"Could I have this dance for the rest of my life?" - Anne Murray

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Cape Cod: The "Perfect" Vacation with Friends and Family

WARNING! Snide post ahead. Cape Cod lovers may want to turn back now.

For many people, Rick included, "The Cape" is practically holy. (In fact writing this will probably put me at risk with my loved ones.) Their families came here when they were kids, and it's just in their blood. It doesn't matter that the weather on The Cape seems to be bleak, cloudy, foggy, cold, windy, you name it, none of what you'd call beach weather. But folks still come here waiting for those few glorious days of sunshine, pleasant ocean breezes and warm temperatures. They have faith. They have memories. Give me the Bahamas.

And let me tell you about the beaches. There are three kinds of beaches on The Cape: the ocean, the bay and the ponds. You have choices!

Above is Marconi Beach, with the ubiquitous enormous dunes to scale, red tides, seaweed, jelly fish, and oh yeah, warnings:

But no biggie, just pop on over to the bay side where you'll find oyster shells and horseshoe crabs under foot, generations of sea grass tangling the murky salt water, occasional closures for polluted waters, but no sharks. Give me Hawaii.

But, if you have the right town beach pass, or it's dawn or twilight, you can head for one of the ponds. Rick loves Gull Pond, because that's where his family went.

Ah, fond memories of romping in the refreshing cool water after a long hot day in the salt water and sun. I don't know, it looks kind of cloudy in these pictures too. Heck, I'd even take Fort Lauderdale!

OK, so the weather may be dreary here on "The Cape," but the company sure isn't. We're parked in Eastham at Atlantic Oaks, a campground very close to where my two best friends from childhood, Linda and Beryl, and their husbands Thom and Ray, are staying in Welfleet. They come to the Cape every summer (they've got the history to buoy them up) and we were finally able to join them here this year.

Being with these guys is pure love. I just get really gushy about it. These are the kinds of friendships that last for decades, forgiving mistakes and surviving long distances of time and space. I don't care if the sun never shines, as long as I can sit down to dinner with my friends at the end of the day and laugh about it all. No perfect beach could beat this.

Thanks, my loved ones, for a perfect Cape Cod experience.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Newport and Jamestown Rhode Island by Land

Even though we're parked in Bellingham, Massachusetts, at the Circle CG Farm Campground, we are devoting this week to seeing Rhode Island, which is a quick drive south on 495 and 95.  For such a small state, there's so much to see and do, but we've been focusing on Newport and Jamestown.

Newport is famous for not only its music festivals, but for its numerous 19th century mansions. Times have changed, and many of the mansions are now owned, preserved and managed by the Newport Preservation Society.

We chose to visit just the Breakers, originally a Vanderbilt summer cottage, thinking that was enough for one day. There are multiple mansion packages you can buy, and you can even add on another property for $5 after you've toured just one if you feel like you've got the time and energy for more. (We didn't.)

With the self-guided audio tour it took us about two hours to go through the house and grounds. Above is the view of the Breakers that faces the bay and below is the side entrance and gardens. The gardens at the Breakers are not such a big deal. 

There is no photography allowed inside the building, thank goodness. There are just too many things to take pictures of and the traffic jams would be impossible. But they do allow pictures on the upper, lower and side porches, so I was able to catch just a few of the details. This is an example of the mosaic floor on the porch.

...and this is part of the ceiling.

The mansion is representative of what Mark Twain coined, "The Gilded Age." The style of luxury can only be described as excessive, with gold leaf, marble, exotic wood and stone carvings, mosaics, hand painting, silks and crystals everywhere, and that doesn't even include the furniture. Even the mundane things are more ornate and larger than life. It is truly staggering.  Here is a detail of the side gate.

We had planned on taking the Cliff Walk around this end of the island after our tour, but it was threatening rain and we were pretty hungry. Instead we drove along Ocean Drive, around the southern tip of the island and were amazed at how many more mansions there are packed in this tiny area! I guess everyone who was everyone wanted to have a "cottage" right here. 

Ocean drive took as along the shore, past some newer, smaller and still residential mansions, scenic inlets and salt marshes before delivering us downtown. Parking was difficult, but we found a spot on one of the two one way streets that run through town, and then just walked down to the water looking for someplace quick and easy. We wandered out onto one of the piers, passing a restaurant that we thought was closed (it was way past lunch time by then) but the manager came out and asked us if we wanted some lunch, so we went in to The Pier. It was a pretty fancy table cloth kind of place and if we weren't so tired and hungry we probably wouldn't have considered it. But their lunch menu was very reasonable and the ambiance was casual despite the table clothes. So after our very tasty New England clam chowder and a shared Pier Burger in downtown historic Newport we headed home for the day.

The next day we met up again with Dick in Jamestown and he gave us the land tour. He was so generous with his time and we were so fortunate to have his inside knowledge of the island.  We started at Spinnakers again for sandwiches and walked over to the beach for a picnic and to let Kona have a swim. It was nice to have her with us after she spent the two previous days by herself in the RV. Then we headed south to Fort Wetherill State Park.

Wetherill has many viewpoints over rocky cliffs and inlets, as well as several beaches that are popular with snorkelers and scuba divers. The water here is very blue and clear for New England.  At one beach though, the water was cloudy with masses of some kind of sea life eggs or larva. You can just see it in the shallow water below. Talking about what's in the water today seems like as regular a pass time as the weather for the locals.  It is, after all, a fishing community, or was, and so its all about the ocean.

Here's the town marina inside Wetherill State Park. The area has a long military history because of its ideal location for spotting incoming ships and defending the harbor. It is no longer military, but does host fishing and recreational boats. 

Below are some lobster traps that look brand new and ready to go, stacked up against one of the old military buildings. 

A short drive further down the island is Beaver Tail State Park. The water here at high tide on a windy day can be hugely dynamic. Today is was so tranquil that swimming off the rocks was easy. The Beaver Tail Light is in the upper left of the picture.

The light house now houses an interesting museum about Beaver Tail Light and the many other light houses in Narragansett Bay. This is the fresnel lens that was once in the Beaver Tail light. It's about 5 feet tall.

 There is also a little aquarium with examples of the local fish, that I wouldn't bother going into again. It's really about the big views here. Here's another one off Beaver Tail, looking east toward Newport.

 We finished up our day with ice cream once again at Spinnakers. What a handy local eatery.

One final view of the Jamestown Harbor before we thanked Dick for another great day and headed back to Bellingham. 

We'll have a couple of down days now to do chores, write blogs and get ready to move to Cape Cod! 

Boating Around Narraganesett Bay, Rhode Island

Castle Hill and Castle Light

What a perfect day for our visit with Rick's old New York Maritime College buddy.  Dick has lived on Conanicut Island since he was a boy and has been plying these waters most of his life. He very generously took us out on his 22' Century center console boat, the Potato Chip, for an extended tour of Narragansett Bay from Jamestown to Newport and beyond.

Conanicut Island, also referred to simply by the name of it's only town, Jamestown, is an island in the middle of Narragansett Bay. To its east is Newport, the well known playground of sailors and musicians. Our tour took us around the bay between Jamestown and Newport.

This day is a story told by boats, which of course made Rick very happy. He and his buddy talked boats all day. I know next to nothing about boats, but I took a lot of pictures of them.  There were lots of different kinds of boats, as you will see.

Our first boat of the day was the launch at the Clark Boatyard and Marine Works, which took us from the dock out to Dick's boat where it was moored just off shore.

We picked up sandwiches to go from Spinnakers (excellent place) and had our lunch out on the boat, complete with potato chips, after which our vessel was named, being enjoyed here by Rick and Dick. 

Of course we saw hundreds of boats at the marina, but here are a couple of colorful kayaks paddling  by Clingstone, a house on the rocks in Narragansett Bay. We saw quite a few kayaks during the day.

As you can see the water was beautifully calm; nice for motor boats and kayaks, but not so sweet for sail boats. These guys were getting towed out to where the wind was a little stronger. Later in the day the wind did pick up enough for plenty of sailboats to get out on the bay.

Our tour took us south along the shores of Conanicut Island and then across to the shore south of Newport. We saw several tugboats, this being one of the larger ones, but none of them were towing at the time.

As we slipped by some of the larger homes south of Newport, Dick pointed out this cute little launch. He seemed to be trying to interest us in buying a boat. Imagine that.

We also passed pretty close to the Nantucket lightship. Lightships are rare now-a-days, and this one is not used for its original purpose, which was to act like a lighthouse, but floating in the water where one is needed, rather than on shore.

As we passed Newport proper, we got to see plenty of grand yachts of all sorts...

...and fishing boats, some of them very large, like this one.

...and some very old, like this one. (This is still a working boat BTW.)

Here's a particularly nice wooden boat, originally a working tug, but transformed into a yacht.

And here is another classic old luxury wooden yacht, for sale. 
Hmmm, you think they'd take our RV for this???

We continued north past Newport marina and under the Claiborne Pell Bridge that connects Jamestown to Newport on Aquidneck Island. What a gorgeous day.

The nautical highpoint of the day was chasing down and getting a closer look at Angels Share, a luxury superyacht designed by Wally Yachts, seen below from the deck of the Potato Chip. Wally is a boat designing and building company out of Monaco that specializes in over-the-top designs. This one was all black, and looked kind of science fictiony. Dick called it Darth Vader. Fitting I think.

Here's a closer look. Note the crew of about 15 guys all dressed in black. also check out the reflection of the water on its black hull. Very cool. 

Of course the day wouldn't have been complete unless Rick got to pilot the Potato Chip for awhile. 
You can see how he liked that:

Thanks Dick for a great day! 

We also got to see Newport and Jamestown by land during our week here, and I hope to get a post up about that tomorrow.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Bye-Bye Vermont : (

Our last (foggy) morning at the Brattleboro North KOA.

Every time I leave the twin states of Vermont and New Hampshire, and neighboring Massachusetts, I get all teary. They were my home for the longest continuous period of my life, where many good friends still live, and I did truly love it here. Oh dear. Well, I also really love our life on the road and am not ready to settle down anywhere just yet. So off we go.

We've had a very full social calendar, visiting with friends almost every day, at their homes, our RV or interesting places new and old. Highlights of our July and August include (but are not limited to):

Hiking and sharing a condo with Laura and Ian in Lincoln, NH.

Meeting many new colleagues, students and friends while teaching for Pratt in Lincoln, NH.

Blueberry picking at Dutton's Farm, as well as sharing several warm and cozy visits with Don and Robin in Mt. Holly, VT.

Visiting Hildene in Manchester, VT with Thomas and Audrey.

Sitting on the back porch next to heaven in Monterey, MA with Wendy and Steve M.

A way-too-quick catch-up dinner with Steve W.

A grand jovial dinner at Alec and Joan's beautiful Vermont home.

Another grand dinner, complete with buttons and bratwurst at Phyllis and Peter's home in Conway, MA.

A restful afternoon visit on Susan and Peter's back deck, overlooking Forest Lake in Winchester, VT.

42nd St. at the Weston Playhouse, featuring Dottie Stanley, in the company of Don, Robin, Chuck and Bonnie.

Three wonderful love-filled days with son Mark and his girlfriend Ahna in their new home, Portland, ME, including a ferry ride to Peaks Island.

Indian cuisine with Mike at Tandoor, also in Portland.

Biking around the campground with our lovely little neighbor Charlotte.

A surprise reunion and subsequent fun with Sandy at the Brattleboro contra dance.

Contra dancing with hundreds of new and old friends in Greenfield, MA.

PHEW! What did I forget?

Friday, August 9, 2013

Wonderful Walker Farm: Dummerston, VT

It is peak produce time in Vermont; the fields are popping with fruits and vegetables, and we can walk to the source, right next door.  We can see the fields from the RV window.

Walker Farm has been here for over 200 years, owned and run by the same family since 1770.  It owes some of its success to the rich land of the Connecticut River Valley, but a great deal of the credit must go to the ingenuity and continuity of the Walker family.  It is not easy to make a farm successful in this day and age. 

 In addition to the fields of typical veggies like corn and tomatoes, they grow an unusual variety of produce, like about six kinds of kale:

... five kinds of cucumbers:

                                                                                                    ... and "purple filet beans."

Oh, and a selection of the freshest, most diverse and priciest baby greens ever, and I'm hooked.  (Must have every day for lunch.)  Corn, peaches, blueberries, tomatoes, lettuces, onions, raspberries, radishes, potatoes...the list of Walker's own produce goes on and on. Much of it is organic! They also sell local dairy products, eggs, and Walpole Creamery ice cream.  Just too good.

This is what makes Walker's a destination. The parking lot is never empty.


Then, as if that weren't enough, Walker's is also a grower and purveyor of award winning annuals, perennials, and larger landscaping stock, all looking hale and hardy.  Here is their selection of shade annuals:

Vermont is known for its abundance of small and organic farms, providing locally sourced foods to restaurants and farmstands along the road, like Walkers. These are the little pleasures that make life sweet, don't you think?  Thank you Vermont and thank you Walker Farm.

Monday, August 5, 2013

How to Leave a Comment


Some of our readers have spoken to us in person about not being able to figure out how to leave a comment.  Because we want to hear from you, I've tried to respond to the last post in four different ways. Here's what I discovered:

1. If you subscribe to the blog via email, and you want to respond privately, you can reply to the email as you would any other email. I will get the message in my personal email account and it will not show up on the blog.

2. If you subscribe to the blog via email you may also respond in the box at the bottom of your email that says "Click here to reply or forward." This may only appear on some email accounts, such as Gmail, which we use. However, if you are reading your email on an I-phone or I-pad, you may not have that little box even if you do use Gmail, but the standard method of replying to an email message should still work. This will also come to me as a private message in my email account and will not show up on the blog.

3. A method to comment publicly on the blog, if you receive the blog via email, is to click on the blue heading of the post, which will take you to the actual blog website. There you can scroll down to the bottom of the post and there will be white box within which to leave a comment. Don't forget to click on the "Publish" button. This will come to us as a comment to be moderated, and will then be published on the blog if appropriate.

4. Finally, if you don't receive the blog via email, but visit the blog by searching for it, or through a bookmark or favorite link you've created, or if for any reason the white comment box does not appear, you can leave a reply by scrolling down to the end of a post, click on the words that say "No comments" or some other number of comments and a white comment box will hopefully appear. Write your comment in the white box and click on "Publish" when you're done.  This will again come to us as a comment to be moderated, and will be published on the blog if appropriate.

5. If you are a fellow Blogger member the process may be completely different and we would love to hear from you about how you leave a comment successfully.

Now, all this said, given the complexity and flexibility of electronic communications in general and the Blogger program specifically, you may try some of these methods and they may not work.

If you are able to get any of the methods to work, please let us know which method you are using, and which methods didn't work, if you can tell. I am not in control of all aspects of this blogging program. I'd love to solve this problem and post some clear directions on a permanent page on the blog.


Sunday, August 4, 2013

Vermont and New Hampshire: Unique Local Phenomena

Being here in Vermont is a return to an earlier time and place in both of our lives, as well as in US history. I lived nearby in Keene, NH for about 20 years, and Rick and I lived in Mt. Holly, VT for about four before we moved to Chicago in 2002.  But beyond our personal histories, Vermont, like most of New England, is just so deeply settled. People have been living here for so long that its history is not only visible everywhere, but it seems like I can feel it in the curves of the roads as they follow the streams and larger river valleys, in the pastures, in the stone walls.  Time moves slowly here - in the 10+ years since we lived here it looks like there has been almost no development, in fact many things have devolved. (Of course we've been through a hard-hitting recession during that time.) People live simple lives, many of them closely connected to a minimalist kind of agricultural dependency on the land. No evidence of big corporate agri-business around here - just small family farms.

It's hard to believe that Vermont and New Hampshire were almost completely deforested for sheep farming in the 1800's. Now there are trees everywhere. It's a challenge to get photographs of anything besides the trees!  

We're at the KOA on Rt. 5, about halfway between Brattleboro and Putney, VT. I'll say more about the immediate area in my next post. For now I'll just share a few spots we've visited in the past week.

One of the places I was really looking forward to revisiting is Burdick's, just across the river in Walpole, NH. It is truly one of the areas best kept secrets.  Burdick's makes internationally renown chocolate, but is so unprepossessing that you'd never know it was there. In this classic little white clapboard town, it is just one of a handful of businesses in the homely building in the photo below. There isn't even a sign saying it's Burdick's. 

The best thing at Burdick's, in my opinion, is the hot chocolate, made simply of shaved chocolate (your choice of dark, mild or white) with just enough steamed milk to make it drinkable. OMG, it is like nothing you've ever tasted. It is so intense that the first time you may not even be able to finish a cup. It is complete sensual rapture. 

In the Walpole location Burdick's has a chocolate store, a cafe and a restaurant. I've never tried the restaurant, but love the little cafe (above). It's very warm and cozy and welcoming, with hot drinks of all kinds, fresh baked croissants and scones, as well as about 15 other kinds of pastries and dessertish things (below).  I've been there twice already at 7 AM when they are just opening the doors and taking the croissants and scones out of the oven. Oh boy. Breakfast perfection.

And here's another southern Vermont favorite that I was looking forward to revisiting: The Vermont Country Store, with two locations in Weston and Rockingham.  We stopped at the original store, in Weston. 

It has two large compound buildings, one of which houses two restaurants: the classic Bryant House for a sit down meal, and the equally classic Mildred's ice cream shop (below).

The other is a rambling multi-roomed general store with an abundance of everything you can imagine, from clothing, to foods and candies, to toys and housewares, all with an emphasis on tradition.  Here's the cheese shop:

It's a great place to Christmas shop or to find a little something that you don't need in the RV. I found a few excellent dish towels.

In our new explorations of the area we've come across the longest covered bridge in Vermont, that crosses the West River in West Dummerston (above), and the ruins of Madame Sherri's Castle near Mt. Wantastiquet (below), thanks to our friend Steve.

The "castle" was a grand home at one time, that fell into disrepair and burnt down in 1962. The ruins make for some interesting exploring.

We've also made our usual visits to local farmer's markets, the one below is in Norwich, VT, where we also happened to run into an old friend of Rick's selling produce from her Four Springs Farm in nearby Royalton. There was some nice fiddle and hammer dulcimer music being played as well.

Yesterday we had another new experience with a drive up the Mount Equinox Skyline Drive, in Sunderland, near Manchester, VT.  (Manchester is a very popular, high-end kind of destination with lots of places to eat, lodge and shop.)

The toll road is managed by the Carthusian Monastery that can be seen from the summit of Mt. Equinox. The views from the drive and the summit are spectacular, stretching from the Adirondacks of NY in the east to the White Mountains of NH in the west. It's a great place to get a sense of the vastness of the surrounding mountains and the TREES!

At the summit, the Monastery has build a viewing (and warming) center that also houses some information about the Carthusians. There is a network of hiking trails leaving from the center that look like they'd be pretty interesting. It can of course get cold and windy at the top, but it wasn't too bad the day we were there.

 On the way home Rick spotted this collection of rock sculptures or cairns, in the Winhall River in Bondville, so we got out to take a closer look, along with about 20 other people.

Well, it turns out this place is a hot local controversy. A young local man started building them about a month ago after the death of his dog, and he was eventually joined by other people, including families with children.  The collection grew to over one hundred piles of balanced rocks in the river.

But not everyone appreciated the spontaneous community art project. Just days ago another local man took a rake and knocked every single one down.  Local news reports quote him as saying it was a "desecration of nature."  I don't know, do you see that?

In response, community members rallied together and rebuilt the cairns. By the time we saw them on August 3, there were again hundreds, with more being built as we watched. I don't really understand the objection, and felt only gratitude that someone took the time to built all these little works of art. Now I feel even more gratitude to the people who got together to rebuild them. I agree whole-heartedly with one person who was interviewed, that this is such a healthy, wholesome and creative community endeavor, that brings people together in a safe, productive way, with such a fascinating result! I wish more small towns had events like this that they could be proud of and that people from all around would come and appreciate. It required no fund raising, no grants, no committees and generated no bags of garbage. It's put Bondville on the map! I hope they can heal whatever rift it caused, move on and enjoy.

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