Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Dear Tooth Fairy...

Jill's Journal: We’ve had the first lost tooth of our journey and it was an eventful one. Erika lost it in the car yesterday afternoon on our way to run a few errands…and then really, truly lost it. She dropped it in all the excitement and in spite of crawling around on the floor of the car with a flashlight for 15 minutes, I absolutely cannot find the darn thing anywhere.

Luckily, this is lost tooth #11 for her, so it’s not her first rodeo. (And yes, I know that’s a ridiculous amount for a 6-year-old, but she’s very precocious!) I convinced her to write a note to the tooth fairy since we can’t actually find the tooth. And happily, the tooth fairy found her in spite of the snafu. Whew!

Monday, August 30, 2010

88 Pounds of Books…

Jill's Journal: Our homeschooling supplies have arrived and been unpacked. Now to organize 88 pounds of books, a box of math manipulatives, and two boxes of science experiment supplies. That huge manual in the middle (at the top)? That’s my instructor’s guide for first grade. There’s another for preschool.

Am I daunted? Why yes, I am a little! But I’m sure we’ll figure it out as we go.

Newport’s The Breakers

Jill's Journal: Rob did such a fantastic job talking about our day in Newport that I have very little to add other than I’ve been to a lot of beach communities on both coasts and overseas, yet nothing rivals Newport for sheer opulence. It’s a beautiful setting anyway and then adding these gazillion-dollar mansions makes it like Rodeo Drive meets Malibu, but on a much more gracious and ostentatious level. It’s quite something.

We picked one mansion, The Breakers, out of the several available to tour. Hearst Castle in Central California has nothing on this place. The Italian Renaissance-style palazzo even has a room with platinum leaf wall panels, for goodness sakes. This 70-room summer home in what was considered the social capital of America during the Gilded Age features so much rare alabaster and marble that it almost starts to look commonplace! It cost approximately $7 million to build the 65,000-square foot house in the 1890s...estimates are it would cost at least $150 million to build today. That price doesn’t include the 13 acres of oceanfront property. :)

The “backyard” was open to visitors and the girls made themselves right at home in the beautiful setting. The house offered both a children’s tour and an adult’s tour on headsets as we all walked along together. The girls felt very grown-up getting their own headsets!

Sunday, August 29, 2010

A fantastic Sunday...

Since we've been in routine, I've thought of Sunday as 'My Day'. I work during the week, we drive on Saturday - usually, and I've learned a ton about myself by paying attention and realized that I NEED some downtime during the week. Jill's indulged me that I'm on my own schedule on Sunday - for the most part, and I really appreciate it. That being said - sometimes it just needs to be a day of doing stuff, rather than a day of rest. I don't get that many chances to see all the things that the girls see... so today - I decided that we'd venture out - and it was rewarding.

First, we wandered back down to that spectacular border crossing (what may be the most spectacular, and really - surprising, we'll see...) to see if we were just happy to be close to camp; It was as great as we'd remembered. Pictures will follow as I don't have the camera to download right now. Sadly, I'm not sure it could be appreciated as much here as from the road, but WOW is all we have to say.

After driving there, and filling up the van (that was on E, with the many FUN motorcyclists - DOB) we set our sights for Newport, to see the mansions. And, to drive through the heart of the state to learn what we could about this tiny state you can drive across between breakfast and lunch (or was it brunch, if you were so inclined?).

When we got to Newport, it was clearly a tourist destination, and they knew it. A cruise ship in the harbor - teams of people wandering every little shop (many of which you can find all over the US), and traffic. But, we soldiered on, wanting to push though and drive Bellevue drive, where the RICHEST of the the rich built opulent houses in the 1800's, simply because they could. Funny thing is, they only summered in the houses - about 6 weeks a year. Staffs of 40 or 50 people, an upkeep that probably would rival a museum, but the money didn't matter. Clearly, this was about one-upping each other, and each house was bigger than the next.

I'd always heard of 'The Breakers'. Seems everyone here, even now, names their house. As if it were a ship. The Breakers was Cornelius Vanderbilt II's house, and tho it is off Bellevue (where all the other estates are) you can tell he did it for a reason. The street there is a 'driveway' and he was clearly the leader of the industry, and the society here.

I figured, if we were gonna see one of the houses, this was the house to see. From the solid alabaster columns, to the Swiss marble walls, to the 50 foot entry hall, to the amazing view (seen throughout this post), the guy knew who to hire (the architects and designers made careers and published books based on this commission). Most shocking info of the tour tho is that he only really got to enjoy the house, as it was, for one year. Turns out it was finished in 1895, and in 1896 he had a stroke, then died in '99. Gladly, the family held on to it for quite some time after, but it makes me glad I'm not building a mansion.

The pictures of the view show it from the back and front... (yes, that is Madelyn in the shadow, and Erika below the balcony). I've rambled enough, and I hope that Jill fills everything else in about this place, this house, and this trip.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Rhode Island Ramblings

Jill's Journal: *Erika has clearly made herself at home in Rhode Island! She devours books at a frightening rate lately, especially if they’re books about horses.

*We left Connecticut on something called Voluntown Road and were overwhelmed by beauty at the state line. Our first impression of Rhode Island was out of this world. A majestic lake called Beach Pond stretched on both sides of the road, surrounded by alpine trees and very reminiscent of Rob’s childhood home of Lake Tahoe. I wish I had a picture. It was so beautiful that we may head back there tomorrow (and Rob’s entertaining the thought of buying the first house he can find with that view)!

*Our address for the next 10 days is in West Greenwich. This campground is a busy, busy place and if the scores of people with microphones belting out bad karaoke is any indication, people are clearly enjoying their vacations here! The Connecticut campground was equally raucous. I know we’ve only been to 14 or 15 campgrounds so far, but people in New England enjoy their campgrounds more so than anywhere else we’ve been!

*Our immediate neighbors are the talk of the campground. They’re in a $1.5 million luxury Prevost bus and pull a Lexus SUV behind. He wears all black, she wears all white, and they have a personal driver! Their dinner spread tonight (on their picnic table) was set with crystal and silver. After dinner, they sent their driver to a hotel. These rock star buses are immense, for goodness sakes (entire bands and their crews can live in luxury on one for months), so everyone is wondering how they couldn’t find a bed to spare for the driver. They are not your usual “campers!”
*We made a special stop at a mind-boggling used book store in Niantic (CT) on our way here. Three buildings and 350,000 books. The girls had a ball and each got to pick out a few new titles. The experience was marred on our way up the steps to the front door. With no warning, a yellow jacket suddenly swooped in and stung Victoria on the leg. The poor child absolutely screamed and then writhed in pain. It clearly hurt tremendously and my heart broke for her. It took a pack of ice and a lot of TLC before she was even willing to walk on the leg again. Poor thing. :(

*Everyone knows Rhode Island is the smallest state in the union (48 miles “tall” and 37 miles “wide”), but did you know its official name is “Rhode Island and Providence Plantations”? The name comes from the merging of two colonies way back when and there is a referendum election coming up soon to let the citizens decide whether or not to keep the full name or shorten it to what everyone thinks it is anyway. Despite the name, the state is obviously part of the mainland. The original settlement named Rhode Island was on what is now Aquidneck Island (one of more than 30 islands in Narragansett Bay). And no, I have no idea how to pronounce either Aquidneck or Narragansett.

*Even though Rhode Island is so small, it has the second-highest population density in the union (second only to New Jersey). It’s hard to believe as we’re very much in the country. We even passed a restaurant here called “Middle of Nowhere Diner.”

*Crazy random fact: we’ve noticed an insane amount of donut shops here, probably because the girls point out just about every one to us. It turns out we’re not imagining it. We’ve learned Rhode Island has the highest number of donut shops per capita in the country! Dunkin’ Donuts alone has over 225 locations in this tiny state.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Colonial Garb and Jersey Cows!

Jill's Journal: Our last full day in Connecticut was pure perfection (have I mentioned that I like it here?). The girls and I headed north to Coventry, a little town way out in the country. Nathan Hale – that aforementioned young patriot and martyr for American freedom whose moving last words are in every history textbook in the nation – was born here in 1755 and his birthplace/homestead is still intact. It’s a large but modest farmhouse full of family artifacts, including Hale’s own traveling truck.

Somehow we got very lucky. Although there were other visitors both when we arrived and when we left, we got our own personal tour guide who was a former elementary school teacher. She tailored her entire tour to the girls and taught them more history and social studies and home economics in two hours than I probably could have in a week. She got out colonial period garb and dressed them up. She brought them feather quills and ink wells so they could practice writing the old-fashioned way. And at the end, after she learned that we’re traveling, she prepared them each care packages complete with post cards and journals and other goodies. It was amazing. It was like having a personal tutor for two hours for the grand total of our combined $11 admission. The girls loved every minute.

Not far from the Hale homestead is a small family dairy of just 55 head which welcomes visitors and still bottles milk in glass jars. We stopped on our way out of the area to watch the Jersey cows being milked and pet a few calves. The girls predictably went nuts over a three-day-old calf who was darn cute. Oh my, would they have liked to take that calf home!

And tonight, after the girls were in bed, Rob and I enjoyed a too-rare adult dinner (sushi!) and a movie in our little living room, complete with a glass or two of wine made right here in Connecticut. Again, it was a perfect day. I so love Connecticut – or Connecti-cake, as Victoria calls it – and I would absolutely love to stay here longer. A lot longer. But, we want to hit as much of New England as we can and cold weather is fast approaching (and we’re still heading north!). In two months, most campgrounds in this area will be completely closed and we’ll be out of luck. I think we got a great feel for the Constitution State. And so, we move on. Tomorrow is Rhode Island.

The Leaves They Are A-Changin’!

Jill's Journal: Rumor has it that after an unusually hot summer and dryer than usual conditions, the fall foliage in New England this year may not be quite as extraordinary as usual. This area is beautiful even without a blanket of brightly colored leaves, so any of the famous fall foliage we see will just be an added treat. I know it’s still early, but we're already seeing splotches of color here and there…the leaves they are a-changin’!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Literary Giants Galore (and a hike to the top of Connecticut)

Jill's Journal: It was Literary Giant Day here in Connecticut. The girls and I started with a tour of Mark Twain’s home in Hartford. Twain, then better known by his real name of Samuel Clemens, built the elaborate mansion and lived there with his family from 1874 to 1891. It’s where he and his wife raised three daughters and where he wrote his most famous works, including Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, and A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court. He often said the happiest years of his life were spent at the home. It is an exotic and exuberant place, very fitting of the mirthfulness of one of America’s greatest storytellers.

In a proud Mommy moment, I can see the girls are really absorbing what they’re seeing. They came home and tried to regale Rob with tales of the favorite things they learned about Mark Twain and his home. It’s very special to see it all through their eyes!

Literally next door to Mark Twain's house, believe it or not, is the home of Harriet Beecher Stowe. The abolitionist and author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin lived in the home for 23 years, including for all the years Twain lived next door.

And not far away in West Hartford, we took a quick peek at the place where Noah Webster was born in 1758. He was the dictionary man, the American patriot who began adapting the English language into our American version. It took him a lifetime, but when he finished, his American Dictionary of the English Language contained nearly 70,000 words. He also wrote the famed “Blue-Backed Speller” textbook that taught American children how to read for over a century and was the best selling book of its time, selling nearly 100 million copies (beginning in the late 1700s)!

We were ready for some outdoor time after all that and went to nearby Talcott Mountain State Park. We embarked on a one-mile hike up the mountain to Heublein Tower, a former summer retreat for a prominent Hartford citizen. I had to laugh – for anyone wondering, a one-mile hike of medium difficulty with three small children takes a good 90 minutes. There’s so many rocks, sticks, leaves, etc. to explore. Ascending 120 steps up a 165-foot tall tower to get a spectacular panoramic 1200-square mile view of Connecticut, Long Island Sound, and Massachusetts takes another 20 minutes. Their interest in the view? It lasted all of 20 seconds. And then we had the return hike! Well, at least they got their exercise today.

Another Proud Mommy Moment: A man pulled me aside after the Twain House tour to tell me that he normally groans when he sees children in museums because they take away from his enjoyment of a place. But, he went on, my girls were outstanding. He told me they were respectful and beautifully behaved. He said he was very impressed and that he hoped I kept doing whatever it was I was doing. Yay! And another random man at the tower said something very similar. They’re good girls.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

A Castle…and the Best Pizza in the World

Jill's Journal: How often can one start a day with a medieval castle in North America? But that’s exactly what we did. After a ferry ride across the Connecticut River, the girls and I got to enjoy Gillette’s Castle, a state park in East Haddam. William Gillette, a celebrated stage actor and playwright from the late 1800s and early 1900s who is best known for his portrayal of Sherlock Holmes, built a medieval-like fortress as his retirement home. With secret passageways, beautiful views, majestic rooms, and 47 unique doors, the castle held both my interest and the girls’. They were convinced a real prince or princess must have lived there and were enthralled by tales of the 15 cats who lived with the actor and each received personalized birthday parties.

This afternoon, we kidnapped Rob for a late lunch and headed to New Haven with the intention of dining at Louis’ Lunch. The tiny 1895 kitchen is legendary for creating the world’s first hamburger in 1900. Four generations later it is still made the same way, on two slices of toast with no condiments and cooked on the original 1898 cast-iron grills. Unfortunately, we arrived only to find a sign on the front door stating they were closed for entire month of August! So much for that.

We put our appetites on hold with a drive around the lovely Yale University and were tickled to see a plethora of parents moving freshmen into the dorms. Apparently orientation is on Friday and the entire class arrived today, half of them with U-Haul trucks!

If you can’t eat at one legendary New Haven restaurant, you pick another. We’ve also heard rave reviews about Frank Pepe’s Pizzeria Napoletana, which has been named by several publications as serving the best pizza on earth. Pepe’s also pioneered white clam pizza. The white pie, complete with freshly shucked littleneck clams, is their signature item. They won’t sell it if they don’t have fresh clams. They sell so many they have three guys shucking clams at a time!

The 1925 restaurant had a line in the middle of the afternoon and the hostess could not have been more rude to everyone waiting. We almost left, but then we caught sight of a pizza pie. We’re not pizza aficionados, by any means, but it looked GOOD. And it dawned on us: if she can be that rude and there’s still such a line, the food must be pretty spectacular! It was.

The white clam pizza was simply divine. That’s my favorite kind of pizza anyway and I’ve never had one so generously littered with such huge, juicy, fresh clams. Delectable. But the pepperoni was even better. Both Rob and I thought it was the best pepperoni we’d ever had. It’s something about the perfect, coal-fired, bread oven-baked crust that melts in your mouth. Even our Madelyn, who’d already had lunch, normally won’t touch tomato sauce, and is no fan of pizza, had two slices! I asked her if she liked it. Her answer between bites? “Ummm-hmmmm. I love it!”

Being "Seasonal"

So one of the most fascinating things to me of late has been the people who are "seasonal". We've seen a lot of it in the last couple of campgrounds, particularly Chincoteague, New Jersey, and here in Connecticut. A seasonal person is someone who buys the lot on a monthly (or longer) basis, pays a monthly (or however the campground breaks it up) fee, and then usually pays for their electrical needs on a metered basis.

They usually have very set and elaborate spreads. I've taken some pictures of what we've seen (shown) and its all just very interesting to me. These people decorate their 'space', put gravel into their campsites, even build decks and sheds - and some never, ever move their trailers. Those probably pay a yearly fee to be where they are and its clear - they don't plan on leaving. I thought - why would anyone do that? They aren't there all the time and they are paying for space that they don't use except for XYZ time... and then I got it. Its simply a second house - a vacation house. You pay taxes, nominal utilities, even a mortgage for a vacation house when you aren't there. Instead of having a million dollar vacation house, why not have a $20,000 vacation house and do with it as you please? In fact, I talked with people the other night that bought their trailer for less than $4K, and have lived in it full-time/seasonal for 10 years... The fees for the campsite have to be cheaper than taxes and homeowners fees. In fact, you could do it in a different place every year, just number the boards on your elaborate deck, take it down when you leave and put it back up at your next location. Take 2 days to construct something that will be there for four months - easy! Even better - you could have 5 places in different locations for the price of one normally priced house... starting to look pretty good, huh?

In reality, I'm thinking that when we're done - if we ever "finish" this trip - that this might be a great way to go. Find a lake, get a good spot, build a deck and a screened porch. Travel up on the weekends and have a place that is pretty much like a condo, in the woods (or wherever), with plenty of sleeping quarters and a place for any other RV friends to meet as well... Everyone wins, and for a reasonable price :)

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Back on the grid.

Hey all... Yes, I've been a little MIA lately, and that's because the last couple of weeks have been really busy, really long, and I just haven't had any time to spare.

Finally... [breathing out], this week feels good again. Its nice to be in places for longer than a week, and I'm finally getting not only some serious work done, I'm also getting a few projects out of the way. Yesterday, I fixed the problem of having my desk right behind the kitchen sink. You can see from the photo that I put in a lexan shield that's just about the right height to make doing anything at the kitchen sink a little easier. A fairly simple project, but I figured I had one shot at doing it right, so it took me a little time - as projects tend to do until they rattle around in my head a bit.

Today I got the 12V outlet in the belly in, so that way I can monitor the tires without a problem now. I bought a TPMS (Tire Pressure Monitoring System) for the truck and the trailer (at the tune of close to $500), and after I installed it in Kentucky, it didn't have enough power to monitor all the tires. Turns out this is a normal problem they don't tell you about when you buy it, but a little calling and complaining got me a new piece of equipment to help. I had to wire a new plug for it, but it seems to work so far. I hope it continues to make my life easier when we're travelling - one less thing to worry about.

Last thing... Today I went to the Mohegan Sun to play poker for the first time since the regular homegames in Kentucky. I went and visited Harrington Raceway once when we were in Delaware, but it wasn't a place I felt comfortable and I just didn't want to play there. There have been other opportunities at various places, but I'm glad I didn't force the issue. Tonight, I was ready to play well, have fun, and told Jill my goals before I left. Start with $100 and turn it into 3.

The Sun is a huge casino (found out by parking at one end and having to walk the ENTIRE complex to get to the poker room). I can't wait to get to Foxwoods to compare, but that's another post in about three weeks. The place was clearly modeled after Caesar's in Vegas (before the super-huge mall), and I felt like I was in Vegas, as did the thousands of people there on a Tuesday night. Its within minutes of another casino, so clearly - there is enough business to go around. For me, the Poker Room was my destination.

Once there I signed in for the cheapest game they had - $2/4. They had some big games running, including ones where not just house payments, but the cost of entire houses could be won and lost in one hand. Not my size of game, but my goal was clear - have a good time, try to double your money - quit if you do better. I enjoyed the table, tripled my buy-in and came home within 4 hours of leaving. All-in-all a really good night. I was really glad to see that my game is still pretty good, even though I've been off it for so long.

I hope all is well out there for you who read the blog. We're doing this for a variety of reasons, first of which is to document the trip - but if we can entertain a few people while we do that, we're excited. Let us know you're out there - if you haven't already. :)

Milk, Garbage, and Trolleys

Jill's Journal: Three little girls (and one big girl) had such a fun time today. We started with a drive to Norwalk and a destination of Stew Leonard’s: World’s Largest Dairy Store. Billed as the Disneyland of Dairy Stores and in both Ripley’s Believe It or Not and the Guinness Book of World Records, this place is something to behold.

It’s like a farmer’s market/butcher shop/dairy product store on steroids. It’s technically a grocery store, but customers walk on a winding path throughout a barn-like atmosphere. Mechanized cows (and chickens, fruit, vegetables, etc.) sing and dance throughout the store. There’s animatronic animals above the shelving at every turn, a place to watch milk being packaged into cartons, and huge screens showing live web cams of the store’s cows at their dairy. There’s a petting zoo and an outdoor cafĂ©. Gelato stands. Ice cream stands. Fresh mozzarella stands. They even host children’s birthday parties on their “beach”. The amount of dairy products is staggering. The produce is gorgeous. And the meat is spectacular-looking. What an experience!

We were brought down to earth with our second stop, this one in Stratford: the Children’s Garbage Museum! The girls absolutely didn’t want to go, but I thought it would be educational for them and they ended up loving it. We got a sky-box view of a recycling plant in action and saw raw trash turned into recycled materials. They were fascinated. However, their favorite activity at the plant was a scavenger hunt using Trash-O-Sauraus, a “rare” dinosaur made out of trash. The girls found all the game’s items embedded in the dinosaur, ranging from a flip-flop to a comb to a license plate. They were pretty proud of themselves.

And finally, East Haven’s Shore Line Trolley Museum closed our day. We got a three-mile ride down an old trolley line on a restored trolley. The motorman christened Erika the “conductress” and she got to punch everyone’s ticket. All three girls got to ring the bell during the ride. The museum has eight barns full of antique trolleys from all over North America, all lovingly restored and in beautiful shape. It’s amazing how different each one is and of course, each has a story. Ours was formerly from New Orleans and built to accommodate segregation. If walls could talk, I’ll bet hers would have a lot to say.

Monday, August 23, 2010

I Love Connecticut!

Jill's Journal: I am seriously in love with Connecticut. We did very little today other than stock up on groceries and plan our next few days of adventures. It doesn’t matter though – this is just a sensational place and we don’t need to go far to be awed. There is beauty around every corner, both the God-made kind and the man-made kind. I snapped this picture just down the street from our campground because I love this garage, which is very indicative of the architecture around here. I don’t recall ever saying I loved a garage before, but this one just charms my socks off!

Connecticut is called the “Constitution State” and we never knew why until now. The Fundamental Orders of 1638-39, established by settlers in Connecticut, are considered the first written constitution in history. Interestingly, both the first U.S. traitor, Benedict Arnold, and the most famous patriot, Nathan Hale (“I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country”), were from Connecticut.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Carousels and More Carousels

Jill's Journal: Today brought heavy rain and a 15-hour power outage at our campground. On our drive north to Bristol (home of ESPN!), it looked like a February day in Kentucky – gray, dreary, foggy. We did find slight differences…75 degrees instead of 30 and approximately 850 miles to the north!

Our destination today was the New England Carousel Museum. I don’t know who loved it more – Rob, the girls, or me. It was seriously a major hit with the entire family. The museum is housed in a former Civil War hosiery factory and we got a personal tour tailored to the kids. The historic carousel horses and other pieces were prolific, elaborate, and fascinating. Each one has a story, each is a work of art. You wouldn’t believe how much there is to know about carousels! We also got to see several pieces in various stages of preservation and restoration. It is a wonderful place.

In spite of the rain, we were in such a magical carousel mood that we headed to beautiful Bushnell Park practically on the capitol grounds in Hartford. The museum operates a historic carousel -- an antique 1914 wooden one -- in the park, complete with a Wurlitzer band organ. A dollar gets a person a 3 1/2 minute ride. The girls’ smiles were as wide as a house and absolutely contagious!

Trivia: It is believed the carousel as we know it began in the 1600s when noblemen practiced jousting by spearing a brass ring while being pushed by their servants on a merry-go-round-type contraption.

Mystic Seaport (and Pizza)

Jill's Journal: Our love affair with Connecticut continues. The five of us drove up the beautiful coast yesterday to Mystic, famous for its seaport and its pizza. We experienced both! The pizza, made famous by the movie “Mystic Pizza,” was definitely distinctive with an unusual tang/sweetness to it. Rob loves the movie -- I haven’t seen it in probably 20 years and remember only that it’s about waitresses, angst, and a pizza parlor. Another viewing is probably in order. :)

Mystic Seaport, a recreated 19th-century seafaring and whaling village, is a complete treat. It bills itself as the “Museum of America and the Sea.” The 19 acres are packed to the brim with maritime collections, ships, village buildings, shipbuilding exhibitions, artifacts, etc. Shipbuilding began on the site in 1837 and Mystic Seaport in its current state was began in 1929 to preserve the New England coastal way of life. Fascinating stuff.

The thing we collectively most enjoyed was probably the Charles W. Morgan, an 1841 whaling ship and the last wooden whaleship in existence. The girls loved exploring a real wooden ship, although poor Erika’s heart broke when she learned it was whales that were hunted.

Madelyn had a similar reaction of shock and sadness a little later when we also toured the Amistad, a replica of the famous 19th-century schooner whose 53 captured West Africans revolted and fought a bloody battle for their freedom. These little girls learned all kind of world injustices at what we thought was an innocent shipyard!

Lost innocence or not, Mystic Seaport was well worth the trip.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Connecticut is Wonderful!

Jill's Journal: Oh Connecticut, we’re only been here a day, but how we love you already! Let us count the ways:

1). You’re not New Jersey.

2). Picturesque beauty every where we turn. There doesn't seem to be an unattractive place anywhere. Even our campground is part of a 100-acre colonial farm, complete with a swimming pond, a small river, and lots of stately, old trees.

3). New England charm. We went into the town nearby to explore a little and didn’t quite expect to immediately find the small harbors and plethora of boats New England is famous for since we’re at the southernmost part of the region…but there they were! Wonderful eye candy. We stopped for lunch at an old train depot turned into a cute deli (photo!). The beach is just moments away. And the architecture is so incredibly charming.

4). Perfect, gorgeous summer weather. It’s warm and sunny during the day (but with little to no humidity!) and cool during the night. This has nothing to do with the weather, but aren’t the big girls cute helping their Daddy set up camp?

5). We’re not in New Jersey anymore. Whoops, did I say that already? I'm just so excited! We can make left-hand turns. People are friendly again. The accents don’t grate like nails on a chalkboard. Hallelujah!

Friday, August 20, 2010

Goodbye, New Jersey!

Jill's Journal: True to New Jersey form, the state threw a few expletives our way as we left yesterday. We were literally four miles away from crossing the state line into New York when Newark traffic kicked in with a vengeance. We waited…and waited…and waited…barely inching forward here and there. It took over five hours to go those four miles. Five hours! We could have crawled – with three little kids – faster than that.

The Jersey back-up made the New York traffic look like child’s play, even though we hit some there too. But finally, FINALLY, we arrived in Clinton, Connecticut, albeit more than seven hours late and way, way past everyone's bedtime. Our 145 mile journey took over 11 hours. Thank you, New Jersey.

Some fun memories from the day, in spite of our sore rear-ends from so much sitting:

*As we were driving, I quizzed the girls on their favorite things about the Garden State. Insectropolis, the trains, and the playground ranked at the top. I then asked what their least favorite thing was…Erika’s answer left me in stitches. “How hard it is to get to places around here!” I could not agree more. :)

*As we drove over the George Washington Bridge and the Hudson River, we got a nice view of Manhattan. The girls were able to identify the Empire State Building, but were disappointed they couldn’t see the Statue of Liberty from that spot. They let out a cheer when I told them we were officially in New York. I think it’s pretty amazing that “The City” is recognized as something special even by little kids. I can’t wait to take them there in a few months. I love New York.

*We’ve done some pretty crazy things in life, but driving a fifth wheel through The Bronx is not one even I envisioned. :)

Ten feet at a time...

Traffic. How do we run into some of the big messes considering how little we really drive? Today's trek should have taken us about two and a half, maybe three hours - Mr. Garmin even said so. As I type this while sitting on the road (the truck is in park, and I have a new iPad) we are at hour four, and we haven't even left New Jersey yet.

We have CB's and I've been listening to radio traffic trying to pick up ANY tidbit ...and the last bit of traffic I heard was... "...Wherever you are going driver, don't even think about taking the George Washington bridge...". See the picture to the right...? That one that says - well, you know exactly what it says... I just took that about 150 feet before I typed the paragraph... Sticking us right into it with no recourse. Yahoo. :/

Well, we'll get there when we get there I guess. One thing I'll be sure to do in the future tho is to pack a cooler for the truck. You'd think I wouldn't have to since I'm towing my household refrigerator less than 10 feet from where I sit, but apparently when you're moving 10 feet at a time at random intervals it's tough, nay - impossible - to pick the right spot to get out and unlock the door...

Thursday, August 19, 2010

The Amazing Thomas Edison

Jill's Journal: I don’t have a big interest in science, but oh my goodness – the Thomas Edison National Historic Site in West Orange yesterday was amazing. This arch is the gateway to Edison’s laboratory. The man got expelled from elementary school after three months for "lacking smarts" and asking too many questions. Clearly, not all things are as they appear. His mother homeschooled him.

This photo shows a good part of the lab complex, which was in use by 1887. Although he was known as the “Wizard of Menlo Park,” it was here in West Orange where most of Edison’s 1,093 U.S. patents were invented. Menlo Park was the location of his first, and smaller, lab.

This chemistry lab was the world’s best equipped when it was opened in 1887. It is unchanged from Edison’s days, to the point where many of the bottles still have their contents. There were no OSHA standards back then, so the entire place is highly contaminated. We were warned before walking in that touching so much as a table could make us ill and if anything broke, a HazMat team would have to come and decontaminate everyone. (Thank goodness my kids are good listeners and fought the temptation to touch all the colorful bottles!)

Edison’s time clock, which he, of course, invented. The hands were stopped at the last time Edison went through the doors, after lying in state in his library for his funeral. He is best known for inventing the lightbulb, the phonograph, and the motion picture. “Black Maria,” the world's first motion picture studio, still stands on the grounds. The tar paper-covered building has a hinged roof and was designed to revolve on a circular track to follow the best natural light.

The three-story, 10,000 volume research library sports a bed. Edison’s wife got sick of him falling asleep on random tables and floors while brainstorming at the office, so she had a bed installed to provide some comfort. He worked long hours, regularly 100-hour weeks, into his 80s.

Edison’s personal desk. The roll top was closed and locked upon his death in 1931 at age 84 and not opened again for many years.

The mansion, not far from the lab, where Edison lived with his family for 44 years and entertained notables ranging from Henry Ford to Hellen Keller to the King of Siam. Named Glenmont, it’s in the spectacular “subdivision” called Llewellyn Park. Here’s an interesting note: Llewellyn Park, which was designed in the 1850s, was the first planned residential community in the United States. It’s only about 12 miles from Manhattan and was billed as “Country Homes for City People.” There are approximately 160 lots on 420 acres and it is GORGEOUS. The girls even spotted three deer grazing on a lawn soon after we pulled in. Edison himself had 13 1/2 acres. Subdivisions, or tracts, are certainly not the same today!

Thomas Alva Edison’s grave (alongside his wife’s). The two had three children together. Edison also had three children with his first wife, who died at a young age.

Other intriguing facts about Edison: he was 90% deaf (highly ironic with his musical inventions), was of mostly Dutch heritage, and was equally adept at business as he was at invention and science. One of the 14 companies he founded was General Electric, which is still one of the largest publically traded companies in the world.

And of course, Edison’s most quoted quote is probably, “Genius is one percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration.”

The man was simply amazing.