When I lived in Nashville, the public radio station there carried the program "The Writer's Almanac," and each morning as I arrived at work, I would listen to this 5 minute segment as I was parking my car. I would sit in the parking lot and listen to Garrison Keillor's soothing voice as he told me funny or interesting tidbits about writers who were born on that day. And each segment ends with a poem. I was disappointed that the Chicago station did not carry the program (they have so much local programming they don't have room for it). Luckily, these days (wow, did I just say that?), the program is available on the web, in podcasts, or simply in written form, as an email. Of course, I subscribed.
I am so happy that the Writer's Almanac comes to my inbox each day without fail, and it's even better if I have time to hit "listen" and let Garrison Keillor read it to me. If you would like to do that too, click here and subscribe. If you just want to read a short poem for today, see below.
The morning brought such a lashing rain
I decided I might as well stay inside
And tackle those jobs that had multiplied
Like an old man's minor aches and pains.
I found a screw for the strikerplate,
Tightened the handle on the bathroom door,
Cleared the drain in the basement floor,
And straightened the hinge for the backyard gate.
Each task had been a nagging distraction,
An itch in the mind, a dangling thread;
Knocking a tiny brass brad on the head,
I felt an insane sense of satisfaction.
Then I heard a great crash in the yard.
The maple had fallen and smashed our car.
Addendum at 11:45 pm.
We stayed home today, and I tried to clean up and do laundry and other things that we've been avoiding. While I was cleaning, the boys had a great time playing with various tubs of toys, resulting in Legos, Playmobil, Star Wars figures, wooden blocks, art supplies and many of our DVDs all over the apartment. Oh well, at least we had fresh clothes.
By around 4 pm, it had not rained (aside from an early morning shower), so we decided to go on a walk. We took some packages to the post office. Feeling very efficient and so happy to finally have this chore completed (this box has been sitting for weeks), I filled out a customs form and only hesitated when I learned that my package was going to cost $54 to mail to Scotland. We brought it back home to rethink our plans. Of course, as we started to walk home, it began to rain.
Later, after dinner, we noticed that Max was covered in hives all over his torso. He said he was itchy. I took him to the pharmacy, and we got some Benadryl. The cause of the allergic reaction? I can't be certain, but it is very likely our new laundry detergent. So much for all those clean clothes...
Monday, July 23, 2007
So the second half of our vacation was just our little family of four, heading to Magnolia, Massachusetts to stay at the White House Hotel, the same hotel we stayed in last year. The White House Hotel is actually pink, a very pale pink, as both boys pointed out a few times. It's an old hotel, and it was redone in the 70s, with themed bathrooms in avocado green or light blue. It's just run down enough to be charming, but no so run down that you wouldn't want to be there. The boys have been asking when we would return since we came back last year, and since it was such a nice vacation last time around, we decided to do it all again.
It's really nice in a lot of ways to go back to the same places, to already know your way around, to remember some favorite spots that you must hit again (for us, it was finding sea glass on a certain beach in Gloucester, touring the Cape Pond Ice factory, getting lunch at Virgilio's Italian Bakery, visiting the Maritime Heritage Museum where there is a touching tank for various sea creatures, watching the taffy making at Tuck's Candy in Rockport, and playing on the very quiet and peaceful and private beach near our hotel).
We did all of those things and added some new ones, like finding the beautiful Coolidge estate—acres of land donated to the city of Magnolia, where we hiked the trails, walked the "foundation" of the old house, and flew our kites on the great lawn. We also visited a lighthouse with a very small adjacent beach, where we found a message in a bottle—a dad and his son wrote a letter complete with pictures about being trapped on their boat. They did not seem very concerned, though, and mentioned that there were plenty of beverages on board. The date on the missive was July 5, so we were fairly certain they weren't lost at sea. It looked as though the bottle never made it out of the general area in which it was dropped. We put the message back in the bottle and threw it back into the water, but it seemed to be washing right back to shore pretty quickly.
We toured Hammond Castle, a medieval-style castle built by an inventor and collector in the 1920s. Inside is an interesting collection of Roman, Medieval and Renaissance artifacts mixed with a couple of rooms with his modern inventions and drawings (including the full plans for the castle). I had never even heard of John Hammond, but apparently he is second only to Thomas Edison in number of patents (400) for his over 800 inventions. His most important work involved the development of sound waves, and he is dubbed "The Father of the Remote Control." We do like our remote control, so thanks, John Hammond.
As we wandered around from room to room, we would see some modern conveniences, such as those found in the contemporary catering kitchen. The mix of eras is surprisingly wonderful, and the grounds and garden are lovely. The boys wanted swords from the gift shop, and they used them to have a little sword fight on the castle grounds.
We spent one of our vacation days in Rockport, returning to Tuck's Candy to see the taffy making process (we were absolutely riveted last year, I am not exaggerating). We stood at the window for at least an hour this year to watch the taffy maker stretch several batches on the machine, then knead them by hand, then put them in the wrapping machine. It's quite an interesting process. We watched him make the peanut butter batch, which was the most unusual process. He kneaded in a gigantic slab of peanut butter by hand into a taffy base and then put it together with the other kneaded "outer" flavor of taffy. We also saw him make watermelon, another flavor within a flavor. Pretty exciting stuff. And of course we bought quite a lot of taffy ourselves. The boys had fun picking out the flavors they wanted. Otto wanted mostly vanilla. Max wanted lots of chocolate but tried several other varieties. And they both picked out lots of coffee taffy for their parents.
We found a great hot dog place in Rockport, called Top Dog, where they had fantastic hot dogs (grilled or steamed, with a stunning variety of toppings), a delicious block of fried onions which actually tasted even better than we anticipated (and, let's face it, that rarely happens with a giant block of fried onions) and, best of all, they had "Top Dog" TATTOOS! The kids were ecstatic. We grabbed a handful, and they are still sporting them today.
We spent almost every evening at our nearby beach, just building sand castles (actually we built sand "hotels," and one big turtle). And on one rainy evening, we all took a little drive to a nearby town and went to see "Ratatouille." It did not disappoint. It was fun to go to a big movie theatre all together.
We spent the last rainy morning at Magnolia Beach, where we hummed to a periwinkle to get it out of its shell (Max hummed One Ring Zero's "Interlude Dude" and the periwinkle did indeed come out and seemed to like it), watched a lobster boat which was besieged by hungry seagulls, and then walked on a wooded hiking trail that had a lookout point for the city and ended up back at the Coolidge estate, where we had been a few days before. It was a nice way to end the vacation, to sort of sum up what we had done and what we will probably do again next year.
We drove back to Hartford, and the sun came out, and it was a beautiful day. We were more than two hours early for our flight and felt sort of sad that we had rushed away from our last morning to drive back, but also happy that we made it in plenty of time. Max asked if we would have another delay (we had been delayed two hours on the incoming flight). I felt certain fate would NOT deal us to two delays in one vacation (did I not remember my earlier post about flight delays being the norm for us at this point?). Shortly after we boarded the plane, the pilot announced there would be a delay of at least 3 hours because of bad weather in Chicago. He de-planed us, thankfully, and we found an open gate area where the kids could run around freely (and did, wildly and joyfully). The delay was actually more than four hours in the end, but we did get on a flight that evening and got home to Chicago and the end of a very bad storm. Turns out, it was also the end of a little heat wave, so we've been enjoying relatively cool and wonderful weather since our return.
These last two weeks, we've been busy soaking up our city, hitting both children's museums in one week, attending a Justin Roberts concert at Ravinia, soaking up the nature at the Botanic Garden, the North Park Nature Center, and Wagner Farm, hanging out at a neighborhood block party, playing at our local parks, going to an annual Ice Cream Social with some old friends and meeting the new baby of our former neighbors. It's good to be home.
It's late. I'll load pics for this another day.
Friday, July 13, 2007
Another wonderful vacation in New England, a virtual reproduction of last year's very satisfying adventure: staying in the same three places, visiting the same attractions, eating at many of the same places, and luckily, finding a few new things along the way. We were another year older and so, of course, the vacation was a new and different experience for us all in many ways. Otto did not really nap on this vacation, as opposed to last year, when he slept through the Maritime Heritage Museum and so many other highlights. This year, Otto was right there with Max, picking up sea stars and sea urchins and trying on the heavy old diver mask in the odd little basement headquarters called the "Diving Locker." But I am jumping ahead.
We spent the first couple of days in Hartford, at the new and beautiful Mariott Hotel. We had stayed there last year on a fluke, but the kids loved it so much (fabulous marble floors in the lobby! room service! a pool and hot tub! a Starbucks in the building! the luggage cart! a shuttle service right from the hotel's back door!) that we returned, this time for two nights. We took the Star shuttle bus to many nearby attractions, including the wonderful Bushnell Park with its antique carousel. We rode the carousel a couple of times and enjoyed its tinkly music for the entire afternoon, purchased the obligatory popcorn, watched the thousands of baby fish swimming in the great pond, spotted a turtle, played in the adjacent park, hiked over the hill to the Pump House, the old pumping station which kept the Connecticut River from flowing into the park (unfortunately, there was no pump to view, but the building is now an art gallery, which we visited, and the exterior is an outdoor cafe—at Max's request, we sat there for a drink: an iced lemonade for the kids and a taste of the local brew for us).
Once we picked up the rental car, we drove to West Hartford, where we visited the most wonderful toy store. The kids both picked out a new Playmobil toy (a knight and horse for Max, an ice cream man with a cart for Otto), and we also bought a Playmobil boat to take to Aunt Linda's pool. We discovered many other cute shops and restaurants and decided to try the very promising "Elbow Room" for dinner, as it had a rooftop deck and a lovely view of the city. Unfortunately, the predicted 20 minute wait was too optimistic, and after about 45 minutes and no sign that the wait was over, and with two hungry and tired kids, we eventually had to give up and go someplace that could serve us immediately: Friendly's. It was a letdown for me and Martin, as we had really gotten excited about the fancy preparations at the Elbow Room...but alas, the kids' tummies would not stand for it. And the kids were thrilled to learn that ice cream was included in the kiddie meals. And everyone was indeed very friendly. So it was not such a bad night after all.
We headed out to Linda's on Saturday morning, and had a wonderful time there for the next five days, visiting with all of our family and meeting the newest addtition, little Sophie, who traveled all the way from Romania to see the family (my cousin Jon and his wife Karine are currently living and working there). Thier luggage did not arrive with them, however (apparently it never has, in all the times he has returned to the states for a visit) and Sophie was a bit sick, so it was sort of a stressful beginning for them. But she was adorable, and just walking, so it was a fun time to see her.
My dad comes from a family of six children, and although the oldest generation (my grandma and grandpa and great aunt and great uncle) have all passed away, we still get together with the six siblings and many of their children (and their children's children) each year. I guess they are the "older" generation, and now we are the "middle generation" and our children are now the "younger generation." All six of the siblings were there, at least for some of the time, and many of the middle generation and their kids were also there.
We got to see my brother David and his wife Jill and their twin boys, Noah and Owen, who continue to be full of energy and joy. Max and Otto loved to play with them, although Otto called them "Max's twins." I am again reminded of how sad it is to be so far from them, but it was so good to have so many days to play together. We spent many afternoons on my Aunt Linda's big and wonderful lawn, playing with the parachute, flying kites, throwing balls, wrestling. The twins were so excited to have Max to tackle, and Max was amazingly restrained in playing with them—he let them pummel him and rarely got upset or wanted to strike back. And if he did get upset, unfortunately, he took it out on Otto.
Aunt Linda was a wonderful hostess as usual, and there was delicious and plentiful food (including a big lobster bake, rotisserie chicken, individually grilled pizzas, and a fire almost every evening for roasting marshmallows for s'mores). Her gorgeous garden was the perfect spot for an afternoon walk, or for carrying out a small task, like shucking the corn (who could ask for a more beautiful place to prepare dinner?). The rose petals were just falling on the grass, and the whole garden was in bloom. We also enjoyed picking vegetables and berries and just wandering around the herbs. There is a lawn for croquet or bocce, for those who wanted a little competition, and for those who wanted to commune with nature and maybe a few bugs, there is a peaceful hiking trail, which gets better each year. And of course, there is the pool and the most wonderful hot tub I have ever known (a view of the sunset from this location is a deeply satisfying and beautiful way to end the day). It also worked very nicely for our Playmobil boat.
We stayed in her guest house, with my brother and kids and my parents. It's just right for us, and we get to spend a little time together in the morning before heading up the hill to Linda's. And as an added bonus, right across the street is a stable. We would walk across and check on the horses in the morning, and one morning, we were lucky enough to see one of the owners working out her horse. She talked with us for a while and then invited us in to the stable to meet the horses and watch her wash down her horse. He was a dressage horse (my cousin's wife had to explain to me what this is), and he had been flown to America from Germany, where he was born (and emblazoned with his family crest).We all really liked to imagine the horse on an airplane.
We also spent some of the cooler or rainy afternoons playing "Go Fish" at the house, or in the basement of Aunt Linda's house, where there is a gigantic screen for the kids to have their own movie theatre event, or just rock out to Dan Zanes videos. It's truly an amazing place to be, and we are lucky to be invited year after year.
We got to spend a lot of time with David and Jill and the twins, as well as my cousin Keith, his wife Kelly and their two boys, Brady and Spencer. And happily, Grandma and Grandpa were often available for pool or lawn play or beard pulling (Grandpa only on that one). But since we were all doing more child-focused activities, it was hard to really catch up with my other family members. When we were kids, the cousins (my generation) would all stay up all night playing games and talking, and many of them still do it. My cousin Christopher came with a new 6-handed Euchre game for everyone to try, but we were long asleep by the time the hands were dealt. But it was very relaxed and paced in a way that it was lovely to spend the afternoon rolling down the hill or spotting wild turkeys or just chasing the kids around the lawn. And we almost always ended up in the pool, where everyone had a great time.
There were some concerns. My cousin Beth had to go to the hospital amidst the revelry, and she was admitted overnight and has a growth in her abdomen that will need to be surgically removed. My Uncle Bob and Aunt Marianne came only for a couple of days because Bob is in the midst of chemotherapy and is really in pain. His spirits were high, and it was wonderful to see him, but it was sad that he could not stay longer because it was just too much for him. My Uncle Herb is having a difficult time with his health right now in general and spent most of the visit inside the house. He is in his 90s now, and it is hard to see someone who had so much energy into his late 80s starting to slow down. It was that sort of year, wonderful to be with those that were there, but we were starting to be more aware of those who were not, and as my Aunt said when we were leaving, she "missed the missings." Still, I have to say, we are one slightly fantastic family.
Wow, this post is getting really long. I will stop now and include a video I made of our time at Aunt Linda's and Herb's. Hopefully I can return soon to recap the second part of our vacation, which was a small family trip to Massachussets.