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.

Click here for photos.

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.

Click here for photos.

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. 

Click here for photos.