Monday, December 19, 2011

Atlanta


We did it (with sighs of relief). After 8,000 miles, we made it to Atlanta, the last stop on this leg of our journey, where Great Grandma Jane and Great Grandpa Harold welcomed us with open arms. Here we collapsed into a puddle of extreme laziness. During our week and a half stay, Grandma and Grandpa kept trying to talk us into various excursions....museums, the zoo, etc, only to be met with the same response every time. "Nope we just want to hang out with you and relax." They graciously opened their home to us and we got to spend lots of time with them. Grandpa taught the boys how to play poker and solitaire. He drug the canoe up from the bushes and launched into their pool so the boys could paddle around. Grandma, a talented painter, sat and looked through Aaron's sketchbooks with him and praised him for paintings he painted on the side of a birdhouse.  When I wasn't cleaning the camper van, doing laundry, or lazing about drinking tea, I would commandeer their kitchen, super-duper excited to cook and thrilled to have a fridge that would stay cold and fit anything I wanted to buy. 

At the end of the week, family began to pour in for Grandpa's 88th birthday weekend-long celebration starting with a traditional Shabbat dinner Friday evening with immediate family. The blessings sung in Hebrew over the wine and bread were really beautiful.  We felt very lucky for the boys to witness some of their heritage and to share in this tradition. On Saturday we celebrated at a nice restaurant where Grandma and Aunt Robin had organized a delicious three-course private dinner where we all ate too much. And on Sunday there was a lovely brunch at Grandma and Grandpa's house with forty extended family members including Grandpa's brother and sisters, nieces, nephews, and cousins. It was really fun to mingle with such an interesting and intelligent group of people, getting to know them better and photographing them whenever I had a chance. 

So after a week and a half of relaxation interspersed with camper van cleaning and prep for storage (including an oil change in the parking lot of a Pep Boys, where a homeless man came up to Jason and the following conversation took place: 
Homeless guy: Do you live in that camper van?
Jason: I sure do.
Homeless guy (sympathetically): I understand, I'm living under that bridge over there,
we dropped off Sylvia, tucked her under her brand-new camper van cover, and on December 6 boarded an airplane for home where we will celebrate the holidays with friends and family, play hockey, ski, and enjoy where we live until mid-February when we board a plane again to pick up where we left off. 

Click here for photos.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Great Smokies



Thanksgiving found us in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Since we arrived late in the season, all of the leaves had dropped, carpeting the ground and allowing open views into the forest and beautiful views of the layers and layers of blue mountains stretching into the distance. I am sure that it is spectacular when the leaves are in full color. We learned that the park contains the largest number of preserved buildings from Appalachian settlements. Our favorite was an old grist mill where the boys loved watching the chain reaction of the stream flowing into the water wheel, turning the giant gears that moved the mill stones that ground the corn into cornmeal. 

As it turns out some of the weirdness we experienced in Gatlinburg spills over here, the most visited park in the U.S.  People are what we would call "different" here. This is the only national park we have visited where it felt like a tailgating party with people hanging out their windows, tailgates open with people dangling out of the back, populated lawn chairs in the beds of trucks, as we sat stuck in traffic on the clogged roads. Everyone seemed in the know but us. We passed "basketball-shaped people," as Isaac described them, illegally gathering firewood in the woods, smiling at us as we drove by. After spending hours stuck in traffic taking in the views and watching the "wildlife" we found a campsite where Aaron and Jason went on an extended Owl search party. After they returned empty handed with reports of many owl shaped branches that required careful investigation, I whipped up a delicious chicken stew while we snuggled  in the camper van and counted our blessings.  

Click here for photos.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Gatlinburg



We pictured Gatlinburg as a quaint little town, outdoorsy and earthy, snuggled up next to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The drive there was both beautiful and a little strange.  It looked seriously poverty-stricken as we drove by ramshackle houses, the occasional tent, and loads of people living in RV's, and then, all of a sudden, a golf course with vacation cabins and condos scattered across the hillsides. The contrast was a little astonishing. As we neared the town we started seeing giant, for the lack of a better word, tacky Christmas decorations lining the road. Heavy rain was in the forecast so we opted to spend the first night in a hotel in an attempt to keep the camper van dry so that boys' bed would not freeze in the upcoming below-freezing nights. Upon checking into our hotel with a Daniel Boone mini-golf course out front (complete with intermittent explosion noises), we discovered that we had landed in a crazy theme park town including two Dolly Parton amusement parks. Driving down the main street we saw Ripley's-Believe-It-or-Not theme parks scattered throughout town, a Dukes of Hazard museum (very educational, I am sure), and more air-soft gun/sword/remote-control-helicopter/tae-kwon-do shops than anyone would have dreamed possible, which made us feel like we were passing through a surreal, southern, hill-billy interpretation of Disney World. Not exactly what we were expecting.

Click here for through-the-window snapshots. 

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Asheville, NC


We planned on stopping only one night in the Asheville area on the way to Great Smokies National Park. A soaked camper van and wet forecast combined with a delicious food scene, a plethora of bookstores and Jason's two upcoming 7am-12pm meetings requiring good cell coverage and wi-fi, coaxed us to stay in a hotel for a couple of nights there checking it out. Asheville is hip little foodie town surrounded by the easy-to-access Smoky Mountains so it was not a hardship to spend some extra time there. Each day we took the Blue Ridge Parkway with its spectacular views, found a trail, went for a hike, and returned in time for a delicious dinner ranging from new Southern food at Tupelo Honey, to fancy Mexican at Limones, French food, Thai, and coffee in a cozy, British double-decker bus.  We can definitely understand why it made Outside magazine's list of best places to live.  

Click here for photos. 

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Cape Hatteras


On the outer banks of North Carolina lies Cape Hatteras, a narrow sandbar of land that extends thirty miles offshore. After passing through Kitty Hawk where we marveled over the tiny sand dune that served as the launching pad for the Wright Brothers and the birth of the airplane, we drove out onto the Cape Hatteras National Seashore where it is so narrow at times that we could see both shores as we drove down the road. Our campground, with its unique, outer-banks water (brackish with chlorine overtones and just a hint of fish, delightful!) flowing from our spicket, had mostly been spared by Irene, but large swaths of it remained closed for repairs. The KOA just a 1/4 mile down the beach had pretty much been obliterated, its cabins and mini golf (apparently southern campers love mini golf) course stood in a pile of rubble on the side of the road. Upon discovering that the gear stashed under our solar panel was wet from the downpours we had experienced in Maine a month ago, I spent half a day scrubbing the mold from everywhere it grew before hitting the beach where we spent two days creatively gathering sand into the various crevices of our bodies under the glorious sunshine, sand-castle building, penguin-sliding, whole-body launching, body-part burying, beach combing, sand-stabbing, sun-basking, wave-watching, sand-drawing, crab-finding, skate-egg-purse-dissecting, we pretty much covered it all. We even got to pet a shark before a fisherman threw him back into the sea. On night three we changed to a campground attended by a sad woman who told us how Irene scared away all of the tourists and  devestated the economy, looking very desperate for us to stay there. We had the entire campground to ourselves so we picked a site that backed up to a canal and settled in for the night. After playing a game of Race for Galaxy and eating popcorn as we listened to light raindrops hit the camper van, we went to bed. The rain steadily increased to what I can only describe as torrential downpour or maybe high-powered car wash. The rain and wind pounded Sylvia from all sides completely soaking her through and through as lighting lit up the sky and the thunder shook her. Isaac said that one thunder was so big that the pop-top's sides inflated as he rocked from side to side. At 2am Jason and I stepped out of the camper van into water that was over our ankles. Standing in the lake that had recently been our campground, lightning flashes illuminating water in every direction, we seriously wondered if we were about to be washed into the sea. After I gathered up our flip-flops that had floated away, we quickly decided to move the camper van to higher ground. The boys thought it was quite the adventure to ride in the pop-top through campground/lake in the middle of the night. As Jason and I laid there listening to water drip onto his sleeping bag and to the pummeling rain outside, we easily imagined the camper van floating away off this narrow, low-lying sandbar and how we were basically in the middle of the ocean. We both longed for a more appropriate vehicle for this environment, like a sailboat. I spent the morning wading through puddles to the laundry room, drying sleeping bags, pillows, sheets, and towels. With more severe rainstorms in the forcast for the following night, we packed up after visiting the fog-bound and appropriately creepy Graveyard of the Sea Museum, and headed back to mainland North Carolina where less scary forecasts for mere tornados awaited. Driving through alternating fields of cotton, farmland, and forests, we found a safe spot in the middle of the state that was out of the path of the dreadful weather. As I scrubbed and tried to dry out the carpet from the camper van at our new campsite Isaac said, "Don't worry mom, we don't have all three M's, only mold and mildew, no moss yet."

Click here for photos.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Colonial Williamsburg



Colonial Williamsburg is an 18th century town that was painstakingly preserved by John D. Rockefeller Jr. and is the largest living history museum in the country, second largest in the world, as the sweet 18th century-looking lady told us. We visited on a gorgeous fall day where we wandered through the streets and visited old shops watching processes from the past come alive. We saw a printing press, book binding, an apothecary shop, jewelry-making, an old farmstead with tobacco drying in the barn, corn cobs in various shucked states, an eighteenth century feast laid out complete with a roasted pig's head, and a fife and drum parade. At the end of the day we followed actors through the village as we watched a re-enactment of events that took place at the beginning of the Revolutiony War in Williamsburg. We watched as tensions rose between opposing opinions which almost resulted in a good old-fashioned tar-and-feathering, we watched the militia form, lovers bidding each other farewell, slaves being offered their freedom to fight if their owners supported the king's cause, and a dramatic ending including the reading of the Declaration of Independence, which all Virginians surrounding us had memorized, and climaxing in cannon and musket fire. 

Click here for photos.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Great Grandma Grace



A trip to the East Coast wouldn't be complete without a trip to our nation's capital, would it? We spent a memorable week acquiring the swine flu there two years ago and had seen a lot of the sights already. Our main reason for visiting was that Great Grandma Grace lives there so we wanted to drop in to spend some time with her. After spending a day and night in Annapolis where we looked at a Hinckley 43, a boat that we may love, we headed north to Washington DC where the boys and I spent the day at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History before meeting Grandma for dinner. The boys were mesmerized as we walked through prehistoric fossils of trilobites of every size, brachiopods, and ancient sea creatures including the predecessor to whales, as they anxiously awaited our arrival in the ice age, where we saw giant sloths (they weren't kidding when they named them GIANT sloths, they were as big as elephants), wooly mammoths, and mastodons. They stood next to Lucy, gazed at the Hope Diamond, Aaron delighted in the different shapes and sizes of owls, and Isaac carried on a conversation with one of the Smithsonian workers that I thought might never end as they shared ideas and learned from one another. The Smithsonian guy was so excited to be talking with a kid that had such intelligent thoughts I thought he might never let us go. Each time we tried to continue through the museum, he would say, "Wait! Just one more thing...." His parting words to Isaac were, "Keep up the good work, you're going to win the Nobel Prize someday. Maybe some day you will be president!" as I beamed with pride in the background. The next day we spent a lovely afternoon in Grandma Grace's apartment where we shared a delicious lunch and warm conversation, Isaac performed card tricks, Aaron showed drawings, we shared this blog, and we got to see her photos and hear family stories. Thank you, Grace, for a wonderful afternoon. We are looking forward to our next visit with you. 

Click here for photos.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Chesapeake Bay



The day before we left Montana on this crazy trip, we bought the boys bows and arrows at their big Robin Hood class. Optimistically, we stored them in the camper van hoping that maybe we would get a chance to shoot them along the way. Ten weeks later, at an empty campground overlooking Chesapeake Bay, where the night before we enjoyed a gorgeous sunset as we sipped on a coffee mug of red wine and nibbled on stinky cheese, I must admit here that we have developed an affinity for the red wine and stinky cheese combo which seems a little odd given the vehicle we are driving and the number of days between showers we are achieving, we asked the fishin-huntin-weapon-lovin-rural-Maryland men running the campground if we could please have their permission to vigorously fire the bows and arrows. They whole-heartedly agreed to let the boys fling arrows to their hearts content, one of them chuckling how he, "couldn't wait to hear what his wife was gonna say." Thus the boys spent the better part of the day on a bluff overlooking the bay shooting as many holes in a Nature's Way Organic Peanut Butter Cookie box, and the occasional innocent tree, as they possibly could sacrificing two arrows to the grass-gods along the way.

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Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Aircraft carriers, subs, and copper statues



A most useful tip from a friend brought to our attention that there is an air and space museum with an aircraft carrier and submarine located on the Hudson River. It was unanimous that this was a must-see, so on day two, after spending the morning with an ex-Time-magazine-exec-that-the-economy-downgraded-to-AP-staff-in-a-cubicle checking out his sailboat, we wandered around the decks of the U.S.S Intrepid, a WWII aircraft carrier. The boys crawled on huge guns, marveled at the size of the anchor chains, winches and lines, read about the Intrepid's history, and carefully checked out each fighter plane. It was a definite hit. Many thanks for the heads-up. On the way back to our home-sweet-parking-lot, we hopped off to catch a glimpse of Greenwich Village and a bite to eat before turning our sleepy heads in.

The next day, after a morning walk along the water and lunch at our new favorite taqueria, we set out for the Statue of Liberty. Due to trains and roads being closed along the way, we arrived at the ferry station much later than we had hoped and had to bypass Ellis Island (big bummer) and were only able to visit Liberty Island. It was so strange (pretty much applies to the whole visit to NYC) watching the statue getting closer and closer, finally seeing her in person for the first time. (Prepare for stream of consciousness.....) That's the thing that is so weird about our visit to NYC. Growing up we have grown accustomed to these iconic sites and finally seeing them for real is nuts. In our imaginations the were always larger than life and in real life they are still larger than life. Maybe it is because we had never really planned (in fact it was my desire to not drive the camper van here....never in my wildest dreams would I have thought that I would be crazy enough to drive the camper van to NYC) on actually stopping here so we were not mentally prepared. Whew, I digress! Onto the Statue of Liberty where the boys, I am proud to say, added another Junior Ranger badge to their collection. As you might guess from the earlier build-up, Lady Liberty was very impressive with her eight foot long fingers and masterfully molded lines. To celebrate her 125th birthday last Friday, they closed her down for a year-long renovation so no trip to the top for us. To top things off, we were treated to a fabulous sunset on the ferry ride back and a very strange, very squashed (seven people in your typical New York taxi) taxi ride back.

I can't end without mentioning the people. I have heard all kinds of things about New Yorkers.....that they are loud, obnoxious, rude, mean. I have to say our experience has been the exact opposite. People have been kind and helpful everywhere we have gone. We watch how strangers politely interact with each other on the subway. Things like, "excuse me, do you mind if I sit down here," when there is an empty seat, "yo, lady! You want dis seat?" when some tough guy sits down, quick apologies for accidental bumps on crowded streets, people asking if we need help when we are standing on the street with a map, and Jason reports that the staff in the emergency room in Jersey City were very nice and friendly. We have really enjoyed the company of New Yorkers this visit. 



Click here for photos.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

New York, New York


When we told my mom about our plans for our crazy trip she thought we were insane to be camping down the East Coast. I rebutted, "C'mon mom, it's not like we are going to be camping in New York City." Mom, I have to admit to you here.....we are camping in New York City. Ok, really it's Jersey City, right across the Hudson River from Manhattan with spectacular views of the skyline that seem beyond surreal to us. We can literally see the Statue of Liberty from our parking lot campsite.

We arrived here after spending two nights in the Hamptons at Hither Hills State Park where the boys spent hours playing in the sand and I soaked up the sun and the sound of the pounding waves on the empty beach while sadly, Jason worked in the camper van. My guilt meter is high, but it was a much-needed day of rest and chilling for the boys and I.

On our first day in NYC, after weaving through the onslaught of tourist sharks trying to con us into spending almost $200 to go up into the Empire State Building so that we could avoid the "long lines", we waltzed into the Empire State Building and made it through, line-free, to the top. As you can imagine, Aaron was delighted by the view, as were the rest of us. Our next stop was Macy's because my dad said there was the world's biggest pipe organ and we had to check it out. After riding the cool old wooden escalator up nine floors, I finally asked someone where it was. Her response was, "A what? I don't even know what that is," before she hurried off to ask someone else. She came back informing me that they used to have one but they removed it years ago. Oh well, we tried Dad. Onto Times Square. All I can say is holy cow, this place is crazy. Crowded, flashy, advertisey, mesmerizing to those of us who do not watch television...it was like an all-out television advertisement assault....must go out and buy things.....  We sat on the stairs overlooking the square, eating our delicious, hole-in-the-wall, New York pizza, taking it all in. It was quite the experience. On the way back to the train we stopped at Bryant Park and watched the happy people ice-skating.

Click here for photos.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Happy Halloween!



For the last nine weeks it seems that we have been caught in a whirlpool from Boston to Maine, to Boston to Maine and once again Boston. The question of how to make a costume in the camper van has been plaguing me for some time. How to balance coolness, with portability, and perhaps disposability (if the boys would let me, which is very doubtful) seemed challenging without the aid of the normal craft items (sewing machine, glue, markers, etc.) at home. Not surprisingly Isaac wanted to be a magician and Aaron an owl. After checking local toy stores we were lucky enough to walk away with a wicked-cool wizard hat for Isaac. Aaron's costume was tougher. I was a little stumped as to how make an owl costume. Upon a trip to a mall in search of shoes (which we never found) for Aaron (the flip-flop wonder), before the oncoming snow storm, we happened upon an owl hat (not to mention a whole kiosk dedicated to Angry Birds!) Whew! Now we only needed a cape and wings. Here we turned to an on-sale twin sheet set to cut their capes and wings out of, the boys agreeing on the oh-so appropriate color of purple. Done. 

We decided to stay in the house boat again on this trip so that we could trick-or-treat on Bunker Hill because it just seemed like a beyond-cool place to spend Halloween. We found out the morning of halloween that there is a parade of costumes so we hurried to get there before it started. Bunker Hill was swarming with kids of every size (which is better than armed redcoats) decked out in costume. Shortly after we arrived the parade began with a band in the lead playing Yankee Doodle. We joined the throngs of families to march down the street under the real gas street lamps, trick-or-treating at each brown-stone row house along the way. At each doorway family and friends sat chatting and handing out candy to the swarms of kid engulfing their homes. We worked our way around the monument and then down to Warren Tavern, the oldest tavern in the country, a favorite hangout of Paul Revere and graced by the presence of General Washington a time or two, where we ate dinner and candy while Aaron emitted a constant stream of updates as to what kind of candy he had and Isaac performed magic tricks. 

Click here for photos.

Aaron's NE mountain list


Aaron has been keeping track of the mountains wew have summitted while out in the Northeast. Here's the breakdown.

Mount Mansfield
Mount Megunticook
Mount Champlain
Pemetic Mountain
South Bubble
Parkman Mountain
Bald Peak
Schoodic Head
Mount Megunticook (again)
Mount Battie
Mount Megunticook (again)
Mount Battie (again)
Dorr Mountain
Parkman Mountain (again)
Bald Peak (again)
Penobscot Mountain
Cadillac Mountain (drive)
Gorham Mountain

Click here for photos. 






Sunday, October 30, 2011

Local Color



People in Maine aren't terribly outgoing. I wouldn't say they are unfriendly but they seem to like to keep to themselves and aren't too interested in outsiders. This may also be a product of our being in high tourist areas. For better or for worse, we have started making inroads into the local scene. One night we stopped for dinner at Cap'n Nemo's, a ramshackle lighthouse bar surrounded by weird outgrowths, add-ons and, of course, lobsta' bouys, where locals like to drink and talk and dine. We talked with the owner for a while and learned he had just bought a gold mine in Utah, which he is going out to see next week, and a 66' ferro-cement sailboat down in Georgia, both, sight unseen, over the internet. He admitted to us that he "might be guilty of poor judgment," as his strapping daughter, just down from Alaska, loomed in the background.

Isaac has been seriously into magic since he received a magic book for his birthday, so we were excited to see that there was going to be a magician at a fundraiser for Common Good Soup Kitchen. The mission of the kitchen is to try to bring the people, especially seniors, in the community together during the isolating, bitter-cold winter months to help everyone get by, both financially and mentally. It turned out to be a very surreal night. When we got there, little girls were decked out in their nice dresses for a big night out. The magician, dressed victorian style, handed us a fortune after we entered. The boys waited eagerly for the magician to start. As we waited I began to feel a little uncomfortable, because every time I looked up, the magician was staring at me, which can never be good, because I knew that meant that he was going to pick me out of the audience for something terribly embarrassing. He wasn't the only one staring (maybe I shouldn't have worn the leopard hat). Being outsiders, we got a lot of looks as people tried to figure us out. After some  delay, the magician finally started the show by playing an old music box. He then explained that he was moving to Alberquerque in two weeks and all of his props were packed so we were going to play some Victorian parlor games, holding up a Victorian parlor game book to prove he knew what he was doing (as Isaac said, this was his appeal to authority).  We thought, ok, this should be interesting and educational. After having us arrange our chairs into a circle, he explained that we were going to play Poor Kitty, where one person would have to crawl around on his hands and knees and then look up at someone and meow pitifully. The receiver of the meow is then supposed to look down without a hint of a smile and say "poor kitty" three times. If they smile at all, they are the next kitty. I immediately thought this was a supremely bad idea, on so many different levels. Who in their right mind would ask a crowd of strangers, expecting a magic show, to play such a moronic, humiliating game? Down on all fours he dropped wandering around the circle until he reached, me the moron with the leopard hat (multi-purpose, to keep me warm and to cover up the hair that hadn't been washed in five days) and meows. It is a natural defect of my face that it smiles the majority of the time and this was no exception. I failed miserably and ended up, to my horror, in the middle of the circle. I may not be a very clean person, but I do have issues with putting my hands on the floor of public places, especially, soup kitchens. I stated that I did not want to put my hands on the floor while I tried my best first-ever, aikido knee walking. The magician then mocked me for being a clean freak. Had he not seen me and my clothes that I had been wearing for the last week and a half? Could he not smell me? Grrrrrrr! In desperation, I meowed at the first kid I set eyes on. He looked at me with a stony face and cold heart and said "poor kitty" three times without even a hint of a smile. They make 'em tough in Maine. You have got to be kidding me, I have to do this again? In a moment of sheer desperation and weakness I turned on my own smiling son, Isaac, and meowed. He couldn't stand the pressure and cracked a smile and with relief I climbed back into my chair as my son bravely took my place. What kind of mother am I that I would grab my own son and put him in front of the poor kitty bullet instead of just taking it myself? The game painfully continued, hitting its lowest point when a four-year-old boy broke down in tears while the "magician" looked on grim-faced and nodded as if to say, "sometimes children cry and it is good for their character." Any sane person would have called off the game at this point or gone in to help this poor tiny being who has only lived on this planet for four years, but no, not this "magician," to my horror, he just sat there waiting as this poor little boy cried. Completely unbelievable. At this point, (this is not something I say often) I wanted to punch him. After the game of humiliation ended everyone except for three little kids, who actually enjoyed the game, got up and left, as he pleaded for us to stay for the next game, keeping a good distance away. Upon discussion amongst ourselves later, we determined that he may be the WORST "magician" in the world. Ok, definitely the WORST magician we have ever seen. Maybe there are worse ones out there, but you would have to look HARD.

In a quest to find firewood in the rapidly-winding-down camping season, we stopped at a farm that had firewood advertised on the side of the road. As we drove down the driveway we saw scrap boards in a pile and I declared to Jason that I hoped that wasn't the "firewood" advertised. At the end of the driveway a long-haired, bearded guy came out waving so we rolled down the window and inquired about firewood. He pointed to the pile of wood we had driven past and said it was scrap wood from ash. The same wood that they make police billy clubs out of "so we could burn it with impunity." Sold. How can we resist a sell job like that? We spent the next fifteen minutes talking to him. He told us he was a "gleaner" and about how he raised what food he could and got expired food from around town to feed to his pigs, family, and passers-by like us. He also let us in a secret local beach sandwiched between two cliffs complete with a stream tricking in. He let us know that most people who come down his driveway for wood, take one look at him and turn tail for the highway as fast as they can. He was impressed with our courage and recommended we try one of his favorite activities which involved meditative floating in the near freezing Maine ocean. Unfortunately, our conversation was cut short when one of his pigs down the hill started screaming. We now fully understand the phrase "squealing like a stuck pig." 

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Settled




After six weeks on the road I finally feel like we are in the swing of living in the camper van and life feels somewhat normal again. Leaving Boston and heading back to Camden felt like heading home. We have a great routine established, the boys are in the full swing of schooling every day on the go, sometimes I have to tear Isaac away from his math book as he buzzes through page after page. He finished his Life of Fred, Decimals and Percents, As Serious as It Needs to Be" book in two weeks! I am mastering the cooking of food over a campfire and am able to cook a full meal armed with my cast-iron skillet with occasional assists from tin foil. My latest masterpieces are pizza with whole wheat crust, caramelized onions, mushrooms and local pork sausage, followed by homemade maple cinnamon rolls over a campfire. The kids are still talking about the meat fest that included pork chops and pork loin flamed over the  fire with maple and cinnamon. Jason has gracefully dealt with the difficulties of working on the go, though often times cell phone is spotty and wifi difficult to find. He has somehow managed to keep up and his company is supportive and happy. And the tiny chihuahua can jump and manuever to any sleeping spot she desires in the camper van and is constantly amazing us with her super-ninja-chihuahua wall jumping skills as she bounds her way up the  uber-steep, ginormous rocky trails of the Northeast. She is a tiny-super-duper hiker with ninja skills.

Life is different on the road. Normal daily things are not always so easy, like showering or retrieving something buried deep within a cupboard while bending over a table and fending off one of your wriggling children or walking a 1/8 of a mile in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom. Things you normally do in the privacy of your own home are sometimes on view to people walking by the camper van on the street, like clipping your toenails or putting your pillows back into clean pillow cases while standing in the pull-through for valet parking at a fancy hotel in Cambridge. Conversations in bathrooms at campgrounds are funny when the other person is flossing their teeth and I am washing my face. Jason carried on a conversation with a drippy, shivery, shirtless guy shaving his head one cold morning in a bathroom that only serves glacially cold water from the faucet.

"That looks cold"

"It is man, it is"

When we step out of the camper van in the morning, we are in the woods and hikes are near. When we make the trek to the bathroom in the middle of the night the stars are bright and we can hear the waves rolling and crashing against a rocky shore.  We hear the buoys in the ocean ringing their deep sonorous bells as we fall asleep.  Who doesn't like standing around a campfire snuggling and talking and playing ukelele at night? All in all we have adapted well and everyone is happy.

Click here for Camden fall colors.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Boston Sailing




While in Boston, we managed to sail twice over the weekend. We spent Saturday afternoon on the Charles in a tiny little Cape Cod Mercury. It was fun to have no engine and sail away and back to the dock under wind alone. We were surprised when someone else ran their boat aground within sight of the docks, we were sure it would've been us. Whenever we get in a new boat I imagine the dock attendant is wondering if we'll return alive. Sunday we got braver and sailed the Boston Harbor in a J/29. It was a beautiful sunny day, intermittent wind, a high performance sailboat and great fun. We made it all the way out into the Massachusetts Bay and then turned around. Got great views of the airport (airlines flying right over our heads) and then a wonderful view of the sun setting behind the Boston skyline as we returned to our mooring. Its a busy harbor and we were surrounded by lots of boats from 15 foot dinghys to a 200 foot cruise ship and somehow we didn't run into anyone! There was this one time, however, when we had to be shepherded out from in front of the cruise ship's path by the harbor pilot. We probably would have noticed it before it actually hit us. Maybe we were distracted by the kids on the lee rail, dangling their feet in the water and squealing whenever the bow wave reached up their waists.

Finished the day with a nice dinner at the Navy Bistro in Charlestown before heading to Cambridge to turn in.

Click here for photos.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Back to Boston



A work meeting brought us back to Boston where we got to stay in Harvard Square for a few days. I don't know if it was the Harvard vibe rubbing off on Isaac or what, but he decided that he couldn't get enough of math and started tearing through his "Life of Fred, Decimals and Percents, As Serious as it Need to Be" book, completing page after page. Beyond math, revolution, both new and old, was the theme of this trip. The Occupy Wall Street movement was in full swing when we got there. As we stepped out of South Station we could see their camp across the street. Over the weekend we witnessed a march down Newbury Street. It was great to have the boys witness first hand a peaceful demonstration like this and we clapped as they marched by chanting.  The boys and I finally visited the U.S.S. Constitution Museum where I was again shocked to find out things about our history that I never learned in school, like the Barbary Wars, I had no idea that we were at war with North Africa in 1801, thus the birth of our Navy and U.S.S. Constitution. After spending hours there, where the boys got to reef a sail, lay in hammocks, and talk with a volunteer who let them use rope to calk between boards and they felt the difference between the ropes used for standing rigging vs. moving lines, we finally took a tour on the U.S.S. Constitution, where Isaac answered the tour guide's question after question correctly, amazing the crowd with "her" knowledge. We didn't have the heart to tell her that Isaac is a boy with long hair. Awkward.

For the second half of the trip we changed hotels and stayed further north where we were only a half an hour from Concord and Lexington, where "the shot heard round the world" occurred. We spent two afternoons along Battle Road. We attended a ranger talk at the North Bridge, the site where the second shots of the American Revolution took place at 9:30 am (the first shots were fired on Lexington Green earlier in the morning around 5:00 am). At Hartwell Tavern we listened to a talk about the Minutemen and watched a real musket fire. We visited the site of Paul Revere's capture and attended the multi-media presentation that everyone kept telling us we needed to see, which was really quite informative and as the boys put it, "really exciting." At the end of our visits, after completing all of the requirements, the boys became Junior Rangers at Minuteman National Historical Park. The following days were punctuated by much revolutionary play and staged explosions.

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Saturday, October 15, 2011

Camden



A week in Acadia was followed by almost a week in Camden where rain kept us indoors for much of the time. Isaac was thrilled to have time to explore a new library pouring over as many books as he could and I was met by pleas of, "Wait! Mom! I only have ten more pages on the refomormation!" or "Hold on, I'm almost finished reading about the Ottomon Empire!" when I would try to drag him out during sun breaks or when the library was closing. At times we sat on the benches outside the library overlooking Penebscot Bay working on our math lessons for the day. I marvelled as I stepped back and soaked in the gorgeous setting we were immersed in. Watching the boys school, learn, and thrive in so many places on earth makes me so thankful for our flexible lifestyle that makes these crazy, growing-up experiences possible for our kids. They are not only learning so much from our natural surroundings, but also from opportunities that we come across like stopping at Fort Knox on the way to Camden. It really drives home how cool it is to experience things first hand as you watch your kids stick their heads into ginormous cannons, peer into the hot shot oven where cannon balls were baked before launch to light enemy ships below on fire, walk into the powder houses where gun powder was stored, read through the procedure for firing a cannon, and skirt around the rickity, horse-drawn ambulance. After we left Camden, we stopped at the U.S.S. Albacore, an experimental submarine that is now in dry dock. The boys (all three of them) were in little-boy (and big-boy) heaven as they crawled into bunks, stepped through the water-tight hatches, looked through the periscope, sat down in the control seats, pushed buttons..... Boys can't get enough of hands-on weaponry.

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Sunday, October 9, 2011

Acadia




Acadia National Park is a wonderful mixture of ocean and mountains carved out by glaciers with wild granite shores and powerful waves. We were lucky enough to settle into the rhythm of life here for a week. After a week on the sailboat, Jason had catch-up at work and we had to hit the books again. Cell phone and wi-fi are spotty at best in Acadia so after a morning walk to the rocks that overlook the churning ocean below our campground, we would drive down to Bar Harbor and park ourselves at Morning Glory Bakery to consume organic goodies while we worked on math and writing. In the afternoons the boys and I reluctantly left Jason to work while we went for hikes, explored through Bar Harbor, played on beaches. One afternoon, after debating whether we should bring jackets to stay warm, we hit Sandy beach. When we reached the water the boys stood at the edge, watching the waves roll in.....then they started playing chicken with the waves, running from them at the last moment to stay dry. From there it was a gradual evolution from dry boys to soaking-wet-from-head-to-toe boys, laughing and screaming as the waves washed over them, laying down in puddles, delighted, with teeth chattering on this fall day in late September. 

It was nice for all of us to settle back into a pattern of normalcy and though Jason was working and we were schooling we still managed to pack in hikes up the North Bubble, Champlain Mountain, Pemetic Mountain, Bald and Parkman Mountains, and were able to visit favorite spots like the Thunder Hole, where water rushes up a narrow channel hitting the inside of a cave and exploding out, Jordan Pond Lodge where we ate warm pop-overs with tea and hot cocoa, a hike on one of Rockefeller's scenic carriage roads, searched through the rain for a forgotten cave where pink anemones once thrived, and dined at our favorite French restaurant in Bar Harbor, Mâché Bistro where Isaac developed a taste for duck, consuming everything on his plate including the polenta and wilted greens. Oh boy, this could get expensive. 

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Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Foggy Maine



The next two days were spent motoring through thick fog. It is our opinion that GPS and radar are good. Though I know we were surrounded by islands, we hardly saw anything along the way. Occasionally we were close enough to an island to catch a murky glimpse through the fog and rain. We motored blind toward Mcglathery island, a protected island that is inhabited by wild sheep. When we arrived, we had the little cove to ourselves. Just us and the fog. Our hike on this island was nothing short of mystically magical as we wound through the deep, dark, misty woods blanketed, alternately, with deep green moss and ferns, and white moss that I kept mistaking for snow at first glance. We are sure fairies live here. Aaron spent some time making a house for one. I am sad to say that there were no sheep sightings, however. They were pretty well camoflaged.

The next day the fog was just as thick, but luckily, it was not raining. The GPS faithfully guided us to Frenchburo just as the fog burned off and we hopped off the boat in search of the famous lobster roll from the head of the cove offshore store. Though it was closed for the season, it seemed to be inhabited by kids when we got there. They ran across the street to fetch their mother who graciously made us a lobster roll and sold us some much needed water. As we sat and talked with the owner, we learned that there are no grocery stores on the island, there are eleven students in the one room school house, and the huge bones that sat by the side of her store were from a minke whale that washed up on shore there a couple of years ago. When we got back to the boat, there was a breeze so we headed out to sail in the glorious sunshine for a couple of hours. Along the way I felt a deep need to take a swim even though I knew I would freeze. As we got closer to harbor I knew it was my last chance and I would regret it if I didn't do it so we heaved to and I jumped into the water. It was cold. And I wasn't expecting a current so I got a little freaked out when it started pulling me away from the boat and swimming back was much more difficult than anticipated. But I made it, and all of my boys helped pull me back on deck shivering, dripping and salty. Next on the agenda for the day was visit to Eastern Beach where the it gets hammered all winter long by huge waves so all of the granite rocks on shore are round, smooth and very egg-y, perfect throwing rocks. The boys set to work as soon as we stepped out of the dinghy throwing as many of these round rocks into the water as they could manage. It gradually morphed into throwing small egg rocks at big egg rocks which had the delightful effect of bouncing like a pinball back and forth very randomly, and sometimes scarily across the beach. For little boys, Ne Plus Ultra.....Latin for "there is no higher," which was also the name of the Bermunda 40 that we were chartering.

I apologize for the overload of photos.

Maine Sailing



After our day of discomfort, we awoke to beautiful sunshine. After morning tea up on deck, we hopped into the dinghy and headed to shore for a hike around the island. Along the way we explored tide pools, looking for crabs and fish, climbed up big granite boulders, hiked through thick forest with trees down everywhere. The boys pulled their pant legs up as high as they would go and crossed a narrow channel to the islands on the other side. As we came back around the other side of the island near our boat, we came to a door standing alone in the middle of the forest across the trail, with the word "REALITY" written in large letters with an arrow. In fine print above it said, "Last one out, please remember to turn out the lights. Thx. Management." Maine rocks. We spent the rest of the gorgeous day sailing in light winds and glorious sunshine to Buck's Harbor. I must say that this type of sailing suits me much better than the hurky kind.

We awoke to rain the next morning with a sick Aaron and set sail for Castine, an old New England village settled in the late 1600's where many battles took place, including the U.S.'s worst naval defeat before Pearl Harbor. We lost 16 ships to a very small British force and our hero Paul Revere was court martialed and dismissed from service for just being present at the battle. As we sailed toward Castine a huge, 100 foot, old schooner glided up from behind and sailed side-by-side with us through the rain for the afternoon. We explored the village the next morning, with fever-y Aaron riding on my back, checking out all the cute New England architecture and reading the signs throughout town about the battles that took place before we set out for Pulpit Harbor where a 150-year-old osprey nest sits perched upon a rocky outcropping that greets you at the mouth of the harbor. Here we got our first taste of fog and it was pretty cool. Since there was a lack of wind, we motored through patches of fog. At one point Jason cut the engine and we just drifted through the fog. It felt like we floating through the open ocean, it was so quiet and we couldn't see anything, but the sun was shining above making us super warm. By afternoon, Aaron was feeling much better and the boys enjoyed much rock-throwing on land. As we were walking up the hill to the grocery store an old Model-T came putting down the road, turned around, and a few moments later pulled up behind us and offered us a ride. We all hopped in to the 1929 Model-T that had belonged to family of the wife of Charles Lindberg and away we went. Along the way he pointed out the house of the late brain surgeon that had instructed the surgery on JFK over the phone. After we stopped in front of the cute little grocery store he turned off the engine and the boys both jumped when it let out a loud back-fire.

Click here for way too many photos.

Happy Birthday Isaac!



We fell in love with Maine last October when we rented a VW camper van here and spent the week camping along the coast up to Acadia National Park and back, watching the leaves turn along the way. We spent a couple of nights in Camden where we were smitten with the idea of sailing as we walked the docks looking at sailboats and daydreaming about sailing through the islands here. Less than a year later we are here actually doing it.

To back up a bit, when we were in Seattle in July we looked at a Hinckley Bermuda 40 that is for sale there, talk about smitten, we fell in love with this boat. She has gorgeous lines, huge deck space and cockpit for lounging about, and the layout below is perfect, with two separate pilot berths for the boys to snuggle into. Maine native, Bill, the eighty-plus-year-old owner, who has been sailing his whole life, was kind enough to invite us to sail with him for the day so we happily joined him, his son, and grandson for a sail from Shilshole Bay across Puget Sound and back, enjoying stories about everything from sailing, to his teaching experience in Austria. The boat sailed like a dream. She was smooth and comfortable, heeling over in her wasn't scary, her engine wasn't uber-loud, stinky, or vibratey, all the controls were easy and accessible, the side decks are huge and comfortable, perfect for snuggling two boys, one arm around each. As far as I can tell, it doesn't get any better than that.

Back to Maine. Jason found that Hinckley charters boats out of Southwest Harbor near Acadia, so we booked a charter on a Bermuda 40 with the same set-up as Bill's boat to get a feel for if this boat really worked well for us or not. After the checkout process we set sail at about 4:00 and sailed a short distance to Valley Cove where we anchored under the cliffs of the only fjord on the eastern seaboard. The following morning, we awoke with Isaac, the birthday boy, and after gifts and birthday crepes, Isaac, our dinghy captain, shuttled us to shore for a  hike up the mountain for views over the water and the  islands below before setting out. We decided to eat lunch as we sailed so I set to work below decks as Jason motored us out to a safe place to set sail. From above Jason excitedly called for Isaac to come see. After running up to see what the excitement was all about, he came back down giggling, his face dripping with sea water, the result of a huge wave splashing up and over the boat. The winds were high and when we entered the channel the waves were really big (for us) and close together resulting in uber-seasickness for all below. The waves were so big that when I would look up at Jason at the helm from below decks as we were climbing a wave, I could see a wall of water behind him. We all evacuated the cabin and headed up above, where Aaron curled up into a ball in the corner, the birthday boy sprawled out in front of the companion-way, feverishly reading the magic book he had received for his birthday, and I sat on my knees at the edge of the deck, shaking and waiting to throw up while waves splashed up and over the boat. Jason kept asking, "Are you ready to raise sail?" I have never felt so seasick before and was shocked by its effect on me. I felt so weak and shaky from it that I was frozen as I waited to cruck (Another side note here, the word cruck originates from when Aaron was a baby sitting in his car seat babbling away as Jason excessively accelerated. He was saying "Hey, Daddy?" when the noise "cruuuuuuuck!" escaped his mouth along with his lunch, and then he continued his sentence like nothing had happened) so raising sail would have to wait. I felt like a big wimp. Eventually I was able to get the sails up and sailing under just the jib and jigger, things improved without the noise and vibration of the engine. We decided to cut the day short and pounded our way through the waves, beating into 20-25 knot winds to the safety of Buckle Harbor, a calm, shallow cove nestled at the center of several tiny islands.

Safely anchored, I cooked a yummy birthday dinner before we sang happy birthday to Isaac just after sunset up on deck and then consumed birthday cupcakes in the darkness. While taking in our surroundings, sparkles under the water caught our eye. We spent the rest of the evening hanging over the decks, watching bioluminescent plankton glowing and sparkling as little shrimp scurried past them. We all believe in fairies. Happy twelfth birthday Isaac. We hope you had a magical day.

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Thursday, September 22, 2011

Boston


It's official. We successfully drove Sylvia from Montana to Boston. All 3,200 miles. Without incident. Arriving on Saturday, we settled into the houseboat in Charlestown that we would call home for the week. Sunday we drove Sylvia out to the best Vanagon mechanic in Boston and dropped her off for a check-up and to have her clutch replaced. We are so excited because our friends from Portugal, Sandra and Paulo, and Dinis from London joined us in the marina in their own houseboat for the week. After kissing Jason good-bye in the morning as he, Sandra, and Dinis headed to the office, with poor Paolo working in his warm houseboat as it rocked back and forth, the boys and I, feeling somewhat guilty, spent the days going to the aquarium where they now have a shark and ray touch pool (we thought this was beyond cool, feeling these curious creatures cruise under our open palms as they swam around and around), exploring Bunker Hill and the Charlestown neighborhood, playing at the Children's Museum, eating yummy food in Harvard Square, and the nights enjoying the company of our friends as we shared dinner, laughed, and talked. At the office, Sandra would report, Jason was receiving what appeared to her to be a new camper van, piece by piece each day, in the mail, leaving it to the boys and I to ferry the parts out to the mechanic, three hours by train. Most of Friday was dedicated to picking Sylvia up. When we reached the mechanic, I was both starving and caffeine-deprived, not a good combo for me especially when I am about to drive in a city that I vowed I would never drive a normal car, much less a camper van in. When I started up Sylvia, she ran like a dream, no sputtering or coughing. I carefully started backing out, watching the UPS guy so I wouldn't run him over when he shouts in his Boston accent, "Do you know your back hatch is open?" No, I didn't because my brain was barely functioning. So I pulled back into my spot, set the parking break and took my foot off the clutch. The giant lurch let me know that I had not put her into neutral. Oh boy. Not good. I can only imagine what the mechanic was thinking. Luckily, we had planned to stop at Whole Foods along the way to pick up lunch, coffee, and groceries so my brain would start functioning in some kind of a normal fashion. After lunch Isaac, my navigator, was doing a fabulous job directing us to I-90 with Sylvia purring like a kitten and driving so smoothly, when he accidentally erased the directions off of my iPod. Oops. I had anticipated something like this happening because, curiously, similar things happen to me when I am the navigator and so I had memorized the last of the instructions, which were the trickiest. Though my memory served me well, it would not be a proper driving experience in Boston if I had understood all the signs and gotten it right. We inevitably ended up heading in the wrong direction on a one way street, with no opportunity to turn around. It is the Boston way. But luckily we have spent a lot of time walking around the city and know it well so we organically, without the aid of any GPS or smart phone, found our way back to the houseboat. A feat that I am inordinately proud of and must share with all of you. Isaac and I were triumphant as we pulled up to Jason, Sandra and Paulo in the parking lot. I must admit that my legs were shaking when I stepped out of Sylvia, but we made it.

After basking in our glory for a short while, we set out to show Sandra and Paulo the Freedom Trail that winds past major historical points throughout the city and some of our favorite stops along the way. Starting at the U.S.S. Constitution, or Old Iron Sides, we worked our way past Bunker Hill, where a very decisive battle took place, through the North End, the Italian quarter, home to the Old North Church of Paul Revere fame, and where we stopped for coffees, pastries, and, the boys favorite, gelato, at Café Vittoria, past the oldest oyster bar in the nation, through the Holocaust Memorial where all of us wanted to cry and some of us did, to Faneuil Hall and Quincy Market where we caught the very end of a break dance show and we witnessed the very extensive fleecing of the crowd. Here Dinis joined us and we headed up to the old State House where the Boston Massacre and many Sons of Liberty meetings took place, to the Granary Burying Ground where Paul Revere and Samuel Adams are buried. Here we cut across Boston Commons, where the British were stationed, to Beacon Hill, an old, utterly cute neighborhood of ivy-covered, brick homes where we found a cozy French restaurant snuggled in the a basement of one of the old homes. Here we enjoyed one final dinner together before everyone travelled their separate ways in the morning. It was so good to spend time again with you Sandra and Paulo, and it was so nice getting to know you better Dinis. Thank you all for joining us in Boston.

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Sunday, September 18, 2011

Happy Birthday Aaron!



At the stroke of seven o'clock, Aaron's head appeared, peering down at us from his pop-top bed anxious for his birthday to begin. With two boys snuggled  into bed with us, we gave Aaron his card and presents. Not only is Aaron a hiking fiend, he is also an owl fanatic so he was super excited to see the new burrowing owl and barn owl that we had gotten him. He has Burrow, his well-loved burrowing owl that he brings everywhere, but he is of the opinion that two is even better than one. After spending the morning playing with Burrow and Bur-bur, we set out for a short hike to Bingham Falls, a warm-up for our hike planned for the afternoon. After driving 2,707 miles to get here in time for Aaron's birthday, the clouds lifted after weeks of rain from the various hurricanes and tropical storms and we spent the afternoon triumphantly hiking to the top of Mount Mansfield, the highest mountain in Vermont. We hiked along the ridge line taking in the 360 degree views of the White Mountains of New Hampshire, Vermont's Green Mountains, Lake Champlain, and the Adirondacks in New York. On the way back we took the  Subway Trail, one of the craziest trails that we have been on, which took us through tunnels and canyons, exposed sidehills, steep ups and downs, and through stunted alpine forests. The birthday boy was very happy with his birthday hike. After eating dinner we sang a round of happy birthday and dug into the raspberry pie Aaron had picked out at the farm for his birthday cake. Happy birthday Aaron! We can't believe that you are ten already.

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Sweet Vermont



After Montreal, I was full of woe and wondering if I was mad to have wanted to do such a moronic thing as drive a camper van from Montana through southern Canada to New England. In the morning we bid Montreal and Canada farewell and entered the U.S. without incident. Somehow things looked different after we crossed the border and my mood brightened when we caught a tiny car ferry over Lake Champlain from New York to Vermont, where we watched the water go by and happily chatted about our insanity. As it turns out, I was not alone in my despair, Jason was having similar thoughts and feelings and we laughed over our shared mood as the boys stated over and over again, "it wasn't that bad." When we drove off the ferry I was beaming to be back in Vermont. It all made sense to me now. I had started to question if it was really going to be as good as I remembered it. It is. About ten miles down the road, there was a sign for fresh, organic veggies and meats so we pulled off into a picturesque farm and bounded in. Now we're talking. This is what I had imagined when I thought about driving across the continent, taking time to stop in little places like this to soak up some of the culture, buy local things to eat, talk to the people who live there. We bought some local veggies, a whole chicken raised right there on that farm, local milk, local yogurt and real chocolate ice cream made with all real ingredients. I made lunch in the camper van and we ate it under the trees at the farm and basked in the glory that is Vermont as we shared the pint of decadent chocolate ice cream. A half hour later, we stopped at a winery and picked up a bottle of Vermont wine to cook our Vermont chicken in.

We wound up into the mountains towards Smuggler's Notch State Park (which, I might add, has a zen fountain gurgling in the restroom) in preparation for Aaron's birthday. At the top of the road were spectacular cliffs looming overhead shrouded in low-lying clouds. We parked and headed up a steep trail to Sterling Lake. My body and soul were so glad to be out hiking that I felt I could hardly hold my legs back as they hopped from rock to rock. All of our spirits soared as we hiked into the clouds to the misty hidden lake.

Hopping into Sylvia after the hike, we began the descent down the steepest road we have ever seen. Narrow and winding through huge, gneiss boulders, we concluded that Vermont was insane for building such a road. The history behind it was that smugglers used this route to haul goods from Canada to the U.S. when President Jefferson imposed a trade embargo, slaves used it to escape to Canada and, of course, alcohol was smuggled through here during prohibition. Near the bottom of the road was our campground where we settled in for the night and Aaron waited with anxiously for tomorrow to come so we could begin his birthday festivities.

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Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The life of a rock star


I knew I had married well but I had no idea of the catch I had made until crossing into Canada this trip. I always get nervous at border crossings especially since we seem to get pulled over almost every time. There's something about being in no man's land with no rights that is very unsettling for me. Before getting to the border station at Saunt St. Marie, we had talked about taking off sunglasses so we didn't look like we were trying to hide anything. Jason forgot and must have looked too glamorous to be just a normal person. We pulled up to the station and answered all the normal questions. Weapons? No. Alcohol and tobacco? No. Ever been kicked out of Canada? No. Ever forgotten ID going into Canada? Here Jason faltered and said I don't think so. Our doom was sealed. "Hold on for a second" after swiping Jason's passport, as she closed her sliding window. Opening it a few moments later she asks, "WHAT alcohol and tobacco DO you have?" Nothing. "Here take this slip and go inside." Ugh. Jason headed in to get in line as I rounded up the boys. Two border patrol guards sat outside the door as we tried to pass by and they asked for our ID. I broke into a sweat because Jason had our passports inside. I explained and he kindly let us go by. When we reached Jason at the counter his border patrol guy was heading to a back room. After a few moments he came back and with a stern face he asked Jason something that I couldn't hear. To which Jason replied, "What? No!" incredulously. Me, being afraid to say anything to Jason because it might somehow prove me guilty of some wrong that I was unaware of committing, didn't ask. The border guy, again, disappears to the back room. A few moments later he comes back laughing and informs us that we can go. They had gotten Jason mixed up with another Jason Taylor born the exact same day but in Ohio. At this point I was brave enough to ask what was going on as they chuckled together something about Metallica. He had asked if Jason was in a band. Apparently the other Jason Taylor plays in a band that opened for Metallica and is infamous at Canadian border crossings. Hah! I had no idea that I had married a rock star. Be still my beating heart. 

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Montreal


Here is my tale of woe. After what seemed to be endless miles through Ontario, we finally made it to Montreal. The idea of what we had hoped would be a miniature Paris, had kept my hopes alive over the past few days of driving. After navigating the highways to the center of the city, I was dismayed by the overly-hip, bright, commercialized, crazy busy streets reminiscent of photos that I had seen of Tokyo, that we drove through as we searched for the tourist information center that would hopefully provide us with a map to find the old part of town. After parking, we snagged a map and headed on foot to what we hoped would be old-school French streets with bakeries, cafés, and bistros. When we got there, it turns out that they took this beautiful old French corridor and turned it into a tourist trap, complete with stores where we could buy moccasins, moose trinkets, or maple leaf junk with Canada written on it. Ugh. We had hoped to sit in a bistro and eat delicious food, but the restaurants were all garbage tourist food restaurants with hosts outside brandishing menus theatrically begging you to come in. We were weakened by hunger and knew the boys wouldn't be able to make it to another part of the city. We walked around in despair, desperately hoping to find a decent restaurant open, until we knew we could go no more. Aaron, my flip-flop wearing, peak-bagging boy was dragging his feet and kept slumping down to the sidewalk so we knew we had to suck it up, get it over with, and eat. We did not sink so low as to go into one of the restaurants with the hosts trying to sucker us in, but it was still the most expensive bad dinner we have had. 

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Faces of Ontario


While in Ontario we met some interesting people that will give you a taste of the culture we experienced up there. A cash-crop farmer from Southern Ontario hurried as best he could on crooked legs to catch up with Jason at one of the campgrounds to chat. We learned he was there dropping off his son to work in a nickel mine. He told us how he was just a farmer, never went to school or nothin', high school was hard enough, sometimes too hard. He seemed lonely and anxious to talk. Another guy in North Bay, where we attracted a lot of stares being outsiders, struck up a conversation about the camper van and asked if he could buy her from us. He hadn't seen one since he was a kid. He was a Native American (Cree) who lived 2,000 km north and had come all the way down to North Bay to be in the South. It made us feel funny since we were in Canada and we consider even Montana to be pretty far north. He said that polar bears are moving into the area where had grown up, something that has never happened before. He told us that it is illegal to drink alcohol where he comes from and when he was younger he used to bootleg into the reservation which would net him $3,000 a week. When he realized that teenagers were starting to break into people's homes, stealing so that they could pay for the alcohol, he gave up that profession and now manages a Pizza Hut. As we parted ways, he said he was going to meet his wife and that they weren't going to go out drinking or nothing. On the same street, the burly, tattooed owner of a leather clothing shop spent time staring at Pika in the camper van while smoking a cig (it seemed like everyone smoked). He immediately started a conversation with us about her when we came back. He was smitten with her delicate cuteness. While we ate lunch in the camper van he went back into his store, researched chihuahuas, and came back out with a lot more questions as he was now on a search to locate a "Montana, deer-faced, sand-colored chihuahua" as he put it. 

Driving and driving and driving....


The next couple of days are a blur, Jason working beside me as I drove and drove and drove. South Dakota, rolling grassland giving way to farm fields. Southern Minnesota, corn and soy crops as far as the eye can see. When we hit the Minnesota border we bid the interstate system adieu, until we meet again, in Vermont, and headed north on back roads, spending the night at Split-Rock State Park, a campground on a smallish, pretty lake that apparently has a snapping turtle the size of a VW Bug. In reality its head is only the size of a large grape fruit. As we meandered through the hardwood forest at dusk, we startled flock after flock of birds out of the branches, wings whistling as they rose into the air. 

The next two days the wind howled. Luckily Jason was at the wheel. As we drove by Lake Superior, there were large breaking waves rolling into shore. Originally we had planned to stay on the lake but opted for somewhere inshore and more sheltered.

To be honest here, from Michigan, Wisconsin and the three days across Ontario to Montreal I began to question my sanity. The amount that we drove each day was so much more than anticipated and there really wasn't much time to relax or explore or even take photos. The landscape, though beautiful with all of its trees (I had imagined driving along lake shores but there are so many trees and the land so flat, we were offered just glimpses of lakes from time to time), became monotonous, and the culture seemed unhealthy and depressing. The ray of light for these days was the night in Mansining, MI that I cooked a whole chicken in a cast-iron skillet over the fire. Sweet mother of all that is delicious. I flattened the chicken down in the skillet, rotating and flipping about every five minutes adding red wine about half way through with some potatoes from my garden. I have never had a chicken so good. 

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Friday, September 9, 2011

Badlands






After driving through the Black Hills of South Dakota, day three landed us in Badlands National Park for a whirlwind, much-too-short visit. A short hike gave way to spectacular 360 degree thunderstorms in the evening. Lightning was hitting with such frquency that my magical boys would count to three and wave their arms in the air and lighting would magically flash in the distance. The force is strong with them. The next morning, after diligently working on their junior ranger programs (actually I should say Isaac here, as Aaron diligently worked on an amazing owl drawing at the same time), we headed to the ranger station to get Isaac's badge (Aaron will receive his in the mail). After Ranger Rick (really that was his name) checked through Isaac's workbook it was time to swear the oath, at which point poor Ranger Rick was attacked by an uncontrollable sneezing fit. As Isaac repeated the oath that Ranger Rick struggled to utter between sneezes, we all wondered if he should repeat the sneezes (I Isaac, Achoo! Promise to Achoo!....). Afterwards Ranger Rick held out his drippy hand for a high five which Isaac reluctantly received. Time to hit the bathroom for a thorough hand washing. After one last run/hike on the Notch Trail, we hit the road with the goal of leaving the grasslands of  South Dakota behind and entering Minnesota.

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Thursday, September 8, 2011

Driving East



Sylvia doesn't have AC so equipped with only our God-given means of cooling we set off in 90+ degree weather across the hot plains of Eastern Montana. On day one Sylvia ran great in the hot weather and faithfully carried us as far as the Sheridan, WY KOA. Along the way we stopped at the Battle of the Little Big Horn battlefield where General Custer's last stand took place against a huge band of united Native American tribes. Day two landed us at Devil's Tower National Monument. Devil's Tower, or Bear Lodge as the Native Americans call it, is an igneous intrusion that cooled slowly forming the hexagonal formation a mile below the earth's surface. The sedimentary rock around it slowly eroded away and left the columned tower behind.  We were all ecstatic to be in desert country again and set out exploring. On our after-dinner hike we followed the trail through prairie dog town to try to get a glimpse of a burrowing owl. Alas, no luck. As we headed up the red beds trail we had an overly-friendly deer with boundary issues follow us. We eyed each other curiously in peaceful co-existence for a while until Jason put Pika down and the deer freaked and became very aggressive as they went head to head. We took our leave at this point and headed to higher ground to watch the sunset. Back at the campground we listened to ranger stories which were cut short by a spectacular lighting show that we watched perched atop our picnic table until we climbed into bed.

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Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Let the insanity begin....



I have been taunting Jason for years whenever an opportunity to travel to Boston appears that we should drive there. In the camper van. He has always thought it was a crazy idea. Until this year. This year he decided it was a great idea and now I am saying, "what, really?" After returning from our Seattle trip we have been working towards this goal nonstop. Mostly that means bringing Sylvia to the mechanic 3-4 times per week to fix whatever wasn't working right. They had her for 7 out of the last 8 weeks. I have to admit, this plan was more than a little nerve-wracking. Everything seemed to be running smoothly for our scheduled departure date of 8/30, the day after the Robin Hood camp, so we reluctantly hugged all of our friends who we will miss so much good-bye and set off into the unknown. We have two set dates in mind, 9/12 we need to be in Boston for a week, and 9/18 we are getting onto a sailboat near Acadia National Park, but beyond that our plan is to hang out in the northeast, watching the leaves turn and following them south.

Robin Hood



A friend of mine, who dreams big and is brave enough to pull it off, put together this amazing Robin Hood camp for a group of fellow homeschoolers. It was a two day camp where the kids learned skills that would come in handy if they were ever a medieval rebel. The first day was dedicated to learning how to shoot a longbow taught by two experienced archers and bow makers. I am not sure the instructors had ever taught a group of kids like this before. When the instructor asked how many kids hunted, nobody raised their hands. When he asked if anyone was offended by hunting, about half of the class raised their hands. As he was giving the class little tidbits of history the kids would raise their hands and elaborate with many details about what he had just told them (...so in the Battle of Crécy the French neglected to bring their protective netting and so they fell quickly to the English longbows... also crossbows were much slower to load...). It was awesome to see this group of kids and instructor share their knowledge with, and learn from each other. The kids had an amazing day shooting arrows at various medieval targets. They are now quite addicted to longbow action. The next day was dedicated to stage combat taught by two instructors from Shakespeare in the Parks. The kids spent the morning learning how to wield blunted, metal, broad swords (Isaac's favorite), rapiers, and daggers. In the afternoon they learned stage hand-to-hand combat skills. It was really funny watching the instructors walk around as pairs of kids appeared to strangle, punch, and kick each other, exclaiming "good!" and offering feedback in various ways to make it more realistic and dramatic. The boys had an awesome experience and we are very happy we postponed our departure to Boston. Thank you Aimee for all of your hard work and effort.



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Monday, September 5, 2011

Hiking and hiking and hiking.....





So we hike-biked blackmore today and I would like to share some things I learned. One. it is hard to mountain bike with a heavy milk crate on the back of your bike. Two. It is even harder to bike when the bungy cord hanging off the back of your milk crate gets wrapped up in your back wheel. Three. Leathermans are good. Four. It is hard to mountain bike with a heavy backpack on. Five. It is hard to mountain bike with five-finger shoes on tiny egg-beater pedals. Six. My kids are crazy fit and active and I shudder to think of what they will be doing when they are teenagers and pray to the recreation gods that I can keep up. And that they will carry the heavy packs.

Since we got home from our sailing trip my flip-flop-wearing-peak-bagging fiend, Aaron has been dragging us up every mountain that he can talk us in to. First we attempted to hike Mount Baldy in the Bridgers, a ten mile, five hour trek for fit adults, up crazy steep terrain. The trail basically heads straight up for about 2 1/2 miles where you hit the ridge line and are treated to spectacular views. From there you follow the ridge line all the way to the top of Baldy. Unfortunately, at about four miles in we had to turn back because thunderstorms loomed in the distance. But we made it to the top of what we officially named Mount Eaglet and the Fins.

Next on the list, Sacajawea Peak, the tallest mountain in the Bridgers at just under 10,000 feet. After bumping our way six miles up the super steep road to the parking lot we easily conquered the two miles to the windy top. Again, we had thunderstorms building, literally, from every direction and we had to high-tail it down. On the way down Aaron looks up and says "what's that mommy?" pointing to the clouds. Much to my dismay, there was a long finger reaching down from the storm front. It was definitely time to pick up the pace as we watched it reaching further and further down in a funnel cloud. There were reports the next day of a tornado in the Shields Valley that never touched down.

On a rest day, Aaron talked me into hiking the Triple Tree trail up to the highest point with him while Isaac rested at home with dad after having a cavity filled. We enjoyed a mom and Aaron afternoon discovering new things about this old favorite trail.

Mount Balckmore, a twelve-mile trudge, was his next objective. We decided it might make it easier if we biked the first part of it to make it seem a little shorter. After enjoying a lunch at the lake we set out hiking, taking breaks to play near the stream from time to time, and slowly making our way up. Everyone was getting tired, Aaron had a stomach cramp that he refused to let slow him down, when we finally reached steep wildflower-filled meadows and our energy soared as our hopes lifted at seeing what we thought was the saddle. After switchbacking through these gorgeous meadows it opened up into alpine tundra where we could at last see the real saddle and Mount Blackmore looming above. We pushed until we hit the saddle where Aaron burst into so many "oh my goodnesses" as he took in the stunning view. It was truly, breath-takingly spectacular up there. We stared down into two alpine basins, utterly gorgeous. Isaac kept exclaiming, "man, oh man, I wish daddy were here to see this, because I never want to hike up here again." At this point we had some clouds building and it was late in the day so we decided that we would go to highest point on the saddle instead of Blackmore which was so tantalizingly close. We must have been within a half mile of the summit, but we decided safety was more important than summiting and that the view probably wouldn't be much better than where we were. After soaking up the views for as long as we dared in the ripping wind, we headed down. When we neared the bottom Isaac declared that "he loved this hike because it was so long." I guess it takes him eleven miles to get warmed up.

So Triple Tree was Tuesday, Blackmore was Thursday, Friday was homeschool soccer, moms versus kids, and Saturday was Aaron's early tenth birthday party in which he invited all of is friends to hike Sacajawea Peak with us. Luckily, we are incredibly blessed and have amazing friends who also love to hike, so we set out with seven boys and six parents up Sacajawea for a birthday celebration complete with a cupcake stop and happy birthday sing-a-long along the way. Sunday was Isaac's early twelfth birthday party in which he invited all of his friends to mountain bike South Cottonwood Trail with us. The same group of boys and parents joined us for a hair-raising, lightning-filled bike adventure to celebrate Isaac's birthday. Monday we all collapsed in a heap of jelly as I began to get us ready for our next adventure, Boston via driving Sylvia across the northern United States. These guys are maniacs.


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Andrew + Michelle = Happy Marriage!



I am happy to announce that my brother, Andrew, got married to Michelle on July 30, 2011 and I was honored enough to be the photographer at the wedding. After a month of working on photos (and not the blog) when Jason wasn't on the computer, I am ecstatic to have finally hand over a beautiful set of photos for their beautiful wedding.

Congratulations to you both. I wish you a lifetime of happiness together.