsequent trips, all of them spread out over the past three years.

After registering, we drove to another diesel repair shop for an up, up, up in the air tune-up.  One thing now crossed off our long list.

LilyPad up in the air

Ahead, a whole weekend of killing time. Elvis and the vintage hardware store in Tupelo were beckoning. We watched the movie of Elvis’ life in tupelo at the Elvis pavilion and stopped at the park on the hill. Perfect Kodak moment of statues depicting Elvis as a boy, and as a man, overlooking his boyhood church and home.

Elvis, boy to man

Looking forward to a lazy morning with plans for a few side trips while we await an open repair bay. The phone rings. Nope, our lazy day just turned into a put-away, pull-up and move-into-town day. All for a $25.00 piece of painted plastic that John assured me, two years ago while in a Tiffin Motorhome repair bay, was not an issue. It was a decorative piece and nothing to add to the list way back then.  Now its replacement is the reason we will give up one full 12 hour day of peaceful rest and relaxation.

Back to the campground, our new piece of plastic firmly in place, we settle down again while waiting for a bay. A necessary grocery store stop for supplies turned into a major find for me. My favorite Skinny Pop, Hatch Chile flavor, piled high in the discount bin and now that mound was settled comfortably in my shopping basket.

discounted hatch chillie popcorn

A lazy mid-morning rise, breakfast and plans to scout out an alternative view other than Tiffin rigs, dust, gravel and a 40 bay repair warehouse.  Muscle Shoals Alabama was where vintage country stars made their mark in the music business. We had passed up this modest music hall the past three years while in Red Bay and decided it was time to see what the museum held inside.

AL music hall of fame

Small but interesting, the museum was filled with pictures and memorabilia from stars that made Rock, Rock-a-Billy and Country music famous.

Country Musicians

My first intro to country music were songs from the band “Alabama”. Their tour bus was prominently displayed and available to poke around inside.  Very sparse and plain inside.  Tour buses have come a long way, from the no-frills Alabama Tour bus to exorbitant luxury Prevost’s of today’s super stars.

Alabama Tour Bus

On January 3, 1950, Sam Phillips opened the “Memphis Recording Service in Memphis, Tennessee which also served as the studios for his own label, Sun Record. Sun Record Company was instrumental in bringing an impressive list of artists, now vintage entertainers, into the limelight and rocketing them to stardom.

Sun Record Company

Sam began as a DJ for the Muscle Shoals Alabama radio station WLAY and because of the stations open format, broadcasting music from both white and black musicians, it inspired his work.

Muscle Shoals Recording Studio

He became a record producer and was considered to be the first to record a rock and roll record, “Rocket 88” by Jackie Brenston and his Delta Cats, led by a 19 year old Ike Turner who also wrote the song. He is credited with discovering Elvis Presley and is associated with other noteworthy rhythm and blues stars of that period such as BB King and Howlin’ Wolf who made their first recordings at his studio.

Blues Singers

Sam’s pivotal role in the early days of rock and roll was exemplified by a celebrated jam session on December 4, 1956 which came to be known as the Million Dollar Quartet. Jerry Lee Lewis played the piano for a Carl Perkins recording session at Sam’s studio. When Elvis Presley walked in unexpectedly, Johnny Cash was called into the studio by Sam, leading to an impromptu session featuring the four musicians.

Sam challenged the four to achieve gold record sales, offering a free Cadillac to the first. The contest is commemorated in a song by the “Drive-by Truckers”. Elvis Presley, who recorded his version of Arthur “Big Boy” Cruddup’s “That’s All Right (Mama)” at Sam’s studio in Memphis, met that goal and the rest is history.  Elvis’s singles became a drawing card for Sun Records. Singers such as Charlie Rich and Billy Lee Riley recorded for Sun with some success while others, Jerry Lee Lewis, BB King, Johnny Cash, Roy Orbison and Carl Perkins became superstars.

An excellent specimen of a vintage Wurlitzer played songs from the rock and country  super stars.  Enjoyable mood setting music as we strolled around the museum.

Wurlitzer Jukebox

The museum included many famous Memphis celebrities.  Gordon Edward Burns, also known as Country Boy Eddie Burns and “Happy Hal” began his career in radio.  He was a singer and instrumentalist who could play fiddle, guitar, banjo, bass, mouth harp and accordion.

Raised on down-home country, bluegrass and gospel, he was born and raised in Blount County Alabama on a farm. Host of his own radio show, Hillbilly Bandstand, he appeared at the Grand Ole Opry and performed on Armed Forces Radio Network during the Korean War. Best known for being a host of “Country Boy Eddie Show,” his happy folksy demeanor, corny jokes and ability to improvise on the spot earned him a wide fan base. His show, a variety series, aired mornings in Birmingham on WBRC-TV, 1957-1994. The show included music, comedy, interviews, chatter, funeral announcements and commercial spots. One of his trademarks was braying like a mule, ringing a cowbell for emphasis and making quips such as, “We’re going to have as much fun as a gallon of red ants in a barrel of sopping syrup!”

Colleagues praised his tireless work ethic, business savvy and marketing abilities. He interviewed Dolly Parton, Marilyn Monroe, Jayne Mansfield, Steve Allen, Pat Boone, Roger Miller, Chet Atkins and Eddy Arnold.  He discovered a star, giving Tammy Wynette her first break when she was an unknown hairdresser from Midfield. She sang regularly on his show before moving to Nashville in 1961 but never forgot her mentor.

His impressive western outfitted Bonneville occupies the center of the museum, near the Alabama Tour Bus.

Happy Hal Burnes car  Inside decor

Back to our site for the night.  That evening, a call was received from the office giving us our Express Bay arrival time, sadly for us, before most decent folks are awake.

After almost three weeks of waiting, we were invited to have repairs done in the Express Bay, $150.00 per hour offering general repairs, at best. I immediately asked that we not be scheduled for Bay (number removed to protect their identity). That’s where we had work done last year, neither of us being pleased with the results. Assigned Bay 9, excellent offering, one that we had successfully used in the past, immediately turning my frown upside down.

Morning held enough time to grab a cup of coffee, pull slides in and sit idle at the gigantic metal roll up door in front of bay 9 until being invited inside. If all goes well after the repairs, we will be back on track and rolling home the next morning. After entering the bay, we quietly sat in the motorhome while they worked, the smell of ancient diesel repair garage grime and grease permeating the air. Three hours later, almost all was fixed.  Our allotted three hours now up, we pause here overnight and early tomorrow morning we will leave.  And yes, that means we must return again to finish the balance of the repairs in the near future or wait here for another three weeks.

Homeward bound, our diesel guzzling rolling box was demanding another refueling so John pulled up at the local Neighborhood WalMart gas station. I had never been inside a “neighborhood” WalMart so I wandered through the store while John filled up. It was extremely compact and carried bits of everything a regular WalMart had on their shelves. Next stop, New Orleans Louisiana and a much anticipated visit with family in the “Big Easy”.

Neighborhood Walmart for diesel

Next morning we met up with everyone after parking LilyPad at a local RV park near an inlet boat pier and “RV Resort”.  Our group of nine spent several hours traversing across the Manachac Swamp waters with Cajun Pride Swamp Tours.

Cajun Pride Swamp Tours

Captain Tom, our guide, spoke English with a Cajun accent and it took a few minutes to adjust our brains for translating the Cajun idiosyncrasies into Texan.

Captain Tom

Liz’s friends and their two children, all visiting from California, looked quizzically whenever Captain Tom said a word that was not immediately identifiable.  We listened to tails of Brutus, a local alligator legend, perpetually mean and tightly wound, that disposition of course, as opposed to the sweet cuddly disposition of all the other alligators.

The swamp was peaceful except for an occasional squawk of birds and a few swift swishing tails cutting squiggly waves through the muddy waters.  Again, we were warned to keep hands and heads inside the boat.

historical Manchac Swamp

A baby alligator was passed around for those brave enough to hold the villainous looking miniature reptile.  He was docile but we were all appreciative that his mouth was tightly bound.

Little gator

The boat ride was pleasant and we stopped frequently.  A stop to admire a vintage 1915 grave yard, another to view a long ago abandoned trapper cabin inhabited by raccoons.  Several pauses near inlets with alligator topped logs floating near the shore.  The raccoons carefully extracted  Captain Tom’s cast out marshmallows from the water, moving quickly once the watchful eyes of alligators spotted prey and moved in close.  The food chain in action, thankfully, was not demonstrated.

1915 Graveyard  Swamp shack

Another gaze of raccoons scurried to the cove for a sweet treat from Captain Tom.  racoons

Our group met up again at night to celebrate the 30th birthday of Liz’s friend and it didn’t take much convincing to organize a meet up in downtown New Orleans for the Krewe of Boo parade.

Krewe of Boo  Float at Krewe of Boo

Free “stuff” flew through the air, caught by those up close.  The mini kids of our group were cautious at first but after a few floats passed by, they became brave, arms raised and waiving, squealing with glee as they snagged handful’s of trinkets.

Parade  Parade Beads

Graveyard float

The parade nearing the end, good-by’s to all, stuck waiting in our car and blocked by the end of the parade, patiently idling.  We listened to the weather warning of impending storms already pounding down on Houston.

We arrived at the RV, packed up and readied ourselves for the long wet journey home.  We would be traveling beneath the wide path of a major storm.

The brewing cloudburst turned torrential downpour the next morning and we rolled slowly towards home.  Kinder Louisiana was our quick overnight. We drove through the deluge which was made additionally stressful by our fifth leak, this time in the front cab by my window.  John ran over a dead skunk which added a putrid smell to the stressful mix.  The rain, window leak and skunk smell stayed with us all the way to Houston.  We arrived at our volunteer position, Escapees Care Center, early evening and thankfully the rain ceased.  We were still unsure as to what would be our duties.

Upon arriving, our schedule and information was handed to us by the maintenance man, he left and we struggled to back into our small narrow site located a few short yards from a busy highway. The traffic noise continued the rest of the evening and all through the night, so loud you could hear it above our three a/c’s, our two large Austin HEPA filters and the TV. This situation was not flowing in a positive direction.

In our four decades of volunteering for non-profit organizations, this one exceeded absurdity. We talked with the Care Center Volunteer Scheduler over a year ago. We signed applications but stated that we come to Texas specifically to visit our friends and family so we require 2 days off in a row. We were told, for over a year, that a schedule would be forthcoming. In July we were sent something resembling a schedule that would have allowed us visits with family and friends. When we arrived in October, the schedule had been changed to a very restrictive time schedule allowing no time to visit family or friends, no two days off in a row, additional hours and responsibilities not previously scheduled.  Now we were unhappy with the position as well as our designated site.  Being located a few feet from a major 18 wheeler transit road resulted in neither of us sleeping that night.  In addition, we were required to pay our own electric bill, TB tests were paid for by our own funds (an X-ray for me because of my COPD) and although lunch and dinner were included, the food was a weight gaining overly salted and starchy diet, nothing we would be able to eat. Very unpleasant surprise after traveling several days through one of Louisiana and Texas’ worst flooding rain storms to arrive in time for training.

We packed up, John walked to the office to tell them we would not be staying, hooked up the car and left.  In the words of Groucho Marx, “I’ve had a perfectly wonderful evening but I’m afraid this wasn’t it.”

Now we are planted near the Woodlands until our December Florida family trip to Walt Disney World.  On returning, we will relax the next few months while searching for a small piece of property with a tiny house settled snugly into a forested partial acre on which to land for our Texas Winter rests.

Downsizing

Rested and ready to socialize, we had lunch with friends in the country and made a discovery in the parking lot of the restaurant.  A Texas country style tiny house mounted on a vintage pick-em-up truck.  It even comes with an appropriately positioned glass whiskey jug mounted on the running board so I can yank it up into our front seat and take a swig of my Grandma’s Apple Pie Moonshine whenever the mood hits me.

Next trip, Walt Disney World or bust!

Sept 26th through October 2nd, 2015 Niagara Falls New York and French Lick Indiana

Our next few overnights were spent at 4 Mile Creek State Park, Niagara Falls New York. Beautiful spacious sites, a mammoth family oriented campground run by the State of New York. We arrived on a Friday and the campground was filled with families, lots of kids, our site sat directly in front of the playground, one the size of a city block.

No camping trip is complete without a marshmallow roasting fire but these weekend campers weren’t building fires…they built dozens of gigantic smoke bombs that spewed thick clouds of choking smoke lasting from early afternoon until far into night. I am at a loss to understand why anyone would consider starting a fire with wet wood. The smoke kept me trapped inside the first night, unable to enjoy Lake Ontario waters that were lapping at the shore a few yards from our campsite.

Arriving early afternoon, we took a side trip so KatieBug could have some family time and see the sights. Walking along Niagara River on The Whirlpool Scenic Overlook Trail for about a mile, we enjoyed the winding path exposing river views in-between giant trees.

Niagra River by the dam  Niagra River

Returning to LilyPad with a movie rental, we spent the night with popcorn and our fur baby snuggled in our laps.

Next morning, rising just after dawn and happily before anyone was up to start fires, we began our Canadian side Niagara Falls adventure. At the pickup office, we met our wide awake and cheery bus tour guide, Deb. The first of 8 people to be collected, it was a modest group for our 20 person mini-bus.

Deb our driver

The next two people that were collected were from New Jersey and the last four were from Texas. Deb chatted merrily away, asking questions of each of us and giving out an overload of information about what our trip would entail. We stayed in our early morning brain fog until our first stop, the Canadian border.

Border Patrol Agents carry guns and do not smile. You don’t joke, make smart ass remarks or disobey their orders. You show your NEXUS cards/passports, answer the questions and walk through to the other side. Deb gathered us all up and we all set off on our Niagara Falls experience!

Niagara Falls is a world-famous set of three large waterfalls on the Niagara River. The falls can best be seen from the Canadian side of the river so the city of Niagara Falls Ontario Canada is one of the major tourist attractions of the world. Horseshoe Falls has the predominant view and is amazing from any angle. Deb dropped us at the visitor center.

Deb with 4 of our 6 person group  Canadian side overlook

John and I walked around enjoying the views and the cool mist that clouded up and over the area, cooling off the heat blanket surrounding us down at least 10 degrees.

Mist from Horseshoe falls  Horseshoe Falls from ground level

The roar of the falls is almost deafening and you are hushed in awe by the enormity and strength of the swift thundering waters.

Niagara Falls Canada skyline

We sat and took in the Canadian Skyline while we waited for Deb, enjoying the views in every direction.

Elvis in Canada

As we walked through the pavilion to our van, we spotted Elvis!

Deb gushed a wealth of interesting facts and figures throughout our trip. I’m sharing just a few of the dozens she imparted to us.

Between 1901 and 1995, fifteen daredevils have gone over Niagara Falls. The first person to conquer the falls was Annie Taylor in October 24, 1901. She was inside an airtight wooden barrel, used a bicycle pump to compress the air inside and, although suffered bruises from the fall, she survived. Expecting fame and fortune from her Daredevil stunt, none was received and she died impoverished.

The last was Kirk Jones who went over with only the clothes on his back. He started upstream, swam over the 175 foot drop and swam to shore. Treated for minor bruises at a local hospital, he was released and fined $2,300. 00. Along with the fine, he was banned from entering Canada for life. Because he and his friend had been drinking before the stunt, their camcorder malfunctioned and did not capture any of the jump for prosperity.

Additionally, 12 – 15 people per year purposely take their lives jumping over the falls, that number being fairly consistent for the past century.

The first Europeans began arriving in Niagara in 1615. In the history of the falls, there have only been three incidents when the water flow was reduced or restricted. The earliest was 1848 when ice nearly stopped the flow.

The original International Boundary line was established by the Paris Peace Treaty of 1783 and later, the Jay’s Treaty of 1794. The Treaty of Ghent in 1814 followed the War of 1812. Since being drawn, the international boundary has not been changed.

Canada was the first to harness the power of the falls, building their gigantic power facilities in 1903.

The split of water was 90% Canadian, 10% American until the United States reconstructed an area known as Terrapin Point and the Army Corps of Engineers expanded the land mass outward so that 340-400 feet of Horseshoe Falls lies in American territory. As erosion continues, the crest line will continue to be extended within the American border.

Giving us time to explore and take copious amounts of Kodak moments, Deb repeated her herding of us together and drove our group to the Skylon Tower for our ride up the needle to see the amazing panoramic views.

Skylon Tower, Canada

It was a crystal clear and impressive 360 degree view!

American and Bridal Falls  Horseshoe Falls from the Tower

Our stop at the power plant turbines to view the United States side was an interesting lesson in harnessing the power of water.

US side power plant turbines

Next up, the Floral Clock, built by Canadian Hydro in 1950. The clock changes its 38 foot wide planted area yearly. It is one of the largest of this type clock in the world.

The Clock

Whirlpool State Park, Canadian side, is a 109 acre piece of recreational land where the river bends 90 degrees and causes swirling waters in the Niagara River. Deb told us the waters cease to swirl when the water level is low. We watched the Niagara Spanish Aero Car, built in 1913, glide from the Canadian side to within a few yards of the US, then stop and reverse direction because neither side wants transients to cross borders unrestricted.

Whirlpool State Park  Whirlpool

Our lunch stop was also an e-commerce stop. I passed on the movie theater type food and overpriced trinkets to watch a glass blowing demonstration while John downed his favorite food addiction, the hot dog.

Deb drove us to our last location of our tour, The Maid of the Mist Boats, bringing us up close and personal with the three falls.

Leaving shore behind    IMG_20150927_145110107  The falls up close and personal    Bridge and overlook

Our group was so small we finished our tour early and were able to stop at the duty free store for a liquor sampling and shopping experience before making our way back to the United States.

Crossing back over the border was quicker, we stayed in the bus while our border patrol officer asked questions about our purchases. I thought I saw him smile but it could have been my imagination as we were all busy sharing comradery and happily exchanging photos of the breathtaking views from our excellent Canadian adventure.

Back to LilyPad late afternoon, we had to leave just after arriving to seek fresh air until the motorhome outgassed the smell of smoke. Not horrid but just enough to uncomfortably irritate my lungs. Out to dinner to let the odor clear, then back for the night.

Next morning, up early for a family visit to the town of Niagara, Canadian Side. KatieBug would not be left behind today. Our NEXUS cards allowed us through fast and easy, no line, no wait, only three questions, one being “is that a dog?” before entrance into Canada.

We stopped at a few of the roadside markets but none of the fresh veggies and fruits were allowed to cross back over into the United States so we looked but left empty handed.

Niagara on the Lake farm side, Canadian

Parking street-side at the edge of town, the three of us walked to the furthest edge of town and back, the entire stretch of town, stopping to peek into stores. The town of Niagara was populated by Loyalists in 1780 and has continued to be a much visited part of the country ever since.

Town of Niagara, Canada

Pet friendly, business in town welcomed KatieBug with dog treats and water along our stroll. She loved going into the shops and sniffing everything ankle level. The sniff fest was a fitting reward for the days she had been stuck for hours inside LilyPad.

One of the wine tasting venues allowed dogs inside so we partook and purchased another thick fruit flavored liquor and a local cabernet sauvignon. The upcoming street was dotted with boutiques.

Canadian Fashion shop

Across from the shops, the Prince of Wales Hotel, rich with historic furnishings and period wall coverings, built in 1864 and not dog friendly. KatieBug walked with John on the outside while I walked through the inside, an entire block long.

Prince of Wales Hotel  Prince of Wales side

Tiring of the crisp cool air, we walked back to the car and drove back to the New York side of Niagara.  One quick pause along Ontario Street to enjoy a view of a most interesting colorful house.

Ontario St, Niagara Falls, USA

Continuing on our way back to the New York town of Niagara, we slowed to a stop, parked and walked along a few blocks of the downtown enjoying a town celebration. Booths lined both side of the street, selling their various wares for an unknown festival.

Next morning was Monday and families had returned to their real world lives, dousing their smoke bombs, the air soon completely cleared of floating soot. KatieBug and I walked to the lake and enjoyed Lake Ontario’s peaceful shores and calm waters.

Lake Ontario, NY

Lake Ontario is one of the five Great Lakes and contains 20% of the world’s fresh water. The Lake is about 6,000 years old. The expansive waters are beautiful and serene this time of year.

Up early, packing up, moving out, on the road again. Our new wake up music…Queen.  Next overnight would be in the tiny town of Butler Ohio.

Outbound New York took us past beautiful Lake Ontario and Lake Erie and some very bumpy lumpy roads that tossed LilyPads insides off beds and counters sending me scrambling back to replace fallen “stuff”. Went by a Ton A Wandah, a Lack A Wandah and then passing Go Wandah.  Wandah is a very popular lady here in New York.

Onward to French Lick Indiana. This teensy town in Indiana made it to my updated Bucket List because of the historic West Baden Hotel. The dome covered hotel darn near made it to one of the Wonders Of The World back in its Hay Day. Naturally, Houston’s Astrodome passed it by after they were built but this hotel looked incredible in pictures and was just slightly off our pathway home.

Passing up Butler Ohio and having to U-turn to return to Trail River Crossing Campground, we became the only non-residents at the park. Next to a hard packed bike path, grassy sites with plenty of room above and to our sides, we were a little afraid we would sink into the grassy packed dirt. Voltage on the pole was 128, so high it shocked LilyPad several times and she shut down repeatedly. Stuck again with 30 amps for the night but not a big deal or problem as we have survived much worse for much longer a period. The price was right and the campground was peacefully dark and quiet.

River Trail Crossing Campground, Ohio

Refreshed, we awoke and drove a half day to arrive mid-morning at French Lick Resort RV Slips. The “slips” were a bit of a disappointment. Through a narrow entrance, we drove into a gigantic open parking lot with 12 spaces at the back of the lot marked for RV’s. Connections at the back, a small skinny patch of grass, two picnic tables and a porch swing sitting on the grass made up the entire enterprise. When we drove to the hotel to get our key, we discovered our “site” was the first two spaces, abutting the trolley tracks.

French Lick, Indiana RV slip

After we set up, we noticed that the trolley traveled past our bedroom slide every 15 minutes and blew its very loud whistle several times as it passed. Whoever designed these RV slips must never have slept in an RV Park. Certainly not going to be the quiet, restful few days I was expecting with that whistle blasting in our ears from 6 a.m. all the way through 10 p.m. at 15 minute intervals. Their extravagant luxury resort price did not fit the mediocre space being offered.

We walked over to the trolley station office and spoke with Sheryl, a most delightful lady, who helped us find interesting things to discover while in town and gave us information about the RV slip, although that wasn’t her department. She even spoke to the trolley conductor about cutting down on the trolley whistle noise during the wee hours for our stay.  The view below is of the station from our dining area window.

French Lick Trolly Station

Our original plan was to stay four nights but we cut it in half due to the noise. If not for Sheryl, we would have left when we arrived and stayed elsewhere. The Reservation Department, supervisor over the RV Slips, was clueless about procedure and the noise. Sheryl gets our vote for Customer Service Extraordinaire for her willingness to help with whatever was necessary to make our stay pleasant.

Our 6am trolley wakeup call got us out of bed and moving. We boarded the trolley just a few steps outside LilyPad’s door for our journey to West Baden Springs Hotel. The décor inside of the trolley prepped us for our step back in time.

Inside the trolley

Breakfast was being served at Café at Sinclair’s, inside the hotel. Our trolley conductor greeted us, smiled and chatted, depositing us a few feet from the hotel’s fabulous wrap around porch.

Trolley Driver

The grounds were beautifully green and well manicured.

West Baden Grounds

The surrounding porch supplies morning guests with comfy rockers and tiny tables perfect for holding that first cup-o-joe coffee cup in the morning.

Hotel wrap around porch

We walked around looking at the structure and took the side entrance into the hotel.

Side entrance   Outside windows

Inside, the dome of the circular expansive and open ceiling was covered by clear glass panes and sunlight streamed in from every direction.  The walk-in size fireplace was beautifully hand crafted.

Center dome  Fireplace inside

Dining inside the open concept restaurant was elegant and delicious. It met every one of my criteria for breakfast perfection. A soft bench seat for me, comfortable chair on the other side for John, white tablecloth with linen napkins, a full place setting of silverware, generous coffee cups and a thermal coffee pot on the table, a wonderfully tasty gratis fruited bread with real butter left with our coffee, no problem with altering any of the menu offerings, reasonable prices, tasty and plentiful food and wonderful friendly service. Restaurants like this were few and far between. We were gratefully impressed.

After breakfast we walked the circular halls and peeked into each area. Giant pictures of the original hotel were mounted along the walls.

Original dome

The hotel had a few items that pertained to the circus but most of the information available at the hotel was in direct relation to the past owners.

Model Circus rides

A few of the original rooms were brought back to life and left as-is with museum quality exhibitions of days gone by.

Shoe Shine  Shoe Shine Barber Shop

Ed Ballard, of humble beginnings turned self-made billionaire, entrepreneur and circus owner, purchased the hotel in 1923 and sold it to the Jesuits in 1934 for $1.00. He used the hotel to house his circus for the winter.

After our self-guided walking tour around the hotel, we visited the French Lick West Baden Museum and learned of the local history.

Most of the museum centered on the Hagenbeck-Wallace Circus, one of Ed Ballard’s, that used the French Lick West Baden Hotel as a winter staging and tent repair home. A huge detailed diorama of the circus took center stage at the museum and included performing tents, animal tents, dressing areas, dining tents with every detail you could imagine.

Circus  Circus 1  Circus 2  The Big Top 1  The Big Top 2  The Big Top 3

Information circa 1900-1930, famous artists, politicians, sports figures (Larry Bird) and French Lick’s gambling casino days that spanned several decades, all were prominently displayed with goods and descriptions that brought life to the vintage settings in the museum.

Model Circus Wagons  Casino gear

The young man from which we bought entrance tickets was cheerfully helpful, offering answers to any questions and imparting details about French Lick life and society. It is small but if you love digging into the history of an area, it was well worth the price.

After spending time at the museum, we wandered through town, had a mini bite at a small German diner and sat near a window draped in hand made German lace.

German lace in French Lick

A few blocks away we spotted a winery and stopped for a wine tasting. Lite and fruity but not our preference, we passed on a bottle but enjoyed the extensive gift shop and the view of the hotel from the porch outside.

Hotel at a distance

Back home to pack up for our departure early morning.

The sun came up, the trolley rang out its 6 a.m. “wakey-wakey eggs and bakey” whistles, we said quick good-bye’s and a hug to our buddy Sheryl at the trolley station and pulled out of the parking lot, waiving adieu and ready to face the next leg of our journey home.

Castle Knoll Farm Barn  Castle Knoll Farm

Exiting French Lick, we past dozens of historic Castle Knoll Farms buildings, 1,100 sprawling acres of beautiful woods and fields, over 30 miles of hiking and biking trails and zip lines.  One of the most impressive farms we have driven past in our travels.  I read about their festivals and quickly added them to my “minor” Bucket List, should we pass this way again.  Next stop, the birthplace of LilyPad, a.k.a., Tiffin’s giant motorhome parking lot.

September 22th through 25th 2015 Gloversville and Watkins Glen New York

Up early for our first stop, Gloversville New York, traveling at a relaxed pace. Down time is spent making a list of all our “to-be-fixed” items, or as I call them, our “it’s always something”. We will slowly make our way to Red Bay Alabama, home of the Tiffin Manufacturer and LilyPad’s birthplace. This is the second of our twice-yearly treks to the dusty parking lot with RV hook-ups in the middle of nowhere. The list grew because they didn’t fix some things correctly last visit, even after being stalled there patiently for 30 days. Among other things, the separated sewer vent pipes and the separated diesel heater vent pipes are a must do.  The horrid smelly odors seeping inside of LilyPad makes our travels far less pleasant.  Along with the yucky smell, being pulled in tight each night while on the road can irritate even the calmest of nerves.

Life on the Road

Two overnights in Gloversville, one for dinner with an old high school chum of John’s and the next night, dinner with our niece and nephew before we move-it-on-down-the-road.

It took a full day of driving before we arrived at our next few overnights, Clute Memorial Campground in Watkins Glen New York. Nothing special about the campground but a premier location for visiting wineries and Watkins Glen State Park. Within walking distance of WalMart and across the street from Seneca Lake, one of the Finger Lakes in New York, the campground is close to dozens of wineries, enough to keep one busily sampling wines for weeks. Grape vines are packed together along the lakes edge and sporadically placed craft breweries and liquor distilleries are squeezed in-between the crowds of wineries.

Clute Memorial RV Park

This is a “don’t miss” area even with dogs and kids in tow. Most of the wineries are kid and dog friendly, room to roam for the kids, water bowls and uncarpeted floors for dogs. All have amazing views, scenic areas to stop and relax, parks with lots of room for youngster and fur-babies to run and much for all to discover in the natural beauty of the lake.

Watkins Glen Winery

Woke up early to explore Watkins Glen State Park. This adventure would be without KatieBug as dogs are not allowed on the trails. We began our hike at a slow pace, cane clutched in my hand, walking up the trail along the wide stone pathway,

Water over shale   Rock trails

watched an artist construct a stone meditative art piece,

Building Meditative Art

more stairs to reach Central Cascade,

Central cascade

further up, making a hairpin turn, steps rising up and over the suspension bridge and the wondrous birds eye view of the water carved stone of the Narrows.

Suspension Bridge   Gorge Trail up river    Gorge Trail down river

Higher up the trail, another fantastic view before winding back down the mountain.

Higher up the trail

Back down through the Narrows,

Into the Narrows    Walking through the Narrows

past the completed meditative art piece and

Meditative Art

a pause to observe the centuries old shifted rock plates along the canyon walls

Plates shifting

and following the path along the water, out to the Main Entrance.  Most of the walking was level enough for me but I was armed with my trusty cane for the stairs and uneven areas. Even with there being 800 of them, the stairs were nothing to stop anyone from enjoying the park.  Our slow and steady pace kept us from becoming intensely overheated and gave us time to savor the views.

800 steps   Trail going up

An abundance of places to stop and rest along the paths, all walkways very well marked, this late in the year there were lots of small, medium and large waterfalls scattered along the trail.

Small falls in the distance

A TripAdvisor review forewarned us, suggesting we bring water and wear comfortable shoes so our day was pleasant, even with no bathrooms until you return to the gift shop.  KatieBug would have loved the hike had she been allowed.

The mist while standing under the Cavern Cascade Falls were wonderfully refreshing after our long trek.

Cavern Cascade and John   Cavern Cascade and me

We came about two weeks too early for the fall leaf colors but that gives us a reason to return.

Next morning we had breakfast at Berta’s, a small diner owned by a friendly senior lady who prepares all her dishes with the fresh herbs that she grows out in front of her café.

Berta's outside

After breakfast, we drove around Seneca Lake. Several areas had signs to slow down for horses and carriages.  Mennonites live in the area. They are Christian groups belonging to the church communities of Anabaptist denominations named after Menno Simons (1496–1561) of Friesland. At that time they were part of the Holy Roman Empire. Through Simon’s writings, he articulated and formalized the teachings of earlier Swiss founders. I was uncomfortable taking their picture so I used one from the internet.

Mennonite horse and carriage

We stopped to visit a dairy owned by Mennonites and sampled several different seasoning infused cheeses. Came away with two wonderful flavors of cheese curds, or as our daughter Liz calls them, squeaky cheese…it squeaks against your teeth as you chew and they have a delightful flavor and texture.

With noon mere moments away, it was close enough for us to begin our marathon of wine tasting. We picked three wineries close by, those having the most interesting names, along with one distillery. Deciding to start the day off with the biggest kick, we drove to Finger Lakes Distilling and sampled several wonderful sips of whiskey, gin, vodka, grappa, brandy and one liqueur.

Finger Lakes Distilling  Distillery

Reminiscent of my favorite small batch distillery in Las Vegas where they make Grandma’s Apple Pie Moonshine, their brass distilling apparatus came from the same German company and looked as if it, too, were built to last several generations.

Our first choice was a “good-un”, a word my family refers to as a grandma-ism.  I hold these words close to my heart and they tend to creep into my speech whenever I need to keep in touch with my roots.  On this beautiful sunny weekday afternoon, the tranquil surroundings were well-received by both John and I, now that we had temporarily returned to retiree status.  We brought home two bottles, a spicy cinnamon whiskey and another berry liqueur. Our liquor cabinet is coming along nicely. If our next contract or volunteer position is anything like our last, I’ll have plenty of choices for a variety of moods to dispel.

This region is known for dry Rieslings. Being red wine drinkers and not finding any that pleased us in our random winery choices, we began asking the next few stops for the names of the area’s top red wineries. We were directed to Miles Wine Cellars and Anthony Road Winery.

Miles Wine Cellars also had craft beer but we kept our taste buds zeroed in on fermented crushed grapes. The grounds were lovely with a vintage wine press posing underneath an old-growth tree.

Wine press

The historic old plantation style home sat relaxing near the lake, benches overlooking the water and dense grass all across the grounds, an inviting atmosphere. We met one of our campground motorhome neighbors and chatted during the tasting.

Miles Wine Cellars  Seneca Lake

Our next and last stop was Anthony Road Winery.  Zen like setting, no fee for the tasting but again, no rich bold reds.  Someday I will learn to enjoy white wines and expand my taste bud experiences.

Anthony Road Winery

We returned home for a KatieBug break. Although most wineries were pet friendly, KatieBug stayed back at LilyPad enjoying animal planet on TV, surrounded by air conditioning and staying cool on this warm sunny day. She and John stretched their legs while walking across the street to Seneca Lake, down along the water’s edge and back home.

We visited as many wineries as possible before resigning to the fact that we could never visit all of them on this trip. With KatieBug at home sung as a bug, us growing tired from the arduous task of bending our elbows repeatedly, hour after hour, standing up sampling wines…yea, I know, it’s a rough life…we drove to the opposite end of the lake to our pre-planned evening destination, Ventosa Winery.

The entrance is gorgeous Italian style décor that continues inside, the perfect setting for formal or informal weddings. To my relief, dozens of nooks and crannies to sit and relax as opposed to the usual required standing position for tastings. We sampled the reds, John ordered us a lite bite to eat and a full glass of wine.  We sat on the verandah unwinding while listening to live guitar music.  When evening approached, we had a front row seat to a peaceful sunset over the tops of grape vine branches that reached out and touched the calm shores, while their roots sunk into the depths of Seneca Lake.

Ventosa Winery  Ventosa sunset

Although all were acceptable wineries, we both considered the winery tours only marginally satisfying our wines of choice are the big and bold flavors of California, Spanish and Italian reds. Still, the area is worth another visit to further explore its endless natural beauty. Next time we’ll plan to arrive when the fall leaves turn colors and do less tasting but more exploring.

John wanted to visit Pleasant Valley Winery, formerly Taylor Wineries, one of the oldest wineries in the Finger Lakes region of New York. Located in Hammondsport New York, not far from Watkins Glen, KatieBug came along for the drive, taking us passed dozens more wineries.  We arrived, John went in to check out the wine offerings while I stayed in the car with KatieBug. John took a few pictures of the small wine museum inside but didn’t like the tasting choices so we took the long way home to enjoy the sights.

Inside the museum, cork as it appears the first time it is stripped from a tree.

Wine bottle Cork

A tree must be 25 years old before it can be stripped for the first time. Subsequent harvests from that tree are allowed only at 9 or 10 year intervals. Every time this occurs, the quality of the cork is better. Cork trees are native to Spain and Portugal.

There were several vintage bottling machines in the museum.

Vintage bottling device  Vintage bottling devices

Hector Falls, a full block-long water fall along the side of the road, was a nice pause and Kodak moment as we continued our drive back to LilyPad.

Hector Falls

Sunset, dinner at a local diner and early to bed for our sunrise departure.

Sunset over the lake

Rolling down the road by 8 a.m. Next destination, Niagara Falls New York.

September 17th through 21th, 2015 Downtown Boston, last call for family and friend visits, make ready for our journey home

This September, the end of our third year also became the beginning of our fourth. Hind sight brings reflections of each roller coaster experience along our journey and all of the adventures in-between. After three years I was expecting a stronger adjustment to the “rolling” but expectations continue to fall short. Life on the road is not a quiet relaxing retirement and sadly, the work load and repair expenses exceed that of our sticks-n-bricks home.  I rethink this decision daily, rolling on in case it improves with age, either mine or Father Time’s.

Of prime example, this morning I dusted the closet clothing rods. Even with my marginal senior memory, I’m sure I have never dusted off closet rods anywhere we lived, nor have I heard of anyone doing so after they have settled in their home.  I wipe down rods every few months. Our tiny size should equal a reduction in the housework load but it is quite the opposite.

After our “sell all and travel small” 3 year experience, I have a deeper understanding of why my mother, both grandmothers and my mother-in-law stubbornly clung to their homes and households.  It’s the “Scarlett O’Hara” syndrome held by every woman. I shall stay in my home because I feel safe, things are orderly and tomorrow will be another day. Like the country western song warns, don’t blink.

Fortune did come our way with multiple visits to my beloved Boston, three times in the four months we were contracted at Buffumville. The first time I was dizzy from the overabundance of breathing medications and couldn’t walk but we drove to several old haunts. Second time I was still wheezing and on medications so we drove to a few places and I walked a few blocks here and there. The third time was my birthday trip and I was determined to use our Hop-On, Hop-Off tickets and go, without stopping, until I dropped. Nothing would be neglected and seeing everything in my mind’s eye of the Boston I knew years ago was the goal. Armed with a backpack full of anything that may go wrong with my lungs, we parked and hit the ground running…well walking actually, but full speed ahead. Not one section of Boston went unexplored. The city graciously provides rest benches every few blocks so my determination was rewarded with shade tree cooled, gently breezy, rest stops across the entire city.

Parking in a downtown garage and walking past the New England Aquarium to the start of our Hop-On, Hop-Off bus tour, we spotted some rescued seals swimming around in clear tanks at the front of the aquarium. They posed lazily while I and several other tourists took pictures.

aquarium

This aquarium has an extraordinary story about a seal. John and I had visited Rockport Harbor looking for the statue of Andre, a harbor seal who spent his winters at the New England Aquarium in Boston and his summers in Rockport Harbor. Every spring, for over 20 years, the Seaquarium would release him and Andre would swim north over 150 miles to Rockport. His reappearance was always a highlight for local residents. Elected Honorary Harbor Master, a granite statue of Andre was dedicated at harbor-side in 1978 with Andre unveiling it himself. Andre died in 1986. He became the subject of a 1994 feature film but oddly, they used a sea lion instead of a seal. We never did find the statue but we watched the rescued seals bob, swim and float for a while before moving on to catch the bus. The web had a picture of Andre’s statue, elusive to us when we searched in Rockport.

Andre the Seal

On board and comfortably seated, our first point of interest was the Zakim Bunker Hill Memorial Bridge. It is the first and most glaring change we noticed. The Zakim crosses over the Charles River with the “Big Dig” under the water. The Dig was the most expensive highway project in the U.S. and was plagued with scheduling overruns, leaks, design flaws, charges of poor execution, use of substandard materials, criminal arrests and one death. The project was to be completed in 1998 at an estimated cost of $2.8 billion however, the project actually completed in December 2007 at a cost of over $14.6 billion, 190 percent overrun. It is estimated that the project will ultimately cost $22 billion and will not be paid off until 2038. Just a small example of why Massachusetts is also known as “Taxachusetts”.

Zakim Bridge

Each section of Boston was described by the tour bus driver but most of the information, because we lived in town and worked downtown for years, was a refresher course. We lived on Commonwealth Avenue and Newbury Street downtown before moving outside the city proper and into homes. Both of us continued to work downtown so we frequently stayed in town to visit friends. Boston is an easy walk-about city, fun to explore, lots of after work activity.  Some very interesting art work added recently.  One floating net sculpture, spread out between the buildings.

Downtown  Floating Net Sculpture

Hop Off for exploration at the Boston Common, Boston Public Gardens, Newbury Street, the Boston Public Library along with the churches that stretch across blocks of the city on most every street corner.

Church of the Covenant

Our favorite apartment stay, when Boston was our home, was on Newbury Street, now known as the Rodeo Drive of Boston. It is saturated with upscale shops and eateries. Our apartment was on the 6th floor, the tiny two person elevator broke down regularly but with 2 bedrooms, a great location and reasonable cost, it made having to walk up 5 flights of stairs on occasion worthwhile.

Newbury Street

Closing its doors in 2011, Priscilla of Boston, the high-end bridal boutique that began in 1945 and rose to fame after making Grace Kelly’s wedding gown, displayed gorgeous gowns in their windows across from our front window. Although Liz was not even a twinkle in our eyes, I dreamed of having money enough to dress a daughter in one of Priscilla’s gowns.

Back in the day, we parked our Volkswagen Beetle in the alley behind our apartment where the local downtrodden would pull cardboard boxes out of the restaurant trash bins, pull them up to the car engines and sleep underneath for warmth. We made a habit of searching under our car before backing out, just in case someone was still asleep.

On the corner behind our apartment was the Old South Church. Its bells rang out on Sunday inviting the neighborhood to join in their service.

When I would come home early from work and John worked late, I spent time walking around the Boston Public Library in Copley Square, a few yards from our apartment. In my 20’s, I had never seen anything so remarkably grandiose, expansive in size and lavish in décor.

Boston Library

The entrance, polished marble and stone, mosaic tiled, beautiful.

Entrance Ceiling  Assending staircase

The hall leading upstairs, awe inspiring.

Staircase to upper floor  Library hall

The reading room and lecture hall, rich dark woods with beautifully carved details, resembled Hogwarts study.

Upstairs hall  Lecture room

Across the street, Trinity Church, founded in 1733. From the outside you can see the incredible stained-glass windows. The inside holds vintage organs. The church is home to several high-level choirs, including the Trinity Choir and angelic notes float out onto the street during choir practices.

Trinity church

On the sidewalk next to Trinity Church is the Boston Marathon marker.

Boston Marathon

In my younger days, I walked the long stretch of park paths from work, through Boston Common, Boston Public Gardens and on to Newbury Street. On balmy afternoons, floral colors burst from their raised flower beds, giant shade trees and green grass surrounded my pathway, perfect setting to remove the stress and tension from my job and far less cost than a full body massage.

The “new” Massachusetts State House, built in 1798, is located across from Boston Common on top of Beacon Hill.

Massachusetts State House

Boston Common, the oldest city park in the United States, was designed in 1634. It began life as a cow pasture and grew into the city center where the politically verbal and religious zealots stood atop their “soap box” expressing personal opinions to the crowds.

Boston Common, 1634  Boston Common, fountain

The Old Granary Burial Ground is the city of Boston’s third-oldest cemetery. It was founded in 1660 and is the final resting place for many notable Revolutionary War era patriots, including three signers of the Declaration of Independence, Samuel Adams, John Hancock, Robert Treat Paine, Paul Revere and the five victims of the Boston Massacre.  The cemetery has 2,345 grave-markers, but historians estimate 5,000 people are buried on the grounds.

Entrance of Granary Burying Ground

The Boston Public Gardens, once a salt marsh, is a 24 acre park built in 1837. It is the home of many statues, the most famous being the entrance statue of George Washing and the bronze ducks from “Make Way For Ducklings”. Floating in the 4 acre pond are the Swan Boats that began operating in 1877 and remain, still powered via foot pedals.

Swan Boats  Boston Public Gardens 1837

No trip to Boston would be complete without an oily smelling, stale air, screechy wheel, hanging-on-for-dear-life ride on the erratically jerking “T”, a.k.a., the underground subways of Boston.  John and my major form of transportation while we lived here, I had to experience it again for old time sake.   Only one thing missing, the suffocating crowds.  Lucky us!

Haymarket Subway

Kings Chapel, an historic Unitarian Christian church founded in 1686 to insure the presence of the church of England in America. King James II ordered an Anglican parish to be built in Boston however none of the colonists were willing to sell suitable land. The King ordered Governor Andros to seize a corner of the burying ground for the Church. The Burying Ground is the oldest in Boston proper. It is the final resting place for many colonists, including John Winthrop, the Colony’s 12 term governor and Mary Chilton, the first woman to step off the Mayflower.

Kings Chapel front Kings Chapel Kings Chapel graveyard

Boston’s Old City Hall was home to its city council from 1865 to 1969. It was one of the first buildings in the French Second Empire style to be built in the United States.

Boston Old City Hall

Across from Kings Chapel, sits the stately and luxurious Omni Parker House Hotel. Opened in 1855 by Harvey D. Parker, its location is not far from the Massachusetts state government and has long been a rendezvous for politicians. The hotel was home to the Saturday Club and included literary celebrities such as Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Ralph Waldo Emerson and the senior Oliver Wendell Holmes. Charles Dickens resided in the Parker House for five months in 1867-68 and first recited and performed “A Christmas Carol” for the Saturday Club.

Actor John Wilkes Booth stayed at the Omni April 5th and 6th 1865, ten days before assassinating Abraham Lincoln. It is said that he was in Boston to see his brother, actor Edwin Booth, who was performing at the hotel.

Originator of the Parker House roll and Massachusetts’ state dessert, Boston Cream pie, 2015 marks the 160th anniversary of the 19th century hotel. The original Parker House Hotel opened on this site on October of 1855 but was rebuilt in 1927. It is the longest continuously operating hotel in the United States.

Omni Parker House Hotel

Hop-On again and Off in the historic downtown area. The Old South Meeting House is the building where 5,000 angry colonists gathered in November and December of 1773 to protest the tea tax. Inside, Josiah Quincy cautioned the colonists that protests might stir up a hornet’s nest. Samuel Adams gave his secret signal, sending “Mohawks” to the harbor. John Hancock cried, “Let every man do what is right in his own eyes!” The gate has a fascinating design, most interesting.

Old South Meeting House  Old South Meeting House side gate

The Old State House may be the most photographed building in Boston. Built in 1713, it was the seat of the Massachusetts General Court until 1798. It is one of the oldest public buildings in the United States and the oldest surviving building in Boston. Its museum now contains, for the first time in 250 years, a room as it appeared during the 1760’s, when colonists decided the fate of the British Empire’s involvement in America.

Old State House back

In front of the Old State House, a circle of cobblestones honors those shot down in the Boston Massacre. On March 5, 1770 a minor dispute between a wigmaker’s young apprentice and a British sentry turned ugly. Relief soldiers came to the aid of the British and were met by an angry crowd of colonists. The colonists threw insults and whatever else they could pick up to do damage to the soldiers. The soldiers fired into the crowd and killed five colonists. Samuel Adams and other patriots called the event a “massacre”. Dictionary description of a massacre: an indiscriminate and brutal slaughter of people. The “event” fits Wikipedia’s description of “massacre”.

Old State House front

Hop-On again and Off near Quincy Market. My plan was to get a menu picture of the word New Englanders call a “milk shake”. My reason? When we first moved to Boston, I walked into a Friendly’s, a lunch and ice cream café, and asked for a chocolate milk shake. When she handed me the blended watery drink I asked, where’s the ice cream? Her reply…”you asked for a milk shake…if you wanted ice cream, you should have said Frappe”. In New England, a milk shake is blended milk with flavoring. Another one of the alternative words used to describe the same food or drink in a different part of the country.

Frappes in Quincy Market

Near the waterfront is Quincy Market and Faneuil Hall. Faneuil Hall has been used as a marketplace and meeting hall since 1743. The second floor is a meeting hall where many Boston City debates are held. Speeches by Samuel Adams and other patriots were given at the Hall.  The fourth floor is maintained by the Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company, the oldest chartered military organization in North America and the third oldest chartered military organization in the world. Its charter was granted in March 1638 by the Great and General Court of Massachusetts Bay and signed by Governor John Winthrop.

Funded by the wealthy merchant Peter Faneuil, he commissioned a local artisan to create the grasshopper weather vane that still sits atop the building’s cupola.   On weekends, Faneuil Hall hosts the Farmers Market offering the purchase of fresh fruits, veggies, fish and meat from stalls lining the street.  The market area abuts the North End and one ingenious soul thought to bronze the abundance of trash on the sidewalks creating an enjoyable art project.

Bronzed trash at Faneuil Market

Quincy Market is an historic marketplace constructed in 1824-26.  Named for Mayor Josiah Quincy, he was responsible for organizing its construction without any tax or debt.

Quincy Market (2)    Inside Quincy Market

Quincy Market is a conglomerate of fast food stalls, taverns, restaurants, upscale shopping, an overabundance of gift carts, a motley crew of street musicians and street performers and crowds of tourists, day and night.   A violin student was selling his CD’s while providing free entertainment to passing tourists.

Classical Music by Quincy Market

No need to Hop-On for our visit to the North End, the Italian section of Boston. Just cross over the bronzed trash cement walkway and you have arrived.  I fell in love with this area on my first visit.  We had put a deposit down on a North End condo in early 1979 but the developer backed out.  Being of Italian decent, mother and father, I have always felt totally at ease here, even with James “Whitey” Bulger, a North End mobster, traipsing around the area killing off 19 of his enemies from 1974 through 1985.

I wanted John to be one of the little old men sitting in chairs framed by store front windows, smoking pipes and cigars, discussing world events.  I wanted to be one of the little old women who hung out a window, multiple stories high, yelling down at my little old man who became “wife deaf” with age.  I wanted the small town in a big city life, shopping on foot, bags laden down with fresh veggies and meats from small local markets, everyone knowing us, our children, our grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

The North End

Religious street festivals are held frequently and to be in attendance is to become momentarily Italian. If you miss all the festival dates, a trip to Mikes Pastry Shop will delight your taste buds with authentic Italian bakery fare or creamy gelato, a heavenly fresh baked fragrance and a place to sit a spell.

Mikes Pastery

Just up the street is Saint Leonard Catholic Church. It was founded in 1873 in the North End and built by Italian immigrants.

St Leonard entrance

In November of 1891 the churches basement opened for public worship. The number of parishioners at that time was near 20,000. In 1910, restoration of the upper church was undertaken.  A stunning small church.

Front view  Back View  Church Ceiling

Hop-On again and Off at Sail Loft Café. For my birthday dinner I requested a glass of Samuel Adams Oktoberfest beer, steamed mussels and a lobster. Not necessarily at one meal, but if it all appeared, I wasn’t turning it down. When we asked our driver where we might find fresh fish, he suggested Boston Sail Loft Café, one stop past the North End. My happy birthday surprise was that this one small dock side restaurant had the ability to provide all three. Their “today only” special included a whole steamed lobster on a bed of steamed mussels.  And more happy birthday news, the Café just received the Samuel Adams Fall brew beer, their creamy smooth Oktoberfest.  Ahhhh…Happy Birthday to me!

Boston Sail Loft Cafe  Happy Birthday Me

Our Hop-On, Hop-Off tour came with a harbor cruise. Boarding next to the Aquarium, the boat was as large as our whale watch cruise but the inside resembled a dining room.  We supposed they offer lunch or dinner sailings.

Boston Bay Cruise

Up to the top deck for a good view, sail boats dotting the waters as we passed the Boston harbor and skyline.

Boston Harbor

Off one of the piers, the bare bone rusting skeleton of Boston’s Premier Seafood Restaurant, Anthony’s Pier 4, sitting deserted on the edge of the dock. John and I had dined multiple times there in the evenings, sitting by the window and gazing out at the twinkling waterfront lights. Sad to see it closed.

Anthony's Pier 4 Restaurant

The tour paused at the docks of the USS Constitution. Although still in dry dock being refurbished, it was available for tours but we passed, having been there and done that several times in years previous.  Returning to the dock, we disembarked for one final stroll around Boston, on foot, before leaving the city.

Walking up the hill and into the downtown area, my old shopping stomping grounds, now disappeared into the past, leaving an empty vacant lot where the renowned Filenes Basement once was located, several floors underground.  Many a lunch hour was spent digging through the gigantic open bins of jumbled together clothes, piled high, my best buddy Patsy and I trying on, in the isles, as many “special finds” as possible before a post-haste mad dash back to work.

A clothing shop window drew my attention as it broadcasted, in an irreverent manner, my name on the front of its t-shirt. So I look a little different, gray haired, older, etc. Want to make something of it skinny beeotch!? The nerve of some inanimate objects!

Oh My God Becky shirt

Catching another Kodak Moment, one of John standing next to Johnston and Murphy shoe store, the store from where he acquired his childhood nickname “Murph”. It is a mystery to him why the nick name stuck but he’s been told that it fits him well.

Johnston and Murphy

Leisurely making our way back to the Aquarium parking garage, paying a preposterous forty dollars for a garage parking space, exhausted but overjoyed with our day’s adventure, an hour drive to Buffumville, off to bed within minutes of arriving home.

Rise and shine early to stock up on groceries for traveling, pick up KatieBug and one last visit for John to Coney Island Hot Dogs, a regular stop on our way home from grocery shopping. Vintage decor, marginally sanitized booths and tables but amazing homemade meat sauce, onions and mustard topped the hot dog that sat snug in a soft white-bread bun. One, once, was enough for my tummy but John bought two each time we were in the area.

Coney Island

One last visit to my amazing little sis Linda and her husband Dave. We will meet up again next year and will arrange our schedules to spend more time together.

Another last visit with Rich and Judi, vowing to return next year and toast to our decades old friendship with a few overnights at their lakeside home.  It will surely include many bottles of fermented grapes and another dining experience at O’Steaks and Seafood, lakeside view, need another creamy bowl of lobster mac and cheese.

Last visit to John’s sister and brother-in-law with a surprise drop-in by our nephew and niece. Hugs all around before we leave Holden and drive back to Buffumville.

My desire to stop at the Charlton Sewing Center finally came to be…it was open early evening. Entering the back door, the basement was nothing special. Climbing up the vintage wooden hand cut staircase and entering the fascinating 110 year old New England church was worth the long awaited visit.

Original stained glass

The owner was easily talked into playing the antique organ for visitors as they browsed through her tremendous assortment of quilting materials.

The pipe organ  Vintage glass windows

Original stained glass windows, beautiful quilts, old sewing machines, miniature sewing machines…many of her vintage sewing items were museum quality.

Stained glass  Amazing hand made quilts

Great old church, pleasant break in our late afternoon drive. Back to LilyPad to finish making the inside “travel ready”. Early to bed and early to rise.

Leaving Buffumville, I dropped off the keys and my extremely explicit written opinion of the working conditions. Never being one to bite my tongue, this time John agreed with what was listed on the paper so we won’t be back unless that shack is replaced with something healthier to sit inside for 12 straight hours. LilyPad fueled up, Ribbits hooked up and we’re off to see the wineries, the wonderful wineries of Watkins Glen.

September 1st through September 16th, 2015 Trip to Salem and Last days at Buffumville

With KatieBug merrily bouncing off to play in the giant doggy playground with her buddies, we are off on our last overnights away from Buffumville. Our next trip will be “out-a-here” slowly making our way back home to Texas. Plans are to spend three days in Salem and try one last time to use our Groupon tickets for Cape Ann Whale Watch.

Salem

We arrived mid-morning at our second choice overnight. Our first choice, a bed and breakfast, was cancelled when we found rooms available at the historic Hawthorne Hotel. The hotel was less cost, located in the center of Salem, immersed in history and had the added bonus of marvelously eerie charm and rumored ghostly manifestations.

Hawthorne Hotel Front

The small but acceptable room we were first given had one glaring exception, a headboard wall with a three foot long vertical split that was leaking plaster dust and a strong cherry scent that bothered my lungs. It was also on the fourth floor and I had requested the fifth. When I mentioned the needed room repair to the front desk, we were immediately moved to the fifth floor, suite 512, directly below the alleged 612 haunted suite. This was a room I would enjoy!

Suite Bedroom  Bathroom  Livingroom

We settled into the suite before riding down the elevator for a late breakfast at Nathaniel’s with their friendly staff, beautiful dining area and excellent veggie omelets.

Nathaniel’s

A quick peak into the Tavern before walking out onto the street for an afternoon explore.

The Tavern

The Salem Witch Museum was cattycorner to the hotel, standing near the statue of John Hathorne, the infamous Witch Trials Judge. Having been there and done that, we passed by in search historic homes and interesting shops.

Salem Witch Museum   a

Salem is an eclectic mixture of unusual Gothic costumed adults hawking the occult, elderly folk strolling the sidewalks, park sitters and their fur-babies, tourists wandering about following guide maps, old money hiding in centuries old homes behind closed doors avoiding all the touristy craziness, witch/warlock and ghoul tour guides leading visitors through the city at dusk, and the downtrodden walking their dogs along the edge of shadows before disappearing into dark alleyways.

Doug Floyds quote; “You don’t get harmony when everyone sings the same note” and is an accurate description of Salem’s harmonious interconnecting vibe. It is a town that screams supernatural celebrations, embracing its sordid “witch trials” past life but keeping a firm grip on the reality of what it takes to captivate tourist dollars. Occult shops line the streets and I readily admit, some diabolical window displays pulled us into a few.

Magic Shops    Omen

When our children were young I was known as the family Witch Doctor, mainly because I used holistic and natural cures for what ailed the four of us. Showing no mercy, John took villainous pleasure, on multiple occasions, teasing me about imaginary Salem family ties and me visiting my relatives.  I paused to admire a magic wand in Wynott’s Wands front window and that sent him off again. I warned him that if he continued, I would buy the wand and there would be another towed, a real live toad, living in our LilyPad with KatieBug and I.

Magic Wand

On the opposite corner across from the hotel, Patrick Dougherty’s natural artistic creation of tree saplings woven together and expertly crafted. It is Peabody Essex Museums first commissioned outdoor artwork. With a crew of 50 staff and volunteers, the project was completed and availed a counterpoint to the wood frame Crowninshield-Bentley House in the foreground that dates back to early 18th century. Patrick designed “What The Birds Know” with shapes suggesting swallow nests but its spectral presence and distorted sway conveniently fit into the upcoming ghostly Halloween celebration decor.

Stickwork frontside   The backside

As you can tell by John checking out the inside, these art structures are gigantic.

John in the nest

We joined dozens of tourists wandering the streets and came upon the Home for Aged Women, donated by Robert Brookhouse in 1861. The home was built for Benjamin W Crowninshield (1772-1851) member of congress and Secretary of the Navy under Madison and Monroe. William Crowninshield Endicott (1826-1900), was born under this roof and became Justice of our Supreme Judicial Court and Secretary of War under Cleveland.

Still in use, a few pale faces peeked out from the half drawn blinds and a frail tiny elderly lady sat in a yard chair on the side of the house, watching me as I studied the plaque and took pictures of her stately home.

Home for aged women, 1811

The home is situated across the street from the Salem Maritime National Historic Site, facing the ocean so that its residents can gaze out to sea. The Friendship of Salem, a reconstruction of the three mast,171 foot Salem East Indiaman built in 1797, is anchored at the Maritime dock.

The Friendship

Dinner by the ocean at a small café and an early evening stroll back to our suite for the night. Nothing floating down the halls, deathly silent upstairs, not a groan or a creak did we hear from shut eye to day break.

Bright sunlight was sneaking under our drawn shades and lighting up the room so we rose to explore the town via walking shoes for a second day. Today’s agenda included a quick breakfast and additional roaming around the town in search of Salem’s intriguing architectural and historic points of interest.

Our meandering down side streets brought us to The House of Seven Gables museum complex which included several period homes and the main attraction, the house that Nathaniel Hawthorne made famous. Caroline Emmerton, a philanthropist and preservationist, founded the present day museum complex to assist immigrant families who were settling in Salem.

The House of Seven Gables was built in 1668 by a Salem sea captain, John Turner. It was occupied by three generations of the Turner family before being sold to Captain Samuel Ingersoll in 1782. When Ingersoll died, he left the property to his daughter Susanna, a cousin of famed author Nathaniel Hawthorne.

The House of Seven Gables

Caroline purchased the old Turner Mansion in 1908 and worked with architect Joseph Everett Chandler to restore it to its original seven gables, as close to the description in Nathaniel’s book as possible. She even had a storefront built into the side of the house to keep the story aligned with the structure of the house. Chandler was a central figure in the early 20th century historic preservation movement and his philosophy influenced the way the house was preserved.

Seven Gables Store

The Retire Beckett House is the oldest building on the museum complex, built in 1655 by the famous family of shipbuilders. It was built in memory of the most famous of the Beckett ship builders. Originally located close to the water on Beckett Street a half mile away, Caroline Emmerton had the house moved to its current location.

Retire Becket House

Another of the museums acquisitions was The Hooper-Hathaway House, built in 1682 for Benjamin Hooper. Caroline rescued the Jacobean/Post Medieval style home from destruction in 1911 and moved it to the museum complex.

Hooper Hathaway House 1682

We had visited Salem when I was pregnant with Josh but at that time we only viewed the outside of the House of Seven Gables as I was uncomfortable with the thought of trying to squeeze up the narrow hidden staircase beside the chimney. This time, oddly enough, I had no fear of getting stuck. With 35 additional years and many pounds added from head to toe, I managed to ascend the narrow circular staircase without becoming wedged between the metal bars and the chimney brick, despite the snug fit. Whew! My tight squeeze was rewarded with an amazing view of the ocean.

Nathaniel’s gothic novel, written in 1850, follows a New England family and their ancestral home. He examines themes of guilt, retribution and atonement and colors the tale with notions of the supernatural and witchcraft. The Gabled house in Salem and his ancestors, who played pivotal roles in the Salem Witch Trials of 1692, influenced the tone of his book.

Nathaniel Hawthorne

It was obvious why he frequented the home, warm and inviting inside with amazing ocean views just out the front door.

House of Seven Gables front yard

No pictures are allowed indoors but, as you can imagine, it is filled with the décor and furnishings of that time period, beautifully decorated and beautifully restored. The house is the oldest surviving 17th century wooden mansion in New England.

After the tour we left the ocean area en route to town. John finally convinced me to break for an early dinner at Bella Verona, a little Italian restaurant we had passed by several times. He was in the mood for linguini with clam sauce so it was the opportune time. We had the enjoyable Italian atmosphere, music, food and service all to ourselves as the restaurant was completely empty of other diners our entire dining stay.

Bella Verona

The Visitors Center in town was showing a movie of Salem’s history so we joined a group of foreign tourists and relaxed in the comfy padded chairs, both of us enjoying the half hour show. Back out on the street to meet up with our evening tour group in town.

As we walked along the town square, street lights with ship figure heads mounted on their poles were being displayed.

Shalimar     Lady of Salem

TripAdvisor rated Hocus Pocus Tours particularly well so we chose the 90 minute sunset stroll that included more Salem history, less kitschy gore.  We met in front of the East India Marine Hall as the sun began to slip into the night.

East India Marine Hall

The Salem Witch Trials, the horrific reality of Salem’s past, was where most of the tours focused attention. Our husband and wife team tour guides mixed in amusing anecdotes, little known historical facts regarding Salem’s rich and powerful, political events leading up to the trials and what transpired after the trials. They skillfully told stories of Salem’s more colorful citizens and kept us engaged by capturing our attention with quirky tales and suggesting favorable local dining establishments.

One of our stops was in front of St. Peter’s Episcopal Church. On either side of the front door stood tightly placed headstones, all unreadable. When someone died, they were regularly buried one body on top of another. The headstones were placed helter-skelter by whichever headstone was brought up from the basement at the time of the burial. No rhyme nor reason, non-specific to the deceased.

Saint Peters Church

Another stop was near the statue of Samantha in Bewitched, placed by the television company near one of the TV program show scenes.

Elizabeth Montgomery

Bewitched, the TV show many of us baby boomers watched religiously, was about a witch housewife played by Elizabeth Montgomery and her adventures being married to a mortal.

The Hawthorn Hotel was used as lodging for the cast and crew after a 1970’s fire damaged the soundstage where the show was filmed. As a solution to continued filming while the sets were being repaired, episodes were filmed in and around Salem and Gloucester. It is strongly believed that Elizabeth Montgomery and William Asher stayed in room 512, our room.

Room 512

Appearing in a few of the episodes as the hotel where Darrin and Samantha stayed, the name appears as it was during that period of time, The Hawthorn Motor Hotel. In the episode “Samantha’s Bad Day in Salem”, the hotel’s elevators appear along with the lobby. The mail chute between them looks the same today as it did on the show.

Hawthorn Hotel Entrance

Although we slept through the night without metaphysical happenings, rumors are that the smell of apples can be detected in the hotel although no apples are on the menu. The owner of the apple orchard that stood where the hotel stands today, Bridget Bishop, was the first person executed during the Salem Witch Trials of 1692. I smelled cherry’s in our first room. Probably no haunted significance, just someone leaving behind hidden fragrant cherry candy…or not.

There are stories about room 325 at the hotel having bathroom lights and plumbing turn on seemingly of their own accord. Strange sounds and sensations, such as a child crying and invisible hands touching guests have also been reported with this room.

Room 612, the suite directly above ours, is said to be the scene of hauntings. A spectral woman wanders the hall, pausing in front of the room. Within the room itself, some guests have claimed to feel an unseen presence sharing the room with them.

Prior to being Nathaniel’s, the restaurant was known as The Main Brace. It featured a nautical theme. The restaurant had a large ship’s wheel as part of its decor. On occasion the wheel was seen to turn by itself, seemingly by a seafarer spirit, maybe the Gloucester Fisherman came for a visit?

Gloucester Massachusetts

There are stories of a hotel employee who refused to work nights in the room known as the “Lower Deck” after witnessing unexplained phenomena. After setting up the room, he would return later to find furniture moved into new positions.

In October of 2007, the Hawthorne Hotel was featured in an episode of the TV show Ghost Hunters. Investigations were made of the 6th floor, room 625 and room 312. We slept sand-“witched” between, in room 525 but slept fitfully through our three night stay without a supernatural episode.

Towards the end of the tour, we walked by the 1692 Old Burying Point graveyard, the oldest burying ground in the city of Salem. Entombed here is Justice John Hathorne who showed no regret or sorrow for the horrific judgments he passed down on innocent people. John was the great-great-grandfather of Nathaniel Hawthorne the writer. Nathaniel suffered great distress at his ancestor’s lack of remorse over the trials and may have adopted the addition of “w” in the spelling of his last name to dissociate himself from the judge.

1637 Burying Point  The Burying Point at night

Next to the Burying Point, the Salem Witch Trials Memorial was constructed as a monument of bereavement for the deaths of the 14 women and 6 men accused of being witches in 1692. Separated from, but alongside the graveyard, are 20 granite benches that make up the memorial. The large granite pieces are cantilevered and set at varying heights protruding out from a low stone wall. Each bench is inscribed with the accused’s name, date of execution and the means by which they were put to death. As we stood in the darkness listening to the story of unimaginable cruelty and suffering, it evoked shivers that ran up my spine. The Witch Trials Memorial was dedicated by Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel in August 1992 as part of the Salem Witch Trials 300th Anniversary.

Witch Trials Memorial

 

Up exceptionally early this morning for my long awaited Cape Ann Whale Watching Cruise. Although 40 minutes away, it was an easy drive to Gloucester, we had reservations and the owner said today was a go…this was finally going to happen!

The ship was docked next to the office, as ready to get started as I.

Cape Ann Whale Watch  Hurricane II

Our small group stood waiting by the gangplank and were soon welcomed aboard the Hurricane II for our whale watching experience. Padded seats inside, waterproof seats outside, snacks available to purchase, pictures of the sea life we might see posted inside the cabin, greetings from friendly crew and captain, a marine biologist visiting around the boat answering questions and a drop dead gorgeous calm day. Expectations were over the moon.

Our outbound trip was spent reading all about the life and times of whales, what other sea creatures we might see and in what area the whales would appear. Nothing yet. Passing Eastern Point Lighthouse.

Eastern Point Lighthouse

Still nothing. Up ahead, the Twin Lighthouses and beyond, open ocean.

Twin Light Towers

A shout out from the captain, sea junk portside.  The crew tried to pull it to the ship but the weight overwhelmed their poles.  Crew radioed the junk into shore patrol for pick up.

Sea trash

Passing large and small fishing boats scattered along our path. In the distance, an expansive group of fishing boats, paused and bobbing gently up and down.

boats and whales fishing

As we moved closer, huge black humps were spewing salty sea mist high into the air.

Up for a breath

One by one they arched their backs, flipping their giant black and white tails up into the air and disappearing down into the ocean, mere yards away from some of the small fishing fleet of boats.

Whale fluke 1  Whale fluke 2 Whale fluke 3  Whale fluke 4

The fishermen watched, as did we, the dozens of whales performing their feeding gymnastics, over and over.

Fishing 1  Fishing 2Fishing 3  Fishing 4

We saw two, then three and in one area, two different breeds of whales fishing together.

Two fishing together

Our group would dash from one side of the boat to the other, snapping Kodak moments, chatting excitedly in an unintelligible chorus of languages. The captain would hail “whale at 2:00” calling out the sighting direction and everyone would fall dead silent to hear his words before rushing to that side of the boat to see more whales.

Fishing whales

One of the guests spotted a huge Mola Mola (sunfish) floating near the surface and the crowd surrounded him.  No more Mola Mola by the time I got through.

Mola Mola

Whale tails all have different markings and from the captains count, we saw about 20 whales in the fishing area.

Tail 3

As exciting as it was to see all the whales, feeding whales are not the most interesting to watch and do not burst from the water up into the air, breaching spectacularly as we saw them do in Alaska. On the other hand, in Alaska you may not approach as near as is allowed in Oregon and Massachusetts. There are always trade offs.

Tail 1

The captain guided the boat towards a pod of  Atlantic White Sided Dolphins and we saw the waters erupt with bodies pulsing through the waters, splashing their way across the bow of our boat.  We turned, they turned.  Another boat came by and they switched directions.

Babies and moms  Dolphin baby and mom

One came straight towards our boat and ducked under, popping up on the other side.

Dolphin

Mother and babies swam together without separating as the pod moved away from the boats and out to sea.

Mom and Baby

The captain announced that our sea journey time had run out and we must return to land.  All that fresh sea air and excitement kept the crew and passengers in high chat mode as we all sat enjoying the journey back to shore.  Anticipation of the whales now fulfilled, passengers noticed the sights along the shore…a castle,

Castle by the Ocean

the Salem shoreline,

Salem Coast

a small lobster boat returning with its fresh catch from the sea caught our attention just before docking.

Lobster Boat

Mentally pumped but physically drained, we drove back to Salem along the shore, parked at the hotel and strolled around the square before returning to our room to retire.  No ghostly hanky-panky materialize, calm and quiet all night.

Sunlight waking us on our last morning in Salem, we decided a unique breakfast was deserved.  Walking through town square, down a few blocks to our destination, The Ugly Mug.

Ugly Mug storefront

Specialty lighting fixtures, an eclectic attentive staff, excellent choice of designer style breakfast offerings, quirky tables and chairs, this was a perfect ending to our stay.

Ugly Mug lighting

Our return to the hotel took us past a magnificent brick building that stood within 12 feet of a site hugely significant to American history.  A few yards away, from 1718 until 1785, stood the Town House where the last General Assembly of the Province of the Massachusetts Bay met to protest the stamp act in 1765.  These same gentlemen denounced the tea tax in 1769, joining together as American Indians to pitch tea into Boston Harbor.

The current brick building was constructed for, and occupied by, First Church in 1826.  The church rented out the storefront on the first floor to businesses.   Apprentice silversmith Daniel Low opened shop in this tiny Washington Street storefront in 1867.  Gradually he took over the entire floor and by 1889, was running the largest jewelry store in the country.  In 1923, Daniel Low and Company bought out the three story building.  Now beautifully restored, Colonial Hall was resurrected under a new name, Rockafellas, serving the Salem community as an elegant event hall.

Daniel Low and Company    1867 Rockafellas

All packed up and on our way back to Buffumville, picked up an exhausted but happy KatieBug, time for one last special New England meal to complete our amazing mini vacation.

I loved walking around the Wayside Inn and the Wayside Inn Grist Mill grounds when we lived in Marlborough.  The Grist Mill is the first working mill to be built as a museum and was commissioned by Henry Ford.  Work began on the mill in 1924.

Longfellows Wayside Inn Grist Mill

The mill was finished in 1929 and operates with millstones imported from France and high-quality 18th century milling machinery purchased by Ford’s antiques buyers.  When Ford died in 1947, the Mill ceased operations, his family selling off the land until the Wayside Inn property returned to its original 125 acres.

Inside the mill  Millstones

In 1952, the Mill began full operations under a least agreement with Wayside Inn and Pepperidge Farm, providing a full-time Miller to produce the wheat flour for the company’s product.  The Wayside Inn Grist Mill shipped out its entire flour output to Pepperidge Farm plants, 48 tons of whole wheat flour a month, during the 15 year agreement.

The Grist Mill currently produces 5–15 tons of flour per year which is used in the restaurant’s baked goods and is sold in the Inn Gift Shop.

Traditional New England favorites

Along with the fully working replica of the Grist Mill, Henry Ford built a replica of a non-denominational church, named after his mother, Mary, and mother in law, Martha.

Martha Mary Chapel 1940

Entering through the Inn’s hand carved detailed wooden doors with hand blown glass window panes, steps you backwards into the past, 300 years ago.

Wayside Inn

The Inn was frequented by Longfellow and made popular by his writings.  It is reputed to be the oldest operating inn in the country and it retains its original Colonial ambiance.   Just inside the Inn is a room depicting how the dining room would have appeared.

Wayside Inn dining

The David Howe Tavern preserves much of the colonial flavor of its 1716 tavern days and is located just inside to the right.

Wayside Inn Tavern

We sat in the main formal dining area.  The small group of patrons dining in the room were elderly white haired ladies…I fit right in!

Wayside Inn Formal diningroom

We dined quietly, finishing our meal and taking time to relax before our drive home.  Our mini vacation over, we prepped for last visits with family and friends and the arduous task of packing it all up, storing it all away and starting our long journey home to Texas.

August 6th through August 31st, 2015 Work, Work, Work, Johns 50th High School Reunion in Gloversville NY, Saratoga Race Track

All work and no play makes Johnny a dull boy. OK, so it’s “Jack” in the proverb, but the same still applies to Johnny…and makes Becky an exceptionally weary “female dog”. If one more goose poops on our beach, I’m going to chase it down and put a plug in its butt!

Our pick up and move to the Gloversville NY area was without incident and a smooth as silk 5 hour drive. A few days before we left, both of us were a bit panicky because we had not gotten a response from the owner of this mom and pop campground after trying to contact him for nearly 2 weeks.

Pine Park

I finally left a message on Facebook and he called us to confirm our reservations. We were going to have 10 glorious days at Pine Park in Broadalban, NY. The town was named after the Breadalbane Region in Scotland by an early settler but there is little left to confirm the acclaim.

Broadalban is just minutes from Gloversville, John’s home town and the reason we accepted a position in New England. John is looking forward to seeing his high school buddies for his 50th High School Reunion. I am looking forward to getting away from the crazies at Buffumville. Seeing our dear niece and nephew is the icing on the cake. As an added bonus, I have 10 days free of cleaning nasty bathrooms and if I spot a crazy, it will be perfectly acceptable to run in the other direction.

Upon arrival we settled into our site and began enjoying our first taste of upstate New York. Pine Park has a gravel entrance that you enter by driving past a car repair, car wash, a dog wash and a sign company. After that it’s a small, quiet, well maintained slice of heaven.  Our site was straight ahead, in front of the circle, next to the kitchen and large pavilion.  And of course our neighbors were from, where else…Texas.

Our site at Pine Park   Pine Park Pavilion

A few days after our arrival, the park was to host The Sixth Annual Spirit of the Wolf Native American Festival and Powwow. It began to unfold outside our front window on Friday night and was full on Tom-Tom drumming throughout the next few days. Neither of us were in the least offended by the constant drums as they were very soothing.  We walked over to check out the handmade offerings and to watch the ceremonial dancing.

The circle dancers  Female Dancer

I was relieved to find out this was to be a “no campfire” powwow. The Chief’s wife has asthma so the only smoke would be from sage smudging. I was able to walk throughout the festival grounds and view all that was being offered for sale with only a few quick sidesteps to avoid the sage smudging ceremonial burning before several of the dances.

A quick scout around the camp to find the Chief, politely asking permission to take photos and then off to visit with the participants.  Flags were waving with pride next to the circle.

Tribe Flags

According to the Chief, any dancers in the center circle could be photographed but I must ask each individually when they were outside the circle. Only one dancer refused my request so he missed out on his fifteen minutes of fame. He had an interesting outfit but a stern look, abrupt reply to my question and appeared to be in a rather antisocial mood. No problem, others were happy to oblige with beaming smiles.

Wolf Dancers

So many extraordinarily elaborate garments, it was hard to choose my next Kodak moment.

Best Dressed  Front  Back

Many of the booths displayed jewelry and several artists were at work designing while their articles for sale were laid out on tables. I had the pleasure of speaking with one elder who explained her design and its construction as she worked nimbly sewing minuscule glass beads onto a sturdy leather strap. Her work had amazing detail.

Beadwork

The elder who was weaving on his loom in stocking feet posed for a picture and I bought a brightly colored woven bracelet as a memento of the powwow.

Weaving loom

Dream Catchers lined the support bars across many of the tents that provided shade for the traders.  I already have several made by Native Indians hanging above my bed to deter bad dreams so we passed them by.  Flute notes floated over the crowd and I got a shot of its source.  In-between each demonstration he explained how each instrument is used at tribal gatherings.

Wind instrument demonstration

Beyond Human, Inc. displayed rescued wildlife, creepy crawly types including serpents, arachnids and other vermin. The company provides animal education with live presentations, wildlife rehab, rescue and relocation. Their display was located far from the powwow circle as the creatures were uncomfortable with the vibrations of the Tom Tom’s. Powwow participants came to marvel at the baby Python, one agreed to pose with his favorite.

Baby Python

Tommy hawks throughout the ages were displayed on a table and each was being explained by an elder as to why it looked as it did, what it was traded for, what it was made of and how it was used as a weapon.

Tomahawks Made for Trade

The term “white man” was tossed around during many of the demonstrations. It sounded strange to my ears, especially when I was looking at presenters who were dressed in shorts and t-shirts.

Indian headdresses were displayed in one of the information booths.

Head dresses

Evening approached and the sound of Tom Tom’s was calming, masking the traffic noise from the highway next to the park.

Next day we returned to the scene of our favorite Gloversville activity of years gone by. Spanning several decades, John’s parents had season tickets for seats at Saratoga Race Course so we attended often while visiting family in the area.

open seating  Inside race track

John bought us club house reserved seats, perfect for a sunny day.

Our seats

It was equivalent to taking a step back in time. Driving past stately homes that surrounded the track, walking among the elaborately ornamental ironworks that stand in place of walls, bemused by the ostentatious hats worn atop feminine tresses, being a part of the beautiful people and that graceful laid-back Southern style attitude of all who attended New York’s famed race track.  The people have changed, very few hats, the buildings have not.

Beautiful iron work  Carousel restaurant

The Grandstand  Carousel entrance

My favorite recollection was the ability to stand a yard or so away from the horses while the jockeys and trainers saddled and prepared their horses for the race. No longer are you allowed to pause close enough to feel the horses breath as you watch. Nowadays, a fence separates you from the up close and personal experience with the horse and rider.

Saddle up

In 1863, on the old Saratoga Trotting course, John Morrissey organized the first thoroughbred meet. A year later, the Saratoga Race Course opened and it remains one of the most famous tracks in the world.

Over the loudspeaker, that well remembered phrase echoed throughout the betting platform, “The horses are on the track!”

The horses are on the track

Known as the fourth leg of the Triple Crown, the Travers Stakes has been the downfall of many Triple Crown winners thus its nickname, The Graveyard of Champions. As we strolled around the grounds, a little bit of Texas twang came from the center courtyard and we stood in the shade to listen.

Two step music

I was lucky enough to be in the stands in 1973 when Onion broke the Saratoga Race Course track record for a six-furlong race, winning over the great Triple Crown winner, Secretariat.  I bet on Onion and won but took no pleasure in seeing Secretariat loose. The 2010 movie chronicling the great race horses rise to fame rightfully didn’t include his losses.

John placed a few bets but forgot the proper procedure.  I asked him to place a bet for me but he failed to look at his ticket before leaving the window.  I was so excited when the horse won but the ticket was incorrect so no wins, but no serious losses.

At the betting window

I was pleased to see them spraying off the horses with cool water before walking them back to the paddock. We watched several program pages of races before beginning our way back to LilyPad.

Cooling off after the race

Just before exiting, the Jazz Man caught our eye and we took time out to watch him twirl his base and tap out a few steps. It was an enjoyable end to our horse race experience.

Jazzy Jaz  boogie-woogie

We returned to LilyPad and made ready for the first of three events happening around the 50th Reunion of Gloversville High School, this evening, the social event.

After sprucing up a bit, we drove downtown and met up with the reunion crowd. I chatted with the ladies who made up the majority of the group, while John mingled. The gathering was held in a room above the Glove, the old movie theater where John worked as an usher in his youth. A recently installed air conditioner was struggling in its attempt to cool all the bodies. When the early crowd began their exit, the elevator stopped working and we joined the slowly descending bunch forced to walk down several flights of stairs. Kind of funny having an old decrepit building play host to the old decrepit 50th high school reunion party.  Back at LilyPad we relaxed, turning in at sundown.

We were up at sunrise the next morning. Breakfast first, then a drive through town passing homes of family long deceased and friends long ago moved away. Returning to let KatieBug out for a long walk, we made plans to meet up with our niece and nephew at the Great Sacandaga Lake harbor for an excursion around the lake in their boat. It was a beautiful day and we paused to view an eagle circling her nest before landing at the dock for an early dinner. The sky clouded as we ended the night.

Great Sacandaga Lake

Another day dawning and we explored places John remembered visiting as a child. After lunch, back at our encampment, the natives and campers were relaxing, chatting by the drum circles and getting ready for the final ceremony of the powwow.

Aztec Indians had arrived from the far side of New York to do the ceremony. Blessing themselves first outside the circle, then entering, snaking around until they formed a circle in the center. The Chief began speaking to the crowd about his heritage and the blessing he and his dance group were about to perform, an Aztec Indian Blessing Ceremony to the North, East, South and West.

Aztec blessing

After the blessing, John and I got ready for the reunion dinner to be held at the local golf clubhouse. The only notable was a sad one…playing of a video that included all who have gone on before us.  The dinner was enjoyable but only lasted until early evening.  We returned home to an empty campground.  The powwow, all participants and every scrap of trash was gone.

This morning was the last of the three events for John’s 50th high school reunion. Breakfast was served family style at Peaceful Valley Maple Syrup Sugar House and café. They put a giant water pitcher of maple syrup on the table and it was nearly gone when everyone was done dining on pancakes, waffles, corn fritters, sausage and eggs.

One last day to pack up LilyPad and ready ourselves for the trip back to Buffumville in the morning.   Rising at a leisurely pace with most everything secured, pulled up and in, we drove back to Buffumville.  Our rest stops included a little store in Vermont for Metcalf’s Maple Syrup Liqueur and Vermont Hickory and Maple smoked cheddar cheese.

Vermont  Vermont hills

Another rest stop to check out the fields of sunflowers.

New England Sun Flowers Black Sunflower  Sunflowers

An original school house, School District Number 1 in Vermont, 1879

School Dist 1, 1879

Arriving back at Buffumville before sunset, we settled back into our site.  Work was only a day away.

I won’t go into bitch mode and dispense details but this season is by far, the most difficult, saddest working conditions, hottest temperatures and longest hours I have ever worked thus far.  Nothing turned out as expected.  When I was a teen I worked cleaning motel rooms.  It was a little disgusting at times but unlike the bathrooms here, no one pooped on the bathroom floors!

I took photo’s of the hot, buggy, dusty, moldy, uncomfortable shack to remind me of what happens when you don’t uncover details and they don’t relinquish them all.  Next time I’ll ask to see the inside of everything.  12 straight hours in here can severely strain even the happiest of moods.

Front  opposite side  side to receive tolls

John swears that we only have 2% crazy, rude, inconsiderate, insufferable guests on Sunday but with numbers pushing up over 1,000 on any given Sunday, topping out at 1,600, that’s an unacceptable 20 people in one day! Way over and above my tolerance level. Reminds me of a quote from Oscar Wilde that I squirreled away to pull out when appropriate, “Some cause happiness wherever they go; others, whenever they go.”  I can usually spot the families that are going to make “piggy messes” when they drive up.  Seeing the light at the end of the Buffumville Day Use Park tunnel is a tremendous relief.

Don’t misunderstand my rant…this season’s working conditions were sad but they provided one whopper of a learning experience and we shared the experience with some awesome neighbors, rangers and guests.  If they install a new toll booth, I’ll consider returning.

This Sunday I decided to give the lead ranger a visual to help with his decision to ban smoking from our beach. Early Monday morning, after we had already cleaned up Sunday’s bags of trash and some smaller individual pieces, I walked throughout the picnic grounds focusing on cigarette butts. This is a display of butts from an easy 900 guest day, one single Sunday out of the season.

Partial amount, Sunday, 908 guests

We have made plans to work our two days, drop KatieBug off at Barkwood Inn and visit Salem for a few days.  After that, our next focus will be on a Boston day trip for my birthday.   That light at the end of the tunnel expands with each passing day.

July 14th through August 5th, 2015 Rockport, Gloucester, Cape Ann Massachusetts

Dropped KatieBug off at Barkwood Inn and drove a nice easy pace to Newport Massachusetts. Reservations were made on Tuesday for our whale watch on Thursday. We arrived mid-morning Wednesday. Cape Ann Whale Watch called to tell us the Thursday morning trip was cancelled, no problem, we left our plans open specifically for this adventure. Checked into our Eagle House Guesthouse room with itty-bitty everything. A tiny room, tiny TV, tiny bathroom and thin tiny curtains that didn’t close completely. Being on the first floor and not one to enjoy the exhibitionist lifestyle, I tried to close us off from the public, all in vain.

Tiny Bathroom  Our cottage room

Our one person bathroom was clean but the room was covered with a coating of dust thick enough for me to write “clean me” notes on the furniture. Deciding to wipe it down myself, I returned the face towel to exchange at the office, asking for a duster to remove the multiple cob webs from the ceiling. When I returned I spotted several brightly colored prescription pills dotting the floor by the bed. OK, this was my escape away from cleaning, I’m not the maid and not getting paid, no more cleaning. Called the front desk and within 20 minutes the owner came with his cleaning crew to scrub down the room. When they left, a few other annoyances popped up (toilet didn’t fill after flushing, sink stopper wouldn’t open, etc.) so we resigned to spend the night after the owner offered us one of his beachfront property rooms for the next night.

Time to explore. Rockport is a small cozy town with clusters of 1700’s and 1800’s homes and considerable numbers of huge marble and brick buildings, a few sky scraping church steeples thrown in for good measure.

1802 Unitarian  Orthodox Church, Gloucester

The town is gathered along the seaside with one stretch of land jutting out into the ocean. The jut, a.k.a., Bearskin Neck, is an historic piece of land named for a bear caught in the tide and killed in 1700.

Bear Skin Neck Sign

Orderly rows of homes transformed into businesses are squeezed snugly together and line both sides of the narrow Bearskin Neck avenue. The styles and maturity of each house varied, many having living quarters above, selling their treasures on the ground floor. The generally accepted hokey beach gift shops were mixed in with antiques, hippy-wares, oddities, a vintage “location, location, location” motel, a menagerie of eateries and sweet shops offering chewy, gooey, sticky, creamy and cold delights.

Bearskin Neck, 1695

Early evening Wednesday, Cape Ann Whale Watch called cancelling the Thursday afternoon trip. Motel, pet resort, dining and gas costs already accumulating, now without the main event taking place. A self-serving 15 minute pout for me. Pulled up my big girl pants and struggled to assume a make-the-best-of-it attitude. Darn…I really wanted to see those whales!

We walked back into town and took the recommendation of our motel manager to eat at the highly acclaimed fish restaurant, The Fish Shack. Seated by the window facing the ocean, we ordered one of their specialties, lobster scampi. The restaurant, the service, the view and the food did not disappoint.

Rockport downtown

Back to our carriage house room to pack and squint at the tiny TV before sleeping. The inability of our curtains to close and our bathroom being so tiny, I dressed for bed in the shower stall rather than put on a striptease show for the neighborhood. This relaxation escape needed a new direction. A quick TripAdvisor search availed a few options of interesting “to-do’s” to fill in for the whale watching trip that was not happening over the next two days.

An early morning stroll into town, a Kodak Moment of the boat dock next to Bearskin Neck, chit chatting with the locals over amazing veggie omelets for breakfast, all prefaced our pack-n-move.

Bear Skin Neck Docks

Our new location was a room at Eagle House Beachside. The property was directly across from Front Beach and next door to Old First Parish Burying Ground dated 1630 through 1930. Our neighbors tonight will be the ghostly spirits of early settlers and many of the officers and soldiers of the French and Indian Revolutionary and 1812 wars.  First settler Richard Tarr provided the plot of land and was buried here in 1732.

Old First Parish Burying Ground

A theatrical drama played out in my mind as to what I would do if this next overnight was anything like the first. It bounced around in my head as we drove three blocks down to the main street, over a few blocks and up a slight hill to our next sleeping destination. Well, this wasn’t exactly beachfront but the ocean was visible from our front door and the room, although somewhat defaced, was dust free.

Eagle House Motel and Beachside

A quick unpack and we left to explore. First “to-do”, a side trip to Gloucester, America’s greatest fishing port for nearly four centuries.

Names of those that went down in ships

Beginning in 1623 with the first settlers from England coming to harvest the oceans bounty and again in the 1800’s this port drew in immigrants from Canada, Scandinavia and Ireland. Later, Italy and Portugal joined in the perilous work, sustained by the hope of prosperity.

The Oceanside walk is famous for the statue of a fisherman, its fame augmented by a breaded fish stick product owned by a Japanese seafood conglomerate Nippon Suisan. The company, in case you haven’t guessed, is Gorton’s of Gloucester.

The fisherman stands facing the ocean, wheel tightly gripped, braced against the turbulent seas.

Gloucester Massachusetts

“They that go down to the sea in ships, that do business in great waters; These see the works of the Lord and his wonders in the deep. Psalm 107, 23-24”. Over 5,300 men lost their lives. The names on the plaque are somber reminders of mother nature and her powerful force.

The stroll along the oceans edge is peaceful and relaxing. A double dip in the “to-do” department, a mid-week farmers market happening at the end of the pier. It called to us, flaunting several to-die-for oatmeal/peanut butter chocolate chips cookies. They drew us in, pried open our lips and forced their way into our bellies while we perused both lengthy rows of home baked breads, fresh pressed cheeses, fresh fish, organic meats and veggies, an assortment of crafts, soaps, toys and hand sewn clothes. Each booth charmingly displayed wares to shoppers with large reusable bags in tow.

Next up…Hammond Castle, built from 1926 through 1929 by John Hays Hammond Jr. to house his medieval collection and his laboratory that developed basic inventions of guided missiles and radio communications. He was known as the “father of radio control”.

At 12 years of age, John Hammond accompanied his father on a business trip to Thomas Edison’s laboratory in West Orange, NJ.  Introduced to Edison, John asked so many questions that the inventor gave him a personal tour of the complex and assumed the role of mentor, remaining in contact with Hammond Jr. for the rest of his life.

In total, Hammond is credited with more than 800 foreign and domestic patents on more than 400 inventions mostly in the fields of radio control and naval weaponry.

Hammond Castle Front

We bought tickets for the candlelit night tour but found out it did not allow views of several areas I was interested in seeing. The ticket counter granted us access to a self-guided walking tour on the spot with an assurance that we could return later for the candlelight tour if we so wished.

Outside Courtyard

Authenticity was foremost for Hammond. No cost was spared to achieve the settings he wished to accomplish in each area of the castle. The entrance to the dining room, the dining room and small library contained dozens of priceless artifacts as did the Great Hall.

Entrance to the dining hall   Dining Room  Library and Music Room

The Great Hall stands in for the church, the center of medieval life. The archway (back right corner of the picture) surrounding the “church” is carved from volcanic rock from Pompeii and was likely carved in the 12th century.

Castle courtyard, 2nd floor dive area

The organ is a Hammond Pipe Organ, no relation; in fact, rumor was that the two heads of households didn’t get on well.  The suit of armor is authentic.

The Great Hall  Hammond Organ and armor   Great Hall from servents area

So many details inside the Great Hall, we stood and tried to take in everything.

Inside the Great Hall  Ornate church platform

The sitting room, a small alcove of the Great Hall, was my favorite room.  The window arches and stained glass are authentic and the room feels cozy and inviting.

Great Hall sitting room (2)  Great Hall sitting room

The oddest relic, but by far the most remarkable, was an authentic skull of a sailor who sailed with Columbus.

Skull of a sailor who sailed with Columbus

Sections of two 15th century French storefronts were purchased to place on either side of his courtyard to give the effect of being in a medieval village. You can see carvings above the door of wares sold in the store which were used to identify the shops for villages who could not read. On one side is a bakery with a residence above.

Bakery with residence above

The other side is a butcher shop with a tavern above.

Butcher shop with tavern above

Mr. Hammond would often tell his guests, while dining, about the castle and courtyard mentioning that in medieval times, the town water was only 12-18 inches deep. Later he would climb to the second floor and dive into the water, which was actually 8-1/2 feet deep, shocking his guests but livening up the post dinner conversation.

Courtyard from Second floor

The ceiling in the courtyard contains Mr. Hammond’s weather control system which allowed him to create a lite drizzle or a torrential downpour, the sound of thunder, knee deep fog and sun or moonlight. He used his weather system to water his plants, startle his guests and dispel boring conversations.

A wealthy eccentric, notorious for being a jokester, he frequently took delight in playing pranks on his drunk overnight guests. Having built his guest room with wall paper covering all doors that opened with a button on the wall, he would impishly move the button before they retired. You can see the bathroom door slightly ajar on the right side of the bed.

Early American Guest Room

Cardinal Richard Cushing, Archbishop of Boston, was a close friend and regular guest. He had a permanent bedroom in the castle.

Cardinal Cushings Room  Cardinals room

Pictures and information about Mr. Hammonds Radionynamic Torpedo System and his Dynamic Accentor, two of his greatest inventions, were immediately observed upon entering his invention room. The 1950’s Dynamic Accentor is an invention that contains many of the components of today’s stereo systems. He installed the invention in his Great Hall and it controlled 35 speakers in the ceiling and walls.

Dynamic Accentor

The Radionynamic Torpedo System is a carrier of explosives for a military target.

Invention Room

Lastly, we took a brief stroll around the castle grounds and paused for a Kodak moment of the castles ocean view.

View from the Castle

John Hays Hammond, Jr. died February 12, 1965. He is buried under the drawbridge of his castle and, as per his instructions, his grave is surrounded by poison oak plants.

Castle Drawbridge

A relaxing drive back to our motel and an early evening walk down to the end of Bearskin Neck to watch the seagulls skim the surf. Rinse and repeat of last nights delicious lobster scampi meal but with an additional treat, the melodic voice of a young singer playing softly on guitar. It was a perfect background for our dining experience. A short stroll back to our room, a glass of our private stock of fermented grape brought from LilyPad to sip on our porch while lounging on comfy padded patio chairs, view of the ocean across the street, quiet and peaceful. Our mini escape had made a complete about face.

Sunset, Front Beach

I set the alarm to awaken before sunrise. John decided to come with and we watched as a warm orange glow spread across the horizon just before an intensely brilliant sun rose up out of the ocean into the morning sky. Well worth the 5:30 a.m. roll out of bed.

Front Beach at Sunrise, Rockport, MA

Beachcombing for old brick and flow blue pottery shards, another beachside ocean view breakfast at a local café, all before packing up and beginning our drive back to Charlton.

On the way home, a quick drive-by the 1862 Eastern Port Lighthouse.  New England’s coastal shores are saturated with lighthouses but sadly, many are now privately owned and not accessible.  This one was private.

Eastern Point Lighthouse, 1862

Back home, mini escape behind us and our “it’s always something” looming large, demanding to be addressed.

This week’s “it’s always something” is the bolt holding the front entrance retracting stairs together. When it came off, it bent other parts resulting in the step refusing to retract or extend. John strapped them closed while we waited to find parts that may no longer be available. It’s one big step up until parts arrive.

Incorrectly assuming that we had enough go wrong this week, the “motorhome spirits” laughed and cried out…”one more for these idiots who refuse to heed my warning and continue to roll around the country on a wish and a prayer!”

John had read on the forum that running high pressure water through the black tank roof air vent might clear the horrid sewer smell that wafted into our bedroom each time we flushed. Mounted on the ladder, he pushed the newly purchased hose and fittings into the vent and turned on the high pressured water. I screamed through the window that something was splashing behind the washer/dryer. John switched it off and we both watched as water dripped down the wall and all over the wood flooring behind the washer/dryer. Turns out the vent wasn’t connected and had separated mid-way causing the smell and now the flooding waters. As appliances are not installed to be removed easily, we will be forced to cut an additional hole in our bedroom wall to access repairs. Yep, this is truly the life.

Time to quickly pull out the towels and fans…again. For the next five days the contents of our box on wheels is once more, askew.

A much needed and appreciated peaceful, relaxing visit with John’s family, who lives in Holden 30 minutes away, for the evening. John’s sister, brother-in-law, their children (our niece and nephew) and their adult kids will be our dining companions. It is what I miss the most about this life…our related (and unrelated) family.

Our next escape will be John’s 50th High School Reunion in Gloversville, NY.  Although several weeks away, it is another highly anticipated escape from the blood, sweat and tears of our current contract position.  Calmly practicing my breathing exercises no longer helps me endure those intolerable horrid 5% of our Sunday guests.

June 21st through July 12th, Beacon New York and Six Day Work A Thon

Another Texan visiting New England! Lynn, a friend from The Woodlands Texas, was visiting her daughter Kristy in Beacon New York and plans were made for us all to meet up. KatieBug vacationed at the Barkwood Inn, the local fur baby resort and spa, while we relaxed for two days and nights in the nearby town of Fishkill, a few minutes from downtown Beacon.

First stop after arrival was Clay, Wood and Cotton, Kristy’s fabulous boutique filled with handmade home-goods and an assortment of splendid yarns. The name gives away the main wares of the fanciful shop that sits at the end of Main Street in Beacon.  Loaded with fun and funky kitchen towels, oven mitts, aprons, containers, homespun gifts, cards to express any occasion and lots of gift goodies, all is lovingly presented by the owner who greets you as you enter. I loved the inside of the store not only for the charming wares but for the detailed wood work and pressed tin ceilings inside the shop that complimented her marvelous offerings.  Visit www.claywoodandcotton.com for more information.

Clay, Wood and Cotton     Clay, Wood and Cotton inside

Off to explore, the three of us stopped at the massive Hudson River to admire its girth and depth when Lynn pointed across the river and mentioned that Orange County Chopper was located just on the other side.

John and I have watched the program but thought it was filmed in Orange County California. Being this close, we could not have possibly passed up the chance to visit the famous motorcycle shop where magnificent choppers are fabricated and the reality TV show is filmed.

The Dog  Orange County Choppers

Unluckily for us, they were still filming so we were not allowed to visit the interior area where the magic happens. So many fabulous motorcycles lined the sales floor. John bought a T-shirt and we checked out the swankiest of the rides.

A festive Santa Cycle

Santa Bike

Make A Wish Foundation Cycle

Make A Wish

Firefighter Cycle

Fire fighter Chopper

Spiderman Cycle

Spiderman

 

Driving along the river to our next destination I spotted some charming hilltop mansions and had to get a closer look.  It is no wonder why I love these homes.  All the romance of yesteryear held inside the architectural artistry of builders who created homes to last generations.  This one was overflowing with the character of a proud Victorian Lady.  The Andrew Jackson Downing House, built in 1815 had all the charm I would want if I were a multi-millionaire and could custom build my home.   He was an American landscape designer, horticulturalist, and writer, a prominent advocate of the Gothic Revival in the United States, and editor of The Horticulturist magazine.

Andrew J Downing House, 1815

Next up, our trio spent several hours at Storm King Art Center. The center is commonly referred to as Storm King, named after its proximity to Storm King Mountain.  It is an open air museum located in Mountainville, New York and contains what is considered to be the largest collection of contemporary outdoor sculptures in the US.  Founded in 1960 by Ralph E. Ogden as a museum for Hudson River School paintings, it soon evolved into a major sculpture venue with works from some of the most acclaimed artists of our time.

My mother was an artist so I grew up appreciating all forms of art. This fascinating 500 acre open air museum was donated, along with its spectacular 1930’s house now used to showcases various artists.

Donated 1930's mansion on Storm King Mountain

The current guest artist, Lynda Benglis, and her Water Sources were displayed inside and outside surrounding the house.

Inside Storm King

The descriptions of each artists work came from www.stormking.org website and offers additional information on the Center.

Crescendo                                             North, South, East, West

Crescendo  North South East West

Bounty, Amber Waves and Fruited Plane         Pink Ladies

Bounty, Amber Waves and Fruited Plane                                   Pink Ladies

The fields and hills that encircle the house are scattered with giant sculptures in a variety of mediums. Most are handicapped accessible via tram that takes you around the vast property and stops to allow you to get up close and personal with some of the pieces. The moving pieces and the cactus were my favorites.   From the backyard, front yard and side yards, your views took in amazing artwork in every direction.

Storm King fields  Art in the distance

Art among the grasses  Neruda's Gate

Dennis Oppenheim had a deep interest in both architecture and cacti. He once noted that he liked that cacti were both soft and hard, he liked the unpredictable shapes into which they grow, and he liked their prickly nature.  The surface of each sculpture  in this Architectural Cactus is designed in various colors and materials, so each sculpture is unique. Considered an artist whose work was frequently offbeat and humorous, the cactus were designed to suggest puzzle pieces fitting together, like the clues that detectives piece together in the process of solving a crime.

Architectural Cactus

Most pieces are hands-off but you are allowed contact with a few. One such is Momo Taro.  Noguchi, the artist, visited in 1977, surveyed the landscape, selected a site, then returned to his studio on the Japanese island of Shikoku to work.  The rock’s appearance, after being split, reminded his assistants of Momo Taro, an ancient folk hero who emerged from a peach pit to become the son of an elderly couple. The work was finished within a year and was installed in the spring of 1978.

The nine-part, forty-ton granite sculpture, hugging the earth and anchored to a concrete base underground, sits atop a specially landscaped hill, with commanding views of the surrounding area. Noguchi noted, “The sculpture lives as part of a hill. It was the hill that got me going, which inspired me.”

Momo taro

Ursula Von Rydingsvard’s primary material is four-by-four lengths of cedar wood, a material that, as the artist has said, “it seems to be I’m able to speak through.” Von Rydingsvard stacks, glues, and cuts into these beams freehand with a circular saw, an intuitive process that the artist has likened to the freedom and creativity that many artists associate with the process of drawing. Luba is the first work on a large scale that von Rydingsvard created in solid cedar.

Luba

The two simple forms of Menashe Kadishman’s Suspended engage in a gravity-defying balance.  Seen from a distance, atop one of two adjacent hilltops, the sculpture’s balancing act is surprising. Viewed up close, the massive scale of the steel work becomes apparent and its structural viability even more difficult to comprehend. With no visible evidence of the engineering holding the sculpture up, Suspended prompts contemplation of the relationship between its two conjoined, towering masses, coupled with questions about what lies below ground.

Storm King Hills  Suspended

Mermaid, by Roy Lichtenstein, whose flat, bold paintings derived from comic strips became some of the best-known works of Pop art in the 1960s, designed a painting of a mermaid to grace the side of a functioning sailboat.

Mermaid

Johnny Swing’s Butterfly Chair, named for its symmetrical spread-wing form, envelops the sitter.  The chair was made with 1,500 half-dollar coins.  It took Swing more than two hundred hours to weld the 6,400 nickels into the Nickel Couch.

Before a single coin was welded, he spent months crafting the biomorphic shapes in polyester resin to ensure that people could sit comfortably in these unconventional seats

Butterfly Chair  Nickel Couch

Andy Goldsworthy’s first museum commission for a permanent work in the United States, his largest single installation to date, exemplifies his nature-based methodology, which includes building this dry stone wall, drawing on British agricultural tradition. Storm King Wall was originally imagined as a 750-foot-long dry stone wall snaking through the woods, but when it reached its planned endpoint, it seemed only natural to the artist for the wall to continue downhill to a nearby pond. Soon after the wall’s trajectory was extended again; it now emerges from the other side of the pond and continues uphill to Storm King’s western boundary at the New York State Thruway—totaling 2,278 feet overall.  The winter photo, from Storm King’s website, shows greater detail.

A Goldsworthy, Storm King Wall Storm King Wall, Fieldstone

Zhang Huan’s work engages with Buddhist philosophy and rituals and with the artist’s notion that the contemporary condition is continually revitalized through an engagement with the past. Three Legged Buddha, a copper and steel sculpture standing twenty-eight feet high and weighing more than twelve tons, represents the bottom half of a sprawling, three-legged figure, one of whose feet rests on an eight-foot-high human head that appears to be either emerging from or sinking into the earth. The work is comprised of nine sections of copper “skin,” each with an interior steel armature, held together with bolts and welds.  The face is said to be a likeness of Huan.

Three Legged Buddha

Wandering up and down the gravel and asphalt walking paths through indigenous grasses, mature trees and incredible art, discovering all this outdoor art museum has to offer would take an entire day. Their bathrooms are clean, they offer senior rates, very kid friendly, include bike rentals and a snack bar, everything a family needs for a fun educational outing.

Figolu    from the tram

I have marked this Park as a “return venture”.  As for today, we had places to go and things to see before ending our day.

We had planned to visit the CIA New York for lunch…that’s Culinary Institute of America, not the government agency. Our only bit of misfortune on this splendid sun shiny day was that we arrived hours before dinner and lunch was only available in the overcrowded café. A quick TripAdvisor search found a Triple D (Diners, Drive-in’s and Dives) restaurant near our next stop, Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s home and grounds.

We entered the retro café and sat comfortably looking at the menu. So many choices! Our orders arrived, huge servings, wonderful flavors, attentive service, all wrapped up in a very reasonable “check please”…can’t say anything negative about the Eveready Diner in Hyde Park.

Eveready Diner

Next stop, the FDR home, complex, museum and library. The movie that begins the tour was interesting and informative, the tour guide was well versed in everything FDR and the grounds were expansive. Behind the library stands a striking art piece made from pieces of the Berlin Wall.

Pieces of the Berlin Wall at Hyde Park

We paused in front of the charming rose gardens, where President Roosevelt and Eleanor are buried, to hear more about his strength of character and his political life.

The tour continued on to Springwood, FDR’s residence, which housed original rugs, furniture and fixtures.

Hyde Park, FDR's house

Musty stagnant air greeted us upon entering, so Lynn and John finished the house tour and I met up with them in the library.

FDR Livingroom  FDR Birthroom, Jan 30, 1882

The FDR Presidential library is not a library in the usual sense. It holds the archives preserving the written and physical history of the president for which it was built. The FDR library contains collections that reflect political, social, military, diplomatic and cultural life in America during the 1930’s and 1940’s. It features short video’s and personal items relating to the lives and careers of Franklin and Eleanor, their friends, family and associates. The museum was designed to showcase FDR’s viewpoints and was indeed enjoyable.

Dropped off Lynn, then took a leisurely drive down the charming Main Street of the town of Beacon.  The buildings, stores, eateries and the people make it a delightful place to visit.

Downtown Beacon, NY

One brick building had an intricate painting mounted on its side.

Art in Beacon

At the bend where Beacon Street meets the river, an ornate brick building stands, designed by Richard Morris Hunt in the 1870’s, the Howland Cultural Center.

Howland Cultural Center, Beacon NY

Later we met up with Kristy at a local brewery to throw back a few mellow beers and play trivia. Our group name, what else?  “The Old Farts”. We did surprisingly well against all those young whippersnappers. After a relaxing evening, John and I returned to our cozy room for the night.

Our last meet up with Lynn before returning to Charlton was at the local Bank Sq. Coffee House, reminiscent of daughter Liz and my favorite haunt, Los Gatos Coffee Roasting Co., in California.

Coffee Shop

John and I split a delicately delicious scone and coffee before saying our good-byes.

Bank Sq Coffee

When we entered our car to start our drive home, I spotted the Hudson Beach Glass Inc., building on the corner. Deciding we could spare another few minutes, we slipped in to admire the artisans blowing molten glass into orbs of beauty. I so much wanted to “need” something from this boutique of delightful wares.

The fine art glass gallery and glassblowing demonstration studio is housed in an 1890 firehouse.  It is owned by four artists and displays their art glass as well as works by contemporary glass artists from around the world.

Hudson Beach Glass

Michael Benzer, one of the owners, was more than happy to help me search for the perfect “something”. The slick luster of glass, twinkling and reflecting the sun’s rays, is something I have always adored. Glass is an overly delicate luxury that is hazardous to carry in our box on wheels, bumping and rattling down the roads. Much caught my eye but nothing that I wanted to suffer the disappointment of losing. If you’ve been following our journey you will remember that in our first week, John broke my Mount Pleasant black amethyst depression glass bonbon plate. I made a note to return to Beacon to choose a piece as a replacement.

Hudson Beach Glass and Michael

Returning home, picked up KatieBug all freshly bathed and tired from her daily romps with other fur babies at the Barkwood Spa. Laundry time and completion of the other dreary life responsibilities before work in the morning.

The 6-days-in-a-row work week marathon had arrived. 12 hours every day, John and I working in the 95 degree heat and on a busy day, no breaks. In hindsight, trading end-of-August time with our neighbor for time surrounding 4th of July, the busiest time of the season, was a mistake. Our first arrival days of being “slammed” were not, comparatively. A mere 500 and 600 count of guests in the park was nothing to stress over and was a relatively lightweight number. Our current July Sundays bring in 1,200 to 1,700 people. No sitting down, no meal breaks, we both must be at the toll booth nearly full time or our vehicle line goes out onto the street, which, of course, is unacceptable to the Rangers. Wave them in, move them up, grab their money, barely enough time to spit out the necessary spiel, “this is a carry in/carry out park, no trash cans are anywhere in the facility. Please take your trash home…do you need a bag?” before quickly moving on to the next…all said with a big smiling no matter how sweaty and ragged you feel.

4th of July holiday, working with 4 people, a somewhat mild day so number were medium.  Woke up late and rushed to get ready for work. Spotted a black bug on John’s neck tangled in his neck hair. Made him sit quietly while I madly dashed around trying to find the plastic tick remover spoon that we use on our fur babies. Pulled out the top cabinets, dug through the drawers, no luck. Pulled out the bottom cabinet, ah, that’s where I put it! Rushed to slip the slit over the bug and it fell to the floor. A tiny dead black and yellow beetle. All that emotional melt down for a harmless bug. This day is not off to a great start.

Day two, our regular Sunday work day, I truly understand the old Polish statement: Not My Circus, Not My Monkeys. Although John and I are responsible for the intake of toll booth cash, toilet cleaning and cleaning the entire park of trash, we are not responsible for dealing with crazies. They seem to crawl out of the woodwork to settle in our park on Sundays. I tried hard to ignore them but finally had to call and beg for a Ranger to come and keep the insanity in check.

Morning started with picking up goose poop (yep, that’s our job too) and adults fighting over one child hitting an aggressive duck with a life jacket. It upset another parent who began screaming that it was harming the duck.  The duck flew away leaving four adults continuing to scream at the top of their lungs at each other.

Noon, a young boy burned his foot on hot coals, police and ambulance were called, very loud sirens announced their arrival at the park. I was sure that would be the last bit of excitement for the day.

Afternoon, a mom setting up for her young daughters birthday party came to us and asked that we please move the drunk man from the pavilion. No Rangers in sight…darn…walked over, called out “sir”, he awoke, I asked him to please leave. He took off his shirt, walked 20 paces to the grass, rolled up his shirt and passed out again. OK…at least he’s no longer in the pavilion. So much for our “no alcohol” rules.

A woman came to the booth to report a couple smoking a bong in the park. Again, no ranger to be found. No time to respond as the cars were again lined up out onto the road…it will have to resolve itself.

Late afternoon, dogs started a rather loud discussion near another family. Again, no Ranger to be found.  By the time I reached them, their owners had gone their separate ways and all was quiet.

Early evening, a huge generational family of non-English speaking guests were loudly throwing “choice words” at our closing ranger after being asked to take their trash home as per park rules. The empty liquor bottles in the bags could have been the cause of their unnecessary rage. “No-alcohol” signs are everywhere, in three languages. Not my monkeys.

Evening, we began cleaning up the horrid disgusting mess while the ranger was still chasing people out of the park. Park closes at 8pm, the last couple left at 8:30. Sent multiple piles of trash back to the office with our closing ranger. Bathroom and park cleaning was postponed until Monday morning. Both of us dead tired and we have just begun the week.

Monday clean up took most of the day but our third through sixth days started out slow and easy, only picking up in the afternoon.  Mostly moms with kids. Nothing overwhelming and no crazies. Several moms packed in six and seven children at a time, their fee being only  $1.00…such a deal!

Day six, last exchange day. Exhausted. Next time someone asks to trade days with us around a busy holiday, I will politely but firmly decline.

Day seven and eight, two days to recoup before we start our regular two day work week.

Day nine, highest guest numbers in the last two years. No ranger in the park. Called and threatened to quit here and now if they didn’t send a ranger to the park immediately. Very hard to keep a happy disposition after the beating we took last week. Ranger Tim, the head honcho, arrived and took care of the circus and the monkeys and we herded the masses through the toll booth line. 12 long hours later, day is done and so are we.

Today is our day off and we are badly in need of a vacation. Cape Ann Whale Watching Groupon tickets were tucked into Ribitts glove compartment, we had reservations at a small local motel, KatieBug had reservations for two days at Barkwood Inn and our drive to Rockport Massachusetts was an easy two hours away. Good-by circus, good-by monkeys!