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Home Sweet Home

Quote of the Day

Peanut, "Wow, mom, now we can say we've been to all 50 states! What are we gonna do next?"

27 October 2008

Round 3 Wrapping Up

Waking up to a gorgeous day, we were all a little peeved at the downpour from yesterday; it was our only day of bad weather! We had Renaissance clothing hanging all over the hotel room and many things were just going to have to be packed soggy.

I asked Grandma if she was ready to leave and I got a frown followed by a reprimand for the Philadelphia tease -- our hotel was in an incredible part of the city and
she didn't even get a taste of Philadelphia! (A Philly Cheese Steak for dinner at Campo's didn't count.)

So I asked the
kids if they were ready to go home because very few homesickness comments have been expressed and we've been gone over a month. Immediately they said, "Yes!" Peanut misses school. Little Man misses his friends. Doodle misses Tomcat and Niece.

I should note that Tomcat never managed to join us this on this round of states. Naturally, the kids take for granted how hard he works, funding our adventure without bitterness. He's truly happy for the kids to have this opportunity.
While we're away we see him in the unexpected and it's like he's there with us. Grandma and I, of course, are endlessly grateful and don't take it for granted.

Before closing, I've again asked each person what their favorite part of the New England road trip has been and here's what we all have to say:

Grandma: All of the historic little towns, especially in Vermont. Mystic, Bar Harbor...but nothing can beat Niagara Falls.

Peanut: Shelburne Farm; our PA farm especially the calf being born; the Wizard of Oz and The Little Mermaid shows.

Little Man: Lobster boat; Renassainse Faire; playing in the 'swamp' with Slugger; the PA farm and "coming home to see my dad".

Doodle: The Little Mermaid show; playing 'don't kiss me' games with Tio and Aunt NYC; playing with Sprite and the girls I met.

The O'Hare airport -- surprise surprise -- has too much wind today and our flight has been delayed by 1.5 hours. We're looking at arriving home close to midnight by our body clocks. But as the kids lounge all over me on the floor of the airport (and Peanut loses another tooth!), it occurs to me what a gift I've been given: one-on-one time with the my kids and my mom.
I have to say that our New England Road Trip has been truly exceptional. Short driving distances, fantastic stops at the end of every day, beautiful weather and two visits with dear friends.

Someone actually asked Friend if I was doing this trip because I was dying. Imagine? But I see how fortunate I am to be healthy and alive and spending time with these wee ones while they still want to spend time with me. I can say with certainty that I like my kids more as people because of this experience. I know them. And that is my, CurlyTop's, favorite part of this trip!

I hope you'll join us again in February when we head to Hawaii. Your support and comments are such an important part of our trip!

26 October 2008

PA Rennassaince Faire

Due to spend a day in Philadelphia before heading home, we changed plans once again. A nice woman back in Vermont or New Hampshire heard Little Man saying he wants to be Knight when he grows up, and she told us we just had to go to the PA Renaissance Faire.

Once we were in Pennsylvania, I checked it out and guess what? It was in Lancaster County, very near the farm! We were able to get a hotel across the road from the Faire so off we went! The kids have dressed up in my nephew's clothes before -- he digs this stuff and has armor, shields, the whole bit. We all knew it would be fun, but had no idea what to expect.

At breakfast in the hotel

we saw people in costume and Doodle's eyes were as big as saucers. She had her heart set on something fancy. When we got to the Faire, we were stunned. Crossing through the castle courtyard, we entered into another world! Jesters, pubs, theaters and a village of shops. William Shakespeare greeted us and soon we saw pirates and their wenches everywhere.

Little Man started to grunt and Peanut started saying things like, "G'day ye." The first costume shop we saw had our full
attention and everyone (except Grandma) got decked out. We even clothed Tomcat and Niece who weren't even with us! (We're going to look great for Halloween!) It was a blast.

Doodle was in heaven while the rest of us worked out our gear. Grandma made the comment that the longer we stayed, the more expensive her outfit got -- a cape here, another scarf there, a necklace or two... One thing I noticed here was the quality of ware in the shops -- swords, mugs, leather, jewelry. No kitch whatsoever. Grandma and I could have spent all day people-watching and mentally taking apart the incredibly unique costumes.

There were clever medieval rides, and pirates everywhere handing the kids trinkets and booty. Everyone, even children, were in full character. A Jousting Match happened right in front of us while we ate big hunks of bread and cheese and suddenly the rain came. I'm not talking a little bit of rain. I mean a downpour. We had water pouring down our faces, water and mud soaking into our shoes. (It was fun until it got cold.)

Little Man kept saying, "Well, this is how it is for pirates!" but I was seriously starting to look like a wet nurse and Doodle was a shivering lass. We were really bummed to miss the Mud Ring Fight but meltdowns were moments away. By the time we got to the car both girls were in tears. Fortunately, the hotel we had stayed at the night before let us in to use their bathrooms. We changed clothes and headed to Philly a couple of hours away.

This Renaissance thing is something our family is just going to have to do again!

25 October 2008

Droopy Departure

A hot destination is the Pennsylvania Train Museum. None of us are particularly into trains (see Durango, CO post), but we thought it'd be fun to take the 45 minute ride and eat lunch. It was exceptional, the only train of its kind still in operation. It was a simple ride through Amish farm country -- no electrical wires to obstruct the view!

The actual train museum was a bore for all of us, but especially me. The docents talked down to the kids and the interactive center was essentially broken. No one can dispute the collection of restored trains as phenomenal, but they must be observed from afar which takes away all the fun.

We had much more fun doing Farm Chores. One morning Jim asked if the kids wanted to milk a goat. Unanimous cries of, "Yes!" After feeding them, Jim grabbed a goat's hind legs and backed her up to the fence. The kids' hands reached

right up to her teets and they milked her to uproarious laughter, milk spraying all over them. I'd never seen anything like it -- Vermont farming seems ot be a tad more humane than here in Pennsylvania Dutch Country! I just kept imagining someone grabbing me by my legs, turning me upside down and popping out a boob to milk. It was really too much.

Our last morning at the farm was sadder than I'd expected.
The kids were heart broken that we had to leave. First Little Man's friend left. The next day Doodle's friend left and her family took the favorite orange kitty with them. Now it was our turn. One last ride in the big farm truck, one last time feeding the sheep and goats and one last time gathering eggs, hoping for more green than brown.

Thankfully, we managed to avoid another trip to E.R. while staying here although there were numerous opportunities: trampoline covered in frost, climbing pear trees, racing on big wheels or surprising me with shouts from on top of the barn!

The saddest part of our final morning was Doodle puking all over me at breakfast. Then she continued to puke and puke and puke. Poor, poor baby. Thankfully, we were the only guests there as I practically took over Mim's kitchen floor, and after she'd just made us a Shoofly pie for breakfast!

After loading up, Doodle napped in the car while Grandma and Little Man did laundry. Peanut and I went to the post office and the bank, and back to the farm to pay our final bill in cash. Doodle managed to get an hour and a half nap and was feeling a lot better so we decided to make one short stop in Lititz to visit the Wilbur Chocolate Factory.

Five minutes of shopping, with me carrying her, she got that look and started to drool. I ran to the counter, passing hordes of people, "Excuse me, I know you say you don't have a bathroom. But do you really not have a bathroom? My daughter..." suddenly a horrendous choking gag and she puked all over me at the counter. It was awful. I managed to save the counter, catching all of it into my sleeve, my neck to my bra to my waist. It was pretty bad let me tell you. With much concern, someone ushered us to a tiny bathroom in the back, and we waited it out to the background of hammering and clanking chocolate making.

This time we drove straight to the hotel, where Doodle went to bed, I jumped in the shower and Grandma, otherwise known as Laundry Mistress, went at it again for the second time that day.

The Amish Riddle

I had just explained the Amish sect (broken off from the Mennonites) to the kids when we passed our first buggy. I feel very conflicted in this place. Here are these perfectly respectable Americans with tremendous talent, trying to live a harmonious life in a chaotic world. It’s very unsettling to be so enthusiastic about staring at people like they're in a zoo. Yet, here I am, camera anxiously in hand! (I really don't think the kids noticed anything different about them, but rather noticed I was different with regard to them.)

Still, I am intrigued. My favorite Amish farmer was riding a plow across his fields, pulled by several horses. It was beautiful and I kept thinking how like Pa he was; I couldn’t take a picture. The next day at the same time I saw him again; I couldn’t take a picture again. Eventually, I took one from really far away, his beard just barely visible.

Then I saw a beautiful girl driving an open buggy (most are covered) and she looked so fresh and pleased about something. I just stared at her, but I couldn’t bring myself to disrupt her by taking a picture!

When I finally got bold enough to take a picture in this place, we were passing a school with little children playing in the yard. They were just darling, but when I slowed down and snapped a shot, they turned into little demons, running at me with their tiny fists in the air. It was awful and I felt horrible. Then I had to explain what had happened and why I felt bad to Peanut -- it was all very ugly for me inside.

The Amish are a riddle and I’m certainly in no position to judge their inconsistencies. I got a few things straight on this visit to Lancaster County, though, mostly in the quilt shops we visited.

note: The three main characteristics of a Lancaster Co. Amish quilt are: dark, solid colors, wide borders and wide bindings. However, their original cloths actually had many bright colors (still no prints). After a local train wreck caused many fatalities, the Amish leadership blamed “blending too much with the modern society”. They were reigned in hard and there went the bright colors in the quilts!

The Amish do have a rhyme and reason to their lifestyle. Basically, they’re committed to farming, family and community. They allow outside conveniences if there are no disruptions to the family or community. For example, no phones in the house, but for business (they contribute considerably to the local agriculture) they can have a phone in an out building. They can accept a ride in a car to church, but they can’t actually own a car. They can wear tennis shoes (black), but can’t use a chain on their bikes – so they ride around on scooter-bike hybrids.

I just figure they're doing the best they can in their own way. Like I said, they have numerous talents. We followed a sign for Homemade Root Beer and guzzled the cold and refreshing bottle before we even got back on the road. I also bought fudge and homemade peach jam, but I managed to come away without a quilt, even after visiting The Log Cabin Quilt Shop twice! Shocking!

Birthing Babies is Messy Business (a graphic post)

Every morning after breakfast we got to go on a hayride followed by farm chores. Our first morning was freezing – one of those days where the skies are crystal blue, but you find your lips are slowly turning blue as well. There was so much frost on the ground that the kids were playing “ice-skating” on the trampoline and showed up to the wagon wet. Jim brought out farm suits, blankets and more jackets then we all huddled together atop bales of hay. With 600 cows on the farm we were hoping to see some new calves.

Jim was giving us a farm tour and when we got to the cows, we saw a new baby and her mama right away. We’d just missed the delivery! There was bloody goo dripping from her rear that grossed us out and I said, “Well, birthing babies is messy business.”

We saw a lot of calves in separate cages and learned that they’re separated from their moms after only one day. They’re bottle fed from the get go, no nursing. We three moms were acutely bothered by this but didn’t say much. It was worse to hear that the males are shipped off at one day old and usually butchered a day or two after that -- veal. The females are kept, of course for milking and birthing. Ugh, right?

We passed another mom with her new calf and as we rounded the corner I said, “Wow, she’s delivering the afterbirth. Look at that gray bulge.” No one really paid much attention because we were driving away, but I noticed that the gray bulge wasn’t moving at all. I screamed up to Jim that I thought the cow was having another baby and he took us back around. He walked up to her and broke the sack, GUSH! Suddenly two wee hooves appeared!

Excitement filled the barn in no time! Since none of us was in a hurry, Jim said we could wait it out even though it might be awhile and we were all turning to ice. Hoorah! The cow moaned a few times and one of the women sounded alarmed, “Oh, she’s in pain! Listen to her! Is she having trouble?” This alarmed the kids and without knowing how the other two families felt about natural childbirth, I opted to take over from there.

I said to my own kids, "She’s just finding her ‘om’. It helps a mom a lot when she’s birthing a baby to hear her voice in a nice deep tone. Like this: ommmmm, ommmmm. That’s all she’s doing. It helps her manage her pain. It’s hard work having a baby and she needs to stay in control." The cow was lying down and she got up onto her front knees. The other mom said, "Oh look look! She's getting up!" I continued, “It’s important for a mom to be able to move around when she’s birthing. It’s hard to move with a big baby in your belly, but her body will tell her what’s comfortable.” Then the cow got all the way up and Jim found a farm hand. He came over a few minutes later and bottle fed the new calf on the ground without realizing this big gal was in the middle of having twins -- rare for a cow!

My natural childbirth lessons came to a halt when Farm Boy got involved. First of all he grabbed the new calf by the leg and literally dragged her out of the way. Then he wielded mama into a corner, chained the new hooves sticking out of her and cranked out the second calf. She slowly slipped right onto the ground.

Mama did look relieved but I was sad they made her rush anyway. In fact, my heart was racing and I was dying to get preachy about the evils of intervention, but I held my tongue. (Occasionally, I’m capable of that.) This really was a moment to be treasured and I was so grateful to Jim that he allowed us to experience it.

Peanut was so excited that she got to see the womb, “Mom, did you get a picture of the sack? Did you get a close up? Check and make sure it’s in focus!” One of the dads was particularly overcome and I casually asked if he’d been able to witness his 2 daughters’ births. Yes he had. Still, birthing is overwhelming and beautiful no matter how many times you see it. There was a celebration in the barn while we all shouted our congrats and oohed and aahed over how cute the new arrival was.

On the ride back each of my kids were full of questions like, “Was there that much blood when I was born? Why did the mom lick all that gross stuff off the calf? Did you lick me like that? Was I so cute like that? Did they use a chain to pull me out?” Doodle argued emphatically that the calf had come out of the mom's bum, "Right, mom?!" No, Doodle, it comes out of a mom’s…and I said the word again hearing Little Man in the background, “grooooosssss.”

24 October 2008

Pennsylvania - State #38

There was a time when I had about 8 outstanding tickets in Pennsylvania. In fact, on a trip home to Texas (when I lived in New York), I did everything reasonably possible to

avoid Pennsylvania altogether. Unfortunately, there’s no reasonable route from New York to Texas without crossing Pennsylvania. On that trip home, I had one of my scariest nature memories: fog.

It’s a hilly state and fog settles into the lulls quite often. This particular time, in the wee hours of the morning, the fog was so thick that I couldn’t even see the hood of my car. I had to come to a complete stop right in the driving lane until the fog lifted. It seemed an eternity. I remember crossing my fingers and praying and praying that no one would smash into me from behind.

Grandma was really surprised by the hills and by how much farmland there is so close to Philadelphia. So, where does all the road rage come from? They actually have big polka dots painted on the roads with signs that say, “Keep 2 dots distance” and “No Tailgaiting” and “Take Care of Angry Drivers”. Wowee.

We’re staying at Country Log House Farm, run by Mim and Jim. They have a Mennonite background which means we wake up to a lot more Jesus and even more delicious home cooking!

At 8am each morning the breakfast bell rings and we all gather at the big table. Jim reads 2 bible versus, says grace and Mim starts bringing out the goods: fresh quiche, chocolate chip pancakes, scrambled eggs (gathered from the chicken coop), home-made sausage, baked blueberry oatmeal, Shoofly pie...oh my oh my...Shoofly pie.

Fortunately, there are 2 other families here with children: one has Little Man's new friend from Georgia, "that boy". The other family has Doodle's new best friend from North Carolina, "that girl I like so much and her little sister". With a trampoline, tons of kittens and a full farm in operation, it's going to be quite a stay!

Pennsylvania License Plate

Delaware – State #37

Delaware gets its name from the first governor of Virginia: so and so De La War. I bet you didn’t know that! We wanted to stop by Lewes, the first city in the first state, but we missed the turn and kept on moving. Surprisingly enough Delaware isn’t as tiny as Rhode Island. It’s long and it takes an even longer time to get there. We were headed to beaches

in the South, and they were over 2 hours away! Friend told me that Rehoboth is where people go so I was excited to find that our point of interest was near there: the Indian River Life Saving Station.

While I love the ocean, I have a genuine fear of the water. This conveniently feeds into my fascination with shipwrecks, which equals my infatuation with anything Coast Guard. Coincidentally, my birthday is on the anniversary of the Titanic sinking.

Well, the Surfmen at these life saving stations were the original bad asses. Grandma just finished a book about these men down in the Carolinas and learned a lot.

Delaware has a treacherous coastline and ships were continually slamming into shore. The government created a rescue plan. Every 7 miles up the coast were rescue stations. The men were well trained; the beach was patrolled 24/7 searching for anyone in trouble. When they were needed, they had to haul their boat out of the rescue station, up over the sand dunes and out to sea. Having walked these grounds and seen the dangerous coast, I’m pretty impressed with this feat alone. Never mind the equipment they had to work with!

A groovy idea came to someone and they started shooting out hooked cables from a cannon toward the ships. It’d catch somewhere and enable people to slide down the cables toward shore. Kind of like a rescue Zip line across the water.

We toured the 2 story station and then walked the short path over the sand dunes to the beach. Doodle got 2 splinters; this place reminded me more of White Sands (see New Mexico post) than a typical beach. The surf was hungry. It wanted Doodle especially, but I made the kids stay near the dunes. Poor things, I never even let them get their feet wet! The wind was so powerful; we could truly imagine screaming, drowning people out there. Anyway, with all this rough ocean, desert plants and course people, we felt accutely that Delaware was no place like home.

Delaware License Plate

On the way out the wrong direction…

Driving to Maryland threw us for a loop. We were all pretty confused about which state we were in, and this leg of the trip was like a scene from one of the vacation movies.

First of all we were up in the middle of the night looking for a mouse. Grandma heard it first, reached over to feel Doodle and only got her feet. Turns out Doodle was falling off the bed in s l o w motion, squeaking like a mouse as she went. No tears or wails, just squeaking with her head on the ground, feet still on the bed.

In the car, Doodle repeatedly sang ‘Here Comes Peter Cottontail’ until Grandma and I were sure it was March instead of October. In between renditions, she’d start chanting, “We need a break! We need a break!” or
some such plea she’d previously heard emanating from the front seat.

Also, Doodle has entered the potty mouth stage 2 years early. Little Man was finally beginning to leave it, but now they just egg each other on. When I was on the phone with Tomcat, Doodle started in with something inappropriate and when Grandma turned around she looked up at her indignantly and said, “Just ignore me, Grandma.” Grandma has been getting her due, I have to say. Usually, I'm the one hearing my own voice coming out of Doodle's mouth. But lately, Doodle has been calling Grandma, "You little twerp" or "You're such a little turkey".
Guess where she hears that occasionally?

I’d like to note that Little Man hasn’t come up for air in nearly 3 days. He has so many questions and even more lessons to give. Finally, I asked him to pppplease figure out something to do back there because I had to focus on the road! He ended up rigging some sort of fishing pole out of pencils, some string and his Pirate’s hook, which he kept flinging around the car to “catch” things. Plunk. Smack. Plunk. Smack.

The point here is, on the way to Maryland, none of us had a clue we actually went through Delaware, save the precarious stop on the toll road for a picture at the Welcome sign. We really needed to go back. So we did.

Grandma had the brilliant idea of going through Annapolis and across the Chesapeake Bay instead of backtracking. I'm so happy for that recommendation. It was tough to just do a drive-by through such an historic and endearing place. We needed at least as much time in Annapolis as we had in Baltimore, but we were already going in the opposite direction of Pennsylvania, where we were planning to lay our heads for the night so we marched on!

Then we almost forgot our Maryland dirt! Just before crossing the Chesapeake Bay (loaded with those tasty blue crabs) we found an exit and ended up at at Sandy Point State Park. What a nugget of a place looking out over the water – the sand is precisely the color of Sugar Babies. Pretty enough to eat.

Baltimore's Inner Harbor

I must begin by stating that I ate the most delectable Maryland Lump Crab Cake at Rusty Scuppers. Poor future crabs that pass my lips will always be measured against it. Blue crabs are something quite indescribable.

Our first thrill was to go aboard 3 different ships in the harbor: the USS Torsk submarine, the Lightship Chesapeake and the USS Constellation.

Peanut started pouting when she realized the sub wasn’t going to go down under for us. It’s shocking what a difficult time I had explaining that concept – the U.S. government refused to lower a sub for the mere enjoyment of our road tripping family! They grasped claustrophobia clearly, however, when a big man came rushing past us explaining in no uncertain terms that he didn’t feel well.

Light ships served the same function as Lighthouses but were on the water, usually docked. They had the nicest accommodations of any water vessel we’ve toured. I guess that was the incentive for such a dangerous and tedious job.

Oh the USS Constellation is such a magnificent ship! It went down 3 or 4 decks – one dedicated to guns alone – guns that held 32 lb. cannonballs. That's Doodle in a ball! We came running to the stern for the presentation on how to care for and light a cannon. Within 15 minutes and a little help from the audience, off it went, Boom! We were much more impressed than we’d expected.

Here's Little Man's #1 lesson of today: Do you know why the toilet on a ship is called the head? Sailors used to go to the head of the ship to pee and poop off the side – it actually went into a tube down to the ocean. Zero privacy.

Baltimore has a little water taxi, not to be confused with a narrated tour, and that’s how we ended up in Fells Point for the rest of the afternoon. Grandma and I could have spent days there – her reading every historical marker and me, going in and out of every shop. An interesting slice of history with modern appeal. The Daily Grind coffee shop is a combination of 2 buildings and the space between – so many places were clever and charming like this.

The Art Gallery of Fells Point was showing a miniature paintings exhibit. This appealed to all of us and we were told that miniatures have been done since the earliest of times and they’re the diamonds of art. I think I’ve found a new creative outlet. I love to paint on 4x6 watercolor tablets, but these were as small as 2x2 and sold for as much as $500. Phenomenal. The two volunteers were local painters and such warm, genuine people. One even offered to get me some Delaware dirt on her visit next weekend, since we missed the state by driving through it at night.

She was a perfect example of why we're doing this trip; we are witnessing the benevolence and generosity of pure strangers time and again, and I believe people all over the world are the same. I want my kids to someday be counted among them!

Maryland - State #36

The most hilarious thing happened! The kids took off running toward the Welcome to Maryland sign and out of nowhere came this enormous dog -- a Great Dane mix. It was galloping in a happy, playful sort of way so I wasn't concerned, but when Peanut stopped dead in her tracks, it just plowed right over her. I got there just prior to hysteria and all was well.

It joined us for the pictures, followed us across the freeway to our car and then watched us drive away. We talked about dogs and why we're not getting one, the entire way to Baltimore.

Grandma said Baltimore used to be an armpit. She was stunned when we woke up and looked out our hotel room window at the beautiful city outside. I told her I’d only heard good things about Baltimore: crab festivals, music and a gorgeous harbor. In my lifetime alone, Baltimore turned its image around.

Maryland License Plate