Monthly Archives: September 2014

By Eliza

Boston was cool. In 8th grade social studies, you really learn a lot about the Revolution and so it was fascinating to see all the famous sites of historical events that helped shape our country.  We saw the Boston Harbor where they dumped the tea and the site of the Boston Massacre. The cemeteries were amazing in that the dates of death were from the 1700s!  It was really hot and humid though.

At Cape Cod, we got to see a few beautiful sunsets and being at the beach is always a good time.

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New York City has definitely been my favorite part of the trip. I planned out the whole week (: Although before we got there, I didn’t really know what to expect and I didn’t have high expectations. Seeing the skyline at night was incredible!

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The first thing we did when we got off the ferry was walk to the Empire State Building. It was an amazing view and a great way to start out the week. We ate lunch at a deli and had the best sandwiches ever, way better than Subway, haha. Then we did a little bit of shopping before taking the Circle Line Cruise. It was kind of cold, but it was another great view of the city from a different perspective.

On Saturday, I got to see Haley at Grand Central Station for lunch. It was so nice to see her; it had been almost 7 months since I got to see others in Arizona. Then we walked Fifth Avenue and through Central Park to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I found that art quite boring though…

On Sunday, we met Mommy’s friend Nancy and her family and walked around the city and went to lunch. Then we went to the Museum of Modern Art, which I liked much more than the Met.

On Monday, we not only got to tour  the Statue of Liberty but we were able to go up in the crown. It was super cool to look out, although it was very cramped with so many people up there at the same time. We learned about the significance of the statue and the history of Ellis Island. For lunch, we had authentic New York style pizza; it was huge, thin, and so greasy but not “gross”. I’m never going to have better pizza in my life. Then we went to the Museum of Natural History briefly.

On Tuesday, we walked across the Brooklyn Bridge and rode the subway to Coney Island, it wasn’t as cool as I thought it would be, but it was a really nice, sunny day.

Only Mommy and I went into the city on Wednesday. It was my favorite day (: First we went to Rockefeller Plaza to go up to the Top of The Rock. The view wasn’t as good as the Empire State, but still was wonderful. Next we walked almost a mile to get to an authentic New York City bagel shop. I had the best bagel ever, even better than the ones from Costco or Tim Horton’s, haha. Then we got to go to one of my favorite stores, Forever 21. After that, we walked back to the Gershwin Theater. Wicked was fantastic! I wish I knew the backstory of Elphaba before I watched last seasons of Once Upon A Time. Their voices were amazing! We got to do a little more shopping at Macys, too, and apparently I’m short enough that I cannot be seen over the top of the racks… Then we spent the rest of the time just sitting in Times Square, just taking everything in before we had to leave. While walking back, I had the best ice cream of my life from one of the many ice cream trucks; it was a big vanilla soft serve ice cream on a weird double cone thing coated in a hard cherry topping, topped with rainbow sprinkles! It was a perfect ending to a perfect week.

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In Philadelphia, we got to see Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell. Both are smaller than I thought they would be. It’s hard to believe that the Declaration of Independence was signed there. We got sandwiches from a food truck which were really good, too.

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Day 255, Harper’s Ferry

This was a day that Dan had been looking forward to, and it turned out to be a pretty cool area.

We got up early to get to the visitor center early – only to find that it opened at 9 a.m., not 8 a.m. as the website said.  Dang.  Our campground was crowded, so we knew it would be a crowded day and wanted to get a jump start before the heat and humidity got too bad.

We changed our plans a little and drove to the Bolivar Hill Overlook.  Turned out to be a better way to understand all the fighting here.  The hill overlooked the little town of Harper’s Ferry, where the Shenandoah and Potomac rivers meet.  The Confederates and Union forces had been occupying the town since the start of the war – it changed hands 6 times.  The battle we read about was a Confederate victory. They wanted the area so they could cut off the supply lines for the Union.

Prior to this battle, John Brown notoriously attempted to blow up the famous fort. The fort is still there, and has been moved 4 times so that tourists can see it.IMG_9972This is it.  Not very big.

John Brown and his friends wanted to blow it up because there was so much ammunition inside it, and they didn’t want the Confederates to be able to use it.  He was an outspoken opponent of slavery.  On the day in question, they holed themselves up in the fort, and townspeople were trying to get them out peacefully.  One of the guys inside shot a man outside, and he later died.  When they caught John Brown after the mini-battle, he was tried for the man’s murder, and later hanged.

The little town was cute, and had anything been open, we would have enjoyed looking in the old-fashioned stores.  As it was, we hiked up to the church and found it locked.  First one we’ve found locked.  Dan kept going up to a rock outcropping and got some good pictures of the town and rivers.  Beautiful.  The kids and I stayed at the church because I’d twisted my right foot again and couldn’t put weight on it.  Dang.

Then we all walked down to the river, and over the bridge into Maryland.  It is part of the Appalachian Trail system, so now we can say we hiked a little of it!  The views were amazing.  The old bridges out of stone were huge and we could see how they could carry the load.  Unfortunately, they were some of the first things demolished in the war.

IMG_9974Here’s where the Potomac  (left) and the Shenandoah rivers come together to become the Potomac that flows past Washington, D.C.  This picture doesn’t do it justice!

After a little more history, we headed back to the rig for more pool time, an incredible chicken artichoke green spinach pasta dinner, and a nice quiet evening listening to Nate yell at the tv while the Seahawks played the Packers.  Man, I love our life.

Day 254, Drive to campground near Harper’s Ferry

We got up early and did school for a few hours before hitting the road.  We have both kids doing a “20 minute math” page first, and it’s really working well.  Gets their brains going and gives them a sense of accomplishment right off.  (Oh, yes, I’m sure that’s what they’d say!)  I read so much about homeschooling for this trip; it’s changed since we did it in 2009.  Also, we wanted to use real books so we wouldn’t have to mess with Wifi.  Some of the sites I found books on wouldn’t sell to me because I wasn’t a teacher.  Really?!  And another site wouldn’t sell me the answer book, so Dan’s having to do Biology with Eliza.  Good for both their brains!

Everyone got around, Dan got the rig all ready, and we hit the road.  I wrote down the mileage and was astonished to figure out that we’ve driven 11,597 miles!  Wow!  That’s crazy!  No wonder I’ve taken 3,000 pictures!  We’ve seen so much!  We average about 45 miles an hour, so that’s almost 260 hours of windshield time.  All I can say again is “wow!”

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This is typical of the highway pictures I take.  I love seeing the clouds, green on the sides, and no traffic in front of us!  Dan likes the rolling hills, but prefers to see farmland, too.

It was an easy drive day, only 90 minutes, so after we got all set up we went to the pool.  It was nice and big, but a little too warm to swim hard laps.  We played for awhile, then headed back to the rig for more school and mini-frittatas.  Great day!

Day 252, Gettysburg, PA

This is one day I will never forget.  I hope it’s the same for the kids.  Not only do I finally understand the Battle of Gettysburg, but I was blown away by the professional manner in which the visitor center treated this horrible battle.  I know there are many people who have hobbies surrounding this battle, and now I understand why.

We were up early, so got to see the mist rising over the hills of Pennsylvania as we drove to the park.  Very erie, and we could picture the troops camped all over the 23,000 acres.  The visitor center was created with private funds, and after a few years of turning a profit, it was turned over to the Park Service to run.  (I wanted to ask if it was still operating in the black, but didn’t!)  It’s the biggest museum we’ve been to, and we could have spent 2-3 days exploring just the inside, but we were itching to get on our bus tour and see the outside.

It was $144 for the 4 of us.  We hadn’t planned on it, but once we saw how huge the park was, we signed up. It was  3 hours of non-stop history and even the kids weren’t bored.   When we sat down in the movie theatre (a multi-media presentation worth the ticket price itself) before the tour, I thought, “uh-oh, here we go for the fall, the kids will be the only kids around”, and I was right.  It was after Labor Day, so most kids were back in school.  I don’t know if it’s because the kids are so cute (oh, I’ll pay for that) or just because they aren’t in school, but they attract a lot of attention when we are out and about.  Because we’d had all summer with other tourists around, we’d forgotten what it was like.  The tour guide called on them a few times, but they were good sports about it.

After the movie, we went upstairs to see the cyclorama.  We didn’t know that’s what we were doing, we just walked where the employee told us to go!  So funny, you get into the cattle mentality so easily.  Up the escalator we went to the top of the round building.  I was wondering why it was round, and we found out.  There was a huge painting, 42′ high by 377′ around, depicting the Pickett’s Charge battle.  It took my breath away it was so well done.  The painter was Paul Dominique Philippoteaux, and you can look it up online.  There were four done, and this was one restored just for this visitor center.  They dimmed the lights, turned the story on, and we saw the charge unfold before our eyes.  The picture below is just a small portion of the painting.

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This tiny picture doesn’t do it justice.  You have to look it up online!

We  went down a few floors and went through part of the museum before it was time for the bus tour.  I wanted to type “the corny bus tour” because they usually are, but not this one.  I am so proud of us for taking a chance on it.

Our guide explained how it started, and then took us to the first battle.  I kept thinking, “if only”:  if only the Union leader hadn’t been on his horse and gotten shot in the first few minutes, the battle could have been over under his leadership; if only the silly congressman hadn’t led his Union troops out into the open, we wouldn’t have lost more men; if only General Lee would have listened to his 3 commanders, they wouldn’t have started Pickett’s Charge.  I heard the men in our group saying the same things to each other.  Yes, hindsight is easy, but we heard how all the pieces came together for this horrendous battle and I couldn’t help but wish “if only it all hadn’t happened.”  3 days of battle, whew.

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The picture above was taken on Little Round Top, with Devil’s Den behind Eliza.  We got off here during the bus tour so he could show us how important this hill was to Union forces.  It had a perfect 360 degree view of the surrounding countryside, and they knew how vital it was to keep it.  Unfortunately, when the congressman went out with his troops, he left it exposed.  To our left, a Union leader happened to be up on a rock outcropping and saw the Confederates coming around behind the congressman’s men, heading straight for the hill.  He was able to send a runner for the Union troops on the other side of the hill, and they came up and battled for the hill.  The Union prevailed, but it was a bloody fight.  They had even pushed cannons UP the other side of the hill.  And when you see how huge the cannon and the cannon balls were, you understand how strong they were.

The next day, General Lee had his men fight the battle now known as Pickett’s Charge.  The museum pointed out that Pickett was against General Lee’s idea, but it is still named for him.  All 3 of his lead commanders didn’t want this battle, and we can understand why.  Lee had his 15,000 troops line up by platoons and their cannons, and they came out of the woods, across a huge field, toward the base of Little Round Top.  It was a mile.  It was hot.  They were loaded down with ammunition.  They quickly walked the first half mile, double-timed the next 1/4 mile, and ran in full charge the last hundred yards.  Right into Union forces.

General Lee thought it would be a success because their 15,000 men far outnumbered the Union soldiers and he didn’t know Washington was sending reinforcements.  Lee was quoted in the museum as admitting to another man during the battle that it wasn’t a good idea, and to help him figure a way out, but we don’t know if that’s true or not.  I kept thinking that I would have been so scared, I would have wanted to turn and run away, and then I read numerous quotes from the soldiers – all stating that they couldn’t be a coward, not when their neighbor, friend or brother was right next to them.  That they had to keep fighting until the Union won, no matter the sacrifice.  Wow.

The battle lasted the full 3 days, and then General Lee beat a slow retreat.  It was raining hard and the going was not easy.  General Washington had some of his men follow, but they didn’t attack.  Lee had wanted this important area, but he hadn’t gotten it. The Union had a victory, but it must have felt hollow.  There were 51,000 casualties, 20 times the population of the little town of Gettysburg.  The townspeople were overwhelmed with the dead and dying. They were left to bury them and tend to them.  Only one townsperson died during the battle; she was standing in her sister’s kitchen when a bullet came through 2 walls and hit her in the back.  Many people left their farms for good because they had been ruined by the battle.  The way they described the smell of the dead horses made me not want to eat lunch.

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This picture is called “Faces of Battle” and the museum worked hard to get pictures of all the men.  This is a small portion of the wall.  The rest of the museum was done just as well and I highly recommend it to everyone.  I don’t like war.  I don’t like reading about war.  I don’t like the old men who send younger men to war.  This museum, however, was excellent.

We went to the cemetery next, and saw where Lincoln stood and made his Gettysburg Address.  He was ridiculed at the time for it’s brevity, because the main speaker had gone on and on for two hours.  The cemetery itself was created by the townspeople as a way to honor the many men who had died.  It was a peaceful, somber area and I really liked the sign that said, “Silence and Respect.”  They earned it.

Day 250, Valley Forge

We had one heck of a time finding our way into this park.  It’s huge, spread out over many roads, and there was never a sign directing us to the visitor’s center.  Of course, Google Maps wanted to send us to the local casino!  We were only 14 miles from our campground, but drove 37 miles before we stumbled upon it – built into the side of a hill.  Grr.

I will have to say the extra mileage was worth it.  I remembered Valley Forge as being the place where the Union camped for the winter of 1777-78,  but it was so much more.  General George Washington chose it because it was close enough to Philly to keep on eye on the British, but far enough away to “be safe.”  It was spread over hills, with a main valley, so they were able to fortify their position.  (They were never attacked.)

The living conditions were deplorable, and over 2,000 people died.  They didn’t have enough warm clothing or food, and it was not sanitary.  Disease was so rampant that Washington made them move across the road in the spring.  He was there that winter, as was his wife Martha.  They referenced a few other “camp followers” – families and slaves – who did the main cooking.

It is considered a turning point for the Union because a general from France, Von Baron, came and taught the Union how to fight.  He had years of experience, and trained the men on how to fight hand to hand, and with heavy cannons and artillery.  When spring came, they were ready to fight and won the battle of Yorktown.  They finally had the confidence that Washington sought, and he’s quoted numerous times as saying that the winter made all the difference.

The visitor center was good, but not spectacular.  They did have an interesting computer program that showed the “roll call” of who camped there in 1777-78, and there were 9 Watermans.  I didn’t have time to look up other names because people were in line behind me!  The gift shop was as big as the museum area.  The movie was well done, so we were glad we’d persevered in finding the visitor center.

As we drove out of the park, we pulled into the beautiful Epsicopal Church.  It had tons of stained glass, huge stone walls, a bell carillon to rival any large church, and a sweet sanctuary.   The history of the building was described in detail through the flags and plaques on the walls.  It was amazing!  Love finding places like this. Wish we’d had more time.  The bell below is a reproduction of the Liberty Bell – each state has one.

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Day 249, Hershey, PA

Okay, today was a waste of good gas, but we never would have known that if we didn’t go…! We got up early and drove the two hours to the Hershey factory in the town of the same name. Everything in the town is named something chocolate related – even the schools.

With dismay, we drove into the huge parking lot that was already half full. What were all these people doing here so early? We knew there was an amusement park next to the factory, but had no idea it would be this crowded. Oh, wait, we finally figured it out – it’s the Friday before Labor Day – what are we doing here?!!!! We know better than to go anywhere on these 4 days!

We clomped along with 100 other people in a pack to the factory and Eliza led us to where the tour started. We had looked Hershey up years before and had it on our list of places to see. We really wanted to see how they make chocolate

An employee directed us onto a moving floor onto a ride that was big enough for 4 of us. I was laughing already and when I glanced at the other 3, I could see they were disgusted. This was not what we expected and I was delighted. For the next 15 minutes we rode and watched short film clips, saw a mock up of how chocolate was made, and were serenaded by singing cows. That part was hilarious. It was like a 15 minute commercial!  Again, not what we expected.

The end of the tour drops you into the gift shop, of course, and it was the biggest we’ve seen yet. You name it, you could buy it with a Hershey name on it. They were already set for Halloween. There were stacks and stacks of candy everywhere we looked and people were buying in what looked like a frenzied manner!

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As I told Uncle Bob later, it wasn’t as good as the Jelly Belly tour we had done together, because we didn’t learn one thing. It did smell nice! And if we hadn’t made the drive, we would have felt like we missed something we had really wanted to see. We are trying to not have any regrets on this trip.

It was noon when we came out into the sunshine, and as we were in Amish country, we looked for a good place to eat lunch. We found Yoder’s Pennsylvania Dutch Buffet and our only regret is that our stomachs couldn’t hold more. Nate was in heaven! His first plate was full of meat and potatoes and bread and I took a picture for Grandma Helen – she would be proud.

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I didn’t take a picture of Dan’s lunch because it was already half gone by the time I took this pic.  And Eliza was moving too fast on her plates of mashed potato’s!

The drive home would have been better chauffeured, because we all wanted to take naps. We got home and did just that. Not the day we expected, but the gas was worth it for the lunch!

Day 248, University of Delaware

Go Fighting Blue Hens!  I am so glad Maureen and Nancy both talked Dan into driving down to University of Delaware! I could not convince him, but they did, thank you both very much!

It was only 44 miles down back roads from our campsite, and I was going to take the kids on my own if Dan wanted a day off. He reconsidered, so we all piled in.  The drive was beautiful!  Green, our favorite.

We happened to drive right by my old dorm area, and I recognized it, so we pulled in. They have replaced our ugly, concrete dorm with 4 beautiful high rises. Of course! I leave and they build nice rooms! I bet they even get hot water! I took a few pictures, reminisced about the excellent stromboli Linda and I ate, and we went to find the visitor center. It was new, too, of course, and not exactly where I left it 30 years before.

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We walked around the campus for a couple hours, and I couldn’t talk either of the kids into coming to college here. It just wasn’t doing anything for either of them, and the fact that I kept telling them silly stories probably didn’t help. I had one of the best years of my life at this school. Harder than OSU by leaps and bounds; I enjoyed the challenge. Linda and I travelled all but one weekend while we were here. I made 3 friends who I am still in touch with, and who have made my life so much richer by knowing them. I was so happy here.

Day 247, Pottstown, PA

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We decided to do school in a library today, like we were doing last year, but wow, oh wow, what a difference. The library was in an old building, and we ended up in the basement children’s area in what we thought would be a quiet corner. Not quite, so we moved again. Not quite, so we decided to only stay for a couple hours and finish school later in the rig.  You can tell by their faces that it wasn’t an ideal working situation.

The library was crowded, but we could tell it was a low-income area, and the library was filling many locals needs. Isn’t that what they are for?

Nate was happy, though, because leaving early meant we had time to go to the Verizon store and get him his new iPhone.  Yes, 13 years old and has a new iPhone.  It was a free upgrade for him, or there’s no way we would have allowed it!  He’s had to deal with his old iPod never getting cellular coverage as we’ve travelled so far, so this will be nice.  Wifi has really been the hardest part of the trip.  Finding it, keeping it connected, all the RV parks that say they have it and don’t.  It’s amazing how much we rely on it.

Day 246, Philadelphia, PA

We knew it was going to be a tough day for walking around outside when we were already sluggish at 8 a.m. – it was 94 degrees! Couldn’t tell the humidity, but it was high enough that our clothes were wet.

The 50 mile drive into Philly was pretty; trees on both sides of the road and little traffic. We easily found a parking lot and walked the 4 blocks to the huge, new visitor center. We had to wait in line to get tickets to wait in line to get into Independence Hall. I think that is so funny. Could they please hire one organized person to run these places?!

The tour of Independence Hall was about 30 minutes, after the required 10 minutes of “no eating, no drinking, spit out your gum, there are no bathrooms”, etc. etc. . The park service girl looked right at Nate when she said they expected good behavior and I wanted to take her aside and not so gently tell her not to stereotype this teenage boy because I’d put his manners up against any park service employee I’d met thus far on the trip. Oh, if only. I knew it wouldn’t do any good. I filed into the cramped little room to listen to the next guide.

Once again, I was surprised to see how small the room was that “our founding fathers” met in to discuss the future of our country. All these old buildings are built on a scale with very tall ceilings, but still allowed them to be heated by fireplaces and be built economically. Some people liked to show off their wealth, so they would continue to add rooms to their homes, but all the public buildings were plain and functional, mostly brick. A few wooden adornments above the windows and on the railings were as fancy as it got. The desks in the room were the originals.

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In the next building, they had a copy of the Declaration of Independence, and even under the low light in the case, we were able to read the words.   I made the mistake of asking the park guide if it was real, and he was very adamant in his reply that D.C. did not have the only copy, they just had the signed copy. Oops!

After the tour, we quickly headed to a food cart for lunch. I really wanted Nate to have a Philly cheesesteak, but Dan ordered one while Nate stayed safe with ham and cheese. I have already forgotten what Eliza and I had! We sat in Washington Square and watched all the government employees and other tourists go by. We ate lunch on an old wooden bench 200 feet from where they decided the fate of our country. Very cool.