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 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!


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

Holiday Refit: 10 Airstream Fixes

After 11 weeks on the road, we pulled into my parents’ SoCal driveway with a medium size list of things to fix, tweak, switch out or alter. Here is the list, the first few in order of importance/annoyance; the rest are a bit “in the weeds” but we include in case those undergoing a restoration can learn from our experience!

1.Trailer brake lights. In Oregon, we had a “sudden stop behind a semi on the highway don’t know if we are gonna make it” scare, which made us think hard about how well the folks behind us could see our brake lights, especially obscured by the bikes. Ben wanted lights that would somehow blend in and found these bright LEDs to attach to the Airstream bumper. He spent a good amount of time making sure the install was clean, and of course, functional!IMG_4296

2. Closet renovation. At first we had a small closet with a hanging rod and one of those hanging sweater things. The “sweaters” always fell out, and of course we just don’t have a lot of clothes to hang. We do have clothes to roll up, stuff, and most importantly to store in a sort of purgatory when we are planning to wear them the next day. Hence the new closet with shelves only. We’ll get it a bit more organized, but as a quick fix I made a couple of “drawers” out of cardboard boxes, covered them with contact paper and made rope handles. It’s working out great! The purgatory “bins” are the bottom row – Ben added that wood divider at the last minute so we’d each have our own side. Good idea. IMG_4058-03. Curtain tabs instead of metal hooks. I made the curtains and I guess to save a little time/labor I attached them to the rods with metal hooks. Boy were those a pain. They were hard to open, close, the hooks were always coming off and when we drove, the rods would often fall off. I retrofitted them by sewing on tabs (much harder to do on a machine after the fact) and they are working like a dream now.


4. Woodwork – a few things that a little woodworking helped to make better. Clockwise from left: a “dam” to block errant water flow in the shower (the eucalyptus is new too!); Ben fitting and making fiddle rails for the dinette/bed cushions; and a little platform to raise our pantry cabinet so the door opens / closes more smoothly – it had dragged a bit on the floor before.

5. A little metal work – hanging, bolting, etc. which really all come down to creating more/better storage. Left to right: Some new hooks in the shower to hang our dirty laundry bags. Also in the bathroom – Ikea had these nifty metal shelves and one is up now to hold my main toiletries bag to make more room on the counter top. Finally, we already had the bread box, but now it’s bolted down!

6. Trailer hitch The paint on the weight distribution bars had been coming off and there was some surface rust. Ben scraped the old paint off, sanded and repainted with  POR 15. It’s a Reese hitch system which we are loving overall, but we were surprised the paint deteriorated so quickly.


7. Bucket We swapped our “Pacific blue” bucket (in which we keep chocks, stabilizers, etc) for a new gray one (from Target). For many (snobs) in the wooden boat community (from which Ben hails), Pacific blue is an obnoxious, thoughtless, in your face color for boat accessories. It did NOT blend in with the Airstream, especially in pics. Ben hated it. (Can you tell?)


8. Polish And finally – in my mind we were only going to do it if we had time – in Ben’s it was gonna get done no matter what: a quick and dirty polish using S-grade Nuvite polish and the cyclo polisher. The truck got a nice washing as well. IMG_3991

9. Jettisoning some stuff So, our truck bed was crammed full, and we did some hard sorting and left behind stuff we hadn’t used and came to realize we likely wouldn’t miss: a foldable kayak and accessories, a metal detector, sewing machine, exercise bands (kept the yoga mat), some clothes (see pile below; but added my slippers, which I had foolishly thought I wouldn’t want), our tent (kept the sleeping bags).IMG_3987

10. Storage Hammock Where to store produce that doesn’t need to be refrigerated? We had tried everything and we bought and installed this gear hammock (from a marine store of course). It was hard to pick a practical spot that wouldn’t stick out too much – we settled for above the sink. IMG_4056-0

So, off we go, 2nd leg, Southwest here we come, on our way to Ben’s family in Dallas for Christmas, with hopefully a shorter refit list so we can enjoy family and put the rest of our time and energy into rooting for the Sooners (Ben’s alma mater) in the playoffs!


An Ode to Cousins

cousinsIn a town called Albuquerque, in New Mexico,
Two little cousins reside, with their dog, Cleo.

There’s Bronwyn, spunky and full of glee,
A one-kid welcoming committee.

Then there’s Maeve, a leader in fashion and style,
she’ll make the trends list with her Nutella smile.

Their parents are doctors, saving patients all day.
Their au pair is a wiz at pancakes, pigtails, and play.

The adobe house is the perfect place to kick back,
After foot races and booby traps and seaweed snacks.

This travelling pair wished they could stay longer,
But fortified by family, hit the road even stronger!


Ben supervises Meg’s cousin Elizabeth’s daughters while they check out the Airstream. Cleo the dog considers her next move.

Texas – halfway!

We spent a lovely 36 hours or so in Dallas – got to see a dozen or so Barkers, four generations, and two of Ben’s great friends, as well as engaging inour very first and only so far just-for-fun activity (like tourists do).

Once again, knock on wood, the drive into Dallas was easy as pie. Some of my old nervousness came back in the downtown traffic-y area, but no problems, and I didn’t scream once. There is a ton of construction around Ben’s neighborhood, University Park near SMU. But Ben’s mom Jane was there waiting for us,

Janearmed with the keycard to the gate of a large, not much used parking lot 1/2 block from her house (all within one block of where Ben grew up). Jane ushered us in with air traffic controller like precision, and big hugs all around. Two of his sisters, Susan and Jeanne, live in the neighborhood, and sister Leslie and brother Allan are only a few miles away.

Some of the crew gathered for dinner at an old family favorite – El Fenix downtown; Enchilada Dinner night at this old school place has been on Wednesdays for about as long as anyone can remember (Allan rarely misses a week). Ben’s dad’s office at KRLD was right around the corner back in the 60s and El Fenix was (and probably still is) a favorite with the reporters.  Ben and his siblings have vivid El Fenixmemories of, as kids, being nudged up to the homemade tortilla station, dollar in hand, to give Maria a tip.

After a wonderful night’s sleep, our day without driving dawned. Spring in Dallas is made awesomer by the fact that it is not summer in Dallas which is H-O-T hot. We spent the morning getting Jane up to speed on all the apps and bookmarks she needed to follow our journey, while not messing with her existing and beloved USA Today crossword and classical radio apps. In the afternoon, and what was really our first tourist-like activity on the journey so far, we went to the Meadows museum at SMU. The Meadows is a private museum, funded by an art lover and oilman philanthropist, who in the 50s went looking for oil in Spain (didn’t find much there), but stayed right across from the Prado museum, and fell in love with Spanish art. The museum is just the right size (not too big) and had some fabulous exhibits, including a painting on loan from the Louvre, they proudly told us at the front desk.Barker women

Post-museum, Ben’s friends James and King came over after work (what’s that?) and drank a few beers while checking out the Airstream. Dinner was a pizza and salad feast at sister Jeanne’s which included arugula and sorrel from niece Laura’s garden. It was great-niece Emmy’s 1st bday (big party was previous weekend) so that was really cool too. The Barker women don’t age, so Emmy, you got good genes, girl!

We did some more touring of the Airstream after, and nephew-in-law Eli, who is an engineer, crawled under the trailer in the dark parking lot, spouting truth about the genius design, craftsmanship and artistry that is Airstream, a la Walt Whitman. The man went on and on about the door hinge. We loved it!

TacosToday, we made our way to Canyon, TX where we’ll hike in – you guessed it, canyons. Lunch on the way was real (and real good) Mexican tacos from a gas station. Some fellas at the Tire Lube helped us get ship shape with our PSI. We made a point to listen to Nanci Griffith – west Texas songstress – along the way, while Google helped us learn about the Comanche, cattle drives, wind farms, and more railroads.

We promise we really care about history and will dig in for real when we have the time…like tomorrow!


We leave you with one final trailer beauty shot from a stop in Chillicothe.
The Airstream pairs well with Texas!