Saturday, October 29, 2016

They Were Getting Naked So It Was Time to Leave

October 25-28, 2016
Matamoras - Bernville, Pennsylvania

NOTE: If you're still not receiving blog post notifications, please re-submit. You may get a message that you are already subscribed, but it will still send out a new email which you need to confirm. Hopefully that will start the notifications again.

When we first ventured into northwestern Vermont, the leaves were just starting to turn yellow, with a few bright reds showing up occasionally. We were blessed to enjoy the full spectrum of color change throughout our New England travels, so when a significant number of trees were completely naked we knew it was time to get south :-)))

Along with arboreal nudity, the forecast included some of that white stuff so foreign to us. I had planned two nights in Matamoras, Pennsylvania, so we could visit the Storm King Art Center (a Jo Ann recommendation), but that would make our next travel day in snow and rain so we opted for one night only.

The drive from Connecticut on I-84 is beautiful. Not far into New York the trees are still holding onto their leaves, but the colors are very different. The yellows are more mustard than lemon, Chinese red is replaced with deep brick red, we see rich pumpkin oranges instead of bright tangerine, and the evergreens have a sage tint. You know those colors in the Crayola box - Raw Sienna and Burnt Umber? This is where they got those - the browns adding wonderful color to this new palette. At the top of the many hills we can see for miles in every direction, and all are full of color. No photos, you just need to come see it!

Tri-State RV Park is tucked against Interstate 84 in the corner that connects New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania at the Delaware River. Nothing fancy, and the road noise is pretty loud, but it is a clean park with level gravel sites, FHUs with 50 amp!, good water pressure, open skies and strong park WiFi. With direct river access, a cute little town, and access to nearby Delaware Gap, this is a nice stop. 

Our overnight in Matamoras is chilly, dropping to 24 degrees in the morning and freezing our water hose. Fortunately nothing is damaged and it soon thaws in the sunshine. We're on the road by 10:30, turning away from the Interstate.

We enjoy the drive through Delaware Gap National Forest, along the Delaware River. It's a narrow road with beautiful steep cliffs along the north side, and I'm glad we decided not to wait and do it during the coming storm. We miss the waterfalls, but the creeks running from their location are barely trickling so I'm not sure there are falls to see this time.

There are several RV parks to choose from in the Hershey/Lancaster area, and all of them are expensive. Since our next stop is at Cherry Hill near Washington DC, which is the most expensive place we've ever stayed, I opt for a more reasonably priced park in Shartlesville, just off I-78.

Pennsylvania Dutch Campground is a small park with mostly seasonals under the trees, and with ten overnight sites in the open area. Our site is mostly level with gravel and grass. FHUs with 50 amp, cable which we don't need because our satellite connects, 2 bars of LTE, and no park WiFi. Although we're not far from the highway, there is no noise. Showers, laundry, seasonal swimming pool, recreation hall, playground, and small general store.

Our Jeep battery is dead again. We get a quick jump, set up at our site, and head for the Walmart auto center. Although they say it will be 90 minutes, we're back on the road in less than an hour. Glad we don't have to worry about that anymore! 

As expected it rains all day Thursday. Steady but not heavy, and very cold. Checking the weather app, Bill notes that all of New England is getting snow. As is Matamoras. I love having a home with wheels :-)

We get out in the afternoon, making a trip to Cabela's just to browse, and then to Cracker Barrel for late lunch.

Un-named sculpture in front of Cabela's
Arctic wolves and muskox display

This guy is eight feet tall!
There are a couple things we want to see during our short stay here. One of them is Hershey. We've been told it's "just fun", which is a ringing endorsement.

Friday morning we make the 30 minute drive to the candy-themed town with the hint of chocolate in the air. I'm amazed at how many tourist attractions fill this mid-size town. The Hersheytown amusement park coasters tower over the museum and store and Chocolatetown, and the large hotel sits atop a small hill. Like the Roswell alien street lights, the Hershey Kiss street lights are unique and very cute. The size of the parking lots, and the special bus lanes, indicate that this place is packed during the summer. Contradicting the tourist trap feel is how immaculate the whole place is. It's like they vacuum the sidewalks and the streets.

Only in Hershey
We pick Chocolatetown so we can take the tour, which turns out to be a cute Disney-tram through an animated enactment of the process. It's actually pretty fun, explains the many steps I never knew about making a candy bar, has singing cows, and it's free. The metal poles and chains that keep long lines organized are another sign that this a popular attraction. We walk right in and board our cart. Tessa is not impressed with the moving floor, but she's comfortable for the noisy ride.

We make it out of the giant store full of everything candy with a couple grand-baby gifts, and maybe a few pieces of said candy. 

It's only one o'clock so we continue to Harrisburg to visit the capital city. The Susquehana River is beautiful, and very wide - but large, visible rocks indicate it is extremely shallow in places. 

There are several museums here, but with limited time I want to visit a historic place instead. The Fort Hunter Mansion looks just right. 

Located on the bank of the river, the mansion is not only completely restored, but all of the furnishings, clothes and artifacts are original to the last residents. Rugs, curtains and wallpaper are reproductions, the hardware is original. It is the most complete historic home I've visited thus far. And Bill joins me for the tour!

The mansion was built in 1814 by Archibald McAllister, the ornate porch added in 1900 by the final residents, Helen and John Boas.
At the rear of the mansion, and sharing a wall, the original McAllister home was built in 1786. To the right, and also attached, is the final addition built by the Boas family - the wooden summer kitchen.
A classic beauty
with wonderful views of the Susquehana River. The master bedroom upstairs looks over the water with the best view of the old stone bridge.
We watch a short film about the fort that no longer stands here, the family of Revolutionary War hero Captain McAllistair, and the Boas family who built a large dairy farm and other industry on the property. Left to nine nieces and nephews upon the death of Helen Boas, it was one niece, Margaret Wister Meigs, who preserved the family home and opened the museum in 1933.

Margaret's four children donated the museum and property to the citizens of Dauphin County in 1980.
Our docent, Molly, gives us a great tour of two of the three stories, including the original cabin and the summer kitchen. It is fascinating to see so many personal items from Helen's family.

The formal parlor. The settee is stuffed with horsehair and upholstered with mane and tail hair - it feels like a seat belt. They found a roll of the wallpaper in the attic so this room is papered in the exact replica. Pretty, but very busy!
This original Regina Victrola plays reproduction tin discs. What a treat to hear something nearly 200 years old sounding so sweet.
The stairway was built to impress
with no visible signs of support, three stories high
The cradle was built as a gift by a local tribe for one of John and Helen's children.
Helen's nightgowns
Molly explains the use of bathing basins, usually once a month. Feet in the hole, bottom on the "seat", hot and cold water in the containers. Amazing.
Even the dollhouse in the small playroom is fully furnished.
Note that at the time shoes were not made for left and right - both shoes were the same and switched back and forth to extend wear (except for possibly the side-button boots!). I never knew this.
The kitchen is my favorite room - especially this wonderful fireplace. The piece to the left is a rotisserie that was placed facing the heat and turned by hand.
Apple butter was made in the large copper kettle, and is still made in it each year at the museum. John's rifles lean against the wall next to the wooden bread warmer which is built into the wall beside the fireplace. 
Every year since 2006, archaeology students from Penn State conduct a dig here, looking for Fort Hunter. They have found evidence of Native Americans who lived here thousands of years ago, but so far no fort. There is no doubt that it stood on this property, they just can't find the foundation. I think it's weird.

Included on the grounds is a wonderful community board.

My son Brian must have been here and added the second one in the middle......
After our wonderful tour we head downtown to see the grand State Capitol, but the sun is low in the sky and makes it impossible to see the dome. The large fountain recognizes that October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. 

It's after 3 o'clock and we're hungry! A very good lunch at The Millworks, and we head back home.

Bill's yummy pesto spiral pizza
Saturday is expected to be another beautiful day so we're off to see Amish country. But first, how cute is this little fox??

Ezra Michael, 14 months

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Wrapping Up Our Time in New England

October 21-24, 2016
Willington, Connecticut

Understandably Bill is happy to be home and just chill. Friday afternoon we take a drive to see how much the foliage has changed in the week he's been gone. Many trees have lost nearly all their leaves. The leaf-covered floor makes a subtle, but noticeable difference in the forest. We check out additions to the scarecrow contest in Stafford Springs.

Scarecrow Surgeon complete with spare parts
The local health club's entry
Minion with seasonal nails

Saturday we finally get to see our high school friend, Cindy, and meet her husband Charlie. We drive to their lovely home in Mansfield - two acres in the White Pine forest. Absolutely beautiful.

I haven't seen Cindy since 1975 when we were in college, and she still remembers the night of Whiskey Sours. Apparently she hasn't had bourbon since - good times! She and Bill dated in high school and last saw each other in 1989. We spend hours getting caught up on the decades in between.

Bill and Cindy looking at their '74 yearbook
We continue to enjoy these opportunities to re-connect with old friends across the country. Charlie is a great guy, and it's a wonderful treat to hang out with both of them over a tasty home-cooked meal. Tessa is a perfect house guest, getting lots and lots of pets and belly-rubs. Wish I'd gotten a picture of she and Charlie cuddling on the couch!!

No change in the standard Sunday routine. Except my quarterback is injured, we lose, moving on.

We didn't make it to Maine, but we're close enough to Rhode Island to see another New England state while we're here.

I really want to see Providence, but have been warned by a couple people that even with a recent re-gentrification, the city is "sad". 

The Monday morning drive is beautiful, but our entry to Providence proves the warnings accurate. We continue on.

Jo Ann has also recommended a visit to Newport, Rhode Island. Let's go there!

We follow a slow trolley through the incredible mansions, peaking through ornate gates and around groomed hedges as we drive. They all look like something from a movie - hard to believe people really live in these grand homes. 

The Atlantic Ocean is so much prettier here than our experience in Boston where the surf was black. This section of coastline is accented with wonderful huge rocks and white-sand beaches. The weather is perfect.

I try, and fail, to get a video of Tessa's beach zoomies - she's too fast!! Wherever we eventually land when we come off the road there will have to be a beach somewhere close by.

The newer mansions along the shore are just as spectacular as their inland neighbors.

Another wonderful recommendation - thanks again Jo Ann!

We return north over the beautiful Claiborne Pell Bridge. A different route home, pretty forests, quaint towns, so enjoyable.

Like Idaho and Illinois, Rhode Island now goes on the list of states we've visited, but doesn't get added to the number of states we've stayed in as full-timers, still at 20. 

We've really enjoyed the beauty of New England in the Fall, seeing the colors change from subtle to extreme. The people are very friendly, the towns are lovely with their vintage homes and classic buildings, colonial history is everywhere, the roads are mostly easy to drive, and the campgrounds are comfortable - although 50 amp is the rare exception. There's a definite obsession with pizza and Dunkin' Donuts, and dairy bars are a brilliant idea. The tree-lined highways and Interstates make each state "feel" un-populated. It is a must-do for every traveler!

Tuesday we're heading south, back into Pennsylvania.

There were several of these "Cousin It" trees in Newport - anyone know what they are?

Monday, October 24, 2016

Two Famous Authors and Their Homes

October 16-20, 2016
Willington, Connecticut

Football is as much my passion as it is Bill's so this Sunday is games and laundry per usual.

Temps overnight never get below 55, leading to a surprisingly warm Monday. Tessa and I spend the day in nearby Manchester running errands.

I find a wonderful groomer at Shampoodles who is finally able to get rid of the itchy skin Tessa's had since we got to New England. If you're in the area and doggie needs a "do", I highly recommend them. 

I also learn that full service car washes do not exist here. I can drive through to wash and wax the exterior, but drying, vacuuming and interior cleaning is all self-serve. Very archaic!

Piper gets washed nonetheless, and doesn't look too bad for an amateur finishing the work. 

Tuesday it's even warmer, very un-Fall-like. I envision the leaves being confused, the trees re-thinking whether they should be letting go yet. 

My Chautauqua buddy, Joann, has been sending me information on great places to visit along our route. Greatly appreciated as we know so little about the area.

On the list is the Mark Twain House in Hartford and Tuesday is the day to visit.

Hartford is a big city! After so much time in small towns and villages, I'm surprised by the big buildings and busy downtown.

A real city atmosphere

The Mark Twain House includes a multi-story museum on the same grounds. Before touring the house where no photographs are allowed, Tessa and I check out the exhibits and the excellent movie. Once the most recognized man on earth, Samuel Clemons suffered a great deal of personal and financial tragedy in his life. The loss of two daughters and his beloved wife Lily, took their toll. He considered his move to Europe to be a seven year exile, never feeling at home until he returned to America.

While we know his fictional master pieces, Mark Twain was also known during his life time as a brutal satirist and opinionated lecturer. 
These trunks traveled to Europe and back with the Clemons' family. One of the few things we kept in storage is a trunk of Bill's that looks very much like the large one on the right.
While Huck Finn clearly shows Twain's strong position on slavery and racism, I knew nothing about his philanthropy and participation in the fight for civil rights. Warner McGuinn, pictured here, had his college tuition fully paid anonymously by the author.
Clemons invested a fortune in the Paige Compositor, expecting the type-setter to make him the top publisher in the country, but instead it's constant breakdowns ultimately caused him to declare bankruptcy which led to his heartbreaking choice to move the family to Europe.

I enjoy listening to several of Twain's earlier pieces on the headphones provided in this sitting area.
In Their Father's Image is a lovely exhibit dedicated to the Clemons' three daughters.
Clara is the only child to outlive her father. With her mother also passing many years earlier, she was the sole family guardian of Clemons' possessions as well as his image. A task that often caused her great frustration.
While Twain was on tour his daughters prepared a play from one of his short stories and "put it on" for him when he returned. The large photo shows the girls and their mother performing what he would later call "one of my greatest memories." 
A small replica of the home's fireplace where I later learn has a most wonderful story. Every night the family would gather here and Clemons' would tell a different story using all of the items on the mantel. He did this for years, never repeating the same story. I love that!
I have to include the life-size Lego Mark Twain. Have to.
The house has been called the "most lovely home ever built". I haven't seen every house but this one is certainly at the top of those I have. Not being able to take photographs is actually wonderful because I just enjoy it all in the moment. From the grand entrance hall to the billiards room with the 1904 table, every room is spectacular. The "angel bed" in the master bedroom went with Clemons everywhere, and he took his last breath in the bed in his Redding, Connecticut home in 1910. Clara gave it to the museum in 1940. Like the home and everything in it - it is grand.

The grounds are being upgraded so there is little landscaping, but the home's exterior is nearly as beautiful as the interior.

"To us, our house had a heart and a soul, and eyes to see us with; and approvals and solicitudes, and deep sympathies; it was of us, and we were in its confidence, and lived in its grace and in the peace of its benediction." - Mark Twain

The multiple chimneys are unique and stunning.
I'm so grateful to Joann for telling me about this wonderful place, and I encourage you to see it when you're in the area.

Next door to the Twain House is the Harriet Beech Stowe Center, with a visitors' center, the Katherine Seymour Day House, and the Harriet Beecher Stowe House. 

I take the short tour with three others. The docent loves Tessa, taking her leash so she can "see better". I'm lucky she left with me :-)

This is one of the best tours I've done. More than just being lead around a place being told interesting information about what I'm seeing, this is an interactive discussion about the impact of Uncle Tom's Cabin, of women daring to "speak out", of powerful literature. 

Her famous novel was inspired by Harriet's observation of a slave auction in Kentucky, and by the death of her infant son, giving her personal understanding of how the mothers felt who were sold away from their own children.
For the first time since opening in 1968, the center is receiving a much needed update. Because of all the work being done, most of Beecher-Stowe's house is closed today. Many of her art pieces and other artifacts have been moved to the Katherine Seymour Day House which normally serves only as the administrative offices and research library for the Center. The home was purchased by Harriet's grand-niece to save it from being destroyed. It is now named in her honor. 

One of nine ornate fireplaces. 
Tessa's pal shows us a newspaper which ran Uncle Tom's Cabin as a serialized story for many weeks. The book was published before the last chapters were printed and sold 10,000 copies the first week - people wanted to know how the compelling story ended!!
This beautiful clock is from Harriet's home and the chime at 2 o'clock has the sweetest tone.
My favorite piece here is the desk given to Harriet as a wedding gift, and where she penned the story of Tom, Topsy and little Eva. She also published 29 other novels.
Other items include many of the Uncle Tom-themed items that Harriet received no compensation for, including dishes, towels, statues, and even wallpaper. 

There is also a display of the bastardization of the story both on stage and in films. Seeing how the characters are portrayed in these it's not difficult to understand how "uncle tom" became a derogatory term. It's very sad considering the compassionate tale told by Harriet.

We do get a quick look inside Harriet's home, and like the Elizabeth Cady Stanton house in Seneca Falls, I feel very fortunate to stand in the same parlor where this strong, smart and brave woman also stood. It's even more poignant that they knew each other :-) 

Harriet lived in the home from 1873 until her death in 1896. It changed owners several times before Seymour-Day purchased her great aunt's home in 1924 and lived there for forty years. She donated the home and it's neighbor to be used to preserve Beecher-Stowe's history.

I enjoy seeing these two homes together, appreciating the important stories these two authors made part of our nation's culture.

After our busy day in the city, Wednesday Tessa and I take a short drive in the country and spend some time walking around our pretty little park. It is still in the 80's.

As the leaves reach their peak, some trees are already bare.
Hyde Park
Our home in the forest
Nice sites along the small lake

Some of the brightest colors are just out our window.
Bill is finally coming home Thursday afternoon!! Mom has been moved to her new place in Fresno, CA. The boxes Bill packed and shipped arrived intact. The family is all making plans to visit her. All-in-all a very successful trip. 

Tessa and I hang out at home until it's time to pick him up at the airport. We are both very happy to have him home!!