Sunday, October 31, 2010

Tinkerbelle, Dorothy, and Jessie

Jill's Journal: Gone are the days of coordinated costumes for these sisters. These little girls all have minds of their own (and strong ones). The ideas of what they wanted to be for Halloween tumbled forth with increasing frequency over the last two months or so. And, of course, they changed their minds every five minutes.

Two days ago, we took them to a discount store, led them to the racks of inexpensive Halloween costumes and told them it was time to pick.

Dorothy, Jessie, and Tinkerbelle had a ball today, dressed all day long in their chosen costumes. We trick or treated tonight in a friendly neighborhood in Wheatfield, one of the many Buffalo/Niagara Falls-area suburbs. And three very, very happy little girls came home with buckets overflowing. It was just like being at home (with the possible exception of temperatures in the high 30s).

Much to the girls’ delight, even Rob got in on the fun.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

New York from East to West

Jill's Journal: As Rob and I have hauled out map after map and discussed endlessly exactly where to go next after the unexpectedly abrupt end to our time in New England, we realized we weren’t THAT far from Niagara Falls. It’s kind of isolated, at least for us. There’s not much else in about a 200-mile radius (on the U.S. side) that we imagine would draw us to the area other than the Falls, so we decided there is no time like the present. Add in a year-round campground that has water (and electricity – our Saratoga spot only had very limited power), and it was an easy decision.

And that is how we ended up driving 300 or so miles all the way across New York state today, literally from one end to the other…

Friday, October 29, 2010

National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame

Jill's Journal: A major benefit to going to Saratoga during one of the 46 weeks of the year when it’s not the epicenter of racing is a quiet visit to the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame. The girls and I had the place almost to ourselves as we perused exhibit after exhibit. I, of course, loved the history and artifacts from years past while the girls had an absolute ball in a children’s room.

Erika particularly has always wanted to be a jockey, so she got a thrill out of trying on all the garb. Her sisters got a kick out of it too. They also practiced shoeing a horse, brushed up on their grooming skills, and played with horsey toys of all kinds. It was pretty much heaven for horse-loving little girls. They would have liked to stay a week.

Pilgrimage to Saratoga

Jill's Journal: In all our years in Lexington, we watched an exodus every summer as probably 95% of our racing friends made their annual treks to Saratoga. Sometimes it was just for a weekend and sometimes for six weeks at a time, but they all came back with the Saratoga glow. We were regaled with story after story about how wonderful Saratoga is and how the racing world convenes at the historic upstate New York spot for working vacations and the social highlight of the year, sort of like they do in Kentucky for the Keeneland meets, the auctions, and the Derby. “But Saratoga is different…” they would say. “It’s special. I can’t believe you’ve never been. You have to go.”

I’ve always desperately wanted to go, of course, but one circumstance or another always kept us away.

And that is why I was SO thrilled to be able to see “The Spa” for myself today. It’s off-season, so it’s not anywhere close to the same and I know that. The race course is shuttered tight, the social racing scene is non-existent, and the thousands of racing people and top horses are scattered throughout the country and world (many ready to converge on Kentucky next week for the Breeders’ Cup). Even our one year-long Saratoga friend is not here right now, but in Kentucky preparing for next week’s championship.

BUT, I finally got to at least get a visual and see Saratoga for myself. The hallowed grounds of the oldest track in America (established 1864) hold the most prestigious race meet in the country. The gates were padlocked, but I found Paul the Super Nice Security Guard, who let me come in for a few minutes and take a few snapshots from two different vantage points. History oozes out of that racetrack. I could almost hear the hoof beats of so many greats.

A few years ago, Sports Illustrated ranked the world’s top 20 sports venues of the 20th century. Yankee Stadium was first, followed by Augusta National, and several other immediately recognizable names. Saratoga was #10 on the list, ranking well above household names like Pebble Beach, Wembley Stadium, Daytona International Raceway, Rose Bowl, and so many more.

“From New York City you drive north for about 175 miles, turn left on Union Avenue, and go back 100 years. With its striped awnings, old wooden clubhouse and grandstand, and paddock shaded by elms, Saratoga transports you back to the days when people came to the races in surreys with the fringe on top.” -- SI

The Oklahoma training track and Horse Haven are literally across the street, just like everyone says. The famous restaurant hangout Siro’s is just out one of the side gates, just like I’d heard. And there was Fasig-Tipton and the Reading Room and so many other landmarks. All right there and all beautiful.

Seeing it for myself was surreal and wonderful and very special for me. I loved every minute and the girls were as patient as little kids can be as I exclaimed over one spot after another. The stately mansions all around the track, many in the Queen Anne style, only add to the aura of this very special place. I only wish Rob could have seen it with me, but he tells me he’s more interested in seeing it during the live meet when it must be positively pumped with energy and excitement.

We don’t want to constantly be planning to return to places we see, but this one is clearly a must. This little pilgrimage was a huge treat for me. I cannot wait to share it with Rob.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Saratoga Springs, NY

Jill's Journal: The drive from Maine to upstate New York is a long one, made much longer when you’re pulling a trailer and have three children…but certainly eased by the beautiful, beautiful scenery. New Hampshire and Vermont are absolutely stunning. From our simple drive through, the northern parts of those states appear rugged and gorgeous. And southern Vermont is like a fairytale with its perfect little villages nestled in valleys. We simply cannot wait to come back.

Our new address for only a day or two (as the one campground open here turns out to be most unappealing and has already turned off its water too!) is just outside Saratoga Springs, which just so happens to be a spot I’ve been wanting to visit for all my horse racing life. How convenient…

After we were settled in and the girls were in bed, Rob made a quick run to the corner store. He said it feels more like home here than any of the places we’d been for the past four months, which of course gave me great puzzlement. But he quickly explained the first person he saw when he walked in the door was a gentleman in a West Point Thoroughbreds cap and a Coolmore (international racing/breeding organization) jacket. A little feel of Kentucky right here in New York!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Thank You for Visiting; New England is Now Closed

Jill's Journal: Have you ever been in a store at closing time? They might give a warning or two over the intercom system before finally saying something to the effect of, “Thank you for shopping with us. Please bring your purchases to the counter immediately. We are now closed.”

New England has given us those warnings in the form of some freezing weather, but now they’re effectively dimming the lights, locking the doors, and waiting not so patiently for us to find our way to the exit.

It seems the few campgrounds that are still open will officially close on the 31st. Consistent freezing temperatures, particularly at night, are supposed to start tomorrow. We've also been warned that tomorrow the water is going to be turned off until spring at this campground. Checks with others this far north all say the same thing. They’ve already gotten snow up here and the 10-day forecast calls for plenty more of it.

We have no desire to leave New England yet – we haven’t even made it to Vermont or New Hampshire! – but I think these campground owners know better than we do. We need at least five or six weeks to properly see Vermont, New Hampshire, and Western Massachusetts. Much to my dismay especially, it’s going to have to wait. If it becomes a huge struggle to find an open campground and to find something as vital to daily existence as water, there’s no point in fighting it. Rob reminds me that Maine has become one of his top five favorite states and promises we’ll be back in the area soon. The organized soul in me hates that we can’t completely check this area off our “list,” but neither of us can wait to come back. And the girls don't care where we are; they find adventure everywhere.

Tomorrow we’ll make a major push south. If all goes well, we’ll land in upstate New York below the Adirondack Mountains before dusk.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Snow Falls Gorge

Jill's Journal: No words. Just pictures from a little nature walk the girls and I did today just outside of West Paris, Maine. Noted the girls, “The sky seems closer in Maine.” Yes, it does. Simply glorious.

This Side of Paradise

Jill's Journal: On an unexpectedly mild and exquisitely sunny day, the girls and I explored Bethel. It is billed as “Maine’s Most Beautiful Mountain Village” and they’ve got to be right. It is the cutest little town.

We’re well after the summer season, just after the foliage rush (Bethel was voted the second-best New England town for foliage by Yankee Magazine), and right before the ski season, so we’re just about the only “foreigners” at the moment in this sleepy town. And after a couple of days here, it feels like we’ve met about half the town’s population. People here are soooo friendly. The town’s 81-year-old piano player even invited us to her church’s choir practice just in case we’d like to see their lovely and historic stained glass windows. I declined, but it was awfully sweet just the same. This is small-town Americana at its finest.

This village of farming, forestry, and tourism is right on top of the Androscoggin River at the base of Paradise Hill. I’ve heard it said Bethel is “just this side of Paradise,” both literally and figuratively.

The land here was cleared by Native Americans centuries before it was founded by European-Americans in 1774 as Sudbury Canada, so named because the original grantees were from Sudbury, Mass., and fought in a campaign to conquer Canada. In 1781, it was the site of New England’s last Indian raid. By 1796 the name had been changed to Bethel, meaning “House of God.” No fewer than 39 houses, structures, and sites downtown are included in the historical society’s walking tour. That makes up most of downtown, so the whole place seems unaffected by the passing of time and harkens back to an elegant period in the 1800s.

The town is surrounded by breathtaking natural beauty as Maine’s gateway to the White Mountains. I think we could be very happy here for a very long time…happy, that is, if the 60 degree high today wasn’t such an abnormal thing. I don’t think I mentioned that Bethel already had its first snow of the season last week.

Monday, October 25, 2010

The *insert word here* RV trailer you ever did see....

Well, I've been absent of late, and I'm sorry about that. Jill's been covering the blog just fine, and I've not really had much extra to contribute lately. Plus, I picked up an unintended 2nd job, but all is well - just a little busy. :)

Anyhow - what drives me out of hiding? What makes me need to post? Seriously, the funnest trailer I've seen yet. Unfortunately, it seems to have had a short life span, seems to have hit the market during the downturn, and is a little hard to find now - but I had to share.I mean really - how cool is that? We went to an RV dealership in Bangor ( - a town that I'm not outwardly fond of, but if everyone there were like the guys in this dealership, I'd say everyone should move there - they were pretty great. They even gave the kids RV toys - Erika picked up a nice Jeep/Travel Trailer combo - Victoria grabbed a nice European Class C - and Madelyn hit the motherlode with a classic, reconfigurable Class A. Needless to say they were happy! I only wish I could have bought more there.:) If you're interesting in this fun little cabin - I know where you can get one -

Newry’s Covered Bridge

Jill's Journal: Only nine of Maine’s 120 covered bridges built between the mid 1800s to early 1900s have survived history. This one, called the Artist’s Covered Bridge over the Sunday River in Newry, was built in 1872 and closed permanently to vehicular traffic in 1958. It’s considered one of the most picturesque in Maine and is a favorite of painters and photographers. It is said more paint has been used to recreate it on canvas than has ever been actually painted on the sides of the venerable structure.

The 87-foot covered bridge is striking even in today’s wintry weather and fog, so I imagine it’s that much more beautiful amidst fall foliage or even greenery.

Soft Tacos

Jill's Journal: Every few weeks, we have an easy dinner of soft tacos. I love the simplicity of it: just put out a few fixings and let everyone assemble their own creations. Two of our girls might come up with any crazy combination under the sun, but one has her own version of perfection.

Erika’s soft taco recipe:
One tortilla
Lots of sour cream
A little ground beef
A little cheese
A dash of salt

It’s the salt on top of the prolific sour cream that makes Rob and me laugh (and probably a little glad she hasn’t ever offered to make us one). :)

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Sleepy New England

Jill's Journal: We are in the sweetest town: Bethel, Maine. It was a roundabout way of getting here, but well worth the trip.

Yesterday morning, we were about to leave Bangor when the wind kicked up. Wind gusts of 40mph do not bode well for a 13-foot tall trailer on the road, so we did the sensible thing and stayed put. Everyone has seen tractor trailers tipped over on the side of the road, in addition to the occasional motorhome, and we had no desire to add to that statistic.

A free day in the Bangor area gave us a beautiful drive through the countryside en route to Leonard’s Mills in Bradley, a logging operation/living history site. Naturally, it was closed for the season!

And then, since we were out anyway, we decided to enjoy a lunch out…and learned an important lesson: when in a region, stick to the food the region is known for! We were tempted by a Mexican restaurant since it’s been months since we’ve had Mexican food. I must share my newfound knowledge with anyone who will listen: don’t eat Mexican food in Maine! This is very important. :) It was most probably the worst meal we’ve had on this trip, which is the only reason I even mention it.

This morning we said farewell to Bangor and headed almost directly west across Maine on a bumpy two-lane road (no freeways or interstates here!) to our destination of Dixfield. When we arrived at the campground where we had reservations, it was all but an abandoned empty field. To their credit, they did have a note on the door saying to pick any spot and they’d knock on the door for payment at some point. But we just didn’t feel comfortable with it and continued on.

Another 40 minutes down the road, we found a lovely campground in the darling little town of Bethel. We’re one of two campers here, have a playground for the girls right outside our door, and enjoy gorgeous mountain views. This is the New England I envisioned far from the coast: mountains/foothills, white-steepled churches, covered bridges, sleepy towns. Picture perfect and so peaceful.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Wild Blueberries

Jill's Journal: Maine isn’t just known for lobsters; it is also by far the nation’s top producer of wild blueberries, averaging about 100 million pounds of wild blueberries annually. Of course, we’re out of season for the fresh blueberries everyone raves about, so we had to try the next best thing: blueberry wine. Yum.

I wish we could bottle up just a smidgeon of the splendor of Maine as easily and take it with us. We leave Bangor tomorrow and will no longer be close to the coast after about three fantastic months of following the Atlantic Ocean north from the eastern seaboard of Virginia. We’ll head slightly west tomorrow to a small Maine town not far from New Hampshire’s border.

Paul Bunyan

Jill's Journal: One of the more unusual things we’ve seen on this journey is this giant (at 31 feet tall) and almost cartoonish statue of Paul Bunyan. Apparently Minnesota lays claim to the mythological lumberjack’s birthplace, but Bangor was the “Lumber Capital of the World” in the late 1800s, so it only makes sense the world’s greatest pretend woodsman should be here as well. Timber!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Children’s Discovery Museum

Jill's Journal: Right before we left Lexington in June, I bought a year-long membership to the local children’s museum for our little family. It carries a reciprocity agreement with children’s museums all over the country, which is why I bought it -- I thought we’d be using it constantly as we traveled. However, it was starting to look like money lost as we hadn’t visited a children’s museum anywhere (there’s just so many other fun things to do!). But then we reached Bangor, which doesn’t have a ton of things to see but turns out to have a very sweet children’s museum. It is officially our girls’ favorite new place to play. We’ve been twice in the last week and I don’t think I’d hear the end of it if I didn’t take them one more time before we go.

The spectacular Maine vistas and beautiful fall foliage have done very little to impress these girls. But recreate Zuckerman’s barn from Charlotte’s Web and the bedroom from Goodnight Moon and a cargo boat and a restaurant and several other basic things and these girls are smitten.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Clam Chowdah

Jill's Journal:
Dear Dad,
After a regular diet of clam chowder for, gosh, almost two months now, you’d think we’d be sick of it.

But no...quite the contrary. This delightful cup was from a random stop in Camden, Maine. So many places, just like this Cappy’s Chowder House, pride themselves on their “chowdah” and rightfully so. Just look at that spoon chock full of plump clams!

Is it any consolation I still think of you every time we indulge in this yummy goodness?


Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Lobster Capital of the World

Jill's Journal: Another day; another gorgeous drive to Maine's exquisite coast. Today’s destination was the Rockland area, best known as the lobster capital of the world. Approximately 90% of the world’s lobster supply is caught off the coast of Maine! I’ll let the pictures do most of the talking.

First, the beautiful, quaint, and quiet Rockport Harbor. This is the same harbor made famous by Andre the seal, whose true story was made into a book and later a feel-good movie in the 1990s. The seal was orphaned at birth in 1961 and his 23-year friendship with a girl and her family made headlines the world over. In the picture, our girls are getting friendly with a statue of Andre.

The floating docks had very recently been removed from the water, as had this little ladder. I was quite taken aback by the hundreds of mussels still attached. Sea life is clearly abundant in these waters.

Speaking of sea life, we visited the 1825 Owl’s Head Light near Rockland and were treated to a grand view of hundreds of buoys marking lobster pots in the waters. Amazing. One lobster boat was checking its pots and as it motored from one to the next, a flock of seagulls (but without the bad 80s hair of the band by the same name) flew closely behind. Those white dots you can see all around the boat? Some are seagulls, some are lobster pot markers.

We spent a good part of the afternoon in Rockland although so much in the area is closed for the season. No matter; it’s still a lovely example of a coastal Maine lobster town and we loved every minute.

It was a treat to see a herd of my favorite cows just outside of Rockland on the way home. The girls call them Oreo cows; their official name is Belted Galloways. How awesome must it be to have a farm on the seawater? The best of both worlds, for sure.

Big Blue

Jill's Journal: Update on yesterday's blue lobster...they are, indeed, rare. Only one in every two million caught are blue! Our lobsterman guide, Reggie, had two blue ones. He also had an unusual orange one. (A mottled dark greenish color is most common for Maine lobsters, until they're cooked, of course).

Monday, October 18, 2010

The Oceanarium

Jill's Journal: Near Bar Harbor is The Oceanarium, the only known lobster hatchery in the world. Like so many other things in Maine, they’re just about ready to close for the season, but we skated in practically hours before their doors get locked for the next six months or so. We’re so glad we did.

We started with the Oceanarium's Lobster Museum, where semi-retired sea captain Reggie spoke to us for half an hour about the high-risk life lobstermen undertake. He’s been a lobsterman since 1951 and taught us more in those 30 minutes than we could have learned in any book. His voice cracked when he told us just six weeks ago his dearest friend (another lifelong lobsterman) got tangled in a chain while out at sea and lost his life, as have so many others Reggie has known and lost. And yet, Reggie’s voice cracked again moments later, this time with pride, when he bragged on his own 17-year-old grandson who already has his own lobster boat and is showing great promise in the field. It’s a hard life and one impossible to understand unless you’re in those circles.

Reggie showed the girls one of his unusual blue lobsters and encouraged them to name it. They chose “Big Blue,” as they are born and bred Kentuckians after all. :) They probably don’t truly know what Big Blue means in Kentucky, but they’ve heard the expression often enough that it slid right off their tongues without hesitation.

We moved on to the fascinating Lobster Hatchery. Can you see the thousands of black eggs running down this female lobster’s tail?

And these tanks hold thousands of baby lobsters, which are released into the ocean near Bar Harbor when they’re about an inch long. It takes years to grow a lobster big enough to eat, so the hatchery simply exists to educate the public and doesn’t actually raise the lobsters beyond a few weeks old. It’s estimated only 1/10th of 1% of baby lobsters actually make it to adulthood, which is why the mama lobsters have thousands of them at a time. And by the way, while I don’t think lobsters are attractive in any way, those inch-long babies border on adorable. You can clearly see a fully-formed lobster, complete with big claws, just in miniature. Awwww…

After the hatchery came the Discovery Pool, where we got to see and touch some of the sea life picked up in lobster pots around Bar Harbor. The girls touched sea cucumbers, sea urchins, and many other unusual creatures.
Erika with a sea star

Madelyn with a horseshoe crab

Victoria with a baby sea star (which was all of about an inch big!)

What a fantastic day for all of us, just like so many we’ve enjoyed in this wonderful state.