Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Why I Love the Y

My first memories of the YMCA, are of attending my two younger brothers’ swim meets. At that time, I didn’t realize how important the Y would become to me in later years.

I’ve been a member of the Y for 35 years. In the early seventies, a neighbor of mine invited me to an aerobics and swim class. Fortunately, I agreed and have been a member ever since.

Shortly after joining the Y, I began playing racquetball. I was soon playing every day. I played in tournaments and in a women’s traveling league. My husband and I joined a Friday night couples’ round robin. Four people in a racquetball court is often two people too many. I recall someone going to the emergency room for stitches after a minor mishap of a racquet hitting a head, instead of the ball. Nevertheless, the fun always outweighed the risks. We proudly wore the dark bruises on our backs and legs from miss hit balls. Ceiling and kill shots, Z and lob serves, made the game challenging. I loved the fast-paced action. On those occasions, when I placed myself in perfect position, brought the racquet back and then executed exactly the shot I had planned–YES! It was hard to beat that thrill.

One of the women, whom I played racquetball with, taught me to play tennis. I enjoyed that sport during the summer months. It’s not as fast as racquetball, but great in its own way.

I also became a runner, pounding the pavement regularly with other Y members. For a few years, I participated in races nearly every weekend (during the warm months), in cities in the southern Wisconsin area. The most challenging was the annual 20-mile race from Madison to Stoughton, the Syttende Mai. I ran that race twice with other Y members; for long distances, running with a friend or friends is much easier than going solo.

The Y put me to work in two capacities. I worked for a few months at the service desk when it was located downstairs near the pool. At another time, I was the Racquetball Coordinator, which included running tournaments and organizing the challenge ladders for A, B, C and Novice class players.

While I was pregnant with my son, I swam laps in the pool. There were several other women swimming at that time, who were also expecting. We asked the life guard if there was something in the chlorinated water that was in some way contributing to our common condition. She didn’t think so but we noticed that the pool was emptied and refilled shortly thereafter. (Please note the previous sentence is written in jest--humor is good for you too.)

My husband and I took our son to swimming classes for the first time when he was between four and six months old. A few years later, a neighbor of ours made a small racquetball racquet for our son so he played the game too. We enrolled him in preschool classes where he enjoyed learning and playing with other kids.

Over the years, I have taken the Y’s Way to Fitness, yoga, pilates and power pacing classes. For whatever was ailing me, the Y always had a cure. Currently, I arrive at the Y every morning, Monday through Friday at 6:30. I swim laps three mornings and work out in the Life Center the other two.

My most cherished memories of the Y are of the people I have met. As we exercised together, we spent quality time together and bonded in a unique way.

I have much to be thankful for at the YMCA. Congratulations to the Y for 125 years of service excellence.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Fun With Haiku


I’m half Norwegian,
Delighted with my heritage,
A good old Norski.

My favorite food
Of the Norwegian genre
Most surely is lefse.

Ask me on Monday,
Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday,
I’ll tell you the same.

I learned to make it
From Mom, oh so long ago.
It’s work, but worth it.

I use a lefse iron,
A turning stick, rolling pin,
And cloth covered board.

I use half and half,
Melted butter, salt, sugar,
Potatoes and flour.

I boil the potatoes,
Rice ‘em, add all the rest and
Mix til my arm aches.

I roll it out thin,
My old rolling pin and I
Til it’s round and flat.

I slide turning stick
Under paper thin lefse.
Lift it to hot iron.

Phew, it’s quite a job.
I bake it ‘til it bubbles,
Flip it, bake some more.

Lefse looks like a soft
Shelled taco, only thinner,
Softer with brown spots.

After it has cooled,
I spread butter on one side
And sprinkle with sugar.

I roll it up so
Butter and sugar stay put.
The rest is heaven.

With that first sweet taste,
I fall in love once again
With all that’s Norway.

A plate full is gone
In the blink of my blue eyes
And I yell “Uff da!”

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Autumn in New England


In late summer of 2007, Lynn invited me to her home in Massachusetts, near Boston, where she lives with her husband, Ram. I was thrilled and excited. She went on to say that the trip would be a gift from her and Ram to me. I was amazed and overwhelmed.
I can remember the moment that she extended her invitation to me as if it were today. Earlier that day, Lynn had called me to tell me she was in town, visiting her parents. Over the years since we were young, we have gotten together only a few times. I was eager to see Lynn and we set up a time for her to come to my home. She arrived and we were sitting in the family room when it happened. We were facing each other on the sofa as we chatted. Lynn was sitting on my right. I heard her unexpected words of invitation. My mind reeled. My thoughts were something like this: Is this really happening? Am I dreaming? Why is this unbelievable gift being held out to me so sincerely by someone I’ve rarely seen since we were children?
Our friendship began a long time ago. Lynn and I grew up in the fifties and sixties living next door to each other in southern Wisconsin. We played, talked and did lots of things together during our early growing up years. I remember going camping with Lynn and her family to Devil’s Lake State Park. Whenever we took Lynn somewhere with us, I remember hearing her thank my mother. She would always say, "Thank you, Mrs. Doll, for the nice time."
Over the years, our lives went their separate ways. We both married. Lynn and her husband, Ram, left Wisconsin and moved to Massachusetts where they’ve lived for nearly 30 years. They have a daughter, Sheila, and a son, Michael. Sheila and Michael both live in close proximity to Ram and Lynn. My husband, Lon, and I have a son, Jared. We all continue to live in Wisconsin.
Lynn’s life and mine have inevitably gone in quite different directions but there is still a bond that exists between us. In our hearts, we’re still exactly the same two little girls who lived next door to each other on Elmwood Avenue. We look a bit different now and of course we’ve become much more sophisticated and mature, but we’re still happy when we’re together. You may question our sophistication and maturity as you read on, but for now, please just take my word for it.
I take you back to the day of Lynn’s visit in 2007. I enthusiastically accepted Lynn’s invitation. The rest of that day is a bit blurred in my memory because of my excitement and racing thoughts. I recall that Lynn told me some of the things she thought we should do during my visit and as she spoke, I gradually began to absorb the possibilities ahead of me and to sense the reality of making the trip. We agreed to work together to establish the dates for my trip in the near future. Lynn said she would write to me soon. We said good-bye with great anticipation of our plans and she went back to her parents’ home, the same house Lynn grew up in on Elmwood.

Looking forward to my upcoming trip excited me and yet also brought out some fears. I’d never taken a trip like this before without Lon. He had gone on fishing trips without me but I hadn’t gone anywhere for any length of time without him. I’d never navigated an airport on my own. I wondered how it would be for both Lynn and I to spend nine days together after so many years apart. I was worried that as their guest, I might disappoint Lynn and Ram. Would they enjoy having me in their home? I knew they traveled and lived exciting lives. Would I seem interesting at all to them? A part of me worried about these things, but another part of me knew that my friend of long ago had only become more dear and considerate over the years and that all would most assuredly go splendidly.
[As I work on this final draft of my memories of my trip, it’s January of 2009. I returned from my nine-day vacation on October 6th of last year. Since I got home, I’ve been writing about all that I saw and did in New England with Lynn and Ram. As I look back on my trip, which I do on a daily basis, I feel truly blessed. Everything, absolutely every single thing, about my trip was beyond my wildest dreams. Lynn and I realized quickly that we were as compatible as loving sisters. We were so very comfortable with each other and truly enjoyed each other’s company.
I met Ram for the first time at Logan International Airport in Boston. He is a sweetheart. Lynn and Ram were both there to pick me up when I arrived on my flight from Chicago, even though Ram had a long drive ahead of him later that same day in the opposite direction from their home. I appreciated his efforts to make me feel welcome, more deeply than I can express.]
As we began planning the trip early in 2008, Lynn asked me what sights I wanted to see. I honestly didn’t know. I told her that I was open to anything. Since I didn’t have any special requests, Lynn graciously planned our days, always giving me options. I was sure that anything she loved, I would love. In September, I found out how true my assumption was! We spoke often during the weeks and days leading up to my trip. Lynn assured me that if I had any trouble from the time I flew out of Milwaukee, landed in Chicago, flew out of Chicago and landed in Boston, I could call her and she would take care of things. She even went so far as to tell me that she and Ram would treat me with the same care as they use with their own children. I relaxed and truly looked forward to the day I would leave for Boston.
I had fun preparing for the trip. I tried to anticipate what I would need based on the plans Lynn had shared with me. I would need to pack some dressy clothes for dinner at The Balsams Grand Hotel and Resort where we would stay for three nights. The weather would probably be fairly cool in the White Mountains but could be warm in the Boston area. I used my trip as an excuse to add some clothing items to my wardrobe. Appropriately and coincidentally, I found several items at the Boston Store.. Having a large selection of clothes to choose from on any given day is very important to me. Consequently, I filled two suitcases and a carry on with all my stuff. Ask Ram about that. He did plenty of lugging of my baggage up and down flights of stairs. He didn’t even blink an eye when Lynn asked him to help, but he had to be wondering what in the world I had in all of my bags.

Lon drove me to the airport in Milwaukee on Sunday, September 28th. I checked in, got all the papers I needed and left my baggage. I felt really strange when it was time to leave Lon at the security gate. As I walked farther and farther from him, I kept looking back and waving until I couldn’t see him anymore. Lon was happy that I was making the trip but it was still hard to go on alone. In spite of that, I was excited as I looked forward to all of the things I would be doing for the first time. I was confident enough to go and I knew that I would only gain more confidence as each day went by.
After leaving Lon, I followed Concourse C to Gate C9 and sat down to wait. In my writing tablet, I wrote "It’s 7:35AM and I expect to be boarding flight #UA6568 on a Canadian Regional aircraft at 7:53AM. Lon and I got out of bed at 4AM this morning and were on the road at 5AM. So far, all has gone well. I checked in downstairs without a hitch. I left my baggage with agents who will send it on its way to eventual deposit in the bowels of the aircraft. We went immediately to Concourse C where I left Lon (that was a first for both of us) and I showed my boarding pass and ID. I placed my shoes, belt, carry on bag and my "Baggalini" purse in the receptacle to be scanned. I passed through a scanner and met up with my possessions once again. Flying alone is a new adventure for me so I’m pretty excited. So goes it as I await my next move..."
"...Since I last wrote, I showed my boarding pass, received my stub back, and found my way to aisle seat #7C. We lifted off at 8:18. There are two seats on either side of the center aisle on this small aircraft which will take us the short distance to O’Hare in Chicago. Until next time..."
"...It’s 11:45AM CST. I’m aboard United flight #732 on a Boeing 757 in window seat #19F. I’m tired so I’ve had my eyes closed and have been resting for most of the flight. I haven’t eaten much today. I had my daily glass of water first thing this morning and some coffee on the way from home to Milwaukee. At the airport, I ate a Kashi Trail Mix bar and drank from a bottle of water I bought. In Chicago, I bought an apple which I ate while I waited at Gate B9 for the 10:39 CST flight to Boston..."
"...I’ve called Lon three times already. First, shortly after he left me at security. Again, when I found Gate B9, and thirdly, just before they announced it was time to begin boarding. Having a cell phone is a novelty for me. I bought one specifically for this trip. This plane has three seats on either side of the aisle. I’m enjoying the window seat and I haven’t felt claustrophobic. I’ve been feeling somewhat anxious but not overwhelmingly. I expect that I’ll have some more of these feelings but I’ll regroup quickly and be at ease again. Having pen and paper is a powerful tool for me and I thank God for bringing me to realize their beneficial place in my life..."
"...My little ‘nap’ did me good. I took two Excedrin for a headache. I probably shouldn’t write much more right now or I’ll aggravate my headache. More later."
That was the end of my notes.

My flight from Chicago to Boston was uneventful. When I got off the plane a Logan International, I followed the travelers ahead of me to the baggage claim area. As I descended on the escalator, I saw Lynn waiting for me at the foot of the stairway. It was great to see her and after that, there was nothing for me to worry about. I’d heard so much about Ram and it was wonderful to finally meet him. From that point on, I just sat back and enjoyed the ride–all nine days of it.
Ram drove us to their home. Unfortunately, he had to leave immediately to Vermont for a business/fishing trip. We said our goodbyes knowing we would hook up again on Thursday.
Lynn encouraged me to take a nap since I’d been up for several hours. I welcomed the opportunity to relax and although I didn’t sleep, I enjoyed the rest. Before going downstairs to join Lynn, I unpacked one of my bags and tried to arrange the clothing for future use. We were leaving for the Balsam’s in the White Mountains the next morning, so I didn’t unpack the bag I planned to take there. See, there’s justification after all in my need for two suitcases.
Lynn and I went to dinner in Burlington, MA at The Cheesecake Factory. I loved the upscale decor and I wish that I’d taken pictures. I didn’t feel comfortable yet snapping pictures inside a restaurant so I’m out of luck in having photos of that experience. I do know that I had Firecracker Salmon Rolls (spiced fresh salmon rolled in spinach and fried in a crisp wrapper, served with a sweet hot chili sauce) because I copied the menu description on the back of my napkin. I loved every bite of it.

On Monday morning, Lynn and I left her home had breakfast at the Cracker Barrel restaurant nearby. Lynn often eats here at a table for one when Ram is away. I was happy to hear that she gets out and does things like this because Ram is frequently away on business trips. We ate lightly because we had a five course dinner ahead of us that evening. Lynn drove us north in her Jeep and we were soon in New Hampshire. I’d already hit Massachusetts and New Hampshire and my vacation was just beginning! Our final destination that day was to be The Balsam’s Grand Resort Hotel in Dixville Notch, nestled in a notch in the White Mountains, near the northernmost tip of the state.
We drove nearly the entire length of the state that day. During our drive, we saw the most beautiful display of color imaginable. The foliage colors were at their peak intensity and we spent hour after hour basking in the midst of their glory. Every new moment provided beauty that I just had to capture. I snared more than 1200 of those moments with my camera and the resulting memories I have are priceless. Within a few weeks after returning home, I shared them with friends and family countless times on our big screen TV. I will never tire of reliving my trip.
As we drove north on Highway 93, we entered White Mountain National Forest, a 780,000 acre forest that extends into western Maine. At Lincoln, N.H., we headed east on Highway 112, also known as the Kancamagus Highway, a national scenic byway. Lynn has traveled this area many times and was eager to share her favorite sights. We stopped at Otter Rocks and at numerous beautiful scenic overlooks as we made our way along this well-known 37 mile route. While Lynn was driving, I took pictures through the Jeep’s windows. Fortunately, the majority of those taken through the glass were surprisingly good since most of our time in New Hampshire was spent on the road.
The east end of the Kancamagus Highway is at Conway, N.H, not far from Maine. From there we traveled north on Highway 16, going through Gorham and Berlin. The farther north we went, the higher the mountains rose around us. Low-lying clouds lounged on the mountain slopes and mountain rivers ran alongside the highway for mile after mile. At Errol, we turned east on Highway 26 which led us to the Balsams. Lynn put 200 miles on her Jeep that day as we zigzagged up through N. H. The length of N.H. is 175 miles from its southern border with Massachusetts to its northern neighbor, that is, Canada.
The Balsams is Lynn’s favorite hotel in New Hampshire and it didn’t take me long to understand why. Its lakeside setting surrounded by the White Mountains gives it a magical, fairytale-like presence. The clouds hovering along the mountaintops and the fog drifting down in the mornings over the extravagant abundance of beautifully colored flowering plants intensified the sense of beauty with an aura of mystery. The hotel was built in the 1800s and has been preserved exactly as it originally was as much as possible. During restorations, the owners kept a detailed eye toward protecting the historical integrity and charm of the resort. The rooms are old-fashioned in decor and furnishings, without television sets, computers or other typical hotel conveniences or distractions (as perceived by each guest).
A brochure I picked up read: Legendary golf. Mountain setting. Renowned dining. A relaxing escape to a truly grand resort. It’s all up here.
After checking in on Monday afternoon, we dressed for dinner. The Balsams’ website describes their dinner dining this way. "Dining at the Balsams is always a special occasion. Our acclaimed chefs use only the freshest ingredients, often from local farmers. The menu changes nightly, and is presented table d’ hote style by the gracious and charming staff. Our celebrated wine cellar features over 4,000 bottles from 310 different labels, and is continually recognized by ‘Wine Spectator.’ Men are required to wear jackets."
As we approached the dining room, we were greeted at the doorway. Lynn presented our dinner pass and we were then led to our table. We passed a huge table with plates and plates of food on display. Lynn explained to me that every item on the menu from each of the five courses was presented. There were usually at least five choices for each course. So yes, there were at least twenty five plates of food on display and what a awesome sight they were.
The dining room was very elegant and the service we received followed suit. At any given meal, we would be served by several waiters and waitresses. At first I was a bit overwhelmed with all the gold silverware and the formality of my surroundings. Lynn noticed this and quickly put me at ease. "Carry on in whatever way is comfortable to you. Don’t worry about anything or anyone else because no one is paying attention to us. All of the guests here are focused on themselves, trust me." Her words made perfect sense to me and from then on I settled in and enjoyed our dining experiences.
On that first evening in the dining room, I started things by ordering a tangueray martini from the wine and cocktail list. I recognized the tangueray brand name. At this point in my travels, it was a trifle comforting to find something that was familiar to me. I didn’t stop to think that it would be a bit stronger than the tangueray and tonic I occasionally drink. The word "martini" should have tipped me off right away, but unfortunately, I knew my oversight only after I became a smidgen tipsy. Lynn doesn’t normally drink liquor of any kind, but she decided to join me in a relaxing, before dinner cocktail. We discussed this with our waiter and he helped her with her choice. It wasn’t surprising that Lynn would notice the affects of her drink. Luckily, the only thing we had to be concerned about for the remainder of our evening was getting upstairs to our room after dinner. We raised our glasses, toasted our good fortune and took another sip.
My choice for a first course appetizer was lobster and shrimp. We were served bread with cranberries, raisins, and walnuts. I chose Minnesota wild rice soup for my second course. Arugala was my choice for salad. In my notes, I wrote that my main course was fish, Thai rice and broccoli. The type of fish, I failed to include. I’ll blame that on my martini. For dessert, I had a key lime tart. As we dined at our lovely table, enjoying every single morsel of our meal, a four-piece ensemble played softly in the background.
We left the dining room and went up to our room.
Over the years, I have evolved from being nearly an insomniac to being a sound sleeper and loud snorer. I had been worrying about that for months since Lynn told me we would be spending three nights at a resort and sharing a room. I was very concerned that Lynn would be disturbed by the night noises coming from my direction. That first night at the Balsams, as we prepared for bed, I told Lynn that I had some bad news to share with her. I went on to confess that I snore and that I was so sorry. Lynn immediately started laughing and quickly assured me that we were both in the same boat. She too had been accused of making obnoxiously loud noises at night. Her accusers were both Ram and Michael. When Michael was living at home, he could hear her from his bedroom. The following morning, we were able to confirm without a doubt that the accusations of our respective families were indeed legitimate and accurate. I stopped worrying and from then on, we took turns serenading each other during the wee hours of the morning.
That isn’t all we laughed about that night.
We were trying to get to sleep but in the room next to ours, a man was talking loudly to someone in his room. Every word he said was traveling through the wall at the head of our beds. We listened for a little while. We were getting a bit upset when it didn’t stop. To pass some time, Lynn told me of a similar experience she had when she stayed in a hotel by herself a few years ago.
She told me how she had been unable to sleep for hours because of loud conversation in the next room. After she tossed and turned for several hours, it was finally quiet. Relieved, Lynn fell asleep immediately. Sleep came quickly but left even quicker. A barely audible humming noise replaced the silence next door. The humming gradually became louder. The humming reached a point where it wasn’t humming anymore. That person, that creature on the other side of the wall was snoring, snoring to beat the band.
Hearing the exasperation in Lynn’s voice as talked, I couldn’t help laughing at the impossibility of her situation on that night years ago. It wasn’t long before we were both laughing. As the voice from next door droned on in the background, we kept laughing until we were crying. Oh, what fun we were having!
We settled down. The voice next door didn’t.
"I’m going to knock on the door and ask him to stop talking or to whisper. We aren’t going to listen to him all night," Lynn said. She put on her robe and away she went. I heard her knock and when the door opened she nicely explained the situation. "We can hear every word you are saying. We really need to get some sleep so please be quieter." Lynn returned to our room and we fell asleep to the sounds of silence. I was proud of Lynn and admired her ability to handle the problem so easily and graciously.

We piled out of our beds at 7:00AM. When I looked out the window of our second floor room, I was amazed. What I beheld, I absolutely had to be preserve. I scrambled for my camera. I’d like to insert here that whenever I decide to do something, for some unknown reason, I think I have to hurry up and get to it right that second. So, true to character, once I had my camera, I hurried back to the window and took several pictures through the window screen. The resort grounds, the view of the surrounding White Mountains and the lake took on a surreal look viewed through the window screen. I love the slightly muted affect the mesh screen created. (I have one of these photos on my bedroom dresser. The word "Memories" is embossed in the pewter frame below the photo. It’s unique and a beautiful memory indeed).
After showering and dressing, we went downstairs for breakfast. I got a good look around me as we went down the stairs, past the check in desk and the lobby. The interior of the hotel is very spacious with an abundance of wide open spaces. I loved that. Large windows provided endless panoramic views of the wrap-around porch, expansive green lawns, gorgeous hanging baskets and flower gardens extending to Lake Gloriette, and the backdrop provided by the mountains. It would have been nice to simply sit on the porch and enjoy the surrounding beauty. The weather wasn’t conducive to this type of relaxation and Lynn was overflowing with wonderful ideas of places to go and things to do.
The buffet was another sight for sore eyes and hungry stomachs. Of course I had my camera around my neck and I have a picture of the breakfast spread to remind me of its glory. We filled our plates and bowls with the good looking food which included cereals, bagels with a selection of flavored cream cheeses, fresh fruit of all kinds, several types of potatoes, breakfast sausages and bacon, fish, scrambled eggs and more. We filled ourselves up so we wouldn’t have to interrupt our traveling time in order to eat. Another five course dinner would be waiting for us when we returned this evening. The resort dining room manager requests that dinner guests indicate each morning, which dinner seating time they will attend on that specific evening. Lynn and I thought it over and decided to dine at the 7:00PM seating. We left our reservation plans with the appropriate resort personnel and that was that, or so we thought.
During the days we were in New Hampshire, Lynn spent hours and hours driving every day, trying to make sure I saw all of the places she loves. On Tuesday morning, we visited The Flume Gorge, after a long drive south on Highway 3 which follows the western state line shared with Vermont. We had traveled almost as far south as the Kancamagus Highway. The Flume attraction is in Franconia Notch State Park. At the base of the flume, the sign along the wooden walkway reads "The granite rock which make up the walls of the flume was formed many millions of years ago in ancient geological time. At a later period, dark colored lava in a molten condition was pushed up from below filling a great crack and smaller side cracks that had been formed in the granite. This lava solidified to form dikes. As ages passed, the main dike was worn away, leaving the flume gorge. The original flume thus formed has been further widened by frost and water action. In a few places marked by signs, the remnants of the main lava dike are preserved in the bed of the gorge and small branches or off-shoots can be seen along the canyon walls. The lava is darker in color than the granite walls."
Lynn and I followed the wooden walkway which ran alongside the path of the water as it plunged down between the rock walls. We followed the stairway to its highest point where we watched the water as it fell 45 feet and gushed its way into the gorge and through a rocky bed to ground level. The sound of the water and the obvious power of its movement were breathtaking to witness. I took videos which captured both. Table Rock, Avalanche Falls, Bear Cave, Sentinel Pine Bridge and Washington Lying in State (Mount Liberty) were additional points of interest at The Flume attraction site.
From The Flume, we walked under the highway to view The Basin. We returned to the Jeep and soon again found ourselves once again on Kancamagas Highway.. On this drive on this infamous thoroughfare, we stopped at Sabbaday Falls. The legend of Sabbaday Falls is as follows: Legend has it, that one Saturday night, with winter rapidly approaching, workmen building a road from Albany Intervale to Waterville, decided it was time to call it quits. They hid their tools, planning to return the following spring. Before leaving on Sunday morning, they named the brook Sabbaday Brook for the Sabbath Day, or "Sabbaday." The workers never returned to complete the road, but the name has endured.
Our final stop that day was at one of Lynn’s favorites, a river with flat rocks which permit one to walk out into the middle of the river and to intimately experience the river’s flow. If time had permitted, we would have settled on a rock for a spell, to listen to the water and to soak up the surrounding colors and peacefulness.
That very same day, as evening descended, it was especially dark and rainy as we drove back to the Balsams after our day of adventure. Lynn is an excellent driver and she consistently got us from place to place with ease and expertise. Assuredly, Mario Andretti would’ve been proud of Lynn if he’d been with us that night as she raced her Jeep through the rain and darkness on endless snaking roads in order to get us to our table in time for dinner. To our dismay, after driving for what seemed forever, we figured we must have passed the entrance to the Balsams. We turned around and eventually saw the sign. To this day I can’t figure out how we missed the entrance. We were both desperately searching for the sign but the darkness and rain must have obscured it.
We not only missed the 7:00 dinner seating, but we came close to having no dinner at all. I think it was about 8:00 when we rushed in. The dining room hostess listened to our breathless explanation for our tardiness and graciously gave us ten minutes to go to our room and change into more appropriate dinner attire. We promised to hurry and that we did. After changing clothes, we made our way along the hallway to the stairway leading down to the lobby. Although tempted, we refrained from using the banister for a quicker descent, but we had visions of sliding down the polished railings and sailing through the air, coming to a stop only after executing synchronized "perfect ten" landings at the dining room doorway. We imagined the applause of the other guests in the dining room after the initial shock of our non-traditional entrance.
Our actual arrival to dinner was respectable and caused no disruption whatsoever. We were so tired by that time, we couldn’t have caused a scene if we’d tried. It was a relief to sit, be waited on, dine and listen to the background music. We chuckled throughout dinner as we recalled our race to dinner. We were having more fun than when we were kids.
My dinner Tuesday evening included Riesling wine, marinated pork tenderloin–my appetizer, turkey/mushroom soup, baby greens/vidalia onion salad, lobster/shrimp/florentine, and peach ginger crisp.
Our beds felt especially good when we crawled in that night. No amount of snoring kept us awake although I’m not sure how well the guests next door fared!
The resort gift shop drew us in on several occasions to say hello to the shopkeeper. While we were there, we noticed the merchandise on display. I bought gifts for Lon and Jared and a few souvenirs for myself. I found Lynn looking at the baby clothes and other miscellaneous cute baby things. She was debating on whether she should buy some items. She liked them so much that I urged her to go ahead and get them. Lynn agreed and we both left the shop smiling. During the nine days of my vacation, there were plenty of reasons for me to smile.
I truly enjoyed shopping with Lynn. She loves buying to give to others. The joy this generosity brings her and those who are the recipients is precious. Lynn’s outlook on life was totally uplifting for me as I spent those nine days at her side. I never saw a frown on her face or heard a single word of criticism or negativity cross her lips. I believe those qualities of her personality and character are the loveliest and most meaningful facets of my vacation experience.

Wednesday morning, as we meandered through the resort’s spacious interior, we came upon a room which has become famous for an established long-standing tradition. Registered voters from nearby Dixville Notch, gather in this room on election day at midnight every four years to cast their votes for the U.S. President. Being cast at that early hour, these votes are the first to be counted and reported in these important elections. I was moved to snap a picture of this historic landmark.
After breakfast on Wednesday morning, we left the resort and drove to Fryeburg, Maine, not far from Conway, N.H. Lynn was excited about taking me to the Fryeburg Fair, Maine’s Blue Ribbon Classic. It was a rainy day but that hadn’t dampened the spirits of fair goers. Lynn parked and we made our way into the fairgrounds. Harness racing horses and their riders were warming up on the nearby track. We walked to track side under our rain hoods (the rain didn’t stop for us today). I took movies and captured the activity along with the sound of the horses’ hooves clip clopping on the wet and sloppy track.
The number one reason Lynn brought me to the fair was to see a gypsy wagon that had left an impression on her during one of her previous visits. The wagon was in the Antique Wagon building and was included in the Display of Rare and Unusual Commercial Horse-drawn Vehicle exhibition. I took pictures of all of the vehicles and of the accompanying description signs. The gypsy wagon was spectacular indeed with its compact, yet lavish interior and its beautifully colorful exterior decor. The bright decorative painting on the outside and the plush interior furnishings were definitely something to see.
The gypsy wagon was described as follows: The bow-top gypsy wagon is the largest of the three types of the canvas-topped vehicles used by the Romanies and the only one which has a solid wooden front and back. The top is constructed of multiple slats, with similar slats running horizontally from front to back, creating a lattice framework to which a heavy felt cover is attached. Over this is then laid the canvas, usually green in color, which forms the outer shell of the top. The underside of this is often masked by a colorful head liner. A single "Dutch door" is set in the front wall, with a French window on top. The wooden pin boards are attached to very heavy chamfered struts. The bottom half of the door has the customary horse carved on it, which is very heavily guilt. This wagon is lavishly decorated with carved and very colorfully painted fruit, apples, pears and clusters of purple grapes along with green tendrils and vines running everywhere. Stick-sided chicken cages are built on each side near the front, probably for birds "captured" en route from local farmers and housewives. The interior has a bed at the rear, a stove and the customary china cabinet set at the immediate right of the doorway.
A beer keg wagon, mail carrier, fire truck, winter sleigh and dump truck were some of the other vehicles on display.
We also visited the Llamas/Alpaca barn. We had a very interesting conversation with a woman who spends a great deal of time working with these animals. She strongly believes that these animals are beyond humans in their wisdom and compassion. I’d never heard anyone tal of animals in this way and Lynn and I were both spellbound by her discussion of her experiences.
I bought a bottle of maple syrup for Lon to enjoy on the pancakes he makes and fills up on every Saturday morning, rain or shine!
After leaving the fair, we drove to Weston’s Farm Stand, also in Fryeburg. Their brochure describes it as "a picturesque, 200-year old family farm and market in the foothills of western Maine." The market and gift shop on River Street, sells vegetables, all-natural Angus beef, baked goods, honey, canned goods and preserves, maple syrup, ice cream, Maine gifts and handcrafts, and Christmas items. The Westons have produced maple syrup every spring for more than 150 years.
In front of the store on the expansive yard, several types of gourds were displayed in square
wooden frames. Vibrant potted mums sat in the grass near the door into the store. Inside, the shelves were crowded with jars of jams, jellies, syrups, horseradish sauces and an endless variety of other items. I bought a hat for Lon. Lynn pointed out the one she thought he would like and I agreed.
Our next stop was in North Conway, N.H. We sauntered through some of the many shops that lined the main thoroughfare. We went into the North Country Cottage Shop, the Handcrafter’s Barn and Zeb’s General Store. I bought two homemade pins, some blueberry jam and a little cup inscribed with the words, "Brake for Moose, It May Save Your Life." I had seen these words on many signs we had passed.
Back at the Balsam’s that evening, we spent a few minutes in the hallway that had framed photographs on the walls of celebrities who had stayed there. Jerry Lewis’ picture was there with a paragraph saying that he was a waiter there before he became a celebrity. I bet he provided free comedic entertainment to the guests that he served. I can’t imagine him being serious in any situation.

On Thursday morning, unfortunately, we had to check out of the resort. Before we left, we stopped at another shop on the grounds, the Old Apple Tree Corner Shop. We almost missed it, behind the Mountain Bike and Nature Center. I found red long-sleeved t-shirts with several black moose figures marching in single file across the chest and back of the shirt and also bearing the words "The Balsam’s, Dixville Notch, New Hampshire." I gave one to Lynn to have as a reminder of our Grand Adventure.
Leaving the Balsam’s resort for the last time, we drove southwest to Errol and then south on Highway 16 to Jackson. In Jackson, we passed by the Jackson Inn. Four mannequins dressed to resemble the Beatles were placed beside the road in front of the inn. They appeared to be out for an afternoon stroll right there in little old Jackson, N. H. A sign behind them said Abbey Road, which is the title of one of their many popular songs. Lynn pulled over and I captured this brief encounter on my camera.
The Raven Wood Curio Shoppe caught our eye because of its unique and quaint appearance. We parked and I snapped a picture of it and the building beside it that had items for sale hanging all over its exterior. We had places to go and other things to see so we didn’t venture inside.
Lynn pointed out a beautiful pale pink house that was situated next to a river of water cascading down from a nearby waterfall. We discussed how wonderful it would be to live there and be able to see and hear the movement of water from the comfort of home.
We came through North Conway again and couldn’t pass Zeb’s General Store without a quick run inside. Some places just do that to a person.
Cathedral Ledge was not far from North Conway. We stood at a high elevation before a panoramic view of the New Hampshire countryside. It took several minutes to soak up the view. We could see pasture land, foliage, roads and a lake spread out before us. The rock wall that formed the flat ledge we stood on dropped vertically just a few feet in front of us. While I was looking down, I felt myself being drawn forward and I sensed that if I leaned too far forward I’d have to pray hard for wings to take me safely to the ground below me. Actually, if I’d fallen, a fence was there to stop me.
Besides the exceptional foliage with its color palette proving that fall had settled in, pumpkins were abundant at roadside stands and in wagons transporting them from place to place. Speaking of roadside stands, Lynn and I stopped at one and bought a homemade apple pie. It was still warm. The gentleman tending the stand said that his wife had made the pies before she went to work that day. To Lynn and I, baking the number of pies we saw on the table was enough work for one day. We settled the pie on the floor in the back seat, to be shared later that evening with Ram.
Lynn had more of New Hampshire to share with me. She took me to a location near Crawford Notch State Park. I picked up a copy of The Story of the Willey Family. Here it is. "During the fall of 1825, Samuel Willey, Jr., of Barlett moved into a small house in the heart of Crawford Notch with his wife, five children, and two hired men. The first year, the three men enlarged and improved the house, which the family operated as an inn to accommodate travelers through the mountains on the desolate notch road. The little cluster of buildings was situated in the shadow of what is now called Mount Willey.
In June, following a heavy rain, the Willeys were terrified when they witnessed a great mass of soil and vegetation, torn loose from the mountainside across the river, slide in a path of destruction to the valley floor. As a result, Mr. Willey built a cave-like shelter a short distance above the house to which the family could flee if a slide threatened their side of the valley.
During the night of August 28, 1826, after a long drought which had dried the mountain soil to an unusual depth, came one of the most violent and destructive rain storms ever known in the White Mountains. The Saco River rose 20 feet overnight. Livestock was carried off, farms set afloat, and great gorges were cut in the mountains.
Two days after the storm, anxious friends and relatives penetrated the debris-strewn valley to learn the fate of the Willey family. They found the house unharmed, but the surrounding fields were covered with debris. Huge boulders, trees, and masses of soil had been swept from Mt. Willey’s newly bared slopes. The house had escaped damage because it was apparently situated just below a ledge that divided the major slide into two streams. The split caused the slide to pass by the house on both sides leaving it untouched. Inside, beds appeared to have been left hurriedly, a Bible lay on the table, and the dog howled mournfully.
Mr. and Mrs. Willey, two children, and both hired men were found nearby, crushed in the wreckage of the slide. The bodies were buried near the house and later moved to Conway. Three children were never found.
The true story of the tragedy will never be known. Poets and writers have conjectured many possibilities. Perhaps the family, awakened by a threatening rumble, fled from the house to their cave, and was caught in one stream of the slide. It seems more likely the Willeys started to climb the slope of the mountain to escape the rising floods and were caught in the landslide.
Whatever the circumstances of the tragedy, it has endowed this part of the White Mountains with a legend enhanced by the awesome crags which rise guardian over the site of the former Willey home. Following the tragedy, an addition was built onto the house, which was operated as an inn until it burned in 1898."
We stopped at the Passaconaway Historic Site and visitor center (Russell-Colbath House). Lynn is intrigued by the story told of the Russell-Colbath House. I picked up a copy of the story at the house. Following is part of the story. "In 1887, Eliza Russell deeded the property to her daughter, Ruth Priscilla and Ruth’s husband, Thomas Alden Colbath, who continued to farm the land and care for the aging Eliza.
In the late 1880s, the population of the valley had grown. There were 20 or more farms, two schoolhouses, and a small hotel. During the summer, many visitors came to enjoy the clean air and the relaxing surroundings. In 1890, the first Passaconaway Post Office was set up in the house and Ruth Priscilla Colbath became the first postmistress. She held the position until 1906 or 1907.
One day in 1891, Thomas Colbath left the house, saying he would be back ‘in a little while." Ruth never saw him again. She remained in the house where she had been born, eking out a meager living. It is told that she placed a light in her window each night, expecting Thomas to return. On February 21, 1905, Eliza Russell died, leaving her daughter, Ruth Priscilla, living alone in the family home.
On November 15, 1930, Mrs. Colbath died at the age of 80, still believing that her husband would eventually return. Three years later, Thomas Alden Colbath did , indeed, return to the deserted house and heard a story about his wife, now deceased, and a light that shone each night for 39 years in the darkness of the Passaconaway Valley.
Thomas indicated that he’d had no quarrel with his wife. He had remained in the area for at least a year, after which he began wandering farther and farther away. After a time, he said that he was too ashamed to return to his wife and home. What prompted his return? It is anyone’s guess."
One more sad story originates in this area. A German couple and their young child were traveling in the state. As they were making their way along a country road, they hit a bump in the road. The child was thrown from the car and was killed on impact upon hitting the ground. A small gravestone marks the burial spot.
Back to focusing on our travels, we drove up the long driveway of the Mount Washington Hotel. A sign at the entrance said "Mount Washington Hotel, the large building to the east, is the culminating achievement of the creators of the Bretton Woods area. Conceived by Mr. Joseph Stickney, a wealthy railroad magnate, it was built in 1902 in a grand manner to attract the fashionable and the rich. A magnificent structure in a spectacular setting, the Mount Washington Hotel has been host to presidents, royalty, and scores of celebrities. In its heyday, as many as fifty-seven trains a day brought carloads of people, great and humble, to this resort rivaling Newport, Saratoga, and Bar Harbor."
Another sign read "Bretton Woods Monetary Conference. In 1944, the United States government chose the Mount Washington Hotel as the site for a gathering of representatives from 44 countries. This was to be the famed Bretton Woods Monetary Conference. The Conference established the World Bank, set the gold standard at $35.00 an ounce, and chose the American dollar as the backbone of international exchange. The meeting provided the world with a badly needed post war currency stability."
The Mount Washington Hotel is definitely a breathtaking sight with the surrounding acres and acres of beautiful rolling grounds. The dark threatening skies provided a dramatic background to the pictures I took of this magnificent structure.
After a quick stop at a McDonald’s to pick up a cup of tea for Lynn and cappuccino for myself, we headed south on the long drive back to her home.
Ram had returned from his trip into Vermont so he was home when we got there. He graciously carried our luggage upstairs to our rooms. By that time, it was dinner time. Needless to say, none of us wanted to drive far to eat. We decided to go to a nearby Italian restaurant. Lynn and I had spaghetti and meatballs, exactly what we needed after another busy day. When we finished our dinner and returned home again, the apple pie we’d picked up earlier in the day proved to be a wonderful dessert.
I’d documented my trip with great determination. My camera already held 490 photographs.

Friday morning, Ram went to work and we went to play. Life just isn’t fair! Before we left the house, we did relax with a piece of pie and a cup of tea. Lynn has become an avid tea lover since her trip to India in 1976 to visit Ram’s parents and family. I adopted a stool and the end of the marble kitchen counter top as my favorite spot. I also became attached to a specific cup and saucer from among Lynn’s big collection. The cup had a cute little ladybug on the inside near the rim and the saucer had a grasshopper. Every morning, that was the cup and that was the saucer that I selected. Shortly after I returned home to Wisconsin, I was delighted to get a package from Lynn with the identical cup and saucer that she’d searched the stores for and found. It will always remind me of our friendship.
Our plans Friday were for Lynn to provide me with my first glimpse of the Atlantic Ocean, to have lunch in Salem, MA and then to visit the international company where Ram is a vice-president. With Lynn behind the wheel, as always, we traveled from MA into N.H. I first saw the ocean in the Town of Hampton. We drove along the shoreline beside the many seaside shops, rental and private summer beach houses. With the ocean on one side and beautiful houses on the other, I didn’t know which way to look. A lot of the homes were mansions in my opinion with their huge lawns and manicured hedges running for great distances along the road. It was a spectacular drive and I soaked up the sights and saved a good share of them with my camera.
Lynn steered us south, back into Massachusetts. We were hungry for lunch and anxious to get to Salem. The witch trials that were held in Salem back in the 1600s, have given this area a longstanding reputation. As we came into the city, we drove streets that were lined on both sides with red and black banners announcing, "Salem–Haunted Happenings." I picked up a copy of Haunted Happenings America’s Halloween Festival Guide, a 52-page guide. This guide reads "Nobody celebrates Halloween quite like Salem, Massachusetts, the Halloween capital of the world. Whether you are seeking the changing leaves and cooler weather New England autumn brings, or the ghosts and goblins that Halloween is known for, you will find it all in Salem this October. Come and enjoy the many events, walking tours, museums, attractions, shops, haunted houses and fantastic dining that are the center of Salem Haunted Happenings."
The Salem Witch Museum ad in the Festival Guide reads, "19 innocent victims lost their lives during the With Hunt of 1692. History made them famous...we make them real." Regarding The House of the Seven Gables, the guide reads "Visit New England’s oldest wooden mansion build in 1668. The House of the Seven Gables offers guided tours through the Turner-Ingersoll mansion, with surprises including colorful Georgian interior and a climb up the secret staircase await. Admission also includes a visit to The Nathaniel House, the birthplace of the author of ‘The House of the Seven Gables,’ a stroll through seaside gardens and a visit to the museum store located in a house dating to 1655."
The guide describes the theatrical performance, Legacy of the Hanging Judge, available to the public on nine dates in October, in these words: In 1692, the Salem Witch Trials wrought havoc on a small New England community. Relive these events–in their own words! Enter the Nathaniel Hawthorne House, where you will be interrogated by magistrate, John Hawthorne, Hawthorne’s great-great grandfather, who is infamous for his role in the condemnation and deaths of so many people. From there, encounter the tormented, the accused and their accusers in this interactive, theatrical experience. Beware, you may find yourself being accused of ‘writing in the devil’s book!’"
Another performance , Spirits of the Gables, promises: Guilt! Greed! Revenge! Enter the world of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s burdened characters from his classic novel, as they haunt the hallways of their eerie mansion. Witness two families entangled in a curse as Matthew Maule condemns Colonel Pyncheon with the very words destined to become his fate and follow his family for nearly 150 years; "God will give you blood to drink!" Travel through this house at your own risk, for as long as there is a Pyncheon descendant inside, only darkness and death will fill its walls.
A map in the guide indicated the locations of the Witch Dungeon Museum, the Lizzie Borden Museum, Spellbound Museum & Ghostly Theatre, Nightmare Factory, and Frankenstein’s Laboratory, to name a few. Feeling a bit spooked, we chose to pass by the many offers of scary adventures available to us and instead we went straight to Lynn’s favorite lunch spot, Captain’s Waterfront Grill and Pub at Pickering Wharf. Obviously, we had a firsthand view of seaworthy vessels of all kinds, docked at the piers beside the restaurant. We also had a perfect view of "Friendship", a reconstruction of a 1797 East India-man merchant ship, an educational tool and symbol of the rich maritime history of Essex county.
When we entered Captain’s, we were preceded by a young lady wearing a long black taffeta dress and a young man wearing a black cape and top hat. We resolved ourselves to the fact that as long as we were in Salem, there was no way to avoid its "witch" aspect.
We were seated at a window table and were given menus. Without hesitation, I ordered a piping hot bowl of New England clam chowder. That was a no-brainer. Lynn ordered spring rolls with mango and soy sauce and a sticky toffee pudding for us to share. Once again, Lynn proved to me that she knew where to go, what to see, and most importantly, what to eat. Lunch was a wonderful treat for my taste buds. They were still a quiver for quite some time after experiencing nine days of fabulous cuisine.
Interesting shops were awaiting us as we stepped off the porch at Captain’s. We felt ourselves being drawn to the Pickering Wharf lineup which included Laurie Cabot’s Witch Shoppe, the Salemdipity Shop (the place to find unexpected treasures, frightening gifts and souvenirs), The Cat The Crow and The Crown (filled with Majickal gifts, items made by Salem’s ‘Official Witch’, books of Shadows, potions, incense, hats, brooms, capes and everything a good witch needs), and Crafter’s Market Candles and Gifts.
I believe powers beyond our control, perhaps lingering from long ago times, lured us inside. Spellbound, we wandered through the Crafter’s Market and, to this very day, I believe neither of us was responsible for the purchases we made. I left with a tiny witch figurine wearing a tall pointed hat and a long black dress sprinkled with yellow stars. Fortunately, she seems to be powerless as she spends her time atop a framed picture in the room where I write. On second thought, she does have a power. When I see her, I’m transported back to Salem and caught in the spell of the good memories I have.
With that mission accomplished, Lynn pointed the Jeep northwest and we traveled into N.H. once again, this time to visit Ram at his work place. Ram met us in the parking lot when we arrived. It was the end of his work day but he generously brought us back inside to show us around. I was excited to see inside this international company. In the lobby, glass cases displayed products made by the company and a video told the story of the company. My small brain grasps that they manufacture oscillating crystals which are used in computers and have a number of other uses. Ram explained how the plant functions but I didn’t grasp the complexity of it all. Of course, that’s not a problem. Ram understands every detail; he’s an expert and I’ll gladly leave it all in his capable hands.
Ram took us to his office. His personal office is furnished with a beautiful cherry wood desk and cabinets. I snapped a picture of Ram sitting at his desk, the place where he spends lots of time, contributing to the huge efforts that keep the company growing and thriving.
After the tour, it was that wonderful time of day, that is, dinner time. With Ram behind the wheel, Lynn and I were whisked to The Surf restaurant. We entered through the back door and were escorted to our table. I was feeling extremely important by this point in my trip and I perceived our quick drive and slick entry into the restaurant as an act to avoid crowds of newly acquired fans. I suspect I was beginning to strut. Lynn caught my arm and quickly told me that, being familiar with The Surf restaurant, Ram had long ago found it easier to park in back rather than along the street in front. Without saying the words, Lynn straightened me out. This is an example of "tough love." Lynn didn’t want me to start getting arrogant and difficult to live with. She wouldn’t be rid of me for three more days! Can you blame her?
Humble once again, with my nose no longer in the air, I looked around. This is an awesome place, I thought and spoke. I loved the decor. My dinner of red merlot wine, Lobster shepherd’s pie, three kinds of bread, the pleasant background music of the piano player, and most importantly, the warm company of my friends, created more special memories for my already overflowing heart.
I’m not certain, but I highly suspect that when we arrived home, we didn’t retire until after we dove into the apple pie, once again. I’m telling you; this was one enormous pie. Many thanks to the tireless woman who created it.
We watched a movie in the family room that evening, a hilarious space centered comedy, one of Lynn’s all-time favorites. It was fun to relax after another busy, busy day.

Athough, I was totally thrilled with all we had already done, Lynn and Ram were determined to treat me to everything they could fit into the nine days I was with them. As I look back, I’m amazed at all of the states I was in and all that I did and saw. My memories would be blurred at best if not for my tiny but phenomenal Sony Cyber-shot digital camera. There’s no way I could remember all that we did without it. This synopsis of our adventure would be sadly incomplete if I had to rely on my memory alone, no matter how hard I tried to recall the nine days of events. Lon gave me the camera for my birthday back in January. He was happy that I was gifted with the opportunity to travel with Lynn and Ram and he knew a camera would be a priceless travel companion.
Saturday, the three of us drove south through Massachusetts, getting just a small taste of the unique Boston sights, on our way to Newport, Rhode Island. We crossed the Zakim Bridge in Boston, quite a sight with its complexity of exposed cables. I was looking forward to seeing Boston and that was to be our focus on the following day, Sunday. Today’s destination was Rhode Island to visit the Newport Mansions, which I had heard of but never dreamed I would have the opportunity to tour.
I was excited to have this great opportunity to experience America’s heritage. To think that these mansions were built primarily for summer use by their owners is mind boggling for the average American. I soon learned that "by the 1860s, it was not fashionable to stay at a Newport hotel for the season: one must own or rent a cottage... The rush to opulence began with a series of very large, late Gothic stone houses at Newport...They were quickly overshadowed by a residence (Marble House) designed by Richard Morris Hunt and built by William K. Vanderbilt. We toured The Breakers and the Marble House mansions built and previously owned by the Vanderbilt families. Ram and Lynn had toured the Newport Mansions on several occasions and these two mansions are their favorites. (All of the Newport Mansions are maintained and owned by the Newport Preservation Society).
Cameras aren’t allowed inside the mansions but I made up for it by taking a lot of photos of the exteriors and massive grounds. Also, to help keep my memories alive, I purchased the book, Newport Mansions, The Gilded Age, in the mansion gif shop, which contains color photographs of rooms in all of the mansions and the history of each structure. I also bought a book, The Glitter and the Gold, by Consuelo Vanderbilt Balsan, which I truly enjoyed reading when I returned home. I knew Lynn would like it so I mailed it on to her.
The Breakers is situated on the Atlantic coastline and has an unobstructed ocean view beyond the vast grounds surrounding the mansion. The Preservation Society brochure describes the Breakers this way. "The 70-room summer estate of New York Central Railroad President Cornelius Vanderbilt II includes a two and a half story high Great Hall and a Morning Room adorned with platinum leaf wall panels. Its interiors feature rare marble, alabaster, and gilded woods throughout. Open-air loggias provide a spectacular ocean view." The book, Newport Mansions, states "If the Gilded Age were to be summed up by a single house, that house would have to be The Breakers." This is also an interesting quote, "When the housewarming, combined with a coming-out party for 20-year-old Gertrude Vanderbilt, was held on August 14, 1895, the reality of the Breakers outshone the rumors."
Marble House, which was built in four years for William K. Vanderbilt, is described as being "perhaps the greatest neo-classical house in America...It took nearly four years and $11,000,000 for the Marble House to be completed." It is also described as "an enormous, beautifully crafted jewel box, miraculously set down on a cliff by the sea.." I was awed by everything I saw on our tours and I will relive the experience whenever I wish by sitting down with my copy of the Newport Mansion book.
Between the mansion tours, we lunched in downtown Newport. Lynn and I shared a tasty reuben sandwich. Between, the parking area and the restaurant, on Bellevue Avenue, we came upon the International Tennis Hall of Fame. As long as we were there, we decided to take a look Inside was a grass tennis court surrounded by a wooden grandstand. Statues of tennis greats were among the objects of interest.
After leaving Marble House, we drove along the seacoast on Ocean Avenue as far as Brenton Point State Park. The homes along the ocean were exceptional in their size, design and setting. I took picture after picture from the back seat as we drove past them. At Brenton Point State Park, we reversed direction and retraced our route along the Atlantic. We then drove north from Newport and passed through Boston again on our way home.
Ram thought I might enjoy sampling some Indian food so we had dinner at the Rang–Indian Bistro in Stoneham, MA. Lots of hungry people got there before us. While we waited to be seated, I surprised myself by ordering an Indian beer. I really liked it and all of the foods I ate later. Of course, I was happy to let Lynn and Ram make the food selections and even happier when I began sampling their choices. I can’t recall what I ate but I clearly remember liking everything. I’m eager to eat Indian food again.

Sunday morning we went to the Family Mass at 9:00 at Saint Michael’s Parish. The church is beautiful. The spacious worship area was packed with mostly young adults and small children. A very competent clown, as clowns go, entertained all of us with his exceptionally well-polished antics. Ample time was given to worship and music and I came away feeling spiritually renewed.
Lynn and Ram had put their heads together before I arrived regarding a grand finale event for my last day with them. Their plan was for the three of us to go into Boston, to go up in the Prudential Tower and also to see Boston College where their son, Michael, studied and graduated Summa Cum Laude (with highest honors). My final day with them would be topped off with, listen to this, a twilight dinner cruise in Boston Harbor aboard The Odyssey. Oh my God! I thought to myself, I don’t ever want to wake up from this unbelievable dream.
Early in the week, Lynn told me that she and Ram had special plans for Sunday. I told her not to tell me what they were until I asked her. I’m not sure how long I resisted asking but when I did, I was thoroughly impressed and excited.
After church, Ram slid behind the wheel of their Jeep and once again we departed from their home. We traveled into Boston this time. I kept busy in the back seat, sliding from one side of the car to the other with my camera gobbling up several memories every minute. We parked in a huge underground parking area near the Prudential Tower.
I learned a "hard" lesson at this point during my vacation. I was feeling pretty competent and suave as we strolled through the hall leading from the parking elevator to the tower. As we walked, I lagged behind due to the fact that I was multi-tasking. My camera was in front of my face almost constantly as I snapped still shots and took videos as I walked. If someone had offered me a stick of gum, I’d have chewed it too. We were surrounded by thick glass walls. Ram and Lynn preceded me through a glass revolving door. I followed with my camera at eye level. I unknowingly veered to the right and lowered my camera. Glass is hard. It has no mercy, whatsoever. Especially when an unsuspecting head, atop a body traveling along at a nice clip, collides with a large sheet of it. My head recoiled and then it hurt. Yup! Thank goodness, Ram and Lynn were ahead of me and were spared being seen with me in this unsophisticated state of confusion.
I told Lynn about my run in with the glass as soon as I composed myself enough to catch up with her. It was a funny incident to share, after the fact. More importantly, if my forehead began bulging, I didn’t want to frighten her, needlessly. Lynn was concerned and graciously not too amused by my accident. I’m pleased to report that the day proceeded without further incident, at least to my somewhat rattled recollection.
Our first destination in the tower was the Legal Sea Food Restaurant for lunch. It was in an upscale shopping mall which allowed easy accessibility to the tower. I was eating up the uniqueness of the restaurant before we were even seated. I was intrigued by the decor and activity but did finally stop gawking around and joined Lynn and Ram at our table. I took some pictures, might I add, after I sat down. If I had been Ram or Lynn, I suspect I would have snatched my Sony Cybershot and fed it to the fish in the nearby tank. At the time, I didn’t realize what a nuisance I was being.
When I settled down, I noticed the informative place mat in front of me. At my first chance, I asked the waiter for an extra one to take with me. This adventure was not only raising my confidence level but was making me unusually demanding.
I’m so glad I asked for the place mat because now (hundreds of miles away from there) I can tell you all about it. So read on.
The Legal Sea Food menu explains the "Legal Legend" as follows:
"From the day back in 1950 when George Berkowitz opened his fish market next to his father’s grocery store in Inman Square, MA, the "Legal" name has been synonymous with quality and freshness. This humble seafood market was named after his father Harry’s "Legal Cash Market" where customers were given "Legal Stamps" (forerunners of S&H green stamps) with their purchases.
In 1968, the Berkowitz family opened their first seafood restaurant right next to the fish market. This restaurant was set up with picnic tables where people ate family style. The fish was simply prepared, either friend or broiled and served on paper plates. The word spread quickly and the success of this restaurant crystallized the family philosophy that they are first a fish company that is in the restaurant business.
Now under the leadership of Roger Berkowitz, George’s son, Legal operates 30 family-owned restaurants, a mail order business and a grocery products division. For three generations, the Berkowitz family has continued this tradition of serving the highest quality, freshest fish for a great value. Enjoy the Legal Difference!"
That’s not all that the place mat has to offer. It also includes "The Legal Time Wave" from 1904 to 2005+. Interesting accomplishments and honors include:
In the 1960s, Julia Child showcases fresh fish from Legal Sea Foods on her PBS cooking show.
In 1968, Legal opens its first restaurant to rave reviews by The Boston Globe’s Anthony Spinazzola.
In 1981, Legal Sea Foods’ clam chowder is served at the Presidential Inauguration, beginning another tradition.
In 1986, Legal is name "The Best Seafood Restaurant in America" by NBC Today Show.
In 2000, Legal purchases the Lady Grace, which resides in Gloucester, MA as a floating memorial to fishermen who have lost their lives at sea.
I’ve only listed a few honors for fear of being too long winded. But see? If I hadn’t asked for the placemat, I dare say I wouldn’t have remembered all of this important information. To be honest, I probably wouldn’t be able to recall one thing! Yes, it’s sad, but true.
After lunch, we walked through the mall to the Prudential Tower elevator which took us to the SkyWalk Observatory on the fiftieth floor. Somewhere in the tower, I picked up this card. I don’t know if it was for sale or what, but I have it with me here, faraway in Wisconsin and I can reveal to you now, more good stuff. It’s an exclusive Super Top Trumps card from Top Trumps–The World’s Coolest Card Game and it describes the tower as follows:
"The ‘Pru’ is one of the most well-known landmarks in Boston and boasts the highest vantage point in New England! Upon completion, it was the tallest building in the world outside of New York. Today the Prudential Tower houses residential apartments, offices, a huge shopping mall and a skywalk, and with 360 degrees of spectacular and unrivaled views that extend beyond Boston, the "Prudential Skywalk" on the 50th floor makes this scraper, one of a kind!"
Other statistics on the Top Trumps card are:
Height (ft) 752
Floors 52
completed 1964
Elevators 27
Floor space
(million sq ft) 1.2
difficulty 186
It’s time to get serious again. Forgive me. I think it was that "glass incident" that threw me off track.
Huge windows around the entire perimeter of the tower gave a total view of Boston and the surrounding area. We were each given a small hand-held device which contained a taped verbal description of the sights below us. Viewing positions all along the SkyWalk were numbered. When I entered a viewing position number on my tape player, I could listen to a lighthearted and informative description of the sights of Boston directly below and in front of me. It was an entertaining way to learn about this spectacular city.
After descending fifty floors, we hopped in the Jeep and made our way past hundreds of brownstone buildings on our way to Boston College. Boston is well known for its exceptional institutions of higher learning. We didn’t enter the campus but I viewed the grounds and buildings as we drove near. Lynn remarked that she had made hundreds of trips to the college during the years that Michael was a student there. I know that as their mother, Lynn always made herself available to Sheila and Michael in order to help them reach their educational and personal goals. With Ram out of town so often on business trips, Lynn threw herself into her role as a mother. Her efforts are evident in the success both Sheila and Michael have achieved. I admire Lynn more than I can say for her unselfish parenting.
The transportation system known as the L in Chicago is nicknamed the T in Boston. As we drove to Rowes Wharf, where we would board the Odyssey for the dinner cruise, we often saw the T zooming on its track, alongside our Jeep.
Ram parked in the Rowes Wharf parking garage on Atlantic Avenue and we walked to the water’s edge to look at the many seaworthy vessels docked. We located the beautiful ship, the Odyssey, at 60 Rowes Wharf, directly behind the Boston Harbor Hotel. Since we were early we decided to leave the wharf and walk a bit on Atlantic Avenue in downtown Boston. I saw the New England Aquarium and I know we were close to Fanueil Hall. It felt great to me to be walking in the heart of this great city. It was impossible to soak it all in but I put up all of my antennae and gave it my best shot.
As it neared 5:00, boarding time for the cruise, we made our way back to Rowes Wharf. Everything was classy. I felt the grandeur of the harbor and of the magic of the evening ahead of us. I was clearly experiencing sights, sounds, tastes and beauty that I would have missed if not for Lynn and Ram. My gratitude for their hospitality and generosity was over-flowing my capacity to contain it. Their manners encouraged me to feel totally comfortable wherever we went and so I just kept putting one foot in front of the other, savoring each and every moment, reveling in my opportunity to taste the good life. Not that my life isn’t good; it’s just a different life.
We entered the ship from a ramp lavishly decorated with colorful mum plants surrounding our passage aboard. We were escorted to a corner table with two views of the harbor. At that moment, as at many moments before, I felt that everything around me was surreal. Being away from my normal surroundings, experiencing all the things I’d experienced in such a short period of time, I felt so humbled and yet elevated at the same time. Life is full of surprises and this is definitely one of the biggest ones I’ve been blessed with.
The ship was very spacious with tables lining the windows. As we settled into our perfect corner table, our drink orders were taken. I can’t simply say that we ate and drank. I absolutely must include everything I enjoyed that evening.
After we got our drinks, Tasting Trio appetizers were placed before us. I kept a menu so I’ve got it all in black in white to share with you. Copied straight off the menu, this appetizer trio included: First, Red Tomato Crisp filled with Nova Lox Mousse and Mujjol Caviar, secondly, Striped European Cucumber topped with Whipped Basil Feta Cheese, and third, Spicy Black Bean Tostada with Sante Fe Smoked Chicken Salad. Mmmm, mmmm, good!
Pretty fancy eating if you ask me. I enjoyed every bite of it all. And that was just the beginning. My choice for the first course was (as listed on the menu): Roasted Duck Confit-Braised Duck with Cherry Balsamic Demi-Glace served atop a Double Ripe Plantain Cake and garnished with Sun-Dried Cherries and Candied Pecans. Lordy, lordy. My taste buds just about blew a gasket. I took a picture of my first course plate, of course.
My second course choice was (word for word from the menu): Wild Alaskan Salmon–Garlic and Dill Marinated Salmon roasted with a splash of Chardonnay and served over Cajun Spiced Couscous and a Tower of Roasted Ratatouille Vegetables. Life was picking up on a grand scale at this point as I’d never had two main courses in one meal before. Yet, I took it in stride, hoping and praying I wouldn’t pop the button at my waistline.
Although I was already beyond being satisfied, I didn’t hesitate to accept the dessert menu. Without a hint of shame, I requested the Raspberry Mousse Cup–Rich Raspberry Mousse served in a Milk Chocolate Cup finished with fresh Raspberries and homemade Whipped Cream.
From that point on, I sort of faded into a haze of relaxation. I was conscious that we were entertained by a female, black singer and a three-piece band. I was aware that the ship moved from the harbor and out into deeper water. We were given the option to view the harbor from the upper deck and did so. We climbed the stairs to the open upper deck and walked to the rear of the ship. The lights that lit up the shoreline were visible but it was clear that we were a great distance from the city. It would have been pleasant to remain outside but the evening air was brisk and we chose to retreat to the enclosed lower deck.
As the evening passed, I basked in the luxuriousness of each moment. I recalled the busy days since I left home and was in awe of all I had experienced. Time ceased to exist. Couples danced, the singer interacted with passengers celebrating birthdays and anniversaries, and everyone aboard seemed to be wrapped in their own little cocoons of contentment. The soft lights and mellow music added to the hushed atmosphere. Eventually, the ship nonchalantly returned to the wharf and came alongside the dock. We were graciously ushered from our table and we departed the Odyssey. Just outside, a young lady stood with a silver tray heaped with chocolate covered strawberries. We were offered a parting treat and best wishes as we went our separate ways. Lynn, Ram and I left Rowe’s Wharf and walked to the parking garage. Our ride home was quiet; we were still caught in the magical spell cast by the twilight cruise.

My whirlwind vacation was winding down. I wasn’t though. I had packing to do, farewells to be bid and airline flights back to Wisconsin. I honestly didn’t wind down for several weeks after I returned home. If my suitcases were full when I arrived, they were absolutely bulging when I left. I stashed things in every possible nook and cranny o f my suitcases. What was left I crammed into my carry on bag, glad that I had two strong arms to work with.
I told Lynn that if Ram wanted to download all of the photos I had taken from my memory stick onto his computer, he was certainly welcome to. He did. All 1200 of them!
Ram was leaving for work when I said goodbye to him. I tried to express my thanks for all he had done for me. I think he understood my feelings and we parted with a hug. From now on, I will have a clear picture in my mind of Ram. For years, I had only the memory of their wedding picture taken so many years ago.
Lynn drove me to the airport and we went inside. From this point on, my memory completely fails me. My brain was overloaded, I didn’t take any pictures but I made it home. So I assume, Lynn and I hugged, I attempted to thank her for everything, absolutely everything she had done to make my vacation a gold ribbon winner. I also believe that I blocked out those memories because I didn’t want our time together to end. We had lived as sisters for nine days. We had laughed until we cried. We had talked about anything and everything. We had shared ourselves with each other. We existed side by side in time and space for nine days. Lynn and I are closer than we’ve ever been.
I thank you,
And I cherish you, Lynn.
Your forever friend and adopted sister,

Original Writing

I love to write. My problem right now is that I lack direction. I can't commit myself to a writing project, instead, I go on and on writing about wanting to write something significant. Liar, liar, pants on fire. If I face reality, I'll see that as in many areas of my life, I avoid making decisions and thus I remain stuck. I must derive something satisfying out of rambling, stumbling and screwing around.

Fear of failure sounds like a good excuse. I've submitted a few things I've written and have had them rejected. That doesn't bother me much. I know most authors are rejected over and over again before they are published.

So I'm back to where I started. I love to write.

Another Day, Another Blog

I've got a blog, so I've got to blog. With commitments come responsibilities. Being a writer, to blog is to live. As easily as I inhale a breath, I exhale a sentence.

Honestly, that last statement is mostly untrue. Oh, I can go on and on and say basically nothing for hours. That is as easy as breathing. My goal is to soar above the mediocre. Yes, the desire to write glorious, unforgettable sentences keeps me "practicing." I fear that practicing may be the highest point my soaring takes me.

Maybe that will be enough. Ultimately, that's for me to decide. I'll have to make some decisions and then get going on them if I truly desire to climb to a mountain top. Ahhhhh, maybe tomorrow.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Hanging out on Siesta Key

Cool quartz sand, fine as flour, cushions my bare feet as I aimlessly drift from my lounge chair on the sun-bleached gulfside deck to the water's edge. The waves shyly tiptoe in as I stop to stare at the great blue shimmering body of water that nudged them toward me. The Gulf of Mexico was so calm at first glance I thought it was asleep.

My eyes follow the surface of the water as far to the left as it stretches. My view ends at Point of Rocks, the south end of Crescent Beach. If I were to walk in the opposite direction, beyond the four life guard lookouts on the public beach, my jaunt would be abruptly aborted by an impassable rocky section of shoreline. Distances deceive me when I walk or run on the beach. The strip of unusually white sand unique to Crescent Beach appears to be about a mile long but actually extends for a few miles.

We return every March to the Siesta Dunes condominium complex on Midnight Pass Road, Siesta Key, Florida. My mother's cousin, Marilyn, and her husband, Dick, own a condo in the complex. They set aside ten days for our use in March every year. My husband, son and I consider this annual vacation as the highlight of our year.

From the fourth floor we have a wide view of the Gulf, the pool, the gulfside deck and the immaculately kept grounds. I spend most of my time right there at the complex. I walk, run, write, read and relax for the most part. Later in the evening, I watch American Idol when it's on.

The mainland city of Sarasota, Florida, is a short drive along Midnight Pass Road and across Stickney Point Road Bridge. All of the activities we enjoy are within a few miles of Siesta Dunes. Every day we look forward to dinner. During our pre-dinner game of Yahtzee, we make final decisions regarding where we'll eat. Following a glass of wine for me and a few bottles of beer for the guys while we roll the dice, we're off to Captain Curt's Bar and Grill just down the road or The Stonewood Grill over the bridge. Once or twice each trip, it's inevitable that we end up at Sharkey's in Venice and The Outback.

We've vacationed at Siesta Dunes for over twenty years. Lon and Jared have activities they look forward to and I'm content to do my own thing when they're away. They hire a guide to take them fishing on his boat in the back waters. They relax and watch one day and one night pre-season baseball game. The three of us rent kayaks and paddle the waters around Turtle Island. We rent bikes to explore residential areas and to ride on the beach. Special bikes with extra wide tires make the trip from one end of the beach to the other and back again much quicker than on foot.

From chairs at the table beside the sliding glass doors and from stools on the open porch, we observe the walkers and runners on the beach and the water craft in the area. Parasailers can be seen along with sail boats and motor boats. Occasionally, dolphins can be seen playing offshore and stingrays along the shoreline. Pelicans dive clumsily, crashing head first into the water for fish, cormerants swim underwater in search of food and jelly fish wash up on the sand.

Our non-stop flights between Milwaukee and Tampa got us from point A to point B without a hitch. A rental car provided our transportation from Tampa to the condo and everywhere we wanted to go. The weather was perfect with temperatures reaching highs of 80 degrees every day.

Since we returned to Wisconsin, the weather has been disappointing. This evening and during the night, several inches of snow are expected to fall. On our drive home from Janesville late this afternoon, we saw two cars that had slid off the interstate. April will arrive in four days and I'm hoping spring weather will come with it.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Mourning Bob Lyman

A long-time acquaintance died this past Wednesday, after a long illness. My husband and I will attend his visitation this afternoon. Bob Lyman was a fine person, a person I'm proud to have known. His face expressed his honesty, his compassion and his appreciation of life. He cared about people.

A boyish face and easy smile come to my mind when I remember Bob. He was quiet, maybe even somewhat shy, and his sense of innocence, trust and wonder were evident in his big blue eyes and open face.

I remember his freckles and how easily he blushed when attention was turned to him. It's been years since I've been with Bob but my memory of him hasn't faded. A person like Bob is rare and won't be forgotten.

I let you go, Bob, with these words. Rest peacefully now that your earthly journey is complete. Your loved ones will miss you but their memory of you will be a comfort to them throughout the remainder of their lives.

Good bye, Bob.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Why I'm Here

I took an online writing class a few years ago and my life changed. The class was a beginner's writing workshop. Under the guidance of a gentle and wise instructor, I took my first wobbly steps. Soon I was walking steadily with confidence and joy amid the huge crowd of supportive classmates. I've been writing ever since, somewhat sporadically at times, always amazed at the rewards that come of my efforts.

I have writer friends who have blogs. I've decided to create a blog of my own. I've much to learn as I know nothing about blogs other than what I've noticed while reading my friends' postings.

This is my first posting so excuse me as I leave to publish it.