Sunday, August 29, 2010

Home alone

I woke up this morning at 9:30am. I repeat, I woke up this morning at 9:30am. The reason? I have the house to myself for 2 days! Lynn took Monday and Tuesday off and I have to go to work today for a Freshman Welcome Mass today so Lynn decided to head to Hampton Beach for a couple of days with the kids. She was going to leave today as we first have a family party at my aunt's house in Wells, Maine but there is an Air Show in Portsmouth, NH this weekend and Lynn was worried about the traffic so she went to the beach last night.

But before they left we had a fun Saturday. I took Kevin to the 58th annual 4-H Fair in Westford. I've always wanted to go to this since we moved to the area but never got around to it. Lynn wasn't really up for it so just Kevin and I went. You can either pay $5 to pay on the grounds or park a little ways away in an office park and take a free shuttle bus to the grounds - we did the shuttle bus. Actually Kevin loved it as one of his first words and obsessions was buses so it was cool to be on a school bus with him. I took him on a bus ride about a year ago in Lowell but he was too antsy for that.

The 4-H Fair was a bunch of animal exhibits, a hayride, jumpy house, exhibits, etc. It was pretty fun and Kevin liked seeing the animals, jumping on the house (although the people were Nazi's about the time limit, yelling at kids to get out after 5 minutes). There was also a train exhibit. I take Kevin to train shows all the time and he loved seeing this one. I found out that there is one coming up in nearby Pepperell so I can't wait to take him to that one. The biggie is the one in West Springfield. We went last year and it was amazing, I can't wait to take him again this winter.

We stayed here for 2 hours or so. After some lunch, an ice cream, and inspection of some horses we headed home. Kevin is so funny - we were looking at a horse and he asked me what his/her name was. I told him to ask the girl who was his handler and he walked over and said, "Excuse me, what is your horses' name?" He said excuse me, I was so proud. We're pretty strict about him saying thank you, please, etc. and he's doing a great job with it. This however amazed me.

Later yesterday afternoon we headed to a Lowell Spinners' game with my parents. My sister Meaghan usually joins us too but she was away this week in Maine. This was the first time we stayed for the whole game (although most of it was spent walking around with Kevin, getting food, etc). After the game the kids were able to run the bases. The line to get on the field snaked around the park and we waited until it was moving until I took Kevin in line. Then he started acting up and I had enough and he said he didn't want to do it. After some tears and noticing that the line was over I asked him one last time if he wanted to do it and he said yes - and he loved it. He ran those bases like a pro and was grinning from ear to ear after it was over. I am so glad he did it, he was in his glory.

As for today, I am going to putz around the house this morning, clean-up, and then head to school early to get some work done. The mass isn't until 4pm so I'll get there around 1 or so to get some stuff done. I feel bad I am missing my aunt's annual cookout. She has a beautiful house and puts on a nice spread - hopefully next year.

OK, off to enjoy the quiet!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Right up my alley

Now this looks good. The Gardner Heritage State Park is hosting an art exhibit of photos and paintings inspired by Massachusetts State Parks. The show is September 1-10 and you can get more information here.

Add another thing to the list!

Fun doesn't have to stop

Just because the summer (at least summer vacation) is over doesn't mean the fun has to stop. Now that I have discovered the state parks, I am finding that they have a ton of neat stuff going on all year.

Yesterday one of my co-workers asked what was up with all the Massachusetts love lately on the old blog. It is kind of ironic that I am shilling for a state government agency! But for the record, Deval is not paying me for these post - I just love history and geography.

Anyway, I see that Walden Pond has weekly talks on Thoreau with hikes to his cabin site and talks on his life at Walden. Oh am I there! On Labor Day Lawrence Heritage State Park is having their annual Bread and Roses festival to commemorate the famous Bread and Roses Strike of 1912. I'm there. On September 11, Wachusett Reservoir has a talk on its history. Yep, there too.

You can see what other events are going on here - lots of great stuff.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Back to school

So today was day two of school meetings and tomorrow is the first day of classes. We got here on Tuesday morning and after some coffee and donuts, we had a prayer service. Father Jerome Day, OSB, a monk from Saint Anselm Abbey and the pastor of Saint Raphael Parish in Manchester came by and blessed each classroom with the Eucharist which he carried in a monstrance. Each teacher was in his/her room and as he came by their room they walked behind him until we ended back in the chapel with everyone in procession - it was really neat.

Father Jerome is from North Adams originally so I filled in him on some of my trips out that way this summer. When Kevin and I were at the North Adams Historical Society I found a book Father Jerome had written long before he entered the monastery - a history of a parish in North Adams.

After some meetings we were able to get some work done. Today was more work in the morning as the seniors came by for their schedules and other housekeeping stuff. The freshmen arrived at noon and heard some talks, went to all of their classes (for 7 minutes each), then played some games until 5:30 when we had a BBQ for them and their families. Tomorrow we start classes. Luckily we don't start until 10am as the sophomores and juniors are coming in the morning for mini-orientations and then everyone comes in at 10 to start the year.

Back to work!

Monday, August 23, 2010

End times

Well, it is after midnight so it's Monday and I officially go back to work tomorrow. Ugh. This was a hell of a summer and I am going to miss Kevin and Erin terribly. Luckily Kevin has been an absolute terror lately so that is making it a tad easier to go back to work!

It has been a quiet few days here. On Friday we just ventured to some libraries, picked up some food from Chipotle for lunch, and ate it in Harold Parker State Forest in North Andover. I took Kevin with me to get my haircut on Saturday morning and then Lynn took the kids to the beach to get the cottage ready for a renter. We were going to check out two state parks after she was done but she didn't get out of there until after 4pm so we just went to Maudslay State Park in Newburyport. This is an old estate and we were able to take a nice hike but we missed the trail to see the old house and gardens. We'll have to check it out again next time.

Today we headed to Manchester, NH for a baptism at Ste. Marie's Parish and then to the party, also in Manchester. The baptism took place during mass and it was the first time I've been at mass with Kevin since Father's Day. Sadly he was the same, if not worse. The boy's energy is unbelievable. Anyway, I used to work with the baby's mother at my school but this past year was her last year as she will be staying home. After the party, we just headed home and did nothing. I took Kevin for a walk along the Merrimack River at 6pm while Lynn and Erin napped. Kevin didn't nap at all today so I had him asleep by 8:15 or so. In the morning I am going to take the kids on one last adventure - to Kevin's favorite city (Boston) and one of his favorite places (The New England Aquarium). It should be a nice way to end summer vacation. Ironically, on my last day of vacation...it's going to rain. Of course.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Walk in the Woods

You know that feeling of sadness when you've finished a book you've really loved? You're sad because you came to the end and you just want to read more and more. That's how I felt last night when I finished "A Walk in the Woods" by Bill Bryson. It's a short book (less than 300 pages) but it's very entertaining and very, very funny. It chronicles Bryson's hike of the Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine as a way to reacquaint himself with the United States after living abroad for many years. Bryson never actually hiked the whole 2,100 mile trail (he just did 870) as he stopped somewhere down south and drove north and then after a few months off, he took day hikes, especially once he got closer to New Hampshire where he lived.

He decided to do the final 100 mile trek through Maine called the Hundred Mile Wilderness but after losing his hiking partner Stephen Katz deep in the Maine woods (he eventually found him the next day) they decided to call it quits. I was disappointed he didn't make it to the northern terminus, Mount Katahdin, as I was curious what it was like up there but I learned a lot and got some inspiration. The book not only chronicles his adventures but he talks about the history of the trail, discusses some science behind the trees and wildlife, history of local towns he walks around, etc. It was a fascinating book about something I knew nothing about.

He said that the Massachusetts portion of the Appalachian Trail is 90 miles. I asked Lynn if she would want to hike it when the kids are much older and she agreed. Bryson spends a part of the book talking about his Massachusetts part of the hike with some focus on my new love, Mt. Greylock. Calling Greylock the "most literary of the Appalachian Mountains" he wrote, "...there was scarcely a literary figure associated with New England from the 1850s to the 1920s who didn't at some time hike or ride up to admire the view." That sounds like a good idea for a book for someone to write!

Anyway, I could go on and on. I am headed to the library to pick up another of his books today. I haven't decided which one I want but I think I will check out his one on his travels across America. I'll let you know.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Rocks, views, and water

Great day out in Central Mass today with Kevin and Erin. We left the house around 9:30 or so and headed down to Sutton to check out Purgatory Chasm. I really had no idea what to expect but I just found the name to be too damn cool to not check it out. You can really tell that I had no idea what I was getting into as I parked the car and walked to the chasm entrance with Erin in her carriage. Little did I know that this park is one huge rock climb and hike! I had to bring the carriage back to the car and put her in the carry pack thingie. There is a big sign at the entrance that says, "Hikers beware of the dangers of this trail..." Yikes.

But we were off. I can't really explain it but essentially there is a big chasm in between rock walls and to get down into the chasm you have to climb up and down a ton rocks. It's not all that hard but you have to be careful...especially with a 3 year old and a 6 month old in tow. Kevin fell flat on his face at the very start but was OK the rest of the way. He was too funny, he was pretending that he was Fireman Sam and I was Elvis and we were off to save James stuck in the cliffs. He used a rock as a walkie talkie and kept talking into it (if you've never seen Fireman Sam then you won't get this). I thought the hike was was long trail and you just doubled back at the end. But, half way through it loops up and back to the parking lot. The second half is more of a incline hike with some unique rock formations, namely "Fat Man's Misery" and "The Devil's Corn Crib." These are essentially a rock with a big gap in the middle that you can walk though. Kevin had fun with this but he was getting tired and constantly asking to stop and rest. I dropped my water at the beginning of the hike and so we didn't have any water, something he also kept on asking for. By the time we got back to the parking lot an ice cream truck was there so I rewarded Kevin with a nice big popsicle (see pictures of the chasm here, they're not mine but they give you a good sense of the place).

From here we headed west and then north to Mt. Sugarloaf in S. Deerfield. It was a very brief drive to the top of the mountain but the view was majestic. Down below was the Connecticut River Valley and what a view it was (see it here, again, not my picture but I took the exact same one). I think Kevin was even impressed with the view it was so so nice. Off in the distance you can see UMass Amherst, towns, mountains, and a bunch of farmland. I took a great picture of a bridge that heads towards a picturesque white church. The mountain has a little tower to look out from at three levels but given my experience with spiral staircases at Mt. Greylock, there was no way I was trying these alone with two kids! We went to the main landing and then up one more but that was it for me. We stayed here for a good bit and walked around the summit for a while taking it all in. I think I want to see this place in the fall, I bet it's amazing.

Finally we took a little ride to Shutesberry to Lake Wyola for some swimming. Here it got a little hairy. Kevin LOVES the water but can't swim yet (swimming lessons are in order for this fall). I've taken him to a few lakes/ponds this summer and he'll just keep going out deeper and deeper until I stop him. So I watch him like a hawk at these places as he doesn't know his limits. He was doing just fine today but all of a sudden when I wasn't looking he went under. I noticed it quickly and walked right out and got him up. He was fully under water and just didn't know how to come up, poor little guy. He was coughing a lot when I picked him up and the lifeguard was right on the scene but he was OK. He said he went "diving" and fell. I am guessing he did something like diving, lost his footing and could not get his feet back down. It was pretty scary to see him fully submerged but it wasn't for very long and he was fine. But with all the cases of kids drowning this summer, I admit that I was a little nervous as I was walking out to get him. I had him sit down for a bit to rest and he was quickly asking to go back in. I kept him on a short leash and after about an hour or so, he started going out deeper again and I told him it was time to go and he willingly left. When we were pulling out of the parking lot he said, "Daddy, I am sorry I fell in the water." God love him.

I took Rt. 2 home but the GPS got us there is a very strange way. It sent us down a couple of dirt roads, some that seemed to go on forever. But it got us there and we even got to see a beaver in the meantime. We were back home pretty quick but we first stopped at the 99 in Lowell for some buffalo tenders - I needed something like that after seeing Kevin underwater.

We're going to do one more state park adventure before I go back to work next week but this time we're going on Saturday with Lynn. She has to go to the cottage in Hampton to greet another renter so after that I think we'll see Maudslay State Park in Newburyport and Halibut Point in Rockport. I think we're going to have a quiet day home tomorrow, we're all pretty tired.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Back to the future

Growing up in Melrose, I must have taken exit 33 off of Rt. 93 five billion times. In addition, I must have driven on the Fellsway up to Rt. 1 five billion more. Thus, I have driven by the Wright's Tower in Medford and Breakheart Reservation in Saugus a combined total of 10 billion times (give or take a few billion). But, it wasn't until today, at 34 and when I am living 30 miles away in Dracut that I finally gave these two "hidden" gems a look. And the Massachusetts State Parks visits continue.

Wright's Tower is located in the Middlesex Fells Reservation in Medford just above the Roosevelt Circle rotary (where those huge pot holes were on 93 a few weeks ago). My mother suggested I take Kevin up there after telling her how much he loved the tower at Blue Hills. The parking area is right off the highway next to Bellevue Pond (which I am guessing is no longer a pond because there isn't a drop of water in it). The tower is only about a 200 foot hike up and I followed some folks who were also going up. It was a very easy hike (if you even want to call it that) but with Erin strapped in on my stomach in one of those carriers and Kevin wearing flip flops, it was a tad interesting. God love Kevin, he was such a trooper. EVERYTIME we go for a hike of any kind he asks to be carried. Perhaps because I was alone and had Erin on me, he knew he could not ask for a lift. So he trudged on and did so good. He asked to stop a few times to rest and drink some water but we made it to the top in about 10 minutes. Once you're up there you see the Boston skyline, the Tobin Bridge, Medford and Somerville, and the Blue Hills. We then walked to the top of the tower and got some better views. It was pretty neat and Kevin got his Boston fix for the day.

We actually found a much easier way down and stuck up a conversation with a mother walking with her three kids and dogs. She too has been visiting state parks and I suggested she visit my newest loves, Bash Bish and Mt. Greylock. After we got back to our car, we drove over to Spot Pond in Stoneham where we all had lunch on a picnic table looking at the water. We made a little surprise visit to my parents in Melrose and then headed up to Breakheart Reservation in Saugus.

Breakheart was beautiful. They have a brand new visitors center where I was able to get a free poster which was a cartoon map of all the state parks! It's a big map of the state with little cartoon pictures of the parks that participate in the Park Passport program. Essentially you get a passport type book and everytime you visit a park, they have a stamp that you can put into your book. We have a number of these stamps already and Kevin now knows what to do when he sees the stamp box. See here for an example of what the stamps look like (as well as the pictures on the poster I got). I hung the poster up in Kevin's room when we got home and he was thrilled with it. He told Lynn about it the second she got home.

Anyway, we took a walk on the main trail at Breakheart which is about a 2 mile loop. At 1 mile you come upon a playground and a beach. Kevin played at the playground for a bit and then conned me into going to the beach area by saying he wanted to look at something over there. He loves water and just went right in all the way to his shoulders. It was very hard getting him out but we had a mile to go to get back to the car and I knew Erin could lose her patience at anytime. While Kevin was in the water I was talking to the life guard and she pointed out a big cliff called Eagle Rock which overlooks the water. She said many people climb up there and is a great view. I heard about it once before but couldn't remember its name. I was so glad she pointed it out, I'll be checking it out soon.

After many threats, bribes, and pulling, I finally got Kevin on the trail back to the car. Erin fell asleep in her carrier and slept most of the way home (Kevin fell asleep just as we got off the highway). I got a map (not a cartoon one!) of all the state park properties and was mapping out another adventure for us for tomorrow. I flirted with the idea of going to the Cape area but decided against it. So we're going to head west but not as far as the Berkshires this time. We're going first to Purgatory Chasm in Sutton then to Mt. Sugarloaf in South Deerfield and, to make up for making Kevin leave the water today, to Lake Wyola in Shutesbury for some swimming. The final days are coming so I am making the most of it.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

This day in history

Everyday I receive something called Mass Moments via e-mail, a "this day in history" in Massachusetts type thing. Today I was pleasantly surprised to read that it was today in 1838 that Nathaniel Hawthorne visited the Natural Bridge in North Adams. This was one of the state parks that Kevin and I visited last week.

I have discovered that people like Hawthorne, Melville, and Thoreau spent a lot of time in the Berkshires (Melville actually wrote "Moby Dick" in Pittsfield and dedicated another book to Mt. Greylock). I am interested in learning more about these guys so I picked up a book at the library called "American Bloomsbury", a book about Hawthorne, Emerson, Alcott, Thoreau, and Margaret Fuller. An English teacher at my school suggested it. I am going to read it after I finish my current books, "American Colonies" and "A Walk in the Woods." Lots of reading! Don't worry, I am not ignoring my kids. I do most of my reading at the gym, when they're napping, and/or after they've gone to bed at night.

Speaking of "A Walk in the Woods", it has to be the funniest book I've ever read. It's a true story about the author's hike along the Appalachian Trail with his crazy friend Katz. He had previously lived in England for many years and decided to hike the trail to reacquaint himself with the United States. In learning more about Bill Bryson , I am finding that he is one of the most popular authors in the United States. He has written a number of other books, including a biography of Shakespeare, a history of everything, a history of the English language, other travel books, a memoir, etc. How am I just hearing about this guy now? I look forward to reading many more of his books, he is hysterical. For example, in "A Walk in the Woods", when describing a town in Georgia that is similar to the one in "Deliverance" he writes, "...Hiawassee did feel palpably weired and unsettling - the kind of place where it wouldn't altogether surprise you to find your gasoline being pumped by a cyclops."

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Into the woods

I can't really explain it but last week when Kevin and I visited Bash Bish Falls in Mt. Washington, MA, I made a very distinct connection with nature. The beauty of what I saw was just so breathtaking and it made me realize what I have been missing for so many years. How have I missed all these beautiful state parks and sites to see? Certainly I have seen pretty places and awe inspiring places before but Bash Bish changed things somehow. Now I want to camp, I want to explore, I want to see and read all that I can about Massachusetts' environment. When I was at the beach this past week, I just loved walking in the water, watching the sun rise, understanding the symbiosis between our lives and the world. I also happened to catch a show on TV last week about the sun on the Science Channel - it all began to make sense.

As I was watching the sunrise over Hampton Beach on Saturday morning, I was so blown away by the majesty God has created.

After mass this morning I was talking to our friends the Sullivans about our trip to Mt. Greylock and our friend Dave suggested I read "A Walk in the Woods" by Bill Bryson. It's a book about Bryson's trek along the Appalachian Trail (part of which is on Mt. Greylock). I went to the local used bookstore in Nashua with Erin this afternoon and looked and looked and looked. After actually finding a history book I have been searching for for months ("Paul Revere's Ride") I also found Bryson's book! I read a few pages already and cannot wait to dive into it. I also discovered that a book on the history of Mt. Greylock called "Most Excellent Majesty: A History of Mount Greylock" is out there. Luckily the library in Tyngsboro has it so I am going to grab it tomorrow (you can actually read it on-line here but I prefer to have a book in my hand). Speaking of Mt. Greylock, check out this article from Berkshire Living about the mountain. It has some great photos, especially of the new road going up to the mountain.

I'd also like to read about the experience of Emerson et al at Walden Pond and get their take on man and nature. One of my colleagues at school recommended a book but I forgot its title and will find out when I see here again next week. Finally, I am also very intrigued to learn more about the work of the CCC in Massachusetts. The DCR's website has some good resources but I want to know more. Lot to catch up on!

Don't worry, I am not becoming some hippie or liberal who wants to commune with nature! Just being a good steward and admirer of God's creation!

And we're back...

After a few days away, it's nice to be home. On Wednesday afternoon I took the kids up to Hampton Beach for a few days away. My in-laws have a cottage up there and it's usually rented during the summer but this week it was free. Lynn got stuck in some mega traffic coming up from work so she didn't get there until late. After dinner and a stop at the store, I took the kids down to the beach for a little while until it got too dark.

On Thursday morning Lynn took Kevin down to the beach early as high tide was coming in late morning. She then had to go to work so I took over but we could only stay until 11am or so before the beach was gone. After lunch we took a ride to Portsmouth but both kids passed out so I just took a ride into Maine on Rt. 1. After we got home we headed back to the beach for a little bit. Lynn worked 1pm-9pm on Friday so she was able to take the kids down to the beach for a while on Friday morning (she let me stay at the cottage having some "free time"). I went down after about an hour and spent the morning on the beach.

Now I thought I lost my debit card the day before and cancelled it with the bank (of course I found it about 2 hours later). So without any way to get money locally, we took a ride to the closest Eastern Bank which was in Newburyport to withdraw money from a teller (I felt so 1989). While there I saw signs for "Historic Downtown Newburyport" or something like that so I thought we'd take a ride. It was absolutely beautiful! There are tons of bricked stores, a beautifully kept downtown, decks to walk along the water, etc. I loved it. We just walked around and checked out some bookstores and a toy store - Kevin and I were both in heaven! We stopped for gelato and ate it in this circular brick area in downtown. I said to Kevin, "Man, this is the life, huh?" "Yeah, this is the life" he said. We left around 4:30 and after another trip to the beach I got both kids to bed early this night and enjoyed a buffalo chicken calzone!

In all the years I've been going to the beach with Lynn and her family I've always wanted to watch the sunrise over the Atlantic Ocean. But my enthusiasm wanes as I think about getting up at 5am or so. But on Saturday I happened to wake up a little after 5am and sunrise was at 5:47am so I thought I'd go for it. I was all alone on the beach and watched as the horizon got brighter and brighter and then all of sudden, there it was! The sun popped its little head up and just came up more and more. It was bright orange and quite beautiful. I just said, "Oh wow." It was wonderful. I then took a walk down the street to one of the only businesses in the area, a coffee shop called JB's. I bought the paper ($1.50 for the Globe!) and enjoyed some coffee and a sandwich on their couches. By the time I got back to the cottage everyone was up and we went back to the beach one last time. I left for home with Erin around noon and Lynn and Kevin left about an hour later.

As I mentioned last week, Mt. Greylock, the highest point in Massachusetts, was having a Public Star Party last night. Lynn was hesitant to go at first but decided that she did indeed want to go after all! We packed the kids up and headed west around 4pm and got to the mountain a little after 7pm (there was a ton of traffic near Rt. 84 on the Mass Pike so were delayed a bit. The ride up the mountain was wonderful - I thought it was going to be some rickety road along the edge of the mountain but it was a well paved road in the interior of the mountain with marked lanes and rustic but nice looking wooded guard rails. I guess the road was closed for two years while they made major improvements to it - it was worth it (see a story on that here). The ride from the bottom to the summit is 8 miles long. We parked in the parking lot and then headed to the tower that was built in the 1930's by the CCC. The tower has a light at the top that is always lit at night and the entire tower is dedicated to those men and women who died in wars. You can walk to the top of the tower but it was a spiral staircase and me being afraid of heights was terrified, especially being with the kids. At the top, the area was pretty small to walk around and I was always afraid I was going to drop Erin down the stairs! I couldn't really enjoy the view and wanted to leave quickly. Lynn carried Erin down and I walked in front of Kevin. He was fine but I was a nervous wreck. Once we got to the bottom of the spiral stairs and at the regular stairs, I was OK but sweaty!

We then walked around the summit, watching the sunset (I saw the sunrise from the lowest point in New Hampshire and saw it set from the highest point in Massachusetts). On the eastern end of the summit, you overlook the town of Adams - was a nice view. As it got dark the guys started setting up their telescopes and we got to see awesome views of Venus and the moon. Unfortunately Kevin was cold and tired and we could not stay long. I laid on the ground looking at the stars and loved it. I think if we stayed longer and waited for it to get even darker we could have seen a lot more amazing sights but with two kids that was impossible. We made our way down the mountain around 9:30 and the kids were fast asleep. We got home around 12:30 after some stops for coffee in Pittsfield and then some cheeseburgers at McDonald's at a Pike rest area. I was so tired the last leg of the drive but made it home fine.

We LOVED Mt. Greylock and want to go back again in the fall and spend more time there. You must check it out, it's a wonderful and beautiful spot. Those of you who are friends with me on Facebook can check out pictures later today.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Back to reality

Classes start two weeks from tomorrow and teachers report back two weeks from yesterday. So, I've started doing some work to get ready. I've been setting up my class pages on our school web portal, updating syllabi, etc. I just received word today that my syllabus for the AP Comparative Government and Politics class was approved by the College Board. This will be the third AP class I teach and each time I've submitted a syllabus for approval, it's gotten approved on the first try. Phew.

With summer fast coming to an end, I am taking the kids up to Hampton Beach for the rest of the week. This is the last time my in-law's cottages will not be rented this summer so I want to take advantage of the opportunity. Lynn is going to come too but she's still going to work tomorrow and Friday. I am doing laundry and dishes now and then going to pack up. After Kevin takes a nap we're going to head up. We'll be back on Saturday afternoon so have a good few days.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

No mas

First Lady Michelle Obama is being beat up pretty bad in the media for her ultra-lavish vacation to Spain (on the heels of the Obama's vacation to Maine and their upcoming vacation to Florida and Martha's Vineyard).

Now it comes out that Mrs. Obama went to Spain with a friend whose father just died and she wanted to spend time with her since she could not attend the funeral. Now, with all due respect to Mrs. Obama's friend, when the parents of friends or relatives of mine (and millions of other Americans) have died, I didn't have to accompany them on a ritzy vacation to help them deal with their loss.

This is just another case of the Obama's being completely and utterly out of touch with reality.

Monday, August 9, 2010

What a day

Kevin and I had an amazing day yesterday in the Berkshires. Those of you who are friends with me on Facebook can see pictures sometime today. I am not the best photographer but you'll get a good sense of the trip.

I was up early on Sunday (6:30am) and was able to shower, eat breakfast, read the paper, and watch something on my DVR ("European Journal") before Kevin woke up at 7:30. I packed everything up on Saturday night so all I had to do was get Kevin dressed and we were off. After a quick stop at the bank and Tops Donuts in Lowell, we were on the road by 8am. Since we were hitting North Adams first, I took Rt. 2 (aka the Mohawk Trail). We stopped to use the bathroom in Greenfield and pulled over to see some sights from look out posts in Florida (yep, there is a Florida, MA) and at the Hairpin Turn in North Adams (see a video of the turn here, it's not mine, I just found it on You Tube).

From there we hit our first state park - Natural Bridge in North Adams. The park is an old marble quarry that went out of business in 1947 and the land was later bought by the state. The highlights are a beautiful white marble waterfall and then the natural bridge/arch of white marble (the only one in the world). The bridge is small and it ends at a cliff. There is fence all around so you can run up it, it was pretty neat. There are also series of stairs down into the chasm to see the area from different views.

After a clean-up of Kevin (mega poop) we were off to the second state park - Western Gateway Heritage State Park, also in North Adams. It's an old freightyard that now houses the park, restaurants, shops, etc. The state park is really a museum showing the growth of North Adams, especially because of the Hoosac Tunnel. Kevin loved it because there was a model railroad and some other train exhibits. We started watching a movie on the building of the Hoosac Tunnel (something I know nothing about) but Kevin only let me watch some of it before he wanted to move on. Kevin really loved this place and even after we ate lunch outside, he wanted to go back. On our way back to the car we noticed the North Adams Historical Society was open so we went in. It was a hodgepodge of historical artifacts from the history of North Adams. They did have some play areas and a model railroad so Kevin was loving it - I had to force him to leave. It was pretty neat actually, I learned a lot.

Then it was off to the main event - Bash Bish Falls State Park in Mt. Washington. It was an hour or so ride south from North Adams. I was impressed with some towns as we drove along, especially Adams and Great Barrington. As we got closer to the park, the road get very lonely, desolate, and turned into dirt!. I was certain that we would be the only ones there. After some missed turns and uncertainty I all of a sudden came across the parking lot - and we were not alone! There were tons of cars there and people milling around, I couldn't believe it. For such a remote area, this was a popular place. To get to the falls, you have to hike down and there are a number of trails you can take. I could have driven a little ways down the street to another parking lot for an easier trail (it's actually in New York) but I took the one I was at. It was a steep hike down (especially since I was holding Kevin the whole way) and I could hear people at the falls as I was making my way down. I read somewhere that once you got to the falls it was like seeing Eden - I know what the person meant. Bash Bish Falls are a majestic sight. There is a 60-foot drop of water falls down into a beautiful pool and then down into a ravine. The whole area is surrounded by rocks you can climb on and it was just beautiful. There were dozens of people there, swimming, sunbathing, etc. (you're not supposed to swim and the DCR guy was keeping a close eye on people in the water).

Kevin and I stayed here for a bit. Kevin desperately wanted to go into the water and he was not afraid of walking around on the rocks. I struck up a conversation with a family who lives in the area and they suggested a different hike back to my car (and a different route back to the Pike). The hike back up would have been hell and they suggested I take a service road that cars use up to the main road and then walk back to the parking lot. It was much easier but still steep. I had to stop a number of times to rest as the incline and carrying Kevin was a lot to handle. We got back to the car around 5pm and then headed into New York (2 minutes down the road) and took a ride. I decided to stop for dinner at a local place in Hillsdale, NY. After dinner we stopped for ice cream in downtown Stockbridge at the Stockbridge General Store (Norman Rockwell's first studio was on the second floor). We ate across from the street on a bench, a wonderful way to end the day.

We jumped on the Mass Pike and were back home around 9:30 or so. A very pleasant and memorable day!

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Mt. Greylock

The highest point in the state of Massachusetts is Mt. Greylock (located in the Berkshires). When Lynn and I first started dating in 2003 we took a ride out there one Sunday in October but it was snowing and there was so much fog you could not see a thing. We drove up the mountain a little bit but soon left after we realized we would not see anything other than clouds.

Fast forward to today and my new obsession with Massachusetts State Parks. I discovered that next Saturday night, there will be a Public Star Party on top of Mt. Greylock. According to the website:

You will be able to observe the ringed majesty Saturn, galaxies, open star clusters, “diamonds on black velvet “ globular star clusters, whispy nebula, double stars, colored stars, Neptune, Uranus, and much more through our telescopes.

I don't know what half of that means but it sounds pretty freakin damn cool. I also found out that there is a tower on top of Mt. Greylock called the Massachusetts Veterans War Memorial Tower (which was built by the CCC, the same group that built the tower on top of Blue Hills where we went last weekend). Not only that, they also have a lodge up there (also built by the CCC) where you can stay.
How cool would it be to go out there next Saturday, climb the tower at dusk, star gaze (the picture in this post is from the night sky there with the tower in the foreground), spend the night in a rustic old lodge, and then have breakfast in their little dining room? My head is going to explode with excitement! But alas, Lynn does not share my enthusiasm. "That wouldn't interest me" she said. Aaaaaaaaaaaaaa.

We shall see. I think Kevin would love it - mountain, tower, stars, looking through telescopes, sleeping in a cabin like place. Man how awesome would that be?!?




Fun in the sun

As the days of summer vacation quickly come to an end, I am trying to make the most of my time left being home with the kids. I must confess - usually I am counting down the days to go back to work but this summer I am loving being home with Kevin and Erin. Perhaps it's because I am busier having another kid to take care of but also, I am doing more. In previous summers, I would usually just take Kevin to the playground in the morning and then come home for lunch and put him down for a nap so I could watch some Ken Burns' movie or other documentary. After he woke up, I would just let him play and wait for Lynn to get home. We would go somewhere special maybe once a week.

Now, I have discovered more places to go and am more of a "pro" at packing up and going out with two kids. I also felt that I just had to stay in the Merrimack Valley but now I have no "fear" about going into Boston. I think that by the time summer is over, we will have been in Boston close to ten times, if not more. Kevin is older too so he can do more and appreciate more.

Now we usually go to the gym in the morning (they have babysitting there), come back and feed Erin and then head out somewhere. On Wednesday it was Walden Pond (which I loved) and yesterday it was Salisbury Beach. Today Lynn is already up at Hampton Beach with the kids and I am going to go up pretty soon for the day too. Kevin and I are going to leave tonight and come home and then head out to the Berkshires early tomorrow to check out some state parks. Over the last couple of weeks, we're going to visit places like the Aquarium, the Discovery Museum in Acton, ferry trip from Boston to Provincetown, the Charles River Esplanade, other state parks, etc.

Carpe Diem, that's what I think. Life is too short, enjoy it. You can sleep when you're dead (and any other cliche you can think of!).

What liberal media?

Check out this headline from the AP:

Franken apologizes for irritating GOP leader

Now, at first look it sounds like Sen. Al Franken was just getting on the nerves of some fuddy old Republican who was "irritated." But in reality, Franken was presiding over the Senate during the debate over the confirmation of now Justice Elena Kagan and was making audible noises and gestures while Sen. Mitch McConnell spoke. This is a major breach of decorum and Franken was acting like an immature high school student. McConnell got the best line in though. After he spoke, he went up to Franken and said, "This isn't Saturday Night Live, Al."

But, as the AP sees it, it was just "irritating."

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Shipping out to Boston...College High School

I've been thinking a lot lately about my alma mater, BC High, and decided to take a ride down there this morning. The school is very different from when I graduated in 1994. For most of its history BC High had four buildings, all free standing except for Cushing and Walsh Halls which were connected by a breezeway. The other buildings, McElroy and Loyola Halls, were separate. About 5 or 6 years ago, they built a huge building in between McElory, Cushing, and Loyola to connect them all. I've been there once since they've done this but today was the first time I got to walk around and go upstairs. They've also added a junior high and Walsh Hall, which was the science building when I was there, now houses the 7th and 8th graders.

It's pretty neat what they've done there, it seems like a college campus rather than a high school. They have a very nice bookstore where I picked up a hooded sweatshirt for Kevin (he looks so darn cute in it), and a hooded sweatshirt and t-shirt for me (all on clearance). We stayed for about 30 minutes or so and then took a ride over to Castle Island. After lunch (which consisted of Kevin just eating a hot dog bun) Kevin took a dip in the ocean. He didn't have a bathing suit on so he got soaked through. Oh well. We then played on the playground for a bit and then headed back. I had to take the Mass Pike to 128 as 93 has a huge pot hole in it which caused a mega back up.

My friend Andrew Nelson spent his summer at St. Louis Parish in Nashua and one of the sisters who serves there is taking her citizenship test on Friday (she hails from Mexico). Andrew asked if I could help him tutor her so I took the kids up there after we got home from Boston. The good sister didn't need our help - she knew all the answers to the questions so she'll be fine.

Tomorrow I have to go to school for a meeting so nothing exciting there. But I am excited about the weekend. I think I am going to take the kids to Salisbury Beach on Friday and Saturday we're all headed to Hampton Beach for the day. Lynn and Erin are going to spend the night as renters are coming in on Sunday morning. Kevin and I will head home on Saturday night as on Sunday, I am going to take him out to the Berkshires to check out three state parks - Natural Bridge State Park, Western Gateway Heritage State Park (both in North Adams) and Bash Bish Falls State Park in Mt. Washington (not that Mt. Washington, this is some small town in the far southwestern part of Massachusetts). Lynn doesn't love the Berkshires like I do so it will be a father-son day. I planned on just going to the Western Gateway and Bash Bish Falls but discovered the Natural Bridge State Park and it looked pretty cool. I figured we'd be in the area so what's one more park? Bash Bish is about 50 miles from North Adams but I guess it has the nicest waterfall in the state and Kevin loves waterfalls.

Trying to make the most of the last 3 weeks so it should be fun!

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Must...Be...Nice

Yesterday's Lowell Sun revealed a perk that the Town of Billerica gives its employees. If they inform the town that they plan to retire with one-year notice, they get a 15% bonus! I guess it does get people to retire early but this is just another example of out of control benefits in the public sector that are unthinkable in the private sector.

The impetus of the article was the impending retirement of the library director in Billerica, Barbara Flaherty (no relation). Flaherty gave one-year notice and will get a bonus of $13,200. The most outrageous part? Flaherty is 58 years old! At the age of 58, she will retire with a nice bonus, sick pay payout (I am guessing), a pension, and health insurance for life. Where else is this possible but the government?

Ask me again if we need a tax hike.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Who cares?

Did you care that Chelsea Clinton got married on Saturday? Best wishes to her but really, who cares? Apparently the sycophants in the media felt it was something magical as they have had tons of coverage of the wedding. I've been going to the gym in the morning lately and the morning shows are on on the TV's. All of these shows were in the town in which the wedding was taking place covering it like it was some royal wedding. Do you recall the same type of coverage when Jenna Bush, the daughter of a sitting president, got married? Me neither.

Anyway, Newsbusters points out that some celebrity reporter was on "Good Morning America" today and was saying how America "needed" this wedding because of the bad economy and what not. What freakin planet are these people living on? WE DON'T CARE! If I need a picker-upper, I will not be calling on the Clinton's for help, believe me.

Over at CBS, Harry Smith asked, "Why are we so entranced by [the wedding], do you think?" I assume the "we" is the media as I bet no one outside of the media was entranced by this. If you find me someone who was "entranced" by the wedding of Chelsea Clinton, I'd like to talk to them. I am guessing anyone who was "entranced" is the same kind of vapid, brainless drone who frets over celebrity goings-on and who has serious debates over things like whether or not Lindsay Lohan was let out of prison too soon.

Weekend fun

Jam packed weekend this past couple of days. On Saturday, Lynn and Kevin went up to Hampton Beach to get the cottage ready for a new renter and to play at the beach. Erin and I stayed home and went to the gym the farmer's market here in Dracut. Around 1:00 we headed down to my parent's house in Melrose for a birthday party for Lynn and my aunt Joanie (Lynn and Kevin came directly from the beach). It was a full house - people from my family and Lynn's and there were lots of kids running around. The party was a lot of fun and people hung around for a good while. I helped clean up so we didn't leave until 8:30 or so.

Yesterday we took the kids to separate masses (I took Erin to the 10am at Saint Francis in Dracut, Lynn took Kevin to the 10:30 at St. Kathryn's in Hudson). Lynn said Kevin was very good and he may be turning the corner for behaving at mass. After mass and some lunch we took a ride down to the Blue Hills Reservation in Milton for a little "hike." I was at the Blue Hills once before when I was in high school but I didn't remember much about it. They have a little "zoo" there with birds, a deer, turtles, and a river otter. The "hike" was pretty easy with the exception of the final trek which was rocky and a little steep. But it was very easy to walk it. The reward was great - at the top is a tower that you can lookout and get an amazing view of Boston. I guess the Great Blue Hill is the highest point in the area so the views are fantastic. Kevin loves Boston and was so thrilled to see it. He went back up the tower 2 more times to "see Boston." We took a different trail down and were back at the bottom in 20 minutes or so.

After that we headed to Doyle's in Jamaica Plain for dinner. We were going to go to Santarpio's in East Boston but it would have been a little bit of a ride and Doyle's was right there. Doyle's is one of my favorite restaurants in Boston - they have good food and political memorabilia all over the walls. The service was pretty slow initially as there was only one waitress for our section but Kevin stayed very patient. We decided to get their sweet potato fires and pizza (one small, one large) and there was a ton left over (there's lunch). Sooo good.

The final countdown for summer vacation has kind of begun. I go back to work 3 weeks from tomorrow - I hope to make the most of the final few weeks. Kevin, like I said, loves Boston so we're going to go in there some more. We'll probably check out more state parks too - want to enjoy the outdoors!