Pooling around in Oregon

We are spending a few months in Newport, Oregon, volunteering at the Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area, a BLM site that includes gorgeous coastal cliffs, beaches, birds, marine mammals, tidepools and yes a lighthouse. Whilst I was rangering last summer in the Vermont mountains, Ben was was combing through volunteer.gov to find us a gig on the water, so here we are! Our last hurrah before we are back to real life.

In exchange for volunteering four hours a day, five days a week, we have a free spot for the trailer, including water/electric/sewer. From our concrete pad (below left), we can see the ocean, if we lean a bit; a pair of bald eagles every time we walk out our door, if we are lucky; and this super cool stained glass peace sign our friend Laura made us (that somehow Ben has let me keep up-must be love of Laura who is also our #1 cat wrangler), if the incessant rain doesn’t wash it away.

In order to accommodate our new lifestyle, we had to invest in a dehumidifier, that requires emptying no less than 3X a day (in our less than 200 sq ft living space). We also got a white board calendar to mark our work start times-it changes every day depending on the tide. If it’s low tide, to Cobble Beach (below) we go to protect the sea stars, urchins, anemones & co. from the enemy: tourists. JK – tourists are rad, but this is a designated marine garden and we just need to keep an eye out and help everyone stay safe. BLM thoughtfully provides rain gear which we work, play and sleep in.


At the beginning and end of each tidepool shift, we put out these signs so folks will stay back from places the harbor seals like to hang out.

I almost stepped on the octopus below – see how well she blends in with the kelp! One can never get enough sea stars in the frame (below right). Their population was quite diminished by a mysterious wasting disease in the last couple of years, but shows signs of coming back. You’ll see some purple urchins and green anemones tucked in as well.

When we are not in the tidepools, we staff the Interpretive Center desk. A highlight is raising and lowering the flag (in rain gear naturally), and updating the white board with tide and weather information (you guessed it: rain). Have I mentioned the snow?

Or we might go a-roving – hiking the short trails, or bringing out telescopes so visitors can see the peregrine falcons, or until recently, the migrating whales.

We sign people up for lighthouse tours – and took one ourselves on one of the few sunny days. The lighthouse has been in operation since 1873. It’s a first order Fresnel lens. Automated in the 40s.


A few more tidepool sights below. We are there often enough that it’s pretty easy to notice something new or different. The rangers helps us out with id-ing stuff.

I’ll leave you with an octopus video of the same little lady pictured above. She scooted around for several minutes close to my boots – I was more afraid of her than she of me. She was likely trying to find her way back into the water. Rangers said it is pretty unusual to see one, and very unusual to see one out of the water. So here you go…up, doh, I have to upgrade to post video on WordPress. Go see it on Instagram where I can hopefully post it. 🙂  More from Oregon soon, specifically: on how one passes one’s free time in a 200 square foot trailer when it’s raining (constantly).

Death Valley Days

Our plan after Thanksgiving was to go to Sequoia, but the thermometer took a deep dive there right after the holiday, so we went to the desert instead.

Sometimes (all the time), you should just do exactly what the ranger tells you when you ask them for a two day itinerary for first-timers.

No, the above is not the Dead Sea Scrolls. It’s the Winter/Spring edition of the Death Valley National Park Herald Times Tribune! But with some important notations: first and foremost, scratched out the notice of Artist Drive being closed for repairs. Not yet! 

First, we were to go to Devils Golf Course. Definitely not a golf course of any kind. An expansive salty flat to explore – with care! 

Stop #2? Just a few miles south to Badwater Basin, the lowest point in North America. They have some fun signage to make their point.

This sign – high on a cliff above the valley floor – gives you a good idea of just how low you really are.

This picture really gives you a sense of the VALLEY, doesn’t it? The Pantamint Mountain Range is in the distance.


Stop #3 was supposed to be Artists Drive, but we had just enough time to make it to the 2:30 pm Ranger Talk at the Harmony Borax Works Interpretive Trail. So what do you think we did? 

Above are the wagons of an actual “20 mule train” that was used in the 1880s to tote borax out of the Valley – 165 miles to the Mojave railroad depot. The two wagons carried the borax; the tank on the left carried the 1,000 gallons of water for the thirsty mules!

We headed back to Artists Drive – a sort of semi-circular loop through a lovely portion of the valley, the highlight of which is Artists Pallette, a rock face showing gorgeous colors. Sunset was a nice time to go.

Our ranger had recommended we finish the day with the 5 mile loop hike at Golden Canyon, but we decided to save it till the morning – and we were glad we did. Not only because it was a fairly intense hike – with some fun side trails – but we were able to kick it off with a 9am Ranger Talk. Both talks we went to were lead by Rangers new to the park, but they were both outstanding. Good hires! 

Any more questions about why this is called Golden Canyon?


The Canyon talk/walk went about a mile in, focusing on the geology, of course, and in particular the impact water and floods have had on its formation. After, we peeled off toward Red Cathedral, a stunning sculpted canyon that requires some scrambling to get in. We met some folks there who took our picture – and then we played around pretending we were doing a (dusty) Danner Boot ad.


We continued on through Gower Gulch and the Badlands Loop. I’d show you some pics, but honestly it all started to look the same. Maybe I was a little dehydrated? You know how it is when you are like, “Ugh, where’s the car?” That moment is below.

We stayed in Texas Springs campground – an NPS campground that doesn’t allow generators – right in the middle of all these sights. It had been quite crowded for the Thanksgiving holiday we understand, but was no more than a quarter full when we were there. We met some lovely people from Washington state who shared their home-cured salmon with us! And the nighttime skies around our campfire! Anytime you can see the Milky Way is pretty great.

Vermont Days off – the finale!

Though we’d paced ourselves pretty well – readers of parts 1, 2, and 3 of this series can attest – there were some pretty major to do’s to check off in this, our final month in Vermont. First, a visit to Canada. Specifically, Quebec which, with its French language and culture, would give us more of that “we really are in a foreign country” feel. We chose Quebec City over Montreal because friends recommended it as smaller and more approachable for a short visit.

When we reached the border, we were greeted not by a wall, but by a really utilitarian looking building with the country’s iconic maple leaf.
A few other choice pictures are below, and you can read my blog post for a full report on our visit to Quebec City.

Ben’s family came for a visit around Columbus Day – now officially designated Indigenous People’s Day in Vermont. First his mom arrived – she is insatiably curious about everything.  Here we are in the Marsh Billings Rockefeller mansion kitchen, and the parking lot, immersing ourselves in all there is to know about the Park.

The next day, Ben’s sister arrived with two of her sons, our nephews. The five of them toured around while I worked.  We had a lovely dinner out the last night at the Queechee Inn at Marshland Farm, which has a great Wednesday night pre fix dinner special. 

Just across the Connecticut River lies our sister park, Saint-Gaudens, which celebrates the Cornish (NH) Colony of artists and, in particular, the sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens. The park, as is fitting to celebrate a sculptor, is filled with re-castings of his works, including many massive, well-known pieces celebrating people in American history. Simply breathtaking – you don’t have to go to Boston, DC, or Chicago to see the original castings of the 54th Regiment, Clover Adams, or Lincoln. The grounds are open year round.

Col. Shaw was the young commander of the 54th Colored Regiment. He is buried alongside his men who died in battle in South Carolina. His parents, ardent abolitionists, commissioned this work and insisted that his soldiers be included in the memorial. Their story is the focus of the movie, “Glory”.

“Clover” Adams, the wife of Henry Adams, committed suicide. The original of this sculpture is beside her tomb in Rock Creek Cemetery, DC. It is not meant to depict her, but rather to be evocative of the peace that can follow grief.

Original casting of “Standing Lincoln” is in Lincoln Park, Chicago. Saint-Gaudens worked from life masks and his memories of seeing Lincoln.


There is a short house tour, but the sculpture tour took my breath away. They have an artist in residence who explained to us the multi-step process (at its most basic level) involved in making a bronze sculpture. It all starts with clay…

The sculptor in residence talks to visitors and works in his cozy studio on the Park grounds.

Our last visitors -two of my best friends, Laura and Amy – visited from DC and Boston respectively. Some fun in the mansion and on the farm. 

It was the worst weather – rain – of the whole season, but there was plenty to do nonetheless, including a trip to King Arthur Flour for them.

Laura and I went to Boston – and she uncomplainingly indulged my interests, visiting the original Saint-Gaudens Shaw Memorial (in Boston, where Shaw was from, on Boston Common directly across from the State House), as well as the Henry Longfellow House in Cambridge (below), an NPS site that was also Washington’s headquarters early in the Revolution. Our tour guide was fantastic – at the end I asked her if Longfellow had any enemies/rivals. She quickly replied, “Oh yes – Poe thought he was a joke!” Ha!

Our park has a painting depicting a scene from a Longfellow poem about Miles Standish, so that got me particularly interested in visiting this site.

Finally, on a last afternoon, we went to the Rokeby Museum in Ferrisburgh, VT. The Rokeby is dedicated to telling the story of the Underground Railroad in Vermont; the farm buildings were used to hide those heading to Canada to escape slavery. But we also caught a lecture on the Abenaki, the Native American tribe in this part of New England. There are many Abenaki-related items in the Rokeby collections, and the speaker argued that as important as it is to interpret African American history, the site had an obligation to do the same for Native American history. After all, he said, there was a genocide taking place right here, perpetuated by the same people fighting for the freedom of black Americans. 

And I will leave you with one final shot of fall foliage from Billings Farm, adjacent to our Park, whose fall decor game is on point: note the arrangements of mums in colors to highlight the foliage in the background.

More Vermont Itineraries – Penultimate Post!

Hey! It’s September – or it was September. A month we were looking forward to because we had plans on the books! But first…

Hildene in Manchester, VT. The gardens are stunning.

Did you know Abraham Lincoln’s only son to survive to adulthood had a country estate in Vermont? And that Robert Todd, as head of the Pullman Car Company, carted his father’s papers back and forth between DC and Vermont before finally donating them to the Library of Congress? I had heard this story while working at the Library – the folks there were desperate to get Lincoln’s papers to take care of them for posterity. So we headed north to Manchester to check it out…The tour was very interesting – they even have a restored Pullman car onsite. They don’t hide the fact that Robert Todd did little to advance civil rights for African Americans, but you have to hunt it out a bit. The failure of Reconstruction.

Safe where it is thought Robert stored his father’s papers

One of the few Lincoln top hats remaining

The next weekend, which happened to coincide with my birthday, couldn’t have been better – thanks to high school friend Nicole who has a superpower for making plans and the kindness to invite others along.

Her father has a house in Willsboro (see red dot on the map below) on the New York side of Lake Champlain. Vermont is on the east. The Adirondocks are to the west. We’d been wanting to see Lake Champlain, in part because we’d heard that was the closest sailing. 

We had a glorious 24 hours, stopping at Fort Ticonderoga on the way up. (A state historic site, valiantly trying to offer hundreds of years of history on the continent, with thousands of artifacts and dozens of buildings.) We didn’t love Fort T: too much to take in, not very successfully curated. But perhaps we were just anxious to keep moving…

This picture gives some sense of the strategic of value of Fort T’s location at the base of Lake Champlain and the tip of Lake George.

Our time with Nicole and her husband Ed was a feast of beautiful landscape, great food, scintillating conversation (some even political!) in a sweet house in a sweet spot. We went kayaking and I swam about 10 strokes from a pier to a float and back. Even in late summer the water was cold! We went to a local brewery and butcher. I practiced taking food photography. Below is an example of what not to do. For some examples of what to cook and how to photograph it, check out Nicole’s cooking blog, Riegl Palate.

We are hoping to be asked back, and said so to Nicole’s father directly in the guest book!

We took ferries across the lake coming and going- here we are (above) going with the Adirondacks in the background.

Next weekend we did a day trip to St. Johnsbury, VT. There, in the Athenaeum/public library, you will see the largest extant Bierstadt (below). It is about to undergo a comprehensive restoration – in fact, the canvas is separating from the frame in the upper left. It’s going to be quite the operation to even get it out of this building. Note the narrow doorway in the bottom pic, right. 

On our way home, we stopped by Craftsbury, VT, home of a well-known sculling school. It would be a dream to come here for a week some summer. Anyone care to join me? They do running, mountain biking and yoga too. 

Then it was our turn to host a high school friend – Monica and Hunt! Monica is an American history professor and a genius. For years, in all the places I have worked, she has patiently answered my questions about history.

We made it to the Calvin Coolidge State Historic Site. Ben and Hunt had fun in the gift shop, while Monica and I reenact Calvin’s swearing in (after Harding died in office). Took place in that room right behind us. His father, a justice of the peace, officiated. 

The following weekend, we did one more day trip to South Royalton, home of the Joseph Smith birthplace, run by the LDS community.

You may recall my great great grandfather died on the Mormon trail. Quite the story, so gotta check in with my peeps when we can. We were the only non-church members on the tour, so we got extra attention when it came time for q and a. 

We then hightailed it a few miles away to the Justin Merrill site. Merrill was the Senator responsible for the Land Grant College Acts – a big push in conjunction with westward expansion to professionalize farming, civilize the frontier, and educate more people than just those who were going to become lawyers or preachers. Merrill himself made a fortune in business, but regretted he did not get a formal education. Hoped that would change for future generations. The woman who was the director of the site also gave the tours (above) in period costume, took the money, and I am pretty sure cleaned, budgeted, writes grants, does PR, and keeps the ghosts from scaring people. Made me appreciate my NPS job.

The next day we hiked part of the Long Trail (like the AT, but older) and enjoyed fall colors just starting to pop. Only one more Vermont weekends summary to go…

More days off – August

So August began with us hitching up the old Airstream again and heading to magical Rockland, Maine, where our friends the Sauters were renting a house for a few weeks. This was their front yard.

img_9877The Sauters are from Germany – we met them at Wooden Boat School a few years back and have gotten together several times since – mostly here in the US (where they travel a lot!) and once in Barcelona, which was super sweet too. Here in Maine, where they come so often, the shopkeepers and lobster men know their names. And they’ve made some other friends too, who joined us for an epic “bbq” featuring every fish in the sea. A blueberry snack cup, Owl’s Head Lighthouse, and Pale Ale named for a Civil War general (from Maine) were just some of the other highlights.We might have talked about US elections a bit too.

Next weekend I scooted down to DC to for a “Close Up” reunion. Close Up was my first job out of college, and these five women were some of my first friends. The amount of girl power, teaching, lawyering, journalisting, and all around awesomeness among this group is HUGE. True of all the friends I met there and through them. Here we are at my favorite breakfast burrito spot on Capitol Hill. You can tell by our glow how hot it was that weekend. img_0083

Let’s see…the following weekend, four STEELES come to visit us in Woodstock! Maxing out our guest bedrooms and more, my brother and his kids came for a fun-filled weekend of cooking, biking, hide and seek, whiffle ball, sight seeing, and most importantly rope swinging! We spent hours one day swinging into the Ottauqueechee River from a rope tied to an upper tree branch. When we’d mastered that, we moved on to jump off some rocks down river near the Simon Pearce store in Queechee. The next day the kids went back for more.


Other highlights included giving them all a tour of the mansion and a farewell picnic lunch on the grounds.

We capped off the month with a blockbuster visit to Boston to check out a couple of (wooden) sailboats that Ben has had his eye on. Before we had an Airstream, we had a boat and we will again some day. The one on the left was on the hard, but the one on the right was anchored. Though we didn’t sail, we did take a dinghy out to see it and it felt pretty nice to be out on the water.

We stayed with my friend Amy and her awesome family who helped us plot our course to see TWO national historical parks on the way home:  first, the Adams National Historical Park in Quincy. Popular culture -HBO series, Hamilton (note my t-shirt) – have brought John Adams into prominence. In the midst of a very urban area, some geniuses and heroes have preserved these places. You can explore his early homes, and the one he shared with Abigail after they retired. There, at Plainfield, you can see the desk from which he wrote his reconciliation letters to Jefferson, and the chair in which he died (or took ill, I forget), his last words being “Thomas Jefferson still survives.” (Wrong!) I thank our awesome ranger who explained that Jefferson had been ill, so his health was on Adams’ mind.

Then we made our way north to Lowell, MA and the Lowell National Historical Site. This site tells the story of the textile mills, the industrial revolution, and the New England and immigrant women who fueled it during its boom (1820s-40s). The entire town was built based on engineering the Merrimack River to produce maximum water power. Six miles of canals were dug and they are nearly intact today (our ranger explaining it all at left below).  In the middle, you see Ben next to one of the looms at which women labored for over 12 hours a day, 6 days a week. (Inspiring the first women’s strikes and union action in the 1830s). You can see (and hear) a video of the loom at work here, and get a feel for what an awful job it must have been.

At work, I had been preparing to do the “Service Wing” tour. Understanding more about how the textile mills in New England shifted women’s opportunities (away from jobs as servants)  in the market economy  is just the kind of “days off” I like!

So that’s too serious a note to end on…so I will end with some pics of our family’s visit. Summertime! The same kiddos just celebrated (with their mom the superfan) the Cubs’ World Series victory last night! Woot!


How we spent my days off

Rangering is only 8:30 – 5, five days a week. So we had 17 sets of “weekends” (my days off were Thursday/Friday) over the course of our summer in Vermont. We didn’t go away for all of them,but most involved at least a day trip, and sometimes an overnight. Here’s a map and a rundown of what we did for the first four!july-2016-map

First – Montpelier! The state capitol. Isn’t it lovely? So stunning and yet so Vermont. The previous state house burned down in 1857 and they went to work on this replacement right away. Some of the original locally quarried granite is still there!img_9442

There was a storm moving in while we were there – a bit of an anomaly as it turned out because it was a very dry summer in Vermont.

We had a fabulous YOUNG tour guide who walked us through the beautiful building, pointing out this and that. When we toured the hall with govenors’ portraits, she did NOT have to tell me who the fellow (below) on the left was. We ate dinner at a fairly forgettable establishment, but did find Vermont’s famous because it’s hard-to-find-so therefore-famous beer, Heady Topper.

The following weekend we had a date with Reverend Jack, the Presbyterian minister and WW2 vet/POW who united us in marriage lo this 13 years ago. He goes to Maine every summer to spend a few weeks in Goose Rocks Beach near Kennebunkport, where he was “stationed” at a church for many years, and where he raised his family. We drank martinis, strolled the beach, stalked the Bush family compound, and ate lobstah at Nunans. This weekend will also be remembered for the birth of our nephew Cash – a wee bit early, but all the more exciting!

The next weekend Ben was off on an adventure on his own, so I ventured out on my bike a few miles up the road to hike some of the Appalachian Trail. The AT is a big part of the community here – many locals are “trail angels” bringing food, drink and supplies to spots on the trail for thru-hikers to take as they need. You occasionally see hikers in town, looking for wifi or a laundromat, or a shower.

I really loved my bike-hike combination. I saw/smelled some hikers going south, some going north (nobo or sobo in the parlance). Many of them wisely took a short detour off the trail to get some pie at On the Edge Farm. This little visual treat was along the route for me.


Finally, we did a big trip to New York’s Hudson River Valley – the mansion I give tours in as a ranger is filled with American landscape art. On a tour my first week, I had accidentally identified a Thomas Cole as a Thomas Moran. One of the visitors corrected me via a very polite note left at the visitor center. Ugh. It was time to get smart. Below, the view of the Catskills from Thomas Cole’s house in Hudson, NY. The Hudson River is between here and there. Isn’t it stunning?


For those of you as ill-informed as I used to be, Thomas Cole was THE founder of the Hudson River School of artists. Not a school you go to. More like a group of people with a similar approach – elevating American art in the days when there was no such thing, with a focus on our landscapes. The house had some original furnishings, but really showcased his work habits, routines, and approach as an artist – for example look (below, left) at his notebook showing the different colors for tree bark, and (below, right) his studio. Cole died fairly suddenly, and young-ish in 1848. Respiratory ailment – all that work in studios with stoked fires, handmade paints, and toxic fumes.

We swung west, just about 20 miles toward those Catskill mountains for a short hike to Kaaterskill Falls – a fairly small, but lovely waterfall that just knocked the socks off those artists once they could steamboat their way out of New York City in the 1820s.

One of Thomas Cole’s students, Frederic Church, was born to wealth, but became an accomplished artist in his own right. Both are showcased at his home just a few miles away: Olana. Such a beautiful house, more opulant, inspired by Church’s visits to the near east.

After Cole died, Church helped his estate (cash strapped family) by selling Cole’s paintings. We have three Coles in the mansion, plus the correspondence between Church and the Billings family, negotiating the sale (this was before the days of art dealers.) And now I am proud to say I can tell a Cole from a Moran.

One proud couple spoke their truth this same weekend, the weekend of the DNC. And, because the moment involved a pocket constitution, I screen grabbed it. I just found it among the Hudson River Valley photos on my phone. So, I will leave you with one more timely work of art.







Quebec City

“Bonjour! Hello! Hi!” – all acceptable ways to greet someone in Quebec City, as told to us by many, many locals. It’s been a while since I’ve posted, said no blogger ever. Ha! A rainy day off will inspire you…

We wanted to do a weekend trip to Canada while here in Vermont and Quebec won out over Montreal as recommended by others – it just sounded more to our taste: low key, walkable, on the water, historic, nice people who don’t mind if you don’t speak French. It was about a five hour drive from our current home base in Vermont, so I took the afternoon off and we headed north, passports in hand.

Upon arriving at our hotel, the Manoir Victoria we were told they had good news and bad news for us: they had overbooked BUT they were putting us up in the super-fancy imposing landmark Le Chateau Frontenac hotel for the night. Just 1/2 mile or so away, we nonetheless took up their offer of a free cab ride (the cabby laughed at us for not walking) as we had our bags, were tired etc. First, though, we got a recommendation for a nearby parking lot where we could park our very large truck–only about 30 bucks for two nights in the old city, so not bad.

We loved the IDEA of staying in the Frontenac but in the end, it was a bit too crowded, touristy and impersonal for us. We really appreciated our smaller, more personal hotel – and the fact that they more than made good on the overbooking error. We did enjoy taking some pics in front of the Frontenac the next day – tourist style. 

As far as itinerary for our one full day, it was pretty simple-eat and walk.

The walking first. There is much to see in the old city, and we were lucky with great weather. Just soaking up the sounds of the French and immersing yourself in hundreds of years of history is a treat. I feel like I finally got an in-your-face explanation of why the French and British hated each other that hitherto  I’d only experienced “up close” in the movie Master & Commander (that Ben makes me watch again and again.) We found a couple of good walking routes online (e.g. here), and referred to them occasionally as we just did a loop around the old city.

From our hotel room

Sleepy-eyed in Rue Saint-Jean

A little spit and polish for the Fresque du Petit-Champlain

La Basilique-Cathedrale Notre-Dame de Quebec. I never appreciate my Catholic upbringing more than when walking with confidence in to admire a beautiful church.

Fall is everywhere

Fortifications – and me!

The loop continued around to the Parliament building, the “Plains of Abraham” – site of THE battle that ended French rule, but not presence! And an effort to do a little antique browsing.

I thought the Fontaine de Tourny was just mesmerizing. The story of its relocation from France (where it won a gold medal in the 1855 Paris World’s Fair) is fascinating. Google it.

Angelica, Eliza, and Peggy.

Canadian heroes are everywhere.

Rock by rock, just like the old days. A UNESCO World Heritage site, construction projects were everywhere. Many of them are reminders of war.

Location, location, location

Stunning artwork on the Place Royal, with the docked Queen Mary 2 in the background

Just one unique example of the THOUSANDS of tourists like us, capturing their visit to a picturesque place

And to the eating…. We had a bit of a time finding a place the first night as by the time we moved hotels it was almost nine. And the first place we sought out (via Yelp) was closed and out of business when we got there. I am torn between making reservations and going with the flow on trips like this, as either can work well or backfire. Our experience the first night led me to make a reservation for night two at Patente et Machin in the St. Roch neighborhood (walkable from Old City, but we took an Uber back.) and I was glad I did as it was a delish meal that got us out of the old city and into an adjacent neighborhood.I found it in NYT 36 hours in Quebec City. We also enjoyed breakfast at Le Cochon Dingue and crispy time at Sapristi, both in the Old City.

Though at times we were literally overrun by crowds of tourists (with selfie sticks, packed together, struggling to keep up with their guides) you couldn’t help but appreciate everyone’s joy to be in this beautiful city. And you hear this all the time, but it bears reinforcing: many locals expressed their appreciation for the fact that we at least tried to speak French. Even if it was just: “Parlez-vous anglais?” There is no excuse with all the apps out there. Bucket list for me: learn another language. It’s like a secret world. Hold me to it please.

Before heading home, we took a quick side trip to Parc de la Chute-Montmorency, less than 10 miles outside of Quebec City. Higher than Niagara! Lovely in the fall…mashed with tourists, so go early in the day. Follow the signs to Manoir Montmorency for parking.

We headed back to the US of A just in time before they built the wall!

Arbre pose

Au revoir, bonsoir, that is all-  for now!

Family time

My mom’s from Cincinnati. Irish Catholic. Her parents lived in Mt. Adams, then moved and raised their family in Hyde Park. 

The Ohio River separates Ohio from Kentucky

After nurse’s training in the 50s, Mom ran away to Los Angeles with her girlfriends to live for a year on the beach and sidle up to Catholic celebrities (e.g. John Wayne’s kids) in the communion line. She came back to the Queen City but eventually met my father and they moved to Southern California where I was born and raised. Same house for 48 years now. 

Her beloved brothers and sister stayed in Cincinnati, and the Murray clan is close and so welcoming to their California cousins whenever we visited “back east” growing up and now. Cousins Therese and Tommy met us at Winton Woods State Park on a glorious Monday. We ate and talked and lamented we couldn’t visit longer. Tommy looks just like my brother Mark. Therese is the older sister everyone wishes they had.

My Aunt Peggy is a Sisters of Charity nun (below, left). She lives in their retirement house, slowed a bit, but good for her after a lifetime career as an educator and matriarch of the Murrays. Her friend Eileen has been like a member of the family and is always good for a little razzing about the Reds. 

On the way south, a mere 70 miles away, we stopped in tiny Smithfield, Kentucky tracing Ben’s family this time.

Ben’s grandmother was from here. Her brother, Fielding, was a medic in World War I. Only nineteen, he died as a result of wounds suffered while trying to save a fellow soldier. It was mere days before the armistice. Ben’s middle name is Fielding.

A mere private, he was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, second only to the Congressional Medal of Honor. We aren’t sure if his remains are in there. Maurice, who mows the cemetery grass every two weeks, is married to a Meek, and Ruth has been trying to get documentation on the medal. We told him we’d mail her a print out of what we’d found on the Internet. (They don’t do computers-they know they might be missing out on something, but they’re old fashioned and that’s ok.)

The original Fielding

Moms Make History in Dayton, Ohio

Yesterday, we headed south to Dayton, OH to check out the NPS Aviation Heritage site that focuses on three sons of the city: Orville and Wilbur Wright and Paul Laurence Dunbar.

Plenty of RV parking, as you can see below. The sites are in west Dayton, across the Great Miami river from the city, an area that built up as a result of the street car. Within a several block area are the sites of the Wright brothers’ bicycle shop and the home of Paul Laurence Dunbar. (The Wright family home was also nearby, but was moved by Henry Ford to Michigan.) The main visitors center focuses on the lives of all Curriculum & Program Development
● Designed and implemented programs for network’s national education outreach: teacher fellows program, C-SPAN Classroom and the C-SPAN School Bus (production studio and classroom).
● Served as education liaison to community relations staff.
● Developed digital resources to correlate with state and national teaching standards, focusing on U.S. government and history for a national audience of teachers and students. Designed and maintained website.
● Set metrics and collected data to analyze program effectiveness and efficiency.
● Increased accessibility of C-SPAN resources by securing downloadable video exclusively for teachers; this initiative led to comprehensive project to make all C-SPAN video available online.
● Planned and supervised numerous conferences for teachers and cable system partners.
● Designed and implemented contests engaging thousands of students, including video documentary (StudentCam), Lincoln essay.
three men, their families, and their community of west Dayton in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Are their joined stories more than just a coincidence of geography? Yes. Orville and Paul were classmates at Dayton’s Central High School (Paul graduated, Orville did not.) The Wright brothers were printers and publishers (and had a bicycle shop) before delving into flight. They published Dunbar’s poems.

I came away most impressed with the way  their lives were linked in another less obvious way: they had very strong and influential mothers.

Matilda and Paul, from the Ohio History Connection.

Matilda Dunbar was born into slavery, made a life for herself in Dayton after the Civil War, taught herself to read and write, and then taught Paul. She worked as a laundress and took in boarders. She worked hard and encouraged Paul in his writing. Her house, preserved for visitors today, looked just as it did when her son Paul died here at the age of 32. The house interiors are of his study. Read more about Matilda from NPS.

Susan Koerner Wright tinkered with household inventions and passed her mechanical gifts on to her sons.  In addition, she kept the home life happy and together for her five children while her husband was often away with his work in the church.

Susan Koerner Wright, from Wright State University collections

You can see the recreated bicycle shop (original building) of her sons, across from the visitors center.

I loved this quote from Wilbur

We’d been to the site in Kitty Hawk, NC a couple of years ago. It is amazing. Dayton tells the story of the Wright brothers before and after their work and success in Kitty Hawk (they did some more flight tests in a field across town, also a site for visitors, but we skipped it.)

I’ll leave you with Dunbar’s most famous poem (I think) as displayed on the walls of the visitors center: We Wear the Mask and a shot of a mural across the street. Next up, Cincinnati, the hometown of my mother.

Alumapalooza – rally time!

Until this week, we had yet to go to an Airstream rally (like a gathering) though they are quite popular ways for like-minded aficionados to get together and see what else they might have in common besides a love of Airstreams. Alumapalooza, in Jackson Center, OH where the Airstream factory is located, seemed just the one for us to check out since it would get us a little bit out into the Midwest (where we haven’t been on our trip yet) and to the factory, where 48 years ago, our baby was born. 

Upon arrival Tuesday, we were escorted to our spot (row 7!) on the factory grounds and got set up. Though it’s not an RV park they arranged to have water and electric hookups strung up for everyone.

The events throughout the week were a mix of social, informative, fun, artistic, mechanical, musical, healthy (daily yoga), unhealthy (daily happy hour) and as much down time as you wanted to check out other people’s Airstreams and visit with folks from all around the country – Canada, New Mexico, Boston, Gulf Coast and some “full timers” for whom the road is home. Since our trip has an end point (likely later this year) we are sort of a hybrid.

Some highlights included a talk about Pendleton national park blankets – history of, etc. Airstream has a partnership with Pendleton for the NPS 100th anniversary this year. And a wool blanket is a great way to warm up your aluminum trailer – get the connection?

Of course the Airstream factory tour was a must do (every M-F at 2pm – open to the public.) No pictures are allowed inside but the company takes a lot of pride in the fact that all of the components are built at the factory (nothing farmed out), they are up to about 800 employees now (from closer to 200 coming out of the recession), and can’t make them fast enough to keep up with demand. The goings on inside are a STEM teacher’s dream – lots of measuring, fitting, figuring, fastening, etc. Making dreams come true. (That’s for the humanities teachers.) Don, pictured at left below, worked at the company for years, most recently in the service center, but loves being a tour guide now.

They had door prize drawings every day and we won twenty Alumapalooza bucks which we applied toward a t-shirt (me) and hat (for Ben). That gift shop did a brisk business. (Wally Byam is the founder of Airstream – his name is everywhere.)

We got to meet the folks behind Alumniarium and Campendium. The latter is a growing website designed to help campers find campgrounds – user-generated reviews and pictures are its heart and soul. I have been entranced by every step Brian and Leigh have taken in the site’s development, so I was and have been very on board from the beginning, working diligently to add reviews as we travel-40 so far! We loved spending time with them (below in front of Wally Byam’s gold trailer) and their friends Adam and Susan, also Elizabeth and Ray, our neighbors Terry, Bernie and Dan, musician Steve and Julie, and Paul who lent us his blue boy (portable waste tank). We also got to spend quality time with Colin Hyde, whose NY shop did some great work on our trailer, and his girlfriend Brenda.

Brian and I found out we both worked at Baskin Robbins-for the same boss-in Glendale/La Crescenta in high school.

There was music throughout the event, both guitars around campfires (well, no campfires allowed) and pros up on a main stage. I did a little ukelele picking and pretended I could play. It’s such a treat to just fake it along a bit and I so appreciated the kindness of the real musicians, especially MJ. 

The sunsets out in the heartland were amazing, even if they were accompanied by noise from the factory (automated system that cuts plywood for interior furniture runs all night). It only rained one day, and cooled down enough at night to eliminate the need for A/C. Thank you to Mother Nature and all the organizers! Until next time!