Thursday, September 6, 2018

The Blue Ridge Parkway: Blowing Rock, NC to Roanoke, VA

View of Bass Lake from the front porch of the Moses H. Cone home.
     With the approach of the long holiday weekend, we came up with the idea for a spontaneous road trip to Blowing Rock to visit Tess. It's a fun area to explore now that we've discovered it. As we drove the two hundred miles southwest, we could see the thermometer reading in the car drop from the upper 80's to a final temperature of 67 degrees. What was a welcome relief from the heat and humidity we've had to live with for weeks on end! I like this sub-climate in the North Carolina mountains. It's always much cooler than Roanoke and I understand why all the travelers flock to these mountains in the summer.
     Blowing Rock was bustling with activity. With some effort, we found a place to park and made our way to a little cigar shop tucked on a side path in town. Steve and the clerk, a psychology senior at App. State, got chatting and we all sat in the leather upholstered chairs and visited for about an hour while the guys smoked and we waited for Tess to finish her shift at work. After a bit, we headed over to The Speckled Trout and enjoyed a pleasant dinner with Tess on the front porch of the restaurant. Tess and I had almond crusted trout and Steve had a bison steak. Afterward, (but not before stopping for an excellent ice cream cone at the ice cream and fudge shop) we made our way to Tess' apartment and visited for the evening. She led us on a shortcut that consisted of switchbacks and drop-offs. I could not take my eyes off the road for one second so, Steve fed me spoonfuls of my one scoop of pistachio and one scoop of caramel sea salt ice cream while I kept both eyes glued to the road. That night we slept with all the windows open, breathing in the fresh mountain air and listening to nothing but the stillness of the woods at the base of Grandfather Mountain.

Moses H. Cone house built in 1901.

Tess took a lot of posed pictures of us but this is the one I like best. It represents Steve's tolerance (and secret inner joy) for my goofiness.
     The next morning Tess suggested a short drive onto the Blue Ridge Parkway to visit the Moses H.Cone house and memorial park. We popped into the supermarket for some lunch items to take along for a simple picnic. Again, with a little patience, we secured a parking spot amid the crowds who were all on a similar outing as ourselves. The Moses H. Cone park features a gorgeous home built in 1901 by Cone. There are twenty-five miles of carriage roads for hiking and horseback riding, and views that were absolutely spectacular. I could have stayed and sat all day with that view. It is unfortunate that the house is used as a gift shop only. I would have liked to tour it as a furnished home/museum and seen it kept in better condition even if it meant paying a fee. The beautiful windowed sun porch is used as a sewing room for a crafts person and the paneled dining room contains modern benches with a big screen TV. The second floor is off limits. We explored and walked a path for a little bit and then drove to another picnic site a few miles away. Again, there were crowds and crowds of people but it was still pleasant and relaxing to be outdoors and on a picnic.

     We found a patch of grass with a boulder or two for seating and set up our cooler as a table. Lunch was one of our favorites, cheeses, thinly sliced salami, apples and grapes, and crackers. We even threw in a box of Entennemen's little apple pies for dessert. The park was crowded with families and couples picnicking for the day. There was a little stream running through where children played. Outdoor grills were smoking and the air was filled with good smells of grilling food and campfires. It all reminded me of our many annual picnics at Thatcher State Park in New York when my parents were still alive. Every Labor Day we packed up our little family, along with lots of good food, and met my sisters and parents, and sometimes friends for a day of picnicking and hiking the Indian Ladder Trail. Our little picnic of three was enough to bring back all those good memories.

Our impromptu picnic was delicious!

Parkway Views
     In the afternoon, we dropped Tess off and said goodbye. We decided to drive all the way home on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Part of this decision was to avoid the heavy traffic we expected to encounter on I-77 and I-81 and the other part was our curiosity and desire to try something out of the norm. At a maximum allowed speed limit of forty-five miles per hour with no commercial vehicles or trucks, the drive was most relaxing. The Parkway is well maintained with mowed grass easements and not a speck of litter in sight. Of course, the views are stunning and there are lots of places to stop and walk around. We made one stop at a tiny cabin built in 1876 by the Brinegars. I enjoyed this homestead just as much as the Cone mansion. I told Steve I thought I could live here, even without electricity, as long as we had strong oil lamps for reading, etc. It was beautiful.
Brinegar cabin built around 1876

I imagine having a little chair on this porch. A place to rest.

The cabin's view

     All-in-all, what normally would have taken us three hours to drive from Blowing Rock to Roanoke, took us five. We did stop for a good spell at the cabin which added some time. Traffic was practically nil. We encountered a few cars and as many motorcycles. It was cool enough in the mountains and our speed was slow enough that we drove with the windows open for a little while. We returned home to a very happy little dog and hot and humid weather. It was worth the miles to see Tess and to spend some time in the cooler outdoors. I love taking drives and picnics so the Blue Ridge Parkway is the perfect outlet for such activities.

Monday, July 30, 2018

Is There Anything To Do There?

     Someone asked me upon our return from vacationing in Maine, "Is there anything to do there?"I stood speechless for an eternal moment as my mind swirled with thoughts. I could list all the wonderful things there are to do on the New England coast or I could give my honest answer which is, "Why would anyone want to do anything? It's a vacation." I suppose Steve and I feel like we're so busy during the other fifty weeks of the year that we agree a vacation should be about relaxing and doing nothing. That doesn't mean we actually do nothing. We did plenty. But only if it felt fun. : )
     We rented the big house on Simpson Lane again. This time we shared it with Steve's four brothers and their wives. It was a fuss-free time and everyone spent their days as they wished. We came together mornings and evenings and shared most meals as well as a few outings. We could not know  last winter when we planned this trip that it would fall one week after my mother-in-law's passing. So, it was fitting that the brothers had this rare occasion to spend a wonderful week together at this moment in time.
     While there isn't much to do in Maine (?), we managed to have a really great time. Chelsea lives close enough that she and her family visited us for a day at the beach three times. I had breakfast with a friend whom I met when we lived in Maine in 1986-87 and who still lives there. The brothers and one wife chartered a fishing boat for one afternoon and brought back dinner in the form of a large, striped bass. That one fish fed nine people! We dined on seafood almost every night, including thirty-five lobsters at the house. We walked on the beach mornings and evenings. We played BINGO at the local firehouse on the one rainy evening. It was fun chatting with the locals while we played. One sister-in-law and I spent a day at Boothbay Harbor popping in and out of shops, dining haborside and exploring a bit of the coastline. On Sunday morning, we walked a half mile to a pretty stone church built around the turn of last century. They hold church services only in the summer. We chased seagulls, drew pictures in the sand, played in tide pools, interviewed a metal detectorist on a rocky beach, played Bocce ball and paddle ball, surfed the waves, hunted rocks and shells, built pools and sandcastles, ate taffy, got sand in our swimsuits, and watched the boats in the harbor come and go.
     It was a challenge to adjust coming home. I looked up real estate in Maine and New Hampshire on the internet the day after we got home. I assume this is what most folks do after vacationing in their favorite place. The desire to run away and live on the coast of Maine will wear off soon enough, especially with school starting up next week. Or maybe it won't wear off and I'll be dreaming of New England all year until we can travel again. Either way, the memories are here to stay.

The house on Simpson Lane

The harbor boat club across the fisherman's foot path in front of the house.
Charlie plays in a tide pool.

Steve and brother Luke played paddle ball.

Hugo during a golden sunset on the black sand at the harbor beach
Sister-in-law Veronica fishing at our favorite beach.

The footbridge across Boothbay Harbor. Built in 1901.
Coastline at Boothbay harbor.
Pop and Hugo draw pictures in the sand.
Dodging the rain and watching taffy made in town at Goldenrod Kisses before we played BINGO. The husbands were good sports and played too. Sisters-in-law Joyce, Veronica, and Fran.
My favorite past time, collecting tiny shells and sea glass.
The tiniest bits of perfection in a little antique bottle.

The final brothers' photo before we all drive back to our everyday lives.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Meadow Farm B&B, New Hampshire


     The third leg of our journey took us to Meadow Farm Bed and Breakfast in Northwood, NH. Our stay here was a Christmas gift from my sister : ). Northwood turned out to be conveniently located halfway between Chelsea's apartment and our final destination in Maine. It was a peaceful, restful place for Steve and I to have a couple of days to ourselves to read, go for walks, browse antique shops, and spend a quiet day at Parson's beach. Chelsea and the boys drove over one evening and we took a walk down to the lake and then we went into town for pizza. The house has many rooms to explore and places to sit. I brought some rug hooking with me and this turned out to be a nice place to work on that. I really enjoyed soaking in the history of the building and sitting among the antique furnishings. It's a country home and therefore made to be very comfortable. Breakfasts were delicious with Janet's specialty, Bismark, which we had never had before.
Our room (photo taken from their website)
The Keeping Room with original fireplace built in 1770. The table is set for our breakfast.

A path through the woods takes you to the lake.

Our final, leisurely morning sitting on the dock before we began our short drive to Maine. The lake breeze was refreshing and the scent of pines filled the air.

Monday, July 23, 2018

My Never Never Land

"You'll have a treasure if you stay there,
More precious far than gold.
For once you have found your way there,
You can never, never grow old."

 We've been away for two weeks yet it feels as though time stood still and we were away from home much longer than that. It's cool how vacations can do that for us. Just like Never Never Land.
 Our trip north began on a somber note with the passing of Steve's mom. We gathered in New York to honor Jane and spend time with Steve's dad and brothers and the extended family. Steve's family is strong in their Christian faith and I can't help but notice how different a funeral is when it is represented by a family of believers. Yes, there is the pain of loss in our hearts but, there is also much rejoicing and thankfulness for a life well lived, well loved, and the knowledge that this life ended in the arms of Jesus. I still can't imagine the world without Jane in it but she has left a wonderful part of herself and her generous spirit in every life she touched.
   After we spent a few days in New York, we began our planned vacation in New Hampshire and Maine with some stops along the way in Vermont. These states are our "happy places" and we choose to return to them year after year. We often consider that maybe we should go and explore somewhere else and then we say, "Nah!". We've been up and down the east coast, the Gulf of Mexico, as well as points west as far as St. Louis and Oklahoma. We like the cooler air of the north and the rugged, rocky coast of Maine. My heart yearns to return there time and again.
   We stayed at a B&B in Warner, NH called, The Maples at Warner while we visited Chelsea and her family. It was a lovely home and very comfortable. Chelsea took us to Muster Field Farm & the Matthew Harvey Homestead. Here, Hugo could run around and we could all explore this beautiful farm with its gorgeous gardens and many outbuildings and antique farm equipment. We spent another evening at Mount Kearsarge for a dinner picnic and a campfire. We only see Chelsea and her family two or three times each year (if we're lucky!) and we marvel over how the grandchildren have grown and matured since our last visit. Here are photos of some of the highlights from Musterfield Farm and Mount Kearsarge.

Oh, those rock walls!
 There are many outbuildings to explore, including a school house. This huge barn has a soaring cathedral-like ceiling. All the buildings are filled with antique farm equipment. Visitors are welcome to explore the grounds and outbuildings at their leisure.

 There are extensive, immaculately tended gardens. This vegetable garden is completely bordered with perennials. I took a lot of photos for ideas to implement in my own garden.

Produce, fresh cut flowers, and honey are sold at the farm stand.
This is the first time I've seen a wall built with firewood. It extends all the way down this road!

The picnic area on Mount Kearsarge...

... with beautiful sunset mountain views
Charlie observes the building of the fire while the sun goes down.

Hugo gets sooty having a grand time helping to build the fire.
The sunset bathed everything in golden light. Charlie was feeling ready for bed.