Friday, November 18, 2016

New Jersey's Living History

     Allaire Village is a quietly preserved village in the middle of New Jersey.  Over a century ago it was a self-sufficient community with a glowing furnace producing iron for the Industrial Revolution.  A town complete with carpentry, blacksmith, and even a bakery.  The bakery is still active today and supplies bread, as well as locally sourced baked goods, to visitors.  The shops are alive with volunteers showcasing their skills and educating anyone that will listen on their dying trades.  We, as a family, enjoy visiting these living museums and interacting with the re-enactors and volunteers.  And what better days to visit but the cool, sunny weekends of Fall, October, Halloween.
     The village hosts an Autumn festival for a small, token fee.  The shops are alive.  The houses warmed by fired hearths.  The gift shop brimming with ideas for the upcoming holiday season.  There is fresh bread and other treats, pumpkin picking and crafts, a train ride and hiking trails, even a traveling flea circus.  It is quite a pleasant way to spend an afternoon in NJ.  Not many folks make use of this resource as is evidenced but the "uncrowded" feeling of the place, even as children race back and forth between the activity tents.
     As the sun begins its descent, we stretch our legs on a 30-mile back road jaunt toward another living museum, the site of one of NJ's largest cranberry bogs.  Whitesbog lays claim to the innovation of the highbush blueberry and is a National and State Historic site.  We were visiting for the spooky lantern tour of the bogs and the surrounding Pine Barrens.  The local caretakers and volunteers were excited to see our arrival and to share their knowledge of the community.  The place had a lonely, fading feel to it, which only added to its Halloween charm.  The buildings held all the museum standards while also being decorated for the evening's events, replete with real lanterns with actual flickering flames.  There was a community bonfire and elegantly dusty general store.
    The sky loomed grey and grumbling with far off thunder as we took to the walking paths following our lanterned guide from building to building, past the glowing depiction of the Jersey Devil and into the Barrens.  We were only amongst the trees for a few paces when the Halloween lights began to glow in the trees and the planted wisps of artificial spider webs brushed against our faces.  Then with a booming thunderclap, the skies opened, and in the dark of the woods and the October evening, we were thoroughly soaked.  Turning frantic circles along the paths, the guide had us misguided for a few steps and the spooky tour was truly becoming a trick and a treat.  The village's volunteers, in their earnest to make the best possible situation out of a stormy deluge, had created the best Piney experience one could ask for.
     It is a mystery why anyone would not visit these living history sites or make the day out of enjoying such local treats.  But for me and my road-tripping family, we'll take the smaller crowds and unique gems along the back roads.

Friday, November 11, 2016

The Forgotten Day

It should be right behind the Fourth of July. It should be held in higher regard than all the rest. There is no reason for it to be forgotten. Parades and ceremonies and fireworks simply are not enough. This is a day to truly be thankful, a day that should be met with football and giant dinners and family gatherings. It is the one day that should never be taken for granted. Today is Veteran's Day.
      The company I work for, like most companies theses days, does not recognize today as a day worthy of remembrance. It is a normal Wednesday. The union, as willing to accept dues as they are to concede recognized holidays, does not consider today a day worth fighting for. I wear the American flag stitched upon my work clothes, but can not recognize the heroes of this country without a sick day. The men and women who have fought and sacrificed for my rights and freedoms are not worthy of a day of recognition according to many, my company, it's customers, Local 807, and most of the rest of the country included. The beginning of Summer is more important. The "unofficial" end of Summer is more important. A fictitious fat man in a red suit is more important. Watching a giant ball descend a pole while partying with friends is much more important. The veterans of this country are not as important as these things. However, without them we would not celebrate such frivolous matters.
      For many years, I hunted with my father on Veteran's Day. We used to meet in the morning and drive to the Delaware Water Gap and walk the fields there in search of small game, pheasants and squirrels mostly. We never mentioned that it was a holiday. We just walked the woods together. Spending time together was enough, no hoopla. As my parents left New Jersey to reside in the slower pace of Pennsylvania, my father and I still made plans to meet on Veteran's Day to walk the same fields. Times have changed since those youthful hunts. The holiday calendar at work has grown lean on what is considered an important or allowable day off. I, at one time, resorted to sick days to keep the tradition of hunting with my dad on Veteran's Day going. Recently, I have used seniority and vacation to ensure that this day is spent with family.
      My father is a disabled veteran of the Vietnam Conflict. He carries many scars of all kinds with him. There were years when those scars took their toll not only on him. I lost some years to those scars, too. The loss was of time and chances to make memories and I refuse to allow that to ever happen again. My children take pride in the fact that their grandfather was a soldier and fought for this country. I will not allow them to lose the opportunity to make memories of time spent with their grandfather. They proudly celebrate this day knowing they are, in some small part, connected to it. It is his day and he should have it. He has surely earned it and continues to earn it, everyday.
      My story is only one of thousands, perhaps millions by now. My experiences of the effect of war and the cost of politics and freedom are merely a blade of grass in a meadow of such experiences. All of those stories deserve a place, a day of recognition, a moment to reflect and remember, and a small word of thanks. These stories are attached to lives, to families. They can not be allowed to fade from the memory of a nation. They have sacrificed for every American. They have earned their day.
     Who wants to be the one that takes their day away? Who wants to be the one that allows their memories to fade? Who wants to be the one that keeps their stories from being told?

It will not be me. Mine is but a small inconvenience compared to their scarifices. It will not be me.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Upstate Apples

     About an hour outside of Manhattan, pretty much a straight ride north on the NYS Thruway, apple orchards abound.  Usually situated next to, if not with, these orchards, vineyards grow in neat rows.  The farmlands are surrounded by history and historic sites.  Some of those farms actually are the historic place.  Over two weekends in October, we spent a free day or so away from our errands to enjoy the scenery and, literally, the fruits of that scenery.
     Our first sojourn was to the acres of farms surrounding Poughkeepsie and New Paltz.  There was Bad Seed Hard Cider Co., Weeds Orchards, a handful of local wineries, several other orchards offering donuts and cider and pick-your-own apples.  We simply could not travel down a road without coming upon a farmers market, orchard, or vineyard.  One could spend more than a weekend traveling all these roads visiting every single apple hawker.  We found a favorite at the Brooklyn Ciderhouse.  It was a combination marketplace, hard cider tasting room, u-pick orchard, artisan pizza kitchen, and picnic spot.  This place had it all and effortlessly and, for some strange reason, a noticeable lack of overwhelming crowd.  There is a new mark on our travel map for apple season.
     After a side trip to a bizarrely hipster farm brewery, with taps literally amongst the picked veggies, and seats straight from the farmhouse kitchen strewn out in the garden, we decided a slightly more commercial stop would suit us better.  Angry Orchard is a destination.  A treehouse tour, a tasting room with entertainment stage, food truck parking, gift shop.  This is Upstate NY essence trapped in an orchard where no one picks the apples.  Most of the people here seemed as if they were visiting for the day, comfortably lounging on the grass as games of cornhole were being settled nearby.  Our trip would conclude at The Mill House in Poughkeepsie.  A rather quaint brewpub with satisfying fare, quality brews, rooftop patio seating, and comfortable indoor accommodations, the Mill House is awkwardly situated in a somewhat derelict neighborhood.  Do not let that be a deterrent to visiting this place and to make it more enticing it is only a short distance to the Walkway Over the Hudson, which is worth the effort also.
     Our second weekend would not bring us as far north but was just as satisfying, if not more so, than our last trip.  The destination was General Washington's final cantonment of the Revolutionary Army.  The actual site was oddly developed around by a small neighborhood and the bell tower was nearly in someone's backyard.  The paths around the place were overgrown and unkempt and the boardwalk was rotten wood.  A glaring difference across the road was the Purple Heart Memorial and a living history museum that protected what seems to be the oldest Revolutionary War hut in the country.  This is what we had come for, a fitting tribute to our armed forces at the site of the its original presentation.  Another overcrowded apple farm and then off to Storm King Mountain overlooking West Point.  With our continuing summit quest, we felt a short, steep hike to take in the views would be appropriate.  The weather was perfect for the walk, a mix of October cool and comfortable blue sky.  The trail was an entertaining mix of scramble and path and quite worth the non-descript parking area.
     We would conclude our dual weekend odyssey to Upstate with the Halloween staple of Sleepy Hollow.  This year my youngest would try her mettle at the Horseman's Hollow at Philipsburg Manor.  The living history village would be transformed into the haunted rendition of the Headless Horseman's sleepy Hollow home.  It was her first haunted house and she was "scared awesome" and smiling ear to ear as she walked the lantern-lit path.  The village of Sleepy Hollow always does well to represent this wonderful time of year and this time around was no disappointment.  We look forward to visiting every year and next year will be no exception.  The sites of Upstate NY never disappoint and I look forward to traversing the further reaches of the state in our annual jaunt to Cooperstown.  The backroads of NY, less than an hour from the Big City, are always worth the day.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

The Renaissance?

     With Halloween close by and some free time due to multiple weeekend obligations monopolizing only one day, we had decided to take a leisurely drive through the Amish countryside and visit an out of sorts land protected by a castle.  We dared the time travel to fuedal Pennsylvania and the Renaissance Faire in Manheim.  It would be our first such journey and it would prove most interesting.
     In the rolling farmlands of Lancaster County lies The Shire.  It is filled with shops and "taverns" and strange folk.  The food and the wares and the folks wearing the wares made for an exceptional day of people-watching.  To be quite honest, I could easily spend plenty of hours just sitting and enjoying a pint and a turkey leg and watching the people in this unique place.  There were plainly dressed families meandering happily.  There were serious characters dripping in authenticity and somewhat less authentic players trying to look the part.  There were plump bar wenches pushing their corsets to the limit and poofy skirts and plenty of exposed flesh.  There were fairies and women with horse hoof shoes.  Steampunks somehow found their way here as did pirates and barbarians.  What a strange melting pot of costume-clad time-hoppers.
     And this is where the happiness dwindles.  We, as a family, enjoy reenactments, historical places come-to-life, Gettysburg, Williamsburg, Ticonderoga, Fort Lee.  We have traveled to many.  This place lacked all of that.  The paid actors were authentic enough and took their trades seriously but the whole community seemed mired in selling to a crowd not truly invested in the charade.  Many of the replica weapons were plastic or wooden or cheaply fashioned.  The pirates wore Halloween costume plastic boot covers and phony hats.  Faux fur was everywhere.  Only the women's costume shops carried quality items and they came at a premium.  The rest was a confusing mash up of everything role-playing; blown glass, sterling silver, pixie dust, leather shops, dragons, sea-faring merchandise, elves and dwarves, centaurs and witches and the persistent steampunk (of which I will credit with the best effort).
     I grew up with a paperback in my hand, reading the adventures of Conan and Merlin and King Arthur, Bilbo Baggins and Gandolf, and other more obscure characters popular amongst the "nerdier" set.  I have troves of vintage Dungeons and Dragons material and a closet full of fantasy art by Boris and Frazetta.  My comic book collection is nothing to take lightly and reference books on medieval weapons and torture and architecture line many of my shelves.  No truly self-respecting geek would be caught in this Shire or caught in such shabby garb.  I have perused many custom kinfe shows shoulder to shoulder with history buffs and reenactors looking for that perfect piece to complete their outfit, not a costume at all, and none of those were here.  This cosplay nonsense has diluted the accuracy of everything, including history.  I essentially paid for my family to walk around a mall shrouded in a corset and robe.  My kids loved it.
     I escaped back to reality 15 minutes down the road in the perfect Halloween brewpub, Springhouse.  The place was swathed in fake blood and zombies and cobwebs.  Fake rats hid in the bathrooms that seemed to be having lighting issues, lots of red flickering bulbs.  There was Braaiins for Zombies Pumpkin Ale, Blood Turning Black Porter, and Spinal Remains Stout.  All fitting brews and insanely delicious.  We dined on a wonderfully Kraken-like grilled octopus and pulled pork and poutine.  The motif and food and beer were all playful but extremely well done.  They definitely understand the season.  And the decorations definitely kept the costumes at bay.
     We will definitely return to Springhouse but will probably bypass the Shire for more realistic renditions of history (or fantasy).

Monday, October 17, 2016

Chasing Summits

     It was a year ago that we visited.  I wrote about it back then as a destination to revisit.  The summer ski slopes of Stowe, the winding, twisting roads of Smugglers Notch, and the peak of Mount Mansfield.  A year ago we turned back as the afternoon caught up to us and my wife's body betrayed her, lungs heaving, legs burning.  We vowed we would return.  The mountain has haunted us for all that time, daring us, taunting us, always calling.
     Again, as in our previous road trip to Vermont this year, our time would be abbreviated but we knew what to expect and what needed to be done.  We would arrive at night to ensure an early start and also a good night's sleep, along with a hearty dinner to fuel our hike.  Prohibition Pig was more than expected, a wonderful BBQ menu of locally-sourced everything paired with some of the finest local beer and cider.  The feast brought the contented sleep that only a full belly could and dreams filled with happy dinner plates would follow.
     The morning breeze welcomed us to Smugglers Notch and we collected some geocahces as we waited for the mountain road to open.  This area is an outdoor mecca even during the summer months, with bouldering, hiking, biking of all sorts, kayaking, and canoeing, all in large supply.  The quick searches for geocaches with their mini-hikes served as a warm-up for the morning's goal.  And, so, we were ready.
     The road to the upper parking lot was the same.  The trail keeper's house was still the same.  The trail signs were still the same.  But, quickly, the trail had become different.  Within 20 minutes, the landscape had changed.  My wife could not believe that in such a short amount of time we had covered the section of mountain from last year and were on our way to the summit of the mountain.  There were some scrambles and some narrow ridges and some steep walking.  There was bugs and breezes and sun and clouds and views in every direction.  We had lunch above Stowe and looked out at Canada and Lake Champlain.  We had reached this summit and then left it behind.  A filling mid-afternoon Reuben, fresh cider to celebrate, and a stop for Vermont cheddar would complete our day.
     Our journey home would have us visit the Vermont Teddy Bear Factory, a place of joy my kids have not visited since they were in strollers and the tour never disappoints.  It would swing us by Dakin Farms and a bag full of smoked snacks for the miles pointing south.  A few more waypoints would steer us on to the highway and the happy snores of a successful trip.  It was short.  It was sweet.  It was filling for the body and the soul.  It was another trip to remember but it was also a trip to reflect on.
     A year ago we had left the mountain and headed home, somewhat defeated.  My youngest daughter vowed to return at some point, with or without us, and hike to the top.  She pleaded with her mother to be better prepared the next time or, perhaps, stay in the car so that my daughter would not be forced to turn back.  Months later my wife returned, 60 pounds lighter and determined to achieve the summit with her daughter.  This was more than a morning hike, it was a year-long journey which has seemingly transformed into a longer quest.  Upon that summit my daughter and my wife talked of reaching other summits on other mountains in other states.  Some we are already planning to visit while others may well take a lifetime to reach.  But this one little mountain with a short hike has already left its mark.  I am proud of my daughter for being so resolute and so motivational.  I am proud of my wife for being so determined.  They are both an inspiration.
     And so we begin to chase the next summit.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016


     The weekend would be cut short because of the selfish meanderings of an aging employee that feels entitled way beyond his contributions.  Years of service may garner respect and tolerance but it does not allow for a complete divergence from basic workplace standards and the rules of conduct must still be followed.  Yet even in his disciplinary sanction, he found a way to make the workplace uncomfortable for everyone around him.  And thus my extended weekend that had been planned for some months would have to be abbreviated in order to cover another's suspension.
     Undaunted by the situation we began our journey on a Sunday and quickly left the stress and drama somewhere on the highway behind us.  Fort Ticonderoga in upstate NY was our original destination.  The hours of operation would not coincide with our new schedule but we could still catch a glimpse of the historic structure and scout other waypoints along the road for a future sojourn to this area.  Besides the road to the fort would lead us to a wonderful little ferry crossing of Lake Champlain, a shortcut into Vermont and the Green Mountains, just a few short miles from Middlebury.  The ferry ride was worth the miles, was worth a note as a road attraction, was the perfect landmark to leave work behind and embrace the peace of the landscape.
     We came to Middlebury because it held a hotel, several restaurants, and easy ferry access to Fort Ticonderoga while also allowing easy access to Route 7 and a way south toward home at the end of our weekend.  What we found was a quaint town with a beautiful college campus, the home of Woodchuck Cider, celebrating 25 years of turning apples into some of the most inventive, tasty adult beverages, and unexpected dining experiences.  Two Brothers Tavern seemed like any other neighborhood tavern from the outside, but inside, the food appeared to be the role models for culinary magazines.  The candied bacon served by the bucket on Sundays should be either outlawed or given its own holiday, and is way too addictive to merely try just one.  The beer list was wonderfully local and allowed for sampling all the greatness Vermont has become known for in the craft beer scene.  It also helps that there are several cideries and breweries within a stone's throw.  DropIn Brewing was one of those tiny local breweries and it was conveniently situated right across the road from our hotel.  It was the epitome of a microbrewery, just beer and only a few on tap to travel, and it offered a "grumbler" never before seen, a full gallon of fresh beverage to go, and home it would go, full of fresh IPA.
     Route 7 would lead us south toward home but not before winding its way past a few roadside stands holding maple everything and other tastes of Vermont life.  It would cross over into Massachusetts and lead us to Mount Greylock.  We could not pass up an opportunity to bag the highest peak in the state.  The best part of a road trip is finding the off beat, the interesting, the peculiar, along the way.  A side trip is always just a slight turn away and Mount Greylock was worth that turn.  The view from the peak may not be the same as some of the neighboring peaks but it was the perfect view to return perspective to a jaded eye.  Just a few short hours, barely two days, can reset the mind, revive the body, and return sanity to work life.  Time spent in a car on the road with family should never be short changed, especially when it is rewarded with great food, quality libations, and the wonder and beauty of nature.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016


     It could be said that my wife and I have a long distance relationship.  We love to collect the miles and memories that pass beneath us on our journey.  We enjoy the hours together traveling down the road always searching out new places.  Some of the views are spectacular, some soothingly mundane, all of them seen together.  There are times of knowing silence and then there are the moments, sometimes long, filled with conversation and discussion about our road, about life, about the path of our children.
     During our most recent exploration of this great country's byways, and having a teenage daughter giddy with socials and semi-formals, some of our 4000 miles became dedicated to the new dating rituals of the young and the new meaning of a long distance relationship.  My original view of this sort of thing had its foundation in the realm of one or both people going off to college, the military, or perhaps a job assignment.  This was assuming the participants of the relationship had at least some experience with love or like or somewhere in between, that they have had time to form opinions on the subject of matters of the heart.  The couple would be faced with what would seem to be some of the most important decisions of young adulthood, whether their convictions and resolve could weather the storm of emotions and the crippling distance...and the honesty or lack there of.
     Oh how wrong I could be.  My wife bewildered me with tales of pubescent "love" found on the Internet, relationships built on Smartphones and little screens on tablets.  She baffled me with stories of connections made without ever physically seeing a person, of a world inside a touchscreen that was all too real.  I was truly taken aback not just that this alternate relationship reality existed but that some parents not only allowed their children to indulge it but supported, even aided, the fantasy.
     Are we as a society truly shortchanging our children this way?  I can understand adults, even young ones, twenty-something's especially, embracing the new technology of dating.  But these are adults that have experienced the trials and tribulations of the first feelings for another person.  They have learned from the dramas of high school, from the new found independence of college, from the harshness of beginning their own lives, and have felt both the joy and sadness of love.  To rob our children of their high school lives, their proms and decorated lockers and graffitied notebooks, seems so wrong.  To be distracted by a little screen by a questionably real person should be criminal.
     And what of the physicality of it all?  Are we that apt to give up the presence of a hand, the warmth of a stolen breath, the wisp of a passing hair, the brush of an eyelash, the softness of the lips? Should we replace the captivating scent of perfume or the squeeze of a hug with a router and wifi?  Can a caress be felt through a touchscreen?  Can we truly feel fulfilled through radio waves?
     Perhaps I am "old-fashioned" by today's standards, but I am not ready to give up on some of the rites of passage into adulthood and the journey to get there.  Perhaps this new age way of meeting and forming and growing relationships works for some people.  I am not yet ready to blur the lines between outside and inside this little electrical box, between what I can touch and feel and my touchscreen.  I do not want to rob my children of their teenage angst and the life lessons that will grow strong adults and of all their glorious memories of high school milestones.  And, besides, I have many more miles to go in my own long distance relationship and I do not wish to travel them without my hand on my wife's knee and her hand scratching my neck, discussing the ways of the world, however strange they may be.