Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Summer Adventures, Part Four

After the week of our Vermont and Star Island trips, I got pretty sick with a virus we'd been passing around the family all summer. We spent a week just watching TV and playing Minecraft (the girls) and lolling on the couch while coughing (me). By the time I felt better, I realized that the summer was winding down and we hadn't done some of the outings with Gram that we had hoped to do. So Mike's mom and I made a plan to meet up and take the girls to the Squam Lakes Natural Science Center. She surprised us with a side trip to Cannon Mountain to take the tram to the top and have a picnic first! It was the perfect day for it.

Cannon Mountain Aerial Tramway is part of the Franconia Notch State Park in the White Mountain National Forest. Interstate 93 passes right through the Franconia Notch mountain pass, so Cannon Mountain is easy to get to and the drive up is absolutely gorgeous. It's a ski resort in the winter, but in warmer months, the entire state park is laced with hiking and biking trails, including part of the Appalachian Trail. There are bike rentals and the New England Ski Museum at the base of Cannon, and Echo Lake Beach is next to it.

We went up to the visitor's center, had lunch on the observation deck, and hiked the short summit trail which takes you to an observation tower on the opposite side of the peak.

After we took the tram back down the mountain, we headed south to Holderness to our original destination, the Squam Lakes Natural Science Center. [Note: Holderness is where On Golden Pond was filmed.]

The Center is a walking trail through the woods and marshes with native animal habitats and educational exhibits along the way. They have deer, black bears, bobcats, coyotes, mountain lions, otters, foxes, etc., all under a shady canopy of green trees around a small brook, pond, and wetland area. It's a great place to go on a hot day in the summer.

Black Bears

The boardwalk through the marsh

You can also pass through the Kirkwood Gardens from the Science Center to get to the Holderness Inn, which has a cafĂ© and a shop selling local art and crafts.

If you squint, you can see the girls running laps across the lawn. Where do they get all that energy?

Dancing under the pergola where they host weddings.

After ALL OF THIS we were exhausted and starving, so we stopped at the Common Man Restaurant in Ashland to have a very nice dinner, complete with a frosty bottle of root beer. Cheers, Gram!

The VERY NEXT DAY (and after a sleepover at Gram and Grandpa's house) we took the subway into Boston to catch the ferry to the Boston Harbor Islands National Park to spend the afternoon on Spectacle Island -- because we are gluttons for fun and punishment, I guess.

The ferry leaves directly from the waterfront downtown (so the girls were able to run around on the playground in Columbus Park while we waited for our ferry time), and there are 34 islands, 12 of which have camping, hiking, swimming beaches, and/or historical sites on them.

Spectacle Island is just 15 minutes from the city and is a great choice for a day trip because it has a visitors center with a snack bar and bathrooms, a swimming beach (with lifeguards), picnic areas, and walking trails. There is also a marina for private boats and an event venue -- they were setting up small fire pits and wheeling in catering carts as we were leaving! How fun would that be?

Look! You can see Boston from the pier and the beach! It's pretty weird to be on a little island with the city RIGHT THERE.

Never have I ever seen so much sea glass and broken china (Kate insisted on calling them "cup parts") on one beach. They actually have a mural made of sea glass and exhibits on the stuff that has washed up there in the visitors center.

The girls also got to do a little splashing on the beach, even though it's pretty rocky and it wasn't a terribly warm day.

Under the pier was their absolute favorite place on the whole island!

After two days of fun and more fun, we were beat! The girls slept and slept and I washed some Motrin down with a pot of coffee. But it was tons of fun, and I definitely want to explore more of the Harbor Islands next summer. There's always so much more to see...

... like the Duck Tour of Boston, for instance. Can you stand to hear about ONE MORE excursion?? Well, hold on there for just a couple more minutes, here we go...

Our school district has kind of a weird schedule at the beginning of the year. Maggie started a week before Kate, and the second Tuesday (the day before Kate started) happened to be an election day, so their school was closed as a polling station! So we had three days of school, a weekend, one day of school, a day off, and then Kate's first day. So weird. But it was a good excuse to run downtown again to squeeze in one more day of fun.

I asked the girls what they wanted to do: Visit our modern art museum (the ICA -- we've already done the MFA)? Run around the Common and do the swan boats in the Public Garden? Children's Museum?

They wanted to do a Duck Tour. It's pretty pricey and parts of it are kind of slow for small kids, but they loved splashing into the Charles River and seeing the city from the water. They even both got to drive the boat and honk the horn -- and the Con-duck-tour (ha?) gave them a TON of stickers. So fun!

And that's it. Our summer, in four parts. We really sucked the marrow out of it, I think. I always feel the most thankful for living in this amazing city, and New England in general, in the summertime when we get out of our winter cave of hibernation and see and do so many wonderful things in such a short time. There's an incredibly huge range of stuff to see and places to go -- city, country, mountains, ocean, historic sites, forests, museums -- and all of it so very close by. We've seen and done a ton of it and have barely made a dent.

I'll have to start making a list of things to do next summer right away, but for now it's time to start thinking about apple picking and pumpkin patches. Yesterday was the first day of Autumn, and we noticed the leaves changing on the tips of some of the trees along Route 2. I'll think I'll make some tomato soup for dinner tonight!

Monday, September 22, 2014

Summer Adventures, Part Three

Up next on our Summer of Fun was our annual daytrip to Star Island with my friend Erin. This was our fourth consecutive year to go! Here's the post from our first trip out with the girls in 2011. Erin and I have also been out by ourselves for a weekend Women's Retreat last September, which was a wonderfully relaxing getaway from the outside world, as Star is meant to be. We always have a good time out there.

Mags loves loves loves a ferry.

Our next order of business was to finally get ourselves over to the new Legoland with Mike and Kate. I went as a chaperone on Maggie's class trip last Spring, but of course little sisters weren't invited on a school trip, and Kate was deeply, mournfully, disappointed. I think Mike was also secretly a little jealous!

Underneath the giant Lego giraffe out front

It's not a very big place, but there are a few rides and a climbing area, a 4D movie theater (I guess the 4th "D" is that there's wind and snow and lighting effects in the theater at certain points during the movie), and several building centers with tons of bricks. There's also a room with a huge model of Boston made out of Legos, which was my favorite part. The climbing structure was probably the girls' favorite thing, and Mike seemed to enjoy the area where you could build cars and race them down a ramp.

The State House, Boston Common/Public Garden, and the Swan Boats -- obviously not to scale.

There's even a little window under the display of Back Bay where you can see Cheers below the street level!

BUT WAIT! Don't go yet... I totally forgot to include these pictures at the very beginning of the series! We went on a quick afternoon trip with Mike's family to Hampton Beach on July 4th weekend to see the sandcastle contest entries (and eat ice cream and splash in the water a little bit).

There wasn't a single picture where they ALL looked like they didn't hate having their picture taken, so I chose this one because Elizabeth looks the cutest. C'est la vie.

Who would've thought a prairie girl like me would be raising beach girls like these two! They take after their Gram.

Stay Tuned! Tomorrow (or maybe Wednesday): Cannon Mountain Aerial Tramway, Squam Lakes Natural Science Center, Spectacle Island, and a Duck Tour!

Friday, September 19, 2014

Summer Adventures, Part Two

In July, we took the girls to their first concert. We were keeping an eye out for a low-key, outdoor show with a band they liked, and when I saw this Hurray for the Riff Raff/Old Crow Medicine Show concert pop up, I knew it would be a good one. It was at the Shelburne Museum in Shelburne, Vermont, near Burlington on the banks of Lake Champlain. We made plans to drive up early in the day, see the museum, go to the show, and then spend the night in Burlington before heading home at our leisure the next day.

Listen to great music while watching the sun set over the Adirondacks? Yes, please!

The Shelburne Museum is an unconventional place. It's an art museum, but it looks like an old New England village, and the collections include both high art and folk art -- Impressionist paintings hung alongside handmade quilts. Electra Havemeyer Webb, from the art-collecting Havemeyer family, founded the museum in the late '40s on her husband's Webb family estate (the rest of which is now Shelburne Farms). She collected historic buildings and moved them to the property to house her art and crafts collections. Now, in addition to seeing the paintings and dolls and firearms and glassware and furniture and farm implements, you can also tour historic barns, a covered bridge, the Colchester Reef Lighthouse, a railroad station and train, replica shops and work buildings like a blacksmith shop, and the steamboat Ticonderoga, which is a National Historic Landmark.

The Ticonderoga was built in Shelburne in 1906 to carry passengers around Lake Champlain.

The relocation of the ship and it's dry docking at the museum was an engineering and preservation marvel in the 1950s.

Big chair (It's art.)

Relaxin' in front of the Colchester Reef Light

A rainbow of glassware

One of 225 carriages and sleighs and stagecoaches displayed in several antique barns. I also really liked the horse-drawn snowplow and the child-sized sleighs pulled by ponies!

The museum's famous Round Barn. This photo shows the entrances to all three floors of the barn. How else do you get animals and wagons up to the top floor and down to the basement?!

Kissy-faces (More art.)

Goofing around in the Jail.

The gardens were amazing, too.

Wishing Well

Maggie wanted to climb every single apple tree on the property and Kate really wanted to take that kissy lips bench home with us.

There is something there for absolutely everyone to enjoy.

And then we got to see a concert!

Hurray for the Riff Raff

Old Crow Medicine Show

I've never eaten so many snacks or stood in line for the portapotties so many times at a concert. The girls had such a good time, though, that it was worth it. Excellent first show!

Our tickets were actually good for two days, so we decided to go back the next morning because there was still so much to see. This was a tough call because it meant we didn't spend the morning hanging out in Burlington, which is one of my favorite little cities, but the girls were having so much fun - at a MUSEUM - so there ya go.

Ballet Dancer by Maggie (and Degas)

There's also an antique carousel. I'm just now realizing that we rode a LOT of carousels this summer.

Behind Maggie is a huge horseshoe-shaped building wrapped around the carousel which houses a 500 foot long, hand-carved wooden model of a circus parade. It took 30 years to complete the 4,000 pieces of the model.

The path through the woods to the train station and train cars.

The weather was totally gorgeous. Perfect summer day in the mountains.

On the way home, we took the scenic Route 125, aka the Middlebury Gap Road, through the Green Mountain National Forest to get back to the interstate. It was beautiful and cool and green, and even a city girl like me would love to spend some more time in the little village of Ripton. Next summer!

We even found the perfect farmhouse in a valley for my parents - it had this barn out back with a yard full of old antique trucks! Vermont is calling you...