On the Way Up - Happy Birthday, Dear Abby!

We ended our second evening in Lebanon, New Hamphire just beyond the Vermont/New Hampshire border. We made it in time for the evening social hour (complimentary beef stew and salad) and had plenty of time for a dip in the pool. The next day, October 2nd, would be Abby's SIXTH birthday.

She'd been anticipating the trip for months, knowing full well we'd be in a hotel on her birthday, and all she cared about was having a swimming pool to get in, even if it was cold outside.  That was an easy request.

Bright and early the next day, we filled our bellies with typical Residence Inn breakfast fare.  Abby informed the breakfast attendant it was her birthday, so she was rewarded with a little Residence Inn satchel and crayons, which was totally not necessary, but an extra special touch.  It was all the excuse Abby needed to grin from ear to ear to start off her day.  We would spend the day doing a little bit of this and that throughout the Green Mountains of Vermont.

We kicked the day off with something that surely every new six year old girl wants to do.

We visited a granite quarry.

This was a nostalgic stop for me, because I came here with my parents and sister when I was 8 years old over 20 years ago, and now here I was with my own progeny.  Looking down into the giant hole in the earth where granite used to be.  As we waited for the tour guide to answer some questions, Abby lost interest and found other ways to occupy herself.

Like - writing her name in the pebbles with her shoe.

And taking pictures of Leah...

A few things we didn't get to do when I came as a youngster were bowl on the granite alley
And pick out our own pink, granite headstone...

One thing that didn't change is that we got dropped off at the end of the tour near a trailer full of granite chunks, free for the taking.  I watched as Ben, Abby, and Sarah each deliberated over size, color, and amount of shiny edge and found their perfect piece.

It's amazing, to me, that something so mundane and industrial as a granite quarry could be surrounded by such beauty - the leaves and the landscape were incredible.

From there we made our way towards Stowe, Vermont via Montpelier.  We gave Abby the [very short] list of options for lunch.  She chose Pizza Hut. Even it was a blast from the past with it's brick walls and red booths.  I thought I was back in Joppatowne, save for the Red Sox banners all over the walls. 

After lunch, we got to do something every six year old girl really does want to do.  We visited the Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream Factory.  While we were waiting in line for the tour to begin, Abby, once again, informed the tour guide that it was her birthday and she was rewarded with an "It's My Birthday" button and a free scoop of ice cream.  Not too shabby. 

Of course, by the time we ate the gigantic sample cup of ice cream, none of us were hungry for anymore.  JUST kidding.  We found room to squeeze some more in.

Oops...Sarah knocked over the giant jug of milk.  Hahaha.  (Seriously though, the samples were full scoops. Not sure if you can tell from the photo.)

I think you can spot the "It's My Birthday" button in this picture.

After we left Ben & Jerry's, we stopped by the Cabot Farms Annex on the way to the Cold Hollow Cider Mill.  Basically, we got free samples of delicious Vermont treats all day.  At the annex, we tasted every kind of cheese imaginable, among other things - syrups, popcorn, chip dips.  It was awesome.  At the Cider Mill, we indulged in some pumpkin butter, apple cider, and we actually purchased some apple cider donuts which were so fresh they were still warm.  Uh-mazing.

As if we hadn't done enough, we decided to take a ride through the Middlebury Gap, which is one of the few places a road traverses straight across the mountains in Vermont.  There are stops along the route where tourists can stop and hike, take photos, picnic, you name it.  Even if hadn't done any of those things, the ride alone was worth it.  It was curve after curve, rise after rise of amazing fall foliage.

The first place we stopped was called Texas Falls - a waterfall off the beaten path.  We saw four other people while we were there.  It's where we shot my personal favorite series of photos from the trip. 

I like to call this one, "Daddy, please don't leave me out here with them."

I can't decide which of these is my favorite. I consider them both Abby's birthday present to me.

After Texas Falls we stopped at the Robert Frost Interpretive Trail, just a stone's throw from his cabin and the school where he taught.  It was an easy 1-mile hike. 

This will be one of the images forever burned into memory from this trip.  Sarah hysterically chasing after Sam because she was afraid he was constantly leaving her.

We made it back to the hotel in time to catch some complimentary chicken sandwiches & Pepsi (always Pepsi in the northeast).  After that, you guessed it, Abby wanted to go swimming.

Daddy can really launch that little six-year-old stringbean.

Then it was up to the room for some [Little Debbie] cake (hey, you do what you gotta do in a hotel room)

Thanks to an ipad app, there was a candle that she could blow out and everything.  (She was a good sport, but I think she still wants a real birthday cake before her birthday month is over so she can blow out an actual candle.)

Then we all had to sleep fast because the next day included a full agenda in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. To be continued....

While I feel that I owe Abby a proper birthday post, I'll sum up in case I never get to it with a few words here.  At six years old, this little imp has become someone I never expected.  If you'd have asked me when she was two what I would imagine six-year-old Abby to be like, it would be something like "wild and crazy."  She has her moments, like all children, but she's far from exclusively wild and crazy.  Abby truly is a little ray of sunshine where ever she goes.  On our hikes, she always fell behind because she was picking flowers, or humming a tune.  She marches to her own drummer.  She  finds the silver lining in everything.  She can still climb a wall, hang from trees, and run like no other, but those are just a few more of the gifts that Abby has in her complete package.  I am blessed daily by her smile, her off the wall conversations, and her beautiful, unmatched imagination.  She is such a sweet spirit, always eagerly volunteering to help and serve others.  She doesn't do it because she wants recognition, but she eats up praise like no other child I've ever seen.  And she is so incredibly sensitive to harsh words, I am reminded to check my tone before I correct her.  She's such a joy, full of life.  And she helps me remember that there are indeed roses, and that I need to stop and smell them.  We love you, Abby Girl.  Thanks for being uniquely You.


On the Way Up - Part One

You've already read about my solo trip from Georgia to Maryland.  And you've already read of the randomness from the trip that, at the time I wrote it, seemed to all go together (I've since reconsidered, but it's too late now! Bwahahaha.)  Next, I chronologically account the trip to you.  Buckle up, it's going to be a long ride series of not-too-long drives from stop-to-stop.

On Sunday, September 30, Sam and I loaded up the kids said, "See ya in two weeks!" to my parents and left White Marsh, Maryland for Stockbridge, Massachusetts.

First stop - The Norman Rockwell Museum. 

Before I continue, I have to brag on Sam a little bit.  When this man plans a trip, he plans the trip.  We were equipped with a bound itinerary from start to finish complete with estimated travel times (including traffic) from destination to destination, phone numbers, hotel reservations, attractions with prices, coupons (pre-printed and bound right into the book - we simply had to cut them out), which stops accepted our reciprocal museum memberships, restaurant choices, maps, printed brochures, you name it.  All of the attractions included were "possibilities," since we wanted to be able to spend more time on things we liked.  The comprehensive itinerary allowed us to have a plan while feeling like we were being spontaneous.  Basically, he's amazing.  But he is not for hire.  (I asked.)

This is important to note because the path from White March, Maryland to Stockbridge, Massachusetts goes straight up I-95.  He even knew this was completely undesirable, and included alternative directions through New York beyond NYC via the Taconic Parkway.  No tractor-trailers are allowed on the parkways, which makes the ride that much less stressful.  (You know, you avoid the whole "Why are these two trucks pacing each other side-by-side going 15mph under the speed limit?" thing.)  Not only that, but the Taconic Parkway was absolutely gorgeous, the entire length of which was lined with already-turning leaves.  A preview of what was to come on our trip.  The thing about the parkway is that there are limited places to stop, and even fewer places to grab a bite to eat...unless fancy, obscure hippie-type places are your thing.  I'm not bashing these places, but my cheeseburger-loving children would not have been happy if we'd have offered them sprouts for lunch.  On the last exit before the Massachusetts turnpike, we stopped at a charming diner (much more "our" speed) called O's Eatery on a little hill in Chatham, New York.  I don't know who "O" is, but I took it as a sign given that my beloved Orioles (or O's) were, at the time, engaged in postseason baseball.  We refueled with breakfast-for-lunch, a chicken parm panini, and chicken nuggets (of course) and continued on the last little bit of our trip.

Of all of the stops on our New England adventure, I was not sure how the Norman Rockwell Museum would be received by our children.  Prior to our departure, Ben worked on a notebook of his own so that when we arrived at each stop, he would at least have a nominal understanding of where we were.  My mistake was in skipping Norman Rockwell while I waited for a book on hold from the library....which never came in.  Luckily, the museum was family friendly.  Each child received a coloring book and scavenger hunt sheet with items to search for throughout the museum, which, once completed, could be traded in for a prize at the front desk.  Because of this little scavenger hunt, they all got so much more out of it than I could have imagined.  They were really looking into each piece of art.  I learned a lot too.  He was much more than a magazine cover illustrator.  He was a genius, each picture containing so much detail it's really remarkable.  Of course, there was no photography inside where the paintings are, but we got some great pictures on the grounds overlooking the beautiful hills (apparently known as the Berkshires) of western Massachusetts. 

One of the security guards at the museum who was particularly fond of the kids (perhaps because they were the only people under the age of 65 at the museum, save for their parents) told us that the kids were welcomed to climb on the statues on the grounds.  I remained skeptical as they twisted around them...I think the other onlookers were skeptical too.  (Hey, there weren't any signs that prohibited it...so we were okay, right???)
This little room was downstairs and gave the kids a chance to read some books, create their own art, and display it for everyone else to enjoy.

We were tickled to have gotten to the museum before they closed at all, let alone have as much time as we did.  When we were finished and our prizes were redeemed (Norman Rockwell pencils & stickers), we re-boarded the Odyssey and headed to Albany, New York for our next stop en route to Bennington, Vermont and a tour o' covered bridges the next day.  After refueling at a Five Guys for dinner, a restful evening in a Residence Inn, we were set to move on the next morning.

The Bennington Battle Monument in Bennington, Vermont is a tribute to the Revolutionary War battle during which a force of New Hampshire militiamen thwarted the British from reaching their supply depot in Bennington, forcing them to march all the way to Saratoga, New York where the Bristish ultimately surrendered.  It's considered a turning point in the war.  (Although, I'd come to find out through our various tours, that each state claims to have a historic turning point in the Revolutionary War.  I guess it was teamwork!)

It was a beautiful monument.  Ben was especially enamored with it. We rode the elevator up to the top where the elevator attendant commented on Abby's "peace-sign" hairbow, how we need more peace in this world, and gave her the peace sign as she exited.  I'm pretty sure she didn't have a clue what he was talking about.
Yikes!  No make-up!  Just an informal poll...someone told me this shirt looks like "Vermont."  Does it scream "Vermont" to you?  (I have no idea what that means.)

The views were absolutely amazing from the top.  I couldn't tell you whether these are Vermont, Massachusetts, or New York...but it really doesn't matter.  They're all equally gorgeous.

When we got back down to earth, we ventured off on our covered bridge tour across the beautiful state of Vermont.  Wait.  That's not a covered bridge!  Would you believe we found this at an American Legion on the way?  Of course, we had to stop, check it out, and give some peace-signs...or are those just "V's" for victory Vermont?

While all of the covered bridges were all awesome, we stopped at two of them to capture some pictures.  First, my personal favorite - the one with the sign that charged a $1 for driving faster than a walk across the bridge.

Second, the allegedly most famous covered bridge outside the home of Norman Rockwell, on (you guessed it) Covered Bridge Road.  Did you know that these bridges used to be called "kissing bridges"?  Back in the days of courtships, couples would capitalize on the few seconds it took to pass through the bridge to steal a kiss while no one could see them. 
It was in front of this historic bridge we attempted a family photo.  Can you guess which one of our kids is the clown?

"Hey Mommy, did you see me wave in that one?"

Perfect time for a little song.

Think we finally got one!  Phew.  That'll have to do.

One little random aside, another memory I will always have from this trip is how the kids literally argued over who got to hold Leah (all the while her little tongue hangs out).  I hope hanging out with her is always so awesome.

Often, it became a game of almost tug-o-war over lil' Leah.  Someday, she'll hate me for showing this chubby picture of her on the internet.  She'll get over it.  Look at that precious belly!

Well, gee, that got us through two whole days.  I'm determined to chronicle this trip for my own sake, so please bear with me while I walk through it in painstaking detail (more than you care to know, I'm sure!).  I don't want to pull another "birth story" on this adventure where a year later I struggle to remember the details from the momentous occasion. 

Hope you all have a blessed weekend!  I have so much more to write about, I just need to find the time!


The Mother of All Roadtrips - Quotable Quotes

We survived. More than that, we had an awesome adventure (or as Sarah says "uh-benture").  We got home late last Sunday evening, spent Monday unpacking as much as possible, and returned to "the grind" of our "traditional homeschool schedule" on Tuesday.  I use quotes because that's total sarcasm.  Routine is never a grind for me - I love it, even relish in it.  And our homeschool schedule is always flexible.  Like Wednesday, when we spent the morning catching up on shots at the pediatrician with all four kids, and doing a quick house-clean before the sitter came over.  (What?  How did I end up talking about that?)

Even more than the amazing places we visited and sights we saw on our three week adventure up and around the east coast, I want to remember the million funny little things our kids said.  The funny questions, the random exclamations, the banter between kids.  These are things you simply miss out on when you're not confined to a vehicle and/or hotel room for 14 straight days (7 of the days were at the grandparents house - not quite so confining). Incidentally, these are the same kinds of things I have the newly-discovered pleasure of hearing all day, every day. We had great family time.  It surpassed my expectations in every way.  I mean that.

Now, I know have a propensity to giggle both excessively and at inappropriate times.  I also find things that may not be humorous at all to be raucously funny.  That may indeed be how this blog post ends up reading to everyone else (not funny at all), but for me, it's a diary, and well - I don't want to forget.  These are things that may or may not be relevant to our trip whatsoever, but that might not otherwise make the trip record.

On the second day, we visited the Bennington Battle Monument -

It's a Washington Monument-type structure.  You can ride the elevator to the top and look out at the view over three states (Vermont, New York, and Massachusetts).  It was absolutely breathtaking this time of year.  After looking at the grounds, reading some plaques, and looking at some smaller monuments (one of which was a statue of a Green Mountain Boy whom Sarah excitedly pointed out, "Look!  A Pirate!), we returned to our van.  As we drove away, Ben said, "That was awesome.  I'm definitely going to bring my kids here some day."  Abby piped up from the back seat, completely serious, "No sense.  You'll never have kids." 

After reaching the Mount Washington auto road a FOUR minutes after closing time and being turned away by the "cheerful" park ranger, we were disappointed.  We'd driven an hour and half out of the way on top of the however-many-hours we'd driven from GEORGIA only to miss it by four minutes.  I was so looking forward to it because I had my own memories from when I was eight years old, driving to the top with my family on our New England adventure.  My mom sat in the front passenger seat, crying, because she thought our 1992 Ford Aerostar was going to fall right off the edge of the mountain.  I, of course, was unsettled by this reaction and started crying as well.  My dad's ears turned red from high blood pressure and my sister sat in the middle seat of the minivan ridiculing my mom and me.  (In retrospect, she had the most appropriate reaction.  We were completely ridiculous.)  Needless to say, I was ready to rewrite my Mount Washington memories.  And that didn't happen.  You might guess what happened next.  I cried.  In the front passenger seat.  When Ben found out we weren't going to be able to go up the mountain...he cried too.  So, even though our car didn't get the bumper sticker, and we didn't climb the mountain, Sam still got to experience two crying passengers as a result of Mount Washington.  (In all seriousness, it was a terrible, foggy, rainy day.  There would have been no point in doing it.  We wouldn't have been able to see anything.  This is how we ultimately consoled ourselves.)

We stopped to take pictures of these "Oreo Cows", which I already know no one found nearly as amusing as me.

This was just moments after Sam mused, "It's amazing how you can be at the Great Lakes one day and the Atlantic Ocean the next day."  Then he paused and with a shrug continued on, "Well, two days.  Less impressive."  This was precisely the moment I took a sip of coffee and proceeded to lose it out of my nose.  Not only because it's not really all that impressive to go from the Great Lakes to the Atlantic Ocean in two days of traveling, but because we were never even at the Great Lakes.  We got a split second glimpse of Lake Champlain in Vermont on our drive across Middlebury Gap.  And that's not actually a Great Lake.

And since I just broadcasted Sam's first-ever and only geography gaffe, it's only fair I post the picture he managed to snap of me with coffee coming out of my nose.

We had the opportunity to do things that otherwise would never cross our minds down here in central Georgia, like bargain hunting for firewood. ("Wow, fireplace bundles are more expensive in Maine than they are in New Hampshire!)  While discussing the price of roadside firewood, Abby passed a disembodied Polly Pocket doll for me to fix for her, which she referred to as "Grandmom" as in, "Will you put Grandmom's head back on?"

This - 

- was Grandmom.  That's a boy.  Wearing a dress.  Poor Grandmom.  We didn't share this tidbit with her, but in our delirium, we did share a hearty laugh over it.

While in Maine, we drove through Kennebunkport and checked out the Bush Compound and the beautiful coast line.  When she saw the beach, Abby asked if we could stop and get in.  I told her the water was too cold.  She pfft'd me and said, "I'll get used to it."  Sure, Abby.  You and your whopping 43lbs of skin and bones would turn blue in about 30 seconds with hypothermia.  As I attempted to navigate the town, once again leaving Sam at the wheel without a clue as to where to turn, I commented, "I'm dumb at Kennebunkport."  Ben chimed in, "So you're dumb at Kennebunkport, but smart everywhere else?"  Zing.

After peaking in Maine, we started our way back down the coast, spending two days in Boston during whieh we visited the Boston Science Museum.  It is AMAZING.  I'd recommend it to anyone and everyone if you're ever in the area.  While there, we had the opportunity to ask two female virtual humans any question we wanted. Abby asked, "Do you two sleep together?"  Didn't see that one coming.

After a historic walking tour through the charming city of Plymouth, we headed back to our van, and Abby looked up and said, "That wasn't a tour.  We didn't ride anything."  I guess we set a high precedent with the DUCK tour through Boston.  Abby, dear, not all tours include a ride on an amphibious vehicle. 

Then there was the miscellany, the conversations in the hotel rooms that could have easily happened at home, the statements that so catch me off guard that I can succumb to the shock or laugh (you can guess which one I typically choose).  

Ben:  Mommy, can I ask you a quick question?  Why is there war in Afghanistan?
Me:  I can't answer that quickly, Ben.
Ben:  No, I meant it wouldn't take me long to ask it.

Sam:  Leah just spit up on you. Oh nevermind, she just spit out all of the toilet paper she was eating.

Abby:  Mommy, I'm sorry to say but you look fat when you wear clothes.
Sam:  *gasp*  Abby!
Abby:  *shrug*  What?  I said, 'sorry to say.'

Abby:  (After taking a dip in the pool) I'm going up to the room to take a shower. (looking me up and down)  I think you need one too. 

 And if I had a nickel for every time I uttered the phrase, "Stop jumping [in the hotel room!!!", I'd be rich.

Looking back on this - I'm sure, now, that we were delirious, sleep-deprived, and out of our wits to think half of this stuff was funny.  I'm sure you won't.  My apologies.  

But it's my blog and I can bore you to tears if I want to.

Someday, I'll do an actual blog post about our stops.  Probably the next time Sam takes the three older kids to a movie and leaves me here with only a cruising 7-month-old-who-needs-a-helmet-because-she-keeps-attempting-the-crossover-from-the-couch-to-the-coffee-table to distract me. 

On that note, I close - because she is totally shredding up a magazine and eating it.  

Until next time, I'd love to hear some of your favorite vacation-related or vacation-kind-of-related memories! 
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